I posted my list of romance favorites last year so didn't want to repeat myself with Valentine's Day just around the corner. So this year, I chose quirky.
By quirky I mean anything a little out of the ordinary or even lots out of the ordinary. Take your pick.
Of course if you want classic romance, then PRIDE AND PREJUDICE and PERSUASION, both by Jane Austin, is the way to go. But you already knew that.
Except for E.M. Forster's book, my list today is not classic in any sense, just stories I've read and enjoyed on a purely romantic level.
P.S. These titles are listed in no particular order. Kind of like they are on my disorganized shelves at home.
1) ONE MORE VALENTINE by Anne Stuart
I've mentioned Anne Stuart before. She is just a wonderful teller of tales who happens to major in romance. I don't think she's ever written a bad book and believe me, over the years, I've read plenty of her stuff - she's one of my favorites. She can write contemporary fiction as well as historical and never miss a beat.
For whatever reason, I don't read as many romances these days, but I have fond memories of all of Stuart's books. This one in particular.
James Sheridan Rafferty died in the famed St. Valentine's Day massacre, February 14th, 1929. He expected to stay dead. But he's received a second chance at life - in 1993 - with one wicked proviso: He has only 48 hours to live unless he falls in love. So faster than you can say - huh? - Rafferty has to find the right woman, solve a crime and live happily ever after. Not bad for tough-talking gangster long ago dead.
A fun romance.
Sorry about the cover being sideways a bit - best copy I could find.
2) MISS EMMELINE AND THE ARCHANGEL by Rachel Lee
If you've ever read romances at one time or another, you should know the name of Rachel Lee. She majors in well-written love stories with tough, ruggedly handsome heroes and unique heroines, set in western locales. Her stories feature murder either in the present or in the past and plenty of deep dark secrets.
This story is one of her excellent Conard County series, but none of them really needs to be read in any order. This one is my favorite of the books and one I occasionally still reread.
Miss Emmaline Conard is a 'spinster' librarian in the town named after her family. She is a likable if somewhat priggish woman whose one claim to beauty is her remarkable red hair. Emmaline has secrets - a horrible incident in her past that she can't quite remember. Plagued by nightmares, she tends to stay very much on her own. A town eccentric whose wishes are respected by most.
Gage Dalton is a loner. Ex-military, he works for the sheriff occasionally. He too has secrets and the scars on his face (he looks, according to Emmaline, like a 'ruined' angel) to prove the violence of his past.
When the past - in the form of a sinister stalker - suddenly comes back to threaten Miss Emmaline, Gage is caught up in trying to help her.
Fabulous book. Part of the Silhouette Intimate Moments line. Sneer if you will, but Silhouettes has published some terrific writers over the years. Rachel Lee is one of them.
3) AMARYLLIS by Jayne Castle aka Jayne Ann Krentz
Set on an outer space earth colony called, St. Helen's, a place which has recently lost contact with the home planet, this is the first in series which can be read as totally separate books since the only commonality is the setting.
Amaryllis Lark is one of the best psychic detectives in the colony. Lucas Trent is the ruggedly handsome head of Lodestar Explorations. He hires Amaryllis to find a corporate thief, never thinking that the excruciatingly proper and buttoned-up Miss Lark (not at all his type) will plunge him into a 'wild' murder investigation and capture his heart in the bargain.
Which just goes to show you that love will find a way even in outer space.
4) LOVER IN THE SHADOWS by Lindsay Longford
The very enigmatic Detective John Harlan is investigating a series of murders in which Molly Harris, a troubled young woman, has remained suspect. Now Molly has awakened at 'the break of dawn lying on the kitchen floor, clutching a bloody knife with no memory of how she'd gotten there.'
Molly's parents were brutally murdered and now, the death of her ex-maid has riveted suspicion on Molly once again. How will John Harlan believe in her innocence when Molly herself is doubtful.
But Detective Harlan has secrets of his own. There is something oddly sinister and feline about the look in his eyes. Hint: there's an oddly prescient black cat lurking in the vicinity and keeping an eye on Molly.
I can say no more.
5) TIM by Colleen McCullough
This was the basis for the television film many years ago, starring the still very young and very beautiful Mel Gibson and the wonderful actress, Piper Laurie.
McCullough's story is a sensitive exploration of love between two of the unlikeliest characters. Mary Horton is an older business woman who hires the developmentally challenged Tim Melville to do some simple landscaping work in her garden. Physically Tim is a grown man, but mentally he is still trustingly child-like.
"Mary Horton gazed at Tim, dumbfounded. Had he lived two thousand years ago, he might have served as a model for the greatest Apollos of all time...."
How these two disparate individuals come to depend on each other for their happiness makes for a 'love story with a difference...lovely, refreshing, sensitive, wise and triumphant.' Publisher's Weekly.
6) TO TOUCH THE SUN by Barbara Leigh
Such a fabulous love story though, again, highly improbable. I've read this several times and each time it casts its spell - it's just that good - even if it's a Harlequin Historical. This book proves that you just never know when or where you're going to find a well-written love story.
Drue is a chivalrous knight, courageous in battle and sworn to serve. When the famed and treacherous knight, Connaught, a tall imposing warrior on the field, is captured by the slightly more agile lad known as Sir Drue, it's the beginning of the end. For Drue has a secret that if revealed would end her life in disgrace. That's right, Drue is a young woman. Though she's been reared as a boy and taught the skills of a 13th century soldier. (I told you it was improbable.)
Written in a compelling and believable way, it didn't take me long to feel for Drue's plight, not to mention, admire her sword-fighting prowess.
Well, here's the problem: Connaught (though married) finds himself attracted to the young knight though he has never had these feelings for another man in his life. Repulsed and confused by his own feelings, he has no idea that Drue is a woman. At one point, still believing Drue is male, he begs her to run away with him to someplace where they can live together as outlaws. Obviously, love has addled the bold knight.
Of course, Drue is attracted to him but dares not reveal herself for fear of losing the only way of life she's ever known. You really do feel for her predicament as well as Connaught's desperate confusion.
How these two finally get everything straightened out makes for a wonderful, emotional, dramatic roller coaster ride. I loved it.
7) HIS MONKEY WIFE by John Collier
From the back cover: When Alfred Fattigay departs from colonial Africa for his native London, he brings along his trustworthy pet chimp, Emily, who, unbeknownst to Fatigay, has become civilized: literate, literary and in love with Fatigay himself. After meeting Alfred's fiancee, Amy Flint - a 1920's "modern woman" - Emily sets out to save her beloved from Amy's cold grip.
"A wayward masterpiece..." Anthony Burgess
All I can say is that I fell in love with Emily myself - she is priceless. The last few sentences in the book are without a doubt, some of the oddest and most charming ever written.
8) THE SECRET PEARL by Mary Balogh
Mary Balogh is such a fine, inventive writer - so much so that sometimes she you do have to wonder at the way her characters and plotting stand out from the common Regency romance. Even at her most improbable (there's that word again), she never fails to fascinate.
I am most fond of the work she did years ago for the Signet Regency lines - still my favorite (next to Georgette Heyer's work) of the Regency novels. It is incredible to me that books that were published monthly could be so consistently well-written. Of course, depending on the author.
In THE SERCRET PEARL, Balogh writes a story that breaks the Regency's strictest social rules (as we've come to know them through books and films). It's the daring tale of Isabella Fleur Bradshaw, a gently born young woman who is cruelly cast off from her sheltered life.
Desperate for food and never having found herself alone and friendless on the streets of London, Fleur sells herself to a stranger on the street. That stranger is Adam Kent, Duke of Ridgeway, a man reeling from the scars of war and of a bad marriage. He is Fleur's first and last customer as afterwards, through a series of opportunities, Fleur becomes a governess.
I know, I know, too incredible for words.
But, Mary Balogh makes it all work. Anyway, Fleur is then hired to take care of the children of a wealthy family out in the country.
You guessed it. It's the family of the Duke of Ridgeway, her one and only customer in her hour of desperation.
How this all works out, you'll have to read the book to see. All I can say is that the author makes it all believably, dramatically, romantic. Regency rules be damned.
9) MAURICE by E.M. Forstee
When Forster wrote this book (he began it in 1913) it was not to be published until after his death. The reason? MAURICE is, essentially, a gay love story with a happy ending. Hardly something that Forster's contemporaries would have welcomed or understood. Had the story ended in unrelieved tragedy, it probably would have been published earlier, but Forster was insistant on a happy ending. I say, good for him.
When Maurice (pronounced Morris) Hall meets Clive Dunham at university, they form a strong but chaste friendship. Maurice would like something more but Clive is, essentially, a charming coward afraid to admit his true sexual idendity - he will spend his life in the closet, trapped in a joyless marriage.
Later, while struggline to maintain a facade of family friendship to Clive and his wife and family, Maruice becomes involved with Alec, a worker on Clive's country estate
A revealing and well written book with an unforgettable ending. It is - dare I say it? - incredibly romantic as well.
10) MILLARD FILLMORE, MON AMOUR by John Blumenthal
From the back cover:
Once a gangly teenager in oversized clothes, Plato C. Fussell is now handsome and independently wealthy. But inside he's still a bundle of neuroses and anxieties, with a tendency to engage in moronic word games in the presence of beautiful women.
In the midst of working on his definitive ten-volume biography of Millard Fillmore, Plato finds himself dodging his ex-wife, trying to please he demanding elderly mother by inquiring weekly about the state of her bowels, and attempting to remain verbally coherent while courting a young woman he meets after her errant Frisbee connects with his cranium.
As Plato blunders on in search of true love, romance, and an acceptable degree of world-wide cleanliness, he discovers that loving someone and knowing them needn't go hand in hand.
"In John Blumenthal's world you don't have to be crazy to fall in love, but it certainly helps..." Carolyn Michon.
I agree with Carolyn. This is an often laugh-out-loud romantic tale of highly improbable love - as you no doubt noticed, my favorite kind.
Note: Artwork at top of the post by Gil Elvgren.
Note: Artwork at top of the post by Gil Elvgren.