If I described my top five couples from the fiction of Barbara Samuel without giving title and author, you might justifiably conclude that the pairs figured as protagonists in novels by five different authors. How likely is it that a single author would write a cross-culture medieval set in 14th-century Germany, a contemporary featuring a recovering alcoholic heroine and a twice-divorced Native American hero, an American historical interracial romance set in WW II Texas, a contemporary romance/women’s fiction hybrid with a homecoming theme that pairs a heroine a few steps away from forty, responsible for a best friend dying of AIDS and a seventeen-year-old son, with a bad-boy, motorcycle-riding hero, and a women’s fiction novel with a biographer protagonist who falls in love with a needy, wounded blues aficionado who also raises orchids? But yet all these stories were penned by the remarkable Barbara Samuel, who has the gift of delivering a potent emotional punch in prose that falls on the ear like music and lingers in the memory like the lyrics of a favorite song.
5. Rica der Esslingen and Solomon ben Jacob, A Bed of Spices (1993)
Rica, the daughter of a German aristocrat, and Solomon, the son of a Jewish merchant, are separated by class, race, and religion, but these barriers are not enough to stop them from falling in love at first sight. Samuel’s description of their first awareness is perfection: “Like a lady stricken with the beauty of a knight in one of the poems the priest had forbidden her, Rica felt faint and star-struck and bewitched. She smiled at him. He swallowed, then glanced away quickly, a dusky stain on his cheekbones.” As they come to know each other, they fall more deeply in love, and with every scene, no matter how often I reread the book, I fall more deeply in love with these characters and this author.