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Subgenre Spotlight: Historical Romance

by Beth Cranford

For someone who has read more than a hundred historical romance books (not including re-reads, which I do often), I sure did start reading them late. In fact, I can tell you for an absolute fact that the first Historical Romance book I read was Rebel by Beverly Jenkins, and that I read it a few days before it released on May 28, 2019. That’s about seven years after I picked up my first romance book — a paranormal romance, FYI.

I grant you that one hundred books in slightly less than two years isn’t all that startling — not when romance readers are the most prolific readers of any genre. Just ask a book friend how many books they read in a year and be prepared to hear upwards of 350 books. Consider, however, that between the beginning my rather epic, still pressing obsession with all things historical and now, I’ve also read some 250 books from other romance sub-genres. (Side note: I like to record my notes about the books I read and love, and when I read them, in this cute little journal. Which I bought because it matches my Kindle cover. And I can be a *little* obsessive. Sigh.)

All of this is to say I love historicals. I’ve made up for the years I lost by going hard right out of the gate and not letting up since. And because nothing thrills me more than to shove the books I love under the noses of my fellow readers—if you need proof of this, I can get you references from friends who have experienced my, umm, passion for certain books — I decided you all should also get to experience the magic I felt at the hands of my favorite historical romance series.

Before I start, let me set some ground rules… I’m using the first book in every series because I am firmly of the belief that series are best enjoyed in order where possible. I have read series out of order and will do it again, but all of these series are ones that I think you’ll benefit from reading in order. I will only mention one series per author, even though many of these authors have multiple series that I’ve read and love. Indeed, this could potentially be an entire article about Mary Balogh so I’m going for variety. (But if you ever want to talk MB, email me, LOL.) And finally, I do not judge historical romances by their accuracy. Although I did, in fact, major in History at university, I am no expert. These books aren’t set in the period I mostly studied, and it’s been a good 15 years since I left Monash Uni in my rearview, so my opinions are mostly based on the romance and the writing.

Now, with that said, let’s begin with the book that started it all for me shall we?

REBEL BY BEVERLY JENKINS

I first read Rebel as an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) and loved it so much I immediately went and pre-ordered the paperback for my shelves. I hope to one day get a signature on the first page, but until then, I settle for lovingly re-reading it. Because, look, there’s a reason that Beverly Jenkins is a legend in this industry. Her writing is impeccable, and her stories take a dive into topics that others can’t and don’t want to touch on. In fact, I noted in my journal (and in my review at the time) that I learned much from this book. It’s set post-Civil War, during Reconstruction, and I will never forget the way this book pained my heart while at the same time warming it — I found a love for a new type of romance from Rebel, but I also confronted the fact that, more than 150 years after the end of the Civil War, our country is still unequal and unfair. Having said that, for those perhaps wary of letting the real world encroach on their reading (something I absolutely understand), please know that the romance between Drake and Valinda was a balm to my soul and left me with a smile on my face.

THE DUCHESS DEAL BY TESSA DARE

Not long after I finished Rebel, I messaged a friend who had been trying to get me to read historical for, oh, probably years. (For someone who loves to recommend books, I am terrible at taking recommendations. Something I need to work on, clearly.) My friend’s response was to send me Tessa Dare’s The Duchess Deal with a note basically daring me to dislike it. Dare unaccepted; 10% in and I came across this line:

“The man was cynical, insensitive, condescending, rude. And she was definitely going to marry him.”

Yes, that’s out of context, but believe me when I say that’s the line that convinced me that this book was one I would forever love. The premise: a scarred, growling bear of a Duke needs a wife, and when one just so happens to turn up in his library, he decides she’ll do. The verdict: I cannot get enough of the Duke of Ashbury and Emma, the seamstress who sees his heart.

LADY IN WAITING BY MARIE TREMAYNE

Lady in Waiting was another recommendation (from the same friend; yes, I sent her a present to say thank you because she’s my HR dealer at this point), and gah, I’m getting all flaily again just thinking about it. William, Earl of Ashworth, and Clara Mayworth — woman on the edge of ruin — had the most beautiful connection. And because of how it came about, with Clara hiding out as a maid in his house without his knowledge of her real identity, it meant a lot of those delightful forbidden feels that keep me coming back for more. Ashworth is just as swoonworthy as you’d expect, but Clara is the star here — she’s just the kind of strong heroine I like to see, especially in historical romances. To borrow a line from Arthur Abbott in one of my all-time favorite movies, The Holiday, “she had real gumption,” and the way she embraced her new life, holding on to who she was rather than kowtow to her parents, was *chef’s kiss*.

I’ve been told more than once by historical lovers that the Wallflowers series by Lisa Kleypas is a favorite, and this is me adding my voice to the chorus. Twice I’ve re-read these books, and for good reason: this author knows how to show character growth over the course of a book. (For a masterclass in character development see Devil in Winter). The series follows a group of young women, all heading toward the dreaded “shelf” that awaits unmarried women who are past the first blush of youth, who make a pact to help one another find husbands before the end of the season. Secrets of a Summer Night is Annabelle’s story and, oof, has an ending that nearly ended me. I will often find myself thinking about it, about the lovely and loving words exchanged between Annabelle, a lady without a dowry, and Simon, a self-made man without a title. Truly, the final scenes of this book . . . I’ve compared many a book ending to this one and it comes out on top every single time.

PROJECT DUCHESS BY SABRINA JEFFRIES

This was actually one of the first historicals I chose for myself! The premise of this series called to me: the children of a woman who has married and mourned multiple aristocratic husbands working to discover the truth of their fathers’ fates. Was it simply bad luck — or murder most foul?! (I’ve always wanted to use the expression “murder most foul,” please grant me poetic license.) The first book has a lot of set-up for the subsequent books, and while each book gets better and better, I still enjoyed the hell out of Project Duchess. The Duke of Greycourt is co-opted by his recently widowed (again) mother to help get a young woman ready for her debut, and of course, they fall in love — in a very satisfying way, I might add. Romance, how I love thee for always giving me a happily ever after. Keep in mind that this is a series that’s still on-going, with the next book due May 25th 2021, so if you start now, you’ll be ready when Sheridan and Vanessa hit the shelves. (Buddy read?!)

THE PROPOSAL BY MARY BALOGH

When I tell you that constraining myself to one series per author made picking a single series from Mary Balogh difficult, I mean I’d probably have an easier time telling you which one of my kids is my favorite. I weighed the benefits of the Bedwyn Saga (definitely not because of the silver-eyed Duke of Bewcastle…), worried my nails over the Westcott Series, and even spared a glance toward the Simply Quartet. But in the end, I had to go with the Survivor’s Club series, and Hugo, Lord Trentham. The men and women of this series have suffered through much, whether in war, captivity, or the simple unfairness of life in the ton, and when it’s time to re-read Mary Balogh, my mind immediately goes here. This particular book is a great jumping off point — you meet all the characters and get a sense of the very deep, very real connection they share, and you get to see a giant of a man struggle with who he is, who he needs to be, and what he wants, all while courting a woman he believes he is not worthy of. (Spoiler alert: he is 100% worthy. The worthiest.)

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Because I can’t make this a never-ending list of historical romances and series, I had to narrow down my choices, and in doing so, left off some series that include some of my favorite reads of the last couple of years. So, to make sure they get a mention while also ensuring I don’t end up submitting something akin to a thesis on HR, here are some honorable mentions:

About Beth

Beth Cranford was born and raised in Australia, but followed her heart (and her husband) to the United States in her late 20s. As the mother of two kids, she’s learned that you can turn anything into a song and that slime does not belong in carpeted areas (or polite society). You can most often find her with her Kindle in hand, listening to Taylor Swift on repeat, or spending way too many hours playing Animal Crossing.

Follow her @BethCranford on B+M Bites.

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