Sunday, January 15, 2012

What makes a Keeper?

First of all, a very Happy New Year to all our visitors and bloggers.

I came across a request recently from a reader who wanted book recommendations that would give her "action packed adventure, romance, mystery, a touch of amusement". I should have recommended my own trilogy, The Aikenhead Honours, but being a Brit, I didn't. Like many Brits, I'm generally not that good at self-promotion, especially when it feels really pushy. Yes, a failure on my part, I admit.

However, that request got me thinking. What is it that makes the difference between a book we like and enjoy reading, and a book we absolutely love and put on our precious keeper shelf? (I'm told that a good rule to preserve your keepers is only to let houseguests read them if they do so while inside your house. And also to threaten to search their luggage for "inadvertently" packed books when they leave!!)

I'd love to hear what other lovers of historicals think about this. What is the special aspect of a historical romance that moves it over the line from "liked/enjoyed" to "keeper"? Or are you, like me, one of those who can't quite put her finger on it, but knows it when she reads it?



Laura Vivanco said...

Or are you, like me, one of those who can't quite put her finger on it, but knows it when she reads it?

It seems to me that "keeper" status with romances is usually due to the way a reader connects emotionally to a particular book and so one's keepers perhaps say as much about oneself (or at least one's personal preferences) as they do about the books. For example, what one reader might consider witty banter could come across to another as tedious bickering, one person's "hero to die for" may be barely interesting enough to tempt another reader to keep turning the pages, and so on.

Anonymous said...

That's a very perceptive thought, Laura. And, in light of it, I shall NOT say what I have on my keeper shelf, I think.

OTOH, how many of us have several Georgette Heyer books among our keepers? I will happily admit to those. And why? Well, I admire her amazing plotting (like the end of The Unknown Ajax, or The Grand Sophy, for example) and she still makes me laugh out loud, even in books I almost know by heart. But it's more than that -- she creates a world in which I lose myself and, yes, some heroes to die for.

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

I think 'keeper status' probably changes with time. I used to love Meriol Trevor's Luxembourg historical romances, for example. I still happily re-read some but I'm not sure I'd replace all of them, if they got lost.

Georgette Heyer, yes, of course she has an honoured place on my shelves. Like you, I know most of them off by heart.

Nowadays, I love the late and much-missed Diana Norman's historical novels, and also Gillian Bradshaw's, a novelist I think is seriously underrated.

Both have terrific stories, varied and interesting characters, something to say, and, often, unusual heroes whom you come to love.

Laura Vivanco said...

Joanna, did you see the links I posted at Teach Me Tonight recently to a number of Heyer short stories (including two I'd never come across before: "Incident on the Bath Road" and "Lady, Your Pardon")? If you're a fan of Heyer you'll probably enjoy them, though they are much shorter than her novels and so don't have a lot of space for character development.

I'm currently working on an essay about Heyer (which I'm planning to submit to the Journal of Popular Romance Studies) but the micro-summary is that I think she's achieved canonical author status within the romance genre. Still, not everyone enjoys her novels and she's not totally uncontroversial.

I used to love Meriol Trevor's Luxembourg historical romances, for example. I still happily re-read some but I'm not sure I'd replace all of them, if they got lost.

Elizabeth, I've got The Marked Man and it sent me off in search of some of her other novels. I liked The Civil Prisoners but then I acquired the sequel (and the first in the series, which predates TCP) and I was bitterly disappointed that the hero of TCP dies young. I'll be keeping TCP but the other two in that series will be heading off to a charity shop very soon while I try to pretend that they don't exist and that the couple from TCP had a much, much longer life together.

Can you recommend any other novels by Meriol Trevor?

Anonymous said...

The stories are new to me too, Laura, so thank you for the links.

Lady Your Pardon is very like the start of Faro's Daughter, but has shades of The Masqueraders as well. And it made me laugh. Classic Georgette Heyer.

Julie said...

For me a keeper is a book that a) I enjoyed so much that I put my life on hold to continue reading it and b) one that I remember long after the last page is turned and where the characters linger in my mind for years.

I don't tend to re-read books. Largely because I've such a huge reading pile that I don't have time!

Anonymous said...

Hi Julie

Interesting points. I guess most readers would agree with you on both of those.

But you've raised another question in my mind. Does the keeper shelf include only books we intend to re-read? I *think* that, in my case, it does, though I may not always get round to the re-reading. But you've got me wondering...

Elizabeth Hawksley said...

I love 'The Marked Man', Laura; Gabriel is a wonderful hero. I also like 'The Forgotten Country', a very different sort of book with a heroine (intelligent, beautiful but with a frozen heart) who agrees to marry a seemingly phlegmatic, rather aloof diplomat in order to escape being married off by Napoleon to one of his up-and-coming generals.

I agree with you about Meriol Trevor killing off the hero from 'The Civil Prisoners' in the sequel. Not good.

I also enjoyed 'The Treacherous Paths' and 'The Fortunes of Peace'. Both feature characters we have already met in 'The Marked Man'. I promise that nobody we have come to love gets killed off!

Laura Vivanco said...

I also like 'The Forgotten Country', [...] I also enjoyed 'The Treacherous Paths' and 'The Fortunes of Peace'.

The prices for some of these at Amazon are rather steep, but I'll keep an eye out for them. Thanks!