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