Once Upon a Time…

For much of my life, I have been a book-a-day reader. Particularly in adolescence and early adulthood, when sleep was an afterthought, and life an unending challenge. My genre of choice then was exclusively romance–all through my teens and twenties, into the single-parenting years, and certainly as I handled case after case of fractured families and heartsore children in foster care court.

I wanted my genre fiction to reassure me: Love will give us the courage and determination to conquer all, to heal all, to hold out for the joy and pleasure that are the brass rings of earthly existence. I still believe that. Love, on some level, is the answer to most questions. If we save our planet, it won’t be because that’s fun, profitable, or easy. We’ll do it because we love life, our earthly home, and one another.

I still read a ton of romance, but somewhere along the way, I stumbled across historical mysteries, and after gobbling down enough of them, I’ve started to write those stories too. A well written mystery tells us that wrongdoers, no matter how clever or powerful, can always be held accountable. Miss Marple with her knitting bag, keen mind, and determination, is the equal to every criminal mastermind she meets. The over-the-hill detective, the earl’s illegitimate and marginalized son, the outspoken Victorian widow… they can all hold corrupt power accountable, and see justice done. The mystery tells us that truth and justice matter, and are within our reach.

I like that message and see it as complementary to the theme romance puts forth: Love conquers all. Maybe Miss Marple loves her little community in St. Mary Meade, maybe she loves a just world, but her motivation is not that far from the protagonist of a romance who refuses to compromise her honor for the easy solutions. The two genres are great reading companions.

In recent years, I have also become a fan of biographies. The good ones convey not only historical context, but also sketch a character contending with that context. I suspect I’m drawn to biographies because they tell me that joyous, meaningful life will never look the same up close as it does from a distance. A big impact can result from a small decision, and our worst laid plans sometimes come right despite ourselves.

I like that message too, I like the hope in it, and the respect and curiosity inherent in the decision to chronicle any life. Mostly, I am just so glad for the sustenance and comfort books–both the reading of them and the writing of them–have provided me throughout my life.

I’ve also read a few thrillers, and I like their theme too: One person can save the world, despite all the odds, personal and otherwise, stacked against her. I like Young Adult for its insistence that truth and real community are often found at the margins and through self-acceptance, among other messages.

What do you like to read? Why do you read it? Are there genres you’ve put aside or recently picked up? Genres you won’t touch with a ten foot pole?

To three commenters, I’ll send an ARC of Miss Desirable, which I hope to have on sale in the web store by mid-May.

PS: The Duke’s Disaster is now available in the web store, with a new Lonely Lords-style cover. Welcome home, Noah and Thea!

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35 comments on “Once Upon a Time…

  1. When I was a teenager many moons ago I discovered the regency author Georgette Heyer.I was hooked.I still have many of her paperbacks,I can’t part with them though I don’t read them now.When I married and the babies started to arrive I did not have the time or desire to be whisked away to another time and place.Reality was were I was at!!!!!!.Many years later after raising children,surviving an abusive twenty five year marriage,working in the care sector for thirty years I retired and really got back into reading recency romance.Mary Balogh,Stephanie Laurens,Lisa Kleypas,Eloisa James,Julia Quinn.Then I discovered you Grace and have enjoyed all your books.One of my favourites is The Dukes disaster.What a great new steamy cover!!!!!!!.Are you still thinking of writing a follow up to his story?.I also enjoy mystery and intrigue.So Violets books completely filled that slot.I do not pick up any Sci- Fi.I enjoy reading people’s life story too.Please remember Grace that your books are much appreciated by your many fans around the world.Keep well and enjoy it all.

    • Brenda,
      Thanks for those kind words, and yes, I am hopeful that some fine day I can at least write stories for Harlan and… maybe Tims and Erikson? To see an older, happier, Noah up to eyeballs in little girls and ponies and bouquets that need watering would be fun. But the author is sometimes the last to know whose story is coming along next.
      I’m not much of a sci-fi reader either, but what I have read of Asimov and Heilein, I have liked. Ursula Le Guin tended more fantasy, and her skill with a pen is enormous.

  2. I read lots of kinds of literature. Of course, historical romance + novelized versions of historical folks lives—Eleanor of Aquitaine AKA Henry II’s Lady Wife is one of my favorites–and lots of history. I read Scottish history and am now on Welsh history. We watched the latest film version of MacBeth and I was on to history of the REAL MacBeth. I read a novelized version of Lady MacBeth’s life a few years ago, based on facts–fascinating!

    I read *real* literature too–I had a minor in English–and love short stories and poetry as well as novels. Lately, I’ve gotten into Agatha Christie and Hubby and I have been watching filmed versions of her works–Hercule Poirot is a favorite.

    I am enjoying your Lady Violet and just began #5 last night. It struck me as I finished #4–what happened to her mother? Why is her father the way he is? What’s the deal with her older brother? I know you plan more additions to this series but inquiring minds want to know!

    I am not a big sci-fi fan or fantasy sci-fi, never have been interested.

    Have a lovely Holy Week, Grace!

    • I’m glad you are enjoying Lady Violet and her friends. Some of my romance readers are a little testy with her: WHERE’s the HEA? C’mon, lady.
      If you like Agatha Christie, you will probably enjoy Dame Ngaio Marsh’s Inspector Alleyn mysteries too. Same Golden Age era, but she was a Kiwi, and had a very astute and humorous view of the British, Australian, and Kiwi societies she wrote about.

      • I am okay with Lady Violet NOT having her HEA….yet. Mysteries unfold and that’s how I think of Lady Violet; her story is unfolding. I am rooting for her Frenchman but her Scotsman would be fine too, and worthy after her father’s, ummmmmm, manipulations. And I think a child or two after so much disappointment would be GREAT and add to the HEA.

        I will take your recommendations–I do love Kiwi! I have read a few of the Aussie Miss Fisher mysteries! 🙂

  3. My favorite genre is romance. However, I also love mysteries, especially historical mysteries. And sci fi.
    Any good book that can transport me to another place is a-ok to me!

    • I’m with you, but not when it comes to horror. My imagination is too vivid, or something. Maybe there’s enough horror in real life? In any case, I can’t see myself ever writing it or reading it in any quantity.

  4. I love romance with an HEA – historical and contemporary – always on the lookout for medieval. Right now I’m reading contemporary suspense series (Buchanan/Renard) by Julie Garwood – a new one is coming out so thought I better catch up – I had read four of them. Adore JD Robb’s In Death series. Recommend Rhys Bowen’s Royal Spyness cozy mystery series. I stay away from stories described as “heartbreaking” and won’t go near horror. If I’ve enjoyed an authors writing in one genre, I’ll probably enjoy a switch to a different style.

    • I LOVED Julie Garwood’s early romances. She raised the bar, in terms of the prose and in terms of premises and characters. I did not follow her into mystery/thriller genres, though I did give them a try. Maybe I’ll give them another try, given your recommendations.

  5. Lately I’m hooked on Bollywood movies (reading being a little harder as I learn to deal with new glasses). The plot twists, the time the longer formats allow to develop the characters, & the lessons in history I’m less familiar with along with intriguing locations, music & dancing + twists in stories like Macbeth being told using a medieval Indian kingdom all have me entranced. (Not to mention a crop of good looking heroes who actually look like real men for the most part instead of the same old tired crop of badly behaved Hollywood divas I wouldn’t let through my door)

    • I love the singing and the spectacle of a vintage Bollywood production, and the simmer if it’s a romance. I do enjoy Sonali Dev’s Desi romances. She tackles substantive issues but always delivers on the HEA too.

  6. As I’ve grown older and experienced the sometimes sorry state of the world, I find myself more and more drawn to the “Happily Ever After” stories that one finds in the romance genre. I love Scottish historical, Regency historical and also contemporary romance. I tend to avoid any books which may be violent, even if, in the end, the good guys win. I find scenes of violence, even when only in the written word, stay with me long after I’ve closed the book. As long as a book has an honorable, empathetic, intelligent hero and a heroine who is strong willed, intelligent and willing to stand up for what she believe in, I am there. When I read a review that indicated the H or the h is “TSTL” (too stupid to live), I pass that book by. I have no patience for those characters, as I see enough of those in my real life! Stay safe. Stay well everyone!

  7. I also am a book-a-day reader, and my favorite genres are historical romance, historical detective/mysteries and modern thrillers. As a child and in my preteens and teens, I read mostly biographies, westerns (mostly Louis L’Amour), children’s classics (Anne of Green Gables, Trixie Belden series mysteries), adult classics (Rebecca, Jane Eyre, Great Expectations, etc.), and historical fiction (Frank Yerby novels). After I left home to live in the dorm my last 2 years of uni, I began to devour historical romances (Kathleen Woodiwiss and JoAnna Lindsey), which I still enjoy although I read a much more extensive list of authors (you, Mary Balogh, and Diana Gabaldon) being among my favorites.) In my 30’s and 40’s, I expanded to fantasy (Anne McCaffrey Dragonriders of Pern series and Anne Rice) and in my 50’s-60’s include fantasy/romance authors like J.R. Ward, Nora Roberts, Heather Graham, Patricia Briggs, and Christine Feehan (her Dark and Sea Haven series, although I really, really don’t like her current direction towards bdsm stuff). Now I also really enjoy both historical (Charles Todd, Anne Perry, Jacqueline Winspear, Anna Lee Huber), and current detective/mystery fiction (Lee Child, Robert Crais, John Sanford, Steve Berry, J.D. Robb, Craig Johnson, C.J. Box, Harlan Coben, Jonathan Kellerman, the Hillermans, Donna Leon, Louise Penny, Martin Walker, J.T. Ellison, Catherine Coulter, Iris Johansen, Greg Illes, Charles Martin) and thrillers (Nancy Bush, Lisa Gardner, Lisa Jackson, Daniel Silva)

    I don’t really care much for science fiction (except I do like Nora Roberts’ The Awakening series), horror, modern “sexcapades”(I refuse to insult the romance genre by calling them modern romances) or bdsm stuff.

    We are so, so lucky to have so many wonderful writers’ works virtually at our fingertips to entertain or engage us and “take us away.”

    • There is a big cross-section of readers who enjoy both historical and paranormal romance. I gobble up JR Ward’s stories. Something about the world-building in historical and paranormal feels similar, dealing with societies that are like ours… but not quite the same. Gender roles, the rule of law, honor… both genre can play with those, while creating characters who are entirely relatable. Now I have to go see if I’m missing any of JR Ward’s newer releases…

  8. I have also been a reader since I was very young. My wonderful mother would take me to the library every week, and I would check out as many books as I could carry. There was no limit on the books then.

    I love to read romance, mostly historical. I love some fantasy and some science fiction. I read more mysteries and police procedurals than I used to.

    One of the books I just read turned out to contain a good bit of horror. I was over half way through the book before I realized that, it was introduced so subtly. Parents and what they do for love – could give you nightmares. I don’t regret reading it though.

    Mostly, I read because I love *story*. I love reading each word, each line, from page 1 to the end. I love that it is so linear and makes sense, when life doesn’t always seem to have a plot (and no happy ending or justice). I like that I get to visit other places and times in my imagination, and about experiences that I will never have in real life. I am fond of re-reading long series, and am still doing that between reading new books.

    I’m not fond of gratuitous erotica or on-page gratuitous violence, or on-page violence to children and won’t read those books.

    My current series re-read is the Others series by Anne Bishop, and highly recommend it to anyone. It’s told almost like a fairy tale and borrows from several. There are wolves who can take human form and talk, for example. They also occasionally eat people. I have one more book to go.

    • I re-read Mary Balogh’s Slightly series and Loretta Chase’s Carsingtons, and when I do, I am aware that they were written at a time when readers were expected to have longer attention spans. I think sinking into those bigger, more stately books helps keep my attention span from shrinking, and that has to be a good thing.

  9. True horror ,I avoid, though technically Stephen King falls in that genre but I find it mostly psychological thriller today
    I enjoy historical thrillers too, always find something interesting

    • I managed The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon because my brother assured me it was, as you say, more psychological thriller than horror (was the bear real? Was she hallucinating from dehydration?)… Stephen King is just such a talented writer. I wish he wrote romance. (You hear me, Unca Steve?)

  10. I can NOT read horror or thrillers! That is TOO much stress for me!
    I love romances to get a view of what relationships that work (in the end) look like. And, I read mysteries to figure out a puzzle.
    I am not a fast enough reader to do a book a day. I’m a bit jealous of that talent.

    • I have slowed down considerably as a reader since I started writing, Karen. I think I am fussier about what I read, but I’m also reading as both a reader and a writer much of the time, and that’s slower going. If an author can make me forget all the writer-stuff, then I am really pulled into the story.

  11. My preference is for romance but I also enjoy cozy and historical mysteries. I used to read a lot of biographies. Since I read for enjoyment, I need the HEA. I know it’s not called that in a mystery but the crime is always solved at the end and that’s the HEA in my opinion. Biographies are also good because I already know how they turn out (that is, I know generally what happened in the person’s life but I read for the specifics). The books I steer clear of include anything by Nicholas Sparks who is NOT romance (why do I want to expend my time and emotions on characters that are going to get killed at the end of the book?). In 2020 I read a lot of the classics that I had missed before (which, considering I was a sort-of English major, was a sore point with me). I avoid poetry in general because I prefer straightforward text though I did read a couple of poetry books (Walt Whitman, Lord Byron) in my “catching-up-on-the classics” phase. I appreciated both works but it was kind of a slog to get through them.
    All of these good endings give me hope in a world that can look pretty dark at times (like now, for instance). As I said last week (I think) “this, too, shall pass” though I wish it would get better sooner!

  12. I am an author chooser. There are some genres I will generally avoid (horror, thriller, sci-fi) but if an author I like writes them, I will read and enjoy them. Within fiction / literature and non-fiction / memoir I will grab a book based on a review or description (as well as by author) but in genre I will occasionally look around for new authors but will 90% stick with my favorites. Also, like Pam there are topics I can not stomach, on page violence to children, anything non-consensual, etc.

  13. I went from fairy tales to Bobbsey Twins/Happy Hollisters with some Oz and Dr. Doolittle thrown in. Then on to Harlequin, Heyer, Joan Aiken Hodge, Mary Stewart, Barbarba Michaels/Barbara Mertz/Elizabeth Peters, Ellis Peters, Catherine Aird in addition to the other HEA writers mentioned already.

    My taste still runs to HEA/solved/healthy. And if the author can make me laugh without trying too hard, bonus points.

  14. I’ve read a bit of everything through the years with many rereads of favorites. I’ve gone through time periods where most of my reading was different genres: horror, thrillers/suspense, sci-fi, fantasy, biographies, mysteries, and of course romance. The only one I haven’t read for the last several years is horror – playing attention to current events provides more than enough nightmare material. For at least the last decade I’ve read more romance than other genres.

    I am looking forward to the next Lady Violet mysteries!

  15. When I was a child I read everything I could get my hands on – but I think the turning point for me was when I picked up The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings when I was around 11. They provided what I needed the most at that time: A fantastic escape from the everyday world of loneliness, and also those books I was forced to read in school: social realism with misunderstood hurting youngsters whose parents were always either divorced or addicted to something. God, what a way to discourage children to read.
    Fantasy books provide that path to yourself, or discovering how the protagonist is a hero, it is a journey ad there usually is an ending where the Good wins in some way. To me that journey was essential and these fantasy books, authors like Diana Wynne Jones, Ursula LeGuin, Robin McKinley, Tolkien, were my biggest inspirations and guides on how to become a better person.
    Later on I read a lot of philosophy, history, myths and fairy tales from around the world.
    To me, yes it is the message that love can conquer all, that there is some good in humanity and we have the cabability to be compassionate and caring, to step above the mundane and whatever dreariness we have in the world, to become our inner hero.
    In later years, I mostly read romance, fantasy and sci-fi. I find romance to be balm to the soul – even when I know there is a HEA I still enjoy the journey, the humor, the smile at the end.
    Books I avoid: Horror, those sci-fi/fantasy books where it is just a huge male ego-trip/powergame, social realism and those books where there is no point, everyone dies at the end and it is just a in-your-face message that yes, life is miserable.
    I read to enjoy myself, to relax and affirm that love and compassion and spiritual light exist.

    • Do I ever agree with you on the stuff they feed to school kids! A YA author, Gordon Korman, actually got a book out of it, “No More Dead Dogs.”

      Still, as a long ago teacher of same, the books they chose themselves for book reports tended to be horror and thrillers

  16. I used to read mostly romances, but since the pandemic I’ve been reading a lot of cozy mysteries. I can’t seem to stop myself. I like the predictability of cozies.

  17. Regency Romance is my number one, go-to, feel good read. I do have an inherited love of history, though. Mostly I satisfy that craving by watching documentaries, but when I find a good historical read, I devour it. Erik Larsen’s Isaac’s Storm is an amazing read. Killing Lincoln is another favorite that I could not put down. David McCullough’s Johnstown Flood is still another thrilling read. Oh, and Seabiscuit, what a story! I could go on and on. History just excites me. Maybe that’s why I love well researched Regency Romance. There’s that historical element, but as you so well said, there’s also that feeling that love conquers all, and love is all you need. Happy endings to all!

  18. Historical romance is far and away my favorite genre to read. I will read contemporary romance if it’s by an author I like, or if the storyline sounds good. I also like romantic suspense, and a true gothic is another favorite. I don’t like YA or NA at all, and I won’t touch horror with a ten foot pole. There are already enough things to give one nightmares.

  19. Another great reason to read romance — helps peaceful dreaming. My late monther told me long ago that too much action and too much violence in books gives a boost to having disturbing dreams. True!

    However, as the Regency genre has become crowded, one does need to reach out to other themes. I’ve been pondering and looking, while till remaining faithful to my favorite romance authors.

    Non-fiction reading formed a major part of my professional life and just isn’t tempting me at the moment.

    Isn’t it grand that reading is such a major pleasure — an activity and joy I appreciate and treasure every day, as do you.

  20. Have been a devoted reader all my life, maybe that’s why I became a librarian? It was in my high school library that I discovered two genres in particular that I still live: Regencies and science fiction. How’s that for a combination?

    The SF interest started with Robert Heinlein’s juvenile novels and led to Isaac Asimov, Clifford Simak; Arthur C Clarke; Poul Anderson; Randall Garrett; Anne McCaffery; etc. Still love it & will happily re-read these.

    Near the same time period, I discovered Regencies, starting with the Grand Mistress herself, Georgette Heyer. I even did some nonfiction reading to learn more about the real time period!

    I’ve read a lot of your books, Ms Burrowes as well as Julia Quinn (read the Bridgerton series when it first came out!); Eloisa James; etc.

    And as a sort if crossover between romances & SF, I haven’t missed one of Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series of novels. Talk about world building!!

    And a genre category I’ve discovered in the last 15 or so years; what the Christy Awards called “Visionary” (now called “Speculative”)

    Some of my current favorites in this genre are Morgan Busse; Karen Hancock; T. Davis Bunn (as Thomas Locke); Sharon Hinck; many others.

  21. Ooo, I forgot I wanted to ask a question. I was re-reading Casriel & Beatitude’s story. Why does *Lady Antonia Mainwaring* ring such a bell? Is she in another novel, perhaps her own story??

  22. My husband’s older rancher brother married in his mid fifties a woman with 11 kids. They ruined his life and sucked the money out of the ranch. After they both died, my husband had to deal with the aftermath. We have been in litigation for 10 years. I discovered Grace’s books and have been enjoying them so much. As an avid reader, I read many books. If I find an author I like, I keep track and try to read all their books. All the “Poldark” series were great. I also read and reread “The Physician” by Noah Gordon. “A Town Like Alice” is another fantastic read. I keep track of my authors and their books via my iPad. I write the date I read it and if it is a bad book I write that too! And, our court case is now solved. Three judges, three lawyers, and sweat, blood, tears and much money have all been spent. I have worked at our state’s Supreme Court and most lawyers are very good writers. Grace, I excuse you on your legal career, because you write so many excellent reads!