Monday, April 14, 2014

L is for L'Amour: In Praise of French Romance Novels

Today's letter in the A-Z Challenge is "L". Our guest today is Libby McCord, discussing her passion for French-set historical romances. Ooo, la la, l'amour!

I cut my romance reading teeth on a series you may never have heard of:  the Angélique stories by husband and wife writing team Sergeanne Golon, set mostly in France during the mid-17th century. The first, Angélique, the Marquise of the Angels, published in 1956, introduced a beautiful young girl who, over the course of 13 volumes (10 translated into English), experiences more passion and adventures than any other romance heroine I can think of. So I chose “L” to stand for l’amour, the French word for love, and to encourage you to seek out historical love stories set in France. “France?” you say. “No one wants to read historical romance set in France.”

To which I say au contraire my friend. France provides the quintessential setting for stirring passion and intrigue, even if your historical understanding doesn’t go much beyond vague ideas of Versailles and the guillotine. Diana Gabaldon understood this draw—in Dragonfly in Amber, Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser end up at Versailles mid-18th century, and no one quarrels with that setting or its reliance on challenging political history.

Given Gabaldon’s success, why aren’t the Angélique novels better known today?  Well, even though Anne Golon (now a widow) continues to write without husband Serge, many readers simply don’t know about the books. The English translations are out of print, and the stories can be rambling affairs, at times, overwritten by today’s conventions.

So where does one turn?  Fortunately, we have a bestselling romance author who loves complicated historical France and believes it an ideal setting for love stories that transcend impossible odds:  Joanna Bourne. In her Spymaster series, three of the four books are set partly in France (The Spymaster’s Lady, The Forbidden Rose, and The Black Hawk). Reading them, you are plucked from your safe, comfortable couch or coffee shop and dropped squarely into a volatile France where politically star-crossed lovers spy in the shadows as the old societies crumble around them.

When I first discovered Bourne’s books, I devoured each one, just as I had the old Angélique novels. Her first heroine’s name is Annique. I wondered, had Jo Bourne loved those stories, too?  So I asked her.

I loved Angélique,” she told me. “Back in the day, I read them all. A couple are still on my (very small) keeper shelf. I admired the 'historical heft' to these books. The Angélique world is constructed of fierce authenticity—large realities like the intrigues at the palace of Versailles and the wars wrangling across the French countryside. Small realities like the act of lifting a kettle of hot water from the hook over the hearth to set it on the floor with a single, practiced twist of the hand. The solidity is crafted in the detail. It's as if the reader could reach into the book and lay hold of a wine bottle or an apple.”

Constructed of fierce authenticity. Historical heft. I love that. What about you?

By the way, Bourne will have a new book out in November, Rogue Spy. It’s set in London, like her second My Lord and Spymaster, but with plenty of French connections, and, I’m sure, the requisite stirring passion and historical heft.

Let's chat: Do you need more than a soupçon of setting or modicum of manners for your love stories? Do you appreciate a heroine and hero who must navigate perilous political waters where failure means certain death? Do you relish a romance with historical heft?

Libby McCord lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, and has had a long-standing love affair with all things French, barbershop singing, and Labradors Retrievers. Her story The Spy on the Orléans Road (in progress), pits a Huguenot heroine against the King’s spy in mid-17th century France. Whenever she's not writing or singing, Libby practices law.

The "L" book list: 

Aimee Leduc: quirky, intense private investigator featured in a crime series set in Paris, by author Cara Black. So descriptive, you can almost smell the baguettes and taste the vin rouge.

Elizabeth Loupas: historical fiction. She weaves fictional characters so skillfully with real people, it's hard to tell which is which. From Mary, Queen of Scots to the Medicis, I love her prose.

Paul Levine: His character of lawyer Jake Lassiter is a worthy successor to John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee, but a whole lot funnier.

Versaille Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee /


Kat Sheridan said...

Good morning, all, and welcome Libby! This puts me in the mood for some cappuccino and croisants! I know Libby is off doing her lawyer thing this morning (after a weekend of doing barbershop quartet competition!), but she'll be popping in to respond to the discussion later today!

And on a side note, for those who know that Sia breeds Great Danes, her dog Gidget is about to have puppies! And yes, Sia will be right there in the middle of it, busted up shoulder and all!

vicky Pratap said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Janie Mason said...

I've never read any books set in France but as long as the romance stands out above the history, I'm game. I have one of Joanna's Spymaster books in my TBR pile. I might need to bump it up higher.
Great post Libby!

Kat Sheridan said...

Sorry for the spammy comment above, folks, but I don't have admin access to delete it. Let's just pretend it's not there.

Janie, good to see you here! I confess I've never read Joanna Bourne, but I'm looking to add one to my TBR list now!

Mason Canyon said...

Libby, thanks to this introduction to Joanna Bourne and Sergeanne Golon. I can see why this type writing drew you in. Looking forward to learning more about your work in progress. Best of luck.

Kat, morning. Those croissants and cappuccino sound good. Best wishes to Gidget (and Sia).

KAK said...

I confess my love of French romances started with Baroness Orczy's Scarlet Pimpernel. I'm still on the hunt for all the books in that series "for the keeper shelf."

Looking forward to Libby's spy book!

Libby said...

Janie, definitely move Jo Bourne to the top of your pile. You won't be disappointed. Thanks for stopping g by.

Libby said...

Mason, a freshly baked croissant would certainly help this Monday. But I like mine with café au lait. I make faux ones for work (lots of heated milk but not steamed--no way to do it) and drink them in a wide bowled mug. I can pretend I'm in a Parisian café. Thanks for stopping by.

Libby said...

KAK, good to see you here.
Ah yes the Scarlet Pimpernel. Another favorite of mine too. I once saw a stage production of the story at Stratford Shakespeare (Ontario) and it was wonderful.

Libby said...

KAK, good to see you here.
Ah yes the Scarlet Pimpernel. Another favorite of mine too. I once saw a stage production of the story at Stratford Shakespeare (Ontario) and it was wonderful.

Libby said...

Oops. Sorry about the double post. I'm responding from my phone because of work policies and it's cumbersome. (But much more fun than this contract I'm drafting... .)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Mornin' ladies! Kat, you have croissants? Oh yum--I love the buttery flaky goodness of them. Even better, you have some almond croissants--I knew your trip to Paris would add some goodies here.

Libby, I did read a few of the Angelique novels. Let's say, I hid some of them from my mother who would had had a cow if she saw her teen with one, lol!

I love history and I like good stories set in authentic (*historical heft* a great way to put it) historical settings. I think part of the fascination with some of the regencies I read was the French Revolutionary aspect. Of course, a lot of writers got away from that part of history and gravitated to focus on the London ton.

I loved the Scarlet Pimpernel--great view of the times. So many historicals today have moved away from the historical heft of the times and concentrated on a light covering of the history and focused more on fast moving characters/love story. Partly, I suspect, because of today's writing conventions.

I'll have to check out Joanna Bourne's stories. Thanks for the tip.

I LOVE Elizabeth Loupas' books. A lovely door opening to the era she's writing.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Kat--Gidget is still dithering but I can tell she's close. If today's the day, I'm hoping she holds off until I get back from physical therapy. And as for my *busted up shoulder*, it can handle the birthing process, lol! Mostly watching and helping where necessary. And since I have created a temp office whelping area and I can close the door and keep everyone out and sit on the floor in her corner without undue stress on me. :-)

KAK--LOVED Orczy's Scarlet Pimpernel.

LIBBY Contracts aren't my favorite thing to write much less read. Glad you're visiting us here Over Coffee. :-)

Off to physical therapy.

Michael Di Gesu said...

HI, Sia,

Interesting post today.. I'm not into huge romantic books, but the historical value of these works certainly peaks my interest.

Turbulent times for sure... Thanks for sharing your passion about French historical novels with us!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Maybe someday those older books will appear as eBooks. Then they will live forever and find new readers.

Chrys Fey said...

I'm going to have to check out both of these series! Thank you for sharing.

I cut my romance reading teeth on Danielle Steel novels at the age of fourteen. The first one I read was Once in a Lifetime and it's still my favorite. But I do love The Ring! :)

Anonymous said...

Oh, I LOVED the Angelique books! I really feel like I learned French history that way, because Angelique was at the center of almost every notable historic event during that period. Versailles, the French Revolution, Barbary Pirates, the colonization of the Americas -- I even recall the Marquis de Sade in there somewhere (but it's been a long time since I've read them).
Joanna Bourne's books are great too. I love swashbuckling historical romances, and for people who like more humor and less romance in their historical novels, I would suggest the Flashman series by George MacDonald Fraser. Sir Harry Flashman is a rogue and a blackguard and he doesn't love anybody, but he has very cool adventures.
Great topic, Libby!

cleemckenzie said...

Interesting that one century's best seller is the next's outdated and uninteresting one. Still, I love reading the outdated. Those stories have gems and can teach a lot about writing.

Maurice Mitchell said...

Ah France. The city of love.

Jo said...

Do I remember the Angelique stories, the first book and a half were wonderful, then I think they became somewhat strained. But the first ones were absolutely spellbinding.

In some ways, at the beginning, she reminded me of Scarlet O'Hara.

I will have to look out for some of these books. J'adore La France.

I.L. Wolf said...

Hi from the A to Z challenge! Am I crazy, or does "French romance novel" sound slightly redundant? :)

Stephanie Faris said...

Ooooh...I love that cover. Why don't we have covers like that anymore? They were so classy and interesting.

Kat Sheridan said...

Stephanie, doesn't that cover have a kind of glorious pulp fiction feel? I like it too!

Kat Sheridan said...

LL, no matter how you got here, we're glad you stopped by! Hope you're having fun with the A-Z challenge! I've found lots of interesting new blogs!

Kat Sheridan said...

Alex, it would be wonderful not only to have the Angleique books as e-books, but to have the final ones translated into English. Considering the reviews on Amazon, and the outrageous prices for some older editions, people would love to see these collected, translated, and reissued!

Carrie-Anne said...

I love an old-school historical romance, where the history plays an integral, rich part of the storyline and isn't just fluffy window-dressing. The Angélique books sound like something I'd really enjoy reading.

Libby said...

All, I'm finally done with my day job and can enjoy the rest of the comments. Thank you Sia and Kat for inviting me, and thank you Kat especially for responding when I was unable to this afternoon.

MICHAEL, thank you for stopping by. You should give Jo Bourne a try because her writing is so take-you-there. At the same time, for those who don't want the history to eclipse the story, particularly the romance, IMO that never happens. They are great love stories with compelling characters, made all the more compelling because the stakes are so high.

ALEX, yes ebooks would help. Imagine if all of the out-of-print books we wanted to read were at our fingertips. Someday I believe.

CHRYS, ah, yes, Danielle Steele. I'll bet many of us read her, too. Did you have to do so surreptitiously? I certainly did with certain books when I was younger.

Libby said...

SARALEEE, yes, you've remembered those Angelique settings. She did so much and went so many places, but my favorites were in France.

CLEEMCKENZIE, reading tastes change; writing conventions change, with both driving the other. A couple of years ago I did read an early Angelique again and it wasn't uninteresting but it now required a different kind of attention from me.

MAURICE, you said it all. I need not repeat. ;-)

Libby said...

JO, yes, "spellbinding" is an apt word for my first experiences with Angelique book, partly because I'd never read anything like them before (the English major literary fare).

I.L.WOLF, you don't sound crazy to me. What is crazy--and was my motivation for this blog topic--was how many times I've heard, "Oh, no one will read a romance set in France." Then Jo Bourne begged to differ and her books became bestsellers.

STEPHANIE, my copies have earlier covers that look a little less 1960-ish mod. It's interesting how they changed. Glad you like this one.

Libby said...

CARRIE-ANNE, I love them, too--romances and other genres. Glad to meet a kindred spirit. Also, I've learned a lot of history from historicals from other genres, James Michener, for instance, or Ken Follett, while being totally caught up in a great story.

Libby said...

I can't thank everyone enough for stopping by and adding cheer to a gloomy day.

For many of us, SNOW is in the forecast again for tomorrow--which is also TAX DAY--and we need something else to think about. So I'll offer this: The forecast for Paris, France, this week is SUNNY, with temperatures ranging from 58 to 70 (Fahrenheit). Another reason to consider France a great setting.