All the romances listed below are true Desert Island Keepers for me, and for each of them the following holds true: Whenever I open them to reread a particular scene, I cannot put them down again, and I end up reading the whole book. Each and every time. So this list is entirely subjective, with no regard to subgenres or dates of publication – although to gain entry on this list, a romance must have been around for a few years, otherwise I won’t know whether I will reread it again … and again … and again.
The order in which I have placed the books is not according to preference, but, as far as I can remember, according to the time in which I discovered them and added them to my own personal canon.
1. Cotillion by Georgette Heyer
I adore Freddy Standen, one of the most unlikely yet most perfect romance heroes ever. I also love the way his large, rather dysfunctional family is described; I love Kitty the equally naive and pragmatic heroine; I love Dolph, the mentally handicapped cousin who starts of as a fairly ridiculous figure and has his own dignity at the same time; I love the way the protagonists feel like they really were young people; and I love the way that Jack gets his comeuppance. And I may have mentioned it … I adore Freddy.
2. Nine Coaches Waiting by Mary Stewart
When I was younger this was a bit of a guilty pleasure read for me because the translation of the Cinderella theme into the 1950s struck me as somehow odd. Now that I am older (and wiser), I savor the tight plotting, the marvellously effective use of the first-person narrator, and the magnificent use of scenery and sense of isolation. One of the finest Gothics ever written.
3. The Five-Minute Marriage by Joan Aiken
Another dysfunctional family … this time with truly evil undertones. The Five-Minute Marriage is a splendid mixture of traditional regency romance and gothic novel, seasoned with Joan Aiken’s particular brand of dark humor and unflinching eye for people’s follies.
4. Alinor by Roberta Gellis
Alinor is the second volume in the Roselynde series, and it is virtually unique in that the heroine has found her HEA with her much older love in the first volume, and then there is this second book about how she has to remarry after her first husband’s death. So if you believe in loving only once, this is not the book for you. If, however, you adore being steeped in medieval political intrigue, tournaments and everyday living, and like the idea of finding love again after a very happy first marriage, then this is a gem for you.
5. In Pursuit of the Green Lion by Judith Merkle Riley
Another medieval, and quite different in tone, although the basic plot – the heroine has to face marrying again after the death of her much-beloved, much older husband – is actually the same! This book shines with its whimsical characters and the way that Christian belief permeates every aspect of life, as it did indeed in the Middle Ages. With a touch of the paranormal, and one of the most charmingly stubborn heroes ever, I love the book for its combination of depth and humor.
6. Shores of Darkness by Diana Norman
This novel is actually not a romance, but historical fiction as its finest (I should add that the basic requirement of a romance is met … in between I found it very hard this might still happen!). It is set in the reign of Queen Anne, has Daniel Defoe as a major character, and its heroine is possibly the strongest women I have ever come across in fiction. I also need to mention there are pirates, fugitive slaves, and secret royal blood. Added up, it makes for one emotional rollercoaster of a read.
7. Bride of the Rat God by Barbara Hambly
I am not particularly fond of paranormals, but this is a masterpiece. It is set among movie makers in 1920s Hollywood, with a touch of the Chinese, and features the three most adorable dogs in fiction that I know of, who play a marvellous role in the proceedings. There are two major female characters, very different but both immensely appealing, and the hero is a short man with spectacles and utterly adorable.
8. The Improper Governess by Carola Dunn
I don’t quite know myself why of all my Regency trads, this is the one I reread most persistently. Possibly it’s because of the hero, who is neither rake nor saint, but actually a lot like a real person. Then there are three young boys who sound just right. And the minor characters are (with one exception) people with virtues and follies, a bit exasperating at times but very likeable.
9. A Christmas Bride by Mary Balogh
I pick up A Christmas Bride when I long for a really intense read. The heroine suffers so much, well-deserved in the past for truly horrible and damaging actions, but now equally well-deserving of redemption, although she resists believing almost to the last that this might be possible. The hero is one of those wonderful strong male leads who feel no need to prove anything, to anybody. So he’s just the one to break the vicious circle that she has spun around herself. If you like redemption stories, this should not be missed.
10. Finders Keepers by Linnea Sinclair
This is a inter-stellar Across the Tracks story with more than a hint of Cinderella. Cinderella has been burnt before, though, and is not keen on Prince Charming, thank you very much. What I like best about this book (besides the spunky heroine) is the marvellous world-building and the way that the very yummy hero needs to discover hidden parts of himself. And I must not forget the droid!
– Rike Horstmann
I enjoy spending as much time as I can between the covers of a book, traveling through time and around the world. When I'm not having adventures with fictional characters, I'm an attorney in Virginia and I love just hanging out with my husband, little man, and the cat who rules our house.
So pleased to see Nine Coaches Waiting on your list. Mary Stewart has been one of my favorite authors for decades & I love this book – I’ve read it countless times.
I just finished reading The Improper Governess. What a wonderful story. Love it!
I love these lists, too.
Cotillion is also one of my very favorite books. I just downloaded the Barbara Hambly book. How could I resist three adorable dogs?
I agree a DIK needs to stand the test of time.
This is an interesting and varied list and since it mentions three of my favorite books and four of my favorite authors – In Pursuit Of The Green Lion (all Merkle is well worth reading but this and Oracle Glass are my absolute favorites), Nine Coaches Waiting (again – all Stewart is well worth reading) and Cotillion (ditto – Heyer) and a Balogh I like (not one of my top favorites though) I’m really interested in the rest – in particular the Hambly, Gellis, Aiken and Dunn.
I love Finders Keepers by Linnea Sinclair!
In Pursuit of the Green Lion by Judith Merkle Riley is part of a series. Do I have to read the first book?
You don’t have to but the hero is introduced in that one as well as the heroine and it’s fantastic book. It depends how much romance you require in your historical fiction.
I agree with pwnn, you don’t need to read the first volume (A Vision of Light) but it’s a very good book too, if not really a romance, and it pays to know the characters’ background.
I also do adore these lists. All Tuesdays I get here to see what’s new. In this case, I don’t know if my tastes are the same as the reviewer, because I have read none of these books, and I’ve only heard of numbers 2, 4, 9 and 10.
Anyway, as always, I include these titles in my personal TBR list, if I can find them.
It’s also difficult for me to know if a book is a keeper until some time passes and I discover myself remembering that certain book and rereading it.
Perhaps other people know it as soon as they read the last page.
Glad to see some love for Barbara Hambly’s “”Bride of the Rat God””, since it’s such a wonderful book, yet very few people have heard of it. Many other good choices there, too.
So agree with you maggie b, I am a big fan of Barbara Hambly – “”Stranger At The Wedding”” is a delightful read.
Loved your picks Rike, especially “”In Pursuit Of The Green Lion.””
I had the good fortune to be the narrator for this trilogy by Judith Merkle Riley, which begins with “”A Vision Of Light.””
Every decade seems to have a different focus, and I have been enjoying some of the “”golden oldies,”” along with newer works.
Will have to check out the others on the list.
Thank you for putting it together!
I love Mary Stewart and Roberta Gellis. Many of their novels have DIK’d for me. Barbara Hambly is one of those under appreciated writers who never seems to get noticed but is fantastic all the same. I love, love, lover her Star Trek novel Ishmael and also her vampire novels Those Who Hunt the Night and Travelling with the Dead.
I haven’t read Barbara Hambly’s Ishmael yet, thanks for pointing it out!
I agree with Wendy. I love these lists. Everyone’s choices have really expanded my TBR lists. Rike, I, too, really like Nine Coaches Waiting. It is one of my all time favorites.
Can’t say it enough – I love these lists! It appears we have similar taste, but I haven’t read 1,2,3,5,6,7 or 8. Now I have 7 new books to seek out and hopefully love.
I like your list, and have read seven of them, though apart from Cotillion none would have made my personal top ten. The Balogh is especially surprising, as she has written so many more popular ones that this. I like the Sinclair and the Stewart, and have a complete set of the Roselynde series … maybe time for a re-read. Must seek out the Aiken, it sounds like something right up my alley. I have several of her other books.
Rike – I 100% endorse your criteria for a personal DIK that it must be around for a few years, otherwise how can you know you want to re-read it again, and again and…. again.
I can rate a new book as an A read – but I won’t know for a while if it will retain that status.
Really enjoyed your list and your reasons.
I recently read Nine Coaches Waiting and I really enjoyed it. I liked the location in France, the references to Jane Eyre, the love at second sight, the “”I love you, I love you, I love you””.