Books to the Sky

Archive for the ‘stuff we actually like’ Category

I am both a romance reader and a history nerd, so you can imagine the little thrill I felt when I stumbled upon this post on Racy Romance Reviews about Kathleen Winsor, “a romance foremother,” who wrote a book that frankly sounds awesome, if only because the Massachusetts government tried to ban it.

In honor of today being Ms. Winsor’s birthday, a bunch of romance bloggers are posting their 16 favorite romance novels, so I’ve wracked my brain to come up with mine. By which I mean I logged into my Goodreads account and made a list of the romances I gave 4 or 5 stars to. I think it’s a pretty serviceable list.

In no particular order:

Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale (Because obviously.)

Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Meyer (which is not strictly a romance, but I saw some other bloggers list it)

St. Nacho’s by Z.A. Maxfield (One of the heroes is a violinist and the other is deaf. What’s not to like? This was my introduction to a writer whose books I’ve really enjoyed.)

Faking It by Jennifer Crusie (My favorite Crusie. I figured I should pick one.)

Northern Lights by Nora Roberts (My favorite Roberts. It was one of the first of her novels that I read, so I didn’t recognize The Formula yet, but what I think makes this book stand out was the setting. It helps to read a book about Alaska during the summer, but I thought this little town was so well drawn, and all of the members of town seemed like real people.)

Lord of the Scoundrels by Loretta Chase (Oh, I love a historical with a scoundrel hero, and this is probably the best of the bunch, and it’s light-hearted and funny in a way a clever Regency should be.)

Dreaming of You by Ethan Day (The premise is a little hokey and it gets wrapped up too fast, but Day can write a protagonist that pops right off the page.)

Body Guard by Suzanne Brockmann (This is my favorite of her non-Troubleshooters books.)

Breathing Room by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (SEP annoys me sometimes, but I keep going back, and I really liked this one, perhaps because it takes place mostly in Italy, and, again, the setting is really well done.)

Whistling in the Dark by Tamara Allen (A really interesting treatment of a gay couple in Jazz Age New York, and a really sweet romance to boot.)

Heartbreaker by Julie Garwood (I love romantic suspense above all other genres, and this is a great example of it.)

The Loner by Geralyn Dawson (This was the first in a whole lot of Westerns I read this past winter, and the hero and heroine are both great in this novel.)

The Lost Duke of Wyndham by Julia Quinn (I like Quinn because her prose is clear and straightforward and her dialogue is witty; this is, I think, among my favorites of her books, though I have so far only gotten through the Duke and I in the Bridgerton series, so that’s subject to change)

Ashes in the Wind by Kathleen Woodiwuss (More of a sentimental favorite; I do love a good epic, and this one is so hokey, but somehow it works and I enjoyed reading it.)

The Dream Hunter by Laura Kinsale (The h/h hardly spend any time together in this one, which makes their reunion at the end that much more delicious.)

Can I site a whole series? I love Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooters series, among which Dark of Night is, to my mind, the best book (albeit the least romance-y). I could site a bunch of my favorites from the series here, too: Gone Too Far, Hot Target, Breaking Point, Forces of Nature, and All Through the Night.

Honorable mentions: the whole Quinn/Chesapeake Bay series by Nora Roberts; Josh Lanyon should be on this list, but my favorites of his books are really more mysteries than romances; I had some problems with False Colors by Alex Beecroft, but I feel it’s worth mentioning just because it seems so unique: a well-written gay romance that takes place during the Age of Sail; pretty much every other Crusie book would be on my list; and Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander by Ann Herendeen, which, again, I had some problems with, but it sure made me think.

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Jane at Dear Author has a post up about first lines that pulled her into good romance novels. She lists a bunch. I bet you can think up some classics on your own, everything from “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” to “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” to “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

What are some great first lines that pulled you into a book?

This is an unpopular opinion, but I am not a huge Jane Austen fan. I read a lot of Austen when I was in high school, in part because all those movies came out around that time: IMDb tells me that the Colin Firth Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma all came out in 1995/1996 (also Clueless). I liked all the books at the time, though I always thought they were so nice and polite. I find also that a lot of women, when you ask them what their favorite romance novels are, will site Austen’s books, but… I don’t view them as romances, really, not by the definition we give romances today.

I’ve never been a big reader of historical fiction, either, and I figured my tastes in the classics veered more towards the overwrought and the Victorian. (Jane Eyre is one of my favorite books of all time, and it came to my attention recently that some events in the novel would have had to have taken place at the tail end of the Regency period, given that the book was published in 1848. I think of the novel as more Gothic or Victorian, not as sentimental as the Austen novels are.)

A few years ago, I started reading romance novels again after a very, very long hiatus. I stuck mostly to contemporaries, as I was kind of turned off by the Jane Austen sensibilities (and the great, great majority of historical romance being published today is Regency, for reasons I can’t quite figure out). But then a friend gave me her copy of Flowers from the Storm. I’d heard from several places that Laura Kinsale was one of the best writers in romance, and I’m willing to give anything a try so long as the writing is good. And I devoured this book. I don’t recall exactly which time period it takes place in; I think it’s vaguely Victorian, mid-19th century. I was really surprised how sucked into this book I got. So I then read other Kinsale, and I started checking out other historical romance.

Ann Herenden writes in an essay at the end of Phyllida and the Brotherhood of Philander that one of the reasons she (an American woman living in 21st Century Brooklyn) likes writing in the Regency period is that it gives her the opportunity to focus mostly on social niceties and witty banter. A lot of the Regency novels put out today have the same themes as an Austen novel. They’re mostly about society, about social castes and dukes and ladies and how one is supposed to behave at parties, etc. I thought that sounded boring until I started reading other Regencies. (I particularly like Julia Quinn, if you want a recommendation.) These modern books have modern sensibilities, though, and I think there’s an awareness to them that’s absent from the 19th century novels. Women of the Regency period were supposed to behave in certain ways, and Regency heroines created by contemporary authors tend to chafe at those restrictions. They also have sex out of wedlock in great detail (although invariably end up marrying the men they have sex with anyway).

My larger point is that, I was a reluctant reader of Regencies, but I’ve since come around. I think their appeal lies largely with the fact that these books tend to be comedies (if only in the Shakespearean sense) and they focus on the relationships between people without a lot of external conflict, usually (although these books—Kinsale’s in particular, for example—can also have a lot of swashbuckling heroics). They’re fantasies, also; they take place in a bygone era, or in a modern permutation of the bygone era. The books often have dukes and earls and lavish parties, and feature the upper crust of London society. It’s so far removed from modern life as to be appealing.

So, I toss it to you, readers of historical romance or others. What appeals (or doesn’t) to you about the sub-genre?

For those of you still reading magazines made of dead trees, there’s an article in the current Bitch about Lois Duncan, the author of YA thrillers, among which are I Know What You Did Last Summer and, a personal favorite, Stranger With My Face. I just got the issue (the “Noir” issue) and it looks kind of awesome, so it might be worth your $5.95 anyway.

Dear Author did another one of those “If you like X, you’ll like Y,” where X is such a good writer that there’s no one really comparable. This time they tackle one of my favorite writers, Jennifer Crusie, so if you want a run down on her novels, check it out. (Although my personal favorite Crusie novel, Faking It, is not mentioned at all!)

If you’re not familiar, Crusie is a romance writer, but she writes contemporary romance that’s a hell of a lot of fun to read, with humor and wit and realistic characters. So there’s my gushing for today. Now back to the snark…


Books to the ceiling,
Books to the sky,
My pile of books is a mile high.
How I love them! How I need them!
I'll have a long beard by the time I read them.
--Arnold Lobel

From the moment I picked up your book until I laid it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.
--Groucho Marx

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