Reader Recommendations: Eleanor Recommends Jilly Cooper

Book Riders Last week, after many readers, including Darlene Marshall, told me how incredible The Lies of Locke Lamora was (and it's on sale for .99c!), I featured Darlene's micro-review/recommendation. A few folks let me know how much they enjoy hearing readers talk about their favorite books, so I've decided to make it a regular feature. Reader Recommendations ahoy! 

If you'd like to write a recommendation of a book or backlist you adore, please email me. Please note: this is not an invitation to pimp yourself, or organize a round-robin of pimpage. Thanks!

Eleanor wrote me a lovely set of recommendations for the early novels of Jilly Cooper, and her enthusiasm is very charming and funny. She contacted me via email and said, 

I was wondering if you'd ever come across any Jilly Cooper novels (specifically The Rutshire Chronicles series), and if you could do a review of one of them. The earlier novels, IMO, are pretty good, but the newer ones sadly seem to become more than a little bit ridiculous and contrived.

What I really liked about them (and here I'm talking about the early novels) was the multiple storylines and the fact that each character managed to have a flawed personality/do stupid things/behave like complete bastards and yet I couldn't hate them, or at least, not completely (the protagonist from the first book is actually one of my least favourite characters, while the antagonist is one of the ones I liked best). The early books in particular are fairly culturally specific: British upper class, horses and SO MUCH '80S, but I think a lot of people would get along with them.

Sorry for the essay, but these books are probably one of my favourite comfort reads of all time and I love the evolution of the characters, ergo I could talk about them all day!

Eleanor was kind enough to go into greater detail about which Cooper novels she adores most, so without further ado, please meet Eleanor, and her affection for Jilly Cooper! 

The first Jilly Cooper novel I read was Riders; I was fourteen years old, I liked the cover and I had nothing better to do. This started my deep love affair with the Rutshire Chronicles; the series that these books are from. Any of these books are my go-to read for when I’m looking for something comforting and familiar.

The Rutshire Chronicles series are all doorstoppers, with multiple storylines and so many characters they require a character list at the start of each book. Despite this, they’re fairly easy to follow, with the added bonus of you being likely to find a favourite character somewhere in the book. I personally was drawn to the ‘nice’ heroines, because they were the least likely to be bitchy, throw tantrums every five minutes, and they ended up with the guys I liked the most (even if they weren’t the pairings I’d expected).

Book Riders Riders (1985) is the first book in the Rutshire Chronicles. It focuses on the lives of a group of young showjumpers in England during the seventies, with extra special focus on their sex lives. There’s lots of adultery, romance, sex, betrayal, parties and horses.

Riders introduces Jake Lovell, a moody gypsy boy with a chip the size of Antarctica on his shoulder about Rupert Campbell-Black, a spoiled, womanizing, really, really, ridiculously good-looking asshole. Rupert meets and marries Helen, who has basically no effect on his womanising, but she manages to get her own back in the end.

Fenella Maxwell, Jake’s sister-in-law, is also a point of contention between Jake and Rupert, but ultimately gets a far better deal. Fen was by far the character I cheered for most, even when she was being stupid, which she was for much of the second half of the novel. She gets better, though!

Riders is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Kobo | iBooks | All Romance eBooks | Your Public Library (US)

Book Rivals


Rivals (1988) is the second book in the series, and moves into the world of television. The only main character who really featured in the first book is Rupert Campbell-Black, which was fine by me because he’s one of the characters I liked reading about the most.

There is more adultery, romance, sex, betrayal and parties, but not so much horse. Rivals is set a couple of years after the end of the first novel, slap in the middle of the eighties. There are a lot of shoulder pads.

This novel also manages to squeeze in some women’s rights in the workplace, headed up by Cameron Cook, who couldn’t be more Eighties Power Woman if she tried (and she tries very, very hard).

Rivals is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Kobo | iBooks | All Romance eBooks | Your Local Library (US). Please note: some library listings catalog this book as Players, formerly “Rivals” so there may be an alternate title.



Book Polo Polo (1991), the third in the series, is about…wait for it…polo players. This one features Argentinian love-gods who can also fly helicopters, dark and brooding men with Troubled Pasts and heroines of every flavour including Rescue-Me Raspberry and Butterscotch Bitch.

This novel features a heroine, Perdita MacLeod, who is much less likeable than in previous books; she rampages through the lives of nearly every other character with all the sensitivity of an angry elephant.

And yet, as with a lot of Cooper’s other characters, I couldn’t help but like her (by the end at least – for the first half of the novel I wished she’d just go away to New Zealand like she was supposed to).

Polo is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Kobo | iBooks | All Romance eBooks | Your Local Library (US).  

What I love about Cooper’s novels is how flawed all her characters are. They all do stupid things, go through periods of being completely awful and yet it’s impossible to really hate them (except for Helen – I still can’t make myself like her). Even when characters do something that would normally put them straight into my Hate Bin, they’re all developed enough that I can generally forgive them by the end. Of course, this goes both ways, because I also dislike half the characters that I’m supposed to feel sorry for (*cough*Helen*cough*)

These books aren’t perfect, though; there’s quite a lot of wish fulfilment, with lots of impossibly attractive guys (although usually balanced out by several less-attractive ones), and you have to be able to suspend your disbelief for certain parts of the books. Cooper’s female characters, while all fairly independent and empowered, generally tend to end up falling apart and needing to be rescued, although this has gone both ways.

Because the majority of these books are set in the seventies to nineties, and were written earlier than that, there’s a lot of words you just don’t see very much anymore. Like ‘bopping’. When the hero used that term, I was hard pressed to find him sexy for the next few chapters (he redeemed himself). With regard to the sex scenes as well, Cooper’s pretty good at avoiding ridiculous/repetitive terminology…except for ‘bush’. There’s enough ‘bush’ in the novels to fill a park. She also likes puns. The main characters of most of the novels seem to be fatally attracted to puns, and this gets worse (both in quality and quantity) as the series goes on.

Other than that, as long as you aren’t violently opposed to upper-class English people being horrible to each other, these books can be very fun to read.

Thank you, Eleanor! Have you read Jilly Cooper's early novels? Do you like this series? Which do you like best (or least)?


General Bitching...

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    trefoil says:

    Love love love these. They’re my guiltiest of guilty comfort-reads. The first one I read was Polo when I was about sixteen.  I agree—can’t make myself like Helen, or even feel sorry for her, but I love Billy Lloyd-Foxe, Rupert’s sidekick in Riders.  Currently reading The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous, which is again absolutely ridiculous wish-fulfillment, but includes Rupert and Taggie.  I adore Cooper’s early journalism too (How to Stay Married, How to Survive from 9 to 5), partly because it’s so dated that it feels like a portal to her life in the 60s and 70s in Britain.

  2. 2
    Cate says:

    Good grief, this is a blast from the past….truthfully I hated these books. Even back in the day they were too too much.However I will admit to a soft spot for Coopers Mills & Boonish early books,which were Harriet,Prudence, Imogen and a few others whose names escape me. I found that once you’ve read one Jilly Cooper you’ve read them all .

  3. 3

    I ate these up. As guilty pleasures go, they don’t get much better than this. Rupert was my man of choice for many years. He’s an irresistible bastard, and we all need one of those!

  4. 4
    Meri says:

    I first came across Riders when I was sixteen; the tagline on the edition I had was “Sex and Horses: Who Could Ask for More?”

    No, really.

    Anyway, Rupert Campbell-Black is evil but so very entertaining, and he becomes progressively less nasty as the series go on (though without transforming into a saintly character). But he really does start out as a pretty awful and viscous guy, and for all that Helen is horrible, she doesn’t deserve the way he treats her. Neither, for that matter, does the horse he names after her, though the horse gets his own back in a much better way than Helen.

    I read the others out of order, I think the next one I read after Riders was Score. The books are very much alike and totally guilty pleasures, but it’s fun to catch up on some of the characters.

    Sarah, you should totally review Riders or one of the later books.

  5. 5
    Sarah Morgan says:

    I loved Riders, but my favourite is Rivals. The romance between big, bad alpha Rupert and Taggie is gorgeous. The books should stand alone, but I’m not sure if it works better if you’ve read Riders first so that you know just how bad he is and appreciate the redemption more! She certainly doesn’t shy away from developing flawed characters.

    I read somewhere that she left the manuscript for Riders on a bus and had to rewrite it.

  6. 6
    Helen M says:

    OMG, Jilly Cooper’s Rutshire Chonicle Books! I devoured these as a teen. I read The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous first, purely because the title called out to my 12year old self, but I then read every one that I could get my hands on.

    I made it through the 6th book, Score, but though I’ve bought the ones that have come out since, I haven’t gotten around to reading them yet. They did get a bit same-y, and I found myself disliking more characters than I liked. Do intend ti get around to reading them, eventually, though…

  7. 7
    kkw says:

    I never liked these, but I just a few weeks ago endured one of her non-fiction books (Class) for reasons that are complicated, stupid, and unavoidable. I am now anti- Jilly Cooper, rather than simply meh.

  8. 8
    Kate Pearce says:

    I devoured these books when I was a teen and I agree that for me Rivals was my favorite. I just loved Rupert even though he really is a complete bastard in the first book. I never warmed up to Helen either LOL.
    They don’t really have a ‘romance’ section in most UK bookstores and certainly didn’t when these came out and they don’t really fit the U.S. definition of a romance as the characters-particularly the heroes are all very flawed and sometimes unlikeable (see Rupert)
    But I still reread them every so often to have a good old laugh. :)

  9. 9
    Kate Meader says:

    Rivals was the first one I read and I loved how Rupert was brought to his womanizing knees by Taggie. And that was before I realized quite what a dick he was in Riders, and just how far he had to go to be redeemed. But Cooper pulls it off. Very entertaining, for sure.

  10. 10
    Hannawy says:

    Jilly Cooper and paroxetine was what dragged me out of my first bout of depression. Simply brilliant soapy entertainment!

  11. 11
    JacquiC says:

    I also gobbled these up as a teen.  I notice a theme here…

    Since I was horse-mad at that age, I think Riders was my favourite, but I did like Rivals and Polo as well.  When I think back, I still have a hard time explaining their appeal, given how truly awful some of the characters are.

    I can’t remember where I stopped reading.  I did read The Man Who Made Husbands Jealous and Appassionata, I think. 

    I also wonder whether I would still think they were crack-like if I were to re-read them now.  I am sort of tempted, but my TBR list is so full of things I haven’t read yet…

  12. 12
    chacha1 says:

    Wow, that cover.  I mean okay, they’re sexy books (I guess?).  But it’s one thing to have a male hand ON a woman’s ass, and it’s quite another to have his hand actually IN her ass.

    Ick.  I would never have picked it out of the rack.

  13. 13
    Claudie says:

    I love love love Jilly Cooper. She’s this hilarious, perverted love-child of Jane Austen and Nancy Mitford and (in my opinion) thoroughly underrated.  She was my first introduction to romance. While you need to have a certain ridiculousness threshold her books are so much fun and they do have rather swoonworthy bits too. Taggie and Rupert in Rivals it goes without saying are highlights but Dino Ferrante in Riders is particularly lovely. Her single titles named with heroine names are great too- Harriet has a nice Jane Eyreish vibe and Prudence – my favourite – is wonderful.

  14. 14
    Anne A says:

    Oh my gosh Jilly Cooper!  I loved all of her books when I was a teenager; Rivals, Appassionata, and Pandora were my favourites.  I adored (still adore) Taggie and Rupert, and just Taggie in general.

    My copies are probably still in my parents’ spare room, if not donated, so now I have the urge to find new ones.

  15. 15
    AmyDietz123 says:

    The “Riders” cover gave me a chuckle.  I enjoyed the review much more than I would the book.

  16. 16
    Clare says:

    Loved all of Jilly Coopers books. However since I devoured them all I find it difficult to find another author which can be as entertaining. Can anyone make any recommendations or is Jilly Cooper so super unique?

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