From Mary Jo:
For a change of pace this month, we're going to talk about good books that we've loved, but which might have fallen from view for one reason or another. This is not exactly the same as comfort reads, though there is some overlap. So here are some overlooked books that we enjoy, and maybe you will, too!
I was inspired to suggest this topic to the other Wenches when I saw that Again by Kathleen Gilles Seidel is now available as an e-book. A two time RITA winner, Kathy writes books that are subtle, intelligent, deeply observed, and dryly funny. Again is probably my favorite. The heroine, Jenny Cotton, is head writer for a historical soap opera set in the Regency, and the show's Brooklyn studio and earnest young actors are home and family to her. The Canadian hero, Alec Cameron, is a star of daytime television who was the lead in a soap series that bombed big time, so he's happy when Jenny casts him as a cranky duke.
Pretty soon Alec is falling for Jenny, who is way too loyal to her long time boyfriend, who is also in the cast. And she has a bad habit of working out her emotional issues through the characters on her show. Unfortunately, Alec's character is given all the traits she doesn't like in her boyfriend, while the boyfriend's part is sounding more and more like Alec--and Jenny won't admit it. <G> In some ways, the book is dated--no cell phones and daytime television has changed enormously, among other things--but the book is still marvelous--smart and funny and wise, and very satisfying. I enjoyed the story this time as much as when I first read it in the early '90s. You might want to take a look--Again didn't win a RITA for best single title contemporary romance by accident. <G>
The books that popped into my mind were a few by Frances Murray, who wrote mostly in the 1970s, but my favourites seem to be out of print. I have my original paperbacks still.
The Burning Lamp is a Western and The Dear Colleague is a Victorian story about an arranged marriage to a diplomat, and is mostly told in letters.
Both are quiet, thoughtful books about thoroughly decent people, and that may be why I value them.
It’s always fun to visit my keeper shelf and rediscover the forgotten treasures that live there. Not only do I remember how much I loved a book in the first place but I also have the pleasure of re-reading and savouring those wonderful moments all over again. My treasures are the books where it doesn’t matter a jot that I know exactly what is going to happen; they still makes me laugh or cry, I root for the characters and long for the happy ending.
My first forgotten treasure is by Mary Stewart. She’s not exactly forgotten as a writer – far from it - but I seldom hear anyone talking about this particular story: The Wind off the Small Isles. It’s short, almost a novella, but it’s classic Mary Stewart: the exotic location brought to vivid life, a practical and very likeable heroine, a gorgeous hero and a very moving and emotional background. I love it. (Note from MJP: The Wind Off the Small Isles was a novella written for a British magazine and never published in the US, but a US edition will be released this September.)
Recently I also re-discovered Moonraker’s Bride by Madeleine Brent. I hadn’t read any Brent books since I was in my twenties and did wonder whether it might strike me as dated. However, I loved the unusual background of China during the period of the Boxer rebellion, and the heroine, Lucy, is a strong character who can stand comparison with any modern day heroine. Put that together with a dashing hero and a beautifully written story and it’s a lot of fun!
A book that I've loved in the past but which has almost dropped from sight is Precious Bane by Mary Webb. It's a story about Prue Sarn, a girl born with a hare lip -- "hare-shotten" they call it -- and who believes (along with most people) that she's unworthy therefore of love and marriage. She cares for her ailing mother, works unceasingly hard for her skinflint brother, and loves the weaver, Kester Woodseaves, from afar. . . Set after the Napoleonic wars, in Shropshire, England, it's unashamedly a rural story, with no hint of the Regency that most readers know and love. It's very much the other side of the coin from Almacks. And the writing is spellbinding.
Precious Bane was published in 1924 and won the Prix Femina Vie Heureuse. It's twice been made into a BBC television drama, though I've never seen either production. My copies (I have two) are old and battered 1928 editions, bought second-hand many years ago, but Precious Bane is still in print and amazingly, it's available on Amazon (though with a most unappealing cover IMO.)
There's more information about it here.
Hi, Joanna here.
I’m going to talk about a writer I’ve praised many times before, Peter S. Beagle. Usually I’m going all enthusiastic over The Last Unicorn which is one of the great Fantasy classics, a work of formidable imagination and fiercely beautiful prose.
But before there was The Last Unicorn, there was I See By My Outfit. This is the mostly biographical account of a cross-country trip in 1963. A young, thoughtful-but-still-naïve Beagle and a friend see the world from motorcycle back. His great lyric prose is yet to come, but we get a glimpse of that quirky and original mind.
Readalikes — I love road books — are On the Road (Kerouac), Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (Pirsig), and, of course, Travels with Charlie (Steinbeck).
I have dozens of authors whose books I look back on with great fondness, and it feels like a betrayal to pick only one. Just looking at the favorites that made the cut in my big move West—Maggie Osborne, LaVyrle Spencer, Jennifer Crusie, Laura Kinsale, Kathleen Korbel (Eileen Dreyer), my favorite Edith Laytons, all of the Wenches, actually… and bunches more from the last few decades. If you want me to go back to the library books I read before that… I could list the same ones the other Wenches are talking about.
Unfortunately, my damaged memory remembers the joy of reading those books but does not allow me to actually recall the books. I have so many books I want to read, I can’t make myself re-read often, so those lovely books languish there. I’m afraid if I open them, it will diminish the joy I remember. So I pat them nicely every so often and promise one of these days I’ll come home, but I still have more traveling to do!
I always have a pile of new titles on my TBR pile—a daunting pile. But there are times when I think of a treasure that’s been hiding on the shelves, and take great pleasure in rekindling a romance with an dear old friend. And talk about romance! The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles is one of those books that I read early on and really struck a chord. The aura of mystery (along with the touch of Victorian melodrama!), the complex nature of love and individuality, and the lushness of the writing still resonates. It’s a classic that I think is far less well known today, and deserves to win a whole new generation of readers.
And here's Susan!
Of all the books that have been particularly special to me, the books I reread every few years (including the elegant and incomparable Mary Stewart), there is one I especially treasure--Ann of Cambray by Mary Lide. I even remember the moment I first picked up the book: standing in line at the grocery store with a toddler in the cart and me very pregnant, and here was this glorious cover promising just the sort of luscious, passionate, intelligent medieval I needed. I grabbed it and read it that weekend, I think.
It was a turning point read for me. I was a grad student writing a dissertation in medieval art history, about to start maternity leave again and secretly yearning to write fiction myself someday. Set in 12th c. England, the novel is the story of a strong, determined young woman who falls in love with her liege lord and yet has good cause to hate him, too--and the sparks and circumstances between them are exquisitely portrayed. It's a good cut above most medievals--rich prose, authentic voice, accurate history. Lide's writing is breathtaking, her characters passionate and powerful, the story sweeping yet focused. Lide's other novels are beautifully written and strongly romantic, and I've found and read each one. But for me there was, and still is, true magic in Ann of Cambray. A few years later, I met Mary Lide through a local writer's chapter and had a long phone conversation with her; her encouragement helped convince me to try my own hand at writing my first medieval.
MJP again: Now it's your turn! What favorite books would you classify as Overlooked Treasures? I'd love to see more books added to the list above!