Monday, August 31, 2015

New Review: Marie Laval’s THE LION’S EMBRACE – Adventure in Algeria!

Set in Algeria in 1845, this is the story of Harriet Montague who hires a mysterious guide, Lucas Saintclair, to take her to Tamanrasset where her father, an archeologist, has been taken prisoner by Tuareg fighters for taking treasures from Queen Tin Hinan’s tomb.

Harriet and Lucas set out across the desert with her father’s friend, Archie, in tow, who has assumed the disguise of her fiancé. Harriet’s a bit of a termagant and naïve for all that, constantly getting into trouble and defying the wise counsel of Saintclair. It was easy to see why Saintclair wanted to send her back to Algiers. Besides, he is always escaping into the night with his men on some errand for the rebel fighters defying the French. He doesn’t need a rebellious young woman trailing after him.

Laval serves up a cast of interesting and varied characters as Harriet, led by Saintclair, travels deeper into the Algerian deserts in search of her father. (I did want for a map so I’m giving you one, see below.) Her story reflects much research into the culture and the land.

Hoggar in Algeria
The plot thickens as intrigue abounds. Harriet falls in love with Saintclair while he mostly lusts for her. But that, too, will change as they pursue the adventure together. If you are looking for an exotic desert locale and an intricate plot, you’ll find it here. 

Buy on Amazon.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Best Historical Romances set in an Exotic Locale

OK, so it’s August and you’re home and you’re bored. Maybe the kids are going back to school. You want an adventure, an around the world trip, or perhaps an ocean voyage—without leaving your living room. And you want a good love story. But you’re tired of those set mostly in England, Scotland, Ireland and America? Well, I have just the list for you!

My mother taught me to read when I was four and told me I could travel the world through books. She was right. And were she still alive, she would love this list I’ve created just for you daydreamers out there who long to travel…historical romances by some great authors set in exotic locales. Though some might begin (or end) in England or America, they will quickly take you to another time and another place! And all have been rated 4 or 5 stars by me:

A Secret Rose by Laura Parker (Australia)
Across a Moonlit Sea, The Iron Rose and The Following Sea, trilogy by Marsha Canham (the Caribbean and the Spanish Main)
Beyond Innocence by Joanna Lloyd (Australia)
Beyond Sunrise by Candice Proctor (the South Pacific, Polynesian islands)
Bianca by Bertrice Small, 1st in the Silk Merchant’s Daughters series (Florence, Italy and the Black Sea)
Blue Moon by Parris Afton Bonds (Mexico)
Broken Wing by Judith James (France, North Africa and the Mediterranean)
Dark Torment by Karen Robards (Australia)
Devil’s Embrace and Devil’s Daughter by Catherine Coulter (Italy and the Mediterranean)
Falling Stars by Anita Mills (Russia)
Falsely Accused by Margaret Tanner (Australia)
Fields of the Sun by Nadine Crenshaw (Morocco, the Atlantic Ocean and Brazil)
Forever and a Lifetime by Jennifer Horsman (Switzerland)
Fortune’s Mistress, Fortune’s Flame and Fortune’s Bride by Judith E. French (Caribbean and Panama)
Gypsy Jewel by Patricia McAllister (Black Sea, Moscow)
Harcourt’s Mountain by Elaine Dodge (British Columbia, Canada)
Hearts Beguiled by Penelope Williamson (France)
Island Flame by Karen Robards (various exotic ports between Lisbon and America)
Lady of Fire and Fire and Steel by Anita Mills (Normandy)
Lady of Fire by Valerie Vayle (the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, Turkey and France)
Night in Eden by Candice Proctor (Australia)
Night Shadow by Laura Renken (the Caribbean and the Spanish Main)
No Gentle Love by Rebecca Brandewyne (Ireland, France, Africa, India and China)
Notorious Angel by Jennifer Blake (Nicaragua)
On the Night of the Seventh Moon by Victoria Holt (Germany)
Oriana by Valerie Vayle (France, Caribbean)
Rangoon by Christine Monson (Burma)
September Moon by Candice Proctor (Australian outback)
Shanna by Kathleen Woodiwiss (Caribbean isle)
Silk and Secrets and Veils of Silk by Mary Jo Putney (Uzbekistan, Persia, India)
Sleep in the Woods by Dorothy Eden (New Zealand)
Splendor by Brenda Joyce (Russia)
The Book of Seven Delights by Betina Krahn (Morocco)
The Book of True Desires by Betina Krahn (Cuba and Mexico)
The Captain of All Pleasures by Kresley Cole (the High Seas from England to Australia) and the sequel, The Price of Pleasure (Oceania and Cape Town, South Africa)
The Captive by Victoria Holt (the Middle East)
The Demon Lover by Victoria Holt (France)
The Duke of Shadows by Meredith Duran (India)
The Flesh and The Devil by Teresa Denys (Spain)
The Forbidden Rose by Joanna Bourne (France)
The Golden Barbarian by Iris Johansen (the Balkans and Sedikhan, a mythical desert country)
The Hidden Heart by Laura Kinsale (South America, Tahiti and the Pacific)
The India Fan by Victoria Holt (India)
The Jacaranda Tree by Rebecca Brandewyne (Australia)
The Kadin by Bertrice Small (Turkey)
The Legend of the Gypsy Hawk by Sally Malcolm (fictional island off Africa)
The Lily and the Falcon by Jannine Corte-Petska (Italy)
The Lion's Daughter by Loretta Chase (Albania)
The Lion’s Embrace by Marie Laval (Algeria)
The Silver Devil by Teresa Denys (Italy)
The Spanish Rose by Shirlee Busbee (Jamaica, the Caribbean)
The Storm and the Splendor by Jennifer Blake (Algiers)
The Warrior by Judith E. French (Egypt)
The Wind and the Sea by Marsha Canham (North Africa, the High Seas)
The Wind Dancer by Iris Johansen (Italy) and the sequel, Storm Winds (France)
This Fiery Splendor by Christine Monson (India)
Till Dawn Tames the Night by Meagan McKinney (the High Seas and the Caribbean)
Under Gypsy Skies by Kathryn Kramer (Spain)
Velvet is the Night by Elizabeth Thornton (France)
Whispers of Heaven by Candice Proctor (Tasmania)

For my own books set in exotic locales, I recommend Racing With The Wind (Paris), Wind Raven (the High Seas, Bermuda, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean) and To Tame the Wind (France).

For more romances on the high seas featuring Pirates and Privateers and Vikings, see those specific “best” lists (the links are on the right side of my blog).

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

New Review: Patricia McAllister’ GYPSY JEWEL – The Crimean War and Moscow provide a great setting for this romance

Another great story from McAllister, this one about a gypsy who isn’t a gypsy and a British soldier who is more than a spy… set in the mid 19th century during the Crimean War on the Crimean Peninsula in the Black Sea and then in Moscow.

The story begins in the Caucasus Mountains as a baby is left in the woods to be rescued by a gypsy, Tzigane, who raises it as her own. Around the baby’s neck hangs a huge diamond. Tzigane names the baby April for the month in which she found it. April has blonde hair but grows up among the gypsies, wielding a knife with the best of them.

As a young woman, April passes through Constantinople with her gypsy family and encounters Damien Cross, who she does not know is the Earl of Devonshire. Damien helps her out of a jam, all the while noticing how aristocratic the young woman appears.
Original cover
In 1854 (or thereabouts), April is now 17 when Nicabar, a horse trader from Spain, living with the gypsies, covets April’s horse, a magnificent black stallion—and he covets April. When he attempts to rape her, she cuts his face. In the gypsy trial that follows, Damien shows up, now a spy for the British in the Crimean War, and the gypsy king makes him the judge over the matter. Damien awards Nicabar her horse for the damage she did to his face and Damien decides she should be wed. The gypsy king agrees… even when Damien, wanting a good cover for his spying, suggests himself for April’s husband.

There’s a lot of intrigue and treachery in this story as Damien takes April north to Moscow and April’s past and Damien’s deception come to light. There are some wonderful characters, including Damien’s French mother, and some exciting scenes.

If you are looking for an unusual time and an exotic locale, this might be the story for you.

Buy on Amazon.

Monday, August 24, 2015

New Review: Anita Mills’ FALLING STARS – Beware Handsome, Mysterious Russians Offering Jewels

Mills serves up an unusual story that sweeps the heroine from the ballrooms of London to the grand palaces of Russia. The story begins in London in 1814 where Katherine (“Kate”) Winstead, and her younger sister Carissa, are enjoying the London Season with their brother, Harry, Baron Winstead. [Usually the title and surname are not the same but here they are.] Harry’s best friend is Bellamy (“Bell”), Viscount Townsend, a rake of the first order with the face of an angel. He and Kate constantly exchange barbs and unpleasant truths about each other.

By all accounts, Kate is both short (5 feet tall) and plain, and at 22 “on the shelf”, yet when the Russians come to town with young Czar Alexander, all that changes. For some reason known only to his sister Galena and him, handsome Count Alexei Volsky takes a fancy to Katherine and quickly offers for her. Now why would a handsome Russian count do that? Why, indeed. To have such an offer as a plain girl is unheard of and Katherine does not fail to accept, particularly when the count’s sister, Galena, tells Kate the huge betrothal ruby on her finger proves Alexei loves her.

I thought Mills did this part especially well, preserving the mystery as the wool is pulled over Kate’s eyes. Ah, but no reader will fail to wonder just what’s going on.

Meanwhile, Viscount Townsend must escape a woman in London who has set a trap for him, so he decides to go to Russia when Kate and the Russian entourage leave town… and the plot thickens.

Russia is a very foreign place to Kate: the language, the people and the customs. She feels trapped inside Alexei’s huge estate as the snows pile up outside. There, she learns she is pregnant and is thrilled until she discovers, to her horror, her marriage is a sham and underneath it all is a horrible truth. Kate decides (reasonably so) to flee Russia in winter. And who should come to her rescue but Bell, Viscount Townsend.

This is an unusual, well-told tale that kept me turning pages. Mills did very well with the Russian culture and scenes in and around Moscow in the winter. I felt the cold and lamented the loss of green England along with Kate. You must be patient to see the hero as an actual hero (though there are earlier hints) but he does come around in the end. 

St. Basil's Cathedral early 19th century

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Empress Josephine’s Love Affair with Roses

Empress Josephine’s Love Affair with Roses
by Regan Walker

Many of us Regency authors and readers know that Napoleon’s wife, the Empress Josephine contributed to establishing the slim, high-waisted, chemise dress as the dominant fashion in Regency England, but did you know that Josephine is also known for her passionate love of roses?

painting by Pierre-Paul Prud'hon
She was born  Marie Josèphe Rose Tascher de la Pagerie in 1763 on the Caribbean island of Martinique where her family owned a sugar plantation. The island is a lush, tropical paradise with beautiful flowering plants. Perhaps it was there she first developed a love for colorful, sweet-smelling blossoms and exotic plants, for she was to introduce many to France.

After she married Napoleon and became Empress of France, Josephine spent vast sums of money collecting new varieties of plants, including roses, from all over the world for her garden at Chateau Malmaison outside of Paris. Napoleon complained about the expense but he was off fighting the British in various places, so Josephine pursued her love of roses and expanded her garden.

Napoleon turned a blind eye when Josephine broke the law by asking that English seeds and plants be brought to her from captured ships. Her informal plantings had already been christened jardins à l’anglaise (English Gardens) and her greenhouses were modeled on those at Kew Gardens near London. 

Chateau Malmaison
The fact that France was at war with England did not stop her from looking for new roses in the backyard of the enemy. At the height of the war in the early 1800's, Napoleon sent money to England to pay for his wife's rose plant bills. And the British Admiralty allowed ships to pass through its naval blockade to deliver those roses to Malmaison. War could wait while the rose deliveries continued. She even obtained a passport for a London nurseryman to travel back and forth with her new plants.

During the period 1805-1810, she collected 260 roses for her garden. But she did more than plant a beautiful rose garden. She influenced the growing of roses. The roses at that time bloomed once a season, and their blossoms faded quickly once a flower was cut. By systematically hybridizing the western rose with varieties from China, where the rose first developed, Josephine re-structured the way roses developed their petals. The result was a rose that blossomed several times a season, and looked splendid in a vase in the parlor for days.

Josephine elevated the stature of the rose by commissioning artist Pierre-Joseph Redoute, a former court painter of Marie Antoinette, to paint a series of rose portraits. Blush Noisette (pictured below) is considered by many to be the all time masterpiece of botanical illustration.

After Josephine died in 1814, Redoute published his rose portraits in three volumes simply titled Les Roses (1817-24), dedicated to Josephine’s memory. The book has continuously been in publication ever since. 

Buy on Amazon

In Racing with the Wind, the first book in my Agents of the Crown trilogy, much of which is set in Paris, Lady Mary, escapes a heated ballroom into a garden where she encounters the mysterious Lord Ormond who tells her of Josephine’s passion for roses:

The stone terrace was lit, and the soft light on the balustrade from the outside lamps allowed her to see she was alone for the moment. She welcomed the times she was alone. As an only child, she had frequently been her only company.

There were gardens out here she remembered from her prior visit, and with confidence she took the stairs that led down to them. On the lawn she inhaled deeply the smell of clean earth, grass and flowers. Gardens. It seemed she was always escaping into them. The thought amused her, and she smiled.

A few quick turns and she found her destination, or rather, more accurately, she smelled it. The fragrance of roses was just what she needed to shake off the memory of that crowded ballroom. She was just bending down to smell a pink blossom when she heard a deep voice behind her.

“The Empress Josephine had a passion for roses, too, you know.”

She started at the familiar voice, stood up from the flower and turned. Lord Ormond loomed before her like a terrible dark angel. Was he taller than she’d remembered? His dark brown hair appeared ebony in the dim light, and tonight it was smoothed back from his chiseled features. The pirate had dressed up for the evening, and he was so ruggedly handsome he made her heart ache.

Before she could say a word, he said, “I wanted to see you, but I didn’t want to announce it by asking you to dance.” 

Racing with the Wind:

The intrepid daughter of an earl leaves Regency London for the Parisian court of Louis XVIII, where she finds adventure, mystery, and above all, love.

Hugh, Lord Ormond, had been warned. Prinny had dubbed Lady Mary Campbell “the Swan,” but no ordinary man could clip her wings. She was a bluestocking hoyden, an ill-advised match by every account. Luckily, he sought no bride. His work lay on the continent, where he’d become legend by stealing war secrets from Boney. And yet, his memories of Lady Mary riding her black stallion were a thorn in his mind. He was the son of a duke and in the service of the Prince Regent…and he would not be whole until he had won her hand.

It was unheard of for a Regency debutante to postpone her first season, yet Lady Mary had done just that. Far more interested in politics than a husband, she had no time for foolishness or frippery. Already she had assisted her statesman uncle in Paris, and she swore to return to the court of Louis XVIII no matter the danger. Like her black stallion, Midnight, she would always run free. Only the truest heart would race beside her.

Buy on Amazon.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

New Review: Margaret Tanner’s FALSELY ACCUSED – Love Among the Transported Prisoners in Australia

Set in the 1820s in Australia when England transported prisoners to Sydney Town for crimes as meager as poaching, this is a realistic telling of the perils of one female prisoner. What she experienced will be enough to make you shudder in this page turner.

Maryanne Watson was the daughter of a twisted parson who raped and killed her sister. (That’s how the book opens.) When Maryanne attacked her father, her stepmother came to his rescue with a large knife. In the struggle, Maryanne was the one falsely accused of trying to kill her stepmother and transported to Australia to serve 7 years.

On board the ship, Maryanne makes a friend of Libby, a warmhearted prostitute, who helps her to survive. Soon, the men on the ship choose which women will share their beds (the women have no choice); the officers are the first to choose. Libby tells Maryanne to be nice to a certain officer because he only likes boys. Maryanne takes the hint and ends up with the officer who doesn’t touch her. But there is a prisoner who does, the American Jake Smith.

Jake is a guy who takes what he wants. He decides to have Maryanne and because she has fallen in love with him, she gives him her innocence. But Jake is a troublemaker and ends up in solitary confinement, destined for a chain gang.

Once in Sydney, Maryanne endures one man after another. You couldn’t help but sympathize with her as she tries to do what is right but cannot avoid the lust of both the gentry and her fellow prisoners.

Halfway through the story, Jake shows up again with a new identity… his own.

I enjoyed this book and it kept me turning pages though I did shudder at all Maryanne experienced. And we are missing much of Jake’s perspective. Still, if you want a realistic look at the fate of those transported to Australia, this might be the one for you!

Note: Tanner has a sequel to this story: Dangerous Birthright, the story of Maryanne’s daughter.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

New Review: Sally Malcolm’ LEGEND OF THE GYPSY HAWK – Pirate Saga with a Noble Hero and an Exotic Locale

Originally published in 2012 as BEYOND THE FAR HORIZON (the Historical Note at the end presumes that title), this is a tale of pirates trying to preserve their dying way of life.

The story begins in 1848 when a midshipman, hauls aboard a chest with a lock carved with a dolphin and a hawk and realizes it must be from the ghost ship the Gypsy Hawk, captained by Zachary Hazard who loved Amelia Dauphin in the prior century. So unfolds the story.

In 1716 off the coast of Africa, there is a pirate haven called Ile Sainte Anne, an island kingdom of pirates that has existed for some time. There the pirates see themselves as freedom-loving people and justify their robbing wealthy merchant ships with a sort of Robin Hood philosophy. Still, for all that, they are pirates.

Capt. Zach Hazard likes women, dice and rum. His father is one of the island’s leaders and protector of “the Articles”—the written pirate’s code. Years ago, Zach left the island after a fight with his father. Now he returns to warn the islanders, Amelia included, that the English, French and Dutch are coming to destroy their way of life.

Amelia is the captain of one of her father’s pirate ships (though we don’t really see her acting as such) and is smitten with the handsome Zach as he is with her. But Amelia sees him as a risky choice and to save her island, she agrees to marry a Frenchman named Luc who persuades the leaders that trade with their enemies is the way to go.

Noble Zach tries and fails to persuade the island to leave behind the past and run. He is betrayed by treacherous Luc, which Zach expected, and by naïve Amelia, which Zach did not expect. Malcolm portrayed the betrayal very well in an exciting, cliff-hanging scene at the end of “Part 1”. Years later, Amelia is to be hanged. Will Zach save her?
Original title, cover
This is a well-written tale of adventure, betrayal, treachery and love with a little melancholy thrown in and a bit slow in the middle. Malcolm brings you into the 18th century in a fictional exotic setting with superb descriptions and well-nuanced emotional scenes. Zack is a splendid hero, hurt by his love for a woman who did not appreciate his character. And Amelia is a rather tainted heroine (the word adultery comes to mind).

If you love adventure stories set in exotic locales with a hero to die for and don’t mind a tainted heroine and the pirates’ morality, then you’ll like this one.

A few minor notes: There are no crow’s nests on ships of this period and no “ceilings” but the shipboard scenes are nevertheless very good.

Buy on Amazon.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

New Review: Christine Monson’s THIS FIERY SPLENDOR – An Exciting Victorian set in India During the Rebellion of 1857

I am a huge fan of Christine Monson and you will see her romances on my best lists. She does thorough research into the historical settings of her books and then serves up a great story. Such is This Fiery Splendor.

Annalise Devon was the daughter of a missionary to China where she was raised until her mother died. Then her father took her to India. It was there in that beautiful, mysterious land that she met and fell in love with Col. Derek Clavell, a wealthy aristocrat and an officer in the East India Company army. When her father suddenly dies, 17-year-old Annalise is made Derek’s ward by her father’s wishes. Then Derek is severely wounded in a battle at the Khyber Pass and must return to England.

In England, Annalise and Derek become lovers yet she knows he will never be hers. Not only does he have a beautiful fiancé, but he has just become his father’s heir to the title. She is just the poor daughter of a missionary. So she returns to India and finds a man who loves her…

Monson gives us some very exciting scenes as Derek pursues the woman he loves and he and Annalise are caught up in the Indian Rebellion of 1857, depicting the horror of the battles where civilians were killed along with the British and Sepoys. And in the midst of it, Derek’s fiancé shows up.

All the history is here, rich in detail. Great characters, well drawn and meaningful dialog. And more angst than you could want.

Highly recommended.

Relief of Lucknow