Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett here, today with a blog about books.
When I read, I am almost always seeking to escape from reality, both the real world of the nightly news and whatever reality I’m inhabiting to work on the book I’m currently writing. To do that, I frequently choose to read in a genre many mystery aficionados avoid like the plague. Yes, I’m talking about historical romance.
Keep in mind that I once wrote romance novels for a living. I wasn’t terribly good at it, but that phase in my career taught me a lot about developing relationships between characters, both romantic and otherwise. As part of the learning process, I read widely in the genre. I’ll leave comments on contemporary romance, in particular contemporary category romance (Harlequin, Silhouette, Loveswept and the like) for another day, but in reading many many historical romances, set in a variety of eras, I discovered quite a number of authors who went on my automatic “buy” list and are still there all these years later.
Yes, I will admit that there are far too many writers of historical romance (and of historical mystery, too) whose disregard for historical accuracy is appalling. Some do no more than put modern characters in fancy dress. I also avoid reading other writers who set their novels in Tudor England, because I am far too likely to spot errors and get annoyed, even when the mistakes are tiny details that no one else in the world is likely to notice. Eliminate all those novels and I am still left with a wonderful selection of historical romances.
I have a particular fondness for historical romances set in the Regency period. Part of the attraction is that there are often connected books to read. It’s not quite like getting hooked on a mystery series and following the adventures of the same sleuth through several books, but reading one book for each sibling in a large family has a similar appeal, especially when continuing characters appear. In some cases, there is a continuing antagonist or series of antagonists. You see, as in so many historical mysteries, my own included, a good number of historical romances have a subplot involving spies, intrigue, and/or treasonous plots.
One objection to romance novels that I often hear from mystery readers has to do with their dislike of love scenes. They are unnecessary, they argue. They slow down the plot. They are all the same. Maybe. Well done, they reveal a lot about the two characters involved. But, yes, if you feel that way, skim them or skip them. In a romance, there is going to be lots of sexual attraction and sexual tension. That is part of life and part of the definition of romance, just as dealing with a crime is part of the definition of a mystery novel.
There is much more to a well-written romance novel than just sex, however, just as there is much more to a murder mystery than a blow-by-blow description of the crime or a detailed autopsy scene. Following the adventures of a seemingly mismatched couple as they find a way to overcome the odds can be every bit as fascinating as sharing a detective’s journey to the solution of a murder.
So, who do I read? I’ve included a sprinkling of covers throughout this post. I haven’t just read these books. I’ve re-read them. In fact, I’ve recently finished re-reading all of Jo Beverley’s Malloren series (five books, one for each sibling), set early in the reign of George the Third. They provided the perfect escape from the real world and from the world of Elizabethan England, where I’m currently killing off numerous people in my third Mistress Jaffrey mystery.
I also recommend Jo’s Company of Rogues series, set in Regency England, Mary Jo Putney’s Fallen Angels series and Lost Lords series, Joanna Bourne’s Spymaster series, Eileen Dreyer’s trilogy (Always a Temptress, Once a Rake, Twice Tempted), Loretta Chase’s trilogy (Silk is for Seduction, Scandal Wears Satin, Vixen in Velvet), and for those who prefer less history rather than more, anything by Amanda Quick, who is also Jayne Ann Krentz (contemporary romantic suspense) and Jayne Castle (futuristic romance). Some of the Quick/Krentz/Castle novels also link together to form the Arcane Society series, tracing families who belong to a secret organization to do with paranormal abilities through past, present, and future generations.
When historical romance doesn’t appeal as a way to refresh my reading palate, I often turn to books that contain a mixture of genres. I enjoy the occasional steampunk novel, and mysteries with a dollop of fantasy, such as Laura Resnick’s Esther Diamond series, Jim Butcher’s books about Harry Dresden, and Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse novels.
So, how about you? Yes, you—the person reading this post. I’d love to hear what you read when you want to take a break from crime.
Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett is the author of over fifty books written under several names. She won the Agatha Award in 2008 for best mystery nonfiction for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2014 in the best mystery short story category for “The Blessing Witch.” Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries (The Scottie Barked at Midnight) as Kaitlyn and the historical Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries (Murder in the Merchant’s Hall) as Kathy. The latter series is a spin-off from her earlier “Face Down” series and is set in Elizabethan England. Her websites are www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com
Historical romance. I remember when that was the only genre I read. Devoured actually, names like Kathleen Woodiwiss, Johanna Lindsey, and Laurie McBain populated my book shelves. It’s been a while since I visited with my old friends. Lately, my reading has been all mystery with a dash of chic lit and some modern romance on the side.
Your post has tweaked my appetite. Now, the big decision, paperback from the shelf or Amazon for the portability?
Thanks for your comment, Kait. I find myself buying e-copies of paperbacks I already own, simply because the print in some of those old ones is so tiny. Can’t bring myself to get rid of the print copies, though, and in a couple of cases I also have an audio version. As the meme on Facebook goes, if it’s books, it’s not hoarding.
The first paragraph of this post made me laugh out loud! And your analysis here made me think differently. Thank you.
I like to read themes, contrasting different author’s POV’s. I just finished Roz Chast’s ‘Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant’ and ‘Being Mortal’ by Atul Gwande.
Because I teach workshops on illustrated journals, Roz’s book served a double purpose. I’ve held a burning flame for picture books my whole life, and usually have an old Pogo, issue of Funny Times, or Calvin and Hobbs nearby. Thanks for asking!
Hi, Karla. Glad you enjoyed the post and thank you for sharing. Reading by themes is an interesting idea. I suspect a lot of us may do that without thinking about it.
Historical novels — not historical romance, but straight historicals like Allan Eckert. Also family sagas like R, A. Delderfield and Malcolm Macdonald ( these could be considered historical in a sense also). I also love fantasy, especially Mercedes Lackey, Tanya Huff, Lois McMaster Bujold, Anne McCaffrey, etc. and I’m a sucker for a good Stephen King scarefest, although I confess to leaving all the lights on afterward.
Love Tanya Huff’s Vicki Nelson series–a nice blend of mystery and woo-woo.
Oh yes! I also love her “Gate Of Darkness, Circle of Light”.