Classic Romance - Which One First? Carla Kelly Edition

A stack of books with an e-reader in top that says Classic Romance: Which one First?Last week I reviewed The Wedding Journey by Carla Kelly – which I loved reading – after highlighting a few of Kelly's books that have been digitally re-published at $2.99. Susan, a guest reviewer, reviewed My Loving Vigil Keeping last year, also. Susan is a reader who followed Kelly as she started writing inspirational romances.

After the discussion in the sale post and in my review for The Wedding Journey, Susan contacted me with a suggestion: 

Most (if not all—I have lost track) of Carla Kelly’s books are out or coming out as ebooks, including the new inspirationals. With Her Hesitant Heart ( A | BN | K | S | ARe | iB ) being released this week it would be cool to do a reader recommends/where to start for her books. There are about 30, including an ebook collection of short stories that appeared in themed anthologies. Almost all are good but I am sure everyone has their favorites.

This is a very good idea! So of course I asked Susan, who is clearly a Kelly fan, which titles she recommends most: 

It is such a tough call—I don’t have just one favorite, and since the books are categories they are relatively short. Which means I am going to recommend more than one.

My go-to books for rereading are, in no particular order: 

The Lady’s Companion ( A | BN | K | S | ARe | iB – $2.99)

The Wedding Journey

With This Ring

Beau Crusoe ( A | BN | K | S | ARe | iB – $2.99)

Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand ( A | BN | K | S | ARe – $2.99 )

For some reason those books particularly resonate with me (even when the plots creak a little). I love that her world does not center on balls and society and the ton. Both her heroes and heroines are complex people, not cardboard cutouts.

I also strongly recommend Here’s to the Ladies, her collection of western short stories. There are some incredibly moving stories in that book.

After my evening reading The Wedding Journey, I am more than eager to read more of Kelly's books, past or present. Do you have a Carla Kelly novel you love and recommend? If someone (like me!) were to start a Kelly glom, which books are must-reads? Which Carla Kellly book should we read first? 

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  1. 1
    Merrian says:

    I’ve been glomming Carla Kelly ebooks this week so great minds are thinking alike. So far, I have enjoyed ‘Miss Whittier Makes a List’, ‘The Lady’s Companion’, ‘One Good Turn’ and the three Channel Fleet books about the illegitimate daughters of a nasty piece of work – these are: ‘Marrying the Captain’, ‘The Surgeon’s Lady’ and ‘Marrying the Royal Marine’. I enjoy the way class is present and used to further the story, also the real knowledge and thoughtful deployment of information about the Royal Navy, the Army and the Peninsular wars. This is all put to good use to create the world and the people in that world we are given a real understanding of the meaning of duty to these people and the work they willingly do to protect their country and countrymen as well as what it costs them to do this. The relationships and the love affairs are sweet and powerful.

    For me these are comfort books that I respect. The comfort comes from the decency of the characters as well as the story. It feels that knowing them and interacting with them is engaging with people with real human dignity.

  2. 2
    janeway says:

    My favorite is

    Mrs. McVinnie’s London Season


    Kelly’s heroines and heroes are always atypical, the stories are always honest and lacking in the gimmickry that so often characterizes romance novels. 

    My copy of this book is battered and worn because I’ve read and re-read it so often.  It’s one of my comfort books.

  3. 3
    Spinster says:

    I’ve been on a Kelly binge myself!  (4 new-to-me Kellys in the last 3 days…)  “One Good Turn” made me bawl in the best possible way, though I don’t think I would have been as affected by it if I hadn’t read “Libby’s London Merchant”, the first of the duo, already.
    “The Wedding Journey” is on my favorites shelf, as is “Here’s to the Ladies”.

    I honestly don’t remember what my first Kelly was, because I’ve liked everything of hers I’ve ever read, but if I could start over with her today, I’d start with either “The Wedding Journey” or “Marrying the Captain”.

  4. 4
    Karenmc says:

    I haven’t read ALL of Kelly’s books, but I’ve been trying to. Since the release of so many as ebooks, it’s become easier.

    Where to start? Beau Crusoe, then the Channel Fleet books (I especially loved Marrying the Royal Marine).

  5. 5
    Karenmc says:

    Fixed the underlining.

  6. 6
    Karenmc says:

    No, I didn’t. Razzlefrats.

  7. 7
    Bridget says:

    Reforming Lord Ragsdale was my first Carla Kelly.  It’s sweet, angsty but sweet.  I’d say it’s one of the most romantic romances I’ve read in a long time.

  8. 8
    susan says:

    I just reread Mrs. McVinnie’s London Season, and I had forgotten how much I liked that book. I love Carla Kelly’s sea captains.

  9. 9
    Krista says:

    I’ve only read Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand and I liked it.  It’s a little slow at times, but I love re-reading the ending. Well worth $2.99!

  10. 10
    cleo says:

    Closing the underlining tags (I hope)

    I’m relatively new to Carla Kelly – the first book I read by her was Coming Home for Christmas, which is an anthology of 3 loosely related Christmas stories (it follows a family over 3 generations) set in early 1800s California, the Crimean War and 19th C American west respectively.  It was a good intro for me and made me start reading more.

  11. 11
    Carla Kelly says:

    You all are so sweet to enjoy my books. My personal favorites are Here’s to the Ladies: Stories of the Frontier Army, because I loved being a park ranger and working at Fort Laramie and Fort Buford, where some of these stories are set.

    This means that I’m really fond of the just-released Her Hesitant Heart, because it’s set at Fort Laramie.

    And My Loving Vigil Keeping became a life-changer for me. I got to explore my own Welsh roots, and get to know some lovely folks who live here in Carbon County, where the mine disaster happened.

    (Sorry, but I couldn’t help intruding on this discussion.)

  12. 12
    KarenF says:

    Mrs. Drew Plays her Hand is my all time favorite for romance, and a “second chance at love” between the hero/heroine who have both had previous relationships (one negative, one positive).  Second favorite is With This Ring, because I love how a whole town gets together to help the heroine pay the doctor bills.

    Miss Grimsley’s Oxford Career and Miss Billings Treads The Boards are probably the most fun of all the stories, and I love the bits we get to read of Miss Grimsley’s college essays.

    I love them all, although I’d also admit, I haven’t gone back to re-read Beau Caruso , so that might be one of less favorites. 

    There is also a side character who appears in a couple of the books (I think The Lady’s Companion and Miss Milton Speaks Her Mind ) of a Jewish man who runs an employment agency (and formerly was along for some of the war) that I really wish there were a whole book about.  I want him to get his HEA.

  13. 13
    Dee Martinez says:

    I must have read and re-read Mrs McVinnie’s London Season 3 times! I have been bugging my husband to get me the rest of Ms. Kelly’s books. Love her!

  14. 14
    Solange Ayre says:

    My absolute favorite is Libby’s London Merchant. It’s unusual because there are two rivals for the heroine, and you’re really not sure which she will choose in the end. I also love Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand, Reforming Lord Ragsdale, and With the Ring. I’ve bought all of them in ebook format even though I already own the paperbacks.

  15. 15
    roserita says:

    I have four favorites.  They are in no particular order, because that would be like picking out my favorite kid; they are all wonderful in their own way.  My picks are “Miss Whittier makes a list”,  “Mrs. McVinnie’s London season, “Mrs. Drew plays her hand,” and “Marian’s Christmas wish.”  The last two are on my every-Christmas re-read list.

  16. 16
    Terrie says:

    Carla Kelly is definitely a favorite writer for me.  (And how cool to see her drop in and offer her favorites as well!)  I have a number of favorites.  “Reforming Lord Ragsdale” is one (appeals to my Irish roots).  “Marrying the Royal Marine” may be my top favorite: I certainly reread it enough!  I love how the decency of the characters is so clear it reminds the “enemy” that there is decency still in him as well. 

    Her books don’t shy away from history’s dark moments and her characters grapple with their times.  I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel by Carla Kelly that I didn’t appreciate.

  17. 17
    Melanie says:

    My first of Carla Kelly’s books was “Mrs. Drew Plays Her Hand,” and I knew by the time I finished reading the first chapter that I had to read everything of hers I could find.  If I had to choose just one favorite, it’s probably “Mrs. Drew,” but “With This Ring,” “Libby’s London Merchant,” and “One Good Turn” are also favorites. 

    Many of her books make me cry, in the best possible way.  I love the emotional honesty of her writing, and her complex, believable characters.

  18. 18
    susan says:

    @KarenF, I have had the same thoughts about that Jewish character! I want him to find his love and get his HEA. Carla, please write his story.

  19. 19
    Carla Kelly says:

    You know, ladies, I hadn’t thought about Joel Steinman. H’mm. I’m still thinking I’d like to do a sequel to Marian’s Christmas Wish, of all things, with Marian and her Gil in Washington, DC, and maybe Percy finding love in America’s burnt-out capitol with an American lass. So many sequels, so little time…

  20. 20
    Molly W says:

    I’m very interested in trying some Kelly as I love historicals set in atypical times and places. Could someone clue me in on what level of sex is in them? I like to know what to expect so I read it in the right frame of mind.

    PS I love when authors pop up here and join the chat!

    PPS Captcha phrase is looking87. I’m not looking to have 87 books in the to be read list but it happens anyway. :/

  21. 21
    KarenF says:

    MollyW – There’s not much descriptive sex in these books – if these were movies, they’d be PG/PG13.  We’re aware that the characters are having sex, but rather than talking about Tab A into Slot B, the focus is on the emotional intimacy.  And yet even without a lot of physical detail, I’ve always found her sex scenes to be incredibly romantic.

    Carla – I would LOVE to read more about Joel Steinman – from the bits we see of him, he’s fascinating, and already has quite a history.

  22. 22
    Carla Kelly says:

    You have me thinking about Joel Steinman. I’d have to do considerable research re: Jewish life in early 19th century Britain. Right now my writing schedule is as follows: finish current regency, write book two of the Spanish Brand series that out August 1, either write another regency or another military Western (or a trail drive novel- can’t decide). H’mm, glad my husband was able to retire. But I do enjoy writing, which is perhaps a good thing.

    As for the maturity level of my novels, it does vary. I try to make whatever love scenes are in there appropriate to the book and the action that has gone before. I do tell folks that I write for grownups.

  23. 23
    Lynn Pauley says:

    Although all of Carla Kelly’s books are on my keeper shelves, my favorites are Wedding Journey, With This Ring, and Beau Crusoe.

    All of Ms. Kelly’s books are favorite re-reads and they always give me that warm, glowing feeling you get after reading a great book.

  24. 24
    susan says:

    Please do think about a book for Joel Steinman! I think he would make a fascinating hero.

    One of the many things I love about Carla’s books is the way she writes about sex. The physical comes from the emotional, and the language used to describe how the characters feel before, during, and after seems to my non-historian ears very much of the times.

  25. 25
    Lizabeth S. Tucker says:

    My absolute favorite was Reforming Lord Ragsdale.  After the hero saves the heroine, she is determined to save him.

  26. 26
    srs says:

    I’m going to chime in with a dissenting opinion on “Mrs. Drew Plays her Hand”. I’d never read Kelly until a few weeks ago when her name seemed to pop up everywhere. I started with “The Wedding Journey” then quickly gobbled up “Summer Campaign” and “Mrs. Drew”. While for the most part I liked the stories, all three books had the same weakness – a hurried (and for me at least somewhat unsatisfactory) ending.

    I loved 90% of “Mrs. Drew”. Marriage of convenience stories are my favourite trope and I love the plucky and steadfast heroine/gruff but secretly sweet hero combo. The supporting characters were well done (even the kids weren’t too annoying), the descriptions of the countryside really evoked the love the characters had for the land, and the crisis that sparked the hasty marriage felt realistic and appropriately menacing. Which brings me to my problem with the ending. The way the villain acted throughout the novel was believable, but the way he repented at the end was not and totally ruined the ending for me. I’m going to try to stay vague but if you are militantly anti spoiler stop reading now.


    Are we supposed to think that the villain was actually a good man driven mad by lust for the heroine? If so, why did one character say at the beginning of the book that he’d heard rumors, but hadn’t really believed them until now? To me, that suggests abusing his position and power over women dependent on him was a pattern of behavior that had been kept quiet. And he was absolutely ruthless in his blackmail of Roxanna. She was terrified of him! She married a man she barely knew, while still morning her recently dead husband, so that she and her children would be safe from him! And for there to be such a drastic turn around in the last few pages, with all forgiven at the end and no consequences, felt really, really wrong to me and retroactively ruined the book.



    I had a similar problem with “Summer Campaign” but to much less degree and while I didn’t have the exact same issues with “The Wedding Journey”, I did think the ending was the weakest part . I’m not totally writing off Carla Kelly’s books as there are many thing about her writing that I do like, but I’ll probably only buy them on sale and keep my expectations in check.

  27. 27
    Nana says:

    I think One Good Turn is my favorite, but you really have to have read Libby’s London Merchant first because it’s the story of the suitor Libby doesn’t choose. I also love Miss Milton Speaks Her Mind- what a wonderful hero who provides the heroine with the support she needs to learn to stand up for herself.

    But I adore Marian’s Christmas Wish and reread every Kelly Christmas novella at the holidays. People looking for unusual settings should read Coming Home for Christmas, a set of 3 novellas in the West, including old San Diego.

  28. 28
    Karin says:

    well, srs, I can see that the forgiving of the villain at the end of Mrs. Drew is a surprise to you, but forgiveness is a recurring theme in a lot of Kelly’s books. There is a lot of forgiveness of people who were cruel or uncaring to the heroine in ‘Her Hesitant Heart’ which I am just reading now. Of course in some of her books a villain does come to a bad end which is also very satisfying, while in other books the villain just goes on being a bad person and the H&h’s only revenge is living well, which is sort of true to real life.

    I think I already mentioned my favorites on the last Kelly post- Mrs. Drew and most of the others that everyone has mentioned. Among the more recent books, I thought “Marian’s Christmas Wish” was more on the lightweight side, while “Marriage of Mercy”  illuminated a piece of history during the War of 1812 that I knew nothing about and is plenty angsty, but I enjoyed both.
    I’m going to have to get “Here’s to the Ladies”.

  29. 29
    Carla Kelly says:

    srs, you’re not alone in thinking that Mrs. Drew’s shouldn’t have forgiven her reprehensible brother-in-law. Many other readers would agree with you. Forgiveness is awfully hard at times, as Joe Randolph does point out in Her Hesitant Heart. Some people can, some can’t, some won’t, but we all have to go on living and making our way through life as best we can. Forgiveness smooths a lot of paths, and life is tough enough.

    I like to use forgiveness in a book, because it is an excellent revealer of character. So is humor.  One incident in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s little book The First Four Years both breaks my heart, makes me chuckle, and puts starch in my spine. The Wilders’ wheat crop has been devastated by hail. What does Almanzo do but go outside, gather up the hailstones, and make ice cream. Wow. That’s a brave man. That’s a particular gift, and Wilder had it: To say so much with so little.

    I’m digressing. People amaze me. So should characters.

  30. 30
    Sybylla18 says:

    I feel awkward saying this, given that Ms. Kelly has joined the discussion, but I agree with srs about the endings.  I’ve loved the books I’ve read (I haven’t made it through her entire backlist, but I’ve read 8 or 10 of them), but that’s despite their endings.  The resolutions never quite ring true to me, either because of some grand gesture that feels utterly unrealistic or some behavior that is thoroughly anachronistic (one regency ends with a slew of characters – including unmarried, unrelated men – all crowding in to the heroine’s bedroom, while she’s still in bed).

    That said, I have enjoyed the first 90% of each book so much that they’re still all on my keeper shelf.

    One that I really enjoyed that hasn’t been mentioned yet (and that had the least-weak ending of any that I’ve read so far) is The Admiral’s Penniless Bride.  I strongly recommend it.

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