We are starting a new series called “If You Like” which will be hosted by various readers, authors and bloggers of Dear Author. The purpose of the post and the comments is to explore what we like about a particular iconic author and what other authors have books like the iconic author. We’ll leave this up for one week at the top of the blog so that ruminators have time to contemplate the author and the recommendations. Loonigrrl did such an awesome job with this and I am thrilled to have her kick off what I hope to be a great new series here at Dear Author.
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Fifteen years ago, I fell in love with an author. Her books had plucky heroines and sophisticated men. They were so skillfully written that the characters nearly jumped off the page. If you were like me, you were so captivated by the story that you almost wished you could transport yourself back nearly two-hundred years and be Whitney Stone or Elizabeth Cameron, even if for a short while.
Their journey to happily ever after was never easy, but you truly believed in their perfect endings.
For many years, Judith McNaught’s stories were that by which I measured all other books.
Setting (era): Regency and Medieval
McNaught has written six historical novels. A Kingdom of Dreams is her only Medieval Romance and is set in the late 1400s.
Her five other historicals- Whitney, My Love, Once and Always, Something Wonderful, Until You, and Almost Heaven- are set in the Regency period of the early 1800s.
Setting (geographic): England
The majority of all six historical books are set in England with both London and countryside scenes. Whitney, My Love takes place partially in Paris. Kingdom of Dreams is set in England and Scotland.
Heroine Type: Courageous Innocent
A number of adjectives come to mind when discussing McNaught’s historical heroines: beautiful, innocent, courageous, loyal, warm-hearted, naÃ¯ve, kind, sensitive, witty, intelligent, and a bit rash. Most have known what it is like to be the outsider. If featured at a younger age, like Alexandra Townsend in Something Wonderful or Whitney Stone in Whitney, My Love then they are also slightly awkward both in looks and in mannerisms. Often, the heroines have known what it’s like to be an outsider or to be unloved.
Hero type: Redeemed Cynic
They’re handsome, powerful, sensual, tortured, strong, bold, intimidating, confident, intelligent (some are geniuses) commanding, and of the nobility. Often, they are nearly jaded beyond hope and have little respect for most women. Characters such as Jason Fielding in Once and Always, Jordan Townsend in Something Wonderful and Ian Thornton in Almost Heaven are, at times, both contemptuous and downright mean to their heroines. Their redemption through the love of a kind-hearted and courageous woman is a theme often used in McNaught’s books.
Plot: (action-oriented / character-driven): Character-driven
Judith McNaught’s characters and their often arduous journey to happy ever after ARE her books. There is some action of course, but it’s almost negligible compared to the love and the sweetness of the romance blossoming between her hero and heroine.
Plot (slow/medium/fast): Medium
This is pretty subjective. Some may think these are slow paced books. If you’re a fan like me, these character driven stories just zip along. How about we compromise and call it medium?
Writing style (simple v. ornate): Simple
McNaught’s writing may occasionally venture into the ornate, particularly with the love scenes, but on the whole her writing style is simple. That’s not to say it’s boring by any means. She writes love stories that tug at the heartstrings, but she does so without excessive adjectives, analogies and metaphors. The following is a random sampling:
Alexandra accepted the invitation with sleepy gratitude and shifted onto the seat beside him, but instead of merely offering his shoulder, Jordan lifted his arm and put it around her so that her head was cradled snugly in the curve of his arm and chest. My lady, Alex thought sleepily. How lovely that sounded when he said it. She was asleep almost instantly.
Dialogue (lots/little/balanced): Balanced
While McNaught’s books have a lot of dialogue, they are not dialogue heavy. Neither will you find too many passages with page after page descriptions of the countryside, ballrooms, or someone’s feelings. McNaught usually keeps the dialogue and descriptive passages balanced.
Humor (Yes/No-serious/some): Some
McNaught’s books do have some humor. It’s not necessarily laugh out loud funny, but there’s a sweetness to it, often arising from the heroine’s slight awkwardness or naÃ¯veté, that is delightful to read.
Unaware of the man who had just stalked into the barn, she stroked the animal’s flank and drew a long, hesitant breath.
"I may as well be perfectly honest with you, she confessed to the cow. The truth is- I haven’t actually done this before . . . This,’ she told the cow in a revolted voice as she stretched her hands forward, "is going to be as embarrassing for me as it is for you’ . . . She squeezed twice, quickly, then she leaned back and gazed hopefully at the bucket. No milk dropped into it.
. . . Twice more she repeated the same process, and still nothing happened. Frustration made her yank too hard the next time, which brought the cow’s head swinging around as it glared reproachfully at her. "I’m doing my part,’ Victoria said, glaring right back, "the least you could do is yours!’
Once and Always
Emotional Angst (high/medium/low): High
Oh yeah. Judith McNaught is Queen of the Angst. I mean that in a good way. Her books are all about the characters’ emotional highs and lows, their distrust, their yearning, their Big Misunderstandings, their Big Separations and their big emotions. In fact, McNaught takes us on such a roller coaster of emotions with so many misunderstandings that some readers may question whether certain characters’ distrust issues are truly over when the book ends. That’s right, Clayton Westmoreland: I’m talking to you.
He forced himself to pick up the quill and write the words, "Please accept my sincere wishes for your happiness and convey them to Paul’ . . . He thought of the words he really wanted to write to her: "Please come back to me. Just let me hold you and I swear I will make you forget.
I’ll fill your days with laughter and your nights with love. I’ll give you a son. And if you still can’t love me, then all I ask is that you give me a daughter. A daughter with your eyes, your smile, your-"
Whitney, My Love
Conflict (externally driven/internally driven/both): Both
Most of the historicals have both internal and external conflict. For example, the external conflict in A Kingdom of Dreams centers around Jennifer Merrick’s kidnapping by her people’s enemy, and later her marriage to said enemy. The internal conflict results from Jennifer’s conflicted loyalties, and her reluctant feelings for Royce.
Often, the conflict in McNaught’s books derives from The Big Misunderstanding. For example, in Almost Heaven, Elizabeth Cameron and Ian Thornton meet, begin to fall in love, and are torn apart by a malicious third party. Rather than discussing their misunderstanding, both parties, particularly Ian, part on bitterly angry terms for years.
Heat level: (kisses/warm/hot/scorching): Warm
The loves scenes are sensual, but generally lack graphic language, explicit terminology and lengthy detail. The prose tends to be ornate in these scenes with the focus being as much on emotion as on the physical act. Similes (and metaphors) are not uncommon to describe said emotion such as the one used in the scene below.
’Jenny,’ he groaned, his hands rushing over her back and thighs and buttocks. . .
"Jenny,’ he whispered hoarsely, his tongue plunging into her mouth, tangling with hers as he rolled her onto her back and covered her body with his. "Jenny,’ he murmured hotly as he hungrily devoured her breasts and stomach and thighs with his mouth.
He could not stop saying her name. It played like a melody in his heart when her arms went around him and she lifted her hips, willingly molding herself to his engorged manhood. It sang in his veins as she welcomed the first fierce thrust of his body into her. . . and it exploded in a crescendo as she cried out, "I love you. . .’
A Kingdom of Dreams
If You Like Judith McNaught, You’ll Like . . .
Here’s where I need help. In all the years that I’ve been reading Judith McNaught, I have yet to find an author who consistently writes comparable characters, angst and romance. However, I have found a few books which, I believe, have McNaughtian elements.
Once in a Blue Moon by Penelope Williamson has a courageous and feisty heroine, as well as high levels of emotion and angst. For more high levels of angst, try Private Arrangements by Sherry Thomas.
His Wicked Kiss by Gaelen Foley has a courageous and intelligent and occasionally rash heroine. The romance’s sweetness reminds me of McNaught’s books.
The Masquerade by Brenda Joyce: although not exact, there are qualities about the characters particularly the heroine’s innocence and kind-heartedness, and about the tenderness of the romance that are not dissimilar to McNaught. I would also recommend Joyce’s Beyond Scandal.
Julie Garwood is often recommended when discussing McNaught. I’m actually not a fan of her work in general, but I did find qualities about the heroes and heroines in Rebellious Desires and The Lyon’s Lady that I enjoyed.
Olivia Parker’s At the Bride Hunt Ball is a humorous tale with a witty yet slightly awkward heroine and a confident and sensual hero. I would recommend it to anyone who likes McNaught.
Who would you recommend?