Saturday, April 22, 2017

Review: Cordia Byers’ SILK AND STEEL – Absorbing Tale from 14th Century Scotland—a Classic with a Wonderful Heroine!

I didn’t have to read very far into this story to know Byers had delivered another great romance. Set in the Borderlands of Scotland in 1333, it tells of a Scottish clan that is decimated by a battle with King Edward’s knights. Left in charge is the young 18-year-old heir who leads the clan in a last desperate attempt to retain control of their castle, Raven’s Keep. But they are unsuccessful; and though the young heir fights hard, Edward’s knight, Justin St. Claire, wins the day and claims the castle. It is only when he goes to have the young heir flogged that he realizes Lord Cregan’s heir is a woman.

Jamelyn (“Jami” to her men) is a courageous young woman who was raised as a son by her uncle, Lord Cregan. When King Edward, for his own purposes, commands Justin to wed the rebellious girl, who understandably hates the English, the real battle begins. Jamelyn means to outwit the arrogant Englishman who is critical of her and her people.

From the very beginning, I loved this heroine and finding out what would happen to her had me turning pages way past my bedtime. However, I have to say it was a bit of “loved her, hated him” story. Jamelyn was manipulated by every man she’d known, first her uncle, then Justin, then Anthony (Justin’s friend) and even King Edward. Justin acts the cur time and again, even flaunting his mistress in front of his wife. I was (at least at one point) tempted to feel sorry for his mistress because though she was a bitter, vengeful woman who would stop at nothing to have the man she wanted, she had loved Justin since she was 15.

It is an absorbing story that I was unwilling to put down. Byers brings many threads together at the end for a satisfying finish. I recommend it!

The sequel is Desire and Deceive.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Historical Romance: How We Got To Where We Are Today

Sometimes when I talk to fellow readers of historical romance, or even authors, and I mention a name from the past, an author who helped shape the genre, like Kathleen Woodiwiss or Rosemary Rogers, I get a blank stare in return. It occurred to me that as lovers of a genre it might be helpful to read some of the classics to see where we’ve come from and to enjoy the greats who have contributed so much to the craft.

I’m not going as far back as Ivanhoe or Jane Eyre. Except for four novels of note in earlier decades, I’m starting in the 1970s when the bedroom door was flung open never to close again. And while I may not have included your favorite author, by reading the romances on this list, you’ll have a good idea of our beginnings and what so many wonderful authors have done for the genre. Think of it as a Recommended Reading List for the Uninitiated in modern historical romance.

So, here’s the list of the historical romances I recommend. Each has something to show you. Some may require you to shop online for a used book though many are available as ebooks. I’m not saying they will all be your favorites, or that they are all mine, and I know that some readers will think I left off one I should have included. This is just a sampling meant to give you a picture of how the genre has developed. Most are novels I’ve rated 5 stars, so I promise you won’t be bored. 

Included because of their significance… and to show you what was out there early

·               Beauvallet by Georgette Heyer (1929)
·               Bride of the MacHugh by Jan Cox Speas (1954)
·               Sleep in the Woods by Dorothy Eden (1960)
·               Bond of Blood by Roberta Gellis (1965)

The 1970s: The Pioneering Years

·               The Flame and the Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss (1972)
·               The Wicked Marquis by Barbara Cartland (1973)
·               Sweet Savage Love by Rosemary Rogers (1974)
·               Love’s Tender Fury by Jennifer Wilde (aka Tom Huff) (1976)
·               Moonstruck Madness by Laurie McBain (1977)
·               Caroline by Cynthia Wright (1977)
·               Love’s Wild Desire by Jennifer Blake (1977)
·               The Kadin by Bertrice Small (1978)
·               A Pirate’s Love by Johanna Lindsey (1978)
·               Bonds of Love by Lisa Gregory (1978)

The 1980s: The Explosive Years

·               Lady Vixen by Shirlee Busbee (1980)
·               Skye O’Malley by Bertrice Small (1981)
·               Devil’s Embrace by Catherine Coulter (1982)
·               The Silver Devil by Teresa Denys (1984)
·               Rose of Rapture by Rebecca Brandewyne (1984)
·               Stormfire by Christine Monson (1984)
·               The Windflower by Laura London (aka Sharon & Tom Curtis) (1984)
·               Whitney, My Love by Judith McNaught (1985)
·               The Wind and the Sea by Marsha Canham (1986)
·               Mountain Mistress by Nadine Crenshaw (1987)
·               The Hawk and the Dove by Virginia Henley (1988)
·               Capture the Sun by Shirl Henke (1988)
·               Nightwylde by Kimberleigh Caitlin (1988, re-published as Black Falcon’s Lady)
·               Sweet Savage Eden by Heather Graham (1989)
·               Heartstorm by Elizabeth Stuart (1989)

The 1990s: The Developing Years

·               Dark Fires by Brenda Joyce (1991)
·               The Wind Dancer by Irish Johansen (1991)
·               Flowers From the Storm by Laura Kinsale (1992)
·               Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (1992)
·               Untamed by Elizabeth Lowell (1993)
·               Princess of Fire by Shannon Drake (aka Heather Graham) (1994)
·               Lady of the Glen by Jennifer Roberson (1996)
·               The Passions of Emma by Penelope Williamson (1997)
·               Night in Eden by Candice Proctor (1997)
·               Lady of the Glen by Jennifer Roberson (1998)
·               Kilgannon by Kathleen Givens (1999)

The 2000s: The “Standing On The Shoulders of Giants” Years

·               By Possession by Madeline Hunter (2000)
·               Beyond the Cliffs of Kerry by Amanda Hughes (2002)
·               The Captain of All Pleasures by Kresley Cole (2003)
·               Laird of the Mist by Paula Quinn (2007)
·               Broken Wing by Judith James (2008)
·               My Lord and Spymaster by Joanna Bourne (2008)
·               The Duke of Shadows by Meredith Duran (2008)
·               Raeliksen by Renee Vincent (2008)
·               Eyes of Silver, Eyes of Gold by Ellen O’Connell (2010)
·               Pieces of Sky by Kaki Warner (2011)

Friday, April 14, 2017

Review: Shirlee Busbee’s LADY VIXEN: A Classic Privateer Love Story!

I could not put this one down and highly recommend it. It's on both my Best Pirate and Privateer Romances List and my Best American Patriotic Romances list. Oh yes, it’s also a keeper.

Set in England during the years 1808-1814, this is one of those rare and wonderful love stories that sweeps you away to another time and place where you are caught up in the lives of people whose actions will affect not only their own and others' lives but America and England during the War of 1812. Deception and treachery born years ago lead to revenge and then to heartache. Busbee uses real characters, such as the pirate Jean Lafitte, to bring realism to her story as she seamlessly weaves history into a compelling tale. It's what I call a "dense" historical: one where the writing is so complex and so tight you're getting double the story you'd expect in the 538 pages.

Young Nicole Ashford led an idyllic life in Surrey with her wealthy parents and her twin brother until a boating accident one summer took them from her. Made the ward of an uncaring and barely related aunt and uncle who only want her fortune, and learning of their plans to marry her off to their ne'er-do-well son, at 13 Nicole dons the disguise of a young boy and runs away to sea as the cabin boy for Captain Saber, an American privateer.

For 5 years, Nicole sails with him as a boy and Saber pays her little attention. When she is 18, Saber observes her swimming naked on a tropical beach and decides he wants her for his mistress. He bides his time and when Nicole and a seaman (who is really a British spy) decide to destroy English codebooks that Saber has captured, the two are caught.

Using the life of the English seaman as a bargaining chip, Saber forces Nicole to become his mistress, until the American, on a mission to spy for his new country, decides to sail home and resume his identity as Christopher Saxon, grandson of a baron.

And so begins a complex, worthy tale of adventure, rich in history (both England's and America's) and a love that could not be denied.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Review: Bertrice Small’s A DANGEROUS LOVE – Wonderful and Unique Historical Romance… a Classic!

This was the first in the Border Chronicles series...and it's a good one. Small delivers a deep historical setting with well-developed characters whose life experiences are realistic for the time, in this case the late 15th century, and the place (the border between Scotland and England).

This first book tells of strong-willed Adair Radcliffe, the Countess of Stanton, and the "brat" (bastard daughter) of King Edward IV. When she is six, during the War of the Roses, her mother and her "adoptive" father are killed by the Lancasters, and she is taken into King Edward's household to be educated and raised in the royal nursery. At 16, she flees to her family's estate to avoid the king's plans to wed her to a Lancasterian. While she's on the run, the king marries her by proxy to a 14-year-old Tudor boy. When he shows up at her estate, Adair refuses to accept him but he is not in the picture long.

Her second marriage is to handsome neighbor Andrew Lynbridge who served Richard, Duke of Gloucester, brother to King Edward. But Andrew is killed along with the Duke, now King Richard, in a coup. The new Tudor king brands Adair a traitor for her husband's loyalty to King Richard and strips her of her title and property. Adair returns to her beloved home only to be taken into captivity by Scottish raiders and sold to border laird, Conal Bruce. Can she finally find love?

Small uses long narratives, repeated scenes told through different characters' eyes, and a well-woven tapestry of the characters’ lives to put you in the scenes. Of course, you must adjust your expectations for the hero and heroine. Not all have one love and live happily ever after. Oh, there will be a happy ending, don't get me wrong, but it won't be what you expect and maybe not with the hero you expect. But you will be swept away to the past and live an adventure!

The Border Chronicles series:

A Dangerous Love
The Border Lord's Bride
The Captive Heart
The Border Lord and the Lady
The Border Vixen
Bond of Passion

Monday, April 10, 2017

Review: Teresa Denys’ THE SILVER DEVIL – Enthralling, Terrible and Wonderful, a Classic set in 17th century Italy

This was my first by Denys. Her only other novel is The Flesh And The Devil, which is also wonderful. Both are set in 17th century Europe.

The Silver Devil begins in 1605 north of Naples, Italy, at the time of the plague. It tells the story of Felicia Guardi, a commoner beauty who comes to the attention of Domenico della Raffaelle, the new Duke of Cabria, the one they call the “Silver Devil.”

When her mother died, Felicia learned from her brother that she was bastard born. Forced by him and his wife to live in their house as a servant, Felicia becomes a sort of Cinderella. Though Felicia has had a hard life, she has virtue, integrity and wisdom that outshine all those around her. Surely that is what Domenico saw when he chanced to glimpse her. Without her knowing it, Domenico buys Felicia from her half brother who drugs her so she can be taken to the duke’s palace.

Already ruined by having been taken to the duke, Felicia nevertheless fights the man who would have her (“a demon’s eyes in the face of a fallen angel”… “as graceful as a leopard and as treacherous as murder”). After he takes her maidenhead, she realizes she has no choice but to stay with him until he tires of her, which according to what she is told, may be very soon as he runs through mistresses quickly. But Felicia is unlike any woman Domenico has ever known and he does not cast her off.

Having just come to power, Domenico is aware of the seething treachery swirling around him. There are those who would prefer to see his half brother Alessandro rule the duchy. And Domenico knows he must take a wife and sire an heir so there are choices to be made. But Felicia has fallen in love with him (“…it was then, as I went to him like a falcon flying to his fist, that I realized I loved him”); and even knowing she will be set aside, she stays.

I can’t say enough good about this classic. Brilliantly written with attention to detail reflecting much research into the era and the politics of the time, it is a fascinating story of warring families and the vicious actions some take to stay in power. The prose is nearly lyrical at times and Denys’ writing is truly beautiful in its descriptions. Few authors could do it so well.

The plot is intricate and captured me from the start. Though told from the first person (we are only ever in Felicia’s head), it works for an intriguing story as we can only wonder what the Silver Devil is thinking behind his black eyes. Felicia is a wonderful heroine, and though he was often wicked, Domenico was a very worthy alpha male hero. I did not want to put it down. I highly recommend this one and it’s going on my Best Bodice Ripper list, My Favorite Heroes & Heroines list and my Top 20 list!

You’ll have to get it used, but get it! It's a keeper.