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DON'T MAKE ME CHOOSE! Seriously, I'd have a different answer for each different day of the month, but among the ones that would recur are:
Stella Riley - A Splendid Defiance
Georgette Heyer - Venetia
And pretty much anything by Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Courtney Milan
Sharon Penman - The Sunne in Splendour - Over thrirty years old, but still the best piece of HF about Richard III in existence.
Dorothy Dunnett's Six-book Lymond Chronicles - Amazingly detailed and well-plotted HF featuring one of the most beloved fictional heroes ever created.
Terry Pratchett's Discworld books.
Anything by Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope, Wilkie Collins or Charles Dickens.
Given I read mostly historicals, a strong sense of time and place is really important to me in whatever I read. Fluff and wallpaper historicals have their place, but I like an historical to pay more than lip-service to the monicker.
Smart-mouthed damaged heroes.
Intelligent, dignified heroines who give as good as they get without being curl-tossing TSTL foot-stampers.
Sexual tension off the charts. Some authors can do more with an accidental touch or kiss than many can with an entire sex scene. If the tension is good, then I don't need to read explicit sex scenes.
Immature heroines - not necessarily young heroines (Marian in Carla Kelly's Marian's Christmas Wish is only seventeen, but very mature for her age).
Books in which the heroine runs rings around the hero as a way of making her look good. While he looks like an idiot.
Hero and heroine whose "banter" feels forced or consists mostly of insults.
Overly contrived plot-devices.
American words and phrases in books set in 19th Century England. It's not difficult to look this stuff up and find out that we don't have sidewalks, stores or pants.
Before I started reading romances in a big way, the bulk of my reading diet was made up of 19th Century literature - Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope - probably my favourite of the lot - Wilkie Collins and a number of other, lesser known authors whose books I used to find in second hand bookshops in London. This is why, I suspect, that I gravitate almost wholly towards historicals in my romance reading; I feel so comfortable in the world of 18th and 19th Century England and Europe that it's where I like to hang out in my imagination!
Being a musician by training - and sometimes by profession - means that I am always drawn to books in which one or other of the protagonists is musical. Give me a hero who is also a virtuoso pianist and I'm reduced to a piece of mush on the carpet. (I'm looking at YOU, Valentine Windham and YOU, Simon St. Maur!)