Valentine’s Day Toss-up: Something old, something new

With all the romance novels out there, it’s hard to know where the good quality reads are.

So here are some recommendations of clean, well-written romance novels I’ve read over the past couple years.

Some are set in past history, others are set in present day, and one is both!

Calgary Zoo Conservatory - Valentine's Day 2020

 

Falling for June

by Ryan Winfield (2015)

This is a sweet story about a foreclosure clerk Elliot who meets David Hadley, an elderly man living as a hermit in rural Washington State. David needs Elliot’s help to fulfill a promise to his wife June, whom he met in his fifties at the top of a 70 story building. A unique, beautiful love story.

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Fair Game

by Elizabeth White (2007)

A classic example of me falling for the cover, but this time the image delivered what it promised! Humor, excellent writing, good plot, wholesome values and witty dialogue. Jana wants the land for wildlife rescue and Grant wants it for hunting. But God knows even stubborn enemies sometimes fall in love…

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Vinegar Girl

by Anne Tyler (2016)

I read this voraciously, as I do all of her books. The introverted 28-year-old devoted daughter of a brilliant microbiologist is asked to do her father a very big favor in order to help bring all of his years of research to a successful conclusion. Brilliant fun, good-hearted book!

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The Grand Sophy

by Georgette Heyer (1950)

Sophy is a free-spirited young woman who has been left alone far too much by her ever-traveling father, much to the consternation of proper society. A typical Georgette Heyer heroine, this one is shockingly direct and audacious. While he is overseas for an indefinite period of time, she is sent to live with stuffy relatives. They certainly don’t want her there and they look down their noses at her, but she is a take-charge gal and sets out to solve the many problems in the bedeviled family. Along the way, however, she stirs up some new problems. You can’t guess how it’s going to finish until the very end of the breathtaking roller coaster ride, in the last few pages. The version I read was 403 pages, but I didn’t want it to end. It lived up to its high rating as one of the greatest written by this best-selling author of 57 books.

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Love Letter

by Rachel Hauck (2018)

In this excellent split-time novel, a love letter is found by someone in the twenty-first century who is related to the writer of the eighteenth century love letter. It switches from authentic depictions of characters, relationships and historical events in 1780 South Carolina, to intertwined storylines in present day Los Angeles. The characters are realistic, with fallible personalities and struggles with faith. Brilliant storytelling, and suspense as the author flips back and forth between the two time periods and the two couples, make it a fascinating read!

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I hope you’ll share your favorite Valentine’s Day reads in the comments section below!

Happy Valentine’s Day reading!

Calgary Zoo - Zoo Lights

Valentine’s Day Romance – The Naturalist by Christina Dudley

Most Valentine’s Days, I’ve reviewed a favorite romance. As far as I am concerned, Jane Austen, Rosamunde Pilcher and Georgette Heyer are by far the most reliable authors for a quality, wholesome romance novel.

But I have discovered a new author of great talent, Christina Dudley!

I still haven’t figured out how I even ran across this book. It may have been connected with a yearly binge online search of my local library for clean romance novels. Or it could have been through Amazon’s recommendations based on some wholesome romance novels I bought from the Kindle store.

Anyway, I read great reviews about The Naturalist, which is a Regency novel, and Book 1 of the The Hapgoods of Bramleigh series. So, because the main characters were scientists, I decided to buy it.

Now, I didn’t really expect much, because statistically I only actually like about 1 out of 30 romance novels that I pick up these days. But what a pleasant surprise!

The main characters meet over their mutual fascination with flora and fauna, and their intense devotion to observing and recording data about them.

At first they assume that their strong attraction is professional. But when social conventions force them apart, they realize it’s a strange but wonderful kind of love, and their own unconventional thinking and determination drive them to do what is unthinkable in Regency society.

Their relationship is pleasant, and turns hilarious as some secrets are revealed. Both have a strong, moral character which heightens their inner turmoil throughout the story. The plot twists are realistic and unexpected. And the tension created by all the people trying to keep them apart and by their perplexing feelings for each other kept me glued to my Kindle screen!

What a rare find. I agree with one reader who said that it is a quiet, soothing, yet interesting, read, and I will add “intelligent” to the list as well.

highly recommend The Naturalist to anyone who is looking for a quality, intelligent romance or is a fan of Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer!

Happy Valentine’s Day, and happy reading!

I hope you’ll let me know what your favorites are!

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Here are my previous Valentine’s Day reviews:

Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson

God’s Good Man: A Simple Love Story by Marie Corelli

Quality Romance Worth Reading

Cotillion by Georgette Heyer

Thorn in my Heart by Liz Curtis Higgs

Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher

Arabella by Georgette Heyer

The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer

 

Hearts background courtesy of Monika Stawowy at https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=241019&picture=valentines-day-background, License: CC0 Public Domain

Quality Romance worth Reading

I love Valentine’s Day because I love LOVE. And I love reading about love. I have been browsing through my binder of book notes that goes back to about 1995, and I’ve picked out my 20 favorite books about romantic love.Valentine fr Bruce

How did these make the cut?

What I look for in a story of love between a man and a woman, in addition to excellent writing, is the qualities of the main characters.  I like to get involved with authentic, realistic characters that I would actually want to spend time with, people with qualities such as integrity, forgiveness, kindness, humility and goodness. By the end I want to see them overcome significant struggles, go through a positive transformation, or experience a revelation that results in a better life for them and those around them.

I look for the author to go beyond the action to expertly convey feelings, motivation, and attitude throughout the story, teach me something new, provide a good pace, and include humor or at least a generally positive outlook. I will stop reading stories with a huge amount of introspection, lengthy descriptions of scenery or houses, a depressing tone, or overdone violence or immorality.  I like a gentle writing style as long as it doesn’t get boring, and as long as the story keeps pointing towards significance.

Here is my list!

Here is a mixture of classic and contemporary books, published from 1605 to the present, which include history, humor, mystery, chick-lit, inspiration, and various locales such as Scotland, California, Mexico, England, Colorado, and more.  I include the year of their publication.

My top 20, in alphabetical order by author:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen 1813 – exquisite

What a Girl Wants by Kristin Billerbeck 2004 – hilarious!

Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore 1869 – incredibly intense, especially the ending

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte 1847 – a roller coaster with the perfect ending

what a girl wants_Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes 1605 and 1615 – idealistic knight, surpisingly funny

La Dame aux Camellias by Alexandre Dumas fils 1852 – true love’s sweet sacrifice

Sassy Cinderella and the Valiant Vigilante by Sharon Dunn 2004 – laugh out loud mystery

Reason to Believe by Kathleen Eagle 1995 – gentle story of two cultures

Nick’s Kind of Woman by Margot Early 1997 – fascinating relationship and action set in my home state of Colorado

The Well Beloved by Thomas Hardy 1892 – “a sketch of a temperament”

Arabella by Georgette Heyer 1949 – who knew the proper Victorian era could be this funny?

sassy cinderellaThorn in my Heart by Liz Curtis Higgs 2003 – the story of Leah and Rachel moved to 18th century Scotland

The Story of a Whim by Grace Livingston Hill – sweet, creative, upbeat surprise

Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson 1884 – love amid racial discrimination after the Mexican-American War

Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale 1992 – rakish mathematician Duke meets intelligent Quaker

My Favorite Goodbye by Sheila O’Flanagan 2001 – light and funArabella by G Heyer

The Promise of Jenny Jones by Maggie Osborne 1999 – never laughed so hard

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers 2001 – pointing to the source of love

Happy Ever After (also called Family Happiness) by Leo Tolstoy 1859 – light, easy, insightful

The Sunset Coast by Susan Devore Williams 1995 – gradual awakening of love and faith

I hope you will be inspired to read something off your normal reading track!  If you do–or if you have some to recommend to me–please leave me a comment!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Valentine’s Day Book Review of Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher

Often, in February, after several long cold months of winter, I long for a mini-holiday in a place guaranteed to be warm and sunny.  The first place I usually think of is southern California, and the logical time to go is Family Day weekend.  It’s been ages since I’ve been able to go, but this year the flight and hotel deal was amazing, so off my sister-in-law and I went to San Diego.  (Do check out the photos at the end of the post.)

Another February tradition I have is reading a Georgette Heyer romance novel for Valentine’s Day, but I am out of Georgette Heyer at the moment, so as I packed for my holiday I included my last unread Rosamunde Pilcher novel to read by the pool and every night before bed.  It is called Winter Solstice, and is a story about various people coming together to a small community in Scotland from London, New York and many other points on the compass, some purposely and others by chance, in mid-December.

I am amazed and inspired at the generosity of the characters in Pilcher’s novels, warmly giving their friendship and affection to people they just met.   The way distant friends or relatives, friends of friends, or even complete strangers are welcomed to live in a household for weeks or even months at a time makes me wonder if the author experienced this in her family, or if this is standard in Great Britain.  I am not normally as gregarious as these people, but I want to be.  (I found myself so inspired by this story, though, that as soon as I got home I happily got together with some friends and family—4 gatherings in 5 days.)

Each chapter title is the name of a main character, and each of five characters is the focus of several chapters.  We get to know Elfrida, a free-spirited 62-year-old former actress, and we get to meet the new friends in her new community, especially Oscar, an accomplished musician and teacher about the same age.  Then we meet young businessman Sam, someone unconnected to either Elfrida or Oscar.  Then we branch out and learn more about them, and find distant connections beginning to form.  The author is as lavishly generous about introducing us to the details of the lives and relationships of the minor characters as she is the major characters, and it feels like we are a beloved houseguest in each of their homes.

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After a tragedy befalls Oscar, he and Elfrida drive to a rundown Victorian house in Scotland, where Elfrida’s young cousin, Carrie, and Carrie’s 14-year old niece Lucy, end up joining them during the Christmas holiday.  And when Sam—who is no relation or connection to any of them—is snowbound there, he joins them.  Each one in the group has some issue that they are concerned with or privately struggling over, and each spends time with the other, with honest conversation, and no hesitations over shyness or age differences.  It is fun to get to know Lucy through the journal entries she writes in her diary.

One reason I read Rosamunde Pilcher is that I know that I won’t have any shocking murders or hateful, violent or creepy characters or events to contend with.  Her books are gentle and feel like a group hug.  There are definitely some unlikeable people that we have to spend time with, though.  And there were many suspenseful places in the story where I wondered if she was going to break her happy-ending habit, but eventually found that I had nothing to worry about.

Now that the story is over I am almost grieving, as I usually do after I’ve had to part with all the people I’ve enjoyed being with during the past 500 pages.  I feel like the characters did at the end, as some returned to their homes and jobs after the Christmas holiday, while others adjusted to an empty, quiet house.  Yet each one leaves the story far, far better than they arrived, and all are filled with hope, as the reader is also.

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To celebrate Valentine’s Day in San Diego, we decided to go out to eat someplace special.  We aren’t really drawn to expensive restaurants, but we did want to try something new, so we treated ourselves to every imaginable kind of salad and comfort food—and as much chocolate—as we could manage at a Hometown Buffet.  (Hometown Buffet, please come to my home town!)

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Here, from my pile of holiday photos, are some images of Valentine’s Day love in America’s Finest City…

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Valentine’s Day Book Review of Arabella, by Georgette Heyer

Arabella was published in 1949

I read this book and wrote the review in February of 2004, “in honor of Valentine’s Day”.

Strangely, I am having a similar experience to the last novel I read, Agnes Grey. I am about half way through Arabella, and I feel like the action has finally just begun.

Arabella is the oldest of eight children, her father a pastor who has taught them good principles, her mother (same as Agnes Grey) originally a well-to-do society girl who left her wealth behind and has never had any regrets. Arabella is very excited about the possibility of going to London and being introduced to society, with the intention of finding a “good match” of a husband, and thereby paving the way for her other sisters to find good husbands. When her godmother in London and her father agree to it, she is elated.

On the way to London, their carriage breaks down, and she chances to meet Mr. Beaumaris and his friend. She tells them that she is quite wealthy but doesn’t want anyone to know that. (This is a lie; her family aren’t starving, but they are far from wealthy.)

Where I’m at now, Arabella is quite mature and wise about the attentions shown to her, most importantly by Mr. B, as well as many, many other men. Though both believe that a match between them would be unwise, Mr. B, a sworn bachelor used to trifling with women, is beginning to realize a serious attraction to Arabelle, and vice versa.

One thing I love about Georgette Heyer’s novels is her leading men. They are typically solid, unaffected, strong, confident, decent men with a tremendous sense of humor. The author has a wry sense of humor; I love its subtlety and dryness. Last night, though my eyes were heavy, I read two extra chapters because it was so interesting and enjoyable.

I finished this book the evening of our school’s open house. I was taking my break from all the noise of work by hanging out at a bookstore nearby. I found a copy of this book and sat on the floor next to the shelf and read about a chapter, laughing outloud. Then when I got home I finished it.

What a great experience this author gives to a reader! I can count on her to write stories that make me laugh out loud and be warmed and amused by her characters and how the tangles of their relationships get untangled.

[Caution, spoiler ahead…]

Arabella has already turned down Mr. B’s proposal once, and assured him that she would let him know if she ever changed her mind. When in a panic about rescuing her brother from his financial ruin, she asks Mr. Beaumaris to marry her (planning to use her new-found fortune to pay Bertram’s debts), Mr. Beaumaris conjures up a “plan” for them to elope. Arabella, dreading the shame that she will bring upon her family, and believing that it is entirely possible that Mr. Beaumaris’s intentions toward her are improper and lascivious, agonizes over her shameful behavior, but feels she has no choice.

All this time, little Ulysses, the stray mongrel that Arabella persuaded Mr. Beaumaris to adopt, is worshipping Mr. Beaumaris. These scenes are one of the highlights of this book. Ulysses’ master speaks to him about his manners, and confides to him about his dilemmas, as in this quote:

“Mr. Beaumaris, rhythmically drawing Ulysses’ flying ear through his hand—a process which reduced Ulysses to a state of blissful idiocy—said meditatively: “It is a melancholy reflection, is it not, that at my age I can be such a fool?” Ulysses, his eyes half-closed, his senses swooning in ecstasy, gave a sigh which his god might, if he chose, interpret as one of sympathy.”

When the ever-impetuous Arabella cries on the way to their hasty marriage that she’s changed her mind and doesn’t want to elope, Mr. B calmly says, “Then we won’t elope.” Beaumaris actually takes her to his grandmother’s home, where he and Arabella confess to each other that they haven’t behaved honestly. Then he tells her that he has received her father’s consent to marry her. Arabella objects, saying that she doesn’t deserve all this goodness from him, and Beaumaris warmly and affectionately convinces her that he loves her, and, in the last line of the novel, she assures him “that his very obliging sentiments are entirely reciprocated.”

Excellent.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Another Georgette Heyer book for Valentine’s Day

Review of The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer, originally published in 1934

Again, I decided to celebrate February, Valentine’s Day, by reading another Georgette Heyer book. This was a fun book, and I read it quickly.

Knowing her oldest sister loves Captain Heron, a military man with little money, 17-year-old Horatia, a confident, direct young lady, enters into a “convenient marriage” to a man twice her age, in order to keep her family from the financial ruin brought on by her gambling brother. Her husband, Marcus Rule, an always calm, polite gentleman with a lazy way of speaking and lots of money, is his typically agreeable self and goes along with Horatia’s plan of non-interference in each other’s lives (meaning, dalliances with others). There is nothing more than flirtation in the book, but still, it surprises me for that time period (but I guess we’re talking about secular society where wealth and position often superseded morals).

The headstrong Horry defies the advice of Rule and others, and enters into a friendship with the known rake Lethbridge, who one night kidnaps her and attempts to force her affections, during which her heirloom brooch is ripped off and lost. It is found by someone who is determined to hurt the marriage by presenting it as proof of Horry’s unfaithfulness. But in that and other predicaments that she gets herself into, Rule, sometimes playing ignorant of them for the fun of it, merely grows all the more enamored of his wife, as she explains every detail of her naïve adventures truthfully, with steadiness and strength, despite a few tears of shame and embarrassment. Of course at the end they declare their genuine love and affection for each other.

Lovely story, of course, but I admit I did get a bit impatient and scanned several chapters which involved only the men—her brother the Viscount Pelham Winwood, his loyal friend Sir Roland, the devious no-good Crosby Drelincout, Captain Heron, and Lord Lethbridge. I was afraid the book would turn out like The Unknown Ajax, but it didn’t. This one was a very satisfying romance!