Sunday, December 30, 2012

New Review: Johanna Lindsey’s HEARTS AFLAME – Superb Viking-Saxon Romance!

This was my first by Johanna Lindsey but I have since read many more, becoming one of her fans. When I read it, I did not realize HEARTS AFLAME was 2nd in a trilogy of a Viking family (FIRES OF WINTER, HEARTS AFLAME and SURRENDER MY LOVE), but it can be enjoyed as a stand-alone. It is one of my favorite Viking romances and quite wonderful--an engaging story well-told. In a bit of a twist, it’s a Saxon lord capturing a Viking maiden.

Set in the late 9th century when Vikings sailed south to England, Scotland and Ireland to raid, it tells the story of Kristen Haardrad, the independent, strong-willed and much loved daughter of a wealthy Viking merchant (whose story is told in Fires of Winter). Having spurned her many suitors because she can find no spark of love with any of them, she stows away on her brother's ship believing he is headed to the southern coastal towns for trade where she hopes to find a husband. But her brother is not sailing to trade but rather to raid. And he is not pleased when he discovers his sister is aboard, but proceeds with his plans nonetheless. It all goes awry when Kristen is captured and made the slave of the Saxon lord, Royce of Wyndhurst, favored knight of King Alfred.

Royce is a tough but fair leader who is betrothed to a manipulating female he doesn't really want. He fights his attraction to his beautiful Viking slave, but Kristen, who has finally met a man who stirs her passion, has decided he is her "heartmate." Kristen is proud and determined to win his heart and not just his body.

Lindsey keeps you intrigued with rich characters, snappy (and sometimes funny) dialog, great action scenes and wonderfully believable tension between Kristen and Royce. I loved this story and will certainly re-read it.

It's the best of the trilogy and definitely a keeper!

Friday, December 28, 2012

New Review: Maureen Kurr’s NORTHWARD THE HEART – Entertaining Read But Not The Usual Viking Romance

This novel won the Romance Writers of America's Golden Heart award in 1984, and was published the year after. It is one of the classics from the time when historical romance was exploding and many new, wonderful authors entered the genre.

Set in the early 10th century when the Norwegians, Danes and Saxons were all enemies, and all vying for a piece of England, one Dane chieftain wants an alliance with Saxon King Edward of Wessex so they might join forces against the Norwegians. To gain leverage, Raff Olafsson kidnaps Edward’s sister AElfwyn, former Queen of Mercia, with a marriage of convenience in mind. Only it isn’t AElfwyn he has kidnapped—it’s Ambyre of Athelney, her handmaiden, and beloved ward of King Edward.

Ambyre lies to Raff to spare her mistress but wonders what she’ll tell him to escape the marriage. Then Ambyre’s tutor, a skinny Saxon who is in love with her, shows up and claims to be her husband thereby thwarting Raff’s marriage plans. All is quite the jumble until Ambyre falls in love with Raff and gives herself to him. Aware he has bedded a virgin, Raff is livid he’s been deceived.

It’s not your typical Viking romance in that there is no raid where the heroine is taken captive. Still, she is taken by the Danes (what the Saxons called the Vikings) and not returned for most of the story. Then, too, she is fully accepted by the Danes and becomes attached to her enemies. The marriage of convenience Raff has in mind will, for Ambyre, be one of love.

The story is well written, with some excellent twists and turns as Ambyre’s lies are slowly discovered. It held my interest though some will find it a bit slower than many of today’s stories (and it’s 472 pages!). The author took her time developing the relationships between the characters and the people groups populating England (incorrectly referred to as “races”) and obviously did a good amount of research to get the setting and the cultures right. For that I give her full marks.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

My Christmas Gift to you: my Favorite Heroes & Heroines List!

I have read and reviewed over 500 historic romance novels and given 5 stars to many, but among them are heroes and heroines that resonate with me…noble men who though they may have tortured pasts, flaws and all the odds are against them, rise to conquer and to love; and heroines who overcome great obstacles to be with the men they love—strong women of character. Ah yes, worthy heroines and heroes. Here are my favorites as of today:


Devon from THE WINDFLOWER by Laura London
Gabriel from BROKEN WING by Judith James
Gannon from ON A HIGHLAND SHORE by Kathleen Givens
Alex from KILGANNON by Kathleen Givens
Cord from EYES OF SILVER, EYES OF GOLD by Ellen O’Connell
Trevor from LIONS AND LACE by Meagan McKinney
Simon from ACROSS A MOONLIT SEA by Marsha Canham
Ethan from IF YOU DECEIVE by Kresley Cole
Derek from THE CAPTAIN OF ALL PLEASURES by Kresley Cole
Rory from BROKEN VOWS by Shirl Henke
Simon from THE DRAGON AND THE JEWEL by Virginia Henley
Shane from THE HAWK AND THE DOVE by Virginia Henley
Christian from DECEPTIVE HEART by Maureen Kurr
Drake from PIRATE’S ANGEL by Marsha Bauer
Adrian from THE BLACK HAWK by Joanna Bourne
Cougar from MOUNTAIN MISTRESS by Nadine Crenshaw
Derek from INNOCENT FIRE by Brenda Joyce
Johnny from THE OUTSIDER by Penelope Williamson
Julian from THE DUKE OF SHADOWS by Meredith Duran
Wolf from LOVE, CHERISH ME by Rebecca Brandewyne
Jesse from ONE WORE BLUE by Heather Graham
Zack from HEART OF THE WEST by Penelope Williamson
Shay from THE PASSIONS OF EMMA by Penelope Williamson
Jamie from OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon
Brandon from THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER by Kathleen Woodiwiss
Callum from LAIRD OF THE MIST by Paula Quinn
Lucas from WHISPERS OF HEAVEN by Candice Proctor
Daegan from RAELIKSEN by Renee Vincent
Roc from A PIRATE’S PLEASURE by Heather Graham
Francis from HEARTSTORM by Elizabeth Stuart


Sarah from BROKEN WING by Judith James
Fallon from PRINCESS OF FIRE by Heather Graham
Mary from KILGANNON by Kathleen Givens
Katherine from DANCING ON COALS by Ellen O’Connell
Anne from EYES OF SILVER, EYES OF GOLD by Ellen O'Connell
Kayleigh from MY WICKED ENCHANTRESS by Meagan McKinney
Cassie from DEVIL’S EMBRACE by Catherine Coulter
Isabeau from ACROSS A MOONLIT SEA by Marsha Canham
Maddy from IF YOU DECEIVE by Kresley Cole
Nicole from THE CAPTAIN OF ALL PLEASURES by Kresley Cole
Darcy from BEYOND THE CLIFFS OF KERRY by Amanda Hughes
Lauren from THE PRIDE OF THE KING by Amanda Hughes
Scarlett from SCARLETT by Alexandra Ripley
Eleanor from THE DRAGON AND THE JEWEL by Virginia Henley
Sara from THE HAWK AND THE DOVE by Virginia Henley
Summer from THE PIRATE AND THE PAGAN by Virginia Henley
Justine from THE BLACK HAWK by Joanna Bourne
Flame from MOUNTAIN MISTRESS by Nadine Crenshaw
Maggie from THE BORDER VIXEN by Bertrice Small
Clementine from HEART OF THE WEST by Penelope Williamson
Emma from THE PASSIONS OF EMMA by Penelope Williamson
Jessalyn from ONCE IN A BLUE MOON by Penelope Williamson
Heather from THE FLAME AND THE FLOWER by Kathleen Woodiwiss
Shanna from SHANNA by Kathleen Woodiwiss
Aislinn from THE WOLF AND THE DOVE by Kathleen Woodiwiss
Jessie from WHISPERS OF HEAVEN by Candice Proctor
Whitney from THE PARADISE BARGAIN by Betina Krahn
Skye from A PIRATE’S PLEASURE by Heather Graham
Katherine from THE GAME by Brenda Joyce

Saturday, December 22, 2012

New Review: Miriam Minger’s THE PAGAN’S PRIZE – Entertaining Viking Tale Set in 11th Century Russia!

This was my first by Minger and it’s a worthy Viking tale with a twist—it’s set in Russia in 1024.

Viking warrior Rurik Sigurdson, a Varangian (mercenary) on a mission for Grand Prince Yaroslav, ruler of Rus land (Russia), plans to to spy on the armies of Yaroslav’s enemy—his younger brother, Prince Mstislav. In the process, Rurik unknowingly captures Princess Zora, Mstislav’s much loved bastard daughter. Rurik believes she is the concubine of another man who he can use to gain intelligence. Zora has temporary amnesia that puts her in a dazed state most of the time. In a harebrained plan to find out who her lover is, Rurik makes love to the dazed woman only to realize she is a virgin (really it’s rape since she couldn’t knowingly consent). Zora wants to escape to return to her father and her betrothed, but Yaroslav (her uncle) forces her to wed Rurik.

I loved Zora. She was feisty and courageous and took no guff from Rurik. That is, until the marriage, after which she crumbled whenever Rurik touched her. Rurik was a reasonable man and a strong leader of his people, though he treated woman as mere comforts (until Zora). He kept 6 concubines who had given him 5 children. Into this comes innocent Zora. There were some improbable moments (like when his concubines were fine with being married off to Rurik’s men), but it is well written, fast paced and held my interest. It is clear that Minger has taken pains to get the history right, too.

Her other Viking novel is TWIN PASSIONS, which I also plan to read.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

New Review: Heather Graham’s GOLDEN SURRENDER – Thrilling 1st in a Great Viking Trilogy!

This is the first in Graham's Viking trilogy (GOLDEN SURRENDER, THE VIKING'S WOMAN and LORD OF THE WOLVES). Set in 9th century Ireland (Eire), England and the north coast of France, these are the stories of Prince Olaf of Norway, the first Lord of the Wolves, his bride, Princess Erin, daughter of the Irish High King, the Ard-Righ of Tara, and their descendants.

I'll warn you, the men are strong willed, arrogant and domineering--Vikings, even if the last two are half Irish. Who wants a gentleman Viking? Their loves are independent, stubborn and courageous women who can fight with the best of the men and have no intention of being dominated by a Viking. But then wolves and the cubs of wolves mate for life, or so says the druid who is advisor to the Irish king's family. Each of the marriages is arranged over the objection of the female who fights the husband who has laid claim to both her lands and to her.

This first story of Olaf and Erin in GOLDEN SURRENDER is a good one and tells us much of what the Norsemen contributed to Ireland's history. They came not only to conquer but to give to the land and to give of themselves. Olaf came in his dragon ship to build a kingdom and to stay. He welcomes the Irish king's truce sealed by his daughter's hand, even if Olaf has no desire for the Irish wench. Erin, who has met the Wolf before and hates him, feels betrayed by the father she loves. Though the marriage begins on very bad terms, love does change things in the end.

Graham's writing is, as always, amazing with in depth historical references to the times, woven into a love story that befits the cultures of the hero and heroine. The sexual tension is high and the love between Olaf and Erin, which comes in the end, believable.

I highly recommend this trilogy. For you Irish romance lovers, it's a story of the early days in a great country. Ones not to be missed!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

New Review: Catherine Coulter’s SEASON OF THE SUN – Brilliant Viking Story!

A well-told Viking tale set in the Danelaw (Danish ruled territory of England) and Norway in the late 9th century. Like others of Coulter’s, she doesn’t hold back when it comes to the violence of the times nor the cruelty inflicted on a worthy heroine by a bold alpha male who has his information wrong. I love that about her writing, but some who are looking for a softer story might not. If you can get past that (and I did), the story will hold your attention and I highly recommend it. Coulter’s portrayal of loss and grief were, in my opinion, nothing short of brilliant.

It tells the story of Magnus Haraldsson, a jarl from Norway and a merchant, who on a trip to York, spots the woman he wants for his wife, beautiful Irish Zarabeth (I pictured a young Maureen O’Hara). He introduces himself to her, telling her she will wed him. He’s direct about his accomplishments and knows when he kisses her she finds him attractive. Innocent Zarabeth will have the Viking if he’ll take her young deaf half sister, Lotti, which he will.

All the while Magnus is making plans, Zarabeth's evil stepfather, Olav the Vain wants her as his own wife. He forces her to reject the Viking threatening to kill Lotti if she does not. Zarabeth complies and the Viking sails away, bitter at her rejection. Olav weds her, but never beds her when he is poisoned by his son’s greedy wife. Zarabeth is framed for Olaf’s murder and at her trial Magnus arrives to persuade the court to make Zarabeth his slave. Thus it is that Zarabeth sails for Norway with Magnus, but as his slave, not his wife.

Talk about the perils of Pauline! This heroine had her troubles in spades. Both she and the hero at times seemed a bit dense. Initially, she failed to trust Magnus to help her and he believed the lie she did not want him. But each has courage that is compelling. The whole time I was reading her misadventures, I kept thinking that this is one hero who is going to have to grovel big time in the end. And I was not disappointed. Neither will you be. Both Zarabeth and Magnus will suffer before they find happiness. I thought Coulter did a superb job in this well-researched tale of England and Norway.

It’s exciting, fast-paced, detailed and well written. For Viking romance lovers, it is not one to be missed.

Coulter’s Viking Series:


Monday, December 17, 2012

New Review: Flora Speer’s VIKING PASSION – A Thinking Viking Traveling the Trade Routes with a Strong Heroine

Set in the late 9th century, this well researched, well-written Viking tale does not disappoint. It is rich in character development, rich in the customs of the Vikings and shows what happened to many in England and Ireland whose unguarded villages were easy prey for the marauders from the North.

On the day her brother was to wed her good friend, Lenora’s East Anglia village was struck by the Norseman Snorri Thorkellsson and his Danish Vikings. All the men were killed and she and her close friend were taken as slaves back to the Vikings’ lair in Denmark, where Lenora was given to the chieftain’s youngest son, Erik Thorkellsson. Lenora hates them all but learns what she must to survive. Treachery and hatred abound, as Snorri hates his half brother, Erik, and plots to take all that is his.

As Erik's slave, Lenora travels the trade routes to Constantinople (“Miklagard”), and we get to see much of that ancient world. (“You must have Norse blood, Lenora. You have the Viking passion for adventure, and the desire to see new sights, just as I have.”) It’s interesting and at times intriguing. They face threats navigating rapids, fighting off treacherous thieves and those who would have Lenora for their own. Lenora must face her growing love for Erik even as she is repelled by the Vikings who stripped her of her family and her old life.

This one held my attention and I recommend it.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

New Review: Kathleen Givens' KILGANNON - A Keeper of a Scottish Historical!

I read Kathleen Given's ON A HIGHLAND SHORE and its sequel RIVALS FOR THE CROWN and became a devoted fan of her amazing talent for weaving a story from Scotland's history that sweeps you away. She is one of those who inspired me to write historical want to move others' hearts as she had moved mine.

KILGANNON is a story of the same Highlander family in ON A HIGHLAND SHORE, but ten generations later--in 1712. Mary Lowell was a pampered debutante, swept up in London's society of parties and entertainment, but saw no suitors that appealed. It was expected she'd marry the Campbell but she wasn't very excited about it. Then Alex MacGannon, the Earl of Kilgannon, shows up one evening wearing a kilt and Mary is intrigued, captivated. They called him a barbarian, a Scottish chief of clan MacGannon who sailed the seas in his ships. But Mary finds the Scottish lord polished and with a wonderful sense of humor. Alex knows what he wants and he wants Mary Lowell for his wife, to live with him and his two young sons in castle Kilgannon. As the Highlands are torn by rebellion, Mary is drawn into the conflict as another man competes for her love.

Alex is every bit the man his ancestor, Gannon, was and I could not help falling in love with him as he pursued the English heroine, a strong woman of substance who would leave her own land for his. He is winsome, intelligent and persistent. And Givens captures his Highlander voice perfectly. Her writing is wonderfully descriptive and the feelings between the two characters develop subtly and believably. You are drawn into their world without realizing it. I should add that she is one of the few romance authors who wrote in first person and did it so well.

If you loved ON A HIGHLAND SHORE, you will love this one, too. The sequel, THE WILD ROSE OF KILGANNON, continues story of Alex and Mary as they face England's wrath together. When you can't stop reading, you know you've found a keeper. The two books comprise a rich tale of the 18th century you will want to re-read! Givens is a superb storyteller.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

New Review: Josie Litton’s DREAM OF ME and BELIEVE IN ME – 1st Two Books in Viking Saga Worth the Read

Set in the 9th century, this special edition contains books 1 and 2 in Litton’s Viking trilogy, a saga of two Viking lords and one Saxon lord who must make marriages to bring peace between the Norse and King Alfred of Essex and to fight the Danes together. In each case the bride they get comes with a special gift. This latter aspect, to me, made the stories seem less serious, giving them a whimsical feel that is not your classic Viking romance.

DREAM OF ME: Well told, entertaining story of a Viking Lord and his Saxon Bride

This first one is a very written Viking story with historical accuracy in the details, the life of the Norse well described and an endearing romance between two strong willed people. I thought it the best of the two and really enjoyed it.

When Wolf Hakonson’s offer of marriage to Saxon Lord Hawk’s sister is rebuffed, he does what any good Viking would—he kidnaps her in the dead of night and forces her to wed him or see her brother dead. Lady Cymbra is a healer with extraordinary sensitivity to people’s pain. She agrees to the marriage to protect her brother and then begins to fall in love with her harsh Viking lord.

Wolf is a worthy leader but not your typical Viking—he’s more of a merchant than your typical pillager. He wants peace with the Saxons and doesn’t plan to spend much time on the wife he had to take to get it. But he is in for a surprise when the beautiful Saxon maid defies him and his desire for her makes him withhold his wrath. She wins the hearts of his people and would turn him into a caring husband. I really liked Wolf and Cymbra together...lots of iron sharpening iron as they find a way to stay together.

BELIEVE IN ME: More Fantasy in this story of a Saxon Lord and a Norse Maid

After the “perfect” couple of Wolf and Cymbra, it had to be difficult to find another that could hold the reader’s interest as well. So, I think most readers will feel a bit of a let down with this story coming, as it does, right after the first.

Wolf’s brother-in-law, Lord Hawk was not pleased when King Alfred commanded him to take a Saxon bride, especially since it was not a woman of Hawk’s choosing. And now he’s further annoyed that his bride, the Lady Krysta is late in coming to Hawkforte. Instead three of her servants arrive: a man who seems the dwarf, a strange woman named “Raven” and a young pixie like girl to whom Hawk is very attracted. Little does he know but the pixie he favors is Krysta.

Very early on Hawk discovers the ruse and the rest of the story is the couple’s getting to know each other and overcome misunderstandings. And, like Cymbra, she will encounter opposition and women who wanted her man. Oh, and she has some special talents that bring in the fantasy element and are the source of her many insecurities.

Hawkforte is an elaborate dwelling, more like a castle than a Saxon thane’s dwelling, but still made for a nice setting.

The action and the tension between the two slows quite a bit in places but still the story is charming and I can recommend it. Just know it’s not the fast paced Viking action story you might think at first encounter, nor as intriguing as DREAM OF ME. Hawk is a very capable leader but without the stormy side that Wolf had which made him such a compelling Norseman.

The trilogy:

DREAM OF ME (Wolf and Cymbra)
BELIEVE IN ME (Cymbra’s brother, Hawk and Krysta)
COME BACK TO ME (Wolf’s brother, Dragon and Rycca)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

New Review: Nadine Crenshaw’s EDIN’S EMBRACE – A Great Viking Romance from a Wonderful Author

Having loved Nadine Crenshaw's VIKING GOLD, I was pleased to discover this, earlier Viking romance. Written in 1989, it is every bit as good as VIKING GOLD and is as engaging as any romance written today. In fact, some of the earlier ones are the best in my opinion and should be savored. This is one of them.

Set in the 9th century, this involves a Saxon maiden, Edin, of noble birth living in Alfred the Great's Wessex, England. She is about to be wed when Vikings attack her manor home, Fair Hope. They are led by Thoryn Kirkynson, a tall powerful Viking jarl come for plunder. Thoryn thinks nothing of attacking Edin's home and stripping it of all its treasures, including her. He slays Edin's fiancé before her very eyes and takes her back to Norway to be his bed thrall (sex slave). Once a lady who looked forward to her marriage, she is now a slave with no hope of a future apart from her "master." Though Thoryn can be cold and brutal, he can also be gentle and he becomes enraptured with Edin. And, she begins to love him even as she hates the Vikings for the cruel, savage life they live.

This is an amazing look not only at the Viking culture but also the life of a beautiful, educated young woman who was born to nobility but is reduced to slavery. Her courageous spirit wins the respect of many. And she has an effect on all around her.

Crenshaw weaves a story that will keep you reading late into the night. She is a master storyteller and takes care with historical detail and descriptions of places. She doesn't spare us the pagan rituals and the worship of the Viking gods. Her characters are richly drawn and the emotions very believable. Her love scenes are frequent and so much a part of the way the story naturally develops, you can't imagine the story without them, particularly in this case. And, I love her heroines: Brave women overcoming great odds to survive in a world that is not kind to women. Her heroes are strong men worthy of being tamed.

I think Nadine Crenshaw was one of the early great romance authors and I highly recommend this one for my fellow Viking romance lovers!

Sunday, December 9, 2012

New Review: Renee Vincent’s THE TEMPERATE WARRIOR – Wonderful Installment in the Viking Saga: Gustaf’s Story

Vincent’s latest addition to her Emerald Isle Viking novels will satisfy those who have been waiting for Gustaf’s story. He’s the Viking warrior who is the older brother of Daegan, the hero in RAELIKSEN, book 1 in the Emerald Isle trilogy.

Set in 923 AD, it tells the story of Gustaf and Aesa, who first met in MAC LIAM, book 2 in the Emerald Isle trilogy. For 23 years, Gustaf has hunted and killed the ten men who killed his father on orders from the King of Norway. From one of the murderers he located on Iceland, he stole a redheaded woman, Aesa, who was a sex slave from the age of 14 when she was first captured. Kept as a thrall, but now freed by Gustaf, she calls him her temperate warrior. Finally Gustaf and his men have completed their mission and can settle down. Gustaf wants only Aesa, but there are evil men about he must still deal with for her to be safe.

Vincent writes well and has obviously done her research to accurately describe the culture of the Norsemen. You’ll enjoy this well written continuation of the story, though I do think you’ll find the second half more exciting than he first with some excellent fight scenes. (The first has quite a few steamy love scenes as Gustaf and Aesa reunite after a separation.) As always, there are side stories, and even a side romance for one of Gustaf’s warriors.

For the beginning of the romance between Gustaf and Aesa you’ll need to read MAC LIAM. And to understand that one, you’ll have to first read RAELIKSEN.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Behind the story...Christmas in London with Berry Bros. & Rudd

Today you can find Berry Bros. & Rudd wine merchants at No. 3 St. James Street in London—just as you could during the Regency period from 1811 to 1820, though the name over the door then was “George Berry.” This historic establishment has been in business since 1698 at the same location.

The current owner, Simon Berry tells me the shop has changed little since it opened. Though the fireplace has been abandoned for central heating, and the cellar is now a place for elegant wine dinners, it still has the original oak plank floors, and it still honors its roots as a merchant selling provisions, exotic spices, tea and coffee—as well as wines from around the world.

Berry’s was first established in 1698 by the Widow Bourne as a grocer’s shop, the “Coffee Mill,” and remained in the hands of the good widow until her daughter, Elizabeth, was successfully wooed by William Pickering. In 1731, Sir Thomas Hanmer, Speaker of the House of Commons, leased the shop to Pickering to be rebuilt along with the houses in the court behind, now known as Pickering Place.

In 1734, William Pickering died and his widow Elizabeth took over the running of the business until 1737, when she handed over both the grocery and the “arms painting and heraldic furnishing” side of the business to her sons William and John. John Pickering died in 1754. With no suitable heir, his brother William took as his partner John Clarke who was distantly related.

By 1765, at the sign of the “Coffee Mill,” (which still hangs from the storefront but cannot be clearly seen in the picture as it’s at a right angle), Berry’s not only supplied the fashionable “Coffee Houses” (later to become Clubs such as Boodles and Whites), but also began weighing customers on giant coffee scales. Records of customers’ weights, including those of the Royal Dukes, Lord Byron, former Prime Minister William Pitt and the Aga Khan, span three centuries and are still added to, to this day.

Berry’s first supplied wine to the British Royal Family during King George III’s reign, and today holds two Royal Warrants for H.M. The Queen and H.R.H. The Prince of Wales.

John Clarke died in 1788, and while he had no son, his daughter, Mary had married John Berry, a wine merchant in Exeter. Their son, George, although only one year old, had already been designated by his grandfather as heir to the Coffee Mill. Before he died, John Clarke found as a suitable “caretaker” to manage affairs, the Browne’s of Westerham, a rich and prospering family of lawyers and yeomen into which John Berry’s sister had married, and they agreed to look after the business until George was old enough to take over.

George was only sixteen in 1803 when he made the two-day journey from Exeter. For seven years he must have played the part of apprentice, for it was not until he was 23, in 1810 that his name was stretched across the double-fronted fascia of No. 3 St James’s Street. And this is how it looked in Regency England.

In 1815, St James’s Street was a very masculine domain (Georgette Heyer describes her heroine in The Grand Sophy as risking her reputation just by driving her phaeton down St James’s Street); however, the Dighton etching of the shop front, which dates from that same year, shows women amongst the male passers-by, and they do not seem to be causing too much scandal. They are either walking with a male companion or as a pair, so perhaps some form of protection was still the norm.

The paving of Westminster’s streets began in the mid 18th century, but wasn’t completed until the mid 19th. Still, the main roads, such as St James’s Street, would have been paved by 1815 as suggested in the etching.

My new Regency Christmas story, The Holly & The Thistle, begins in Berry’s wine shop where the heroine, a young English widow (“the holly”) and the hero, a Scot (“the thistle”) meet just before Christmastide, each believing the other is someone else. It will put you in the mood for Christmas, I promise!

Friday, December 7, 2012

New Review: Renee Vincent’s RAELIKSEN - Unique, Well-Told Viking Story!

I love a good Viking story and sadly, too many publishers these days want only Regency or Victorian romances. But the Viking tales still call to me and I’m glad they are still being written. That is one reason I am updating my Best Viking Romances list. Here’s a new author who is giving us great stories. This one is superb.

Renee Vincent writes with lyrical prose. It's truly beautiful. And she tells a good tale with attention to historic detail that will satisfy lovers of historical romance. This is an unusual Viking story in that there is no raid, no pillaging, no taking of women, none of that. No, our hero, Daegan Raeliksen, a wealthy merchant chieftain from Norway, is an honorable man who makes his home in Ireland. It is there he first sees Mara, daughter of an Irish king, riding her horse near the Shannon River, and it is there he decides he must have her for his wife. It’s love at first sight for him. He only takes her from her lands to save her from a band of warring Norsemen. And, of course, then he must keep her until he can safely return her to her father. Daegan knows he should have permission to wed and to pay the bride price, but he can’t wait to marry Mara and she’s not complaining.

RAELIKSEN is a complicated tale of betrayal (Daegan has an evil twin brother), and deception with a few twists and turns you will really like. However, Daegan and Mara's love is never in doubt. The ending will rip your heart out so that you MUST buy the sequel.

You should also note this is first in The Emerald Isle trilogy. The sequel is MAC LIAM; and the third is THE FALL OF RAIN (a contemporary with a descendent of Daegan's but harkening back to the first). However, that is not the end of the story. Now there is Gustaf’s tale: THE TEMPERATE WARRIOR, the story of Gustaf Ræliksen and Æsa. I loved Gustaf in MAC LIAM.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

New Review: Laura London’s THE WINDFLOWER – Superb Classic Pirate Romance—one not to miss!

This was the product of the husband-wife writing team of Sharon and Tom Curtis and some believe it was their best. I can tell you this pirate romance set in in 1813 during the War of 1812 is one of the finest historical romances I have read. It’s a classic. Originally published in 1984, it was reissued in 1995, and can be obtained in paperback (used). Though you may have to pay a premium, as I did, to get a good copy, for fans of the genre, it is not one to pass up. It’s a keeper among keepers.

It tells the story of innocent, sheltered Merry Wilding, an American living in Virginia with her maiden aunt. Merry has a talent for drawing faces from memory, a talent her brother, an American spy will use to his benefit, exposing her to pirates and worse. Then, on her way to England with her aunt who wants Merry to have a better future, she is kidnapped. Taken to a pirate ship, she meets the English pirate Devon, who remembers her from a night long ago where he encountered her in a tavern. He holds her captive, believing she is involved with his enemy who was also on the ship Merry was sailing on. Protecting her brother, she will not reveal who she is. Devon is intelligent, beguiling and smooth and innocent Merry is powerless to turn away his kisses. The whole crew of pirates comes to love Merry and to teach her many things as she blossoms from shy girl to strong woman.

The writing is superb, the characters courageous, heartwarming and very special; the descriptions of the environs vivid; the metaphors numerous and well done; and the story a wonder to read, and re-read. The plot is intriguing. You will be swept away on a pirate ship to experience many adventures, battles at sea, storms, death, outrageous humor and love. I thought the writing gifted and I wished that they had made it the beginning of a series as I didn't want to let go of these sublime characters.

Here’s a sample from one scene; I bet it moves you though not a word is spoken:

“His fingers whispered over her face, seeking and slowly stroking nerve points, knowing where, how long, how much to caress. Her skin gained color under his touch; her eyes became enormous; her throat tightened. By her nose his little finger encountered a forgotten tear. Gathering the sparkling drop, he smeared it slowly over the curve of her lips and blew it gently dry. One hand came lightly to rest on her neck; the other supported her cheek as he sought her with his kiss.”

Here’s another:

“Tragedy dwelt like a blue flame in her big eyes; the shallow pulsebeat in the golden hollow of her throat was luffing like a spanker on a vessel that was hauled too close to the wind. He had seen the look before on women about to be raped, and he found no charm in having it turned on him.”

If you love pirate romance—or even Regency period romance set mostly outside of England—this historical romance will not disappoint. Pay the premium for a good used copy and put it on your keeper shelf. That’s where it belongs!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

And the winner is...

The winner of one of Amanda Hughes'wonderful 18th century historical romances is Kaki Warner! Congratulations, Kaki. I'll be in touch to assure you get your book.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Favorite Author and My Guest Today: Amanda Hughes Talking About Her 18th Century Historicals

Welcome to my guest today, Amanda Hughes, who writes deep historical romaces set in the 18th century. I’ve been anxious to have her on my blog ever since I fell in love with her first book, Beyond the Cliffs of Kerry, set in Ireland and America (it’s on my Best Irish Romances list!). And her second book, The Pride of the King will be on my Best Pirate/Privateer Romances list when I update it in 2013.

Amanda is giving away one of her eBooks to a lucky commenter today, so comment for a chance to win a great novel!

Thank you so much for inviting me for a guest appearance, Regan. I am an avid follower of your fabulous blog.

Q: Amanda, Beyond the Cliffs of Kerry and The Pride of the King are both set in the latter half of the 18th century. How did you pick that time period in which to set your stories?

Ever since I was a small child I have been fascinated with the 18th Century, particularly Colonial America. When I was young I would decorate the basement with my mother’s pewter, light candles and dress up, pretending to live in the “olden days”. I made up all manner of adventures, and the romantic lead always wore a tricorn hat. I am not sure if I would be interested in writing about any other period in history.

Well you do it so well, you really bring that period of history to life!

Q: Your plots are complex, intricate and very detailed—with history as a character. I’ve analogized them to following a maze with you as a guide. They are rich and wonderfully satisfying…how do you do that? Do you start off with an outline, a plot? Or do the stories unfold in your mind as you write them?

The stories always unfold as I write. I have no idea what direction they will take. I develop most of my plot lines while I walk each day listening to movie soundtracks, and you can see their influence in my books. When I wrote Beyond the Cliffs of Kerry, I listened to The Last of the Mohicans soundtrack. When I wrote The Pride of the King, I listened to the Out of Africa soundtrack. For my latest novel, I have been listening to Braveheart.

That fascinates me, Amanda, as I write to music, too, though the scores I choose are not so bold or so grand. I'm going to have to take more walks and with grander scores to listen to!

Q: Your characters are deep and have many layers to their personalities. How do you develop them?

I have known them my whole life. They started as my imaginary playmates. I remember Michelangelo saying once that his sculptures were prisoners in the stone and that it was his job to free them. I feel the same way.

I think such depth of knowledge of your characters shows in your stories. How wonderful!

Q: Both of your books are written primarily in the heroine’s point of view…and each one is a strong, compelling heroine. Why did you choose to stay primarily in the mind of the heroine?

As I write, I am always playing the part of the heroine. What happens to her happens to me. It helps me get inside her mind and convey her emotions and her actions more effectively.

Q: How long does it take for you to write a book? Was each book different?

Without a doubt each novel takes years. I need about a year to decide on my heroine, and to start a plotline. After that it takes me a year or two to write and edit. Each book takes a different amount of time because I am at a different point in my life. The Pride of the King took seven years because I was raising my children!

We can only hope your fans won’t have to wait that long for the next one!

Q: I loved how you seamlessly wove in the turbulent history of the time in each of your wonderful novels. I learned so much. No, I experienced so much of the time. How did you go about doing the research?

Aside from the usual places, libraries and the Internet, I spend a lot of time in cemeteries reading headstones for inspiration. I consult my brother who has an extensive background in military history, and I travel compulsively. Most writers choose a location and go there to do research, I allow my destinations to inspire me first and then I write later. Two years ago my daughter and I went to the Brandywine Valley in Delaware and Pennsylvania. The area was so alive with history and beautiful landscape that it became the inspiration for my latest novel. I also "cast" movie stars in the roles of many of my characters. It helps me when I do descriptions. Some of my readers have caught me and guessed the actors.

OK, now this is getting spooky. I spent an entire afternoon in the Williamsburg churchyard reading headstones. I kept thinking they had so much to say, as if they truly wanted to pass on what wisdom and faith they could. In some ways I think we’ve lost a legacy the way we bury people today. Oh and I also cast movie stars as some of my characters!

Q: You chose to go the self-published route—why?

I have been lucky enough to have had it both ways for Beyond the Cliffs of Kerry, but I went completely self published for The Pride of the King. Although I adored the folks at Adventure Book Publishers in Calgary, a traditional publishing house, I appreciate the control that I have now as an independent.

Q: I love your covers—they are so unique. Did you design them yourself?

No, Ronnell Porter is my cover artist. He is a miracle worker. I send Ronnelle the synopsis, description of my heroine and some examples of covers that I like and a few requests about what I would like to see, and he puts it together and sends me samples and we tweek them from there. He is a writer himself and I think this helps.

Q: What are you working on now? (Do share enough to have us sitting on the edge of our seats.) And when is it coming out?

I return to Ireland once more with The Sword of the Banshee. It is the story of India Allen, a bold and charismatic woman living in the 18th Century. She spearheads two revolutions, one in Ireland and another in Colonial America. She must wade through blood, betrayal and madness to find, not only freedom, but the one great love of her life. It will be released in January 2013.

OK, I’m getting in line for that one…I can hardly wait. I loved Ireland as you presented it; it was so real I cried with the heroine.

Q: What do you do in your off hours? What do you like to read?

Trying new restaurants is one of my favorite activities and I am a nut for old black and white movies. I love to read the classics, especially Victorian lit, but it is too heavy to read all the time. I adore Anne Rice (when she is not writing horror), Conrad Richter, Anya Seton and I throw in a little Dorothy Parker when I need some snide humor!

Wow…quite varied!

Thanks, Amanda, for sharing what’s behind your wonderful novels!

Thanks, Regan…this was my pleasure!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

New Review: Amanda Hughes’s THE PRIDE OF THE KING – Absorbing Tale From 18th Century America—a Heroine to Love and a Hero to Admire! Get this one!

Hughes is a master storyteller, as I learned when I read her first book, BEYOND THE CLIFFS OF KERRY, which I highly recommend. It’s a little like following a guide through a maze. You can’t envision the next turn so you are glad she is leading you and you can’t stop. The ending is very satisfying, I must say.

This one begins in 1748 in French New Orleans and tells the story of Lauren De Beauville, daughter of French aristocrats who died leaving her and her sister orphans to be raised by nuns. When she is 15, her sister joins the order and Lauren is forced to marry an old man from the English colonies who doesn’t speak French. She is rescued from that marriage before it’s begun by a hurricane that sweeps her away on her wedding day to another life. Eventually she is forced to leave that other life, too, and ends up in New England, where she joins with two con artists who use her as bait to lure aristocrats into business ventures.

There are many twists and turns in this complex story that finally sees Lauren onboard a ship of pirates and misfits who serve a master criminal, their captain, who smuggles guns and other goods, selling them to both the French and the English. Captain James St. Clare wants Lauren to be his contact with the French, but it’s a very dangerous assignment and she will have to sell herself to accomplish it. All the while she is watched over by St. Clare, an enigmatic figure, to be sure. (I've shown a picture below of the type of ship he captained.)

Most of the story is told through the heroine’s point of view with the exception of short snippets in the minds of other characters. And there is a huge cast of characters as you can imagine from the different “lives” Lauren experiences. You feel for Lauren as a young innocent with an adventurer’s heart who faces one crisis after another and yet always manages to triumph. When the black moment comes—and there is a black moment—it is very real and very believable. I loved Lauren’s courage and her determination—and her kindness. She’s one hell of a woman. No wonder the hero will not give her up.

I can’t say enough good things about this book or about Hughes’ writing. Just take my word for it and get it and you’ll understand. I don’t want to give away the mystery by saying more about the story except that she peels back the layers like an onion—expertly. I have become one of Hughes’ committed fans.

The fluyt ship:

Amanda will be on my blog December 3rd, so check back to see what she has to say about her unique writing and what she has coming soon!