10 ROMANCE BOOKS I LOVE:
1) PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Jane Austen. Yeah, I know, how dare I call this a romance novel, but - well, you know, it is. The fact that it's a brilliantly written book by a 19th century woman with an exceptional brain and that the book is really about human nature, doesn't mean it isn't a romance of the first water. The two can co-exist. Don't see why not.
2) JANE EYRE by Charlotte Bronte. Same reasoning as above though this time add the sweeping dramatic romance of the moors and the darkly brooding inclination of the mid 19th century hero. I could never imagine Mr. Darcy behaving quite like Mr. Rochester - can you?
The rest of the books on my list are less well known, less celebrated and certainly not literary classics. But that doesn't make them less worthwhile, at least in my view. A good romance = a good romance, if well written. Pure and simple.
3.) SCANDAL by Amanda Quick. This is one of the early Amanda Quick aka Jayne Ann Krentz books that I absolutely adore. I've read it countless times. My enthusiasm for it's wittiness, it's wry romance, it's delightful take on Regency romantic mores knows no bounds. Especially in view of the fact that, very regretfully, I stopped reading Krentz/Quick a few years ago. (Won't go into the reasons why. I don't like to deal in negativity. Let's just say, when her writing style and outlook changed, so did my interest.)
This book is so well constructed and so delightfully intriguing given that the couple in question, Simon Traherne, Earl of Blade and Miss Emily Faringdon, are married from the second or third chapter on. Usually an early marriage, unless the writer is very skilled, is the portent of doom for a romance. Yet, in this instance, the author keeps my interest and my need to know 'what happens next.' Not an easy feat let me tell you, especially in a romance novel where most of the tension is supposed to be of the 'will they/won't they' variety. I think, possibly, this is the author's best Regency novel, if you're going by sheer 'delight' quotient. Though she's written several other romances that I've loved almost as well.
4) THE NIGHTINGALE LEGACY by Catherine Coulter. I wrote briefly, about this book in my Fairy Tale Mysteries post a while back, but it's worth posting about again and again and again. And again, I use the word: delightful. I'm big on being delighted, especially if the storyline is preposterous and the book is, basically, a parody of the romance genre. There's something about Coulter's Regency voice that is like no other writer of the genre. (It's odd that she loses that 'uniqueness' when she writes her modern thrillers. But that's fuel for another post.)
Nightingale is part of a trilogy of books: The Wyndham Legacy, The Nightingale Legacy and the Valentine Legacy. Though all are pretty wonderful - of the three, Nightingale is the jewel in the crown. It concerns the misadventures of 19 year old Caroline Derwent-Jones, on the run from her odious guardian Roland Ffalkes - holding her guardian's grown son Owen, hostage as they both flee in the night - on the eve of coming into her inheritance. A sizable inheritance that Ffalkes wants to wrestle from her, by hook or by crook - mostly by crook. When Owen becomes ill (he's a wimpy sort given to catarrh), they're forced to stop at a roadside inn. When the previously mentioned odious guardian catches up with them, another traveler at the inn, a handsome, enigmatic sort, comes to her aid. Frederick North Nightingale, Earl of Chilton. (I know, I know, there's always an Earl or two hanging about these tales. But it wouldn't be any fun without 'em.) sees the way the wind is blowing and offers to escort Caroline and her hostage, Owen to the home of Caroline's aunt which, coincidentally, happens to be near his own estate. Of course, at the time, Caroline doesn't know he's got a title, or anything else about him except that he's appears to have a melancholy nature. Unlike most Regency novels, this story takes place on the moor. The book is a total hoot from beginning to end, even if there are murderous doings and hints of tragedy hang heavy over the Nightingale legacy. Read it. You'll thank me.
5) GRAND PASSION by Jayne Ann Krentz. This is Krentz (aka Amanda Quick) at her best and she's written quite a few modern romances that are absolutely top notch. I love this moody story set in Washington state, at an inn by the coast. (Well, I do love books set in Washington state, most especially in or near Seattle if possible.) The hero is your usual broodingly mysterious loner bristling with cynicism and good looks. His name in this instance is Max Fortune. (I love it!) The heroine's name is Cleopatra Robbins (Krentz is known for her quirky names.). She's the owner of the inn on the coast and a newly published writer. Max is the head of the Curzon Hotel chain. He has arrived at the inn incognito, to see about some paintings which he believes are hidden or have been stolen by either Miss Robbins or one of her employees. He is also under the impression that Miss Robbins was the mistress of his recently deceased boss Jason Curzon, an older gentleman who'd taken Max under his wing as an orphaned kid. The paintings that Max is searching for are, he believes, the legacy Jason left him.
The main reason this book works so well is the characterization of Max Fortune, pure and simple. He is the fulcrum. A wonderfully conceived character, written very, very well. One of Jayne Ann Krentz's best creations. Fabulous book.
6) TIM by Coleen McCullough. This is a quiet love story by the author of THE THORN BIRDS. (Another great romance in a totally different vein - a blood and thunder romance which, if you haven't read it and you love a great, thumping good love story, you should. The television movie with Richard Chamberlain is almost as good.)
TIM was also turned into an Australian TV movie. (The story is set there.) It starred a very young and very beautiful Mel Gibson (before he got old, lost his looks and went nutso) and the wonderful Piper Laurie. Even later it was turned into a so/so film with Candice Bergen. (Skip the Bergen and watch the Piper Laurie one, even if you dislike Gibson's latest persona. He was young and beautiful and worth watching, once upon a time.)
This is a May/December romance with a twist. The heroine is an older business woman, Mary Horton, who hires a young man to do some landscaping work around her property. The twist is that the young man, Tim Melville, is 'slow'. He has the intelligence of a kid. He has always been protected by his family who at first, are uneasy about him working, unsupervised, for Mary. When they perceive (from something Tim says in passing) that she's elderly (she's not, she's merely in her forties, I believe), they are okay with the arrangement. The inevitable happens, as time goes by and Tim begins to focus all his attention on Mary, unaware that he should not be doing so. Mary too finds herself being drawn in. The ending is both surprising and sensible. Though with a final episode that hints at the possibility of trouble to come because of Tim's child-like grasp on life.
This could have easily been an uneasy, 'icky' sort of love story if done by a less talented writer, but Coleen McCullough makes it work. It is a wonderful book.
7) RAVISHED by Amanda Quick. Another from aka Jayne Ann Krentz. This is a sort of re-telling of Beauty and the Beast - it has a lot of the old fairy tale feel about it, most especially in the creation of the hero, Gideon Westbrook, Viscount St. Justin (Viscounts and Earls are very necessary to these sorts of tales), known to the local villagers as the Beast of Blackthorne Hall for his scarred face and lecherous past. Hardly husband material for the likes of Miss Harriet Pomeroy, spinster and 'ancient skeleton' fancier. And yet, somehow, it all comes together thanks to Amanda Quick's dexterity but most especially thanks to her exceptional talent for characterization. I surely miss the way she used to work.
8) THE OUTSIDER by Penelope Williamson. A love story set in Montana of the late 1800s with a heart wrenching ending that will leave you breathless - no less. Rachel Yoder is a young widow left alone to raise her boy after the vigilante murder of her sheep herder husband. She is a member of the 'Plain People', a strict Amish sect that values simplicity and 'plain' living. One winter afternoon her life is changed forever when she watches a wounded stranger - the outsider of the title - struggle to make his way across her land, barely walking, barely alive.
His name is Cain. He is a hired killer, wounded in an ambush.
I loved this book and have reread it several times. Again, characterization is so key here.
9) THE WAY HOME by Sandra Kitt. This is another re-read of mine - one of those Harlequin American Romance books that is probably very hard to find at this late date, but what the heck, I love it. This is an intriguing story of a woman living in limbo, unsure if her husband is alive or dead. He'd disappeared on a trip to London and she hasn't had word since. When a business trip (she works for a rare book dealer) sends her to England, Taylor Ashe sees her chance to try and find out what's happened to her husband. At Heathrow, she's held up for a couple of reasons: her American passport has expired and her explanation of why she's in England seems fishy, especially since her missing husband's name (she's using her married name, but the name on the expired passport is different) rings a bell for the interviewing official. In a Kafka-esque few scenes, she is passed along to another official - of the embassy, she assumes - while she waits at Heathrow for an emergency passport to be approved and issued.
In this last and most curious interview, she notices a man sitting on the sidelines, not taking part in the conversation, but watching and listening intently to her story. He is tall, dark and handsome and never takes his sunglasses off during the whole time they're indoors. His name is Dane Farrow and through a series of circumstances, he becomes a sort of guardian/bodyguard for Taylor, watching over her as she gets too close to the truth of what happened to her husband - a man who, apparently, never existed. Great love story.
10) THE DREYFUS AFFAIR by Peter Lefcourt. I reviewed this book a while back and hopefully conveyed my enthusiasm for a story which is a heady mix of satire, comedy, drama and romance. What happens when the Golden Glove-winning short-stop of a professional baseball team headed for the post-season, finds himself falling in love with his equally Golden Glove-winning second baseman? To add even more fuel to the incendiary mix, the short-stop is white and the second baseman is black. Oh, and the short-stop is married and the father of two. Read the book if you want to know what happens next to these very likable characters who suddenly find themselves in the eye of a very volatile storm. It is a terrific love story even if the characters and the setting are not what you'd expect. Here's a link to my review.
Artwork at the very top of the post is by the one and only: J.C. Leyendecker.