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.