Beverly Jenkins is the award-winning author of more than 30 novels, most recently Destiny's Captive. Jenkins picks 10 of her favorite historical novels just in time for Valentine's Day.
I think the next big thing for Valentine’s Day should be books. Forget the chocolate, cards and flowers--well, maybe not the chocolate--and give books! Specifically romance novels. Statistically, romance outsells everything anyway so everyone’s already reading them. Historical, contemporary, African-American, Inspirational, Christian, Amish, LGBT, shape-shifters, dragons, vampires--if you want them, romance has them. So, let’s kick off this new and improved Valentine’s Day gift giving idea with a list of historicals. Someone call Hallmark!
1. Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase. This is the great Chase at the top of her game. When hard-charging Jessica Trent travels to Paris to pry her nitwit brother Bertie from the clutches of Sebastian Ballister, aka the Marques of Dain, the last thing she expects is to be attracted to the notorious rake. Dain, whose tortured past is responsible for his arrogance and amoral ways, definitely doesn’t expect to be attracted to Bertie’s take-charge sister either. Yet attraction begets passion, which begets a very public scandal and a marriage to save Jessica’s reputation. The characters are full-bodied and evenly matched. The passion is to die for, and every romance reader I know has this book on their keeper shelf.
2. Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare. What does Griffin York, Duke of Halford do when his mother--desperate for a grandchild--bets she can turn any woman into a duchess for him to marry? He picks serving girl Pauline Simms. This is a Cinderella story sprinkled with a bit of Pretty Woman--without the prostitute baggage. Pauline, who only accepts the money to ensure a future for herself and her sister, is a delight, and Griff falls in love so hard and so fast it scares him. This is the epitome of what romance is all about.
3. With her self-published Back to Milford College series, new author Piper G. Huguley has created her own niche--inspirational historical romances featuring African- Americans. Book 1, The Preacher’s Promise finds newly hired school teacher Amanda Stewart going toe to toe with the small Georgia town’s mayor and preacher Virgil Smithson. Historically accurate and set during the bittersweet years of Reconstruction, the story is filled with the hope and faith that fortified African-Americans as they transitioned from enslaved to free. Ms. Huguley recently signed a book deal with a major publisher, so keep your eye on her. She’s going to be a star.
4. Something Like Love by Beverly Jenkins. Spinster seamstress Olivia Sterling flees her Chicago home rather than be party to the marriage her father has arranged. While traveling to her destination, her train is robbed by the infamous Black Seminole outlaw Neil July and his gang. The attraction is instantaneous but July is a train robber, for heavens’ sake, and once the gang rides off with their loot, Olivia hopes to never see him again. Something Like Love will make you laugh, cry, grab a fan to cool down from all the passion, and when Hanging Judge Isaac Parker comes to town to put Neil on trial, and Olivia’s parents arrive with the jerk of a jilted fiancé--well, you’ll have to read the book to find out how it all ends. One of my best.
5. Brazen by Susan Johnson. Ms. Johnson writes for grown-ups. If you’re looking for shy virgin heroines they’re not here. What we have instead is thirtysomething heroine, Countess Angela de Grae, with her string of lovers and a drawer filled with sex toys. Our hero, the much younger Kit Braddock, sails the world on his yacht complete with harem. When the two come together fire extinguishers are needed. This story is about taking a walk on the wild side of romance, and absolutely no one does it better than Susan Johnson. Brazen is an unapologetic, steamy bedtime time story you’ll want to share with your Valentine.
6. Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas. Desperate to escape the clutches of her abusive relatives, shy, flame-haired heiress Evangeline “Evie” Jenner shows up uninvited and unchaperoned on the door step of Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent, and proposes a marriage of convenience. The rakish libertine agrees because frankly, he needs the money. No list of best historicals is complete without Ms. Kleypas.
7. A Passion Most Pure by Julie Lessman is Book 1 in the Boston Sisters series. It’s an edgy unvarnished tale of the O’Connor family played out against the back drop of WWI. Faith O’ Connor is secretly in love with bad boy Collin McGuire, a man her father vehemently disapproves of and who’s secretly romancing Faith’s selfish, self-centered sister, Charity. It may sound like a soap opera, but Faith is a staunchly Christian heroine dealing with temptation, choices and family. A Passion Most Pure offers a near-perfect balance between faith and romance, and Ms. Lessman is an outstanding storyteller.
8. Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean. The first book in the Love By Numbers series and a major reason why Sarah MacLean is a leading voice in romance. Our heroine is Lady Calpurnia, “Callie” Hartwell, a 28-year-old spinster who’s tired of not having a life and so composes a list of nine totally outrageous things she wants to do to spice things up. Our hero in this madcap adventure is the notorious Gabriel St John, The Marques of Ralston. This is a story not only about falling in love, it’s about empowerment and in the words of that classic Tom Petty tune, "Running Down a Dream." We watch Callie overcome her shyness and inhibitions and transform herself into a confident, determined woman readers will cheer for. The love scenes aren’t bad, either.
9. Almost Heaven by NYT bestselling author Judith McNaught is a romance classic. When social outcast Ian Thornton first meets Elizabeth Cameron, Countess of Havenhurst, he is attracted to her brain as much as her beauty, but when they are found in each other's arms, her reputation is left in tatters. The story is fraught with intrigue, misunderstandings, and two people who in spite of the obstacles and flaws are meant for each other. Another keeper.
10. Years by LaVyrle Spencer. It’s 1916 and when the young, newly hired schoolteacher Linnea Bradenborg steps off the train in Alamo, ND she’s met at the station by gruff wheat farmer Teddy Westgaard. He’s not happy finding that the L.I. Bradenborg he’s been corresponding with isn’t male. His dour personality and aloof family members are initially off-putting to Linnea, but over time her determination and spirit touches everyone, including the widowed Teddy. No one writes historical romance like Ms. Spencer. Her attention to detail and ability to create true to life characters that stand the test of time is unmatched.