Romance novels are a billion dollar industry, and yet they remain the red-headed stepchild of the world of literature, spoken of in public only with whispers of derision. I’d wager a whole lot of people who turn their noses up at the genre in public have a secret stash of them and enjoy them in private, like someone on a diet hiding their chocolate and cookies in a dresser drawer so nobody sees them (no I’ve never done that, how dare you think you know about my secret draw…well crap, never mind.)
It’s too bad this is so, because there should be no shame in enjoying them. No embarrassment whatsoever. Just like in any genre, there are classics, there are amazing, un-put-downable ones, a zillion spin-off sub-genres within it, and its fair share of duds. Again, like any other book genre.
Confession #1: I was obsessed with romance novels for a good 10-plus years, from freshman year of high school til roughly the end of college.
Confession #2: I was one of those literary snobs who pretended I’d never read such “trash,” and would have been mortified if anyone knew how much I loved them.
I’m deeply ashamed that I was so snobby and pretentious, trying to hide my love of them so no one would ever doubt my intellect or think poorly of me. I was young, however, and I thought that I could fool people into thinking I was “deep and intellectual” by only taking “smart people books” out in public to read.
My Regency Romance addiction was hidden away in my bedroom like a stash of weed.
Double this amount and it’s typically what you’d find under my bed in the 80s
In any case, I burned out on them sometime in the mid-nineties. I had read my favorites at least five times each (not even kidding), and averaged at least three novels a week for years – including other genres, but every week at least one romance.
The historical Regency Romance sub-genre was my favorite, by far – and the Queen of Regency was Judith McNaught, nobody then or now or ever has come close to her gift of pulling you in and keeping you up until 4 am. to read “just one more chapter.” She was that good. I say “was” because her last Regency romance, “Almost Heaven,” was published in 1990. I eagerly awaited her next novel – I had to run to the bookstore to hunt because this was a thousand years before Amazon – and it finally came out in 1991. To my despair, it was a contemporary romance. My least favorite of the genre.
I have to admit that “Paradise” (said contemporary) was really good. But it didn’t pull me in and make my heart pitter-patter like her historical novels. I didn’t know then that there would never be another Judith McNaught historical. I waited for years, but she pulled a Sandra Brown, who went from writing spectacular historical romance until she suddenly took an abrupt (to me) turn into contemporary romantic thriller.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good thriller now and then, but to have solidly dependable authors of incredibly good historical romance just up and…well, abandon me…I was kind of ticked off.
Sandra Brown made me sad, but Judith McNaught? JUDITH MCNAUGHT, THE QUEEN? I was really, genuinely upset. I never in the years since have found her equal. I went through another historical romance phase in my 30s for a couple of years, and I highly recommend Mary Balogh, but I searched high and low for a suitable McNaught replacement and came up empty.
Fast forward into my late forties now. For the majority of this decade I’ve read almost exclusively non-fiction. History, biography, etc. Picking up a romance novel, while certainly not “beneath” me, just didn’t appeal to me. Cue to a few months ago, when I noticed something interesting on my book-devouring college-aged nieces’ Instagram: romance novel after romance novel – “vintage” now (grumble grumble… the ones I read at her age) – she was raving about them and suddenly she had a dedicated Insta account for her finds and reviews. It’s a great page, check her out at @romancebooks101
Her enthusiasm sparked something in me – that old, very old yet familiar feeling of “craving” a good historical romance read.
Still peeved with Judith McNaught, I was going to go another route, but my heart wouldn’t have it. The last time I read her was gosh, probably 1993? I found myself without a whole lot of conscious realization suddenly on eBay typing in “Judith McNaught” and found an entire LOT of her books – all the historicals! (Only one contemporary of hers in the lot, and it’s a good one, so I’ll take it.)
REGENCY REGENCY REGENCY!
My heart sped up and I clicked “BUY IT NOW.”
My lot of books arrived today! I cut the box open and saw all of those beautiful covers, and in that very instant, I forgave Ms. McNaught. Yes, she did stop writing Regency romance way back in 1990, and I felt personally betrayed (not really, but okay kind of) – but after all, she had given the world so many stellar novels in that genre before moving on! How could I begrudge her for moving on, as I had myself moved on from romance reading that very decade?
And what better way for me to immerse myself back into the lovely, beautiful world of the romance novel than with a Judith McNaught classic. Now my only problem is deciding which one to start with.
Okay, so that’s not very hard for me. I do have a favorite of all my favorites. Time to log off and dive into “Whitney, My Love.”