Just a month ago Jo was still with us, and she’ll always be in our hearts — and “we will always have a part of Jo with us in her wonderful books,” as Wench Andrea/Cara recently said.
Jo wrote well over forty books and novellas, and we’ve each chosen our “favorites”—a word that loosely applies here. Choosing one or two over others wasn’t easy, but in the end the titles we picked all hold special meaning and resonance for each one of us. Some of us chose the same book. “Great minds and all that,” says Wench Joanna, “but see how differently we talk about it. A book is a collaboration between author and reader,” and the way we may respond to story and characters, and how we absorb and interpret a book, can be unique.
Recently, Jo's son Jonathan took this wonderful photo of his mother's many books--and her glittering collection of RITA awards.
Read our favorite picks -- and then tell us your favorite Jo Beverley books too!
Mary Jo Putney
So what is my favorite Jo Beverley book? This could be a difficult question. How about the stunning My Lady Notorious, first in the Malloren Series? Or how about Lady Beware, because of my unnatural fondness for Darien? Or her most recent, The Viscount Needs a Wife, which is subtle, original, and an overall delight?
And yet the choice turned out to be easy: Emily and the Dark Angel. It's one of her early traditional Regencies. It might have been the first book of hers that I read. It might have won the first (of five!) of her RITAs. Those details I don't remember.
What I do remember is that it is everything a Regency should be: beautifully written, rich with carefully woven historical detail, and superbly characterized, it is one of the best handsome rake/plain heroine books ever. Set in Melton Mowbray, the fashionable fox hunting capital of Regency society, the book features Emily Grantwich, a sensible twenty-six year old who is firmly on the shelf. She competently runs the family estate owned by her invalid father, and enjoys the challenges.
Verderan, the Dark Angel, is a notorious rake who inherits the adjoining estate--and proves that a man must be very charming to make a good rake! The growing relationship between them is both convincing and romantic--and just reading about the book made me pull one of my two copies off the keeper shelf because it's time for a re-read!
I went along my keeper shelf, looking at the old friends. It was pick one up and say, "Oh, yes. That's my favorite." Then I'd see the next one and open it and think, "No. This one is the best."
I sat dithering between Secrets of the Night, (so sensual), and An Arranged Marriage. (Oh, Nicholas. How could I NOT choose you?) And finally settled on An Unwilling Bride. The privileged heir of an aristocratic house and a prickly, radical schoolmistress are forced into marriage. There's resentment and distrust from the start and a chasm of social inequality that causes misunderstanding after misunderstanding.
Not the ingredients of a happy life together.
Many of Jo's books are about the needs and desires of strong men and women confronting the rigid, hierarchical society in which they live. This is the boundary she continually explores. An Unwilling Bride is this conflict in almost pure form. It's the meticulous picking apart of the assumptions and attitudes of Beth and Lucien, two complex people who are so Georgian we believe in them utterly and so universally human that our hearts ache for them.
I love the gradual coming together of Beth and Lucien. I see them working at the relationship, deliberately uncovering their vulnerabilities, being honest. Kindliness and goodwill are as important as desire. I like that. I like to see friendship growing up beside love.
What's special about Jo's work is not that she gets the historical clothing and countryside and forms of address correct. Though she does. Nobody does it better.
It's the strong, honorable people. She gets the people right.
Andrea Pickens/Cara Elliott
What can I say? Trying to pick a favorite Jo Beverley book is like trying to pick a favorite vintage champagne—each has its own uniquely nuanced taste, hue and effervescence but they all possess a brilliant sparkle and leave you feeling blissfully intoxicated! Jo was a master at creating compelling characters whose conflict created stories of depth and complexity. I think readers love her books because they are so real. Flaws, fears, difficult decisions, past mistakes—we all can relate to the struggle to define happiness and the struggle to find love. Her writing resonates with intelligence, a masterful command of language and history, and a true gift for storytelling.
Okay, do I REALLY have to pick a favorite? (She says with a heavy sigh.) If pressed, I guess I have to say An Unwilling Bride. For me it showcases all of Jo’s magnificent talents. She took what to most authors would have been a very difficult storyline and created unforgettable characters and crackling tension, all in such a thoughtful exploration of human nature—and then of course ended with the celebration of love as the ultimate redeeming power.
Love—it’s at the heart of romance books. And Jo, we love you.
I cannot possibly choose my favorite Jo Beverley title, so I pulled the oldest signed copy that I could find off my shelf. This is one of her classic Regencies, after Lord Wraybourne’s Betrothed and before Emily And The Dark Angel. The Dark Angel is a very strong presence in The Stolen Bride. Even back then, Jo was creating her own circle of wonderful characters. She signed this one for me at a conference in Savannah in 1992. By then, I’d been a published author for a decade, but I was in awe of her talent and presence. I suspect my few short Regencies followed her classic format—numerous characters colliding off each other, having a rousing good time, suffering heartbreaks, and leaping into adventures. I’m not sure that I’ve yet to learn how to wave a magic wand the way she did to create so many entertaining characters within the confines of such a small book. In this one, she not only has beautifully delineated characters plus an adventure, but one new romance, one betrothal, and we get glimpses of how Lord Wraybourne and his bride are doing. Amazing!
I really need to go back to the beginning of this series and read my way through all of them again.
In our tribute to Jo, I mentioned two books — Devilish, which I read and loved shortly before flying to the RWA conference where I first met Jo — the meeting wasn't planned. I told her how much I'd enjoyed it, and later at the end of the conference I was thrilled when she won the RITA with it. I also mentioned in the comments how very impressed I was with one of Jo's medievals, The Shattered Rose (except I called it Shattered Vows, which is a Mary Jo Putney book.) The NYT called it a masterpiece, and I have to agree. She made the impossible story work, and work beautifully.
Galeran of Heywood has gone off to fight in the Crusades. When after much trouble he finally returns to reclaim his lands and his wife, he finds she has borne a child that is not his. Two proud people, secretly desperately in love, yet unable to move past the hurt and betrayal. . . It's fabulous.
There's an excerpt here: http://www.jobev.com/tsrexc.html
I came late to Jo Beverley’s books. In England, in pre-internet days, I could not get hold of them, even though as an avid reader of historical romance I had heard Jo’s name mentioned time and again. Hers were the books I so wanted to read! It was not until I went to my first RWA Conference that I met Jo and was at last introduced to her books. Then I couldn’t decide where to start! In the end I picked up the special edition of Three Heroes, and found my way into The Company of Rogues as a result. Choosing a favourite from amongst them, though, from amongst Jo’s books at all, is almost impossible. (St Raven, perhaps? I have such a weakness for a highwayman!)
As a writer I admire Jo’s elegant use of language and the way she takes familiar tropes and turns them into the most original and thought-provoking historical romance one could imagine. So many times I read her books and am struck by the seamless interweaving of the historical background, the absolute authenticity of the characters and the depth of the emotion. Not only is this evident in Jo’s full length books but it struck me afresh in the short story she wrote for the most recent Word Wench anthology. Sheer reading pleasure that will endure.
Sometimes, no matter how many books I've read by one author, what stays with me most dearly is the first book I ever discovered by that author. For me, with Jo, that was My Lady Notorious—and it remains one of my favorites among her books, and one of my favorite historical romances overall. Highwaymen (and women), a clever, courageous heroine and a smart, compassionate hero, an exciting, unpredictable and exciting plot--I loved everything about this book when I first read it as a romance fan and a newbie writer (and I remember being awed and convinced that I could never write a story half that good). So recently I plucked it from the shelf and read it again.
The storyteller's control, the ease and grace of the writer shine through every word. Natural dialogue and authentic, wonderful characters, the economy of perfectly chosen descriptions, steamy sexual tension and genuine attraction, a hero and heroine simply made to find each other—it’s all there. And the sense that the story is truly going somewhere at a brisk pace with the reins in the hands of a master, and that delicious sense of discovery as the story unfolds—that’s all still there too, even though I’ve read it before. I never found a moment to tell Jo how much I admire that book in particular, and I regret that since I loved the book so much and it made a difference to me as a new writer. And I never had time to finish the Malloren series, but I can change that, and I will. Thank you, Jo. Always.
Which Jo Beverley book is YOUR favorite, and why so—and did you find it as difficult to decide as we did?