Lit snob confession: I used to read romance novels a lot. I used to sneak them from my mom's room and read all the naughty bits. Then I read the Anne Rice Beauty trilogy (yeah, yeah, I know, the non-vampire stuff is erotica, technically, but someone thoughtfully misshelved them with some romance novels at the library) and that just about put me off my feed (also, I was about fifteen...if you haven't figured out "vanilla" yet the "banana split with whipped cream, sprinkles, and nuts" will make your hair stand on end). So extended break from romance novels. I was also tired of recycled plotlines. I did get the brilliant idea to name one of my cats "Chaucer" from a romance novel (The Wedding by Jo Beverly, I think) so not entirely a bad thing.
My sister-in-law turned me onto Lauren Willig's Pink Carnation series a while ago. They are fun books to read - Regency-era flowery-named spies causing trouble for Fouche and Delaroche while protecting England from French invasions framed by the modern story of an American grad student in England trying to write her dissertation about the Scarlet Pimpernel, the Purple Gentian, and the Pink Carnation. They are deliciously funny, Regency romance-type novels that borrow on some Austen themes (Letty's family in The Deception of the Emerald Ring is an obvious borrowing of the Bennetts from Pride and Prejudice that works well in that plot) and combine them with cheeky espionage plots.
This year, having partially OD'd on fantasy novels again (thank to GRRM) and partially fried my attention span by writing a book, I have come back around to romance novels. Simple plots. Mostly happy endings. Bad guys get punished (after 4000 pages of Lannisters getting away with just about everything I needed some punished villains, let me tell you). Poor fried brain doesn't have to think. Additionally, I can read a 300 page romance novel in about two hours - a good thing when I'm twenty books in the hole on my goal to read 100 books this year.
Back in July, my attention was caught by The Bargain by Mary Jo Putney. Has a good meet-cute: she needs to marry by age 25 to get her inheritance money (stupid clause in father's will), he is dying from a wound received in the Napoleonic wars. He'll marry her, she will provide an income for his sister who's scraping along as a governess. Good bargain, right? Well, enter one outraged sister, a pioneering surgeon, a twist of fate...you get the picture. It had what felt like a really rushed ending - makeup sex and an annoying epilogue.
So, ok, that was fun, right? At the end of August I picked up The Secret Desires of a Governess by Tiffany Clare. The governess was a fun character to root for and the book had a really nice Gothic quality to the backstory and mystery. However, the sex scenes between hero and heroine - while crazyhotandsteamy and not completely out of place for a modern setting - felt really forced in the mid-nineteenth century setting. A few plotholes, too. Sort of meh.
The next month, while receiving at the bookstore, I came across Devil of the Highlands by Lynsay Sands. Evil stepmom betrothes sweet stepdaughter to a Scot known to be horrible, cruel, and a "devil". Turns out the Devil (Cullen) is not bad looking and quite a considerate guy. Seems to be mostly misunderstood. Ok, I'll bite. Not withstanding a re-donk-ulous meet-cute (Evelinde falls in the stream, getting banged-up in the process, tries to dry her dress by holding it over her head while riding horseback, and causes an accident with Cullen) and an extended English-girl-has-no-idea-what-is-up-with-Scots-culture scene (which is actually pretty funny, leading to a crazy someone-took-four-muscle-relaxers-type scene almost straight out of Sixteen Candles) I really liked this one. It has a really nice little mystery to solve and is also quite funny in places. Fun to read.
Ok, liked the historical setting, a little humor is good. I tried out The Black Lyon by Jude Devereaux next. I found an ancient copy while browsing at the library (the new mass market edition is much prettier) - it's about the same time period as the Sands so I figured I'd give it a shot. While decently researched as to time period (a good book for setting, clothes, what happens at a tournament, etc.) I really didn't like the hero and heroine. He was beyond too jealous and controlling and she was way too insecure. Also, I didn't find this one very funny, actually pretty depressing at times.
So, that Lynsay Sands...writes a pretty good book. Conveniently, I had put The Deed on my book clubs endcap for September (the Romantic Reads group was reading the KISS and TEAL Avon books to help raise money for ovarian cancer research) and I read a little on break one day. The Prologue and first chapter cracked me up - poor Lady Emmalene has to petition King Richard to force her husband to bed her...and then the bugger up and dies before he can return home to do "the deed" so the King marries her to a loyal knight to both protect her from evil relatives and reward the man for saving his life. So I fired up the nook for a purchase. Emma is a really endearing little character - stubborn, bossy, funny, and resourceful. Amaury isn't so bad either. I really liked this one - even re-read it during the readathon when I had mush-brain and was too lazy to get out of bed.
I continued with my Lynsay Sands run. The Perfect Wife is interesting in that it plays on the very modern (and very old) problem of women thinking they need to look a certain way or be a certain size to be loved by men. Avelyn is a full-figured heroine and it's nice to see her evolve to accept herself over the course of the book. The mystery plot got a little odd in places but the book had a good cast of characters (Lord and Lady Gerville were pretty funny at times). Taming the Highland Bride picked up where Devil of the Highlands left off with Evelinde's brother, Alexander, marrying his betrothed, Merry Stewart, thus introducing us to her drunken family. This one felt a little more sinister - particularly with a certain character we met in the first book and you know it isn't going to turn out well - but still a fun read. Merry is a great character and we got to visit Evie and Cullen again. The Hellion and the Highlander jumps to Merry's eldest brother, Kade, who has just recently returned from imprisonment in the Crusades, and his marriage to Averill (who, according to English standards, will be trouble because of her bright red hair, small strawberry birthmark, and nervous stutter but Kade's Scot sensibilities think she's wonderful). Kade has his work cut out for him in turning the Stewart men around and Averill is a very capable heroine to match him. They also have a very sweet relationship, defintely one that makes you go "awwwww". Sands has a lot of room to write more books in this series if she wanted because there are a load of single side-characters she could use (Ian, Will, Tralin, Tavis, etc.) so here's hoping. The last two titles are sort-of misnomers - Merry doesn't need taming and Averill isn't a hellion.
I think I'll continue reading romance novels here and there. I get them on my nook - I think the mass market size was a considerable turn off and the nook lets me make the print larger/size of book easier to handle. I don't think I'll be expanding to paranormal romances (having supernatural vampires/were-whatevers/angels/demons/dragons that turn into hotties in my fiction has never been a huge draw for me) or western-themed or contemporary romances but I enjoy the historicals (so far, and as long as the anachronisms don't get too crazy). I also really enjoy Sands's writing so I'll read more of her historicals (I've get a bit hooked on her style) then maybe look into some others. We'll see. Keeping myself entertained is the point.