Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Review: Carmen Caine’s Heather House: Witch of the Moors – Scotland at the time of King James’ Witch Hunting

Set in Scotland in 1589, this is the story of Sorcha Cunningham, a girl gifted with the second sight, who is sent by her guardian (a witch if there ever was one) away for her own safety. Sorcha flees to her relative, Margaret Cunningham, who has wed Robert Montgomery, Earl of Eglinton, per the king’s command.

At the center of the story is an old feud between the Montgomery and Cunningham clans that the marriage of Robert and Margaret was intended to end. Alas, it did not. Margaret plots to get rid of her husband.

Robert’s younger brother, Alec Montgomery, free of the demands of the title, is the peacemaker in the family and spends his time having fun. But as the story begins, a mysterious old hag tells Alec he will one day be the earl and the last of his line, but how can that be when he has many brothers?

Sorcha has dreams that foretell coming horrors, but her guardian tells her she must face her destiny, for happiness lies on the other side. Meanwhile, King James begins a witch-hunt and Sorcha’s terrible fate draws ever closer while she’s melting in Alec’s arms.

The story reflects solid research and Caine is meticulous in detail, which put me in the setting. It’s well written, which I so appreciated, however, there are some dark aspects with Sorcha’s dreams providing an evil foreboding through much of the tale.

Alec is charming, falling for Sorcha the first time he sees her, no matter she is a commoner and a maid. His cousin, Taran, is an interesting fellow who adds the brooding Scot aspect to the pair. I must say King James comes over like a dolt, his changeable nature explained away by his fear of the Highland clans. Now that sounded interesting but perhaps it’s coming in a future story.

All in all, it’s a great read if the subject of witchcraft and evil perpetrated on innocent women doesn’t scare you off.

Buy on Amazon.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

New Review: Evelyn Anthony’s CLANDARA – Enthralling Story of Star-crossed Love Amidst the Jacobite Uprising of 1745

May is Scottish/Highlander month on Historical Romance Review. All month long I feature stories set in Scotland or with a Scot hero or heroine.

I’m starting with one I just discovered this year though it was first published in 1963. Set in 1745, in the time of feuds between the clans and the Scottish support for Bonnie Prince Charlie, this is the story of Katherine Fraser who falls in love with the eldest son of her family’s enemy—the MacDonalds. James MacDonald had a horrible reputation of cattle stealing, killing and debauchery when he met the lovely, flame-haired Katherine Fraser. For love of her, he changed. Neither family wanted the marriage but agreed to a betrothal when they could see the pair was determined.

Then came Charles Stuart and the call to arms all over Scotland. Having lost all in the earlier rising in 1715, Katherine’s family declined to go. Their enemies, the MacDonalds, were in the forefront of the clans supporting the prince. In one horrible act, James tears asunder the love that bound him to Katherine and sealed forever the enmity between his clan and hers.

This is a poignant love story very well told. Anthony vividly portrays the emotions of the Scots at the time of the Jacobite Uprising of 1745 and her description of the English slaughter of the Scots on Culloden Moor was brilliant and detailed. She shows you why King George’s son the Duke of Cumberland earned his title “Butcher.” By the time you get to the battle, you are so invested in the characters and the clans, your heart is racing.

The romance is an unusual one as James and Katherine are separated for much of the story, yet ever in each other’s mind. I loved them both but Katherine really shined as a woman trying to do the right thing under dismal circumstances. The ending is a bit like jumping off a cliff and I found I wanted more of the two of them.

If you like well-researched, detailed history in your historical romance, and you can’t get enough of Scotland’s past, then you will love this one. Highly recommended.

Buy Clandara on Amazon.

There is a second book that follows, The French Bride. Buy it on Amazon.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

New Review: Meagan McKinney’s FAIR IS THE ROSE – Wonderful Wyoming Historical with Great Twists and Turns!

Set in 1875, this second in the Van Alan sisters duology (Lions And Lace is the first) and tells the story of Christal Van Alan, who was raised as a prominent Knickerbocker of Manhattan until the day she was accused of a terrible crime she didn’t commit.

After three years on the run, Christal finally flees to Wyoming, disguised as the widow Mrs. Smith. Almost to her destination, her stagecoach is taken hostage by a band of outlaws, including Macaulay Cain who had already defeated the hangman’s noose.

Both Macaulay and Christal have secrets; both have a past they’d rather forget. Though hard on the outside, she has a soft innocence underneath she will protect at all costs. And Macaulay, whose cold eyes set him apart, is a better man than even she could know.

The story will grab you and just when you think you have the players figured out, all will change. It’s an intriguing tale with great twists and turns and more than one villain. McKinney’s writing is superb as always: great characters, wonderful description of the historic setting, places and people—and great storytelling. 

I recommend it.
Kindle edition

Buy on Amazon

Monday, April 25, 2016

New Review: Victoria Holt’s THE SECRET WOMAN – Gothic Romance with Many Secrets and a Sail to the South Seas

First published in 1970, this is a wonderful story that begins in England but eventually sweeps you to the South Pacific. Set in the late 19th century in the Victorian era, it’s the story of Anna Brett who was born in India but whose parents sent her to live with her maiden Aunt Charlotte, an antique dealer who populates her old house with furniture in the process of being sold.

Anna’s one solace is her friend Chantal Loman, the beautiful nurse who tends Anna’s ailing aunt. When Aunt Charlotte suddenly dies, Anna takes a job suggested by Chantel, as a governess in the home of a wealthy English family in the shipping business. The family has two sons, one legitimate, Rex Crediton, and one a bastard, Redvers Stretton. Anna is very attracted to Red, but then she learns he is married. 

Rex is the heir apparent, consumed with the business, and apparently Chantel, but Red is not unhappy about that since he loves his ships and the sea. It was on one of those South Pacific islands, however, where Red met his wife, and island beauty whose family forced him to wed her when she came up pregnant.

In this fascinating story of treachery, murder and unrequited love, it seemed everyone harbored secrets, even Anna, who hid from her friend her love for Red Stretton. And even though I knew Chantel was capable of doing wrong to accomplish her purposes, I was surprised at all the twists at the end.

Holt did a good job of bringing us into the drama and the places to which the characters traveled. I could feel the heat of the island and Anna’s exhilaration with the wind on her face while they were at sea. As she and Red finally admitted their love, I could feel her emotion at finding herself in love with another woman’s husband.

No one does Victorian suspense and mystery like Holt and this is a great one!

Buy on Amazon.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Classics List: How We Got to Where We Are Today: Modern Historical Romance Over the Last Several Decades, a Recommended Reading List for the Uninitiated

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. I’m not even reaching back to the seminal novels of Georgette Heyer in the early 20th century. Except for two 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 an education in modern historical romance.

So, here’s the list of the historical romances I recommend you read. Each has something to show you. Some may require you to shop online for a used book though many are available as eBooks. Some that are out of print can be downloaded online. 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 on

·                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)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

New Review: Karen Jones Delk’s EMERALD QUEEN – Two Men in Love With the Same Woman… and Steamboats in New Orleans!

First published in 1992, this is the story of Simone Devereaux, from one of the Creole families. It begins in New Orleans in 1831 when her father dies in a duel with a man named Marcel Baudin, who demanded Simone become his mistress in payment of her father’s debts. Having lost her father, Simone disguises herself as a boy and gets a job at the fencing club where Baudin and all the young bucks hang out, vowing to have her revenge.

Marcel searches for her, determined to have her, but she has a protector, the man her father asked to be her guardian, Alain de Valliere. Alain, a known womanizer, recognizes her and takes her from the fencing club, intending to keep her safe. Very quickly (too quickly, I thought), he declares his love for her. And she for him. But then something happens to Alain and he disappears.

Once Simone finds herself on the run from Baudin, she finds refuge with Tom Franklin, a very likeable American steamboat captain, who has great plans to build a steamboat empire. She offers him a partnership and he accepts so that she runs the gambling saloon on the Emerald Queen.

The first thing I noticed about this story is that the author head hops unmercifully from one character’s thoughts to another. At other times, she drops as the omniscient narrator to tell us what someone is thinking. I would have preferred one point of view at a time.
Original cover
This is a long book (448 pages) and reflects much research into the New Orleans society of the day and the culture of the Creoles. The author provides vivid descriptions of the places and serves up some wonderful characters, though the villain, Baudin, was a bit over the top. With all its twists and meanderings, the story held my attention.

It’s a saga of one woman’s life who was loved, it seemed, by all the men who met her. 

Buy on Amazon.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Best Bodice Rippers!

This is my longest “best list” and I think you will realize why when you see how many classics are on it, books you have long treasured. But it might surprise you to learn that among those classics are also new bodice rippers.

At least one of my Goodreads pals defines this subgenre as stories “containing an element of sexual peril.” Possibly that is so, as the ones on my list all have this. But for me, there is usually more. Let’s just say I know it when I see it.

These won’t appeal to all, but certainly they are all well done. All have been rated 4 or 5 stars by me. Some are keepers. If you like stories that feature an alpha male hero who begins demanding his way, but falls at the heroine’s feet in the end to beg forgiveness and confess his love, you’ll find them here.

Do let me know if you have read a good one I have missed and I’ll add it to my list to read.

A Dangerous Love, The Border Lord’s Bride from The Border Chronicles by Bertrice Small
A Gentle Feuding by Johanna Lindsey
A Kingdom of Dreams by Judith McNaught
A Pirate's Love by Johanna Lindsey
A Secret Rose by Laura Parker
And Gold Was Ours by Rebecca Brandewyne
Ashes in the Wind by Kathleen Woodiwiss
Almost Heaven by Judith McNaught
Black Sword by Kathryn LeVeque
Bonds of Love by Lisa Gregory (aka Candace Camp)
Bride of the Baja by Jane Toombs
Callista by Cordia Byers
Captive Bride by Johanna Lindsey
Chance the Winds of Fortune and the sequel, Dark Before the Rising Sun by Laurie McBain
Comanche Moon by Catherine Anderson
Crimson Rapture by Jennifer Horsman
Damsel in Distress by Shannon Drake (aka Heather Graham)
Dark Fires by Brenda Joyce
Dawnfire by Lynn Eirckson
Deceive Not My Heart by Shirlee Busbee
Desire in Disguise by Rebecca Brandewyne
Devil's Desire by Laurie McBain
Devil's Embrace by Catherine Coulter
Dream of Me by Josie Litton
Embrace and Conquer by Jennifer Blake
Edin’s Embrace by Nadine Crenshaw
Fair is the Rose by Meagan McKinney
Falsely Accused by Margaret Tanner
Fires of Winter and Hearts Aflame from the Viking trilogy by Johanna Lindsey
Forbidden Love by Karen Robards
Forever and a Lifetime by Jennifer Horsman
Forever My Love by Rebecca Brandewyne
Golden Fancy by Jennifer Blake
Gypsy Lady by Shirley Busbee
Innocent Fire, Firestorm and Fires of Paradise (part of the Bragg Saga) by Brenda Joyce
Into Passion’s Dawn by Michele DuBarry
Island Flame, and the sequel, Sea Fire by Karen Robards
Keeper of the Dream by Penelope Williamson
Lady Highwayman by Tanya Kayley
Lady of Conquest by Teresa Medeiros
Lady of Fire by Anita Mills
Lady Vixen by Shirley Busbee
Lespada by Kathryn Le Veque
Lie Down in Roses by Shannon Drake (aka Heather Graham)
Lions and Lace by Meagan McKinney
Love, Cherish Me by Rebecca Brandewyne
Love Only Once and Gentle Rogue from the Mallory series by Johanna Lindsey
Love's Wild Desire by Jennifer Blake
Magic Embrace by Jennifer Horsman
Midnight Masquerade by Shirlee Busbee
My Lord Monleigh by Jan Cox Speas
My Wicked Enchantress by Meagan McKinney
No Gentle Love by Rebecca Brandewyne
Notorious Angel by Jennifer Blake
Once and Always by Judith McNaught
Ondine by Shannon Drake (aka Heather Graham)
Only With Your Love by Lisa Kleypas
Pirate Royale by Cordia Byers
Princess of Fire by Shannon Drake (aka Heather Graham)
Prisoner of My Desire by Johanna Lindsey
Rangoon by Christine Monson
Rose of Rapture by Rebecca Brandewyne
Royal Seduction from the Royal Princes of Ruthenia duology by Jennifer Blake
Savage Ecstasy by Janelle Taylor
Season of the Sun by Catherine Coulter
Shadowheart by Laura Kinsale
Shanna by Kathleen Woodiwiss
Silver Storm by Cynthia Wright
Skye O'Malley by Bertrice Small
So Wild A Heart by Veronica Jason
Stormfire by Christine Monson
Sun God by Nan Ryan
Surrender in Moonlight by Jennifer Blake
Surrender the Night by Christine Monson
Swan Road by Rebecca Brandewyne
Sweet Savage Eden by Heather Graham
Sweet Savage Love by Rosemary Rogers
Tara’s Song by Barbara Ferry Johnson
Tender Betrayal by Jennifer Blake
The Black Lyon by Jude Deveraux
The Black Rose by Christina Skye
The Black Swan By Day Taylor
The Conqueror by Brenda Joyce
The Darkest Heart by Brenda Joyce
The Demon Lover by Victoria Holt
The Falcon and the Flower by Virginia Henley
The Flame and The Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss
The Flesh and the Devil by Teresa Denys
The Game by Brenda Joyce
The Ground She Walks Upon by Meagan McKinney
The Pagan’s Prize by Miriam Minger
The Pirate and the Pagan by Virginia Henley
The Secret Rose by Laura Parker
The Silver Devil by Teresa Denys
The Spanish Rose by Shirlee Busbee
The Storm and the Splendor by Jennifer Blake
The Taming and Ride Out the Storm from a trilogy by Aleen Malcolm
The Wind and the Sea by Marsha Canham
The Wolf and the Dove by Kathleen Woodiwiss
This Other Eden by Marilyn Harris
Till Dawn Tames the Night by Meagan McKinney
Uncommon Vows by Mary Jo Putney
Under Crimson Sails by Lynna Lawton
Until You by Judith McNaught
Virgin Star by Jennifer Horsman
When Angels Fall by Meagan McKinney
When the Splendour Falls by Laurie McBain
While Passion Sleeps by Shirlee Busbee
Whitney, My Love by Judith McNaught
Wild Bells to the Wild Sky by Laurie McBain
Winter's Heat by Denise Domning