My very favorite book of all time is most definitely Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. No contest!
My favorite series of books is the Williamsburg novels by Elswyth Thane. These are seven wonderful books that trace two families from the American Revolution until World War II.
The first book of the series, Dawn's Early Light, was assigned reading the summer before my freshman year in high school- by a very smart teacher. She introduced us to good historical fiction- the kind where the history is accurate and woven into the story in such a way that you learned without being aware of it. It was also my first "romance novel".
Ever since, my favorite reading has fallen into two categories- mysteries, and historical/romance fiction.
Now I don't think I am either a wimp or a prude, but I like my mysteries without a lot of blood and gore- the kind that are usually referred to either as "classics" or "cozies"- and I like my romances without a lot of sex. I read for the stories, not the "action".
One of my most favorite historical romance authors is Patricia Veryan. She wrote several series of books and a lot that are not exactly "series" but with intermingling characters. Her writing is wonderful, her characters are compelling, her plots are fictions with strong historical backgrounds and her romances are truly heart-engaging. The Unoffical Patricia Veryan webpage has tons of information.
An entire category of historical romances has developed around the period of "The Regency": 1810-1820 in England, when King George III was incapacitated and his son, who would become George IV but was either affectionately or derisively known then as "Prinny", was the Prince Regent, king in all but name. Jane Austen's novels are basically "Regencies"- she did much of her writing during this period and about her contemporaries.
The time period is fascinating. The War of 1812 is being waged lethargically by the British because they are far more involved in the Napoleonic wars in Europe. The economy of England is in the early stages of the Industrial Revolution, and drastic and permanent changes are coming to the British Empire. Social mores are changing but the strict social rules are still in effect. The profligacy and escapades of the Royal court are creating an environment that will result in the backlash that comes with Queen Victoria.
Georgette Heyer is the generally acknowledged Queen of the Regency Romance. Her stories are charming with delightful characters and a lot of wit and fun. If you are interested in trying this genre, there is no better place to start.
There's a lot of junk out there in the historical romance world, but there's also a lot of good, fun reading. Check out my sidebar for some links with more information!