Top Ten Tuesday: Romance (genre) books

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday:

February 9: Valentine’s Day/Love Freebie

I think for a long time I didn’t give romance as a genre the attention it deserves because I bought into a lot of the misogynistic accusations that have been hurled at it over the years. I’m only recently started to question that more and more (see here and here for more). But in the past few years I’ve been trying to rectify that by seeking out books that I’ve heard are good, in the romance genre. And even before I made the conscious effort, a few slipped in here and there! These are some I’ve enjoyed.

  1. Flowers From the Storm by Laura Kinsale– The Duke of Jervaulx is well known in the newspaper’s scandal sheets as a womanizing rake, but is also a brilliant mathematician, who occasionally collaborates with Mr. Timms a blind Quaker. One day, the Duke (Christian to his friends) collapses after presenting a paper to the Analytical Society, and Mr. Timms, and his daughter Maddy, believe he’s dead. Christian isn’t dead. He’s suffered a stroke, that’s left him without the ability to speak. Maddy encounters him sometime later at asylum, where she’s considering a job. She comes to realize that the math genius her father worked with is still in there, but he can’t communicate. The characters in the book face several problems on the road to a happy ending. The primary one is Christian’s disability, but Maddy’s crisis of faith is given almost equal weight. She worries that she’s compromising her Quaker principles by falling for Christian, whos exploits are the stuff of scandal. She also worries about getting her heart broken.

2. An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole– This is the first in Alyssa Cole’s Loyal League trilogy. I really enjoyed it, and intend to read the rest, but I haven’t gotten to it yet. It’s about Elle Burns, a former slave, with an eidetic memory. She uses her gifts to act as a spy for the Union Army, posing as a slave in the household of a Confederate senator. Malcolm is a detective for Pinkerton’s Secret Service, who is pretending to be a Confederate soldier, so that he can get information for the Union Army. When Malcolm and Elle come upon information that might turn the war the Confederacy’s way, they must get the information in the right hands no matter the cost. I was impressed with how Alyssa Cole managed to keep the stakes and suspense high. Presumably all her readers know how the Civil War ended, but I was still worried for Ellen and Malcolm’s mission as I read!

3. A Knight in Shining Armor Jude Devereaux- When Dougless Montgomery’s boyfriend ditches her on their English vacation, she goes to a church and cries on the grave of Nicholas Stafford, earl of Thornwyck, who died in 1564. She’s very surprised when a man in 16th century clothing shows up claiming to be Nicholas Stafford! Dougless helps Nicholas discover what brings him to the 20th century and how he was wrongly accused of treason. They fall in love and he decides to stay with her, only to be pulled back in time again, to the 16th century. Dougless goes after her beloved, only to discover that the 16th century Nicholas has no memory of the 20th century or falling in love with her. I liked that this broke the time travel romance “mold” a bit. For one thing it involves someone from the past, coming to the present and vice versa.

4. Remembrance by Jude Devereaux- Hayden Lane is a best selling author of romance novels, who becomes so obsessed by one of her heroes that she barely notices when her fiance breaks their engagement! She goes to a psychic to learn more about this man she supposedly made up. The psychic tells her that in a past life she was Catherine Tavistock, Lady De Grey, an Edwardian woman whose ghost haunts her husband’s English home. Hayden undergoes hypnosis, desperate to learn more. But the hypnosis goes wrong and instead of just remembering the past, Hayden is living it. She discovers that in earlier lives she loved a man, and they betrayed one another, and cursed their future incarnations. Now Hayden has to figure out how to set things right in the past, so that she can find happiness in the present.

5. Too Deep for Tears by Katheryn Lynn Davis– I wasn’t sure about including this on my list or not, since I’m reluctant to recommend it after this but I read this book a long time ago and enjoyed it, and since that’s the criteria for this list, I decided to include it. Charles Kitterage travelled the world and left behind three daughters with different mothers. Ailsa lives in the Scottish Highlands, Li-an (this portrayal may be very problematic, as is explained at the link above, but I didn’t realize it when I read it) lives in Peking, China, and Genevra lives in Dehli, India. They never met one another, and each has grown up haunted by a legacy of betrayal. But when a dying Charles wants to meet his daughters, they meet for the first time.

6. Lord of the Fading Lands by CL Wilson- I think this is technically classified as “paranormal romance” but I’m including it because it’s my list. Plus the book has a cheesy cover and is tropy enough to be considered romance! It’s the first in Wilson’s Tarien Soul series which follows Rain, the Tarien Soul, King of the Fey. When he claims Ellysetta, the daughter of a woodcutter, as his soul mate, no one is more surprised than Ellysetta herself. But their lands are facing an unseen enemy that threatens everyone and everything they care about and the happiness that they’ve found. It’s only by working together and facing their dark pasts, that they can find the hope of a future together. The first book sort of sets the stage for the rest of the series, and it’s one that you have to read in order if you want it to make sense!

7. The India Fan by Victoria Holt– I went through a phase at one point where I read a lot of Holt’s books, which are often classified as historical romance. To be honest, a lot of them blend together in my mind, but for some reason this one stands out, so I’m including it on my list. It’s about a parson’s daughter, Drusilla, who enthralled by her wealthy neighbors and friends, the Framling family- especially their handsome son, Fabian. But when they give her a beautiful peacock feather fan as a gift, Drusilla has no idea that it’s cursed. It brings with it a long history of death and destruction. But ultimately it may be less dangerous to Drusilla than Fabian Framling.

8. Public Secrets by Nora Roberts– Just a note, I read this one a long time ago, and have no idea how well it holds up. But I remember it fondly. Emma McAvoy is the daughter of a British rock star. At the age of six, her baby half-brother, Darren is killed in a kidnapping attempt gone wrong. Emma was the only witness, and remembers little of that night. Investigators believe that someone close to the family was involved, but can’t solve anything. So Emma grows up under the shadow of guilt. Over the next twenty years, Emma carves out a career, falls in love, and builds a life for herself. But this long ago crime, could threaten everything she’s worked for. I would call this an “ensemble romantic thriller.” The mystery storyline is just as important as the romance and there are actually several secondary romances as well.

Top Ten Tuesday: Best Lesser Known Romances

For That Artsy Reader Girl’s Top Ten Tuesday;

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.

51bumg7jwll-_ac_us218_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…

51eksizfwl-_ac_us218_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.

51guog1xvl-_ac_us160_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.

51l6zlabawl-_ac_us218_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.

51f6ex2-vul-_ac_us218_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?

51nbhw4ql8l-_ac_us218_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.

51ktieauzl-_ac_us218_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.

31vqaqjxh5l-_ac_us218_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.

51x5chc9f7l-_ac_us218_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.

51lsl4lfqql-_ac_us218_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.