Recently I wrote an essay for the NPR book blog (you can read it here, if you're interested) where I mentioned that the first romance novel I ever read was one by Caroline Courtney.
The Tempestuous Affair is my favorite book by that author. The back cover reads:
The late Sir Charles Stanton had written before he died to his estranged father-in-law Prince Kuragin in Russia -- entrusting him with the care of Charles's daughter Lucy. — Now the English girl, who had been on the eve of her entrance into the London ton, must journey to St. Petersburg -- far away. The prospect was alternately frightening and exciting. Though she had no female chaperone, Lucy knew she need not fear for her virtue. One look at the cold, green eyes of her escort, cousin Nikolai, revealed a nature as frozen as the Russian steppes.
I read this book when I was in eighth grade. I went to Holy Trinity (Catholic) School in El Paso, TX. Our enterprising librarian, Mrs. Yingling, arranged for the public library Bookmobile to stop in our parking lot every other week, and the older classes were allowed to visit and check out books. Mrs. Yingling-approved books, that is.
Now I had already read a few books by Caroline Courtney (still a favorite from my young romance reading days; I hope I won't be disappointed if I ever read one of her books again, after so many years). In those days, most Regency-set books had NO SEX. I could have told you that while sexual tension in Caroline Courtney books was fairly well-developed, actual sex was nil.
Of course Mrs. Yingling would not let me check the book out. I'm guessing it was because of the title. I tried to tell her that no self-respecting Regency-set romance would have any sex, but she wouldn't listen. I suppose she felt herself to be a sort of moral compass for us young Catholic teens, but it made me gnash my teeth. (Thirteen year-old girls are so docile and sweet-tempered when they don't get their way, right?)
As soon as I could, I went to my regular library branch and requested the book from the Bookmobile to be delivered there. I mentally tapped my foot impatiently until it landed on the checkout counter, then read it with the usual breakneck speed I met all new Caroline Courtney books, and finished it with the same bittersweet emotions. A sighworthy HEA, combined with the rueful knowledge that there was another Caroline Courtney book I'd never again read 'for the first time.'
Nikolai Kuragin was a fantastic hero. Lucy was a little naive and silly. But I was thirteen, and it remains one of my all-time favorites. I imagine if I read it again it wouldn't hold a candle to SEP or Eva Ibbotson - but who knows? I think it's in my basement somewhere. Maybe it's time to take another look…
For the record, most bestselling Regency-set books these days have sex in them. So while I was right about CC, and I suppose I was right about those books at the time, things sure have changed!
Not that I'm complaining. There are so many great historical authors these days - Mary Balogh, Mary Jo Putney, Eloisa James, Julia Quinn, Teresa Medeiros, Amanda Quick, Lisa Kleypas, Sarah Maclean, Jennifer Ashley, to name only a few - that tell a mesmerizing story with sex as a believable, integral component of the story. But I'm sure Mrs. Yingling wouldn't have wanted me to check those out of the Bookmobile as a thirteen year-old, either.
Her head might have exploded at Fifty Shades of Grey. ;o)
So what about you? Anyone else a fan of Caroline Courtney? Historicals? Who are your favorites? Please share!