It has recently come to my attention that compared to many romance readers, I am old. Well, okay, not ancient. But I’m 40, and I’ve been reading romance since I was in junior high, when my mom, who frequented garage sales and would buy me random books for a dime apiece, picked up a copy of Ashes in the Wind by Kathleen Woodiwiss. (She also bought me a Carlos Castenada book, but somehow, that never had the same impact on my life that Woodiwiss did. Anyway.) More on Woodiwiss here.
This means I have, say, 28 years of romance reading under my belt. (I think it’s been 28 years, anyway. Math’s not my strong suit.) That’s a boatload of heaving bosoms, flat male nipples, and ripped bodices. And it’s also recently come to my attention that I know about a ton of great books that more recent converts to the genre (AKA, the non-old) may never have heard of.
So. Today I’m beginning a series of posts on retro romances. These are great books from the 80s and 90s, mostly, that you owe it to yourself to read now. Occasionally, I may throw in a more recent title that I feel never got the attention it deserved.
I’m starting with Patricia Gaffney, one of the greatest writers to work in the romance genre, in my opinion. Gaffney no longer writes romance; she’s moved on to women’s fiction. Luckily for us, her backlist has recently been released in ebook form. Most (but not all) of her titles are now just a download away for your discovery.
Gaffney is probably most famous for her Wyckerly trilogy (To Have and to Hold, To Love and To Cherish, and Forever and Ever), three books set in a Victorian-era English village of her imagination. These books are undeniably great and were ground-breaking at the time (and still are). The heroes and heroines of these dark books really push up against the genre conventions of what is acceptable in a “sympathetic” hero or heroine. Unfortunately, these have not yet been released as ebooks, although they’re easy enough to track down in paperback at Amazon Marketplace.
Another great book of hers that is available in ebook, however, is Another Eden. Here’s the blurb:
“Lady Sara Longford’s once-storybook marriage is falling apart. Her husband, Ben Cochrane, a New York entrepreneur, married Sara in the hopes that a high-society English wife would improve his odds of entering New York’s uppermost social strata, but so far those ambitions have remained unfulfilled, and the relationship has soured.
Right off the bat, you can see this book challenges some heavy-duty genre conventions. The heroine is married, albeit to a boor. The setting is unusual: Newport News during the Gilded Age. And the hero is an architect, not a billionaire cowboy who is secretly set to inherit a dukedom. (No offense to billionaire cowboy dukes, God love ’em.)
Alex is quite ambitious. He knows Sara’s boorish husband has god-awful taste, but he wants the prestige of the job, so he goes along with it. He disdains Sara at first, mostly because he wonders what kind of a woman could have married this vulgar man. She sees Alex as yet another one of her husband’s lackeys. But when her husband has to return to NYC for business and leaves Sara in charge of supervision the building of his gaudy dream mansion, she and Alex discover their first impressions of each other are very wrong. He forms a bond with her and her frail young son.
I’m not usually a fan of children in romances, but it works well here. Sara has become very disillusioned with her husband, but his manipulation of their son keeps her in the marriage. It’s a crucial factor in explaining why she’s stayed with the man who makes her miserable, and is a huge roadblock to her ever finding happiness with Alex.
She gets her HEA, of course, but there’s a lot of juicy angst along the way, just like I like it. You can buy it from Amazon here.