My mum, Nancy Jane Wullschleger Thurston, died on March 19th, 2019, just after I came home from visiting her in Sudbury, Ontario. She slipped peacefully away during an afternoon nap, in her own home, surrounded by books, puzzles of all kinds, with birds to entertain her outside her window.
The first place I visited after her funeral, when all the family disappeared and I was alone in her empty house, was Sudbury’s Bay Used Books, the largest used book store in Northern Ontario. It has millions of books and a fabulous romance section. I had a visceral need to stock up on historical romance. I craved a familiar formula – a reliable, well-loved author and a title I hadn’t read. I bought The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband by Julia Quinn, Governess Gone Rogue by Laura Lee Guhrke and Counting on a Countess by Eva Leigh. I couldn’t read them – nay, inhale them – fast enough! Almost two months later, I’m back to my more catholic reading habits but I wanted to explore what makes romance reading a reliable and heart-healing prescription.
Julia Quinn is one of my favorite authors: Kate Sheffield and Anthony Bridgerton’s love story, The Viscount Who Loved Me, is a staple of my Desert Island Keeper list. Her women are strong and capable, and their men love that about them. The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband is a Bridgerton prequel: Cecilia Harcourt’s brother Thomas has been “injured on the battlefront in the Colonies,” and Cecilia is desperate to find him. She’s an orphan facing bleak choices—marry a toad in the person of a conniving cousin or move in with a spinster aunt—so she picks door number three and travels to New York City in search of Thomas where she’s determined to nurse him back to health. Unfortunately, instead of Thomas, she finds his best friend, Edward Rokesby. Edward is delirious and near death: to stay by his side and care for him, Cecilia makes a desperate decision. She tells everyone that they’re married. How’s that going to work out? When Edward is finally convalescing and in no danger of dying, he can’t remember marrying Cecilia: he tells her he’s “missing a piece of my mind.” She feels so guilty.
“I’m probably not the woman you married either,” she mumbled.
He stared at her. He stared at her for so long that her skin began to tingle. “But I think . . .” she whispered, only just figuring it out as the words left her lips. “I think you might need me.”
“Jesus God, Cecilia, you have no idea.”
And then, right in the middle of the corridor, he hauled her into his arms and kissed her.
Laura Lee Guhrke is justly famous for her independent, intelligent heroines but their mates occasionally *cough* need some assistance to see that the woman of their dreams is standing right before them. Such was the case with my first Guhrke, Guilty Pleasures: Anthony Courtland, the Duke of Tremore, is so enamored with the ancient world that he is personally “excavating a Roman villa on one of his properties and plans to build a museum to house the artifacts.” Mousy Daphne Wade steps up to assist him when her antiquarian father dies suddenly. Courtland’s busy-body sister isn’t so sure Daphne is an antidote but like many Guhrke heroes, the duke can’t see beyond the obvious.
That’s true of James St. Clair, the Earl of Kenyon, hero of Governess Gone Rogue: his unruly boys are the despair of nannies. They need a tutor, someone who can make them “toe the line.” Something I desperately needed when I was reading to escape, was anticipating the twists and turns of the plot.
With the title Governess Gone Rogue, I knew what to expect. The earl asks his boy’s new tutor to assist him as he makes his toilette and while Seton aka Miss Amanda Leighton helps the earl with his tie, he notices his/her “slender wrists, the faint, delicate trace of the veins, the soft, pale skin.” He feels “a rush of heat that caught him low in the groin, a sensation that no valet, no man, had ever evoked in him.”
“Good God.” He jumped back, staring at the face before him as if he’d never seen it before, the truth hitting him like a splash of freezing water, even as the heat of arousal flamed in his body. “You’re a woman!”
“Well, I can’t help that!” Seton countered crossly. “It’s not like I had a choice.”
It was such a nonsensical reply that Jamie laughed in disbelief.
Forever Your Earl by Eva Leigh is a book I’m very fond of because of the two Venn diagrams that intersect—risk and trust. An earl challenges a critical writer to join him in his scandalous haunts rather than write about him from afar but eventually she discovers that he’s deceiving her and that knowledge cuts her to the quick. This is a pattern that I saw repeated in Counting on a Countess. The new Earl of Blakemere has a newly-minted title and absolutely no money; to unlock a sizeable bequest, he must marry within a month. Miss Tamsyn Pearce seems willing to take a risk on him but she’s less than truthful – she too needs money to keep a smuggling operation in her native Cornwall afloat. Taking a risk on the future tempered by the reality of hidden stories eventually emerging is a narrative that I really enjoy because by the time truth is exposed, at least in Eva Leigh’s stories, the couple (whether they admit it or not) is halfway to being deeply in love.
I can’t thank the romance community enough for the friendships over the years that have enhanced my life greatly. My mother supplied me with my first romance, Georgette Heyer’s Regency Buck. I was sick at home, so she gave me a book to lift my spirits and take me away from aches and pains. Decades later, romance is still the prescription that heals – the stories make me happy and the icing on the cake is sharing my thoughts with a cloud of witnesses. I just know there are wonderful libraries in heaven.