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Historical Romance Goes Mainstream

Historical Romance Goes Mainstream

Written by Michelle Lawrence

Top 5 Historical Romance Reads

The first time I read a romance novel, I was eight. This was admittedly too young, but as a kid with ADHD, reading was about the only thing that could hold my attention for long, and I was bored with what was considered ‘age appropriate’. I borrowed (read: stole) my first romance novel, Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase, from my mother’s collection and became hopelessly addicted to the entire genre and its happy ending guarantee. Subsequently, for the majority of my life I have been teased by my peers and the more literary members of my family for reading such “trash”. While I have always contested anyone calling my favourite books trash, and defended the absolute brilliance of some of today’s best-selling romance authors (Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, Sherry Thomas, Loretta Chase, etc.), I have been unsuccessful in converting their detractors. The complete dismal of one of the most popular fiction genres, by those who have never even read any of it, continued to baffle and frustrate me. 

Then Netflix’s hit series Bridgerton happened. And, oh, how the mighty have fallen! Based on the popular series by Julia Quinn (which I started reading around age 13), the Netflix series started a huge surge in popularity for the previously ignored and ridiculed romance genre. 

So, just in time for Valentine’s Day, and for all the people in my life who have been bugging me for my “bodice-ripper” recommendations after finishing the Netflix show (which is #1 in Canada), here are 5 of my favourite historical romance novels:

The Viscount Who Loved Me – Julia Quinn

“I must be the only sensible one in the garden is what I must be,’ Mrs. Featherington said officiously. ‘Lud, girl, he had his mouth on your bubbies, and we all saw it.”

-An Excerpt From: The Viscount Who Loved Me – Julia Quinn

If you watched Bridgerton, you most likely have an opinion on the hotness level of the eldest Bridgerton son and heir, Anthony. This is his story and, most likely, the main plot of season two. As sexy as Jonathan Bailey is, book-version of Anthony is truly even sexier – positively smouldering. The plot focuses on Anthony’s determination (due to man feelings) to avoid love at all costs and settle down with a sensible, obedient and attractive woman from the right family (read: dull and boring with limited intelligence). Only problem is, the girl he’s chosen has a firmly-on-the-shelf older sister, Kate Sheffield, who can’t stand him and has some say in her sisters choice of husband. The chemistry between the two is palpable and their banter is rapier sharp and often laugh out loud worthy. 

In my opinion, this is the best book in the series (followed closely by Colin’s book Romancing Mr. Bridgerton). 

A Week to Be Wicked – Tessa Dare

“I’m a woman who knows a great deal about rocks. I suggest you find the stones to deal with it.” 

-An Excerpt From: A Week to Be Wicked – Tessa Dare

A historical road trip romance! Which includes, but is not limited to the following: 

  • A lovable ass with self-worth issues beyond his obvious sex appeal, Colin Sandhurst (Lord Payne), who is often preoccupied with coming up with ways to irritate and annoy a particular spinster.
  • particular spinster blue-stocking, Miss Minerva Highwood, who would just like to be taken seriously as a geologist and has no interest in hot dummies with lovable ass tendencies. 
  • Highway robbers!
  • Cave exploration in old-timey bathing costumes!
  • A cross-country road trip wrapped in an elopement bow

I know. It sounds like a lot. But it is delightfully not a lot. While the book plot spans only one week, the main characters already have an established relationship at the start. When Minerva finds a fossil of a rather large lizard footprint in a cave near her home, she is met with scepticism from her male peers, and knows the only way to prove her discovery is to bring the bones to said peers, The Royal Geologist Society. But, as her mother just wants her to stop playing with rocks and have babies instead, she knows her family won’t help her. She enlists the aid of the most rakish man in Spindle Cove, Colin, as his reputation is already bad enough to survive the scandal, and she couldn’t care less if she’s “ruined”. She’s just about the science, you guys. And maybe she wouldn’t mind taking advantage of the whole sharing a bed thing by conducting a study into the science behind physical attraction. But, like, purely for science.

This book is an effervescent delight and Colin is exactly why almost every heterosexual woman on earth loves the idea of reforming a rake. And while you can’t really heal a man with your vagina, author Tessa Dare makes a really good case for trying. 

Private Arrangements – Sherry Thomas

“He walked into his wife’s hotel with a freshly shaven jaw and a wilting bunch of hydrangea bought from an elderly flower vendor about to go home for the day. He felt as nervous and stupid as a pig living next door to a butcher. Standing before the hotel clerk, he had to clear his throat twice before he could get his question out.

‘Is . . . is Lady Tremaine here?’

‘No, sir, I’m sorry,” said the clerk. “Lady Tremaine just left.’

‘I see. When is she expected to return?’ He would wait right here. He would never go anywhere again without her.”

-An Excerpt From: Private Arrangements. – Sherry Thomas

Sherry Thomas is an outstanding author. Hands down an amazing wordsmith. The elegant simplicity of Sherry Thomas’ prose conveys so much depth, colour and emotional nuance. The main characters, Lord Tremaine and Lady Tremaine, have had the perfect marriage for the last ten years, at least by society standards, as they have spent the last ten years since their marriage on separate continents. Gigi Rowland (Lady Tremaine) and Camden Saybrook (Lord Tremaine) are very attracted to each other from the get go but, Gigi, determined that their destiny is each other, and desperate to hold on to it, shatters their happy union with her stubborn desperation. Their subsequent anger, guilt and pride, have them at a cold impasse. This book is a lusty, emotional and poignant journey between two people who love each other but must overcome and reckon with their past, to be together again. Camden is not a rake and is better for it. There is a pragmatic realism to their relationship, that despite the historical setting, grounds it in reality and adds to the emotional resonance. Her other works, including my second favourite of hers Not Quite a Husband, are just as amazing. 

Ten Things I Hate About the Duke – Loretta Chase

“She got thrown out of a carriage… Did she lie there, moaning and groaning and waiting for help? No. First thing she does, she sits up and knocks me over with her hat. Then, I’m lying on the ground, only wanting to be let be for a minute or two, so I don’t cast up my accounts. She throws a bucket of water on me and makes me do this and that and march a mile with her, while she fusses over her tiger. I ask her to marry me, and she throws a teapot at me…. Then, I make a lunatic move, and try to lay hands on her—and she knocks me back over a gallery rail and leaves me dangling.’ 

Ashmont laughed at the recollection. Whatever else Miss Pomfret did, she wouldn’t run away.”

-An Excerpt From: Ten Things I Hate About the Duke – Loretta Chase

I loved this book. Published late last year, it imagines a world in which a grown man of wealth and privilege, is forced into an epiphany, realizes what a terrible human he’s been for most of his life, contemplates how his wealth, privilege and anatomy have helped him to avoid any real consequences for his ass-hattery, and then decides to try to become a decent human being, for himself and the woman he loves. Pure fiction escapism right there. This book is also another Loretta Chase instant classic (I highly recommend you checking out her other novels, especially Mr. Impossible, Miss Wonderful & Lord of Scoundrels). The heroine, Cassandra Pomfret is a social activist and behind the scenes politician. She is affectionately known by the males in the ton as Medusa, deGriffith’s Gorgon, and Cassandra, Prophet of Doom. She had a pretty severe life-long crush on the Duke of Ashmont, but when she grew up she saw that he was actually an awful person and didn’t deserve her thoughts, let alone affection. When the Duke of Ashmont almost kills her and her entourage in a drunken accident, he is hit over the head with the fact of his awfulness until he has no choice to but to face it and make amends. It takes the rampant misogyny of Shakespeares’ The Taming of the Shrew, the feministic overtones and rampant sexiness of Heath Ledger in Ten Things I Hate About You, adds a liberal dose of Mary Wollstonecraft and scrambles them together until a (perfectly) splendid and timely romance emerges.

Slightly Dangerous – Mary Balogh

“And infatuated be damned. He was near to being blinded by his attraction to her. He was in love, damn it all. He disliked her, he resented her, he disapproved of almost everything about her, yet he was head over ears in love with her, like a foolish schoolboy. He wondered grimly what he was going to do about it. He was not amused. Or in any way pleased.”

-An Excerpt From: Slightly Dangerous – Mary Balogh

It would be overly simplistic to sum this book up as Pride and Prejudice but with lots of sex, but to me, that is the best part of this book and what had me reading it in the first place. Mary Balogh is a prolific, seriously talented, historical romance author and this is just one of my favs. This book is the last in a series of six regarding the Bedwyn siblings (Check them out when you run out of Bridgertons, Netflix!). The widowed Mrs. Christine Derrick, meets the eldest and most foreboding looking Bedwyn, Wulfric, the Duke of Bewcastle at an event she really shouldn’t be invited too. She’s a poor widow and does not run in the same circle as the Duke, and like Jane Austen’s Elizabeth Bennet, she does not really care to. From the moment he meets her and talks to her, Wulfric is infatuated, and like Mr. Darcy, has absolutely no clue what to do and really screws the pooch. He feels all the feels and you’ll be right there with him. Mary Balogh is fantastic at conveying a plethora of underlying emotions, in what’s not said as much as what is said.  

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