I grew up reading and rereading Elswyth Thane’s Williamsburg series, not exactly romance fiction, but with all the matches from Tibby and Julian in Colonial America through six more books to their descendants in World War II England, the series certainly qualifies as fiction with a strong romance element. I didn’t really think about moving to a different genre when I moved from reading Thane, Janet Holt Giles, Elisabeth Ogilvie, and other weavers of American-set historical fiction to reading American-set romance fiction.
For years, American historicals were a regular part of my romance reading. But LaVyrle Spencer and Maggie Osborne retired, Pamela Morsi and Susan Wiggs moved to women’s fiction and contemporary romance (or some hybrid of the two), and Lorraine Heath and Laura Lee Guhrke joined the European historical-writing crowd. These days, except for Frontier/Westerns, which remain strong with frequent contributions from writers such as Jo Goodman, Cheryl St. John, Jodi Thomas, and Kaki Warner, it is rare that I read an American historical that gives me the feeling that I’ve found a gem to add to my collection. But with the boundaries of the American historical expanding into the World War II era and beyond, I have hope that American historicals, from Colonial America settings to the 1960s, will find again a place on monthly lists of available romance novels.
In the meantime, I’ll keep rereading my top ten favorite American historical romance novels (listed in order of publication since I can’t decide which ones I love most).
1. Morning Glory (1990) by LaVyrle Spencer
Among Spencer fans, this one is often cited as the top favorite. With Will Parker, a drifter and ex-con, as hero, and Ellie Dinsmore, a pregnant widow many of the good citizens of Whitney consider mad, as heroine, it offers unconventional protagonists. These two lonely outsiders enter a marriage of convenience in a small Georgia town in the 1940s and capture the reader’s interest and affection in their story about finding a place to belong. Morning Glory’s continued popularity is confirmed by its ranking as #25 on the 2013 Top 100 poll at All About Romance.