Your first time

Like almost every other writer/reader, I have a TBR pile. No, pile is a vast misnomer–it’s s structure, a mountain. For a long time, I had these books stacked in my hallway, blocking the coat closet and waiting to brain unwary passers-by. Until one day, when the volumes went almost to the ceiling, my cat tried to climb up the pyramid and started an avalanche. Books were scattered far and wide, and I knew I had to make a change. Get organized. So, I bought a slew of clear plastic tubs at Target and started packing the volumes away to store them in the garage (after I moved the car out, of course). To a non-reader this sounds like a quick and easy job, but we here at Risky Regencies surely know better. This job took days, weeks, because I ended up sitting on the floor re-reading old favorites, starting new books I’ve been meaning to get to, just basically wasting time and having fun.

I sorted these books into several stacks–books I will read soon, books I will read some day (when I’m 80?), and books to give away (I think there were about 3 of these). Then I found it. A battered, taped-up copy of the Very First Regency I ever read–Marian Chesney’s AT THE SIGN OF THE GOLDEN PINEAPPLE. And nostalgia set in.

A little backstory. Unlike lucky Megan, my parents were never great readers. But my grandmother was, and she was always taking me to the library and giving me books as presents. Some of them I loved, like the Little House on the Prairie and Anne of Green Gables series (for their romantic elements, and their plucky, wanna-be writer heroines). Some I loathed (like the egregious, treackle-beset POLLYANNA and ELSIE DINSMORE). But I devoured them all.

My grandparents lived on a sort-of farm, and every summer we visited them for several weeks. This particular summer, when I was 8 or 9, someone gave my grandmother a couple of big boxes full of romance novels, and I ended up sitting in the closet (where the boxes were stored) and reading the whole time. At first it was just a fun way to avoid my cousins, who only ever wanted to play Star Wars and brooked no deviation from the script. Boring. Soon, though, I was totally hooked, living in a world of country estates, Almack’s, handsome dukes, and high-perch phaetons. I could not even be lured away by my grandmother’s German chocolate cake.

These boxes were filled with mostly Cartlands, with a couple of Heyers, and some old Fawcett and Harlequin Regencies. I was somewhat familiar with the period, having seen the Garvie-Rintoul P&P, and I loved the clothes, the manners, the witty atmosphere. I was so excited when I pulled a book out of the box–AT THE SIGN OF THE GOLDEN PINEAPPLE–and saw the words “Regency Romance” at the top. I devoured it on the spot, and then dug out every single volume that also declared itself a “Regency.” The monster was unleashed.

I don’t remember a huge amount about that particular book. It was maybe set in Bath, and the heroine ran a Gunter’s-style shop. But it sucked me into a fabulous, fascinating new world I couldn’t get enough of. I still can’t.

So, I’m curious. What are the books that first drew YOU into the Regency? What did you like about them, what kept drawing you back? What was your first time like?

About Amanda McCabe/Laurel McKee

Writer (as Amanda McCabe, Laurel McKee, Amanda Carmack), history geek, yoga enthusiast, pet owner!
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16 Responses to Your first time

  1. Cara King says:

    So, Amanda, Marion Chesney’s AT THE SIGN OF THE GOLDEN PINEAPPLE was out when you were 8 or 9?? That makes you, what, fifteen now??? πŸ™‚ (Sorry, just making fun of my own advancing years!) πŸ™‚

    When I started college, I was a book snob. I knew I didn’t like romances. πŸ™‚ Then my roommate Heather, who loved a lot of the same authors I did (such as Diana Wynne Jones and Alexander Key — I’ve always loved kids & YA fantasy) gave me three books and said “read these — I think you’ll change your mind.”

    I did. The books were Heyer’s THESE OLD SHADES, Joan Smith’s VALERIE, and another Fawcett Coventry — perhaps another Smith, I don’t quite recall. Those grabbed me enough that I read the next few suggestions of my wise roommate — and after Smith’s SWEET AND TWENTY and IMPRUDENT LADY, Heyer’s UNKNOWN AJAX, some Clare Darcy and Marion Chesney and Elizabeth Chater and Maggie MacKeever and Kasey Michaels and more Heyer, I was well and truly hooked. πŸ™‚

    By the way, I’m not quite as old as some of those book choices make me seem! These books were all of course exceedingly venerable by the time they came my way.

    And what did I like about them? Well, I loved the witty dialogue. I loved the attention to historical detail. I loved putting myself in the heads of people who thought quite differently from myself (which is also why I love science fiction and fantasy so much.) And I loved the way the stories and the writing never “dumbed themselves down” to a theoretical ignorant reader.

    I also loved the hopefulness inherent in romance fiction, and the value placed on honor and integrity. Plus, many of the these novels were among the funniest things I’d ever read!

    So basically, I blame it all on Heather. If she hadn’t taken the time to open her roommate’s mind to Regency romances, who knows where I would be today?

    Cara

  2. My first books were Barbara Cartlands: The Penniless Peer was the absolute first, followed closely by the Wicked Marquis and the Dangerous Dandy. My dad, who’s still never read a Cartland (he’s no fool), and I would spend hours in the car making up ever more ridiculous storylines. Like you, Amanda, I also looked for ‘Regency,’ and soon found Georgette Heyer’s Friday’s Child and the one with the Andalusian Hound–Frederica, right? I was probably about eight or nine at the time.
    Interestingly, when I returned to romance after a long hiatus, I read those Chesneys with the sisters and the house full of thieves. They got very samey after awhile, but they were a good jump back in. Great post, Amanda, thanks! And Cara, Heather sounds like a great roommate.

  3. That box at my grandmother’s was a treasure trove, I just wish I’d had the foresight to hold onto the books. πŸ™‚ I know there were quite a few Joan Smiths there, too, as well as Elizabeth Chater, Sylvia Thorpe, Clare Darcy, maybe a very early Mary Jo Putney (can’t remember for sure). The very first one I pulled out and read was a Cartland, but it was a Victorian (purportedly) so I don’t count it as my first Regency. Can’t remember the title, but the heroine was a gypsy who got knocked down by the hero’s carriage in chapter one. Of course, later it turns out she’s not a Gypsy, she’s the long-lost daughter of a duke (gasp!). Good times. πŸ™‚

    I can see, Megan, where you could spend hours coming up with great, improbable Cartland plots. Maybe we should all try this at a conference some time! And what a great roomie, Cara. My college roomates were all friends from high school, so they knew better than to try to pull a literary-snob act on me!

  4. And btw, Cara, advancing years?!? PLEASE. Are you the youngest risk-taker, or is that Amanda?

    I know it’s not me.

  5. Cara King says:

    Megan, I’m sure I’m older than Amanda! And as I am of course ever-so-youthful, Amanda is clearly a writing prodigy!

    Cara

  6. I’m not sure which was my first Regency. I read all my mother’s Georgette Heyers before moving on to her other Regencies. I know I read (and enjoyed, maybe I should revisit for cheap ‘n cheesy pleasure!) Barbara Cartland. I also enjoyed Clare Darcy and Elsie Lee. Perhaps it’s sacrilegious to say, but Marion Chesney didn’t do much for me.

    But this is a very depressing post. You ladies are making me feel so ooooold!

    Elena πŸ™‚

  7. If Cara IS older than me, it can’t be by much. πŸ™‚

  8. Oh, and I promise, I am older than a Cartland heroine.

  9. Todd says:

    I never read a romance novel–or at least, no novel marketed as romance–until I started dating my (now) wife. She informed me in no uncertain terms that I could not remain in ignorance, and gave me a bunch of books to read while I was away on a trip. I believe the first two were SWEET AND TWENTY by Joan Smith and FRIDAY’S CHILD by Heyer, followed by a Kasey Michaels, LADY ELIZABETH’S COMET by Sheila Simonson, IMPRUDENT LADY by Joan Smith, and VENETIA by Heyer. So many more have followed over the years that I certainly can’t remember them all, let alone list them!

    I like to think that I was not a conscious book snob–I read lots of other genre fiction, especially science fiction and mysteries–but very few men ever read romance novels unless they are thrust under their noses by a woman with the power to make it stick. And, having read many romances now, I think that is a darned shame.

    Todd-who-reads-cereal-boxes-too-but-likes-romance-a-lot-better

  10. My first was “Regency Buck” by Georgette Heyer, given to me as a birthday present by my aunts. I think this was the book Germaine Greer attacked for the heroine’s miraculous expanding breasts, altho I’m pretty sure GH heroines don’t have them.

    Janet

  11. I’ve been having a fun time sitting here remembering my first Regencies …. I moved to Tucson when I turned 12. I decided Spanish was too hard at the new school — and elected being a library aide instead. There I found Clare Darcy’s Eliza and Lady Pamela and loved them. I still remember looking up “Regency” and going “oh, 1811-1820. Okay”. They, of course, blurbed Heyer all over the cover, so I looked her up next at the city library. I think Regency Buck was the first one I read and it didn’t thrill me, but then, oh! All those others! The Grand Sophy, Faro’s Daughter, Venetia!

    I hated Tucson: my parents made me move mid-year! And I was going to be a mouse in The Nutracker! And I had to start at a new school on my birthday! But looking back it was a fabulous year for reading. I discovered Elizabeth Peters (and Ellis Peters: halfway through Mourning Raga I realized she was not the same author) and Jane Aiken Hodge (Watch the wall, My Darling is still a favorite comfort book) and Robin McKinley’s Beauty.

    I remember reading Alice Chetwynd Ley’s The Beau and the Bluestocking while on a field trip with my ceramics class to learn about Raku and airbrushing techniques. I remember nothing of the latter.

    It was the best of times, from a Regency perspective. Everyone was publishing Regencies, even Playboy Press, which seemed ironic to my adolescent self.

    When I left home for college a few years later I tried not to bring all my books with me. Just a couple of boxes to tide me over. And then I was way too busy (and a bit too intimidated!) to break them out until somehow it came up that there was a Harlequin American Romance where the heroine had attended our small and somewhat uncommon college (and, um, yes, it was in one of my boxes).

    I can’t even recall getting up the nerve to endorse Regencies to Cara (and, really, Cara — I didn’t start you out with a Veryan?) But I’ll claim the credit anyway!

  12. Cara King says:

    See! Heather is real, I didn’t make her up! And Heather, you didn’t need to “get up the nerve” to endorse Regencies to me — you had quite a sharp tongue in those days (of course, you’re exceedingly mellow now) and wouldn’t even let me make fun of your Cyndi Lauper album. (Which I have since apologized for, let me note.) πŸ™‚

    And Veryan was an early recommendation of yours — THE LORD AND THE GYPSY, I think? — but it wasn’t the first. I’m pretty sure Smith’s VALERIE was first; IIRC you said you gave it to people who “didn’t like romance” because it had a lot of other things going on too. πŸ™‚

    And I agree with you on REGENCY BUCK. He’s one of those creepy heroes who steal a kiss because he thinks she’s from a lower class than he, right? Ew.

    Cara

  13. Kate Pearce says:

    Hi ladies, I’ve finally found my way over here via the Beau Monde and a very interesting conversation with Janet about whether Americans understand what being an “Essex girl” means.
    Anyway, to get to the point, I’m from England and I have 3 older sisters who started me off on Georgette Heyer with some Barbara Cartland thrown in, although they were snobs and didn’t like the BC one’s I did.
    I still read the Heyer’s. If pushed, I’d have to say Venetia is my ultimate favorite but I might change my mind. I didn’t really understand it when I read it at 11 but I do now…
    I still love to read Jo Beverley, Mary Balogh and Julia Ross (as well as all you lovely ladies here of course)
    Kate Pearce aka Duggan

  14. Cara King says:

    Ah, VENETIA is definitely one of my favorite Heyers! But if pushed, I might pick BLACK SHEEP as my very favorite… Tops would definitely include those plus FRIDAY’S CHILD, COTILLION, THESE OLD SHADES, CONVENIENT MARRIAGE, UNKNOWN AJAX, and I’d better stop now or I’ll “out-Cara” myself. πŸ™‚

    Kate, I know what you mean about not really understanding a book when you read it as a child — and yet still being able to enjoy it. I read PRIDE AND PREJUDICE first when I was thirteen. I loved it — put it down breathlessly, counting the days until I’d forgotten enough of it that I could read it again and get as much enjoyment out of it…but there were definitely things I didn’t understand. When Mr Bennet said at the end that his favorite son-in-law was Wickham, I was seriously upset that he couldn’t see through the rascal! πŸ™‚

    Cara

  15. Lois says:

    Well, my first Regency was roughly my third ever Romance, give or take, Lisa Kleypas’s Lady Sophia’s Lover. I picked it up in the college bookstore, thought it was interesting, and I did really like it. But it was the next book that clinched it for me: Dodd/Brockman’s Once Upon a Pillow (believe that’s the title! LOL). Its following this bed made maybe back in the Medival era through three historical eras, then present. And then I realized, “hey, I like historical more. . .” Then, I worked on getting all of Lisa Kleypas’s books. . . and while looking around the internet and such, I discovered what Regency was, and now, two years and hundreds of books later, perhaps roughly 90% of the romances I have are Regency. What it is about the period, I haven’t a clue, I just really like it. LOL I always loved England, so that has to be part of it, but other than that, I just have no real idea why I love it. I get both traditional and historical regencies, so I’m very disappointed that the Zebra traditionals are gone, but I guess that’s another separate posting entirely. πŸ™‚

    Oh, and thanks for letting me peek in. πŸ™‚

  16. Elena Greene says:

    Thank YOU for visiting, Lois, Heather and Kate!

    Would you believe I’m just starting my first Lisa Kleypas? I started reading Regency historicals with Mary Jo Putney and it’s taking me a while to get to other authors. What a staggering TBR pile I have!

    Elena πŸ™‚

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