Former Intern Amanda is back, this time with the historicals she always re-reads.
I do love me some romances and there are a few that I make an effort to reread every so often. They are books that remind you of why you read the things you do and why you love them. Those books that help instill faith back into the genre after a particularly harrowing reading of some new, glossy paperback that you swore seemed like a good purchase at the time. You know the books I’m talking about, the ones that serve as a literary palate cleanser so you can get that awful taste from your mouth from whatever abomination you’ve just read. If I could afford a gilded pedestal to display them and a harpist to serenade their delicately worn covers, I would.
In a general sense, I read a lot of genres apart from romance, with horror probably being the most frequent. I’m sure a psychoanalyst would have a field day looking at my bookshelf. Given the amount of my reading and how often I do it, it should come as no surprise that I have a number of favorites, all of which have a particular purpose. I’m also terribly indecisive. So, for the sake of brevity, I decided to narrow down my list of rereads to those with a historical theme.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy others, but historicals are what I read most often and I have a bit of a love/hate relationship when it comes to other genres, like paranormal. I’ve been burned one too many times by the likes of tortured vampires longing for humanity and boatloads of unnecessary brooding from all parties involved. When I’m left wondering why I just traded my normal and healthy circadian rhythm in favor of soldiering on simply for the sake of finishing, I usually turn to different type of romance for a breath of fresh air, so I don’t do something drastic, like shunning paranormal romances altogether. In times when I read a god-awful piece of purple prose and, believe me, that does happen, I’ll usually find myself picking up a romance that gives me a break from the heaving bosoms and mysterious inheritances of historicals.
I think it’s necessary to start with the first historical romance that made a positive impact on me. At that time, I had been reading Smart Bitches, Trashy Books for quite a bit and was rather wary of historical romances in particular. Beatrice Small comes to mind, immediately. I’ve read too many comments and reviews regarding what she deems as acceptable courtship to tread lightly.
So, one summer when I had way too much time on my hands, I joined a reading group on Goodreads. This group had tons of reading challenges and games, one of which consisted of members picking a book for you to read that month. The book was The Bride by Julie Garwood ( A | BN | K S | ARe | iB ). I remember looking at the cover, reading the description, and indulging in a very exaggerated roll of my eyes. Despite this immediate, polarizing reaction, I picked up a copy at the local library, fully aware that I may be a glutton for punishment.
But, it was good. It was really good. In the most basic summary I can muster, Alex, a Scottish laird, at the Scottish King’s command, must wed an English bride, Jamie. I’m sure you can sense the tension already from that sentence alone. Aside from the fact that Jamie is said to have violet eyes (please, join me in a collective groan), I could find very little to negatively say about the book. My inner curmudgeon wanted so desperately dislike the book that it tried to nitpick even the slightest details like character names. In truth, the plot isn’t anything revolutionizing, but the fact that the writing was well done and, in my opinion, realistically captured the growth of two strangers rushed into a marriage outweighed the predictability of the book. It’s a book that always makes me sad when I reach the last page.
I feel like this list wouldn’t be complete without Lisa Kleypas mentioned somewhere. I cannot say enough good things about The Wallflowers and I promise that I’m not being paid promotional fees. While I may have a favorite in the series, the excited, anticipatory emotion associated with starting a new series will forever be tied to Secrets of a Summer Night ( A | BN | K S | ARe | iB ).
Just between us, I have a weakness for characters that are on the brink of spinsterhood according to historical standards. I like a heroine who doesn’t mind shunning the conventions of marriage for the sake of her own happiness, if that’s truly what she wants. The series centers around four young women in their quest for husbands with the first revolving on Annabelle Peyton and Simon Hunt. Annabelle isn’t a simpering, wet blanket. She’s up front about what she wants: chiefly, a rich husband. She’s genuine and doesn’t necessarily try to pander her personality to others, qualities that I admire, though who doesn’t like a strong heroine.
All of the Wallflowers in the book have their quirks and strengths and I couldn’t help but look forward to reading their own happily ever afters. The attention to secondary characters makes the book richer for me. In any setting, it’s natural for people to interact with others and have varying relationships with the people around them. Oftentimes, I find that authors don’t spend enough time crafting worthy acquaintances or friends aside from the main characters. How a character relates to other people, in my opinion, can amp up the characterization through showing rather than telling.
What kept me most interested is the dialogue. In my opinion, Kleypas has a knack for writing some of the best verbal exchanges. My copy of the book is wrought with quotes underlined in pencil because I’m a huge dork and like to skim through it for the purpose of reading a worthwhile quote or two.
For this exchange, Simon is carrying Annabelle and, of course, she’s putting up a bit of a fuss.
“I spent most of my youth hauling sides of beef and pork to my father's shop. Carrying you is far more enjoyable.”
“How sweet,” Annabelle mumbled sickly, her eyes closed. “Every woman dreams of being told that she's preferable to a dead cow.”
Seriously, how can I resist dialogue like that?
Now, I know I’m stretching the box of historical romances with this last one, but I’m hoping you’ll look the other way on account of how awesome it is: The Princess Bride by William Goldman. ( A | BN | K S | ARe | iB )
I’m sure that a lot of you have seen the movie and I, for one, watch it every time I see it on television. I also get to hear the same story from my mother every time it’s on that the song in the credits was almost her wedding song. And Mom, in case you read this, I know. You don’t need to tell me anymore, though you’re welcome to keep singing along with the credits.
I really don’t know how many times I had watched the movie before I realized it was a book. For some reason, I never seemed to pay attention to the title screen where it explicitly states that it was based on the book of the same title. It goes to show you how top-notch my situational awareness really is. The Princess Bride, the film, is staggeringly true to the book, which is usually a rarity, but of course the book is better. It’s better because there’s more. There are several things that don’t make it into the film, probably on account of boring film logistics like budget and time.
It’s the perfect blend of romance and action and comedy. At the end of the book, it’s normal for me to sit back and reflect on the book as a whole, just to think about things that I wish were different or what I feel would have made the book better. You can always tell you’ve got yourself a keeper when the only complaint you have was that there’s nothing else to read. Even if the amount of pages were doubled, I’d want more. Maybe it’s the fact that Goldman blends everything so seamlessly. He could wax and wane about true love – after all, that is what the book is about – but he’ll follow it up with something that doesn’t make the language overtly cheesy or cliché.
“True love is the best thing in the world, except for cough drops.”
And my personal favorite:
“Cynics are simply thwarted romantics.”
I’m really not sure if there’s a unifying theme throughout these books that makes me love them like I do, but it makes me realize that the content or the message doesn’t have to be the most original; the books just have to convey them, those universal themes of love, in an original way. Yes, part of my enjoyment comes from the characters and how they develop over the course of the novel, but if the writing isn’t engaging according to my own ridiculous preferences, the author could have created the next great, literary masterpiece and it wouldn’t make a whit of difference.
I may not read these books on an annual basis, but when I’m desperate for the comfort and satisfaction of a good read in my loosely defined realm of historical romances, these are the first ones I snag off the shelf. Perhaps, in the future, I’ll do the same for contemporary or paranormal, though I’d have to give those some careful consideration.
Do any of you have a list of historical rereads? Any go-to historical romances that jostle you awake from whatever nightmare you’ve just read? Which do you re-read without hesitation?