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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Historical Love

Does anyone else feel like the wheel is turning and bringing historical romance back to prominence? It seems that every book I hear about on Twitter and from friends is a historical. At Borders, the co-op tables are full of them, and not just the standby favorites like Eloisa James and Suzanne Enoch, either.

I'm willing to believe it might be a personal perceptual thing--I'm going through quite a historical renaissance myself just at the moment. I've read three historicals in the last couple of weeks that have completely rekindled my adoration for my first romance novel love.

The first was The Legend of the Werestag, a novella prequel to the upcoming series by Tessa Dare. Werestag, much ballyhooed and buzzed by such difficult critics as Jane from Dear Author and Smart Bitch Sarah, was published by Samhain as a way to build excitement before the debut of Tessa's first trilogy, being published back-to-back by Ballantine. I will confess, I read it because I follow Tessa on Twitter and I like her, and also because I wanted to find out what made Sarah and Jane so excited about this weirdly titled non-paranormal historical. Almost immediately, though, I forgot why I picked it up, or even that I was reading at all. I was THAT sucked into the story, which is deliciously gothic and sexy. The writing is atmospheric without veering into melodrama, and the characters are beautifully drawn. I never wanted it to end.

But it was a novella! Satisfying, yes, but still short enough to whet my appetite for more. While I definitely plan to buy Goddess of the Hunt when it hits shelves at the end of July, I couldn't wait that long to feed my historical hunger.

So I turned to another book I'd heard about on Twitter (this is turning into a blog about how Twitter can help you find the perfect read for any mood, isn't it?) when it came out, and several of the authors I follow, including Tessa, were going ballistic over it. That would be the boringly packaged, incomparably exciting latest by Jennifer Ashley: The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie. Ms. Ashley isn't a new author, but she was new to me, and I had no preconceived notions of what to expect when I picked up her book at my local Borders. Oh, not precisely true--I had heard several people comment that they almost didn't read it, not expecting to be able to enjoy a hero like Lord Ian, but when they gave it a chance, they were blown away. Also, Lord Ian was compared to Christian, the stroke victim hero of Laura Kinsale's classic (and one of the first romance novels I ever read) Flowers from the Storm. So. He had a lot to live up to, did Lord Ian.

By page four, I wasn't remotely concerned that he would. Lord Ian Mackenzie is unique in the world of romance. The comparison to Christian is valid and justified, but to compare them implies a similarity that detracts from Ian's originality and utterly endearing individuality. I could not have loved him more. Ms. Ashley did an incredible job of showing the world through his eyes, giving us his skewed, awkward, beautiful perspective without reducing him to an object of pity. And the heroine! Beth is a widow...who actually loved and had pleasurable sex with her first husband! Talk about pushing the envelope and trashing tropes.

From there, I was good and hooked. Of course, The Madness of Lord Ian turns out to be the first in a new series--but the story of Ian's next Scottish brother isn't out until the middle of next year. *sob* So I went back to (where else?) Twitter for my next reading rec. It turns out that when you ask a group of avid romance readers what their favorite historical romance is, half will respond with Flowers from the Storm, and the other half will say Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase. Having already read and re-read everything Kinsale ever wrote, I decided to give LoS a try. I'd never heard of Loretta Chase before Berkley bought and published Miss Wonderful, amid great rejoicing, in 2004. I heard nothing for weeks but how fabulous an author she was, but I was buried under a pile of slush manuscripts and the last thing I had time for was to read for pleasure.

Having recently decided that I don't have time NOT to read while I'm writing, I started Lord of Scoundrels last night. And finished it this morning around 11. I'm not kidding; I woke up at 6:30 to read this book. I can't believe how many times I laughed, got teary, and nearly threw my hands up in despair of ever writing a book half so entertaining and heart-wrenchingly wonderful. The heroine? One of my best friends in the whole world. I want to BE Jessica Trent when I grow up. Practical, tough-minded, utterly unabashed by whatever the hero throws at her--and all in a convincing, unshrewish way! And the hero. Oh my word. From the masterful prologue describing him as an ugly, uncertain child with a violent temper, I was completely entranced. Every mean, sarcastic word out of his mouth, and there are plenty, makes sense. He's the antithesis of the cold, unfeeling aristocrat who often stomps through the pages of historical romance. While Dain couldn't be more alpha, he's also sensitive as a raw wound and willing to do anything to protect himself. I believed every reaction, every word from his mouth, and felt like I knew him better than most people I hang out with on a day-to-day basis. I can see precisely why Lord of Scoundrels is such a favorite. I'm not sure if it's usurped Shadow and the Star or Flowers from the Storm as my personal top pick; those were the books that started me down the path that led to my lifelong obsession with romance, after all. Ask me again in a few years, when I've had a chance to reread Lord of Scoundrels as many times as I've enjoyed those books I discovered at twelve.


I've always wanted to read Lord of Scoundrels. Just the name sounds so delicious. Definitely on my TBR pile, as well as the jennifer ashley book. But first, I must go get Eloisa's newest Duchess installment...

I just got a BAM GC for my b-day. I know what I'm buying with it now!

Thanks for the great post. I'm looking for good romances to read to become familiar with the genre. I'm going to check these out!

I've been looking for a few new good books. Thanks for the recommendations! I'm going to see if they have LOS at my Borders now...fingers crossed!

LoS is an older title ('95, I think) so my local Borders didn't have it. I had to order. But it was so worth it!! If they don't, Jen, pick up Lord Ian, I swear you'll love it.

Embee, I've got plenty more recs where that came from! Check out are some cool lists of favorite romances on there.

I just got The Madness... it looks fascinating. I love a good historical!

I've always been a huge historical fan. I've got to get the Legend of Werestag and get in on the buzz.

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