Friday, July 29, 2011

Significant Seven in Romance Fiction

In 2009, the then-current U. K. Children’s Laureate and four of his predecessors were invited to name their selections for the top seven children’s books. Somewhat surprisingly they chose not one Harry Potter title but rather honored thirty books (out of thirty-five total) that are more than twenty years old. The oldest among them such as Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women have long passed the century mark. Some people expressed surprise over Rowling’s absence from the lists; others praised the laureates for choosing “timeless greats.”  Since the purpose of the lists was to inspire children to read books they might have missed, I think including Harry Potter could be considered redundant. Who could miss Harry Potter?
As readers and writers of romance fiction, we can qualify as experts of varying degrees, and I am certain we all have ideas about the seven romance novels all  romance readers should read that they might have missed.  So today I name you all official romance fiction laureates and solicit your list of seven titles. Your list may be different from your seven favorite books because you are naming books not just on the basis of personal taste but you are also choosing those most likely to have wide appeal and to represent the genre well.
 My seven are all on my keeper shelves, but they are not my seven favorite books.
  1. Pride and Prejudice (1813), Jane Austen (because it is a literary classic and a perennial romance favorite—and it’s written by Jane)
  2. The Grand Sophy (1950), Georgette Heyer (because it features the prototypical smart, take-charge heroine )
  3. The Dedicated Villain (1989), Patricia Veryan (because it contains the best reformed villain ever)
  4. Lord of Scoundrels (1995), Loretta Chase (because it’s a funny, poignant Beauty and the Beast tale with some of the best banter ever to grace the pages of a romance novel)
  5. Flowers from the Storm (1992), Laura Kinsale (because it is one of the most challenging and emotionally intense novels, regardless of genre)
  6. A Soldier’s Heart (1994), Kathleen Korbel (because it powerfully demonstrates that category romances can be distinctive, complex, and unforgettable)
  7. Sea Swept (1998), Nora Roberts (because it shows romance heroes can be just guys--it’s written by Nora)
 And I just noted that five of my seven were published within a ten year period. I’m not sure what that means.
 So what seven novels make up your significant seven in romance fiction?


MsHellion said...

MY significant seven--I'm thinking of the 7 that have probably influenced me most:

The Raider by Jude Deveraux: I loved the plot and the twists and humor. It was so deftly handled. Lots of characters, but no one outshone the hero and heroine (though many easily could).

Guardian Angel by Julie Garwood: I love how you didn't really know who the pirate was until about 2/3 through the book. (Okay, if you were smart, you knew after the first chapter, but I'm a dumbass.) Garwood does great foreshadowing and one-liners to keep up the tension and humor.

Dreaming by Jill Barnett (you know it was HARD to pick the one Jill Barnett I wanted to reference *LOL*)--but this one is my favorite. I think because the heroine is so relatable for me and heartbreaking. Emotional tearjerker, even while you're laughing.

The Perfect Rake by Anne Gracie. The most perfect hero ever. I loved him. I loved everything about this book. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. Whatever this author does, I want to do it.

Billy Bob Walker Got Married by Lisa Brown. Small town life and ordinary characters have never been as riveting to read before. I just wanted to hug them both and tell them it was going to be okay. Real problems, real sacrifices. This author was not afraid to hurt her characters for the big payoff.

Morning Glory by LaVyrle Spencer. Similar to reasons for the previous book, but the setting is brilliant. I felt I was in the 1940s. Thoughtful ordinary details.

Night Pleasures by Sherrilyn Kenyon. Queen of the Tortured Heroes. I'm a sucker for them and I think she does a great job with them. She also builds interesting alternate worlds with lots of detail that had a start in reality but BIGGER. She just makes it feel that such a world is possible to exist.

MsHellion said...

And I know someone else is going to list a book I wish I'd listed. *LOL*

Janga said...

Wonderful list, Hellie! Billy Bob Walker Got Married is one of the books I'd most like to see made available as an ebook. It's such an amazing book, and so many people have never read it. And choosing one from a favorite author is tough. I'd probably go with Bewitching from Barnett, although I love Dreaming too. And The Perfect Rake is perfect.

If we're talking influence, I'd make some changes in my list. Seidel, Samuel, Moyer--they are the ones who repeatedly make me say, "Oh, I want to do that."

Georgie Lee said...

Lady Chatterly's Lover - D.H. Lawrence
This is on my classic romance list. Great dialogue and inner monologue and excellent use of dialect to help with characterization.

MsHellion said...

Janga, I don't think you can go wrong so long as you have a Jill Barnett on your list, you know? It just depends which story touches you most, because all her characters feel alive, like you could meet them somewhere.

Marsha Moyer was THIS CLOSE to being on my list. But I decided she might be more women's fiction, in a sense, so I went for Morning Glory instead. *LOL* Both Moyer and Spencer are brilliant with description and setting, and using characters to depict description and setting.

Janga said...

Georgie Lee, Tiffany Clare would probably agree with you. She's a great fan of Lawrence. I've read his books, but he's not a writer I reread. I prefer Faulkner, Joyce, Proust, and Woolf among the modernists, but--alas--no romance, as I define it--among them. There are not many HEAs in literary fiction. So often, as Jenny Crusie notes in one of her essays, the heroines of literary fiction end up dead or deadened.

Janga said...

Hellie, I love Spencer's books, and Morning Glory is one I've reread many times. But as much as I appreciate her fiction, it doesn't inspire in me the level of adulation and envy that Moyer does.

Anonymous said...

Hm. I would have to agree with Pride and Prejudice, Flowers from the Storm, and Billy Bob got Married. I think I would pick another Loretta Chase--possibly Captives of the Night, possibly Mr. Impossible. I think I would also do My Reckless Heart by Jo Goodman. I'm torn between Slightly Married and A precious Jewel by Balogh, but SOME Balogh should be on the list! Bet me, by Jennifer Crusie, because its just a perfect book. Of course, if I could have another 7, it would include An Affair before Christmas, Not Quite a Husband, The Duke in Shadows, Spymaster's show off the newer generation of authors. And it would probably include a Joan Wolf historical, and oh, definitely something by Tom and Sharon Curtis, to get some of the older really good ones, although I'm not sure if that would be theWindlflower or something terser. And My Lady Notorious.

quantum said...

Janga your title reminded me of the film 'The magnificent seven' or the earlier 'Seven Samurai', though I'm sure there is no connection!

I couldn't possibly select seven romance books as you request. I just haven't read enough to trust my judgement.

I will put my toe in the water though and select seven authors.
If readers have overlooked any of these authors books then I advise investigating further

I select purely on my enjoyment level, which I think is closely related to powerful plot ideas and writing style.

The chosen ones could easily change next week though, depending on my mood or the phase of the moon. LOL

My magnificent seven:

Catherine Anderson
Madelein Wickham
Robyn Carr
Luanne Rice
Georgette Heyer
Mary Balogh
Mary Jo Putney

Janga said...

Wow, Debbie! You have lots of wonderful titles on your list. I agree with Balogh's The Precious Jewel. There are Balogh book's I like more, but that one surely pushed boundaries in a big way. I love your list by newer authors too, although, except for your Jo Bourne selection, I'd choose different titles.

Janga said...

Q, I think it would be difficult to have a list of influential romance authors and omit Heyer. Only Austen could top her, and some would give Heyer first place even then. Carr, Rice, Balogh and Putney are all autobuys for me, and so I have to agree with your estimation there too.

TerriOsburn said...

Q and I were thinking the same thing. I couldn't pick 7 books, but I could name 7 authors.

In no particular order:
Jo Beverly
Jennifer Crusie
Kathleen Woodiwiss
LaVyrle Spencer
Judith McNaught
Nora Roberts
Julie Garwood.

Though I could trade out Johanna Lindsey and Mary Balogh on any given day. Funny how most of mine are Historical authors but I write contemporary. Hmmmm....I think storytelling is the key for me, regardless of subgenre.

Janga said...

Terri, five on my list are historicals, and I write contemps too. But I do read more historicals. On your list,Spencer and McNaught both wrote contemporaries as well, and Garwood is a best seller in contemporary romantic suspense. Maybe you can count them in both subgenres. :)

Anonymous said...

Janga, now I'm curious what your choices from my newer authors would be. I know that I'm unusual in liking An Affair before Christmas, but to me it pushes one of the great taboos of modern romance--modern heroines are supposed to be passionate, easily turned on by the hero if not by others. Here is a hero the heroine loves and is in love with, who loves her and is desperately trying to inspire passion in her--but the voices in her head from her mother are so strong that she simply can't feel passion at all. There are millions of women (and men, I bet, although fewer) who have images of what they are supposed to feel or expect that override their passion (like, I'm a mom now so being sexual like that is somehow wrong)...I thought it was beautifully handled.
And I love the Duke of Shadows because it does an amazing job of taking the country that so many romances are set in (Britain) and showing what its imperial role really meant for men and women. Its also a brilliant depiction of, essentially, post-traumatic stress syndrome. I love her Duran's later work, but I thought this was a brilliant first book--it and Spymastaer's lady may be the two best first romances I can think of .
And I think Not Quite a Husband is perfect--not a word wrong--so I am curious which of her books you prefer to it.
, I guess I should have had a Heyer,because I can't think of an author that has enticed more readers into reading romance. So can I swap My Reckless Heart (much as I love it) for Sylvester?

Janga said...

Debbie, I love An Affair Before Christmas, and your analysis is insightful. I think it’s an extraordinary book for several reasons, not least because it has a villainous character in Poppy’s mother, a rarity in an EJ book. But if I had to choose one of EJ’s books as “most significant,” I’d go with This Duchess of Mine with a pair of adulterers as heroine and hero or A Duke of Her Own with the hero creating a family of his illegitimate children. Both shatter conventions while remaining true to the historical period. But my favorite EJ novel will probably always be Pleasure for Pleasure because I have such an emotional investment in the characters from many months of discussion on the EJ boards and because the book is dedicated to the Bon Bons.

I also agree that Duke of Shadows and The Spymaster’s Lady are among the best first books ever. I’d include the latter in a list of seven from newer authors. But I think Duran’s current book, A Lady’s Lesson in Scandal would be my choice for most significant Duran book. I can’t think of another historical romance novel that captures so powerfully the realities of being poor and female. It will be my gold standard for such characters from now on. I’m not sure which Sherry Thomas I’d include. I’ve come to expect that each of her books will leave me thinking she’s done something that no one else has done, or at least that no one else has done quite so well.

Lists at just Janga are always open for revision; feel free to make your exchange. It is hard for me to imagine a list without Heyer since she created many of the subgenre’s prototypical characters. Sylvester is an excellent choice. One thing I appreciate about it is the mother-son relationship, not a relationship we see often as healthy and realistic in romance novels.

Anonymous said...

I like Sylvester because of the mother-son relationship, and also because the heroine is not beautiful and we watch the hero fall in love for exactly the right reasons. Mostly, though, I think because the hero and heroine learn how to work things through--they fight for much of the book and yet we really believe in the HEA.
I absolutely agree that This Duchess of Mine and A Duke of her Own do a wonderful job of shattering conventions within the historical context. That whole Desperate Duchesses series is wonderful.
And I am blown away by A Lady's Lesson in Scandal. Its truly an amazing book. About the only thing I dislike about it is the name.
However I have to say that Not Quite a Husband strikes me as far and away Sherry Thomas' best book--much as I like her other stuff. There are so many moments in it that just take my breath away.

irisheyes said...

I know I'm really late replying to this post, Janga, but I just had to chime in.

This blog is so funny to me because I just had cause to do just what you mentioned for my sister in law. She just received a Kindle as a gift several months ago and started reading again after years and years of being "out of the loop" so to speak.

She was reading a couple of authors someone else had suggested and wasn't too thrilled and knew I had an extensive library. She asked for my suggestions. I immediately thought to myself "the very first book she reads is going to determine #1) if she ever listens to my suggestions again and #2) if she ever reads the genre I suggest again". It seems silly, but I felt very nervous making that first suggestion.

I suggested... Lisa Kleypas! I told her to read Then Came You and Dreaming of You. That was almost a month ago. She's has since been through Lisa's WHOLE backlist!!! She called me up ecstatic about this great new find. I proceeded to give her...

Mary Balogh - One Night For Love
Mary Jo Putney - Thunder and Roses
Nora Roberts - Born In Trilogy
SEP - It Had To Be You
Robyn Carr - Virgin River
Jennifer Crusie - Bet Me
Elizabeth Hoyt - 4 Soldiers Series

Instead of giving her my favorites by each author, I tried to give her the books I thought most represented the best of or a pretty good feel for the writing of each author.

Janga said...

Debbie, I agree on Duran's romance buzzword title. But there are so few titles I like these days that I ignore them as much as possible. I pulled Not Quite a Husband off a keeper shelf and moved it to my TBR Soon shelf. You've persuaded me that I need to give it a second look.

Janga said...

Irish, what a great story! And I can understand your sister-in-law's reaction to Kleypas. She's written so many good books. I like your list too. Sampling these seven terrific writers should result in another romance addict being added to our numbers. :)