Jilly: Good Book Squee – Historical Romance

27431042_sWhere do you stand on intelligent, well-written historical romance?

By the time you read this, Justine’s UK research trip should be well under way. If things go to plan, we’ll have spent Friday in Brighton exploring the Royal Pavilion and other Regency landmarks with 8LW friend Rachel Beecroft, and Saturday investigating the narrow streets and smugglers’ haunts of the ancient Cinque Port of Rye. Today? If it’s Sunday, it must be Dover!

Justine will be following in the footsteps of a generation of US historical romance authors, walking the terrain of Kent and Sussex to soak in a million tiny details that she’ll use to give her stories an authentic and unique feel. There’s a strong tradition of quality historical romance writing in the US, and I’m constantly impressed by the way the authors skillfully mix historical accuracy and characters with agency to create novels that feel credible but appeal to a 21st-century reader. I especially love stories that go beyond Dukes and governesses and gowns – some of my favorite historicals may have Almack’s and corsets, but they also have spies, soldiers, suspense, mysteries, politics, business-people, dancers, actresses, and social change.

I’m really looking forward to reading the 8 Ladies’ contribution to this excellent tradition – Justine’s Three Proposals, Elizabeth’s The Traitor, and Nancy’s new series – but while they write, edit, polish and pick new titles, I’d like to celebrate some of my favorite US historical romance writers and (if I’m lucky) collect some new recommendations.

Off the top of my head, how about:

Loretta Chase: OK, I talk about Lord of Scoundrels even more than Micki talks about Bujold, but I love Loretta Chase’s voice, her characters and their sizzling chemistry. She’s brilliant at making me care about her people. My greatest catnip is a hot hero who falls like a ton of bricks for the heroine, hides behind smart-assery and snark, but does all the right things, and Loretta Chase writes those guys like nobody else. Her books, especially LoS, The Last Hellion, and the Carsington family series are some of my favorites evah.

Julia Quinn: don’t take my word for it. If you aren’t already a fan, read this post from Nancy about the Bridgerton series. Clever, fun, generous, kind and as deliciously feel-good as a warm bath and a glass of wine.

Eloisa James: very intelligent, fun romances with clear concepts (Shakespeare, fairy tales, Desperate Duchesses).

Julie Anne Long: Another auto-buy author for me. I love the world of Pennyroyal Green – two wealthy, feuding families in one small English village. Julie Anne Long writes very likeable characters who’re self-made rather than blue-blooded. The stories are an interesting mix of larger-than-life plots (pirates!) mixed with real problems, credible business and social issues.

Courtney Milan: super-smart, tightly-written stories with strong heroines and plots driven by interesting social and political issues.

Sabrina Jeffries: One of her The Duke’s Men stories was in the goody bag at last year’s RWA, and I enjoyed it so much I had to read the other books in the series immediately. A tightly-knit community, unusual characters, humor, plenty of mystery, and characters dealing intelligently together with none of that Big Misunderstanding nonsense. I plan to read all the rest of her books, and I’m happy to say there are lots.

Grace Burrowes: I read her Captive Hearts trilogy, enjoyed it (even the one that made a hero of the villain) and wrote about it here. She says on her website that she wrote two million words of romantic fiction before she got published and loved every one of them, and that joy shines through in her stories. No wonder she has two books shortlisted for RITAs this year. I’m planning to read a lot more of her back-list.

Sarah MacLean: clever, complex, tightly-plotted and very well-written. Powerful conflicts (maybe a little bit too powerful for me sometimes, but I can be a wuss).

Tessa Dare: Wonderful concepts (Castles Ever After!), opening scenes that bring the story roaring to life super-fast (wish I could do that), and lots of delicious details. The conflict is often gentle rather than gut-wrenching, but I’m very happy with that (like I said, I’m a wuss).

Jude Deveraux: I’ve only read her most famous book, A Knight In Shining Armor. Like Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander (see below) it’s different, a stand-out book. It’s deeply romantic and I can see why it was such a huge hit, but it’s a time-slip story, which doesn’t usually do it for me, and while it’s cleverly wrapped up, I prefer a more traditional HEA. I’m wondering whether I should try another of her many best-sellers. The Black Lyon, a medieval, gets lots of good book noise on the interwebs. Maybe that might be one to sample next.

There must be lots more (yay!).

Diana Gabaldon? Kat’s an Outlander aficionada. I read the first book and stopped – I was okay with the contentious Jamie-and-Claire scenes but the world was too robust for me (a little too realistic?). Loved Jamie but was too squeamish to deal with sadistic Black Jack Randall. It was worth reading it just to join in the arguments among the 8 Ladies though 😉 .

Mary Balogh? I think Justine’s a fan. Elizabeth Hoyt?

Who else? Recommendations, please! Thank you very much!


41 thoughts on “Jilly: Good Book Squee – Historical Romance

  1. I love Marion Chesney, especially her Six Sisters series. My favorite character in the books is Lady Godolphin, godmother to one of the sisters and an outrageous old bat. She wears mouse-skin eyebrows, which was apparently a real thing. Ewwww.

    • These look great, Jeanne, thanks! I remember we talked about the mouse-skin eyebrows once (ew, indeed), but I must have forgotten to ask you about the author. I see she also has a series of classic murder mysteries set in Scotland – think my husband might enjoy those. A detective called Hamish Macbeth sounds too good to ignore

      • And she’s also the Agatha Rain author, as M C Beaton. The Marion Chesney’s are terrific fun, but just be aware that she mostly wrote them donkey’s years ago (I can remember when they were almost the only regency romances – ex Georgette of course – I could find when I was about 20!).

      • Oh, I’ve read the Hamish MacBeth books! I loved those. Marion Chesney writes romance? I’m always the last to know. I’ve read the Agatha Raisin, too—I think they’d be a little dated now, but still enjoyable.

  2. Other than what you have here, I can only think of older stuff – Kathleen Woodiwiss’s A Rose in Winter is one of my favorites and old Julie Garwood (I haven’t read much of her recent stuff – I stopped a couple years ago because it didn’t work for me anymore). There is an old Jennifer Blake story, Royal Seduction, that is interesting in that it is written completely from the heroine’s perspective. A warning to today’s reader, it was published in 1983 and has a rape scene in it (of course, he makes her want it as those early romance stories did – good girls weren’t allowed to want it in those old stories). If you can acknowledge that the scene is somewhat standard for that era, it’s a good read.

    • I haven’t read any Julie Garwood, Michille. Can you recommend a classic or two? I have read other Kathleen Woodiwiss but not A Rose In Winter, so I’ll add that to the list. Justine said she had some Jude Deveraux and Johanna Lindsey recommendations, so that’s good.

      I also just read Lucien’s Fall by Barbara Samuel (Barbara O’Neal) – I really enjoyed the characters and the emotional intensity.

      And can anyone recommend a good Jo Beverley to start with?

      • Oh, Lucien’s Fall! I thought that was terrific. Plus, I’ve liked all the Jo Beverleys I’ve read. I’m posting helpfully, am I not? Telling everybody I like their choices. 🙂

        • Well, I haven’t read any Jo Beverley yet. I think you just told me I could safely dive in anywhere, so that was helpful 😉 .

      • Jilly, I think you can safely start anywhere with Jo Beverley. I’d recommend An Arranged Marriage or An Unwilling Bride from her Company of Rogues series. Those give a good view of the characters in the series. The books are all completely stand-alone though, so you can really start anywhere. She also has the Malloren Series, if you develop a taste for the Georgians.

        • An Arranged Marriage looks good to me, thanks, Elizabeth. Georgians would be most welcome – excellent writing with characters I care about makes me happy. As long as the setting is credible, I’d be equally happy with Medievals or Victorians 😉 .

  3. I cut my teeth on Julie Garwood (The Bride was my first historical romance and I’ve read it too many times to count; that said, agree with Michille’s assessment — doesn’t work for me any more, especially after McDaniel) and Johanna Lindsay’s Mallory series (love the Mallorys).

    I can promise that Jude Devereaux is good. The time-slip didn’t work for me, either (seemed like a cop-out), but she has some great romances that are more traditional. Most are medieval, if memory serves. Still, they’re good reads.

  4. Has anyone read any Lorraine Heath’s regencies? I haven’t (yet) but she’s been getting terrific reviews for her latest on the romance blogs.

    On a completely different note, I’ve just downloaded Maya Rodale’s non-fiction book: Dangerous Books for Girls: the Bad Reputation of Romance Novels Explained. Looks really interesting, have any of you read it?

  5. Maya Rodale (Wallflower Series), Jade Lee, Victoria Alexander (Millworth Manor), Vivienne Lorret (The Rakes of Fallow Hall Series)…just too name a few! I have so many favorites I cannot even begin to keep track!

    • Wow, thanks, Victoria! I haven’t read any of these authors, and Victoria Alexander and Vivienne Lorret are new names entirely. Off to check them out now 🙂

      • Okay, I just swung by Vivienne Lorret’s website. Looks great! I’m going to read The Elusive Lord Everhart when I’ve finished Jo Beverley’s An Arranged Marriage.

  6. (-: I think most of the historicals I’ve read recently have been recs from the 8 Ladies. I really like Loretta Chase and Milan is very, very good — often with a hero’s POV, and unusual issues with a strong feminist slant. I think a lot of her heroines are “fallen women”, too, so they get away with a lot of stuff a “good girl” might not.

    It took me awhile to get into Georgette Heyer, but she does write solid, dependably fuzzy and warm romances that really stick with a person. I think my favorite might be Venetia . . . or Frederica. Watch out for the surprise Outdated Stereotype — The Grand Sophy has so much going for it, but then it’s got an Evil Jew in it. IIRC, she was writing this book shortly after WWII, so she really shouldn’t have been so tone-deaf. In general, though, she writes great characterization and her plots . . . they shouldn’t work, but somehow they do!

    I’ve got some “contemporary” historicals in my Kindle — some books that supposedly were on Jane Austen’s bookshelves. I enjoyed Evelina by Fanny Burney, and am looking forward to some of her other books. She’s a little over-the-top, but her writing is remarkably clear and crisp for someone writing in the 18th century.

  7. A thought on your evaluation of Diana Gabaldon and her inclusion on your list of romance writers: you probably found her work a bit hard to take because the “Outlander” series really isn’t romance. Many books contain love stories, but that doesn’t make them romances. Romance is a very specific genre, in which the main conflict centers on the relationship and whether the hero and heroine will achieve their “Happy Ever After.” There are a lot of famous love stories which don’t really fall into the romance category: “Gone with the Wind,” “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” and even Princess Leia and Han Solo in the “Star Wars” sage. Ms. Gabaldon herself will tell you that “Outlander” isn’t really a romance, despite the central love story between Claire and Jamie.

    • Very fair point, and we could probably have another whole post for ‘Is Outlander a Romance?’ For me the first book reads as a romance with many other complex elements, rather than something else with a strong romantic sub-plot, because the spine of the book is Jamie and Claire’s love story. I don’t think the spine of Gone With The Wind is Scarlett and Rhett.

      I’m pretty sure my problem with Outlander is the rape and torture. It’s credible and well-written and I can’t handle it. I’d have the same problem with a more classically structured romance set in that kind of world. I’m definitely also interested in recommendations of hard to pigeonhole books with a strong romantic element – for example, I love Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles.

        • I have to say, I didn’t love the House of Niccolo series half as much as the Lymond Chronicles. I was dazzled by the first half of the series, when he’s on the rise and transforming himself, but then I didn’t care for Niccolo’s character arc, or Gelis’s, and I was really, really mad at the climax of the final book. That said, I only read the Niccolo series once, ages ago, just after I read Lymond for the first time. Maybe I’d feel differently if I re-read them now.

  8. It appears that we have very similar tastes 🙂 Your list looks very similar to my list of favorite historical romance authors. I would highly recommend Joanna Bourne and Miranda Neville in addition to those you have already listed.

    • Excellent! Thanks, Elinor, I haven’t read anything by either. Can you recommend a favorite title to get me started?

      • For Joanna Bourne, I would recommend starting with The Forbidden Rose (I think it’s the best of the series, and the story is chronologically the first, although it was the third one written). For Miranda Neville, you could start with the stand-alone Never Resist Temptation or with her Burgundy Club books, which do fairly well as stand-alones (the first one is The Wild Marquis; my personal favorite is the fourth one, Confessions From An Arranged Marriage).

        • Oh, The Forbidden Rose is the only one I haven’t read, so thanks for the reminder Elinor. Can’t wait to see what you make of them, Jilly.

        • That’s perfect, thank you, Elinor. The Forbidden Rose first (after Vivienne Lorret), then I’ll browse the Miranda Neville options and decide. Luckily I’m a fast reader, and even better, in a little while I have a week’s holiday in the Lake District to celebrate my MIL’s birthday. I know how I’ll be spending a good chunk of it 🙂

          I read An Arranged Marriage last night/this morning and really enjoyed it. Sound the trumpets for a smart heroine who can join the dots all by herself. I already bought An Unwilling Bride but I want to sample all the other recommendations here first. I feel like a kid at Christmas!

    • Thanks, Renata – I’ve never read the Cynster series, which feels like a major omission. They are definitely going on the TBR list. I’m a fast (some would say greedy) reader and I can’t remember the last time I was so spoiled for choice. I’m so glad I put up this post 🙂

  9. Mary Balogh is my romance queen. I started reading romance with her. Ciji Ware, Celeste Bradley, Daphne DuBois, Glyn Smith-Wild, the fabu Vicky Dreiling, Tessa Dare, Irina Shapiro, Georgette Heyer and the incomparable Susanna Kearsley.

    • Thank you, Nancy. I’ve been reading Heyer since my teens and I know her practically off by heart. I love Tessa Dare. I haven’t read any of the other authors on your list – many of them weren’t even on my radar. Can you suggest your favorite titles or series, or a good place to start? Thanks again 🙂

    • I don’t know either of these authors at all – off to check them out now, starting with Duke of Shadows. Thank you, Lillian 🙂

  10. Pingback: Judging A Book By Its Cover - Jilly Wood

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