Last week, I showed you a picture of the Big Bag of Historical Romances that I won at a drawing at the Virginia Festival of the Book. I arranged them in chronological order – because I am a dork like that, my friends – and now they’re stacked next to my TV, with Patricia Phillips on the top, waiting to take me to Wales in 1401. All I have to do is get out of Victorian England first.
Six weeks ago, none of this was my thing.
My mom gave me a copy of Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower a few Christmases ago, but that was mostly because she felt The Time Had Come To Give This Heirloom To Her Daughter. Then I won another Woodiwiss at a Romanticon giveaway – Joey W. Hill said it was on her keeper shelf, and I won it at a giveaway. Still, I only had a couple of historicals on my own shelves. I didn’t think I had much in common with the heroines, and when black characters did appear, they occupied the periphery of the story, which infuriates me, as you know.
But then – Festival magic!
To help out with the Virginia Romance Writers social media push in advance of the Festival, I got cozy with some historical fiction. I’d seen Deanna Raybourn at a VRW presentation some time ago, and so I tried the first of her Lady Julia Grey series, Silent in the Grave, in preparation for her Festival panel. She had me at the first page – she gets a lot of people like that – but what kept me going was the discovery that Lady Julia and I have a lot in common after all.
We both have large families, often charitably described as eccentric and unpredictable, who will go right to the wall for each other. We both enjoy our independence, although I have an easier time asserting mine than she does. Neither of us could have said no to the raven.
And so once I felt comfortable with Lady Julia, I could get comfortable within her story.
Tasha Alexander’s And Only to Deceive took me on a similar journey. The heroine reminded me of my childhood study of Latin and Greek classics, and from there, it was easy to get into the rest of the story.
Of course, having a rich “rest of the story” helps. Both Raybourn and Alexander present historical mysteries, and the romances that lie in the background are complicated. Alexander’s heroine never really got to know her husband. Raybourn’s didn’t know hers as well as she thought. Both situations make for tempting reads, against any backdrop.
Could it be that I was open to historical romances? Had I written off those heroines of the past too quickly? Was I missing out on other hot heroes and exotic settings?
I’d only started to explore these questions when I won the bag of books. Feels like a sign, right?
So here’s the reading list for my hot history course.
- The Constant Flame, Patricia Phillips
- The Laird of Stonehaven, Connie Mason
- The Conquest, Jude Deveraux
- Catriona, Jeanette Baker
- Believe, Victoria Alexander
- Defy the Storm, Kate O’Donnell
- A Season Beyond a Kiss, Kathleen E. Woodiwiss (it’s a sequel to The Flame and the Flower, so that comes first)
- Merely the Groom, Rebecca Hagan Lee
- Kiss Me Annabel, Eloisa James
- The Italian, Elaine Coffman
- Every Wish Fulfilled, Samantha James
- The Glass Slipper, Linda O. Johnston – a contemporary disguised as a historical
I’ll keep you all posted as to my progress (including how the hell I plan to write a book with all this reading). This might be the only vacation I get to take this year, but I’ll send lots of postcards!