Comfort Reads and Edith Layton

Book To Wed a Stranger The subject of comfort reading has come up many times on Smart Bitches. Everyone has their warm-fuzzy author, the one we go to when we want to feel a little better about the world or visit an old friend. My comfort author is the late Edith Layton. When someone wants to try Regency romance for the first time, I always suggest they start with Layton. There's something about her writing that transcends the usual tropes found in the Austen era ballroom.

So why do I love Layton so much? Why does she give me more warm fuzzies than a basket full of kittens? Part of it is the consistency of her writing, part of it is her amazing characters, and a lot of it due to her ability to make me fall in love along with the people she's writing about. 

About two years ago I had my tonsils out, which is especially sucky when you're an adult. I spent two weeks eating nothing but Jell-O and popsicles, high as a kite on red dye no 4 and liquid Percocet. I was way too stoned to read anything new and remember fuckall about it (my husband claims I once woke him up at three a.m. to tell him, “Polar bears are fucking intense,” but I have no memory of this), so instead I went back to my happy place. I gathered up Layton's backlist in a stack and went to town. Despite feeling generally awful, and despite having read all of her books before, Layton took me away from my temporary misery to candlelit, Jell-O-free ballrooms. It says something about an author when they can ease you through two weeks of post-op recovery.

I have a handful of favorite authors, the ones who knock my socks off. The thing about favorite authors, though, is that while they often turn out A+ books, there are usually a few clunkers too. Eloisa James is probably my all time favorite historical author, but as much as I loved When Beauty Tamed the Beast and When the Duke Returns,  I found myself lukewarm on The Duke is Mine and actively disliking An Affair Before Christmas. Layton's real magic is that every one of her books is good. Some are better than others, sure, but I can't think of a single book of hers that I read and thought 'meh.' That's the beauty of a comfort author–here there be contented sighs and happy endings. When I first discovered Layton at my local library, I devoured all of her books and didn't feel the least burned out. Each of her books had her voice, her style, but was unique to itself. I have yet to find that quality in another author.

But the main reason I love Layton like cake is her swoon-worthy heroes. Here's the thing, I secretly really crush on the nice guy. I like kind men. I mean, who doesn't, but when I read a book about an alpha-hole who's domineering and out of touch with his feels, I like the hero but I probably don't get all mushy over him. But when I read a book about a hero who is complex, but fundamentally kind and unafraid to show it? That's when my panties drop. I love the hero who is thoughtful and considerate, even when he might look tough, scary or beastly on the outside. Unfortunately heroes who have all their feels in order and are nice guys don't make for scintillating reading, usually. Layton somehow writes these characters and makes them shine.

Book To Tempt a Bride My three favorite Layton heroes are Miles Croft from To Wed a Stranger,  Eric Ford from To Tempt a Bride and Simon Atwood from His Dark and Dangerous Ways.

Let's look at how Simon meets his heroine, Jane Chatham. Jane is an impoverished lady seeking employment in the few respectable trades available to her: she is a dancing instructor for the children of nobility. Simon, Lord Granger, is a spy and he wants to recruit Jane to pass along gossip and eavesdrop on her noble clients. When Simon approaches Jane it's in the streets of London, and she believes he's about to proposition her. She is acutely aware of how precarious her position is and how easily she could be ruined. 

Now, Simon is attracted to Jane. He watched her teach dance to students while she had her dress rucked up to her knees. That's right, he saw her goddamned calves and ankles. I mean, that's seriously erotic shit right there. Simon confronts Jane in an alley, and, assuming he wants an assignation, Jane basically tells him to go to hell. In another novel there would have been a moment where Simon shows Jane that she really would welcome his advances by grasping her wrist, or whispering something seductively in her ear, or even pushing her up against the alley wall. Not here though. Simon respects her boundaries, explains he's interested in her only in her ability to gather information, and generally makes her feel okay. There is no undercurrent of menacingly sexual tension.


Because now Jane has been propositioned for an unexpected reason by a super hot guy and she's thinking, wait, what just happened? Also he smells good. Wait? What? 

Layton does this thing where her heroes are so not douchey, and somehow in not being so, become infinitely more sexy. It's hard to describe, but basically Simon does not act as expected, which makes Jane–and in turn the reader–step back and really look at him and think “hmmm…I wonder what's going on there.” Her heroes are sexy because they don't advertise being sexy. It's like reverse psychology. 

In To Tempt a Bride the hero, Eric, is the best friend of the heroine, Camille's, older brother. Camille has secretly loved Eric from afar, but he's always treated her like an affectionate older sibling himself. To make matters worse, Camille is not a traditionally attractive woman and she believes he can't want her. Of course, Eric secretly has feelings for Camille, but he contracted malaria during his time in the military and the reoccurring bouts of illness make him fear he'd leave her widowed young. The thing that I love about Eric is that he has a real reason for not pursuing Camille. There are so many dukes, earls, rakes and rogues who decide they can't love because they did ONE BAD THING in their past or because their dad didn't love them enough that they have to become super broody and dark and emo. It's almost like “I can't love you Julianne…I…am…the night…I…am…Batman.”

Eric is really sick, and that really scares him and it should. But when he does start to let his guard down and show Camille that she is beautiful, it's absolutely heart-melting.

Book His Dark and Dangerous Ways That's the other thing I love so much about Layton. Her characters fall in love slowly, organically, without over-the-top realizations. It feels so natural and subtle that as a reader I'm completely with them on their journey. In To Wed a Stranger, Annabelle and Miles have a marriage of convenience. Annabelle is not an awesome person in the start of the book. She's a beauty and the toast of the ton and she's kind of self-centered and shitty. She becomes violently ill on their honeymoon and Miles, literally a stranger to her, nurses her back to health. During her illness her looks fade. She becomes gaunt and the doctors, using awesome 1800s medicine, cut off her hair to help with her fever.

Stripped of her beauty and completely vulnerable, Annabelle has to learn who she really is all while falling in love with the man she cynically married for convenience, the man who stood by her when she was sick. They go from almost total strangers to best friends and lovers in a way that is so natural and beautifully developed that it takes my breath away as a reader every time. Miles cares for Annabelle without controlling her, and I loved that about him. 

In 2009 I learned that Edith Layton had passed away. I was struck with grief, not only for her family, but selfishly for me as a reader. As much as I'd love a new Layton novel, I'm grateful for the all wonderful books I do have. She's the only author whose entire collection I own in digital and print versions. Even as I read this, I'm thinking that I should re-read His Dark and Dangerous Ways this weekend.

Who are your comfort authors? Are there any authors that are as magical for you is Layton is for me? 

To Wed a Stranger is currently $4.99 and is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Sony | Kobo | iBooks | All Romance eBooks.

To Tempt a Bride is currently .99c and is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Sony | Kobo | iBooks | All Romance eBooks.

His Dark and Dangerous Ways is currently $5.99 and is available from Goodreads | Amazon | BN | Sony | Kobo | iBooks | All Romance eBooks.

Plus, there are a few other Edith Layton novels on sale, as well. You can see the complete list here.

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Sasha says:

    I just want to say I so relate to the suck that is getting your tonsils out as an adult.
    I knew I was in for a rough time when my Dr. said ahead of time “It’s going to be really bad, but I’ll give you good drugs.”  He was right.

  2. 2
    Patricia M. says:

    Totally relate.  I had a mastectomy, but similar issues.  Unfortunately, the good drugs don’t work on me so I just had to deal.  I thought that I would binge watch all those television shows that everyone else has already seen and that I would spend lots of time reading.  Nope, did not happen.  I could not watch or read anything new.  I reread old favorites and found out the answer to the question, “Just how many times can you watch Air Force One on cable starring Harrison Ford”.  Apparently the answer is “infinite number of times”.

  3. 3
    Kris Bock says:

    Mary Stewart is my comfort read. And I’m with you on nice heroes! I think that’s why I like action plots in romance novels—romantic suspense (but not nonstop violence-sex-violence-sex), historicals with spies, etc. I like to see the couple working together, not just fighting. Or else misunderstandings that come from important secrets, like “I’m a spy,” not foolish ones.

    Thanks for sharing.

  4. 4
    Pollie says:

    Great post today.  Believe it or not, I’d never heard of Edith Layton until Sarah reviewed The Duke’s Wager.  I picked it up not expecting much and was spellbound.  What a wonderful storyteller.  I agree with you, Elyse.  She has a magic with her heroes.  Every one of her stories I’ve liked except one.  Bride Enchanted stopped me in my tracks.  It doesn’t even seem like it was written by the same author.  I stopped at page 153 and can’t decide if I want to pick it back up or live it alone.  Anyway, thanks for reminding us all what a great author Edith Layton is.  Just picked up a couple more of her stories after I read your post.

  5. 5

    My favorite Layton of all time is The Duke’s Wager. The characterization was outstanding, far beyond what most romance authors are giving readers today. I re-read it at least once a year.  She’s greatly missed by all of us.

  6. 6
    Stephanie says:

    Mary Balogh is my go to author.  Her books never fail to give me the warm, comforting feeling that everything will be alright.

  7. 7
    CarrieS says:

    Heck yeah, polar bears are intense!  And now I’m off to check out some Layton!

  8. 8
    Vasha says:

    This week I’m hugely stressed, I’m immersing myself in Terry Pratchett, and it’s really, really helping.

  9. 9
    LML says:

    When I clicked through to purchase To Wed a Stranger, my eye caught on an Amazon review which said character Annabelle made her first appearance in a previous book, The Chance.  The Chance, plus at least 4 others by Ms Layton, are 99cents at Amazon right this minute!

    Thanks, Elyse, for a new-to-me author!

  10. 10
    jcp says:

    Betty Neels for me.  I’m going to read some of the books you mention in your post.

  11. 11
    LauraL says:

    Over this past Summer, I recovered from an injured hip muscle. This involved a lot of sitting or laying around between stretching and taking Tylenol. I am not much of a TV watcher and was trying to not break the bank ordering from Amazon, so I started re-reading some of my keeper books. Read through Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series from start to finish and started to laugh myself well. I usually grab a Julia Quinn book for a comfort read, but reading the series from start to finish was fun and distracting, especially after having just read the Epilogues.

  12. 12
    Sveta says:

    My comfort reads are Tigress series by Jade Lee and old books by Christopher Pike. Whenever I end up reading Tigress series by Jade Lee, its as if I discover them again and I find them delightful and funny, in particular Tempted Tigress. What may sound odd is if I’m in a bad mood or am going through bad things, I often turn to some Christopher Pike favorites, in particular Whisper of Death, Scavenger Hunt and so forth. I guess its because his books don’t really have a happy ending is why they’re so appealing to me. As odd as it sounds, I want to know that sad or neutral endings are okay in life.

  13. 13
    Emily says:

    @Sveta, Christopher Pike was my first auto-buy author.  I had to beg my parents to get me the newest one, and I would read them obsessively.  Thanks for bringing back great memories.

  14. 14
    garlicknitter says:

    Comfort read authors:

    Lois McMaster Bujold
    Jane Austen
    most of Georgette Heyer
    L. M. Montgomery
    Mary Jo Putney
    Elizabeth Moon
    Jane Eyre

    There’s more, and there are some who have fallen off the list, and some who aren’t exactly comforting, but I still like re-reading them when I feel like “I have nothing to read.”

  15. 15
    Kate Pearce says:

    Georgette Heyer is my #1 comfort read, I know half of them off by heart. Also old Linda Howard category length, Kell Sabin series, Cry No More…
    and if I’m settling in for a while, Dorothy Dunnett but I have to be able to concentrate if I read those so I can appreciate my #1 fictional boyfriend of all time, Lymond

  16. 16
    EC Spurlock says:

    My comfort reads are Julia Quinn, whom I can always count on for warm fuzzies and a laugh, Georgette Heyer, some LM Montgomery and LM Alcott, RA MacAvoy, who writes love stories that are not love stories but are transcendentally romantic (try The Grey Horse and Tea with the Black Dragon) and Robin McKinley, who knows how to twist those fairy tale tropes like whoa (Spindle’s End is my favorite; got my son hooked on that one as well.) I spent the summer I was pregnant with my second son (who wanted to be three weeks early to make up for his brother being three weeks late, thus occasioning a lot of feet-up-and-bed-rest) reading all of Georgette Heyer’s romances in chronological order; a really fascinating study in watching a writer’s style develop and change.

  17. 17
    Rebecca says:

    Amanda quick is totally my comfort read. My work group found out we are going to be getting layoff notices soon, so I have been needing some comfort reads.

  18. 18
    Jennifer Noe says:

    Maya Banks is my comfort read queen.  When I just feel awful, I love to read about her seriously nice-guy heroes.  Some of her books are over the top mushy, but when I am miserable that is what I need.

  19. 19
    Elyse says:

    Rebecca, I’m sorry. That sucks so bad. I’m sending you happy thoughts

  20. 20
    RosieH says:

    Please don’t laugh. My comfort reads are the series of books by “Miss Read” about life in a couple of English villages. Not much romance but what a wonderful depiction of an English spinster schoolteacher. Dry humour and best of all for me, the weather, which is just as much a character as the people.

  21. 21
    Nancy says:

    My comfort read authors are Georgette Heyer, Suzanne Enoch, and Christopher Moore. I reread these authors every year when I’m looking for something warm and soothing. All three have humor and complex characters in all of their books. Other authors I’ve only recently started reading that I suspect will become comfort reads for me are Joanna Bourne and Laura Florand. Both use rich language and create 3D characters that I’m transported every time I pick something up of theirs.

  22. 22
    LML says:

    @RosieH: No, no no.  I love Miss Read and was recently thinking about purchasing my own as I read library copies. 
    @jcp: Me, too.  I’ve just re-read 15 or so in a row to the exclusion of all others.  Hmm.  I should address whatever is troubling me so I can move on to Layton’s ‘swoon-worthy’ heroes, the YAs and [potentially delicious] doggies floating around on my kindle.  But not today…

  23. 23
    Susie F. says:

    Elyse – Edith Layton a/k/a Edith Felber was my mom. I can’t tell you how much this post means to me. Mom was an inspiration for having 3 kids and then then suffering loads of rejection before pubbing her 1st novel, which was plucked from the slush pile from someone who is now a top editor. In fact, you may know The Duke’s Wager would’ve been published way earlier if she’d changed the ending—they didn’t like the “bad guy” getting the girl.  And mom always had one aim in mind—to take readers away from real life, but with real characters. I’m soon to announce big Edith Layton news and it’s just excellent to see she is still being loved by kind readers like you.  Sharing this with all friends, family and fans now. xo to you and all Smart Bitches, Susie

  24. 24
    theo says:

    Susie! I remember you doing a column or two on the Word Wenches with your mom. She was a lovely, kind woman who corresponded with me on several occasions about writing and life and things that she humored me about. I still miss her very much. And Sarah’s right. Your mom wrote some of the very best comfort reads out there. She and her Wench sisters are still the best.

  25. 25
    theo says:

    *Elyse is right…sorry, I have Sarah on the brain for something else. I’m sorry.

  26. 26
    Mike Felber says:

    Thanks all for the great article & reminiscences all.  Due to Mom’s skills I became a bit familiar with the genre & some female longings & wish fulfillment.  I am so proud how loyally many fans loved her work, & saw it at venues like a Midtown Romance festival, book reading…Touching.

  27. 27
    Michelle says:

    Alas, My Love by Edith Layton is also now 99 cents

  28. 28
    Lil says:

    I too love Edith Layton’s books. Her heroes are such honorable men, determined to do what is right. How can you not love them? I think my favorite is Rafe in THE CHANCE, but he has competition.

  29. 29
    Kelly S says:

    I have never read one of Layton’s books.  Are they all stand alone or are there series?

    My comfort books are Jennifer Crusie’s and Elizabeth Peters.  I may include Jill Shalvis and Tessa Dare to the list once I’ve read “all” their books – harder to do with Shalvis.

    Kris – I share your love for Mary Stewart.  I especially love “Touch Not the Cat” and “The Ivy Tree.”

    There is another set of authors that I reread who all drew comics: Calvin & Hobbes, Frazz, Sheldon, 9 Chickweed Lane, The Far Side, Non-Sequitar, Unshelved, Dilbert, Opus… Talk about making a person smile!  (I went with the series as I thought they’d be more familiar than Watterson, Mallet, Kellett, etc.)

  30. 30
    LovelloftheWolves says:

    I have yet to find a comfort author (so to speak) but I do have books I always go back to for comfort. Mostly, Dealing With Dragons and Searching For Dragons (by Patricia C. Wrede). Her other two books in the series are… meh… but those two leave me feeling happy. Them, and Mr. Poppers Penguins. I know its a children’s book, but it has never mattered my age, nor my state of mind (scared, insomniac, stressed), Mr. Popper Penguins always manages to leave me at total peace.

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