Five Books Everyone Should Read is a feature we’re running in 2015. We’ve asked some of our favorite authors, readers and bloggers to share five books that touched them or have stayed with them throughout the years.
I’m excited for today’s guest. Azetclady is a reader and blogger who has been around the romance block a time a two. I find she and I have very similar reading taste (I’ve chosen to forgive her for her love of Suzanne Brockmann, just as I’ve forgiven Rowena). Her list includes many of my own favorites.
There is no way, in this universe or any other, where I can list only five books that I think everyone should read (and, hopefully, love). Therefore, I gave up on that. I’m giving you an off-the-top-of-my-head list which includes five of the many, many, many books I think everyone should read. As a way of further narrowing said list, I’m gearing it towards readers of genre romance–or rather, as a conversion kit/introductory package for readers who are willing to try this much maligned genre. As such, I’m trying to include books from a variety of subgenres, though it’s impossible to cover them all, or hell, even many, with only five books!
Morning Glory, by LaVyrle Spencer. I was incredibly lucky that this was the first of Ms Spencer’s books that I read, many, many years ago. It is one of the most poignant and well written romances, ever. The setting, both in time and space, is both rare and incredibly humble. A small town in Georgia, in the early 1940s. The main characters are an ex-convict–who was guilty of the crime he served time for–and a barely literate, pregnant widow with two young children–who is held as crazy by the neighboring town. This is a novel that will transport you into the lives of these two people, and to the time and place they inhabit, so skillfully that you won’t even realize it. This is a book I first read almost twenty years ago, and one I’ve read and re-read many more times than just twenty. Morning Glory will squeeze your heart tight, then give you hope, in people, in love, in life.
The next one is a book I regret waiting so many years to read, a true classic example of great writing within the genre: Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels. I have not (yet) read any more of Ms Chase’s work, but this novel is everything good you’ve ever heard said about it, and more. An independent heroine who has realistic, feasible, logistically possible, plans to support herself as a single woman without falling from society’s grace–in freaking Regency England! An emotionally damaged hero, who–by all that’s holy!–grows up, becoming a man worthy of his heroine. Delicious sexual tension without gratuitous sex. Fully realized characters that break the mold, great historical detail that doesn’t overwhelm, witty dialogue, fantastic use of language…oh lord, it just has everything that’s good in the genre.
Suzanne Brockmann’s Gone Too Far–though I would definitely say that, in order to do this novel justice, the reader would do well to read the previous five books in her Troubleshooters series. This novel also has several unique elements. One, it’s one of the first well-known novels where the conflict between the main couple has been developing for a number of books prior. In fact, one of the main conflicts between them is established from their first appearance in the pages of The Unsung Hero, a cool twelve hundred pages before the beginning of Gone Too Far, and it’s explored in bits and pieces in the background, or as a secondary plotline, in the intervening books. Mind you, this conflict is fleshed out enough in Gone Too Far itself that a reader could skip directly to this book and enjoy Alyssa’s and Sam’s story perfectly well; there is just enough background information on what’s happened in the other novels, without too much repetition or info dumping. Still, I would encourage readers to do themselves a favor by witnessing these two characters’ personal growth in ‘real time’ (as it were) by reading the series in order. This is also one of the first wildly successful books–back when appearing in the New York Times bestseller list meant something–featuring an interracial romance for the main protagonist, and a gay secondary character that was more than a clichéd stereotype. Finally, another unique element of Gone Too Far, independent of where it fits in the series or the larger romance genre landscape, is how, particularly towards the climax of the story, as several plot lines–and a number of characters–converge, the novel reads more and more like a movie. Shorter and shorter scenes, switching from one character/storyline to the next, and the next, and the next, until…boom! (so to speak).
Though these are not strictly romance, I can’t not recommend Dorothy L. Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey books, written between 1923 and 1937. There are only eleven Lord Peter Wimsey books, and of those, only four include a romantic story arc, between the eponymous Lord Peter and one Harriet Vane. These books are wonderful in so many ways, it’s difficult to be concise about it. Ms Sayers’ use of language is beautiful beyond the telling. The mystery aspect is different in all the stories, and the character development of the main character is absolutely wonderful. Harriet’s and Peter’s relationship starts in Strong Poison, when he falls in love with her, on sight, as she sits in court, on trial for the murder of her ex-lover. What’s a man to do, but find the true culprit? The climax of the series is Busman’s Honeymoon, which is unusual in several ways. The happily ever after for the couple happens here, after years of struggle, both between Harriet and Peter, and internally within each character. This novel can be read alone, but frankly, why would anyone want to miss all the goodness that is Lord Peter Wimsey? (And let’s not forget Bunter.)
The fifth and last book for this list was extremely, extremely difficult to pick–I haven’t mentioned time travel romance (hey, how about Linda Howard’s Son of the Morning or Jude Deveraux Knight in Shinning Armor? ducking), I haven’t mentioned paranormal romances (but if I were, I would probably go with Maggie Shayne’s Wings in the Night novels, first released back in the early 1990s–I still remember, so vividly, my first time reading Twilight Phantasies, the first title of the series–or perhaps Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling books, which are far more recent, but so wonderfully written), or westerns (Elizabeth Lowell’s Only series, or Lorraine Heath’s Texas trilogy). Then we have the fantasy romances (Robin D. Owens’ Celta novels, anyone?), and steampunk romances (Meljean Brook’s wonderful, amazing, fantastic Iron Seas stories), and space opera romances (Ann Aguirre’s Sirantha Jax/Grimspace novels–please note, I beta read a couple of the books, mid-series, and was Ms Aguirre’s virtual assistant for a little over a year during the same time–or Lauren Dane’s Federation Chronicles). And, while not quite my cup of tea, there’s also new adult romance (Sarina Bowen’s Ivy Years books, or Courtney Milan’s Trade Me, for the win). Then there’s erotic romance, GLBTQ romance, adventure romance, all the flavors of category romance, and so many more!
But I decided to go with contemporary romance, as it’s arguably the subgenre with the widest audience, and though there are many great authors writing this genre, my favorite is Nora Roberts. It does not hurt that Ms Roberts is probably the most widely known romance author for decades. I count many of her books in my keeper shelves, but I’ll go with a relatively recent release that encompasses all the best of Ms Roberts’ writing: The Witness. The writing voice is always solid; the central character is beautifully written, and her growth as the story unfolds is both realistic and poignant. There is a suspense subplot, which is just complex enough, and written competently enough, to entertain, though it’s by no means the focus of the novel. The Witness is Ms Roberts’ 200th published book, and definitely a high mark in her oeuvre. If you don’t read anything else by her, read this novel. You won’t regret it.
About Azteclady: reader, reviewer, rabble rouser. Opinionated blatherer and occasional crafter, she blogs at Her Hands, My Hands, Can also occasionally be found at Karen Knows Best, and in the library (aka, Other Media: Literature and Art) at MyMedia