February 13: Love Freebie (Romances, swoons, OTPs, kisses, sexy scenes, etc.)
I feel like a lot of my favorite romances are pretty well known. I love Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy and Jane and Mr. Rochester (why do 19th-century male characters never go by their first names?) as much as the next girl. But this week, I decided to share a few favorites that might not turn up on everyone else’s list.
1. The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson– Eva Ibbotson was primarily known for her children’s books. However, she wrote five romances intended for older readers (the others A Company of Swans, The Secret Countess, A Song For Summer, and Magic Flutes are also worth reading). They’ve since been re-released for a YA audience. They’re flawed in that they depict relationships with gender roles that are somewhat old-fashioned. But they’re usually sweet enough and fun enough so that it doesn’t bother me too much. I have a fondness for this one. It’s about a Jewish family in Austria. They get out of the country when Hitler invades and make it to England. But they’re separated from their twenty-year-old daughter, Ruth who wasn’t able to get the proper paperwork. Quinton Somerville, a friend of the family, offers to help Ruth. He’s got the papers to get to England, and she can come with him, as his wife. Once they’re safely in England they can get the marriage annulled. Ruth takes him up on his offer, but neither of them counts on falling in love…
2. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson– I forgot why I picked up this book in the first place. Novels about cranky old men aren’t automatic reads for me. But something attracted me to this book and I’m glad it did! Major Ernest Pettigrew is a retired Englishman who is the embodiment of duty, pride, and traditional values. Major Pettigrew is a widower who is trying to keep his son from selling off the family heirlooms when he finds an unexpected ally in his neighbor, Jasmina Ali, a Pakistani shopkeeper. Their cross-cultural romance shocks everyone, themselves most of all. But it also reminds us that while people may seem like opposites, they can still find strong common ground; enough to build the foundation of a relationship. And it proves that falling in love at 70 is just as sweet as it is at 17.
3. The Silver Metal Lover by Tanith Lee– I can’t remember how I first came across this book. But its a provocative futuristic sci-fi love story. Jane is living a life of luxury on an Earth that’s barely recognizable to the reader. But she’s not happy. Robots have replaced humans as laborers but when a new line comes out they’re also used as performing artists and the wealthy use them as sexual partners. When Jane meets Silver, a robot minstrel, his song convinces her that there’s something more to him than just metal and programming. Something almost human. She gives up everything and she and Silver run away together. As their relationship grows, Silver becomes more and more human. Is that just a clever illusion created by his programming? Is Jane needy and mentally unstable? Or has she seen in Silver something that no one else can? If Silver is truly capable of loving Jane, he’s in terrible danger, because he’s more than anyone expected. If he has all of the advantages of a robot but can truly feel and love like a human, then actual humans can’t complete.
4. The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery– I feel like this book has been getting more attention lately which I’m glad about. But it’s still largely unknown, so I feel like it can go on this list. Valancy is a twenty-nine-year-old “spinster” who lives under the overbearing thumb of her mother and her aunt. When she gets devastating news from the doctor, Valancy is motivated to do some living while she still has the chance! She becomes friends with Barney, a handsome free spirit whom her family does not approve of! She confides to Barney that she doesn’t have long to live, and proposes marriage. After all, he won’t have to live with her for long, and it’ll make her happy before she dies. After they marry, Barney and Valancy are happier than they’d ever dreamed. But Valancy’s fate hangs over their heads. Colleen McCollough wrote a novel in 1987 called The Ladies of Missalonghi, with a very similar plot set in the Blue Mountains of Australia. The similarities prompted accusations of plagiarism. Having read both, I think they’re just two novels that have similar plotlines. I prefer The Blue Castle though.
5. Precious Bane by Mary Webb– This is a fairly new discovery for me. Prue Sarn’s “precious bane” is her cleft pallet. It sets her apart from the other girls in her Shropshire community for better and for worse. It isolates her from her peers, but that isolation is also the source of inner strength. Prue’s brother, Gideon, is determined to lift the family out of poverty. He devotes everything he has to make money, which is the very thing that may ultimately destroy him. In a way money is his “precious bane”. It promises a better life but ultimately destroys life and love. Meanwhile, Prue has fallen in love with Kester Woodseaves, a weaver with a gentle spirit. Like Prue, he’s an outsider, due to his gentle nature rather than anything external. Will his good heart allow him to see the beauty in Prue?
6. Joy in the Morning by Betty Smith– A lot of readers compare this book to the (brilliant) A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, though it was actually a fictionalized account of the first year of the author’s own marriage. Nonetheless, the heroine, Annie Brown, has a lot in common with Francie, the heroine of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Annie and Carl get married in the 1920’s just before Carl starts law school in the midwest. Annie leaves her Brooklyn home to go with him. Their families oppose the marriage, but they’re young, in love, a bit naive, and optimistic. They face challenges from poverty to more personal conflicts. This isn’t really a plot-driven book. It’s far more character driven. It’s hard not to root for Carl and Annie as they begin to build a foundation for their lives together.
7. The Light in the Piazza by Elizabeth Spencer– I first encountered this novella after seeing the exquisite musical that was inspired by it. It’s a beautiful book as well. Margaret Johnson is an unhappily married, wealthy, Southern woman traveling in Florence with her daughter, Clara in the 1950s. When Clara falls in love with Fabrizio, a young Italian (and he with her), Margaret finds herself torn between two equally strong impulses: to protect her daughter and spare her the pain of lost love or to hope that Clara might be luckier in love than Margaret was. The story is about the courage that it takes to fall in love and the bravery in hoping (in the face of experience) that it might last forever.
8. Passion by IU Tarchetti– This is probably an odd choice. It’s another book that I discovered thanks to my obsession with musical theater. Sondheim’s musical of the same name won a Tony in 1994 but is still one of his less popular works, though it’s one of my favorites. The story is about Giorgio, a handsome, young, Italian soldier. He is having an affair with the lovely (but married) Clara in Milan when he is transferred to a remote base in Parma. There he is invited to dine at his commander’s residence, and he meets the commander’s cousin, Fosca. Fosca is terminally ill, highly strung, and unattractive. She is also madly in love with Giorgio. Though he tries to avoid her at first, Giorgio eventually realizes that Fosca is offering him something that Clara cannot: a pure, true, love that requires his total surrender, yet gives him everything that she has in return.
9. Katherine by Anya Seton– Though this book is a novel, it is based on a real-life love story. During the fourteenth century, John of Gaunt, son of a king, fell in love with the already married Katherine Swynford. Even after Katherine is widowed, she and John are prevented from marrying due to politics. However, their affair survives decades of struggle, war, politics, adultery, murder, and danger. I can see where some contemporary readers might see John and Katherine’s romance as one-sided or not very romantic. However I think that is holding a couple in the middle ages to modern expectations. In a time and a place where royal used and discarded mistresses on a regular basis, John maintained his love for Katherine over the course a lifetime, even when casting her aside would have been more politically expedient. He regarded Katherine as his wife and his partner. The descendants of John and Katherine’s children, the Beauforts, include much of the British royal family. For fans of medieval literature this book has appearances from Geoffrey Chaucer (who was Katherine’s brother in law), and includes the writings of Julian of Norwich who also appears as a character in the book.
10. Remembrance by Jude Deveraux– Hayden Lane is a bestselling romance author with a problem: she’s fallen in love with the hero she wrote in one of her books. When a psychic tells her that her obsession may be due to something that happened in a past life, Helen decides to see a hypnotist, who transports her to Edwardian England where she encounters a previous incarnation. But she must go back even further, to the Elizabethan era, before she learns how her earliest incarnation, Callie, was in love with a man named Talis, and how they unintentionally betrayed each other and cursed their future selves. In order to set things right, Hayden will have to figure out a way to break the curse and change history. Some elements of the plot are a bit farfetched (even if you believe in reincarnation, the curses can be hard to buy into!) but it kept me reading. Unlike many romance novels, this doesn’t have a traditional “happily ever after”, though the ending is decidedly hopeful.