I feel like I JUST DID a roundup of lovely historical romances… but that was back in May. And I’ve read more since then! So here are with ten more romance novels and novellas about the past, to enjoy now and in the future. I hope you find something good for your reading list!
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Fascinating lesbian romance (maybe, see last para below) about the relationship between a female physician from an aristocratic family and a nun, set in 1931 Germany around the time the Nazis start to rise in prominence. Margarethe von Stahle’s family are the patrons of Obberoth convent. When she travels there to interview a candidate for head nurse, she meets the mysterious Sister Augustine, a former physician who renounced being a doctor when she took orders. The differences between the two women is striking. Margarethe is arrogant, confident, from a somewhat decadent (her words) aristocratic class, and used to having the world jump when she says how high. Sister Augustine, nee Katharine, an Irishwoman, lives with guilt and uncertainty, always attempting to efface herself in her work, but unable to deny her growing attraction to Margarethe.
Their relationship doesn’t have an easy road, and it’s not an easy read. Margarethe isn’t a bad person, but she’s very comfortable deciding other people’s lives for them, and she genuinely believes she knows what’s best for Katharine. Katharine is often overwhelmed by her life, maybe too much so to adequately defend herself, but she rarely holds back from letting Margarethe know her opinion of the intrusive steamroller behavior. By the end, I wouldn’t say that Margarethe’s grown terribly much as a person on this front, but she has at least realized Katharine is more important than getting her way every time.
I would imagine many romance readers will actively dislike Margarethe, to be honest, and find she doesn’t have the character arc they’re hoping for.
*** I’m not sure this was written as a romance per se, as it sure doesn’t follow the genre conventions of jerk characters learning the error of their ways and changing them. However, among two-gal love stories, this is such an unusual setting with such distinct characters, and I found it extremely interesting.
Gorgeous, lovely, wonderful polyamorous romance set in 1906 London. The main love story is between Aubrey Fanshawe, second son of an earl, and Lucien Saxby, working-class journalist. If you’re a fan of historical romance that engages with feminism, class and power differences, political struggles, etc. (think K.J. Charles and Courtney Milan) then you should give this a try. I loved watching these two guys – and various other characters – work so hard to love each other, make mistakes, hurt people they care about, apologize, and try to do better, and I loved how their stories were so carefully built within their historical setting. Lucens does an amazing job of having characters talk things out with each other, sometimes at length, while maintaining the character voices and the feeling of engaged conversation rather than people suddenly giving dramatic speeches.
I also appreciated the diversity here of various kinds. Aubrey is in a long-term committed romantic and sexual relationship with his childhood friends Lord and Lady Hernedale. Lord Hernedale is somewhere on the asexual spectrum, which doesn’t bother his wife or Aubrey, but which sadly is a source of profound insecurity for him. Lucien has a casual ongoing sexual relationship with his friend Ben, a bisexual married working class man of color. Lucien has a wealthy acquaintance who has an unlabeled long-term disabling chronic illness. This is historical romance on the realistic end of the spectrum, not the fairy tales of balls and castles, and I am 100% here for it.
There’s one minor tweak I would have wished for: a bit more of something to establish the meaningfulness of Ben to Lucien, to better support some of Lucien’s personal-growth-related realizations about relationships late in the book. I originally also felt like Henrietta, Lady Hernedale, needed at least one more speaking appearance after various male characters have realized that her agency has been taken away. I needed that to feel like the book wasn’t also overlooking her. EXCEPT after I finished writing this review, I read an interview with Lucens on Corey’s Book Corner that said this was a deliberate decision not to take more away from Hettie by having her story told through a man’s eyes. The next book in the series will be hers. I am 100% happy with that.
I can’t wait for Lucens to write 10 more books. No pressure though! Authors are not vending machines even when they’re capable of making you cry. (Even when they introduce a fantastic lesbian reporter secondary character who needs her own book. Or a chronically ill nobleman who has huge growth potential. Just saying.)
Diversity note: Lucens is a bi, demisexual, pagan woman of color.
This Regency M/M romance between servants, set on a country estate, cracked me up so many times. It’s lighter on the romance than I usually prefer, because the central problem is that valet Clement Adair is so overwhelmed by his job that it’s threatening his chance for a relationship with stable groom Hugo Ogden. If Clement’s going to spend all his time trying to manage the household of his eccentric aristocratic employer, Hildebert Devereaux, there won’t be enough left for romance!
What kept the romance part on the back burner for a while, though, is exactly what I loved about it: the personalities and antics of Devereaux, his wife, and the various servants from the estate and the ones newly arrived from London. All are trying to cope with the transition from the estate being an empty vacation spot to the full-time residence of a noble couple used to having all of London to entertain them. Clement’s tact, practicality, formidable intelligence, and diplomacy are taxed to their limit as Devereaux engages in various leisure pursuits, some of which threaten life and limb (amateur chemistry lab, anyone?). There’s servant conflict, economic unease, and a garden party to host. It’s superbly entertaining. And overall, it’s a remarkably gentle and feel-good story, with two sweet guys who finally do manage to connect… once Clement learns a valuable lesson about prioritization.
Marlowe also has a novella about another interracial couple called Lord Loxley’s Lover (Amazon) that I enjoyed, though it felt more like a fairy tale as opposed to a realistic historical depiction. Nothing wrong with a good fairy tale now and again, though.
Eden Springs by Ada Maria Soto (out of print as of August 2019, I’ll update this when it’s republished / Goodreads)
Warm M/M romance novella set in a post-Civil War Western boomtown, where wandering tracker Aaron Byrne meets Oxford-educated astronomer Jonah Mann, currently serving as the town’s schoolteacher. Aaron’s been brought in to end a reign of terror perpetrated by some local bandits, but while he’s doing that, he and Jonah are also circling each other like “Who are you now? Might there be a thing between us?” Aaron is used to traveling freely about the country, and any attachment growing between the two men has some competition from his tendency to wander.
Soto takes us to an HFN with promise, not a permanent HEA, but I thought that was appropriate for these guys. I also adored the revelation of why the sheriff, Aaron’s friend, is so down on Jonah. So funny. A very satisfying tale of two people finding something special in each other, though on the surface they appeared to have little in common, and choosing to see where it may lead.
Content warning: A dude we’re supposed to like says something to a domestic abuser dude that is accepting of a certain level of domestic violence. To me, it was clear that this was an attempt to manipulate the abuser into backing off from further violence, but this is a heads up, because some folks might come upon that unaware and be stung by it anyway, and that would be so valid.
Diversity note: (1) Aaron is bi/pan, and his mother was half Chinese. (2) Soto is Mexican-American. She has dysgraphia and phonological dyslexia.
Inter-racial medieval Highlander romance FTW! Loosely based on a true story, it’s an incredibly well-constructed short story about an African woman in Scotland, part of the court of King James IV. Agnes, known as Agnes Moor, serves as an “exotic” but also an advisor and informal diplomat. When the King organizes a tournament where the prize is a kiss from Agnes, she can’t help but hope and fear the Wild Knight who enters is a certain Highland laird. Spoiler alert: it is. Agnes’s awesomeness hit Gareth like a freight train when he met her, and he’s not going to let anything stand in the way of marrying her.
There are only about five events, and one of them is a flashback, but the storytelling is so effective that by the end I was entirely won over.
Diversity note: Cole is a black woman.
A slow-burn Regency era small-town British romance between Lydia Reeve, a spinster heiress struggling to maintain her recently passed father’s legacy of politicking, and Asher Cohen, a Jewish con man who grew up in poverty and passes as Christian to avoid prejudice.
It’s so detailed and multi-layered, the writing is lush, the main and secondary characters are complex, and Lerner does an amazing job showing how both main characters are hurting – Lydia from the loss of her father, and Ash because the brother he’s raised and protected is abandoning him. That pain is what sometimes makes this hard to read, in a good way. It’s real, and it’s unsolvable. You can’t bring someone back from the dead, and you can’t keep someone with you who doesn’t want to stay. On top of that, Ash has been a con man so long that he struggles to find his authentic self, which complicates his growing attraction to Lydia. What makes it work is that Ash and Lydia both need someone to see them, and to honor their pain and sacrifices, and they’re able to give that to each other.
If you’re looking for something heartwrenching and real, give this one a try.
Diversity note: Lerner is Jewish.
Second chance romance between two men of color in Victorian London, written by K.J. Charles who is an auto-buy author for me. It did not disappoint though it’s somewhat quieter than many of her novels. I kinda liked that about it.
Vikram Pandey is an uptight lawyer, Gilbert Lawless is bookseller who handles pornography. They were childhood best friends who started falling in love/lust until Gilbert – the biracial Black illegitimate son of a rich man – disappeared without notice from their boarding school. They meet again as Vikram investigates the disappearance of a young man from his Indian-British immigrant community. The attraction is still there, but Gilbert resents Vikram’s naivete and perceived abandonment, and Vikram struggles to clarify for himself whether his sense of morality and justice can square with Gilbert’s profession. There’s some investigating, some arguing, some reconnecting, and I enjoyed every bit of this.
Emotionally turbulent M/F romance in 1867 England between two characters who are trying to hide in plain sight. Jane Fairfield is an heiress who can’t get married without leaving her younger sister unprotected, so she pretends to be absolutely horrible hoping that no one will ask her. Oliver Marshall, the bastard son of a duke, has chameleon-ed his way into the social circle of nobility, hoping to make a career in politics so he can push reforms to benefit common people. They are wildly drawn to each other… but having Jane as a wife would wreck Oliver’s career, and marrying would put Jane’s sister at risk.
What struck me the most about this book: Milan’s passionate engagement with political and social themes; the pain of knowing that someone exists who really understands you, and not being able to be close to them; the resilience of women; the respectful depiction of the true diversity of England at that time. Tremendously well-written, made my heart ache in a good way, and I especially liked the secondary romance between Jane’s sister, who has epilepsy, and an Indian immigrant lawyer. They are both adorable.
Diversity note: Milan is Chinese-American.
I also super-adored Milan’s After the Wedding (Amazon / Goodreads), an interracial romance between a biracial black businessman and a bi white woman reduced from nobility to working as a maid. Great dialogue and some lovely secondary characters.
An opposites attract Regency romance between plus-size heroine Lady Calpurnia Hartwell, a wallflower who’s decided to let loose and do things ladies shouldn’t, and who believes in marrying for love, and rake Gabriel St. John, the Marquess of Ralston, her longtime crush, who believes love is EVIL and RUINS LIVES. Fairly tropetastic, but I cracked up over Callie’s organized to-do list of transgressions against the limitations on women of her station (smoke a cigar, drink at a public house) and Gabriel’s exasperation about her project. Callie is so freakin’ earnest about love, and it’s such a contrast to Gabriel’s jaundiced perception, despite how much they have in common otherwise. And oh, the conflicts that ensue! It takes a tremendous event to knock some sense into Gabriel before it’s too late.
Fun, fluffy, and endearing. Sadly, I did not care for the next book in the series, but to each their own.
You cannot hate on instalove when it’s this adorable. It would be like kicking a puppy. We begin our (short) story in 1917, on a train car, where Miles has finally left the hospital after treatment for a disabling leg injury he received during the war. A cute young man shows up to share his car, and the dude has a canary in a cage and a tame squirrel in his pocket. By the time they reach their destination, Miles is head over heels for this Winton dude, and he’s pretty sure the feeling’s mutual. Miles is in the early stages of accepting his disability, though, and he’s not interested in being a short-term fling, so the boys run into some problems pretty quickly. If you haven’t read a romance where an incredibly angry kitten saves the day, I recommend this as an entry into the sub-genre. Except that I’m not sure there’s an angry-kitten-savior romance genre, but clearly there should be.
I haven’t had time to write reviews of these, but I adore them just as much. One of them may be a perfect fit for you! (Blurbs may be condensed.)
Set in New Zealand: “In 1941 May Lewis is looking for a fresh start. Leaving the city and an old love affair behind, she buys a medical practice in a small country town. Here she hopes to find peace, friendships, and the sort of medical practice she’s always dreamed of, where she knows all her patients by name. What she discovers is the possibility of a new, deep love with Eadie McClintock, a young woman struggling to raise her baby nephew while hiding her brother from the men determined to send him off to the war. Shunned by the town, however, Eadie refuses to have anything to do with May – for the new doctor’s own good. Which leaves May with an impossible task. How can she win the trust of the town when they are so set against the one person May wants to be closest to?”
Hammond has a female partner, though I don’t know how she self-identifies.
“Lady Sarah Lark has never had much interest in any of the suitors that surround her. Winifred and Sarah used to be best friends, but after Win married Sarah’s cousin and moved to London, their friendship fell apart. Neither Win nor Sarah are happy about being underneath the same roof, but after settling her late husband’s debts and being left with almost nothing, Win doesn’t have much choice other than to play nicely with the Lark family. The more time they spend in each other’s company, the more they wonder if friendship is all they feel. Still, even if they admit their feelings, to each other and to themselves, Lady Sarah’s parents are determined to see both young women married to suitable gentlemen. Win and Sarah’s newfound love might be over before it even begins.”
And that’s my latest list of recommended historical romance novels and novellas. Hope you found something interesting. If you have any reading suggestions, let me know, and as always, if you found this post helpful, please share it!