Historicals: They’ll Keep You Coming Back for More

Book The Bride

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.

Book Secrets of a summer night 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?

Book The Princess Bride 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.

Such as:

“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?

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Random Musings

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  1. 1
    Lisa J says:

    Any Julie Garwood historical makes the list.  Also, Donna Fletcher’s Tame My Wild Touch, Isle of Lies,  and Irish Devil are rereads, too.

  2. 2
    Lynnd says:

    Playing the Jack by Mary Brown was my once-a-year re-read for a very long time,  but my copy is now getting so tattered that I’m afraid to touch it in case it falls apart (hello publishers – e-version and new print version pretty please).  I still do pull it off my shelf occasionally to reread my favourite parts.  It is one of those novels that just has everything that I look for in a story.

    One of my new favourite historical romance re-reads is Unraveled by Courtney Milan.  I love everything about this book as well and Smite’s justice speech has gotten me through several bad days at work (reminds me of why I do what I do for a living).

  3. 3
    Mary Beth says:

    Thanks, this was a fun article and it was fun to think about my favorite rereads.  I too go back to certain books when I need a good comfort read.  Hands down my favorite author to revisit is Mary Balogh.  She writes stories which are just perfect for me.  I too like Lisa Kleypas.  I have reread several of her books in the past and I am certain that I will return to them in the future.  Sadly, I have not adored her recent contemporary titles like I do her older historicals.

  4. 4
    SB Sarah says:

    @Lynnd: I was curious, as I’d never heard of Playing the Jack, and WOW is this a bit of a rare book.

    I found a copy on alibris for $28US (Hardcover): http://bit.ly/19nUHPa

    And I found a paperback on eBay for $4.50US: http://bit.ly/1fQqL3s

    There are a few available on Amazon, too from a penny up to $380+US – that paperback must be pristine, or maybe it makes you breakfast: http://amzn.to/174n2dU

    And now I’m checking my library because I kind of want to read this book.

  5. 5

    Mary Balogh, Carla Kelly, Edith Layton and Georgette Heyer are on my most often re-read shelf. Every now and then I’ll pick up a book and realize two hours later that I’ve fallen under its spell all over again. They’re great comfort reads.

    @Lynnd—I adore Playing the Jack, and have a hardcover copy I treasure. Sadly, the author died far too young.

  6. 6
    Joane says:

    I have not many romantic comfort readings. I guess the closest thing could be Lady Sophia’s Lover, by Kleypas. I also loved two of the three you mention: Kleypas’ & the Princess’ Bride. With Garwood my feeling has been usually the opposite: I want desperately to like the books, because everybody love her, but I can’t – sorry!

  7. 7

    For a comfort read, I often find myself returning to Sheila Simonson’s A Cousinly Connexion

  8. 8
    Linda Morris says:

    I frequently reread anything by Patricia Gaffney and Laura Kinsale. In addition, two lesser-known but wonderful authors I reread frequently are Marjorie Farrell and Elizabeth Delancey. Farrell’s Red Red Rose and Desert Hearts are two of my all-time faves, as are Delancey’s Sea of Dreams and Touch of Lace. Actually, I blogged about my love of Desert Hearts a while back: http://bit.ly/1a2HFJU

  9. 9
    romsfuulynn says:

    Oh, wow.  Playing the Jack is AMAZING.  (Even more amazing if you read it from scratch without knowing anything about it, which I did.)

  10. 10
    Amanda says:

    @Mary Beth

    I’ve actually been wary about trying Kleypas’ contemporaries, but the general consensus seems to be that her historicals are better.

  11. 11
    Bea says:

    My personal favorite is Once in a Blue Moon by Penelope Williamson. I read it gazillion times along the years. It was my first historical and you know, first love and all that…And I love, love the heroine Jessalyn; her grandmother is an unforgettable character and McCaddy Trelawny is the perfect blend of hottie alpha and vulnerable and tortured hero. And the setting is absolutely perfect.

    I also love Lisa Kleypas’ Wallflowers and Hathaways books. Now that I have the audiobooks narrated by Rosalyn Landor, they’ve become a comfort listen as well.

    Now I have to read Playing the Jack. Off I go to find a copy!

  12. 12
    Karen Wapinski says:

    I love the Princess Bride! Although I’m slightly embarrassed to say I feel for that story in the Introduction hook, line, and sinker and even went so far as to try to find the original Princess Bride online when I realized it was the author’s idea of a joke lol

    My go-to romance is actually a YA: The Changeover by Maragret Mahy. It only takes about an hour or so to read but the characters are a delight and it always reinspires me.

  13. 13
    DonnaMarie says:

    I admit, my taste in historical rereads is a product of my generation, so all those classic Laurie McBaine & Kathleen Woodiwiss books, especially “Shana” and “Chance the Winds of Fortune” are right where I can reach them without actually getting out of bed when I don’t feel so hot.  For something a little more modern I reach for Christina Dodd’s “That Scandalous Evening” are anything by Sherry Thomas. Many’s the day I wash the bad taste out of my mouth with one of those.

  14. 14
    donna powell says:

    Oh, I forgot, funny Princess Bride story. I took my godsons to see it back in the day ( I think they were 7 & 9). When I picked them up the older one asked what we were going to see and when I said “The Princess Bride” he gave me that sort of look you’d expect from a boy hearing that title. So I rushed to add “You’ll like it. There’s pirates and sword fights and a giant – I swear.” And he shrugged on his little jacket with the same sort of I’m just going along with this to make you happy move I envision many a romance hero making and that “yeah, right” expression on his face. Really, whenever a writer describes a male character with a look of righteous disgust on his face because the romantic interest is making him do something against his better judgement, there’s Robin’s little face in my mind.

    And, yes, 25 years later, still one of his all time favorite movies.

  15. 15
    cleo says:

    This is a fun thread.

    In no particular order:
    A Summer to Remember by Mary Balough, Love in the Afternoon by Lisa Kleypas and Deception by Amanda Quick.  Actually, I have several Amanda Quicks on my keeper shelf – Mystique, Ravished, and Desire and probably a couple others I’m forgetting.

    The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley isn’t technically a romance, but it has romantic elements and it’s a long time comfort re-read.  Also, Sorcery and Cecelia – I have the original 80s edition and it is falling apart, as well as the ebook.

    @Amanda – actually I think Kleypas’ historicals and contemporaries are so different that they tend to appeal to different types of readers.  I prefer her historicals, but her Travis Family contemporary series seems to be pretty beloved (I didn’t care for it, but I think it’s more a matter of taste and style than not being “good”).

  16. 16
    SB Sarah says:

    @donna: We introduced our boys to The Princess Bride one Friday evening (they were 5 and 7 at the time) and it is one of their most-favoritest movies ever. Not that they have a long history of moviegoing, but we love that something we so enjoyed and treasured is just as much their favorite as ours.

    That and The Goonies. :)

  17. 17
    bookfan says:

    Playing the Jack is one of my favorite books of all time.  I would characterize it more as an epic coming of age novel than a romance although it has a very romantic thread running throughout.  My copy is also frayed and tattered and I am thinking of buying a second copy just in case anything happens to the one I have.  The setting of most of the book is not one I have seen before or after in a historical romance.  Anyway, highly recommend!!

    Mary Balogh, LaVrle Spencer, Joan Wolf and Georgette Hoyer are the authors I turn to for palette cleansing/comfort reads.

  18. 18
    Brigid says:

    I’m curious about The Bride, it’s not anything like Outlander right? Her books are well written, but not my flavor. I’ve heard so much about the Bride, but I’m curious.  What’s so special about it? Is it the romance? The setting? The author’s voice? the courtship? I too loved the Princess Bride. I read it when I was fourteen. Its the book that got me hooked on reading. Lisa Kleypas is without a doubt one of my favorite historical romance authors.

  19. 19
    Karina C says:

    Anything Loretta Chase and Lisa Kleypas, especially Mr Impossible and the Wallflowers -The Devil in Winter is my favorite in that series-. Oh, and C.S. Harris’ St. Cyr series.

  20. 20
    beth bolden says:

    that’s so easy. . .the book I re-read over and over, usually a few times a year is The Gamble by LaVyrle Spencer.  Funny thing is, I don’t like her other books really, even her other historicals, but this one hits such a chord with me, and has from the very first page the first time I read it.

  21. 21
    Amanda says:

    @Brigid

    For me, it was the relationship. The pacing was perfect and it’s one of the few books I’ve read where I’m actually sad that I’ve reached the last page.

  22. 22
    EmDempster says:

    Historical romance is my go-to for re-reads, especially when I’m in a reading lull. My faves are Kleypas’ Devil in Winter, Garwood’s historicals, Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels, and Amanda Quick’s Ravished (as well as her other books but Ravished is my re-read of choice.)

  23. 23
    dick says:

    Like this essay, Garwood’s books are replete with charm.

  24. 24
    Heather S says:

    Well, I’m not much of a re-reader, so if I pick the (very very very tiny number of) books I’ve reread, it really comes down to “Lord of Scoundrels”. If I expand that list to include books I would like to reread, then I’ll have to add in “The Devil’s Delilah”, “Unclaimed”, and a lovely m/m historical called “False Colors” by Alex Beecroft. Oh, and Lee Rowan wrote a lovely quartet of books, too, starting with “Ransom”. Perhaps I’d toss in “Ruined by a Rake – a Novella” by Erin Knightley – loved the hero in that one. Guess I’d better include “The Winter Sea”, too, since it’s at least partly historical.

  25. 25
    Chelsea J says:

    I love to re-read Amanda Quick novels – her Arcane Society ones in particular, but I like her older ones too. I find her heroines are always spunky and clever, and those are qualities I love.

    There’s also one book – The Wolf and the Dove by Kathleen Woodweiss. I’ve reread it a dozen times or more – this was the first romance novel I ever read, so it’s got a special place in my heart.  ;)

  26. 26
    DonnaMarie says:

    @Chelsea J. So glad to see it’s not just me! Mmmm Wulfgar.

    I offer you my life, my love, my arm, my sword, my eye, my heart. Take them all. Spare not the least portion. If you cast it away then I am dead and shall wander the moors howling like a mindless beast.

    Prose doesn’t get much more purple than that, and I love every syllable.

  27. 27
    Amanda says:

    @Chelsea J – THE WOLF AND THE DOVE!! Be still, my heart. I savored that book like no one’s business.

    And to all the ladies who mentioned “Lord of Scoundrels.” Unfortunately, that is one of those books that I keep reminding myself to read, but it keeps getting lost in the To Be Read. I’ve heard nothing but amazing things about it.

  28. 28
    chacha1 says:

    Thanks to all you helpful people, I have tracked down and ordered a copy of “Playing the Jack.”

    And you may be interested to know a new illustrated edition of “The Princess Bride” is coming out in November.

  29. 29
    Amanda says:

    @chachal – Oh my god. Yes. I also just bought a gorgeously illustrated copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy from The Folio Society at the Boston Book Fest this past week. So if anyone is a fan of that sort of thing, I’d highly recommend them.

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