Saturday, October 3, 2015

New Review: Kat Martin’s BOLD ANGEL – Entertaining Medieval Romance

Set in England in 1072, this is the story of Caryn of Ivesham, a Saxon, who once tried to save her older sister from a brutal rape at the hand of the Norman knights, but failed. Now both are living in a convent and Caryn longs to escape.

Though a series of events, Caryn finds herself betrothed to Raolfe de Gere, the Norman knight they called Ral the Relentless. He has been given Braxston Keep, once the dwelling of her Saxon family. She agrees to wed him for protection but arrives at a bargain she will not share his bed. Ral has a leman, a beautiful blonde, who takes care of his “needs.”

This is a well-told story with a good medieval feel though there is no history of the period here (and lots was happening in England then). Most of the story is set in or around Braxston Keep. Caryn finds herself attracted to her new husband and jealous of his leman and though Ral sleeps with his leman, he would prefer to bed his wife. Each is stubborn and fights the vulnerability that their growing love creates.

There’s lots of action and subplots in this one to keep you entertained and an evil knight who wants vengeance on Ral for suspense.

Buy on Amazon

Thursday, October 1, 2015

New Review: Elizabeth Stuart’s WHERE LOVE DWELLS – Captivating Tale of Love Among Enemies in 13th Century Wales

October is Medieval month on my blog. Some of my very favorite stories are on the best list I’ll update later this month. I’m beginning with one of my favorite authors, too.

Where Love Dwells won the RITA Award for Best Historical in 1991 and is among several wonderful romances by this talented author. (Her Scottish historicals are my favorites.) This is one of those sweeping sagas that draw you in and hold you captive. Stuart is superb at integrating historical details and building characters with believable histories. Since she is Welsh, and this is a tale set in Wales in the late 13th century, it was a labor of love for her.  

This is the story of the battles between England and Wales as the Welsh fought to hold onto their independence and their lands. Of course, it was a losing battle. The story opens as Lady Elen of Teifi loses her family (and her betrothed) in a battle that leaves her, a Welsh princess, the last of her ruling family. Escaping into the north woods, she helps her remaining people lead raids on the English knights. The man who has protected her all her life becomes the Welsh Fox the English dread. In a raid on her rebel camp, Elen is taken prisoner by Sir Richard of Kent, King Edward’s liege knight who has been given the assignment to rid Wales of the rebels. He doesn’t know the young woman he has captured is the last of the royal Welsh family. Instead, he thinks she is the mistress of the rebel known as the Welsh Fox.

The story of how Elen and Richard discover their love for each other, notwithstanding they are enemies, is a wonderful tale, and well told. However, there were some improbable occurrences early in the story that didn’t quite make sense. I found that surprising for a RITA award winner until I read on—the book was so worth it, a 5-star keeper.

Here are some examples of what I found improbable:  

--Richard assumes from her appearance that Elen is a “mere girl”--13 or 14 (she is 16) -- yet he instantly concludes she must be the mistress of the Red Fox who he believes to be well over 30, and therefore he also concludes she is not a virgin. He doesn’t even ask.
--Elen speaks beautiful French and Welsh, but Richard assumes she cannot speak English, too. He doesn’t even test his theory and speaks freely of his plans to capture the Fox in front of her. It seemed unlikely for an experienced warrior.
--Knowing she is the only hope of her people to birth the next generation of Welsh rulers, she plots to kill Richard by using seduction to gain his weapon, never thinking that if she slept with him, she would give birth to the child of her enemy. I had trouble seeing a patriot engaging in that behavior.
--Richard continues to believe Elen is the mistress of the Red Fox even after she told him her betrothed was slain in an earlier battle. If she was 16 and betrothed, she’d be no man’s mistress. Yet, Richard never thinks about that inconsistency.

Even with those things, this is an amazing story and I recommend it as a “keeper.” Buy the book on Amazon.

  See my post on this author HERE:

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

New Review: Christine Monson’s STORMFIRE – A Brutal Irish Bodice Ripper, but a Keeper of a Love Story that Left me Breathless!

Since this is the last day of bodice rippers before I move on to Mediveals, and one of my FB friends was asking about this book, I thought to post this review of a favorite keeper of mine.

Stormfire has been a controversial romance, not just because it’s a bodice ripper, but because of some of the harsh elements it contains. So, of course, I had to read it to discover the truth for myself. Some readers might categorize this an “80’s bodice ripper” and so it is, first published in 1984, but I never look at books that way. To me a story stands or falls on its own no matter the era it was written (some of my favorite keepers were written decades ago). If the story is absorbing and the characters compelling, if I can’t stop thinking about it and I find myself reading late into the night, then I know I have a keeper.

It begins in the late 18th century and continues into the early 19th, set in Ireland (mostly), England, Scotland and France. It’s the story of Sean Culhane, a bitter Irishman seeking revenge, and the spirited English beauty Catherine, daughter of John Enderly, Viscount Windemere. Hardened by the English atrocities he has witnessed, Sean weaves an intricate plan using his smuggling in art, spies and munitions to destroy the man responsible for decimating his family in Kenlo and consigning hundreds of Irish to their deaths. Abducting Enderly’s daughter is only the beginning.

Sean brutally rapes the innocent Catherine and then makes her his whore and puts her to work as a slave on his older brother’s estate of Shelan in Ireland. Catherine fights Sean with every ounce of her being, even trying to escape into the night, while earning the respect of Sean’s men. I couldn’t help but wonder how English atrocities could drive a good man to such cruelty and how an English girl raised in luxury might be affected by such treatment. Then, too, Sean’s initial brutality toward Catherine seemed at odds with the devotion shown him by his housekeeper, his mistress and his men, making me wonder what the real man was like under that hardened exterior. Eventually, as seems inevitable, Sean and Catherine soften toward each other. She comes to understand what motivates Sean’s desire for revenge, and he comes to admire her courage and tenacity.

This is a saga of nearly 600 pages and I cannot do it justice in a review, but let me say there are many twists and turns I did not anticipate in the relationship between Sean and Catherine—and Sean’s brother, Liam (“the more dangerous of the two”). It’s the story of a man who nearly destroys the woman he deeply loves, all for the sake of bitter revenge. And it’s the story of a woman who comes to love that man so that she would do anything to save him. But there is much more to this saga, as others would see them both destroyed.

Into a great story, Monson has woven the pain of Ireland’s history, a beautiful land sorely affected by the English. (It includes the Irish rebellion of 1798 and its aftermath.) The writing is so good, there were times I stopped and re-read a passage just to admire it.
Here is one of Catherine’s musings about Sean:

“His spirit, like the lonely, windswept sea, was ever-restless, ever-changing, sometimes howling down to savage the unyielding land, then caressing it with a lulling embrace, inevitably wearing away its resistance. He was asking her to become a part of him, without reservations, without ties that would inevitably be wrenched apart, leaving her battered on the rocks and him lonelier and wilder than before.”

Whatever you might say about this book, Monson’s writing is consistently brilliant and her story absorbing. She did an incredible job creating an impossible situation. When Sean falls in love with Catherine and her unwavering spirit, you want them to be together, yet you can’t see a way for it to happen—a powerful set up for the rest of the book and there were many obstacles yet to follow.

I highly recommend this romance for those readers unafraid of what are some raw scenes and more angst than other romances. It’s a well written, worthy tale, and it’s going on my Best Irish Historical Romances list as well as my Favorite Heroes and Heroines list.

You can see it on Amazon but even the used copies aren't cheap. So I'm posting the link to a site that has a link to a free download. When a book is out of print and too expensive for the average reader, I think that's fair. Here it is.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Best Bodice Rippers!

I belong to a group on Goodreads that has sent me some of the greatest recommendations for historical romances in this category. It is my longest list and I think you will recognize many classics here, books you have long treasured. But among them are new bodice rippers. And, just so you know, as of 2016, I’m moving it to April, which is “Classics month.”

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 at 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.

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
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)
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
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 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

Saturday, September 26, 2015

New Review: Judith McNaught’s WHITNEY MY LOVE – Great Story with a Very Flawed Hero

This was McNaught's first novel but she wasn't able to sell it until she had two others published. I have read and reviewed all her other romances and I remain a dedicated fan. She is a brilliant writer. I love her ability to create and maintain sexual tension and weave a wonderful story. But she often makes the hero out to be such a mean cad that it is difficult to like him...ever. In Whitney My Love, I thought it would be different.

Whitney is a young, spirited intelligent girl of the country gentry who is sent by her hard, unloving father to Paris to live with her aunt and uncle who love her. There she thrives and becomes an ingénue who is embraced by Paris society. She has many suitors, among them a Frenchman, Nicholas Du'Ville (Nicki) who is really the one you want her to love. (Not atypical for McNaught, there is a good guy who loses to the cad in the end.)

Meanwhile, Clayton Westmoreland, the Duke of Claymore, becomes enamored with her for her spunk and beauty, and though he has his choice of mistresses both in France and England, he wants her. He doesn't want to compete with her suitors so he does research and finds her father is deeply in debt. He decides to essentially buy her from her father, who quickly recalls her to England without telling her she is betrothed to Westmoreland. Westmoreland goes to the countryside where she lives and buys a small home there and assumes a disguise as an ordinary man, ostensibly to court her without having her impressed by his title.

Here's where the character of the hero is a bit inconsistent. For most of the book, he is patient, humorous and tender. Whitney does not want him, however, preferring her childhood love, Paul, who, frankly, is rather bland. Westmoreland takes all this in stride and woos her rather well, actually. She's even starting to realize how much she's attracted to him. But then she discovers Westmoreland is her betrothed and she rebels at his deception. Just as she realizes Paul is not a good choice for her and begins to see that Westmoreland is the right man, one of Whitney's enemies, a catty female who is jealous of her, tells Westmoreland that she has slept with others (untrue).

Does he ask Whitney about this? No. In a fit of rage, Westmorland violently rapes her, realizing in the midst of it she is a virgin. At this point, I didn't see how Whitney could ever get over that. I really don't think a real woman ever would. Westmoreland regrets the rape and realizes he loves her but does he do the honorable thing and marry her? Beg for her forgiveness? No, he drops her like a hot rock. See what I mean about his being a cad?

Meanwhile, she is despondent and our spirited Whitney turns into a mush ball. She finally gets him back by humbling herself before him in front of his then fiancé. But then he does another weird mean cad switch when he misreads a note and believes she's taken a lover (when did she find the time?) and believes the baby she carries may not even be his. At this point I felt whipsawed.

It's typical early McNaught...a great story and great writing, but a hero who overreacts and abuses the heroine, in this case more than once. But I could not put it down. So it goes on the best list.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

New Review: Cordia Byers’s PIRATE ROYALE – Absorbing 17th Century Pirate Story—one of my all time favorite bodice rippers!

A classic tale of adventure and love set in the late 17th century, it features (as a character) the pirate and privateer Henry Morgan, who along with his buccaneers, successfully attacked the Spanish settlements of Puerto Principe in Cuba and Porto Bello in what is today Panama.

Royale Carrington was John Carrington’s daughter and, as such, commanded the respect of the seamen who served under her when she dressed as a man and wielded a sword with fierce expertise. As captain of her own ship, she was prepared to fight King Charles II’s wardship over her and his refusal to grant her a letter of marque. Instead, she took to the sea as a pirate, robbing the Spanish of their gold.

On the night before Royale is to set sail, she is kidnapped by the crew of the pirate El Diablo, thinking she’d make a fine offering for their mysterious captain. El Diablo asks for a kiss to release her, but then takes her innocence instead. Though he would keep her, she will have none of it.

One of the things I loved about this story was that Royale got away from the pirate who captured her. I just love it when the feisty heroine outsmarts the arrogant male who thinks he will have his way. El Diablo (who is really Sir Bran Langston on a mission for King Charles) soon realizes that the young virgin he has deflowered is the ward of the King, the woman he has been sent to protect.

This is a well-written tale with lots of action—a classic story of pirates and love in the Caribbean as the British fight the Spanish for control. Byers does a wonderful job of integrating the real history of Henry Morgan’s escapades and his personality. I loved the heroine who was strong and smart yet very feminine. And the hero, while certainly not perfect, was at least consistent in his pursuit of the elusive female pirate who takes her revenge by seizing ships in El Diablo’s name.

If you like pirate romance and tales in the Caribbean, I recommend this one, though you’ll have to buy it in paperback until Byers gets it into eBook format. See it on Amazon.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

New Review: Brenda Joyce’s DARK FIRES - Superb Victorian Bodice Ripper

Set in England in 1874-1876, it is the 4th in the Bragg saga and tells the story of Nicholas Bragg, Lord Shelton, Earl of Dragmore, aka the Lord of Darkness (so called by all of London after the rumors he murdered his wife). He is an American, raised in wild Texas, with a mysterious past, who is living on his 25,000-acre estate outside of London. One day, delivered to his door is Jane Weston, the 17-year-old illegitimate daughter of an actress and the son of the Duke of Clarendon, his dead wife's grandfather. The girl is his ward, a ward he didn't know he had, a ward he doesn’t want.

Instantly attracted to the beautiful young blonde, and aware she is becoming infatuated with him, Nick decides if he's to resist her, he must take her to London and find her a husband. Of course, that won't be easy as he is infamous, shunned by the ton and Jane was born on the wrong side of the blanket. Not to mention he doesn't really want her to marry someone else.

Once in London, their attraction finds its finish and then everything goes to hell in a hand basket, so to speak. Ah, but the telling of it is just superb. I couldn't put it down.

There are references to Nick's past, which is a part of the earlier books in the series, but you won't lose track or find yourself at a loss if you haven’t read them. Like a lot of people of mixed heritage, Nick is stronger for his mixed race...and more handsome. Though Jane was illegitimate, her parents loved each other and she is proud to be their daughter. So each brings some baggage into the relationship. Their conflict here comes across very naturally from the circumstances, very believable. It's a story of two people deeply in love but fighting it all the way.

There are some wonderful secondary characters including Thomas the butler, who is there throughout the book. He is priceless.

I highly recommend this one!

Saturday, September 19, 2015

New Review: Johanna Lindsey’s A GENTLE FEUDING – Feuding Clans Deliver an Exciting Romance

Set in mid 16th century Scotland at a time of feuding clans that steal each other's cattle and engage in battle (and worse), this is the story of the MacKinnions and the Fergussons.

Jamie MacKinnion, a handsome and powerful laird in his mid 20s had a bad experience with a first arranged marriage, the bride committing suicide before the marriage could be consummated because she was so afraid of a man's touch. Thus, he has no plans to marry and is enjoying a full menu of mistresses. He has said that if he ever does marry again, he'll be trying the bride first.

Sheena ("she-ah-nah" in Gaelic) Fergusson is the oldest and favorite daughter of her father, the laird. Unlike her sisters, she is beautiful with her red hair and blue eyes and has been turning away suitors by the droves. Raised for many years as a son would be, she can hunt and ride like a man and enjoys bathing in a pond. And who should come by but Jamie, who observes her not knowing who she is. 

Sheena’s father has determined it is time she wed. Through a series of events, he considers marrying her to Jamie to end their clans’ long feud. But Sheena will have none of it and, based upon all she has heard about him, she fears the MacKinnion.

Sheena was both interesting and consistently strong and, while she could be reasoned with, she did not fold like a wet noodle as some heroines do. I thought Lindsey did a good job of presenting the historical setting and language of the time. It was authentic and the dialog realistic. It was fast-paced, reminding me of what love is like between two strong willed people who love each other desperately.

It’s not a "gentle" feuding at times which only adds excitement. You'll enjoy this one!

Buy on Amazon.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

New Review: Becky Lee Weyrich’s THE SCARLET THREAD – The “red lantern” district of New Orleans in the Victorian Era… oh my!

Having read and loved Tainted Lillies, I was anxious to read another by Weyrich.

This is the story of Desiree La Fleur. It begins in 1885 when she is seven and her mulatto nurse flees Desiree’s drunken father with Desiree and her infant sister, Innocente. In the swamps they become separated and Desiree is recaptured by her father’s men. We don’t learn much of her youth after that except she is taken home and though she has a stepmother who has no love for her, Desiree is educated in the East. In 1899, when she is 21, she decides to take the money she gained from a writing contest and join her best friend, Nanine, in New Orleans.

As soon as she gets off the train, Desiree is mistaken for a woman named “Garnet” who, she later learns, is a prostitute living in “Storyville,” the red lantern district of New Orleans. It’s “the scarlet thread” on Basin Street. Right then I realized, even if Desiree did not, that she’d found her long lost sister.

Meanwhile Nanine plots to match Desiree with Dr. Roman St. Vincent, dubbed “the saint of Storyville” for the help he gives to the young prostitutes. And the prostitute named Garnet is in love with him. Two sisters both in love with the same man. Because of their beginnings, one is ostensibly good and the other a fallen woman, raised to believe she is a woman of color when she is not. 
Neither Desiree nor Roman want marriage but decide, at their early encounter, to pretend they are engaged to appease Nanine and her husband in whose home Desiree lives.

Weyrich writes well and tells a good story so, of course, I was sucked in from the start. There were lots of improbable twists and turns but once I got over that, I had to find out if this smart girl was really going to be so dumb as to do some of the things she did. And what of Garnet who really loves Roman but who he thinks of as a young sister? And then there is this “ripper” guy who goes around killing prostitutes. Ah, yes, lots to think about. And did I mention it’s a bodice ripper?

Buy on Amazon.