My Top Ten Favorite Romance Novels

I originally wrote this blog post back in 2010 on my ancient blogspot blog; and here it is revised, expanded and updated. It used to be that I could only think of eight romances that would get on my top ten list; that was why it was only originally eight. But since 2010, I’ve read a lot more romances, and now it can easily be expanded to ten. Enjoy!

* * *

#10 Hot Under the Collar— Jackie Barbosa

A heart-warming, lighthearted romp about a clever vicar named Walter and the sexy ex-courtesan Artemisia who catches his (decidedly unclerical) eye. This is an infectiously fun, feel-good novella that uses religion in a way that doesn’t feel insulting or depressingly heavy-handed, and the ending, while not exactly grim and realistic, never fails to make me smile. If you’re feeling down, you can’t go wrong with reading HutC: Jackie Barbosa is a talented wordsmith with a knack for creating lively, memorable and extremely sensual characters. 




#9 Enchant the Heavens— Kathleen Morgan

Ignore the cover, where the hero’s hands look like he’s about to crush the heroine’s skull. This is a fine book, with a sexy, smart hero and a strong, capable heroine who actually fights her own battles. It’s also well-researched: the Celts act like Celts, and the Romans act like Romans (who even have proper nomenclature). The story involves a British chieftain’s daughter and the Roman governor’s nephew during Boudica’s revolt, but unlike most romances set during this period, the Celts aren’t romanticized into nature-loving New Agers, and the Romans aren’t evil. And neither the heroine or hero give up their cultures or identities in the end; in fact they work on bridging their communities in the aftermath of war. It’s mature and refreshing. Also, kudos to Ms. Morgan for featuring Nero in an awesome, non campy and non Christian-burning cameo!



#8 Charity Girl— Georgette Heyer

Though I’m generally tired of the Regency setting, it’s hard to go wrong with Georgette Heyer. I always particularly liked this one. The hero is the blond, witty and effortlessly fashionable Viscont Desford, who takes the bedraggled poor relation Cherry Steane under his wing. Cherry isn’t the heroine though; the viscount’s BFF Henrietta Silverdale turns out to be the heroine, and their slow discovery of their love is actually pretty sweet.

Also, Cherry’s dad shows up in the end, and he is such an OTT bloviator he would give P.T. Barnum a run for his money. A charming, and sometimes even hilarious story. (This cover pictured here is the exact same edition I own too.)



#7 Sympathy for the Devil— Christine Pope

One of the best paranormal romances I’ve read. It’s a clever, fast-paced romance starring… the Devil. Yes, that devil! But there’s no tail or horns, here Lucifer is a dapper and suave fallen angel who makes a deal with God, who offers him a chance at redemption if he can experience human love. Easy enough, according to the Devil, who thinks that making the woman God has chosen fall in love with him will be a simple task. Unfortunately, Lucifer didn’t count on interfering demons, blundering boyfriends, and a young woman who has more questions than he’s willing to answer. 

This story is refreshing, delightful, and with some really… pardon the pun, but I can’t resist… devilishly sexy scenes. The book was originally published by Pink Petal Books, but it is now published by Dark Valentine Press. 

(The above cover is not the actual cover design, but the mock-up done by the author at the time of the original 2010 blog post, since it was unpublished back then. I’ve included it for nostalgia’s sake— plus it still tickles me. I knew the book would eventually find an audience!) 




#6 The Elsingham Portrait— Elizabeth Chater

This possibly one of the first paranormal timeslip category romances ever written, since it was published in 1979. It also isn’t the first bodyswap time travel ever written, but it might be one of the earliest. Mousy librarian Kathryn Hendrix has just been dumped by her sports-car loving stud of a boyfriend (who also must listen to disco on his eight track machine), but a chance encounter with a Georgian portrait of a voluptuous redhead, hung in a small gallery that she visits in her despair, sends her back in time to the 1770s, where she finds herself in the body of the redhead, aka Nadine, Lady Elsingham.

Kathryn’s shock at finding herself in a foreign body is really well done, and the 18th century atmosphere is well executed too. Kathryn finds out to her dismay that Nadine is a sluttish, uneducated girl completely under the thumb of her sinister maidservant Donner, and she must win over her handsome but bitter husband, Lord John, whom she finds herself falling head over heels for.

I’ve read my share of body swap time travel stories, and this is definitely one of the best. Kathryn doesn’t forget Nadine, who is in the future (it’s too bad there was never a sequel about her plight), and she must keep herself from falling into the clutches of the evil Donner. A very diverting read; highly recommended!

#5 Greenwood— Sue Wilson

This is a great book, and it used to be available through the (now defunct) NovelBooks Inc., but it has unfortunately vanished into the ether of the internet. It’s a romance about the Sheriff of Nottingham and a poor healer named Thea. It’s emotionally satisfying melodrama, with adventure, excitement, heaping helpings of medieval culture, and a very interesting take on the Robin Hood legend.

But why did it disappear? I hear you asking. The story is too long to recount here, but it is discussed in this post on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books. Before it was published by NBI, Greenwood was available through an old (also defunct) AOL Hometown page called the St. Rose Press, and many clever members of the Bitchery found links to the chapters through the internet archives. The links to the archived chapters are in the comments. If anyone’s curious about Greenwood, you can find most of it through there.

I can’t find Sue Wilson to tell her how much I love her writing, but if you’re out there, Sue, I think your books are awesome, and I hope you find another publisher. 

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#4 The Captain’s Pleasure— Mary Ruth Myers

I wish I had a better scan of the cover to show you guys, since it’s very much in the tradition of Sanjulian’s paintings for early ’80s bodice-rippers, but alas: my copy is packed away right now, and I can’t find it. I had to make do with this image courtesy of Goodreads. But perhaps it’s just as well.

Silly cover asides, this is a wonderful book with a kickass heroine. Also, it has a setting— early 16th century colonial Peru, with lots of adventure and political intrigue— that I have never seen anywhere else, ever. It was published in the early ’80s, so it begins not terribly promisingly, with our aristocratic heroine Catherine, at the prospect of becoming the mistress of a villainous politician, endures a “forced seduction” turned marriage of convenience at the hands of the lower-class conquistador hero, Valdivia.

But hold on, cats and kittens; the book is better than it sounds. Catherine is an AWESOME heroine who really holds her own, and while great sex isn’t a problem, her husband learns to respect her plenty. Oh, and best of all, Catherine eventually gets her own revenge on her archenemy, the politician. I’m not going to give away. But I don’t think I’ve seen another romance novel where the heroine has so much nerve.

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#3 Knight in Shining Armor— Jude Devereaux

Another time travel book! But this one’s a classic. It took me ages to read it, since the plot description of an 1980s woman finding love with an Elizabethan nobleman sounded kind of cheesy, but it’s a wonderfully ambitious and thought-provoking book with more timey-wimey twists than a Doctor Who episode. The heroine, Dougless, starts out as being pretty depressed, timid and filled with self-doubt, but over the course of going back and forth in time she becomes stronger, more confident, and she stops putting up with people’s shit. In a word: awesome. Nicholas, the Elizabethan nobleman, does come across at times as a bit too good to be true; but he is, after all, the knight in shining armor, and in some ways he is doomed until the damsel rescues him. As a hero, he’s really pretty engaging (and their sex scenes are smoking).  The depiction of both periods are wonderful in their contrast, and Ms. Devereaux’s research of the Elizabethan period is solid and not romanticized as most time travel romances tend to be. 

The ending is controversial, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Dougless is no longer trapped. She comes into her own, and I love her. 

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#2 City of Forever— Barbara Blackburn

And for something completely different, here’s City of Forever by Barbara Blackburn. I discovered it purely by luck, as I often do, in the stacks of Cliff’s Books, a great bookstore in Pasadena CA (which unfortunately is no longer with us). I had no idea what to expect, but I liked the early ’60s cover art (the woman with the bouffant and the gloves, the man in the skinny tie!), and so I got it.

It’s too bad this book is so hard to find, because it’s great. Sheltered English girl Miranda leaves her home for a job in Rome to forget wealthy playboy Tony, who is clearly miles out of her league. And who should she run into Rome but Tony, who’s there on business! The writing is graceful and assured, the romantic tension builds nicely throughout the story, and there’s a little suspense too, even if it’s not the Gothic thriller the cover would have you believe. It’s more of a character piece, and the atmosphere of early ’60s Rome is nicely evoked. Miranda and Tony are great characters— Miranda is serious, earnest, overly sensitive, but she has a lot of male friends and is comfortable hanging out with men. In some ways Tony reminds me of an updated Viscount Desford from Charity Girl— he’s a humorous, charming blond guy who knows everything about sports cars, and never appears to be serious, although he turns out to be quite serious about Miranda.

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#1 Promise of Summer— Louisa Rawlings

And finally, here we are at #1. Louisa Rawlings (aka Sylvia Halliday and Sylvia Baumgarten) was wrote a lot in the ’80s and ’90s, but her last published book was in 1997. Which is too bad, because— as one of my friends put it— her books read like Georgette Heyer’s Georgian novels, “but with more sex.” Promise is quite possibly my favorite read by her. It’s a rollicking adventure story set in 1730s France about a streetwise young urchin named Topaze who’s hired by an embittered, disinherited young gentleman, Lucien, to scam his estranged provincial noble family out of an inheritance which rightfully belongs to him. Lucien’s young lady cousin has been missing for years, and Topaze, who bears an astonishing resemblance to her, is hired to act her part, infiltrate the family, and get Lucien his inheritance back. Of course, the family has deep dark secrets, and Topaze wonders why she is so strangely drawn to them. And what about her growing love for Lucien? And is someone trying to kill her?

There’s so much great stuff going on in this novel, I don’t know where to start. It takes a lot of well known tropes, like the Pygmalion plot, Identical Stranger, and Becoming the Mask, just to name a few, and mashes them all up into something unpredictable and fun. Topaze is tough, strong and smart, Lucien is brooding (but not too brooding), sexy and clever. There’s terrific period detail too, and a host of well-drawn minor characters.

This is a great read, and again (I feel like I’ve said this a lot already), I wish the author was better known. 

However, I have great news for you guys. Promise of Summer has been republished by Samhain— with a blurb by yours truly! Go and get it— you won’t be disappointed!



This post was originally the idea of Alea at Pop Culture Junkie. Thanks, Alea!

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7 June 2014 ·

Fanart for A Question of Time! Courtesy (clockwise, left to right) katlaurange, laurenge, rosengeist, natasplund, rosengeist, and katlaurange. A lot of awesomely talented artists have fallen in love with my time traveling heroine Celia, as well as with Alan Forrest, AQOT’s hero, an adorably geeky but doomed high school English teacher who dies in 1989.

If you want to find out what happens next, you’re in luck! A Question of Time is available at Champagne Books, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, and All Romance Ebooks. Stephanie Draven, award-winning author of DARK SINS & DESERT SANDS, calls it “a clever love letter to the 1980s brimming with fun cultural references that warmed my geek girl heart.

You can also find A Question of Time on Goodreads.

Click here to read an excerpt!

17 March 2014 ·

A Question Of Time-- AllRomance Ebooks February '14 Sale

Thanks guys— A QUESTION OF TIME is now a Champagne Books bestseller! And for a limited time, you can buy it on AllRomance Ebooks for $1.99. If you have any questions, just drop me a line!

4 February 2014 ·

The Cartography of Sudden Death

Do you love time travel? Do you love free short stories? Then hie yourself here, dear reader, to read a fabulous Quantum Leap inspired short story written by the one and only Charlie Jane Anders. You won’t be disappointed.

24 January 2014 ·

"It saddens me to see girls proudly declaring they’re not like other girls – especially when it’s 41,000 girls saying it in a chorus, never recognizing the contradiction. It’s taking a form of contempt for women – even a hatred for women – and internalizing it by saying, Yes, those girls are awful, but I’m special, I’m not like that, instead of stepping back and saying, This is a lie.

The real meaning of “I’m not like the other girls” is, I think, “I’m not the media’s image of what girls should be.” Well, very, very few of us are. Pop culture wants to tell us that we’re all shallow, backstabbing, appearance-obsessed shopaholics without a thought in our heads beyond cute boys and cuter handbags. It’s a lie – a flat-out lie – and we need to recognize it and say so instead of accepting that judgment as true for other girls, but not for you."

~ “I’m not like the other girls”, Claudia Gray    (via fantasticremus)

(Source: birdwithapeopleface, via jeantownsend)

21 January 2014 ·

Choices: interactive and non-interactive fiction

newarcana:

I haven’t mentioned this on the blog yet, but many of my readers are already aware that in addition to New Arcana, I’m writing an interactive-fiction romance game with Queen Guenevere as the protagonist. The first of seven planned parts is available as a draft/beta which anyone can play for free: link

NA readers may notice some similar motifs, tropes, themes, and characterization, which will continue to be the case as I work on both projects. At some point I’ll probably write a blog post about how much I enjoy recycling narrative elements, and why I think it’s an artistically valid thing to do. In any case, the more I develop NA and Guenevere, the more I realize I’m telling the same story in two very different ways, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Alternating between interactive and non-interactive fiction is the best cure for writer’s block I’ve ever found. The creative mindset is different for each, so switching from one to the other provokes exactly the mental shift that my brain needs when I hit a wall. More than that, though, I think that writing interactive fiction has had an important influence on how I write non-interactive fiction, and vice-versa. I could say tons and tons about this, and probably will eventually, but here are just a few thoughts.

Read More

Jean Townsend’s Guenevere game, currently in beta testing mode at the Choice of Games site, is an excellent piece of interactive fiction, and one which I would recommend to anyone interested in romance, historical fiction, or fantasy.

Here’s the link again. One warning though: it’s highly addictive, and as the first part of a projected seven part series, it’s probably going to be a while until it’s finished.

14 January 2014 ·

Review: The Ash-Slave

dennisnsantana:

The Ash-Slave is a short fiction by Joanne Renaud. As a disclaimer I received this story for free from the author so that I would read and review it.

Before delving into the story I must discuss some medium issues. I am reading this story on a the Kindle for Mac reader app, because I’m too…

From the deepest depths of the Tumblr equivalent of Borges’ Library of Babel, here’s Dennis Santana’s review of my second published short story, The Ash-Slave

Dennis swears to me his reviews are much more savvy now, but here is for its historical importance (I think it was one of the first reviews I ever received). Thanks, Dennis! 

(Source: wyattsalazar)

8 January 2014 ·

The Raiders of the Lost Ark Test for Writers

So, my friend Thomas and I were discussing the movie Frozen on Twitter. (You can see my review here.) He wasn’t too crazy about it either; he described it as “flat.” Then he said, “Here is the thing. We can do the Raiders of the Lost Ark test. If there’s no snowman, no ice boy, no prince, no nothing… the story would exactly end the same way. None of them have any bearing on the ending. Elsa saves Anna. Anna saves Elsa.”

Then I asked him what the Raiders of the Lost Ark test was. After expressing surprise I’d never heard of it, he said “that it posits the following: ‘If you take out the protagonist from the story, will the ending be changed?’ And in Raiders, Indiana Jones is useless.”

He went on to say:

"Take Indy out of Raiders, the Nazis will still take the ark to the island, open it, all will die. The End.”

Then he linked to me to this video:

I’m not the biggest fan of the Big Bang Theory, but this is a good summary of the problems with Indiana Jones— the protagonist has no effect on the outcome of the plot. In fact, by extension, could be said for the other characters in Frozen. Anna and Elsa, I think, are key since they affect the plot’s ultimate outcome, but it could be argued (and is, in this great Critical Hit review) the other characters are pretty much completely extraneous.

Which brings us to the heart of the matter: how does the Raiders of the Lost Ark test apply to your own writing? Do your protagonists— and the other characters— play a role in the outcome? If you took your protagonist out of the story, would the ending be changed? And if it’s not where you want it to be, what can you do to make it better? 

7 January 2014 ·

suburbanbeatnik:

So I watched FROZEN.
There’s been a lot of buzz about it lately. There were rave reviews on io9 and the AV Club, and a bunch of folks have been talking about what an amazing, “game-changing” movie this is from Disney. I figured I should see it myself to see what the fuss was about.
So, uh… yeah. I did the above doodle at work. It more or less sums up my feelings for the movie.
FROZEN is a perfectly serviceable film. It is competently put together, but ultimately uninspired. It does a few neat things, like passing the Bechdel test with the sisters, and subverting the Love’s True Kiss trope at the end. That was cool. But it didn’t inspire love or tears or eternal devotion in my heart like WALL-E or UP. I mainly waited for it to be over.
I was dreading the talking snowman from the trailer. But truth be told, Josh Gad’s snowman was probably the least objectionable part of the movie. Because it’s Josh Gad, and he’s a great voice actor. If they’d gotten any one else, it would have been a disaster. 
I think part of the problem was that the two girls (and the two guys) were really, really bland. Even their character designs were bland too. I thought of (the problematic but highly interesting) TREASURE PLANET, and holy shit I wished I was watching that movie instead.
Another problem, I think, is the really slapdash and lazy world-building. The world-building is worse than TANGLED, and way, way below classic Pixar. Why does Elsa have ice powers? Where do the troll-smurfs come from? Why was dude raised by the smurfs in the first place? None of these questions are even broached. It’s hard to feel a movie when the world just feels like a stage set for the next boffo by-the-numbers Broadway style musical number. 
For the record, the “Let it Go” number is the best song in the movie, and hands down the best scene. Everything else is kind of meh. To give you an idea how involved I was, I wrote down a bunch of notes while the movie was going.
                                                # # #
Wow, the animation is super off putting. They’re like Keane children combined with the animatronic puppets from Its a Small World.

Oh god the troll animation feels like something out of a Saturday morning cartoon 
Jesus, why is Pixar so great and Disney so lame!? There’s a montage about the parents death which is superficially similar to Up but SO NOT UP.
 

Please stop singing.
 

THEY ARE STILL SINGING
 

You know Anna reminds me of a yappy dog. Plus the adorable comic klutziness is relentless.

Let It Go is a good song. So far the only one.
 

Is it over yet? You know, the folks who say this isn’t as good as Tangled are right. 
 

"Christopher!" "No, it’s Kristoff!" You know, like the bad guy from The Truman Show!
 

OH GOD IT’S THE FUCKING SNOWMAN
 
AND NOW HE’S SINGING


The song is over. Well, Josh Gad’s line delivery is good at least
 
So how did Elsa get her amazing Iceman powers? It’s never addressed. This is a big plot hole.
 

Hey, the movie is getting a bit slow! I know, we can have another song! Guy A (Kristoff) gave Anna shit about getting engaged to Guy B (Hans) who she only knew for a day… So the script fixes her up with Kristoff. Who she also has only known for a day. Yup.
 

Hey, the reveal that Hans is the bad guy! He’s not a nice guy, he’s a conniving slimeball! Who tells Anna his master plan like Goldfinger! This isn’t really that well set up.
 

And Anna needs to be rescued by a guy! Holy shit I never saw that coming 

Hey, wouldn’t it be awesome if this ended tragically!? Man I am so not moved by any of this.
 

I like the small twist at the end to give the scriptwriters some credit
So bad guy Hans is pushed overboard. He’s taken off to the Southern Isles to be disciplined by his brothers. And everyone goes ice skating. OK. 






I originally posted this on my other Tumblr, suburbanbeatnik, which is more art-centric.

suburbanbeatnik:

So I watched FROZEN.

There’s been a lot of buzz about it lately. There were rave reviews on io9 and the AV Club, and a bunch of folks have been talking about what an amazing, “game-changing” movie this is from Disney. I figured I should see it myself to see what the fuss was about.

So, uh… yeah. I did the above doodle at work. It more or less sums up my feelings for the movie.

FROZEN is a perfectly serviceable film. It is competently put together, but ultimately uninspired. It does a few neat things, like passing the Bechdel test with the sisters, and subverting the Love’s True Kiss trope at the end. That was cool. But it didn’t inspire love or tears or eternal devotion in my heart like WALL-E or UP. I mainly waited for it to be over.

I was dreading the talking snowman from the trailer. But truth be told, Josh Gad’s snowman was probably the least objectionable part of the movie. Because it’s Josh Gad, and he’s a great voice actor. If they’d gotten any one else, it would have been a disaster. 

I think part of the problem was that the two girls (and the two guys) were really, really bland. Even their character designs were bland too. I thought of (the problematic but highly interesting) TREASURE PLANET, and holy shit I wished I was watching that movie instead.

Another problem, I think, is the really slapdash and lazy world-building. The world-building is worse than TANGLED, and way, way below classic Pixar. Why does Elsa have ice powers? Where do the troll-smurfs come from? Why was dude raised by the smurfs in the first place? None of these questions are even broached. It’s hard to feel a movie when the world just feels like a stage set for the next boffo by-the-numbers Broadway style musical number. 

For the record, the “Let it Go” number is the best song in the movie, and hands down the best scene. Everything else is kind of meh. To give you an idea how involved I was, I wrote down a bunch of notes while the movie was going.

                                                # # #

Wow, the animation is super off putting. They’re like Keane children combined with the animatronic puppets from Its a Small World.

Oh god the troll animation feels like something out of a Saturday morning cartoon

Jesus, why is Pixar so great and Disney so lame!? There’s a montage about the parents death which is superficially similar to Up but SO NOT UP.
 
Please stop singing.
 
THEY ARE STILL SINGING
 
You know Anna reminds me of a yappy dog. Plus the adorable comic klutziness is relentless.
Let It Go is a good song. So far the only one.
 
Is it over yet? You know, the folks who say this isn’t as good as Tangled are right. 
 
"Christopher!" "No, it’s Kristoff!" You know, like the bad guy from The Truman Show!
 
OH GOD IT’S THE FUCKING SNOWMAN
 
AND NOW HE’S SINGING

The song is over. Well, Josh Gad’s line delivery is good at least
 
So how did Elsa get her amazing Iceman powers? It’s never addressed. This is a big plot hole.
 
Hey, the movie is getting a bit slow! I know, we can have another song! Guy A (Kristoff) gave Anna shit about getting engaged to Guy B (Hans) who she only knew for a day… So the script fixes her up with Kristoff. Who she also has only known for a day. Yup.
 
Hey, the reveal that Hans is the bad guy! He’s not a nice guy, he’s a conniving slimeball! Who tells Anna his master plan like Goldfinger! This isn’t really that well set up.
 
And Anna needs to be rescued by a guy! Holy shit I never saw that coming 
Hey, wouldn’t it be awesome if this ended tragically!? Man I am so not moved by any of this.
 
I like the small twist at the end to give the scriptwriters some credit


So bad guy Hans is pushed overboard. He’s taken off to the Southern Isles to be disciplined by his brothers. And everyone goes ice skating. OK.

I originally posted this on my other Tumblr, suburbanbeatnik, which is more art-centric.

7 January 2014 ·

boneycircus:

As requested by anonymous :) [x]

Relevant.

This is worth keeping in mind, guys!

(Source: thatchickwiththegifs, via rosengeist)

28 December 2013 ·

About Me

I write books and illustrate them. My first novel, A QUESTION OF TIME, was published by Champagne Books in November 2012.

This little Tumblr blog is mainly dedicated to my writing. My other Tumblr here is for my illustration.

You can check out my illustration work at my site, Joanne Renaud dot com, though I update my deviantArt page far more often.

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