While I was on the Book Tour of Much Bosom Heaving, one of the top questions I got wasn’t, to my surprise, “What is a cuntweasel? Is it a weasel made of cunt, or a weasel whose native habitat is a cunt, or a verb for a maneuver from a cunt that is exceptionally limber? Enlighten us, O Muse!” No, one of the questions people asked me most consistently was “Do you have a list of your favorite romance novels on Smart Bitches?” And the answer, surprisingly, was “no.” I mean, most of the regulars who’ve been around a while know how much I love Laura Kinsale, but I don’t have an actual list of the books I love enough to put on my keeper shelves. And I figured: I’m procrastinating on some other work, so I might as well put together the list of my favorite romances.
But since I’m me, I’m actually putting together THREE different lists. They are:
Books that are non-schlocky in premise and excellent in execution
Books that are schlocky in premise and excellent in execution
Books that are both schlocky in premise and execution, and I LOVE THEM ANYWAY.
I’m not going to order these lists by preference or anything like that, but the titles are going to listed as they occur to me, so the ones near the top of the list are going to be the ones I re-read and think about the most. Some of the titles receive the briefest of mini-blurbs, as the spirit moves me. And the usual caveats to these sorts of lists apply, of course: yes, these are completely subjective; yes, I know Judith Ivory is excellent, but she doesn’t quite make the cut for my favorite; and no, I’m not going to explain what “schlocky” is and why, say, Uncertain Magic is non-schlocky but Special Gifts is, even though they both involve psychics. “Schlocky” is like porn: I know it when I see it (or, more accurately speaking, I cringe hard when describing it), and if your schlock threshold is vastly different from mine, then vive la différence, and feel free to tell me why some of my schlock vs. non-schlock categorizations are wrong.
Non-Schlocky Premise, Excellent in Execution
- Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase
- For My Lady’s Heart by Laura Kinsale
- Uncertain Magic by Laura Kinsale
- Flowers From the Storm by Laura Kinsale
- The Hidden Heart by Laura Kinsale
- My Sweet Folly by Laura Kinsale: OK, this one gets kinda schlocky partway through, but I still love it, and the overall premise isn’t schlocky, and I don’t know where the hell to put this one, and am easily swayed should you choose to argue for this either way
- To Love and To Cherish by Patricia Gaffney
- To Have and To Hold by Patricia Gaffney
- Lucien’s Fall by Barbara Samuel
- Bed of Spices by Barbara Samuel
- Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie
- Anyone But You by Jennifer Crusie (it’s no coincidence that my two favorite Crusies feature sassy women who are child-free by choice)
- Fast Women by Jennifer Crusie
- Crazy For You by Jennifer Crusie
- Sweet Everlasting by Patricia Gaffney
- Knaves’ Wager by Loretta Chase
- The Lion’s Daughter by Loretta Chase
- Captives of the Night by Loretta Chase
- My Lady Notorious by Jo Beverley: this one could’ve been schlocky, but the fact that Cyn immediately figures out Chastity’s disguise pushes this into non-schlocky territory.
- Upon a Wicked Time by Karen Ranney
- My Beloved by Karen Ranney: There’s a Big Secret keeping the hero and heroine apart, and hot damn it’s a doozy.
Schlocky in Premise, Excellent in Execution
- The Shadow and the Star by Laura Kinsale: If I’ve said this once, I’ve said this a hundred times: do not let the white-ninja-lurves-lonely-seamstress premise keep you away, because this is some seriously, seriously good shit.
- Midsummer Moon by Laura Kinsale
- Seize the Fire by Laura Kinsale: right about the time the adorable penguin showed up, I knew the plot was getting kinda schlocky, but Kinsale pulls off the characterization with the deftest of touches
- Shadowheart by Laura Kinsale: let the great debate as to why this belongs here but For My Lady’s Heart is in the non-schlocky category begin
- Prince of Midnight by Laura Kinsale: the whole outlaw-with-inner-ear-damage-and-a-pet-wolf thing came close to pushing the premise into schlock territory all on its own, but lordy, it is so well-written.
- The Windflower by Laura London/Sharon and Tom Curtis: Oh, come on. Even I, who love it so, cringe a little when I have to describe it to somebody. “So, there’s this incredibly sheltered American ingénue who’s wrongly kidnapped by an English pirate, and her brother’s an American spy, so she can’t tell him the truth, and then there are these two amazing secondary characters named Cat and Raven who befriend her and protect her, and then she befriends the pet pig aboard the ship, and the hero doesn’t rape her, but comes close a few times…guys? Guys? It’s awesome. I swear.”
- Wild at Heart by Patricia Gaffney: Boy raised by wolves who falls in love and has a happy ending? Be still, my beating heart.
- Shadow Dance by Anne Stuart: It’s probably my favorite cross-dressing romance of all time (though The Lion’s Daughter is a close second)
- Special Gifts by Anne Stuart: my first Anne Stuart novel, and (as many of you know already), my introduction to the existence of oral sex. To date, I haven’t read a better tortured psychic/bullying cop novel better than this one.
- Uncommon Vows by Mary Jo Putney: that thing with the window and the retrograde amnesia? So melodramatic. I love it.
- Manhunting by Jennifer Crusie: It would’ve been so easy to fuck this one up, given the rather sleazy swingin’ singles vibe you get when you hear about the premise of the story (heroine goes on a singles retreat to find a date), but the hero and heroine are outstanding (she’s set up to be an ice-princess, but really is not, and he’s a lovable slacker, which is rare romance type)
- Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas: I’m no doubt going to catch a lot of crap for this for putting it in the “schlock” category, but come on: gentle bookish miss wins the heart of hardened cockney owner of a gambling hell? Schlocky premise. Awesome execution.
- Midnight Angel by Lisa Kleypas: Russian princess who’s disguised as a governess for the lonely, feisty child of a man WITH A HOOK FOR A HAND? So schlocky! So awesome!
- Everything ever by Shana Abe: I love her books and think she writes gorgeous sentences (when they’re not too busy being florid), but her premises, and some of her character names…. Oy.
Schlocky in Premise, Schlocky in Execution, and I LOVE THEM ANYWAY
- Mine to Take by Dara Joy: Man, remember back when Dara Joy’s stories were awesome and not, like, completely bugfuck self-published novels? I miss those books. Her former editor at Dorchester deserves some kind of sainthood, if the manuscripts she turned in were anything close to the self-published stuff she’s putting out nowadays.
- Tonight or Never by Dara Joy (you will notice a LOT of Dara Joy in this list)
- Rejar by Dara Joy (see? I do not lie.)
- Knight of a Trillion Stars by Dara Joy (OK, this is the last Dara Joy book on the list—you can breathe a sigh of relief now)
- Only With Your Love by Lisa Kleypas: Oh man. There’s so much that I should hate about this book, from the forced seduction to the virgin widow premise to the completely improbable ending, but I care not, for lo, the chemistry between Celia and Justin cannot be denied, and the whole “I fell in love with both twins” thing is both hilarious and titillating
- Vixen by Jane Feather: It’s a guardian-ward romance between a girl who’s the Regency equivalent of the manic pixie dreamgirl and her much older, tortured, kinda skeezy alcoholic guardian. I love this book like damn and like burning not in spite of its wrongness, but because it is so wonderfully, deliciously wrong.
- Morning Song by Karen Robards: What can be schlockier than a stepfather/stepdaughter romance? OK, fine, lots of things, up to and including, say, Georgina Gentry’s entire backlist. But still. Dudes. SO. DELICIOUSLY. WRONG.
- Something Wonderful by Judith McNaught: This was the first romance novel I read that I unreservedly loved. But talk about your manic pixie dreamgirls, and pointlessly tortured heroes.
- Almost Heaven by Judith McNaught: Another manic pixie dreamgirl, and another hero who’s more tortured than he needs to be. McNaught has a pattern, but these books are cracktastic.
- Kingdom of Dreams by Judith McNaught: This time, the dreamgirl isn’t quite as manic or pixie-ish, and the hero isn’t as brooding. Still very solidly in the McNaught pattern, though, and every bit as delicious.
Right. I’m done with this list for now. I’ll be updating it as I discover new favorites and remember old favorites that need to be on this list but were omitted because my brain has more gaping holes than Paris Hilton (ha-HA, and zing, because Paris Hilton jokes are so totally funny OMG). In the meanwhile: talk amongst yourselves. Dissect and analyze this list! Speculate on my psyche based on my reading tastes! Agree vigorously! Disagree vociferously! Abuse exclamation points with abandon!