I had previously published a Top 5 Romantic Novel list in 2015. This is my list for 2017. The only constant is The Deception of the Emerald Ring; which I clearly like quite a bit.
1. Pride and Prejudice-Jane Austen
I am not sure what all I can say about this novel other than that I think it is the best romantic comedy of manners ever penned. Nothing beats the witty banter between Lizzie and Mr. Darcy, though Eleanor and Edward from Sense and Sensibility come close. There is a reason why this novel has remained a solid favorite for such a long time; it is unrivaled in its exploration of the romantic dynamics between men and women. Obviously social norms have changed since the days of Jane Austen, but the social satire and insightful comments remain relevant.
What this novel illustrates is that a “romance” story does not require overwrought sex scenes in order to create tension between the man and the woman. My main problem with the majority of modern romance novelist is that they focus more on erotica than romantic tension. A well-written narrative detailing the evolution of a relationship can be compelling if the banter between the characters is believable. Austen’s writing is gloriously detailed and the characters are fully developed.
As I have previously written, a lot of movie adaptations of the novel have missed the point of the story. While it is a romance and the tension between Darcy and Elizabeth is the main narrative arc, the heart of the story is about family and societal expectations. If you take out all the other subplots and rework the Bennett family dynamics, as done in the 2005 adaptation, the point of the narrative changes. Lizzie only came to respect and love Darcy because of his actions after Lydia ran off with Wickham. Darcy only came to appreciate Lizzie after she proved herself to be his equal in every way. Take these events and elements away, and the story is reduced to an empty and hollow “romance”. Without societal and familial expectations, Darcy and Lizzie’s tensions would have never arisen. Austen’s writing has stood the test of time because societal and familial expectations are the one constant that exists across all generations.
2. Gone with the Wind-Margaret Mitchell
First published in 1936, Gone with the Wind remains one of the best fictional explorations of the American South leading up to and directly after the Civil War. The story is set in Clayton County, Georgia, and Atlanta and depicts the struggles of young Scarlett O’Hara. Growing up as the spoiled daughter of a well-to-do plantation owner, she finds herself having to claw out of the poverty she finds herself in after Sherman’s March to the Sea.
Alternating between a coming-of-age and romantic narrative, the narrative explores Scarlett’s rather abrasive approach to romance. Scarlett is not a nice woman; she is manipulative and cruel. However, she is also passionate, somewhat loyal, and has a deep-seated drive to persevere regardless of her circumstances. Not that Rhett Butler is much better; he is a slick, silver-tongued con man who views Scarlett as a challenge. Somewhere along the way, their combativeness turns into romantic attraction and tragedy soon follows.
If you have never read the book, it is worth the time investment. The characters are beautifully developed and the narrative is excellently paced. Mitchell’s depiction of pre-Civil War American South is stylized and she glossed over many of the less than savory details of life at that time. Given that the focus of the story is about Scarlett’s relationship with Rhett, the glossy sheen to Society is not that big of an issue. According to literary legend, Mitchell meant to write a sequel but never quote got around to putting pen to paper. I love this book because the story is quite compelling and unique; no other characters quite live up to the iconic Scarlett and Rhett. As of 2014, Gone with the Wind is the second favorite book of American readers, just behind the Bible. More than 30 million copies have been printed worldwide.
If you have never seen the movie, I highly recommend doing so. It is a wonderful example of how to adapt a novel for the silver screen. Plus Clark Gable is absolutely gorgeous as Rhett Butler.
3. Shadow of the Moon-MM Kaye
MM Kaye is an author I never hear anyone talk about. My mother introduced me to her books and I think they are excellent. Kaye was born in India; her father was an intelligence officer in the British Indian Army. Most of her novels deal with the tensions between the Indians and the British Raj in the 1850s. Shadow of the Moon is primarily a romantic story with a subplot exploring the political and societal tensions between the British and the Indian populations, specifically the events during the Indian Rebellion of 1857.
Born in India but raised in England, Winter de Ballesteros fondly remembers her days in India and wishes to return. Her chance to return comes when she is engaged to the significantly older Conway Barton, the drug-addicted and dissolute Commissioner of Lunjore. Since she requires an escort to guarantee her safety, Captain Alex Randall reluctantly takes her to her fiancée. He vehemently disapproves of the match and is very cognizant of the unrest brewing in India. The novel follows the evolution of Alex and Winter’s relationship.
Shadow of the Moon is both a wonderfully written work of historical fiction and a beautifully told historical romance. Winter is a plucky heroine and Alex is a worthy hero and the payoff at the end is worth the read.
4. The Deception of the Emerald Ring-Lauren Willig
I love Lauren Willig. Her books are fun, airy, and contain just the right amount of drama and passion. The Deception of the Emerald Ring is the third book in the 12 part History of the Pink Carnation Series; however, it is my favorite. Willig uses a split narrative in the book, so there are two concurrent stories occurring.
During the modern day, Eloise Kelly has gotten into quite a bit of trouble since she started researching the Pink Carnation and the Black Tulip-two of the deadliest spies to haunt the streets of 19th century England and France. Not only has she unearthed long buried secrets, she is also seeking out her own romantic adventure with Colin Selwick. Little does she know that she’s about to uncover another fierce heroine running headlong into history.
When 19 year old Letty Alsworthy quickly weds Lord Geoffrey Pinchingdale-Snipe, she is thrust head first into a dangerous ring of spies, a game of mistaken identities, and an unexpected romance. Geoffrey leaves Letty during the honeymoon due to urgent business in Ireland. Letty quickly discovers Geoff’s disappearance and, not to be outdone, steals away on a ship bound for Ireland, armed and ready to fight for her husband and to learn a thing or two about spying for England.
What I really appreciate about these books is Willig’s passion for authentic historical detail and her ability to write charming love stories. Her series is the perfect read for lovers of romance, history and adventure.
5. Redeeming Love-Francine Rivers
My best friend recommended this book, after she heard about from a book club she attended once. I think it as a heartbreaking and lovely story. Redeeming Love is a historical romance novel set during the 1850s Gold Rush in California. The story is greatly inspired by the Book of Hosea from the Bible; while you do not need to have read the Book of Hosea to enjoy the novel, I think knowing the events of Hosea adds a great level of complexity to Redeeming Love. The central theme of the narrative revolves around the redeeming love of God towards sinners.
During the California gold rush in 1850, men sold their souls for the chance to strike it rich and down-on-their luck women sold their bodies for a place to sleep. Angel was raised to expect nothing from men except betrayal. Due to a situation outside of her control, she is sold into prostitution as a child and survives by keeping her hatred of men alive. What she despises most are the men who use her and then leave her. The years of abuse have caused here to become empty and dead inside.
Then she meets Michael Hosea. An honest, God fearing man who feels called to help Angel. Against his friends’ advice, Michael marries Angel and loves her unconditionally. Despite Angel’s bitterness and extremely low expectations, Michael slowly defrosts Angel’s frozen heart. However, Angel must fight her greatest enemy in order to achieve happiness, herself. Years of prostitution have given her overwhelming feelings of unworthiness and fear. And so Angel runs backs to the only life she has ever known.
In this story, Angel represents all sinners who can see the truth but struggle to except it. Michael represents the believer who chooses to obey and trusts that God will work everything out in the end. Not that Michael is perfect, far from it in fact. He has his own share of problems to overcome. I always enjoy reading this little gem and think it is one of the best Christian Romance novels.