Read Around the Rainbow: What are your three top non-romance reads?

Although I both write and read romance, I also avidly read almost anything, so I was delighted by the chosen topic for this month’s Read Around the Rainbow blog. My only problem was choosing only three books – even though that was a splendid excuse (if I needed one) to have a lengthy perusal through my bookshelves. I could happily have chosen ten books at least (or more) but whittled it down to three contrasting non-romance reads that I thought would be fun.

The first is one of my all-time number 1 picks, Roaring Boys – Shakespeare’s Rat Pack by Judith Cook. Whenever I need any details about one of my favourite historical periods, the Elizabethan theatre scene, this wonderful book is my go-to. Although Judith Cook’s research is formidable, rather than textbook dry, she plunges the reader into incredible detail about the vibrant, thriving, cut-throat and often dangerous background of the early commercial stage in late 16th-century London.

I am always swept away by the opening chapter as the author introduces the scene, bustling, raucous Bankside in 1591, the cast, the people of London from all walks of life, then one of the playwrights, the notorious Robert Greene, “his feet squeezed into fashionable boots,” and “his wine-stained doublet is in his favourite colour, ‘goose turd’, a virulent yellowy green. Irresistible! I challenge anyone not to want to read on.

In terms of fiction, as well as romance, I do relish a good mystery or suspense series. Although I enjoy plenty of modern police procedural fiction, my author of choice is from the so-called Golden Age of detective fiction in the early 20th century, and that’s Dorothy L. Sayers. I read all her Lord Peter Wimsey novels as a teenager and re-read them regularly. The book I’ve chosen is Gaudy Night, one of the few books in the series not written from Lord Peter’s point of view.

This story focuses on Wimsey’s love interest, Harriet Vane, who happens to be a mystery novelist. This formidably clever, brusque and observant young woman is requested to solve a puzzling series of events at her old Oxford College. Since this was written in the 1930s, it is a very different world, but Sayers unerringly draws me into the long-forgotten mores and customs with her exact descriptions. In the unresolved relationship between Harriet and Peter, there is a romantic element, but what works for me every time I read this story is the development of Harriet’s character during the investigation as she comes to terms with her difficult past and her feelings for Peter. It’s simply wonderful storytelling.

My final choice is a bit left-field. It’s not a book I read very often, but if ever I lend or lose a copy, it’s one I have to replace immediately. Goblin Market by the Victorian poet Christina Rossetti is a cautionary folk tale in poetic form as two sisters, Lizzie and Laura, are lured by forbidden fruit from goblin vendors. The richness of the language and imagery is dizzying, and despite the fairytale feel, this poem is far too complex and sensual to be intended solely for children. It begins with a catalogue of wares, including “Plump unpecked cherries, Melons and raspberries, Bloom-down-cheeked peaches, Swart-headed mulberries, Wild free-born cranberries,” and the list goes on. I’d be tempted, too!

I’m looking forward to finding out the other bloggers’ non-romantic book choices!

My post will be linked on the last Friday of every month with posts from fellow blog ring members. There are seven other writers blogging in the Read Around the Rainbow Webring this month… find their posts about their top three non-romantic reads!

Ofelia Grand : Addison Albright : Fiona Glass : K. L. Noone : Amy Spector : Nell Iris : Lillian Francis

27 thoughts on “Read Around the Rainbow: What are your three top non-romance reads?

  1. What fascinating choices, Ellie. That history book sounds brilliant – and I love Dorothy L Sayers too although my favourite is probably The Nine Tailors. 🙂 Which reminds me – I should probably have put Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time on my own list. Rats!

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    1. Thanks, Fiona! I really enjoyed yours, too! I re-read The Nine Tailors recently, such a brilliantly plotted story! And I’m a huge fan of Josephine Tey and love The Daughter of Time. I re-read The Franchise Affair and Brat Farrar avidly a couple of months back. She could really spin a tale!

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      1. Yes, she’s very under-rated imo. Some of her books haven’t dated well – I re-read The Singing Sands recently and was surprised by some of the attitudes. But Franchise and Brat Farrar are true classics and so clever!

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      2. She was hugely celebrated in her time, and it’s great to see The Daughter of Time still in Top 10 book lists. As her books were written in the 1930s and 40s it’s not surprising about the dateness and attitudes, but she writes so vividly and timelessly it must be a shock to be confronted by that!

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    2. You made me think “oh, must reread Daughter of Time” and discovered it’s read in audio by Derek Jacobi. Yes, please. *prepares for a Tey rabbit hole*

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  2. Gaudy Night is my One True Book. Harriet, after being rather upright and self contained for two books, is incredible here in her growth into a full person, but so is Peter – world-weary, vulnerable, honest as hell. I reread it all the time, which given how much other stuff I read is surprising, and I can never read it without devouring Busman’s Honeymoon immediately after. GN feeds my soul, BH delights my romantic heart and comic sensibilities.
    I’ve only read bits of Goblin Market (I’m a total Pre-Raphaelite slut, but more the art and certain of Morris’s poetry and all of Morris’s everything else), and got stuck on cranberries. I’m from New England and didn’t think the Old one had them! Must google. And I can’t WAIT to read Roaring Boys! In any case I adore this post.

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    1. Yes!! You put that all so perfectly! I also love that having seen Harriet from Peter’s point of view (in between investigations) in the previous books, she comes into her own here as a fully fledged, strong and complicated woman. Finally, as the story progress, she realises they are equals and the reasons to push him away dissolve. And it is wonderful that they get their Busman’s Honeymoon at last!

      I’m a Pre-Raphaelite junkie, too! I actually still have the Royal Academy book from the exhibition I visited in my teens! I love this poem because it reminds of those lush and sensual paintings. Sensory overload! And I really hope you enjoy Roaring Boys! Thank you so much for your wonderful comment!

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    1. Like The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey, picked by two of the bloggers, Sayers is one of the Golden Age mystery writers, so the stories might seem dated now, but I still find them so enjoyable!

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