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).
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!
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.
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).
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)?