What Is a Proper Romance?

BlackmooreAt Book Expo America last May, I stopped at the Shadow Mountain booth, where the reps quickly won my award for Friendliest Publisher Reps at BEA. Although I had originally been drawn in by the posters of the tween fantasy books that I had already purchased for our library system, the young woman at the booth also presented the publisher’s other lines, including one that she called “A Proper Romance.”

I have to tell you the truth: When a book is called a romance, I don’t expect much in the way of lyrical writing. Purple prose, maybe, but not great wordsmithing. Throw in the expectation that this LDS publishing house is putting out whatever is the Mormon equivalent of inspirational romances, and I was prepared to be underwhelmed. I told the rep she could give me whichever one was her favorite, and she handed me Blackmoore, by Julianne Donaldson. Despite the lovely cover, I left it in the teetering to-be-read pile until just recently.

Now, what do they mean by “A Proper Romance”? I’ve had a year to ponder this question. Do they mean that it’s innocuous enough to share with your grandmother without blushing? If so, will it be thoroughly boring or just not involve silken handcuffs? On the other hand, “proper” can mean perfectly executed, as in selecting fresh tea leaves, bringing the water to a boil, and brewing for just the right amount of time to make a “proper cup of tea.” Since I’ve read two titles in this series now, I imagine that Shadow Mountain intends for it to mean both innocent and beautifully done—and they are not boring.

Blackmoore was a Regency-type novel about a young lady named Kate Worthington who had declared that she would never marry, but would remain a spinster and follow her beloved aunt to India, where they would live as independent women. Her parents believed that Kate was being ridiculous, as making a good match was the only option for a respectable young lady. Before leaving the country, though, Kate had one wish: to visit her dear friend’s estate called Blackmoore, located on the coast, with the pounding sea on one side and the lonely moors on the other. Her dear friend’s name is Henry, and his mother is not fond of Kate and is furious that she showed up just when a lovely young heiress is visiting Blackmoore in expectation of Henry’s proposal. Shades of Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters aplenty, but delightfully so. The attraction and tension in the novel were fairly sizzling.

Heart RevealedSince Blackmoore was better than I expected, I turned to the latest of the Proper Romance series, A Heart Revealed, by Josi S. Kilpack. Another Regency-type tale, this one had also garnered starred reviews. Never has a heroine been less engaging than Amber Sterlington, the most admired debutante of the London season. Although stunningly beautiful, she has pleased her calculating mother by showing that she can rank her many suitors by wealth, title, and even the nearness of their fathers’ deaths, and she means to take her place in society by choosing the man who would be most advantageous to her future plans. She has forced her younger sister to accompany her to various functions, rather than letting her share the season, as if she were Kate’s maiden aunt. In the meantime, Thomas Richards has left his father’s estate in Yorkshire for the season and traveled to London in order to find a wife. He despises city life and can’t wait to get back to his farm until the day he sees Amber at a dance and falls head over heels. However, Thomas is the third son of a country lord, and Amber humiliates him in public when he asks her to dance.

This novel is less of a romance and more a coming-of-age novel for Amber. The reader will be incapable of withholding sympathy for the terrible situation in which Amber suddenly finds herself, and most of the novel concerns the tremendous growth that she experiences through suffering and changed circumstances. Everything she has ever known will be challenged, and she will become a better person, even against her own will. The story was very absorbing, and the character development was astounding.

In between the informative nonfiction and the Important Novels that literary people must read, every woman needs a little romance now and then. These lovely books fit the bill perfectly. Regency stories with a little feminist stretching to bring our heroines up to date, heroes who are both hunky and virtuous, and stories that end just as they should. You can share them with your grandmother, your daughter, or your friends. A very Proper Romance, indeed.

Disclaimer: I read a personal copy of Blackmoore, given to me by the publisher representative, and a library copy of A Heart Revealed. Opinions are solely my own and do not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

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