A few weeks ago, one of my favorite blogs--the first blog I really followed--had a post about the authors' first time reading historical romance. You can read the post on Word Wenches here. I've read several of the authors who blog on Word Wenches, particularly Jo Beverley and Mary Jo Putney, and I've been introduced to other writers and books on the blog that I've subsequently gone on to read and follow.
My first historical romance novel; I was about 12 or 13 and we had my grandmother's books in our house--after she died, the books in her house were transported into a closet we had downstairs in our old house--and out of this magical closet, I found books like Nicholas and Alexandra, A Night to Remember and Joy in the Morning.
I also found a book called The Taming by Aleen Malcolm.
I haven't picked up The Taming in years--more than fifteen years now--but I still have it on my shelf in commemoration of its being my first historical romance. If I recall correctly, The Taming took place in Scotland after Culloden, with the Scottish defeated and overrun by the English. There's a guy, who is Scottish but sort of assimilates into English culture and somehow, he runs into this totally wild girl (and she was a girl--about 14 or 15 years old) named Cameron. Anyway, there was a lot that is troublesome about this book--namely the age difference (she's what we would call a minor, while he was an adult); also, I think he had a mistress (which is a big no-no these days in historical romance). Also, I seem to remember there was spanking-as-physical-punishment and the old romance novel bodice-ripper trope of "I rape because I love."
At 13, I wasn't particularly discriminating as a reader.
But the first Regency historical romance I ever read--and anyone who reads this blog knows I have a thing for Regency historical--was The Rake by Mary Jo Putney. I was 15, the book was a birthday gift from a friend, and after I glommed through it, I immediately went to the bookstore near our apartment and bought another Mary Jo Putney book.
Here's the back cover summary:
It was predicted that Reginald Davenport, disinherited and disgraced, would come to a violent end. But fate has given him one final chance to redeem himself, by taking his place as the rightful master of Strickland, his lost ancestral estate. Davenport knows his way around women—yet nothing prepares him for his shocking encounter with Lady Alys Weston.
Masquerading as a man, in order to obtain a position as estate manager of Strickland, Alys fled a world filled with mistrust and betrayal. She's finished with men—yet how could she have predicted that Strickland's restored owner would awaken a passion more powerful than anything she had ever known? A passion that will doom or save them both...if only they can overcome their pasts and dare to believe in the wondrous power of love.
Here's what got me hooked on this book and the Regency era in romance novels as a whole, thus leading me in a circuitous way to my current WIP, which was originally supposed to be a Regency historical romance:
-The characters. Alys is a strong, but vulnerable woman, who works for a living and is very capable. Reggie is an alcoholic, but he's also funny and charming.
-Setting. There are background things about industry being brought to the area, shades of the Industrial Revolution.
-The formality of the era. I liked it. There were references to titles, estates and whatnot that I wouldn't quite understand until I'd read several more Regency-era novels, but I liked the characters and their conflicts and feelings--and how the times they lived in colored their personalities and dilemmas.
Later, I learned that The Rake is considered a bit of a classic in Regency historical romance, particularly in that the male lead is an alcoholic and the female lead has a respectable profession. There was a real story and it went pretty deep for the genre psychologically. Also, there was no rapey nonsense going on.
After The Rake, I read Mary Jo Putney's Victorian-set Silk trilogy, then her Fallen Angels books, then Jo Beverley's Rogues series...and down the rabbit hole I fell.