Show me the books he loves and I shall know the man far better than through mortal friends - Silas Weir Mitchell
This week I'd like to host two very different inside readers. The first of them is Rowena Sudbury: she wrote a very nice manlove medieval romance, that reminded me a lot of the old savage romance I was so fond of many years ago. So I'm not surprise to see in her Top 10 List some "old" names, that for the romance fans are now classic. Rowena is a special inside reader since her list is not strictly LGBT related, but it's interesting to see how a woman who loved classic romance is now a gay romance author.
I am a life long reader, and have been reading romance novels for almost thirty years. I discovered early on that I tended to like historical romances over straight "trashy" romance novels, but sometimes a great trashy novel is just what one needs.
I'm afraid I stole my first ever romance novel. It was back in the early 1980s, and my husband and I were visiting his cousin. She worked in a grocery store and had a bookshelf full of books that had the covers torn off. She blithely told me it was ok because she worked at a grocery store, and it was common to tear the covers off books that didn't sell. I started reading one of them and hadn't quite finished by the time we were going to leave so she told me I could have it. It wasn't until years later that I found out that books with the covers torn off are supposed to be thrown away, so in essence I had stolen it. To make up for it I bought every novel I could find by that author.
Here is my list of "straight" historical romance novels. I've also included one LGBT novel, really the only one I've read all the way through. Too busy writing now to read much of anything. These books are pretty much listed in the order in which I originally read them.
1) The Poldark Saga by Winston Graham. This series of books were not romance novels per se, but they were my introduction to Cornwall and ignited my love for the area. I've read these books countless times. My favorite of the series is The Four Swans. The series centers on the life of Ross Poldark, and his wife Demelza. There is a scene of incredible sensuality in this novel; a scene of adultery between Demelza and a young naval captain named Hugh. I think what really drew me in was Winston Graham's ability to describe a scene is such detail, including physical description and emotional turmoil. I found myself reading it again and again.
Paperback: 581 pages
Publisher: Macmillan UK (April 1996)
Amazon: The Four Swans (The Poldark Saga)
Ross seems secure in his hard won prosperity, but a new dilemma faces him in the sudden infatuation of a young naval officer for his wife Demelza. For Demelza, Elizabeth, Caroline, and Morwenna, there are times of stress and conflict ahead.
2) Penmarric and Cashelmara by Susan Howatch. Penmarric takes place in Cornwall, so immediately I was in love with it. It follows the ups and downs of a Cornish family from 1890 through to 1945. There is much anguish and a modicum of happiness. I recently re-read the book because I had a burning memory that the book included allusions to homosexuality. When I read it originally I believe I was in high school, well before my infatuation with anything m/m related. The memory stuck in my head though, enough so that I had to re-order it from Amazon to slake my curiosity. My memory turned out to be accurate, and though the homosexual love affair is never spelled out directly, I was impressed that it was included. I think there is a stronger allusion to it in Cashelmara, but I haven't taken the time to re-read that one yet.
Mass Market Paperback: 704 pages
Publisher: Fawcett (July 12, 1984)
Publisher Link: http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780449206225
Set against the starkly beautiful landscape of Cornwall, PENMARRIC is the totally enthralling saga of a family divided against itself. At the center of the novel is the great mansion called Penmarric. It is to Penmarric that Mark Castallack, a proud, strange, and sensitive man, brings his bride Janna--the first act in a tempestuous drama that was to span three generations....
3) The Cornish Heiress by Roberta Gellis. This is the book I "stole". Of course, I was drawn to it because it took place in Cornwall. I found out after reading it that it was part of a series called the Royal Dynasty Series. I bought the rest of the books in the series, and loved them just as much. I always have a soft spot in my heart for this book though, because it was my introduction into quality historical romance.
Paperback: 499 pages
Publisher: Cerridwen Press March 26, '09
Publisher Link: http://www.jasminejade.com/pm-7031-533-the-cornish-heiress.aspx
Trade Paperback: 9781419958564
Amazon: The Cornish Heiress
Megaera’s drunken father sold her at fifteen to Edward Devoran, whose need for money mortgaged her estates and drove him to join a band of smugglers. Megaera was lucky; before all the jewels she was selling to pay the interest were gone, Edward had been murdered by his partner Black Bart. Megaera didn’t betray Black Bart; she just became Red Meg, took Edward’s place and Edward’s profits among the smugglers, and kept paying her mortgages. Philip St. Eyre wanted to fight Napoleon, but his talents—he had been raised as a Frenchman and could pass as French—would be utterly wasted in the army or the navy. He was the perfect spy and had a way to reach France through his father’s old friend, the smuggler Pierre. Thus Philip met Red Meg and fell in love. Meg thought Philip was Pierre’s by-blow; Philip thought Meg was a common smuggler. To both gently born lovers the match was impossible. Until Black Bart tried to murder Meg and Philip had to take her to France where her handiness with a pistol saved his life and his mission and exposed all their secrets.
4) The Roselynde Chronicles by Roberta Gellis. I wasn't going to include two books by the same author, but I am making an exception because this series is medieval, and this is where I gained my love for the medieval time frame. I still have all six of the books that were part of the original series: Roselynde, Alinor, Joanna, Gilliane, Rhiannon, and Sybelle. It would be hard to pick one favorite out of the bunch; they are all so good. Roberta Gellis uses such incredible imagery, like Joanna lying abed with her husband, and in her eyes the golden hairs on his chest make a prison for the long red strands of her hair.
Paperback: 560 pages
Publisher: Leisure Books (July 1994)
Amazon: Joanna (The Roselynde Chronicles, Book 3)
Letting her passionate nature be frozen by her fears, iron-willed heiress Joanna defies every outward peril in King John's decadent court, until she comes face-to-face with Geoffrey, a knight whose presence unleashes terror and desire in her heart.
5) A Moment in Time by Beatrice Small. My other favorite romance author is Beatrice Small. I love so many of her books. I think the first one I read was Skye O'Malley, the first book in a captivating series that takes place in Ireland. A Moment in Time is my favorite, and one I have read over and over as it takes place in Wales during Medieval times. There is also reference made to Fair Folk, and at the end of the book is a tremendous twist that literally made me cry the first time I read it.
Paperback: 516 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books; 1st edition (September 10, 1991)
Publisher Link: http://www.randomhouse.com/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780345368638
Amazon: A Moment in Time
Young Wynne of Gwernach has no dreams of marriage. Innocent and pure of heart, she believes that love is an illusion. Instead, she devotes herself to managing the great family estate nestled in the raw beauty of Wales, vowing to protect it and her younger brother until he comes of age to inherit.
6) Lovespell by Deana James. Another Medieval English romance, this one involving a girl whom is forced to masquerade as a boy. This book is for all intents and purposes a bodice-ripper. The history seems accurate, but the book has little redeeming value. I just found the erotic interplay between the main male character, and the girl when she is dressed as a boy to be very appealing. Perhaps it was foreshadowing for what I really wanted to read.
Publisher: Zebra (August 1, 1984)
7) A Rose in Winter by Kathleen E. Woodiwiss. I read many of Kathleen Woodiwiss's books, but this is the one that stays in my memory. I liked the intrigue and passion.
Mass Market Paperback: 576 pages
Publisher: Avon; 1ST edition (October 1, 1983)
Publisher Link: http://www.harpercollins.com/books/9780380844005/A_Rose_in_Winter/index.aspx
Amazon: A Rose in Winter
The fairest flower in Mawbry is Erienne Fleming, the enchanting, raven-haired daughter of the village mayor. Charming, spirited and exquisitely lovely, she is beset on all sides by suitors, any one of whom would pay a king's fortune for a place in her heart. But Erienne has eyes for only one: the dashing and witty young Yankee, Christopher Seton. But marriage for love is not to be, for her irresponsible and unscrupulous father, crippled by gambling debts, is intent on auctioning off his beautiful daughter to the highest bidder. And in the end, Erienne is devastated to find it is the strange and secretive Lord Saxton who has purchased her—a mysterious, tragic figure who wears a mask and a cloak at all times to hide disfiguring scars gained in a terrible fire some years back. But in the passing days, Saxton's true nature is revealed to her. A gentle and adoring soul, he treats his new bride with warmth and abiding tenderness, yet appears to her only by daylight. She, in turn, vows to be a good and loyal wife to him. And then Christopher Seton reenters Erienne's world Conflicted by emotions she cannot suppress, Erienne valiantly attempts to remain honorable to her elusive, enigmatic husband but feels herself irresistibly drawn to Seton's passion, his fire, and his secrets. Entangled in intrigues she doesn't yet understand, Erienne Fleming will soon have to make a devastating choice: between love and honor . . . between her duty and her heart.
8) The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I liked this book for many reasons, most notably because it dealt with the legend of King Arthur. Told from the point of view of the women in Arthur's life I felt it gave an alternative view. A true fantasy that, at least in my mind, was rooted in history. It led me to buy actual history books that dealt with Arthurian Legend. Also, even though the entire book is grand, and worth re-reading, there is a scene that always stuck in my head, and again I believe it was just foreshadowing of what I truly enjoyed. Midway through the book, at Beltane, Arthur takes both Gwenhwyfar and Lancelet to his bed. I remember reading between the lines at that scene, and being floored at the images. I think this book just further cemented my love for the Cornish, the Welsh, and all things mystical.
Hardcover: 912 pages
Publisher: Del Rey (October 31, 2000)
Publisher Link: http://www.randomhouse.com/delrey/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780345441188
Amazon: The Mists of Avalon
Marion Zimmer Bradley began her distinguished book publishing career in 1961 with her first novel, The Door Through Space. The following year she wrote the first book in her hugely popular Darkover series, Sword of Aldones, which soon became a Hugo Award nominee. Bradley's novel The Forbidden Tower was also nominated for a Hugo, and The Heritage of Hastur was nominated for an esteemed Nebula Award. The Mists of Avalon was the single most successful novel of Bradley's career. It won the 1984 Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel and has been among the top five trade paperback books on Locus's bestseller list for years. Ms. Bradley died in 1999.
9) The Fool's Tale by Nicole Galland. I really can't recommend this book, it disturbed me so much I wasn't myself for at least a week after I finished writing it. I list it because I read it while I was in the process of writing The King's Tale. I thought it would be fun to read a book that took place in Wales around the same time frame as my book, and with such a similar title. The events of the last few pages are shocking. However, there is a great degree of homosexual tension running through the entire book. For that reason alone I continued to read it.
Paperback: 544 pages
Publisher: Harper Paperbacks (January 24, 2006)
Publisher Link: http://www.harpercollins.com/books/9780060721510/The_Fools_Tale/index.aspx
Amazon: The Fool's Tale: A Novel
Wales, 1198. A time of treachery, passion, and uncertainty. King Maelgwyn ap Cadwallon, known as Noble, struggles to protect his small kingdom from foes outside and inside his borders. Pressured into a marriage of political convenience, he takes as his bride the young, headstrong Isabel Mortimer, niece of his powerful English nemesis. Through strength of character, Isabel wins her husband's grudging respect, but finds the Welsh court backward and barbaric, and is soon engaged in a battle of wills against Gwirion, the king's oldest, oddest, and most trusted friend. Before long, however, Gwirion and Isabel's mutual animosity is abruptly transformed, and the king finds himself as threatened by loved ones as by the enemies who menace his crown. A masterful novel by a gifted storyteller, The Fool's Tale combines vivid historical fiction, compelling political intrigue, and passionate romance to create an intimate drama of three individuals bound -- and undone -- by love and loyalty.
10) The Desire for Dearborne by V.B. Kildaire. This is the only LGBT book I can include on this list. I just read it a month ago, and found it very enjoyable. Not only is it a historical romance, but there is so much mention of Arthurian Legend I was hooked. I found myself wanting more at the end. I was just getting into the love story between Julien and Leander when all of a sudden the book was over. I would definitely read another book like this one.
Paperback: 276 pages
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press (June 15, 2009)
Publisher Link: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?cPath=55_114&products_id=1497
Amazon: The Desire for Dearborne
Leander Mayfield is the only surviving son of a poor farmer... or so he believes until the day he learns he is in fact the new Earl of Dearborn. Still recovering from a lingering illness, the sensitive young man travels to Great Britain to claim his estate and embarks upon a bewildering new life. Julien Sutcliffe, the Earl of Blackstone, is suffering from ennui. He's tired and bored with all the finery and wealth and wonders about him. Then he meets this refreshingly naive American Earl, newly arrived in England, and suddenly the world comes alive around him again. Irresistibly drawn to one another, Julien finds himself besotted, and Leander is equally smitten. But just when they think they may have finally found happiness together, Julien and Leander discover that something--or someone--is determined to separate them permanently.
About Rowena Sudbury: Rowena Sudbury writes m/m stories and is published with Dreamspinner Press
The King’s Tale
Paperback: 282 pages
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press (July 27, 2009)
Publisher Link: http://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?cPath=55_148&products_id=1508
Amazon: The King's Tale
Though Dafydd is the fourth son of Welsh nobility, when he leaves his home he becomes a humble woodsman in small kingdom of Lysnowydh on the sea. During a fierce storm, a stranger seeks shelter in Dafydd's remote cottage. He is no ordinary traveler—he is Christopher, King of Lysnowydh. The wild passion that flares between them rivals the storm, and love moves King Christopher's heart to name Dafydd Marshal of his troops to keep him close. However, love is never simple or safe when it must endure the pressures of political life. Though Dafydd proves himself in battle, Lysnowydh's nobles protest his rise in position and power. Forces will conspire against Dafydd and Christopher, and they must endure treason, treachery, and the demands of a kingdom requiring an heir to secure their happiness together.