What I appreciate the most about the romance genre is you can literally find just about any type of book to fit your mood. I can read a tortured vampire hero one day and the next I can pick up a sweet just-kisses category romance. But even as much as I love variety, historical romance will likely always be my favorite. However it’s hard for me as a reader to have a steady diet of just one thing – so I’m always on the lookout for historical romances that give me something a little different. I’m a girl who cannot live on Dukes alone, and while every month Not-Your-Usual Historical Best Bets for October 2015 brings a variety of not-your-usual historicals to choose from, I’m just selfish enough to always want more. What more could a girl possibly want? Well, let me tell you.
I get it. I truly do. Dukes and gently born ladies dressed in finery provide readers with a ready-made fairy tale. And while that’s all well and good, what I really want is less upstairs and more downstairs. Maids, butlers, housekeepers, valets, yes please! Beneath this cynical candy shell beats the heart of a true romantic. In other words, I like to believe that footmen were capable of falling in love just as well as Viscounts.
In Maid to Match by Deeanne Gist, the heroine is a parlor maid with her sights set on becoming the lady’s maid to Mrs. Vanderbilt. However her careful plans go awry when she meets our hero, a new hire at the estate who needs a serious makeover. What makes this book so wonderful is that while the Vanderbilts play healthy secondary roles, it’s not their romance. It’s the romance of a lady’s maid and a wannabe footman. How can you not want more of this?
Stop and think for a moment about the last historical you read that was about country folk. Not cowboys. Not characters who live in small towns. But characters who farm for a living, live in hill country, or for lack of better terminology: are hillbillies? Yeah, not a lot of those. Once upon a time, America was largely a rural economy, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that by looking at historical romance.
Scarred Hearts by Bonnie Dee is set in the Kentucky hills on the eve of Prohibition, and finds our heroine trying to live down her bad reputation. In between smacking away hands from her behind, she’s a waitress at a local watering hole, trying to go unnoticed by the bootlegging Robeson brothers. That is until baby brother Shadow comes home wounded from World War I.
Pamela Morsi built her career writing rural settings, and many of her books feature the sort of homespun, down to earth characters I would love to see more of in the genre. In Simple Jess, our heroine Althea is a widow with a young son, sitting on prime land. Between her family and ambitious would-be beaus, there’s no way she’s going to be allowed to stay single for long. The ultimatum is pick a new husband by Christmas or we’ll do it for you. And who does Althea choose? Jess, a simple man with simple dreams – to have his own dog, his own gun and a woman.
Big City, Gilded Age!
The fashion, the politics, the explosion of the Industrial Revolution make the Gilded Age in America ripe for exploration. In Halfway to Heaven by Susan Wiggs, the heroine is the ugly duckling daughter of a powerful Senator. The hero, newly elected, needs her father’s vote to defeat a railroad expansion bill, and he thinks helping the man’s daughters make good matches on the marriage mart will surely win him good favor. Except, of course, when he finds himself getting distracted, and his head turned, by the heroine – a girl more comfortable exploring the stars than navigating a ballroom.
Dancing at the Chance by Deanna Cameron is set against the criminally underutilized setting of vaudeville. Slowly losing ground against splashier shows, like Ziegfeld’s, and the fad of motion pictures, our dancer heroine hopes that the return of her girlhood crush, the owner’s son, will mean a rebirth for the theater and a happily-ever-after for her. But what about the stage hand hero, who pines for the heroine from afar?
Mae West once said, “When I’m good, I’ve very good. When I’m bad, I’m better.” She could have been talking about romance heroines. Good girls are all well and good (ha!), but bad girls are ever so much more fun. Courtesans, thieves, rebellious daughters, they just make historical romance more interesting.
In The Sword Dancer by Jeannie Lin our heroine makes her living performing with a traveling troupe. Well, sort of. She might have gotten a little mixed up with a band of thieves that pulled off a jade and gold heist from a powerful man who now wants retribution. Enter our hero, a bounty hunter. However while he is smitten, she’s got little time for him. She’s too busy trying to find out who she is and what happened to her family. Our girl wants vengeance and answers, a romance – not so much. Or so she thinks.
Unwed and Unrepentant by Marguerite Kaye is the final book in a series about five sisters, and naturally this features the rebellious youngest girl. How rebellious? Well how about running off to the Continent with her lover, a man she never married? Returning to England in hopes of reuniting with her sisters (along with half-brothers, nieces and nephews), she has to get past her overbearing, disapproving father. A man who has always had little use for his daughters unless he could use them to further his own agenda. This means if she wants to be with her family again it’s time for a pretend engagement with a self-made Scot Daddy wants to do business with. Surely that will make the old goat happy?
What I love about historical romance is that there truly is an endless list of possibilities. So much so, that my own personal give-me-more-of-that wislist is a moving target and can change with the seasons. What would you like to see more of in historical romance? Share some of your favorites in the comments section.
Learn more about the books mentioned:
|Maid to Match by Deeanne Gist|
|Scarred Hearts by Bonnie Dee|
|Simple Jess by Pamela Morsi|
|Halfway to Heaven by Susan Wiggs|
|Dancing at the Chance by Deanna Cameron|
|The Sword Dancer by Jeannie Lin|
|Unwed and Unrepentant by Marguerite Kaye|
Wendy the Super Librarian also blogs at WendyTheSuperLibrarian.blogspot.com. So dig that library card out of your pocket and head for the stacks.