Long before the History Channel brought us the TV series Vikings, stories of Viking adventure and romance have been making blood race and hearts flutter. When we say “long before,” we mean long before. The Viking storytelling tradition goes back to ancient times, when skalds told their tales of gods and kings around roaring fires. Over a thousand years later, what’s the appeal of these ancient adventurers?
For one thing, Vikings have the market cornered on the tall, blond and handsome angle. What woman wouldn’t like to find someone who looks like True Blood’s Eric Northman between the covers…of a great book? Whether flaunting barbarian chic of their own era or transplanted to modern times, as in Sandra Hill’s two Viking time travel series, Vikings stand head and shoulders (literally) above the competition. Strong, fit, able to fight and :ahem: love with vigor, Vikings fit the bill for readers looking for a natural alpha type.
Deanna Raybourn A Spear of Summer Grass Harlequin MIRA / April 30, 2013 / $15.95 print, $8.69 digital
The daughter of a scandalous mother, Delilah Drummond is already notorious, even amongst Paris society. But her latest scandal is big enough to make even her oft-married mother blanch. Delilah is exiled to Kenya and her favorite stepfather's savannah manor house until gossip subsides.
Fairlight is the crumbling, sun-bleached skeleton of a faded African dream, a world where dissolute expats are bolstered by gin and jazz records, cigarettes and safaris. As mistress of this wasted estate, Delilah falls into the decadent pleasures of society.
Against the frivolity of her peers, Ryder White stands in sharp contrast. As foreign to Delilah as Africa, Ryder becomes her guide to the complex beauty of this unknown world. Giraffes, buffalo, lions and elephants roam the shores of Lake Wanyama amid swirls of red dust. Here, life is lush and teeming-yet fleeting and often cheap.
Amidst the wonders—and dangers—of Africa, Delilah awakes to a land out of all proportion: extremes of heat, darkness, beauty and joy that cut to her very heart. Only when this sacred place is profaned by bloodshed does Delilah discover what is truly worth fighting for—and what she can no longer live without.
Deanna Raybourn is best known for her Lady Julia Grey mystery series, set in Victorian England, but her new novel, A Spear of Summer Grass, is something different. There’s still a mystery, but the romance element is stronger and more self-contained. The setting, colonized Kenya in 1923, is almost a romance character in its own right, romanticized by the Europeans who live there. It’s difficult not to be reminded of the movie version of Out of Africa, set in a similar milieu.
Bee Ridgway The River of No Return Dutton / April 23, 2013 / $27.95 print, $14.99 digital
“You are now a member of the Guild. There is no return.”
Two hundred years after he was about to die on a Napoleonic battlefield, Lord Nicholas Falcott wakes up in a hospital bed in twenty-first century London. The Guild, a secretive organization that controls time travel, helps him make a new life in the modern world.
But Nick yearns for home and for one beautiful woman in particular, now lost to history.
Back in 1815, that very woman, Julia Percy, finds herself the guardian of a family secret inherited from her enigmatic grandfather... how to manipulate time. But there are those who seek to possess Julia’s power and she begins to realize she is in the gravest peril.
The Guild’s rules are made to be broken, and Nick discovers how to travel back to the nineteenth century and his ancestral home. Fate and the fraying fabric of time draw Nick and Julia together once again . . . soon enough, they are caught up in an adventure that puts the future of the world into their hands.
Bee Ridgway’s The River of No Return is an unusual book: part romance, part historical, and part science fiction. I enjoyed two things about it in particular: first, the ways in which Ridgway critically interrogated how we write about the past in genre fiction; and second, the story’s unpredictability—for much of the novel, I was genuinely unsure what direction it would go next, which meant I kept turning pages. These two things go together.
Today we're pleased to welcome author Valerie Bowman, also an H&H contributor, whose forthcoming novel Secrets of a Runaway Bride is out today! She's here to talk Gretna Green, Scotland, and what, exactly, makes it such an intriguing location for romance readers and writers alike... Welcome, Valerie!
Today I thought I’d give a little insight into a certain location. A location that plays a large part in my latest historical romance novel, Secrets of a Runaway Bride. A location rife with scandal and the litter of ruined reputations. A location just over the Scottish border from England, full of possibilities and danger. What is that location? The infamous town of Gretna Green, Scotland.
So, how exactly did a tiny town in Scotland become the focus of so much intrigue?
It all began with Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act of 1754. When the English Parliament passed that act, it prohibited several things. Before the act went into effect, in England young men and women over the age of 16 (but younger than 21) were able to merely declare themselves married in front of witnesses. After the act was passed, couples in the throes of a passionate love affair had to hightail it to Scotland to have their quick (and unapproved) weddings. You see, in Scotland, a boy age 14 and a girl age 12 could marry (as opposed to the legal age of 21 in England and Wales). And again, all they had to do was declare themselves married in front of witnesses…and then get to the business of consummation, of course.
Dubbed “The Virgin Queen,” Elizabeth I held the English throne on her own from 1558 to 1601. Not to say she didn’t have chances to marry, because she definitely did, but romance readers respect a woman who knows what she wants and won’t settle for less. That’s only one reason why the Elizabethan age is, for many, a favorite setting for historical romance.
Elizabethan heroines such as Bess Hardwick, from Virginia Henley’s A Woman of Passion, or Skye O’Malley from Bertrice Small’s classic of the same name, can go toe to toe with the most powerful woman in the world and come out on top. Elizabeth might have played an international cast of suitors against each other, while strongly discouraging romance for the ladies of her Court, but it’s the historical romance heroine who gets to walk away with everything—including the boy.
Though women wouldn’t be able to legitimately tread the boards for nearly a century, that doesn’t stop Elizabethan heroines from having theatrical aspirations. Karen Hawkins’s Much Ado About Marriage gives us Fia, a playwright determined to present her work to the queen, and Thomas, the supposedly luckiest man in England, who finds things are about to change in a very big way when he mistakes Fia for someone she’s not.
I wish I could tell everyone who thinks we’re ruined, Look closer…and you’ll see something extraordinary, mystifying, something real and true. We have never been what we seemed.
When beautiful, reckless Southern belle Zelda Sayre meets F. Scott Fitzgerald at a country club dance in 1918, she is seventeen years old and he is a young army lieutenant stationed in Alabama. Before long, the “ungettable” Zelda has fallen for him despite his unsuitability: Scott isn’t wealthy or prominent or even a Southerner, and keeps insisting, absurdly, that his writing will bring him both fortune and fame. Her father is deeply unimpressed. But after Scott sells his first novel, This Side of Paradise, to Scribner’s, Zelda optimistically boards a train north, to marry him in the vestry of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and take the rest as it comes.
What comes, here at the dawn of the Jazz Age, is unimagined attention and success and celebrity that will make Scott and Zelda legends in their own time. Everyone wants to meet the dashing young author of the scandalous novel—and his witty, perhaps even more scandalous wife. Zelda bobs her hair, adopts daring new fashions, and revels in this wild new world. Each place they go becomes a playground: New York City, Long Island, Hollywood, Paris, and the French Riviera—where they join the endless party of the glamorous, sometimes doomed Lost Generation that includes Ernest Hemingway, Sara and Gerald Murphy, and Gertrude Stein.
Get a sneak peek of Therese Anne Fowler's Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald (available March 26, 2013) with an exclusive excerpt, including an audio excerpt of Chapter 1!
Click the button below to listen to Chapter 1.
That evening, the Montgomery Country Club’s high-ceilinged ballroom was ﬁlled to capacity. Along with the young men and women from the town’s top families were a handful of chaperones, and dozens of uniformed officers who’d been given honorary memberships while assigned to nearby Camp Sheridan or Taylor Field. Those fellas would soon be joining their army and air corps brothers in the skies or on battleﬁelds in places like Cantigny and Bois Belleau—but right now they were as youthful and happy and ready for romance as anyone there.
Simone St. James An Inquiry into Love and Death
NAL Trade / March 5, 2013 / $10.99 print, $9.99 digital
In 1920's England, a young woman searches for the truth behind her uncle’s mysterious death in a town haunted by a restless ghost…
Oxford student Jillian Leigh works day and night to keep up with her studies—so to leave at the beginning of the term is next to impossible. But after her uncle Toby, a renowned ghost hunter, is killed in a fall off a cliff, she must drive to the seaside village of Rothewell to pack up his belongings.
Almost immediately, unsettling incidents—a book left in a cold stove, a gate swinging open on its own—escalate into terrifying events that convince Jillian an angry spirit is trying to enter the house. Is it Walking John, the two-hundred-year-old ghost who haunts Blood Moon Bay? And who beside the ghost is roaming the local woods at night? If Toby uncovered something sinister, was his death no accident?
The arrival of handsome Scotland Yard inspector Drew Merriken, a former RAF pilot with mysteries of his own, leaves Jillian with more questions than answers—and with the added complication of a powerful, mutual attraction. Even as she suspects someone will do anything to hide the truth, she begins to discover spine-chilling secrets that lie deep within Rothewell…and at the very heart of who she is.
An Inquiry into Love and Death isSimone St. James's second book and the first that I've read. It won't be the last. This book is outside my normal reading choices on several levels. It's a ghost story, for one, a mystery, and set in the 1920s. And yet, a good book is a good book and there is, of course, a love story.
Oh, the idea certainly predated him—Ancient Mythology, for example, is thoroughly populated with gods who disguise themselves as everything from some woman’s husband to a shower of golden rain in order to win their heart’s desire, or at least get some. And in absolute terms, Shakespeare’s women in disguise far outnumber his men—Portia in The Merchant of Venice; Rosalind and Celia in As You Like It; Viola in Twelfth Night; Hero in Much Ado About Nothing; the list goes on—but it is heroes in disguise with which we treat herein, and, as is the case with pretty much every romantic plot and subplot we see used today, this one has its roots in Elizabethan drama.
Because sometimes—pretty often, in fact—when it comes to Romance, it’s the liar who gets the girl.
In my list of Top 10 New York-Based Romantic Comedies, published in these pages lo, these many years ago, I made mention of how, at the end of You’ve Got Mail, the fact that Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) is able to so easily forgive frenemy Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) for knowingly being her secret pen pal crush is kind of hard to take, but “… you just let it go, let them have their moment, and try not to allow thoughts of their next fifty years of arguments culminating in ‘You closed down my mother’s store!’ enter your head.” It’s like that with so many of these tales; the fact that the hero has been lying to his heroine all this time can only be considered appalling, but on the other hand he really loves her now, and so allowances must be made.
Looking for a historical setting that’s primed for romance? One, maybe, with a young and charismatic monarch on the throne; or maybe a monarch who has an eye for the ladies. Maybe you want an era where it’s the dawn of a new day and anything seems possible? Wild things, like opening the theaters after years of disuse, and putting women on the legitimate stage, perhaps? How about a vibrant and bawdy Court filled with Cavaliers and courtesans, peers and actresses? Long for an age of swashbuckling pirates and the Puritans who love them? Look no further than the English Restoration. Films like The Libertine with Johnny Depp or Restoration with Robert Downey, Jr. deliver on the big screen, but Restoration-set romance novels have all of that and a happy ending. Interested? Read on.
Sabrina Jeffries fans are in for a treat with a reworked reissue of By Love Unveiled, originally published under her Deborah Martin pseudonym. Marianne Winchelsea, daughter of a baronet, is suspected of plotting to kill Charles II and must don a disguise and flee for her life. Garrett Lyon, the Earl of Falkham, sees that Marianne is more than meets the eye, but can she trust him with her heart?
We all have said or know someone who said they were born in the wrong time period. But if you were thrown into a different time, what would it be? Would you choose the roaring '20s, be a housewife in the '50s, be part of Regency England, or find some medieval knights? Let us know in this week's poll!
Judith Kinghorn The Last Summer NAL Trade / December 31, 2012 / $16.00 print, $9.99 digital
I was almost seventeen when the spell of my childhood was broken...It was the beginning of summer and, unbeknown to any of us then, the end of a belle epoque...
In July of 1914, innocent, lovely Clarissa Granville lives with her parents and three brothers in the idyllic isolation of Deyning Park, a grand English country house, where she whiles away her days enjoying house parties, country walks and tennis matches. Clarissa is drawn to Tom Cuthbert, the housekeeper's handsome son. Though her parents disapprove of their upstairs-downstairs friendship, the two are determined to see each other, and they meet in secret to share what becomes a deep and tender romance. But soon the winds of war come to Deyning, as they come to all of Europe. As Tom prepares to join the front lines, neither he nor Clarissa can envision what lies ahead of them in the dark days and years to come. Nor can they imagine how their love will be tested, or how they will treasure the memory of this last, perfect summer.
Judith Kinghorn's The Last Summer will be touted as perfect for Downton Abbey fans—the pre-war setting, the country house, the star (class)-crossed lovers—but this bittersweet tale reminds me more of Atonement than Downton's lavish soapyness. Narrated in the first person by Clarissa, who begins the story as a sheltered teenager, The Last Summer is soaked through with atmosphere and portents of what is to come. The linchpin upon which the novel turns is Clarissa's burgeoning love for Tom. He is the housekeeper's son (and is of mysterious antecedents), and despite his being permitted to socialize with the inhabitants of Deyning Park, the bounds of class still rule late Edwardian society...
For far too long, Beau Brummel's cravat has held a stranglehold on historical romance! Yes, we dip our toes in books set twenty or thirty years on either side of the Regency, and some even—daringly—dabble in medievals or Westerns, but when you think of Historical Romance, you tend to think of books set in that tiny sliver of a setting known as Regency England. But no more! With the successes of Downton Abbey, Boardwalk Empire, and even Mad Men, and perhaps our march into the 21st century, readers are tentatively interested in romance novels filled with motorcars, electricity, telephones, short hemlines, and speakeasies. Granted, I do have a personal stake in this new trend, since I write 20th century-set romance novels <eg>, but I believe this setting is just as romantic as all of those books filled with Empire waists, scandalous waltzes, dandies, rum smugglers, and curricle races.
My love affair with the Edwardian Era was sparked by Jane Feather's Matchmaker's trilogy. Published back to back in 2004, the trilogy follows Constance, Prudence, and Chastity Duncan, daughters of a spendthrift viscount and a (deceased) suffragist. To resuscitate their waning income, they reinstate their mother's society newspaper and add a matchmaking service to go with it. Book one, The Bachelor List, opens in the midst of the suffragette movement, which was sparked when the Women's Social and Political Union moved their headquarters from Manchester to London. Ardent suffragist Constance Duncan meets her match in new MP and Cabinet Member, Max Ensor, whose views on votes for women are more than Neanderthal. Book two, The Bride Hunt, deals with the trouble their newspaper has caused for their father's dubious business associate, which leads Prudence to obtain the services of London's top barrister, Sir Gideon Malvern. In Book three, The Wedding Game, the youngest Duncan sister is hired to find a rich bride for Dr. Douglas Farrell, and ends up wanting him herself!
Today, we're thrilled to have Author Valerie Bowman (and regular H&H contributor!) at Heroes and Heartbreakers. Valerie's Secrets of a Wedding Night is released tomorrow, and is a delicious Regency-set historical which author Lisa Kleypas says is “too delightful to miss.” Thanks for joining us, Valerie!
Since my debut Regency romance novel, Secrets of a Wedding Night, has a lot of mentions of weddings, what better topic to discuss on H&H today than the fascinating subject of Regency weddings?
Unfortunately, weddings during the Regency were not always the grand affairs we have today. Instead, they were (by law) performed in the morning and usually only the family and very close friends of the bride and groom were in attendance. Often the bride simply wore her best dress, though Princess Charlotte wore a grand concoction of silver (see picture below). White was popular, but apparently so was blue. Veils made a comeback in this period as well and long white kid gloves were essential.
Today, we are thrilled to welcome author Mary Jo Putney back to Heroes and Heartbreakers. Previously, Mary Jo wrote about authors Lois McMasterBujold and Barbara Samuel; today, she dons her YA hat and talks about British boarding school books. Mary Jo’s newest release in her YA series, Dark Destiny, is out now. Welcome, Mary Jo!
Popular fiction always has fantasy elements woven in: Fantasies of power, adventure, justice, romance. Young adult books have those, along with fantasies of kids having power—of being detectives and saviors. Of having magical abilities. Of really being princesses or gypsies and totally unrelated to the dorky family one lives in.
And among those fantasies are boarding schools. When I told my sister that I was excited to be writing a blog on boarding school books, she said,
“You never went to a boarding school.”
“No, but I thought it would be totally cool to go to one. Didn’t you?”
I rest my case.
The boarding school book is mostly a British genre, since the nation has a long tradition of boarding schools—Winchester College has been educating boys in the same buildings for over six hundred years. There are books for boys and books for girls because the schools themselves were divided by gender. There are also adult boarding school books such as Goodbye, Mr. Chips, and R. F. Delderfield’s To Serve Them All My Days series.
Today, H&H welcomes author Alma Katsu to the site. Alma’s The Reckoning, the second book in the Taker trilogy, has just been released, and is a dark, sexy read, as was the first book, The Taker. Alma is here today to talk about other dark historicals. Welcome, Alma!
After my first novel, The Taker, was released last September, I received a number of queries from readers looking for similar books. The question is trickier than it seems, because both The Reckoning and The Taker combine a mix of elements—history, fantasy, the supernatural, love story—that, aside from early Anne Rice, is hard to find that same mix in other books. But I’ll go out on a limb and assume that what most readers enjoyed about my novels is the combination of history and darkness. If you enjoy novels that look at the grim realities of life in another era laced with intrigue, adventure and fascinating period details, I can recommend a few similarly dark historicals:
The Dress Lodger by Sheri Holman. (2000) This book, along with Slammerkin (below), was a great influence on The Taker. The title refers to the main character, a prostitute who is outfitted by her pimp in a fancy gown in order to attract a higher-level (and better paying) clientele. She’s also the mother of a child with an abnormal heart, and is desperate to retain the service of a surgeon to save him, unawares that the doctor is beset by his own demons for past misdeeds. It’s a marvelous story of sin and redemption, told in a singular voice. Fans of historical fiction will enjoy being plunged in 1830s England.
Move over, Charles Dickens—serialized stories are taking a romantic turn!
A USA Today article mentions that publisher Berkley (whose Sylvia Day-penned Bared to You just hit the New York Times Bestseller list) is planning on releasing a serialized romance e-book written by Beth Kery starting July 31. Obviously, publishers are learning a lot from the success of E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey—Fifty Shades was originally serialized as fan fiction, and in our current short-attention-span culture (140 characters, anyone?), a bite-size book, delivered in regular intervals, might be more appealing than the whole thing at one sitting.
Today, Heroes and Heartbreakers is pleased to welcome author Grace Burrowes, whose novel Lady Maggie’s Secret Scandal is now available, to talk historically well-dressed men. Thanks, Grace!
In the privacy of your thoughts have you ever wished you’d come across a fellow attired as Mr. Darcy was? Snug, soft doeskin riding breeches, cut to emphasize the “turn of a man’s leg?” Shining Hessian boots to accentuate the length of that leg? Spotless white custom shirt set off with just a touch of style about the cravat? Elegant, understated waistcoat beneath a beautifully tailored cutaway coat that shows off broad shoulders to wonderful advantage?
Compare this ensemble to its immediate forbearers by calling to mind any image of George Washington, King George III, or the lofty Duke of Devonshire pictured here. These Georgian gentlemen wore high heeled shoes, silk stockings, knee-breeches, cosmetics, wigs, abundant jewelry, bright colors, and heavy perfumes. In many regards, their fashion sense was indistinguishable from that of the ladies they escorted. They dressed to be seen, and more was better.
It’s all very well to share pictures of bare-chested men in low-slung jeans. And it’s equally fine to share drool-worthy pictures of hot guys in fancy suits. As a Facebook user, I am frequently treated to both of these types of eye candy. In fact, Heroes and Heartbreakers has made this particularly easy with their Facebook Hottie-Gram app.
But there are those of us who long for that manly throat swathed in a cravat, those muscular thighs encased in body-hugging buckskin, that superfine jacket stretched across broad shoulders and, yes, even those intrepid legs in silk stockings and dancing pumps. I knew I was one of those people even before Colin Firth came galloping across the Cheshire landscape on a white steed, although I must admit that Colin Firth in any of the above mentioned items of clothing never fails to set my pulses pounding.
Today we welcome guest author Kate Rothwell to Heroes and Heartbreakers to talk about how similar today’s Internet culture can be to Regency society. Thanks, Kate!
The Internet is both vile and wonderful. Spend too much time online and that virtual life can feel far too real. It’s easy to fall into a tizzy based on some response to some comment on some loop. And how long does it take to recall that the usual response to an online “incident” is even less significant than the jolt of guilt you feel when you realize that you’ve loaded thirteen items on the twelve item check-out line. (Okay, maybe I’m the only one who neurotically counts her items.)
In other words, the online incident means next to nothing.