Thursday, November 29, 2012

New Review: Penelope Williamson’s The Outsider - Moving Amish Historical Romance set in Montana

You know when you begin a romance by Penelope Williamson that the tears are going to flow. This book seems somewhat related to Williamson’s HEART OF THE WEST, another 2-Kleenex-box romance based in Montana in the 19th century to which I gave 5 stars. I had read all her historical novels except this last one, saving it like a kid saves his last sucker, putting off the sweet treat until it was all I could think of. So, setting aside other romances I’d planned to read, I got out my Kleenex and began to read THE OUTSIDER. I was not disappointed.

Rachel Yoder is one of the Plain People (likely Amish), living in Montana in 1886.

Rachel’s simple life of farming and taking care of her husband and young son were forever changed when a cruel cattleman killed her man. A year later, she is tending her sheep alone, and facing another year of hard work, when a gunslinger dripping blood stumbles into her life. Handsome Johnny Cain is a hard living, hard fighting man who has a reputation for killing. He is the antithesis of all Rachel stands for.

It’s a book of ironic contrasts as the Plain People fail to show God’s love to Johnny Cain, and Johnny Cain, the Devil’s own, shows them honor and honesty. Plain People who believe the grace of God doesn’t cover all sins, but rather that a person must be one of the Plain People to hope for salvation. Even then it isn’t guaranteed. A heartless gospel. THE OUTSIDER tells of young people who must choose between a life of conforming to a rigid society and a beckoning world of freedom. Rachel, loving and honest, tries to live in the middle and fails.

There are many things that distinguish Williamson’s work from other romance authors. Reading this one, a few come to mind: Her dialog is so genuine and rich she makes you feel like you know the Plain People. (Her writing is, in a word, superb.) Her attention to detail, as she describes the people, their surroundings and their culture, paints such a vivid picture you actually feel like your living it and not just reading a good story. Her ability to convey emotions had my heart in my throat as Johnny Cain saved Rachel’s son from a herd of stampeding cattle. Who wouldn’t begin to love such a man? And who wouldn’t love a mother who cries when a lamb dies at its birth? These are wonderful characters who will win your heart.

There is much heart-rending action in this one, but thankfully, since this is romance, we know we’ll get a happy ending. Yeah!

In short, I HIGHLY recommend this one. It’s a keeper. So get out the Kleenex and start reading!

Monday, November 26, 2012

New Review: Betina Krahn’s CAUGHT IN THE ACT - Wonderful Elizabethan Love Story!

Krahn knows how to write superb romance and this one is no exception. It's intriguing, fast paced and has great depth. She accurately presents the Elizabethan age and uses language (including quotes from the classics) and detailed descriptions to capture the feeling of 16th century England. (You might want to read the Author's Note first!) And she does it all very well--including her own poetry that is a very clever touch. I have come to love her novels and unequivocally recommend this one.

The story tells of young, innocent Merrie Straffen, an orphan and only recently aware she is the granddaughter of an earl, who is now dead. She was raised by a kindly couple who taught her the classics and to read in Latin and Greek. The old earl's estate is run by a family of scheming servants and a solicitor who wants to remain in charge of her fortune. So they plot to wed her to a man they can be sure will remain in London and leave Merrie to them to control. They pick a known rake, Gentleman Jack Huntington, and offer him 500 pounds a year to wed her, consummate the marriage and then hie off to London. Before Merrie even meets the man she's been betrothed to, she inadvertently observes him in the act of making love to a married countess. In her attempt to avoid a marriage to an adulterer, Merrie, who is a very talented and beautiful young woman, makes herself out to be a complete dolt. But Jack is soon on to her and is determined to have her.

From the start to the finish this is a well-told tale that will keep you turning pages. It could have been called "When a Rake Woos a Reluctant Lady" for that is the story. He's a handsome rake who loves women and is undone by a young innocent's brilliance and goodness. And she is growing up and becoming an amazing woman at a turbulent time in England's history. Get this one!

The sequel is BEHIND CLOSED DOORS...the story of their daughter.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Spend Christmas in Regency England with The Holly & The Thistle!

My new Christmas story is here and only 99¢ on Amazon!

The Holly & The Thistle

A short story by Regan Walker

A chance meeting at Berry's wine shop, a misunderstanding and Christmastide all come together to allow the most handsome Scot in London to give Lady Emily Picton the best Christmas gift she's ever had: a marriage not of convenience, but of love.

William Stephen is a wealthy Scottish shipbuilder from the Highlands who attended Cambridge with his good friend Lord Ormond (my hero from Racing With The Wind) and he's spending Christmas in London. When he hears about the beautiful Lady Emily Picton, the widow of one of the heroes of Waterloo, he thinks to enter the field of suitors just for the challenge. After all, she's English. But all that changes when he looks into her thistle colored eyes.

A story to warm your heart for the holidays! I hope you like it.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

New Review: Alexandra Ripley's SCARLETT - The Rest of the Story You'll Love--I promise!

If you're watching Gone With The Wind like this rest of the country this Thanksgiving weekend (it's airing on several channels), and you are once again disappointed there is no happy ending (sorry you classic lovers, but the ending where Scarlett says she’ll find a way to win Rhett back just begs for the rest of the story!), you'll be delighted to know there is a sequel that is well worth the read, even if it had to be written by someone other than Margaret Mitchell.

SCARLETT satisfies the romance lover’s need for the ending we crave. It tells us what happened to Scarlett and Rhett after he left her, after she declared her love for him and he told her he didn’t give a damn. And it's a very well told tale.

The story begins in 1873, as Melanie, Scarlett’s lifelong friend, is buried and the mourners standing around gossip about Scarlett, saying she’s “all business, and no heart.” When Atlanta society shuns her, Scarlett is left very much alone. It’s the bane of a strong woman’s existence, that people think she doesn’t care and hate her for it when, in fact, she cares very much though she doesn’t allow herself to show it. Of course, in Gone With The Wind Scarlett was selfish and spurned Rhett’s love when offered. And when she finally realized she loved him, it was too late. He believes she only wants him because he doesn’t want her. But stay tuned…Scarlett is about to grow up.

Where you wanted to slap Scarlett in the movie, now you will want to hug her as she triumphs over trials that would break any other woman on the way to learning how to love.

For much of the 823 pages, the story is told through Scarlett’s perspective. Though Scarlett shows great kindness to others and pursues Rhett because she genuinely loves him, her motives are often misunderstood and others, quick to judge, reject her. Society snubs her and Rhett is cold, even cruel. His only aim is to get out of the marriage, describing her as a drug that will destroy him. (It was easy to see Clark Gable saying those lines.)

The book is divided into four sections, each finding Scarlett in new place:

Lost in the Dark (Atlanta)
High Stakes (Charleston)
New Life (Savannah)
The Tower (Ireland)

Ripley takes us back to Scarlett's roots and paints a compelling picture of Ireland, its people and their struggles, with wonderful characters, rich dialog and emotional scenes. We mourn the lost history of the O’Hara family as Scarlett seeks to regain her family’s land. But we cheer Scarlett as her incredible intelligence and courage allow her to rebuild, at least in part, what was lost.

If you are used to the pace of a normal historical romance, this story may seem a bit meandering. (There are whole chapters where Scarlett and Rhett never encounter each other.) Still, I found it a very satisfying love story and it kept me reading late into the night (two nights in a row!). When the “black moment “ came, it was the blackest I’ve ever experienced. But the ending is a sweet reward. The book is a treasure. I recommend it!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

New Review: Meredith Duran’s BOUND BY YOUR TOUCH – Fabulous Victorian Romance with Egyptian Antiquities and an Interesting Heroine

Set entirely in London (though it involves the sale of antiquities from Eqypt and other places) and likely set the late 1800s (there are new "electric lights"), it begins as Lydia Boyce is told by the man she expects to marry that he's marrying one of her younger sisters. Brokenhearted, Lydia is gracious, reconciling herself to the fate of a bluestocking spinster. She's intelligent, witty and able to carry her own in any debate. She lectures at the museum and handles her father's antiquities business in London while he is in Egypt.

Enter silver-tongued, handsome James, Viscount Sanburne. In an attempt to upstage his father, he interrupts Lydia's lecture to present his father with an Egyptian funerary stela (stone slab). Lydia is miffed and takes the opportunity to declare the stela a fake. James and Lydia are thereafter joined in what seems a dance of dislike and distrust, even as they work together to solve the mystery of the fake antiquities that seem to be a part of her father's business, all the while people are trying to kill James for some jewels stolen from Egypt he knows nothing about. James is also waging a battle against his father who he blames for his sister's confinement in an asylum after she killed her abusive husband. He also blames himself for not saving her. Hence, his excuse for a life of debauchery.

It's a good story and will keep you turning pages. I really like Duran and recommend this one though I did like her first one, THE DUKE OF SHADOWS, and her most recent one, A LADY'S LESSON IN SCANDAL, a bit better. She writes well, and her stories are filled with convincing emotions and predicaments. No contrivance. And, something else that is different: Once they give their hearts, her heroes consistently love the heroines. I like that--a lot. The only thing that I will note is that you really need a dictionary to understand some of the sophisticated and novel terms she uses. Mind you, I'm not complaining. I learn something with each of her books. Here are some examples of the words I stumbled over in this one: stentorian, escritoire, tollick, instantiations, clarence, whilks, jeremiad and volte-face.

What Duran does best is capture emotion and real tension between two people falling in love in difficult circumstances. She also writes splendid love scenes...totally appropriate for the people and circumstances. And they aren't all alike as with some authors. I think this one is a keeper, like her others, and highly recommend it.

NOTE: BOUND BY YOUR TOUCH is related to the next one that follows, WRITTEN ON YOUR SKIN. Sanburne is a character in the latter book, and his friend, Phin, the cartographer and mysterious government agent in BOUND BY YOUR TOUCH, is the hero in WRITTEN ON YOUR SKIN. I recommend reading them both, and in order.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

New Review: Karen Robards’ ISLAND FLAME – Exciting Well Written Pirate Adventure with an Alpha Male Hero and a Strong Heroine

Ok, so it is a bodice ripper from the early 80’s (reissued with new cover), but I liked it. I liked it very much. Every now and then an arrogant alpha male (in this case a sea captain) can be cathartic, reminding us that all historical romance heroes are not nice guys. This one certainly wasn’t. The heroine starts out as a 17-year-old innocent brat, but she quickly grows up and actually develops some very mature outlooks. Like Scarlett in the movie Gone With The Wind, she takes longer than most to see the light (by the way I do recommend SCARLETT, the sequel to the movie…it’s very well done), but eventually she gets there (I think).

Set in 1842, this is the story of Lady Catherine Aldley, whose father sent her on a military ship to London from Lisbon where he was Ambassador, never knowing it is a silver transport ship and bate for an American pirate named Jonathan Hale who thinks nothing of raping (an ruining) an innocent well born lady half his age to have his pleasure. Cathy may be young and innocent but she is not tame. When Captain Hale captures her and sets out to tame her in a most brutal and humiliating way, he has no idea he will become her victim as well.

Say what you will about the old romances that don’t reflect 21st century sensibilities, but I can tell you this: this story kept me reading late into the night and that, folks, is a well-told tale. The pacing is fast, the action never ceasing and the chemistry between the two is compelling. Great sexual tension.

Modern historical romance authors can learn much from Robards. She makes some masterful twists and turns, I must say--all believable, which counts for much in my book. What did bother me was the reaction of the heroine. There was definitely some Stockholm syndrome going on as she came to see herself at fault (“she had brought her injuries on herself”), and the captain as heroic. Yes, he saved her from a band of nasty thieves and murderers, but she never would have been exposed to them in the first place if he hadn’t taken her captive. Any strong heroine would have tried to escape, right? ‘Nuf said.

I also thought Robards did a great job with the sailor/ship jargon, making real life on board ship. You might take that for granted but it required much work on her part. Her descriptions put you in the setting.

I’ll tell you what: I liked it well enough to order the sequel, SEA FIRE.

Friday, November 16, 2012

New Review: Margaret Mallory’s THE GUARDIAN – A Wonderful First in the Highland Series

This is the first in Mallory’s latest series, the Return of the Highlanders, and it’s a well written, worthy tale. It sets the stage for the stories of four Highland warriors whose lives to this point have been fighting and war, but after learning of the Scots' disastrous loss to Henry VIII, they return to the Isle of Skye to find their chieftain and king dead, and their clan in peril.

The four MacDonald men must take wives to serve the clan's interests. First up is Ian MacDonald who 5 years earlier was forced to wed the 13-year-old Sileas (“Shee-las”) who, as a child, followed him around like a devoted puppy. He hasn’t seen her since, nor has he thought about the wife he never claimed. She has changed. Now a beauty, she is tired of being ignored and decides to seek an annulment from the queen, just when Ian has decided he will keep her after all.

Ian comes across as a self-absorbed male for the first part of the book, which I suppose, he is. Then he discovers he married a woman who is actually desirable and admirable and might as well keep her. Sileas has never stopped loving Ian so she puts up with a lot, including the knowledge he has not been faithful to her, which he excuses as a time when he didn’t consider he was really married. I have to say the one icky part was the fact the woman Sileas had seen him have sex with was in the story the whole time.

I liked that Mallory wove in real historical facts. The characters are well drawn and the villains sufficiently evil to be believable. There is the clan rivalry and intrigue one would expect, too. She also has a nice blend of modern language and sufficient Scots for us to know we are reading a Scottish tale. We get to see Stirling castle and the Isle of Skye (and Sleat, pictured below)--and meet some real historic figures like Archibald Douglas, the Earl of Angus, who figured so prominently in Scotland’s history.

It’s a solid first story and will draw you into early 16th century Scotland and the Highlands. I recommend it.

The Return Of The Highlanders:

THE GUARDIAN – Ian and Sileas
THE SINNER – Alex and Glynis
THE WARRIOR – Duncan and Moira
THE CHIEFTAN – Conner and Ilys

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

New Review: Bertrice Small’s BETRAYED – Gripping Scottish Medieval Story

This romance is well named for it seems in it everyone is betrayed or betrays--or both. It's a gripping story of love denied and reclaimed with all of the historical details and sensual scenes Small's fans have come to love. Like all her stories that I have read, this is not a typical historical romance. The hero and heroine are separated, people you come to love die...yeah, it's a Bertrice Small story.

We first met Fiona Hay at the court of James I in "The Border Lord and The Lady," book 4 of Small's Border Chronicles series, where she appears as the beautiful mistress of Angus Gordon, a clan chieftain and friend of King James. Then suddenly the MacDonald of Nairn steals her and we hear no more. I was so curious I tracked this book down...this is her story.

The story begins in 1422 when then Prince James is a captive of the English throne. Fiona Hay is 15 and the eldest daughter of her parents, who are both dead. She has 5 sisters and promised her mother on her deathbed that she would see them all married. One has been wed but she has four more to see to the altar. In order to pay their dowers she has stolen cattle from 25 year old laird Angus Gordon. When she is caught, Angus exacts as a price her maidenhead and takes her as his mistress. Right away I didn't like him, as she was an innocent just trying to care for her family. He could have made her his wife, as his sister urged him to do, but no. I felt he deserved to lose her.

Two years later James Stewart is now on the throne of Scotland and Angus visits him at court taking Fiona his mistress and parading her as such before all at court. While he has fallen in love with her he won't tell her and he has yet to marry her. When King James sees that Colin MacDonald, the laird of Nairn, is taken with Fiona, he takes advantage of the chance to plant a spy in the Highlands and sends Angus off on a mission and tells Fiona the laird of Nairn will abduct her, but that she must go with him. He also tells her that he has picked a bride for Angus and it isn't her. She is distraught but feels she has little choice. Colin MacDonald loves Fiona enough to steal her but not apparently enough to allow her the man she loves. Thus, three men, none deserving, have betrayed poor Fiona. But the worst betrayal was the king's for he lied to her repeatedly for his own selfish gain causing her much heartbreak.

Pregnant with Angus' child, Fiona finds herself in the Highlands and handfasted to Colin MacDonald, who thinks the child is his. The story kept me reading late at night as few have. I had to know how this would turn out.

I loved this story!

Monday, November 12, 2012

New Review: Iris Johansen's THE BELOVED SCOUNDREL - 19th Century Balkan Romance a Great One!

I first discovered Iris Johansen when I read The Magnificent Rogue--a truly excellent historical romance. I then read Midnight Warrior that didn't reach that standard (and reviewed it as such). So, while I don't always give her 5 stars, I did on this one. I thought it was excellent.

Set in the years 1809 to 1812 in the Barkans and England, it tells the story of Marianna Sanders who is from a family in which the women for generations have preserved the fine are of stained glass that captures the sun and the heart. Her grandmother's stained glass windows graced some of the most beautiful chapels in Eastern Europe. Her mother was gifted as well and Marianna's early talent portends greatness. Born to loving parents, at 16, the young fair haired beauty and her 4 year old brother Alex are orphaned when her mother is killed by the evil Duke of Nebrov who wanted the secret of the Jedalar, a map contained within the Window to Heaven, a large stained glass window that graced the church in Montavia her native country in the Balkans. Alone and starving, Marianna and Alex go to the church only to find the precious window shattered by Nebrov's attack.

There in the church she encounters Jordan Draken the English Duke of Cambaron who has mysterious ties to the Balkans and has come to the church hoping to obtain the window. When he realizes who Marianna is, he lures her to his camp and decides to take her to England. Jordan desires Marianna not only for her ability to recreate the Window to Heaven and give him the Jedalar, but also because he is wildly attracted to the intelligent and beautiful young woman who beats him at chess and banters with him, unlike the boring women he has often had in his bed.

Hunted by Nebrov and pursued by Jordan, Marianna has to survive on her wits and her talents--and she does.

I liked the characters and thought Johansen did a masterful job of developing them. Jordan was a man who, like his father before him, engaged in a life of debauchery until he found a greater purpose in saving a Balkan kingdom from Napoleon. Marianna was an amazing girl and then a young woman who had incredible strength of character. She was courageous, unselfish, caring and committed to the promise she had made to her mother concerning the Jedalar.

The love between Marianna and Jordan grows slowly and each hides that truth deep inside even as they cannot deny the passion raging between them. There is a wonderful side story of the love between the good Gregor and a woman named Ana that adds a richness to the ending. The historical times are well portrayed and the action flowed continually.

It was a page turner and held my interest as so many of Johansen's novels do. I recommend it.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

New Review: Tina St. John’s LADY OF VALOR – 1st in her Warrior trilogy, a Moving Medieval Story, Rich in Historical Detail

This was my second medieval by St. John (Lord of Vengeance was the first), and I thought it an amazing read. She has a great medieval voice and has meticulously recreated life in 12th century England while drawing the reader in to a compelling story of a tortured hero and a lady trying to maintain her independence in a world that leaves women few choices.

Sir Cabal, known as “Blackheart,” the fiercest of King Richard’s warrior knights, is commanded to return to England from the Crusade to hold Fallonmour castle until the king can name a new lord and find a husband for the young widow, Lady Emmalyn. Cabal cares nothing for the assignment, but he is a dutiful knight so he goes. He is not prepared for the beauty that greets him. Lady Emmalyn is not sorry her cruel husband is dead. In the three years he’s been away the keep has thrived under her care. Now she dreads what this new guardian will mean for her people—and for herself.

The characters are richly drawn, the story convincing, the emotion real. Cabal is a hardened soldier with an ignoble past who lives with regret for his brutal life of killing though it is all he has ever known. He falls in love with the beautiful, tenderhearted Emmalyn, but knows he can never have her. She returns his love and tries desperately to convince him he is a worthy hero—just the kind of heroine we love—but to no avail.

The dowager Queen Eleanor is a character as well as her son, Richard the Lionheart, adding realism to the story.

I wholeheartedly recommend this one.

The Warrior trilogy:


The chronological order:

WHITE LIONS LADY (1179 and 1189)
LADY OF VALOR (1192, 1193)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

New Review: Lisa Jackson’s SORCERESS – Unique Blend of Historical Romance and Fantasy/Paranormal Elements

I read Jackson’s Welsh trilogy (ENCHANTRESS, KISS OF THE MOON and OUTLAW) and loved it, and thought I’d read her second Welsh trilogy. SORCERESS, set in late 13th century Wales, is the third in that trilogy, a medieval romance with strong fantasy/paranormal elements. It can be read as a stand alone.

It tells of a legend of the Chosen One:

Sired by Darkness,
Born of Light,
Protected by the Sacred Dagger,
A ruler of all men, all beasts and beings,
It is he who shall be born on the Eve of Samhain.

Bryanna of Calon knew she was different, the only one of her siblings with powers and the ability to hear voices others did not. But it wasn’t until she was 16 that she learned her real mother was a woman considered a witch who died at the hands of evil men. Bryanna has the dagger, and has been given a quest to search out the gems that gave the dagger its power, and once she has it, she must use it to save the Chosen One. In her search for the jewels, she will encounter great evil. She will also find love with the warrior Gavyn whose father, a baron, hates and hunts him.

As the treasure hunt progresses, both Bryanna and Gavyn are hunted. They form a bond between them, unaware of the claim evil has staked for Bryanna.

A fascinating, though in some places slow moving tale from old Wales, Jackson has done a great job of weaving fantasy into historical romance. She includes much historic detail on the castle and village life at the time, adding amazing realism. The plot is complex and many characters come together for the dramatic final scene. Though there are a few places where the evil actions of the villain were a bit much and the pagan references a bit repetitive, still I was entertained and happy to read on.

I recommend it, particularly for historical romance fans who like fantasy, too.

The trilogy:


Wednesday, November 7, 2012

And the Winner is...

Congratulations, Naomi Baltuck! You won your choice of Ellen O'Connell's wonderful Western Historical novels! Contact me via my author website so I can get your choice and information to Ellen. It's

Best Western Historical Romances!

I first discovered Western romances by reading those written by my favorite authors who also wrote in other sub-genres (when I was gobbling up their backlists). Since then, I have become a true fan of the sub-genre and find myself every now and then reaching for a good romance from the Old West. So, it seemed a “best” list was in order to share some of these wonderful stories with you.

Here are the best of those I’ve read…all rated 4, 4 and ½ or 5 stars by me. Some have won Golden Heart, RITA and other awards.

I think you’ll like these!

Mountain Mistress by Nadine Crenshaw
Captive Melody by Nadine Crenshaw
Love Cherish Me by Rebecca Brandewyne
Under The Desert Moon by Marsha Canham
Heart of the West by Penelope Williamson
The Outsider by Penelope Williamson
Night Wind’s Woman, White Apache’s Woman and Deep as the Rivers, trilogy by Shirl Henke
Capture the Sun, The Endless Sky and Sundancer, trilogy by Shirl Henke
A Fire in the Blood by Shirl Henke
McCrory’s Lady by Shirl Henke
Broken Vows by Shirl Henke
Love Unwilling By Shirl Henke
Comanche Moon, Comanche Heart and Indigo Blue (from the Comanche series) by Catherine Anderson
Reckless Angel by Elizabeth Awbrey (aka Elizabeth Stuart)
Fair is the Rose by Meagan McKinney
The Darkest Heart by Brenda Joyce
Eyes of Silver, Eyes of Gold by Ellen O’Connell
Sing My Name by Ellen O’Connell
Dancing on Coals by Ellen O’Connell
Beautiful Bad Man by Ellen O'Connell
Pieces of Sky, Open Country and Chasing the Sun (the Blood Rose trilogy) by Kaki Warner
Brighter Than Gold by Cynthia Wright
Fireblossom and Wildblossom, the Matthews duology by Cynthia Wright
Innocent Fire, Firestorm, Violet Fire and The Fires of Paradise (from The Bragg Saga) by Brenda Joyce
Brave the Wild Wind, Savage Thunder and Angel, Wyoming trilogy by Johanna Lindsey
A Heart So Wild by Johanna Lindsey
Silken Savage by Catherine Hart
While Passion Sleeps by Shirlee Busbee
Sweet Savage Love by Rosemary Rogers
Branded Hearts by Heather Graham (Pozzessere)
The Bequest by Candice Proctor
No Other Man, No Other Woman and No Other Love, trilogy by Shannon Drake

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Favorite Author and My Guest Today: Western Historical Romance Author Ellen O’Connell Talking About An Independent Path

For all my followers, you are in for a special treat today as my guest, Ellen O’Connell, is one of the best authors of Western Historical Romance I know (and I’ve read a lot of them!). I have read all her novels and given each 5 stars, and of course, she is on my Best Western Historical Romance list. Her own story is an interesting one and all prospective authors (as well as readers) should consider her insightful comments.

Ellen has graciously agreed to give away a copy of any one of her books to one of those leaving a comment--an eBook sent anywhere or a paperback to someone commenting with a US address who prefers paperback). So comment for a chance to win!

Welcome, Ellen!

Thank you, Regan, for the invitation to be a guest on your blog. I’ve read previous guest blogs here and know I’m in illustrious company.

Writing My First Novel

Those other guests undoubtedly all started their writing careers in more dignified ways than I did. In fact if someone held a contest searching for the author who started in the strangest way, I would enter and expect to win because a bet started me off. My sister and I had been having one of those common reader discussions of books we liked and disliked and of course before long we got to, “I could write something better than that.”

That particular day we didn’t stop there. We kept going and challenged each other to prove we really could do it. We would each write our better book, and the first one to finish would win. Being competitive at best of times and more so in sibling situations, I set out to win that bet.

Threads in romance forums along the lines of “What I Hate About....” show I’m not the only one with a list of tropes that don’t make me sigh with satisfaction but grind my teeth in aggravation. From the start I knew I couldn’t write anything that mentioned flowing tresses or emerald eyes once, much less once every five pages, but I concentrated on more substantial issues.

My book would have a hero who came across as strong and masculine without being arrogant, domineering, or manipulative. My heroine would be strong enough to be his equal, no silly TSTL script for her. Love was not going to change anyone’s personality 180 degrees in 300 pages. My hero and heroine were not going to quarrel their way into bed; lust wasn’t going to substitute for love. I wanted to stay within the conventions of what we all know as romance but also wanted to stay as realistic as possible.

I won that bet by writing the first draft of what would become EYES OF SILVER, EYES OF GOLD, and EYES has continued to be a winning book for me, one that still draws in new fans by the hundreds every month two and a half years after I first published it. My determination to avoid characters that don’t appeal to me doing things that make me throw books across the room (or these days slap the Kindle shut) has driven my subsequent three romances, and so has the determination to create each story unique from the others. I believe I’ve achieved that so far. What will happen when I get to ten? Twenty? I’m not so sure but have faith it will work out. My faith comes from the fact the stars have aligned in ways that pushed me this far.

Investigating the Publication Possibilities—the Indie Path

After winning the bet with my sister, I investigated publishing. That was long enough ago that traditional publishing was the only available route. I joined Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers, attended writers’ conferences and editor/agent appointments. I entered contests. ROTTWEILER RESCUE, my first indie published book, won the mystery division of RMFW’s annual Colorado Gold Contest. EYES was a second place finalist in that contest and one other. I was a member of a very good critique group for several years.

The problem with all that investigation was that while I learned a lot about writing, I also learned a lot about the publishing industry and didn’t like any of it. In spite of attending the conferences and meeting editors and agents, I never mailed a single query letter or sent a requested partial manuscript. The lack of control, time necessary to invest, and minimal financial reward for that time invested all convinced me that writing as a profession was nothing I wanted to do. A full time job and an avocation raising, training, and showing horses were all I could manage anyway.
When I finally turned my back on the whole idea for good, EYES OF SILVER, EYES OF GOLD and ROTTWEILER RESCUE were finished stories and SING MY NAME was little more than a half-finished first draft.

By late 2009 when I first saw tantalizing snippets of information on the Internet about Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) program, my situation was different. Age and injuries had forced me to wind down my horse operation. At that time I believed all the conventional wisdom about the futility of self-publishing, but I had two and a half books on my computer that would never see a reader any other way. I had nothing to lose.

After months of reading everything I could find on self-publishing both eBooks and POD (print on demand) paperbacks, I published ROTTWEILER RESCUE with no expectations whatsoever. If it sold one copy, that would be one more than I ever expected. ROTTWEILER RESCUE sold 300 copies in its first full month, and although it is my slowest seller, it has now earned more than twice the advance published authors once assured me a book of that kind could bring a first-time author.

The results of my experiment astounded me. What if I had four of those? I didn’t. All I had finished was EYES, and everyone knew western historical romances were out of style and had no audience. Still, what if it sold a few copies? I published EYES in April of 2010. At first all my dismal expectations looked to be coming true. EYES didn’t sell nearly as well as the mystery, but by June something magical started, and I am so very grateful to the readers who found an indie western historical romance among the hundreds of thousands of books at Amazon, spread the word, and changed my life.

After that, of course, I had to get busy and start writing again. I finished SING MY NAME in 2010 and wrote DANCING ON COALS in 2011. BEAUTIFUL BAD MAN, released September 29th, is my 2012 story. My goal is to complete another Rottweiler mystery and another romance before the end of next year, and I believe that’s a realistic goal.

The indie path isn’t for every writer, but for me it has been the only way. Since the success of my books, I’ve had contacts from editors and agents involved in traditional publishing, and I’ve tried to remain open minded, but what they offer still doesn’t work for me, either financially or artistically.

I like what I’m doing and the way I’m able to do it. DANCING ON COALS, my Native American romance, has the best overall review average of all my books, but an occasional reviewer says, “It’s not a romance.” I think it is, but it’s my kind of romance, and no agent or editor was able to force me to make it a more conventional Native American story. In BEAUTIFUL BAD MAN, the hero, Cal Sutton, doesn’t do any politically correct turn around and hang up his guns for love of his lady. He may love Norah, but he’s not hanging up his guns and she’s not asking him to. In fact he’s as ready to gun down an enemy in the last chapter as the first.

As the saying goes, that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

New Review: Virginia Henley’s THE RAVEN AND THE ROSE – A 15th Century Romance and a Wonderful Tale!

Rich in history of 15th century England, this is a passionate love story between two stubborn, strong-willed people who reached for all life could give and rose to every challenge, including each other. The author, Virginia Henley, is one of my favorites and always makes my "Best" lists.

It is the time when King Edward IV ruled England, though he faced threats from many enemies. Beautiful Roseanna Castlemaine rides and hunts with the best of her father’s men and is an expert at horse breeding. She does what she pleases. At 17, she learns she is the illegitimate daughter of the king, who has been her mother’s lover since they were 14. Roseanna’s “first love” is a landless knight, Sir Bryan, who writes her poetry. They pledge their love to each other, though she has been betrothed for years to Roger Montford, Baron of Ravenspur. She has never met the baron and he’s never claimed her. The King did that mostly to protect Ravenspur from having to ward off the parents of marriageable young girls as he’d already had two disastrous marriages that ended in the death of both wives.

Wanting out of a betrothal that is preventing her from marrying the man she loves, Roseanna rides to the hunting lodge where Ravenspur is staying to ask him to drop his claim so she can marry Sir Bryan. But her plans go awry when she is beset by a storm and her horse runs away. She is found in a bedraggled state by Tristan, Ravenspur’s younger brother who thinks her a simple village girl and decides she is a grand prize for his brother.

This is another good one by Henley, with a great story, sexy love scenes, a worthy hero and a heroine to inspire. It’s in the vein of the others she wrote at this time:

The Hawk and the Dove (1988) - Winner of the Romantic Times Award for Best Elizabethan Historical Romance
The Falcon and the Flower (1989) - Winner of the Romantic Times Award for Most Sensual
The Pirate and the Pagan (1990) - Winner of the Romantic Times Award for Best English Historical Romance
The Dragon and the Jewel (1991)

I highly recommend them all!

Friday, November 2, 2012

New Review: Jennifer Horsman’s A KISS IN THE NIGHT – Complex, well-told tale from a legend of 16th century France

Horsman is one of my all time favorite historical romance authors because of her complex plots, detailed storytelling and emotion of the characters. She has not failed to disappoint with this one. According to the author’s note, it’s based on a true story…or a legend surrounding one…from a 16th century French theologian and a collection of letters concerning the last woman condemned to die at the stake on the charge of witchery who was saved by a young French nobleman. It is very well done…intriguing to the very end.

Set in France in 1513 (and 1519), this tells the story of 15-year-old Linness of Sauvage, a poor girl but raised in a convent when her second “sight” was discovered and then at 15 condemned as a witch. A gallant young knight, Paxton Gaillard Chamberlain, saves her from the stake. In a moment of self-indulgent battle lust, Paxton robs Linness of her virginity and leaves her naked in the forest (with a ring to remember him by) and words that he would return—words she does not hear. In a bizarre coincidence, she comes across the dead bodies of Lady Belinda (the betrothed of Paxton’s older twin brother) and her guards who were attacked by bandits. Encouraged by one of the dying guards to assume the identity of the Lady Belinda, who he tells Linness the brother, Morgan has never seen, Linness dresses in the dead girl’s clothes and takes her identity, unaware that the knight, Paxton, who made love to her is Morgan’s estranged younger brother. (Are you still with me?)

Well researched, it brings to life France in the early 1500s when King Francis brought peace to the country. Horsman describes well the wine industry at the time, the architecture, culture, dress and food. The characters are well developed and the plot complex. Horsman’s writing style is a bit unique in that she frequently changes points of view. I quickly got used to it and even enjoyed the seamless head hopping. I highly recommend it.

And the Winner is...

The winner of the collector's copy of Sandra Worth's THE ROSE OF YORK: LOVE AND WAR is Lisa Kessler. It pays to comment!

Congratulations, Lisa!