It’s the time of year when bouquets of flowers fill the stores, the gift of a box of chocolates takes on new meaning, and love songs (and movies) fill the airwaves. Swoonworthy stuff, ya’ll.
Instead of creating a post about current titles that inspire hearts to flutter, I put out an open call for men and women to name their favorite Greatest Love Stories of All Time. Thanks to Mari Barnes*, Sarah Bewley, Leah Canzoneri, Kait Carson, Peggy Clayton, Joy Ross Davis, Missy Davis, Laura Di Silverio, Saword Broyles Ellis, Terri Gault, Courtney Carter Girton, Sherry Harris, Cynthia Kuhn, Joyce Laferrera, Marj Lilley, Alice Loweecy, Gary Miller, Sylvia Nickels, Debbie York Parker, Nanci Rathbun, Jeanie Smith, Ellis Vidler, and Lynn Chandler Willis for their wonderful suggestions. *drawing winner
Books are listed in alphabetical order by title, and where available, links to the Greatest Love Stories are included. Click on the titles and read more about them.
“At Home in Mitford” by Jan Karon
“Cinderella Story” by Wendy Logia
“Come Rain or Come Shine” by Jan Karon
“Dr. Zhivago” by Boris Pasternak
“Jane Eyre” by Charlotte Bronte
“Lonesome Dove” by Larry McMurtry
“Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon
“Persuasion” by Jane Austen
“Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen
“Sense and Sensibility” by Jane Austen
“Shadow of the Moon” by MM Kaye
“Somewhere in Time” by Richard Matheson
“Soulless” by Gail Carriger
“The Far Pavilions” by MM Kaye
“The Last of the Mohicans” by James Fenimore Cooper
“The Notebook” by Nicholas Sparks
“The Princess Bride” by William Goldman
“The Scarlet Pimpernel” by Baroness Orczy
“The Second Coming” by Walker Percy
“The Thorn Birds” by Colleen McCullough
Are you thinking romantic, weak-at-the-knees thoughts?
Our work is done. 😉
Photo credit: Patti Phillips
Paula McLain’s “Circling the Sun,” is the story of horse trainer/aviator/writer, Beryl Markham. It recalls the remarkable accomplishments of this under sung woman far ahead of her time in Colonial Kenya and explores her relationship with renowned Denys Finch Hatton, safari hunter, and Karen Blixen, author (as Isak Dineson) of “Out of Africa.”
Beryl’s father sold everything in England in order to buy a farm in Kenya, but Beryl’s mother could not cope with the stark cultural differences and returned to England with son, Dickie, leaving Beryl behind to be raised by her father.
Her father, ill equipped to raise a young girl, was always busy with the hard work of running a farm, so she was frequently left alone and spent a great deal of time with members of a neighboring tribe. She learned their languages and customs and made friends that would be with her for life. The realities of African living shaped Beryl's character and 100 years ago, forged a strength and determination in her that would be unusual even for a woman of today.
“Circling the Sun” tells us that Beryl’s freedom to do what she wanted came with an incredible price. The standards by which she lived in Africa, coming and going as she pleased, affected all her relationships and her view of the world. She was a natural at training horses, but had to battle at every turn to be recognized and accepted. Nothing was ever easy.
Interacting in polite Colonial Kenyan society was beyond her understanding. She had no wish to be judged and yet, she was targeted unfairly merely because she was a female. Her casual disregard of the conventional separation of men and women caused her great pain when she attempted to navigate the minefields of marriage, society, and motherhood, even when Royals were involved.
Markham is remembered as the first woman to fly non-stop across the Atlantic from East to West, but “Circling the Sun’ spends most of the book on her time as a horse trainer and her interactions with Blixen and Hatton. They played an incredible part in shaping the woman she would become and the choices she would make that placed her in the history books. They were a complicated threesome. Hatton never married either of the women, but had a relationship with both.
The colors and sounds of Africa are a major character in the book and give us a sweeping sense of the majestic nature of the continent and the customs of native Africans. McLain paints a fabulous landscape that keeps us enthralled and gives us a peek into why so many English expats were drawn to the place: Money to be made, worlds to experience, the excitement/danger of safaris, creating something permanent out of the untamed land.
Circumstances and the people in her life shaped her, but Markham could not have become the bush pilot or transatlantic pilot she did, without that incredible setting that set her free.
A work of historical fiction not to be missed.
Please visit www.paulamclain.com for more information about McLain, “Circling the Sun,” and her earlier acclaimed bestseller, “The Paris Wife.”
Marnie Calvert, FBI agent in Patrick Lee’s “Signal,” smells the bodies before she sees them. A trailer is burned to a crisp, with not much left except a cage holding the corpses of four children. The owner of the trailer is missing.
Sam Dryden’s background includes special ops training with the military. He has left that life behind and now flips houses. His ordinary, peaceful evening is interrupted by a call from trusted former colleague in the military, Claire Dunham. She makes an urgent request of Sam: get in the car immediately and meet her in a spot that is two hours away. Once together, they drive to the trailer at breakneck speed and keep the owner from burning it and everyone in it. When Sam and Claire leave the area, the only corpse is the owner’s.
Yes, you read that correctly. Calvert, Dryden and Dunham have arrived at the same crime scene – just not at the same time and with very different results. The race against, through, and with time, begins.
Patrick Lee’s paradigms of time travel/time shifting are intriguing and part of what compels me to return to his books. Not every book uses time as a plot device, but I love the way Lee’s mind works. In his Travis Chase series, people traveled through a doorway in time to the future and back again. In “Signal,” Lee’s main characters listen to a radio frequency on a device that streams what is reported on the airwaves from the future – a very specific period of time in the future. In this world, time is fluid and actions can be changed before they happen.
Imagine if that power was held by people with decades to plan and reshape the future for their own agendas? Nothing good could come of it. Murder, kidnapping, torture? They’ll do anything to get the device that led Claire to the trailer.
In “Signal,” Lee deftly handles the time paradox challenges of adjusting actions in response to hearing the consequences. Any modification in events affects everyone in the timeline continuum for all time, and Lee uses that effectively to keep us absorbed. He gives us just enough information about how it all works without too much science-speak or theory that might take us out of the story.
Whose reality will control the tale? Can this knowledge ever be used for good? If your “enemy knows your mistakes before you make them,” how can you survive the battle? The answers will keep you turning the pages all night long, because “Signal” is flat out stay-awake reading. And not just because of the time-travel component or the pulse-pounding action. Lee’s characters have depth, a back story, and believable reasons for what they do, be it for good or very questionable motives.
Clear your schedule, turn off the computer and the phone (gasp), and be prepared to read straight through to the perfect finish.
I was lucky enough to meet Patrick Lee at a recent writer’s conference and he graciously signed my copy of “Signal.” He signed “Ghost Country,” from the Travis Chase series as well and you can read that review here.
For information about Patrick Lee, the terrific first Sam Dryden book, “Runner,” and his other series, please visit www.patrickleefiction.com
The “Outlander” series, by Diana Gabaldon, has been a sensation in the historical fiction arena, blending time-travel, romance, and adventure into one terrific story. Why do we love “Outlander?” It’s well-written, crosses genres beautifully, and the broad sweep of the storyline is just plain fun.
Claire Randall is a former combat nurse, home from WW2 in 1945. She has been reunited with her husband, Frank, and they are enjoying a second honeymoon in the Scottish Highlands after a long, war-caused separation. On the lookout for interesting flowers and herbs, she wanders into a circle of ancient stones said to be the legendary Merlin stones, touches one of the stones and disappears. That is, disappears from 1945 and pops up in 1743 – right into the middle of the Jacobite rebellion, with Bonnie Prince Charlie attempting to take over the throne of England.
With her English and slightly alien accent, she is soon called Sassenach (an outlander) by the MacKenzie clan that rescues her from an assault by a British soldier (her husband’s ancestor) and is suspected by everyone of being a spy. But, for whom? Her rescuers, in part to use her as a bargaining chip, keep her hostage.
Her skill as a healer is discovered when she meets injured Jamie Fraser and that ensures her safety until her fate can be decided. “Outlander” reveals Gabaldon’s tremendous amount of research into the uses of botanicals for healing both in 1945 and two hundred years earlier. We are treated to descriptions of herbs, the drugs available in both centuries, the limits of medicine in the 1700s, the choices available, and even the handling of prisoners. The wisdom of the modern medical era is applied to herbal remedies of the 1700s, but often, Claire just has to make do.
Gabaldon has written the developing relationship between Claire and Jamie realistically within the constraints of the time travel strand. Claire can’t reveal when she is really from – nobody would understand it – and Jamie does not quite trust her since her circumstances don’t really ring true. Claire has a modern sense of humor and Jamie is puzzled by her references to John Wayne and her cursing. And, yet, they each feel an attraction as they are thrown together repeatedly during the action. The complexity of Scottish clan rivalry is explored, alliances for and against the British are created, and Claire occasionally uses her knowledge of history to protect the people in her immediate circle.
“Outlander” succeeds in part because of its intimate portrait of a marriage, with its moments of personal truths, physical intimacy, enduring love, and sometimes hilarious banter. Two strong-willed people are forced into a union of convenience in order to save their lives and the relationship is raw and wonderful. There are sometimes tender and sometimes rough, bedroom scenes between Jamie and Claire. There are graphic descriptions of an attempted rape as well as an actual rape with another character. Gabaldon does not mince words, so be forewarned that this is well-done adult reading.
The Jacobite rebellion and the surrounding political turmoil drive the tale, but it’s the characters that keep us spellbound until the last page. There are good guys and bad, some of whom are both in order to survive in a dangerous political climate, and one who is undeniably evil. We don’t always know whom to trust. The supporting characters are colorful, complex, as well as entertaining, and add depth and realism to the multi-layered plot.
The time travel is brilliantly handled. Claire tries on multiple occasions to return to the stones in order to get back to her own time, but as she falls more deeply in love with Jamie, she is torn between leaving him and her responsibility to the husband she left behind. Along the way, she discovers that she may not be the only person who has traveled through the stones.
I laughed during the engaging dialogue, cringed at the choices that needed to be made and cried during some desperate moments for more than one character. When the book ended, I was very happy that there were more titles in the series to be read.
The novel won the Romance Writers of America's RITA Award for Best Romance of 1991. The first seven books in the series sold over twenty million copies and landed on the NYT bestseller lists six times. The eighth book in the series was published in June, 2014. A TV series based on the first book, “Outlander,” debuted in the USA in August, 2014.
For more information about Diana Gabaldon and her work, please visit www.dianagabaldon.com