Such an easy decision for BotW this week – I absolutely loved Annie Darling’s Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts. It is so much fun, and ticked so many of my book buttons.
Posy Morland loves her job at Bookends – a crumbling bookshop tucked away in a Bloomsbury mews. But when the shop’s owner, Lavinia, dies and leaves the shop to Posy her life is turned upside down. Posy’s got lots of plans to turn the ailing bookshop around, but she’s also got to contend with Lavinia’s autocratic grandson Sebastian – nicknamed The Rudest Man in London by one of the papers, and seemingly searching for the national title. With her friends and co-workers to help her, can Posy turn the shop around as well as dealing with Sebastian’s machinations? And why is she having lurid fantasies?
The back of my proof copy says it’s for fans of Georgette Heyer (waves) and Jenny Colgan (waves) and for people who’ve dreamed of opening their own bookshops (falls over waving so hard) and I would totally agree. Posy is a great heroine – she’s likeable, a little bit damaged and totally relatable. It was great fun reading about her figuring out what to do with the bookshop and trying to stand up to Sebastian. It’s also crammed full of gems for the romance reader – whether it’s obvious ones (like name checks for historical romance authors) or more subtle ones (not telling, find them yourself).
This whistles along at a tremendous pace, with twists and turns and heaving bosoms in empire line gowns (you’ll understand if you read it). I was cross it was over so quickly – because I could have spent another 200 pages with Posy and her band of misfits at the bookshop and as there’s an ad at the end for a sequel, my wish may yet come true. The back of my advance copy also has the author’s top five novels in it which include Heyer’s Regency Buck – which I adore – Pride and Prejudice (ditto) and a Courtney Milan. What’s not to love. And on top of that it has a bookshop list which includes not one but TWO name checks for my beloved Chalet School so basically I think Annie Darling and I would really get on.
I got sent an advanced copy by a publicist who I chat to on Twitter – who had spotted that I love Georgette Heyer. It’s not out in paperback yet (August 25th) – but it is out in Kindle (£2.99 at time of writing!) and you can pre-order the paperback on Amazon and Waterstones and Foyles will email you when they get it in stock. I suspect as it’s published by Harper it may make it to the supermarkets too. I would’ve saved my ravings for closer to the time, but as the Kindle is out and I think that this would make a great beach read I thought I’d alert you all now. Go forth and read it!
Hello gentle reader. As you may have noticed, I do quite like a good romance novel. I’m more of a historical romance reader than anything else, but I do sometimes stray into contemporary and to a lesser extent paranormal. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about why some books linger on the to-read pile and it’s led to me contemplating what my favourite and least favourite tropes are in the romance genre. Once you’ve figured out what you like and what you don’t like, it makes it much easier to wade through a genre where there are so many books to chose from. And it also makes it easier to work out what you might like when you’re trying a different type of romance from the ones you usually read.
Lets start with my pet hates…
Accidental Pregnancies/Secret pregnancies
Oof. I think this is my absolute least favourite. If an author that I adore writes one of these, I’ll probably read it, but apart from that I give these a wide birth. I think this is probably all bound up in my own fear of accidental pregnancy, but these do absolutely nothing for me except make me want to scream with rage. Accidental secret pregnancy plots will have me hurling a book across the room if I happen to encounter them.
Following on from the pregnancy problem, I like secret children only slightly better. It has to be really good for me to be able to get past the fact that you’ve stopped the child’s father from being a part of their life for x years. And given that the whole idea of the plot is usually that the heroine will reunite with the father, then the reason’s for the secret tend to be a bit lame/spurious. And as far as contemporary romances go, in the days of the internet and social media it’s easier than ever to keep in touch with people and harder than ever to keep this sort of secret…
Just no. Luckily you don’t find it very often any more (although there is a bit in one of my favourite author’s latest novels, but it’s a late on twist so I just about coped with it) because people have (thankfully) realised that Amnesia is rare, and if you’ve got it, you may well have other stuff going wrong too which is harder to fix. I can’t think of a single romance with amnesia as a main plot point that I’ve read and enjoyed. And I’ve been down lists of amnesia romances on Goodreads and it hasn’t jogged my memory either. I understand there’s a pregnant-with-amnesia sub-genre, which sounds like my idea of hell, although Smart Bitches, Trashy Books have a very witty review of the hilariously titled Pregnesia.
Girls dressed up as boys
Twelfth Night has been my favourite Shakespeare play since we studied it when I was 11 (side note: check out the amazing Globe production of it with Oscar Winner (squee) Mark Rylance as Lady Olivia – clip below!) and I love plots with girls dressed up as boys. From Leonie in These Old Shades, through Harriet in Duchess by Night, Callie in Nine Rules to Break when Romancing a Rake (and that other Sarah MacLean one which not a traditional “breeches” role and is a massive spoiler if you haven’t read the rest of the series) and many more besides, it’s a plot device that will often get me to pick up a new author. It’s usually only found in Historical Romance although if you know of any good contemporary ones, please put them in the comments!
This is one has to be deployed cleverly, because breaking an engagement would ruin the heroine socially so she’d have to have a good reason to do it, but it’s popular device in more recently written historicals, there’s something I love about couples who enter into these for nerfarious reasons of their own and get more than they bargain for. Because of the above social consequences, it’s not a plot often employed by my beloved Georgette Heyer – I can only think of one fake engagement in her books and that’s False Colours, which almost doesn’t count because Kit is pretending to be his twin brother throughout in a lovely twist. Julia Quinn’s The Duke and I is a great example
Marriages of convenience
Following on from those fake engagements, I do love a marriage of convenience plot, although conversely I think my least favourite Georgette Heyer is A Civil Contract – but she does have some crackers too like April Lady and Friday’s Child (my mum’s favourite). When cleverly executed they can be wonderful fun – Eloisa James’s The Ugly Duchess, Mary Balogh’s At Last Comes Love and Quinn’s To Sir Philip with Love is a fun twist on the idea. To be honest, it’s fairly hard to mess up a marriage of convenience – there are lots of ways a lady can accidentally get compromised – and there’s lots of reasons why people might enter into one (keep lands, escape an evil guardian, get an inheritance etc).
I do read other stuff of course – I like house parties, rake-y heros, beta heros, guardians and wards (but only the sort who don’t do anything about it until the wards are of age), friends to lovers, best friend’s sibling and much much more. To be honest, beyond my pet hates above there’s not much I won’t give at least one try (except the Tragic Lives aisle of the bookshop). All recommendations for things that might tick any of my boxes are gratefully received – in the comments below please!
I know – two posts in two days. I’m spoiling you. But I couldn’t let Valentines Day go past without mentioning some of my favourite romantic books.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
I don’t care about all the posts about how you wouldn’t actually want to be with Mr Darcy in real life because I love this book. I started reading my mum’s copy of the book as soon as I’d finished watching the first part of the 1995 BBC adaptation of it and I adored it. I was in the tail-end of primary school and just flat-out loved Lizzy. My TV tie-in copy is much loved and I read it a lot. Read it and fall in love with Lizzy as much as you do with Darcy. And he grows as a person people. Everyone’s allowed to make a mistake and compared to some of the stuff romance novel heros have in their past, being a bit stuck up and arrogant is not the biggest problem ever!
These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer
And a prime example of how Darcy could be so much worse is the Duke of Avon. Justin’s nickname is Satanas. You’re told he’s lost a fortune at the gaming tables and then won back someone elses – someone who then killed themselves. He kidnapped a woman to try to force her to marry him. But I defy you not to be rooting for him as he turns Leon the page into Leonie the lady and restores her to her place in eighteenth century French High Society. And the way he achieves it isn’t exactly all hearts and flowers (although it is totally deserved). One of my favourite romance tropes is I’m not good enough for him/her and this is just the perfect example of that. And then when you’re done falling in love with Big Bad Justin, read Devil’s Cub and meet his son Dominic – mad, bad and dangerous to know and watch prim and proper Mary win his heart. He doesn’t think he’s good enough either. Swoon.
Stately Pursuits by Katie Fforde
Still my favourite Fforde novel (see my love letter to Fforde here), and you may start to detect a theme in my heros here. Connor is tall, dark, brooding and moody. Hetty’s mum’s sent her to look after Great Uncle Samuel’s stately home. Hetty wants to save it, Connor thinks selling it is the best solution. Cue fireworks of two different types. If you like your heros a little bit more beta, try Fforde’s Flora’s Lot and Charles the auctioneer. He’s engaged and thinks Flora is pushy. She thinks he’s uptight and change resistant. Another of my favourite tropes – I hate you, I hate you, I can’t stop thinking about your hair as Sarah McLean of Smart Bitches would say.
Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy L Sayers
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This is the most romantic detective story ever. After 3 books of angst and tension, Peter and Harriet are finally married. But a body turns up at their honeymoon dream house and unless they can figure out who did it Harriet is worried that Peter will be haunted by it forever. You’ll appreciate it most if you’ve read the other three books first, but once you have you’ll come back to it again and again. I’ve listened to it once this week on audiobook already. If you need more convincing I wrote a whole post about the wonders of Peter in general and Peter and Harriet in particular.
And if this still isn’t quite enough romance for you, try Eloisa James Duchess by Night featuring another of my favourite tropes – girls dressed as boys (see also the aforementioned These Old Shades) or Sarah MacLean’s Nine Rules to Break when Romancing a Rake (I would suggest Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover but that’s the end of a series and a big spoiler for the earlier books) which is another great trope (heroine needs to learn about love, asks rakish man to teach her) or a bit of Julia Quinn. Try not to get hooked. American-import romance can be an expensive habit.
Between the 1920s and 1970s, Georgette Heyer wrote nearly three dozen novels set Regency or Georgian times, along with a string of thrillers. I love me some Golden Age detective action, but this article is about her historical romances which, in my opinion, are sublime and nearly perfect examples of their type.
My mum had a shelf of Heyers on the landing the whole way through my childhood, but it was only when I was about 16 that I first picked one up (either False Colours or Cotillion, I can’t remember which) and that one led to another, which led to all of the ones she had and then to buying the ones that she didn’t. When my parents moved house a couple of years ago, mum passed them on to me as she “didn’t have space for them” any more, on the understanding that she could borrow them back if she wanted and that I wouldn’t get rid of them. Since then though, rather than borrowing them from me, she’s started re-buying them!
I have a lot of favourites, but if I was forced and could only have one, it would be The Grand Sophy. Sophy is feisty, independent, well-travelled and used to running her own life – and everyone else’s. She arrives back in England to live with her aunt and her cousins after her diplomat father is posted to South America. She finds them in the midst of a family crisis – with one daughter in love with an unsuitable poet and the eldest son engaged to a disagreeable bluestocking. Sophy proceeds to try to organise the household along more harmonious lines and arrange matches for her cousins and, in the end, herself.
What I love about Heyer’s female characters are that they’re not weak and wishy-washy pushovers, but they also don’t feel like modern women who have been supplanted to the eighteenth or nineteenth century. Her women aren’t simpering misses sitting around waiting for life to happen to them or for a man to make their life complete, but they’re not doing anything that feels jarringly out of period either. I have a weakness for American-written British-set historical romances (you know, the ones with the buxom heroines bursting out of their corsets on the covers) which lead a shamefaced existence* on the uppermost shelf of my tallest spare bedroom bookcase – and that’s a problem I find with some (but by no means all) of their heroines.
One of the feistiest and most independent of Heyer’s heroines is Léonie in These Old Shades – who we first meet as Léon the page when he is bought “body and soul” by Justin, Duke of Avon – known as Satanas because of his lack of morals. Heyer books always have a lot plot and not a lot of yearning looks or heaving bosoms and Shades is a great example of this. At the start of the book Justin is a thoroughly disreputable character who buys Léon not to free him from a life of abuse and mistreatment, but because he sees a method of being revenged on one of his enemies. Léonie is in love with Avon almost from the start, but you’re not sure until the very end, after the plot has taken you from France to England and back to France again, whether Avon’s motives have changed at all. Most of Heyer’s books are standalones, but Shades is unusual in that some of the characters have appeared before, albeit with different names and in a less developed form, in The Black Moth – and Justin, Léonie and Rupert all appear again in Devil’s Cub (which I also love) where Justin and Léonie’s son Dominic – who has all of his father’s faults and his mother’s temper but does at least have a conscience – runs off with a virtuous young lady who is trying to protect her sister’s honour.
In Regency Buck (another with a sort-of sequel – An Infamous Army of which more later) another strong minded heroine comes up against a domineering alpha-male and, dear reader, you may start to see a pattern in the sort of heroes that I like. Preferably tall, dark and handsome, he needs to be bossy, clever and with a bit of a dark side or at the least a temper – like Buck‘s Julian St John Audley, the titular Sylvester or best of all Damerel in Venetia. But they also need to be up against a smart woman who is prepared to stand up for herself and what she wants. I don’t want to see any woman being forced into a marriage by a man who holds all the power. The Heyers that come off my shelf the least are ones like Cotillion (Freddy’s too thick), Friday’s Child (Hero the heroine is too wet), Cousin Kate (Kate’s too stupid to see the trouble coming) and A Civil Contract (Adam needs a good slap).
Those are the exceptions though and just looking along the shelf is like seeing group of old friends – they live in the sitting room so I have them to hand if I need them! If you’ve never read any Georgette Heyer, may I heartily recommend you have a look now – particularly if you are a fan of authors like Eloisa James or Julia Quinn. They don’t have the sex that modern historicals do – in fact there’s barely any kissing, but they’re still breathtakingly romantic in places and have tight well-structured plots – and a wealth of meticulously researched historical detail (An Infamous Army was required reading for trainee army officers because its descriptions of the Battle of Waterloo are so accurate – it also features Julian and Judith from Regency Buck and a cameo from a much older Dominic and Mary from Devil’s Cub) that I can only imagine the current crop of authors have drawn on. It also says a lot that more than ninety years since her first book was published and forty years (this year in fact) since Georgette Heyer died, her Regency/Georgian romances are still in print.
I like them so much I even have a couple of them on my kindle and as audiobooks in case I need a fix when I’m away from home. And, while I was taking the photos for this article I discovered I’ve got a couple of duplicates of my own – I think I bought the pretty Pan paperbacks of The Talisman Ring and The Masqueraders when I was living in Essex – in the days when mum had most of the Heyers…