<i>Way of the Warrior</i>: Exclusive Excerpt Way of the Warrior: Exclusive Excerpt Suzanne Brockmann "He was great with kids, women fainted when they met him and…" <i>The Mistake</i>: Exclusive Excerpt The Mistake: Exclusive Excerpt Elle Kennedy "He lightly strokes my cheekbone and I have to stop myself from purring like an affection-starved cat." <i>The Harlot Countess</i>: Excerpt The Harlot Countess: Excerpt Joanna Shupe "He wanted to feel her, to hold her... to run his tongue over the smooth knob of her ankle." <i>Midnight Ride</i>: Exclusive Excerpt Midnight Ride: Exclusive Excerpt Cat Johnson "The widow realizes that some rules, like broncos, are meant to be broken…"
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Apr 17 2015 9:30am

First Look: Terri Osburn’s His First and Last (April 21, 2015)

His First and Last by Terri OsburnTerri Osburn
His First and Last (Ardent Springs #1) 
Montlake / April 21, 2015 / $12.95 print, $4.99 digital

At eighteen, Lorelei Pratchett couldn’t wait to get out of her hometown. Twelve years later, her Hollywood dreams have fizzled and she’s back—temporarily, she thinks. Though she throws herself into saving the old theater and starting a baking business, small towns have long memories, and Lorelei’s wild past still haunts her. It doesn’t help that her ex-boyfriend, Spencer Boyd, is even hotter, smarter, and more distracting than before.

The fiery Lorelei that Spencer knew years ago may have become closed off and cautious, but their chemistry hasn’t faded one bit. Losing her a second time is unthinkable to him, yet Lorelei is convinced she doesn’t belong in Ardent Springs. Somehow, Spencer needs to show her that everything she needs is right here: family, friendship, new beginnings…and a man who’s never stopped loving her.

Warm, sexy, and laugh-out-loud funny, His First and Last is an irresistible story of first love and second chances.

The reunion trope has long been a staple of romance fiction, and in the first book of her Ardent Springs series, Terri Osburn gives readers a book with multiple reunions. Paramount, of course, is the reunion of the hero and heroine, but Lorelei Pratchett is also reunited with Ardent Springs and its citizens. She left a dozen years earlier after breaking her brief engagement and telling the people of her hometown how eager she was to shake the dust of their dead-end world and its hypocritical inhabitants. Now she is back, disillusioned and more fearful about her reception than she is willing to admit. Understandably, the town is not eager to embrace this prodigal, but a second chance brings surprising rapprochement.

[Second time's the charm?...]

Apr 7 2015 10:45am

First Look: Grace Burrowes’s The Duke’s Disaster (April 7, 2015)

The Duke's Disaster by Grace BurrowesGrace Burrowes
The Duke’s Disaster (True Gentlemen #1)
Sourcebooks Casablanca / April 7, 2015 / $7.99 print, $6.15 digital

Noah Winters, Earl of Anselm, spent months sorting and courting the year's crop of debutantes in search of an ideal bride. When the sweet, biddable young thing he selected accepts another's proposal, Noah decides to court her companion instead.

Thea Collins, though, is anything but biddable. She has learned the hard way that men are not to be trusted, especially the handsome ones. When she reluctantly accepts, Noah rushes Thea to the altar before she can reveal her deepest secret. Can she finally move on from her past, or will it come back to haunt her?

Pragmatism is not a quality many romance readers would include in a description of the perfect hero, but it is exactly that quality that makes Noah Winters, eighth Duke of Anselm, the perfect hero for Lady Thea Collins in The Duke's Disaster by Grace Burrowes. Anselm is in need of a wife, and when his first choice prefers another suitor, he does not hesitate in proposing to her companion instead. His reasons are practical, as is his forthright proposal.

[Forthright can be a good thing...]

Mar 12 2015 5:30pm

5 Favorite Families in Historical Romance from James, Chase, Quinn, and More!

Pleasure for Pleasure by Eloisa JamesWhen Julia Quinn announced that her next book will be a return to the Bridgertons, much discussion ensued among a group of online friends with some cheering for more Bridgerton books and speculating on what we might get and others expressing the opinion that perfection was best not tampered with. I belong to the former group. I love family groups in my historical romances, and the Bridgertons are longtime favorites. I count another thirty family series among my historical keepers, but my top five are books to which I keep retuning again and again, falling in love with the characters more deeply with each reading.

1. Eloisa James's Essex Sisters

Only Austen and Heyer outrank Pleasure for Pleasure, the final book in this series, on my list of all-time favorite romances. It’s a measure of how much I love the series that it holds first place on this list despite the third book which features the third sister Imogen, one of the two Eloisa James characters whom I dislike. Fortunately, a wonderful hero saves the book for me (Taming of the Duke). I adore the other three sisters: the maternal Tess, who feels responsible for her sisters’ happiness (Much Ado About You); the practical Annabel, whose HEA arrives via apparent disaster (Kiss Me, Annabel); and witty, vulnerable Josie who grows up during the series (Pleasure for Pleasure). I also adore all four heroes: luscious Lucius, honorable Ewan, sweet, reforming Rafe, and particularly the rakish Garret Langham, Earl of Mayne, whose character arc across five novels I find endlessly fascinating. I’m also sentimental enough to cherish this series especially because it was my first EJ series. The first book was current when I read “A Fine Romance,” an op-ed piece that appeared in the New York Times under the author’s real name, Mary Bly. In two sentences, she defined my reading experience:

[And many other's we're sure...]

Feb 23 2015 10:30am

First Look: Jennifer McQuiston’s Diary of an Accidental Wallflower (February 24, 2015)

Diary of an Accidental Wallflower by Jennifer McQuistonJennifer McQuiston
Diary of an Accidental Wallflower
Avon / February 24, 2015 / $7.99 print, $4.99 digital

Pretty and popular, Miss Clare Westmore knows exactly what (or rather, who) she wants: the next Duke of Harrington. But when she twists her ankle on the eve of the Season’s most touted event, Clare is left standing in the wallflower line watching her best friend dance away with her duke.

Dr. Daniel Merial is tempted to deliver more than a diagnosis to London's most unlikely wallflower, but he doesn’t have time for distractions, even one so delectable. Besides, she's clearly got her sights on more promising prey. So why can’t he stop thinking about her?

All Clare wants to do is return to the dance floor. But as her former friends try to knock her permanently out of place, she realizes with horror she is falling for her doctor instead of her duke. When her ankle finally heals and she faces her old life again, will she throw herself back into the game?

Or will her time in the wallflower line have given her a glimpse of who she was really meant to be?

The first book in Jennifer McQuiston’s Seduction Diaries series is a rare cross-class romance in which there is truly a class difference, not just a difference in wealth and social rank, and in which both parties realistically assess the costs of a relationship between them.

[Can love bloom?...]

Feb 3 2015 7:05pm

First Look: Megan Frampton’s When Good Earls Go Bad (February 3, 2015)

Megan Frampton
When Good Earls Go Bad (Dukes Behaving Badly #1.5)
Avon Impulse / February 3, 2015 / $4.99 print, $1.99 digital

What's a lovely young woman doing asleep in his bed? Matthew, Earl of Selkirk, is shocked to discover it's his new housekeeper! She's a far cry from the gray-haired woman he expected. Matthew is no fan of surprises, and Annabelle Tyne is pure temptation. Perhaps he shouldn't have had her hired sight unseen.

Annabelle, co-owner of the Quality Employment Agency, is no housekeeper, but she wasn't about to lose a potential client simply because there was no one to fit the bill. Imagine her shock when the earl arrives at his London townhome and she's awoken in the night by the most attractive man she's ever seen.

Matthew is a man who lives life by the rules, but sometimes rules are made to be broken … and being bad can be very, very good.

Charm is an elusive quality in fiction as in life: Easy to recognize, but difficult to define precisely. Lexicologists are content to define it broadly as the quality of giving delight. I think it is that and more. It is a quality that Annabelle Tyne possesses in abundance in Megan Frampton's When Good Earls Go Bad. Her particular brand of charm is composed of unequal parts of honesty, empathy, and joy.

[Sounds like we could be friends with Annabelle...]

Dec 29 2014 10:30am

First Look: Tessa Dare’s Say Yes to the Marquess (December 30, 2014)

Say Yes to the Marquess by Tessa DareTessa Dare
Say Yes to the Marquess (Castles Ever After)
Avon / December 30, 2014 / $7.99 print, $6.99 digital

Your presence is requested at romantic Twill Castle for the wedding of Miss Clio Whitmore and . . . and . . . ?

After eight years of waiting for Piers Brandon, the wandering Marquess of Granville, to set a wedding date, Clio Whitmore has had enough. She's inherited a castle, scraped together some pride, and made plans to break her engagement.

Not if Rafe Brandon can help it. A ruthless prizefighter and notorious rake, Rafe is determined that Clio will marry his brother—even if he has to plan the dratted wedding himself.

So how does a hardened fighter cure a reluctant bride's cold feet?
● He starts with flowers. A wedding can't have too many flowers. Or harps. Or cakes.

● He lets her know she'll make a beautiful, desirable bride—and tries not to picture her as his.

● He doesn't kiss her.

● If he kisses her, he definitely doesn't kiss her again.

● When all else fails, he puts her in a stunning gown. And vows not to be nearby when the gown comes off.

● And no matter what—he doesn't fall in disastrous, hopeless love with the one woman he can never call his own.

In the interest of full disclosure, I will admit that I have been raving about Tessa Dare’s romance fiction since she was an aspiring author winning roses in Avon’s Fanlit competition. Her writing has matured, but the humor, heart, and characters with whom a reader delights to spend time have been Dare trademarks from the beginning.

[How is her latest book?...]

Dec 25 2014 3:00pm

Contemporary Christmas 2014: New Releases and Reissues

Christmas at Seashell Cottage by Donna AlwardIf contemporary Christmas romance stories are one of your favorite holiday treats, you have a feast this year from which to select those you find most appealing. Novellas are more popular during this season than ever, and a list of what’s available may create the impression that every romance author who ever penned a series is adding a holiday novella. Whatever your preferred subgenres in contemporary romance, you can find a Christmas novel to suit your taste, and they generally range from the sweet to the sizzling. In addition to hundreds of new releases, there are bargains to be found among reissues of Christmases past—the recent past, the more distant past (but not, as far as I know, your past). Space (H & H’s) and time (mine) prohibit a comprehensive list. I offer, instead, a handful of personal top fives among all the novellas, novels, and reissues.

Top Five Novellas:

1. Christmas at Sea Shell Cottage, Donna Alward
I’m a fan of Alward’s Jewell Cove series, and I loved this addition to the series. An abandoned baby in the nativity manger, a romance that treats differences in class and race as no big thing, and a hero and heroine who were both likeable had me adding this one to my keepers. An added bonus is that you don’t have to have read earlier books in the series to enjoy the novella.

[Always the sign of a good writer!]

Dec 18 2014 2:30pm

Alive and Well: Living, Happy Parental Pairs in Historical Romance from Beverley, Chase, and More!

Devil's Club by Georgette HeyerEven in historical romance fiction, with its near mandatory promise of happily ever after for the hero and heroine and the new family they create, families that are not split by death, divorce, or abandonment are the exception when it comes to the backgrounds of the novel’s lead characters.

The dead or absent parent, the domineering mother, and the indifferent, controlling, or outright abusive father—all are staples in historical romance, and far more common than parents who are more or less happy together and pleased to be caring, responsible parents. Among Georgette Heyer’s most popular romance titles, for example, only Devil’s Cub and Arabella include two living parents, and only the latter offers detailed domestic scenes that reveal a close and loving, albeit imperfect, family.

Few romance authors choose to follow the example Heyer set in Arabella. One of the few who does so is Loretta Chase who opens her Carsington series with a prologue to Miss Wonderful (2004) that features the Earl of Hargate and his countess, an unusual aristocratic couple who share a bedroom, a bed, and conversation about their sons. Although the focus of their concern in this particular scene is Alistair, their third-born son and hero of the novel, the context suggests that such conversations are the norm for these characters. Indeed, Lady Hargate alludes to another conversation about Alistair that, like the current one, indicates that the Hargates understand their sons and care about their happiness, an impression that is confirmed in Mr. Impossible (2005), Lord Perfect (2006), and Not Quite a Lady (2007).

[First impressions are usually the right ones...]

Nov 9 2014 2:00pm

First Look: Terri Osburn’s More to Give (November 11, 2014)

More to Give by Terri OsburnTerri Osburn
More to Give (Anchor Island #4)
Montlake / November 11, 2014 / $9.99 print, $4.99 digital

Callie Henderson had to fight to put her tragic past behind her, but now the up-and-coming player in the hospitality industry is well on her way to happiness. She has her sights set on the lead renovation position at the Sunset Harbor Inn—an inn that just happens to be owned by Sam Edwards, the man who comforted her in her grief and gave her one night of passion before walking away.

Sam is searching for someone who can turn his quaint inn into a premier boutique hotel. He just never expected that someone to be the one woman who knows his deepest secrets. But he needs Callie, and Callie needs the job. Throw in a talking parrot with a cracker addiction, some uncooperative islanders, and enough sexual sparks to light a beachside bonfire, and they’ve got their work cut out for them…

More to Give is a story of heartbreak and healing, of facing the past…and having the courage to believe in a future.

I’m enough of a Faulknerian to believe that the past is never truly past and thus to have a decided preference for fictional characters who struggle with their pasts. Many of my favorite romance novels feature heroes and heroine who share tangled histories. It is hardly surprising then that I enthusiastically received Terri Osburn’s More to Giv, featuring Callie Henderson and Sam Edwards who shared a one-night stand shortly after their spouses were killed in an automobile accident while on a lovers’ tryst. Six years have passed since then, and Callie and Sam have both moved on with their lives. But name changes and new attitudes are not enough to keep the past from intruding on the present: “The weight of their shared history, mostly painful for them both, hung in the air like the dust on a dirt road on a dry summer day.”

[More to get over, as well...]

Oct 23 2014 9:30am

First Look: Mary Balogh’s Only Enchanting (October 28, 2014)

Only Enchanting by Mary Balogh

Mary Balogh
Only Enchanting (Survivors’ Club #4)
Signet / October 28, 2014 / $7.99 print, digital

The Survivors' Club: Six men and one woman, all wounded in the Napoleonic Wars, their friendship forged during their recovery at Penderris Hall in Cornwall. Now, in the fourth novel of the Survivors' Club series, Flavian, Viscount Ponsonby, has left this refuge to find his own salvation—in the love of a most unsuspecting woman…

Flavian, Viscount Ponsonby, was devastated by his fiancée’s desertion after his return home. Now the woman who broke his heart is back—and everyone is eager to revive their engagement. Except Flavian, who, in a panic, runs straight into the arms of a most sensible yet enchanting young woman.

Agnes Keeping has never been in love—and never wishes to be. But then she meets the charismatic Flavian, and suddenly Agnes falls so foolishly and so deeply that she agrees to his impetuous proposal of marriage.

When Agnes discovers that the proposal is only to avenge his former love, she’s determined to flee. But Flavian has no intention of letting his new bride go, especially now that he too has fallen so passionately and so unexpectedly in love.

Mary Balogh has chosen to write about cross-class romances with some frequency throughout her career. Indeed, she uses that trope in the opening book of her current series, The Proposal. In Only Enchanting, the fourth book in the Survivors’ Club series, she gives readers a more subtle treatment of the cross-class romance with a paradoxical pair: an aristocratic, godlike hero whose war wounds were so grievous that years afterward he is not fully healed physically or emotionally and an ordinary heroine whose extraordinariness captivates the hero.

[No ordinary love!]

Oct 13 2014 4:30pm

Talking ’Bout the Next Generation: The Second Generation in Historical Romance Novels

An Arranged Marriage by Jo BeverleyPerhaps it is because I grew up reading the family sagas on my mother’s bookshelves—books like Elswyth Thane’s Williamsburg series, Mazo de la Roche’s Whiteoak Chronicles, and Elizabeth Goudge’s Eliot Family books—but when I encounter a particularly interesting or appealing child character in a romance novel, I often long for a sequel that offers the story of a second generation. Alas, it is a longing rarely satisfied in recent years. As Anna Bowling notes in her March 2013 Heroes & Heartbreakers post, family sagas have a place in the history of romance fiction, but for the past twenty-five years or so, romance writers, as a rule, seem to prefer their characters to be ageless. Some are very direct in their refusal to entertain second generation stories. Jo Beverley, for example, has made clear that she will not write a book for Arabel Delaney, daughter of Nicholas and Eleanor Delaney (An Arranged Marriage, Company of Rogues #1), going so far as to say on the FAQ page of her website: “There are problems with this. The first is that I don’t particularly want to revisit my characters in middle or even old age. The other is the periods involved. I have an aversion to the Victorian period, which is where Arabel will cut a swathe.”

[So that's a no...]

Sep 11 2014 12:00pm

Star-Struck and Bewitched: Top 5 Couples from Barbara Samuel

A Bed of Spices by Barbara SamuelIf I described my top five couples from the fiction of Barbara Samuel without giving title and author, you might justifiably conclude that the pairs figured as protagonists in novels by five different authors. How likely is it that a single author would write a cross-culture medieval set in 14th-century Germany, a contemporary featuring a recovering alcoholic heroine and a twice-divorced Native American hero, an American historical interracial romance set in WW II Texas, a contemporary romance/women’s fiction hybrid with a homecoming theme that pairs a heroine a few steps away from forty, responsible for a best friend dying of AIDS and a seventeen-year-old son, with a bad-boy, motorcycle-riding hero, and a women’s fiction novel with a biographer protagonist who falls in love with a needy, wounded blues aficionado who also raises orchids? But yet all these stories were penned by the remarkable Barbara Samuel, who has the gift of delivering a potent emotional punch in prose that falls on the ear like music and lingers in the memory like the lyrics of a favorite song.

5. Rica der Esslingen and Solomon ben Jacob, A Bed of Spices (1993)

Rica, the daughter of a German aristocrat, and Solomon, the son of a Jewish merchant, are separated by class, race, and religion, but these barriers are not enough to stop them from falling in love at first sight. Samuel’s description of their first awareness is perfection: “Like a lady stricken with the beauty of a knight in one of the poems the priest had forbidden her, Rica felt faint and star-struck and bewitched. She smiled at him. He swallowed, then glanced away quickly, a dusky stain on his cheekbones.” As they come to know each other, they fall more deeply in love, and with every scene, no matter how often I reread the book, I fall more deeply in love with these characters and this author.

[+ 4 more favorites...]

Sep 2 2014 12:15pm

Meant for Each Other: Top 10 Couples in Historical Romance

Frederica by Georgette HeyerIf I say that I just did a quick tally of the historical romance keepers on one of my eight overflowing bookshelves and counted 180, you will have some idea of how daunting I found the task of selecting five favorite couples from among all the characters I have loved in historical romance. After a long struggle, I persuaded myself that it would be acceptable to fudge the assignment a bit and choose five top couples from 20th century romance novels and five from 21st century romance novels. I’m allying myself with the purists for the purpose of this list and not counting Jane Austen as a historical romance author, although I certainly include Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy and Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth among my favorite fictional couples.

Top 5 Couples from 20th-century Romance Novels

(in order of publication since I cannot choose among them)

1. Frederica Merrivale and the Marquis of Alverstoke, Frederica (1965) by Georgette Heyer

Frederica is my favorite Heyer for many reasons. Certainly one of those reasons is the pairing of Frederica, one of Heyer’s intelligent, competent heroines, and the arrogant, self-centered Alverstoke who grow in love rather than falling in love. I delight in Alverstoke’s bewilderment over what is happening to him: “Then came Frederica, upsetting his cool calculations, thrusting responsibilities upon him, intruding more and more into the ordered pattern of his life, and casting him into a state of unwelcome doubt.” They truly are the best thing that ever happened to one another.

[That's all we ask in a romance power couple...]

Aug 22 2014 11:00am

A Sigh of Lovers: Top 5 Nora Roberts Couples

Carnal Innocence by Nora RobertsSince I have read nearly every novel Nora Roberts has written, I had an enormous sigh of lovers to consider in selecting a top five. I could have chosen a top twenty more easily. But after due consideration, these five are the couples that I love most together. They are not necessarily the heroes I consider most swoon-worthy or the heroines I most admire or the books at the top of my keeper list but rather those whose HEAs I believe in most wholeheartedly.

5. Caroline Waverly and Tucker Longstreet, Carnal Innocence (1991)
Burned out concert violinist Caroline, a Yankee who retreats to the small-town South after a breakdown, and wealthy, laidback Southern charmer Tucker, who is practically legendary for his allergy to commitment, are no one’s idea of a perfect match. Tucker, a connoisseur of beautiful women, finds Caro captivating from the beginning, but she is unimpressed with him until she becomes aware of the substance beneath the good-old-boy façade. Caroline is hungry for connection and for love based on who she is rather than on her talent, and Tucker has a great capacity for love as evidenced by his devotion to his messed up family and his anonymous acts of charity. Both characters are more than the sum of their parts, and at heart, they are more alike than different.

[Did your favorites make the list?...]

Aug 13 2014 9:30am

So Romantic: Favorite Grand Gestures in Romance Fiction

The Return of Rafe MacKade by Nora RobertsI’m a romantic. I can appreciate a sizzling scene, but I confess that, with few exceptions, once I close a book, the scenes that earned it a high sensuality rating tend to blur into memories of similar scenes I’ve read in thousands of other books. The scenes that remain vivid in my memory and emerge in book talk with romance-reading friends are the romantic scenes, especially those involving grand romantic gestures. To qualify as “grand” on my list, a romantic gesture must meet three criteria. First, it must be something that is inextricably linked to the particular hero and heroine and their story. Then, it must be costly. The cost does not have to be monetary; it may be costly in terms of time or effort or emotional risk. But whatever the currency, the gesture must be a gift given without measure. Finally, the truly grand romantic gesture must reveal the hero’s understanding of the heroine and who she is, what her dreams are, and what her vulnerabilities are. Please proceed with caution: spoilers ahead.

One of my all-time favorite romantic gestures occurs in The Return of Rafe MacKade by Nora Roberts. Early in the developing relationship between former bad-boy Rafe and the elegant, controlled Regan Jones, the two make a light-hearted bet. Rafe bets that within a month Regan will be so crazy about him that she will “wiggle into a leather miniskirt. A red one” and show up at the local watering hole for a beer and a game of pool. Regan counters with a bet that within the same time frame Rafe will be so wild about her that he will fall to his knees, clutching a bouquet of lilacs and spouting poetry. Rafe’s response: “Darling, the day I start spouting poetry’s the day Shane’s prize hog sprouts wings and flies down Main Street.”

[Get ready for pigs to fly...]

Jun 11 2014 9:30am

Happy Father’s Day, Rothgar: Fathers in Jo Beverley’s Novels

Lord Wraybourne’s Betrothed, Jo Beverley’s first novel, was published in 1988. A Shocking Delight, her most recent novel was published in 2014. In the first, Beverley gives her heroine a father prone to tedious lectures and very much under his wife’s rule and a hero whose father managed to mold his heir in his own image to a degree. In A Shocking Delight, the heroine’s father is loving and protective, but also sexist and ignorant, of who his daughter truly is. The hero, through clever maneuverings in an earlier book, has two fathers, each quite scandalous, although for different reasons. In between, Beverley has given readers more than forty novels and novellas in which fathers—loving, abusive and indifferent, wise and foolish, controlling and indulgent, powerful and ineffectual—play their parts. To examine all these fathers would require a dissertation, so I shall limit this discussion to the five novels that contain the characters I find Jo Beverley’s most interesting fathers.

Emily and the Dark Angel (1991) is one of my top-ten traditional regencies, and the protagonists’ relationships with their fathers are among the reasons it holds that place. Piers Verderan (The Dark Angel) has been shaped in large part into the man he is by the magic of his father’s presence and the contrast between his memories of his father and the reality of life under the control of his crazed and cruel grandfather. Fittingly, it is his father’s will, along with Piers’s own courage and ingenuity, that frees him from that control. Emily Grantwich’s father is still among the living, but a foolish duel has left him paralyzed. Emily tries to hold on to the fact that her father “had been a good landowner and a good father. A rough, bluff, old-fashioned squire. . .,” but his present flaws make remembering past virtues difficult. In the present, he is a querulous, demanding old man, “all twisted by his misfortune,” who finds fault with Emily’s administration of the estate, a task she’s forced to perform given her father’s incapacity and her soldier brother’s missing-in-action status. It is actually work at which she is quite skilled, although her father neither understands her gifts nor appreciates her efforts. Piers, on the other hand, not only appreciates what Emily does well but also sees all that she can become. He wants to see her soar.

[And so do we!...]

Apr 14 2014 9:30am

Shakespeare in Love: Romance Novels and the Bard

The Game of Love by Edith LaytonApril 23, 2014, will mark the 450th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare, and Shakespeare lovers around the globe will be celebrating the occasion throughout the month of April with lectures, conferences, readings, and parties. The most famous celebration is probably the one in Stratford-on-Avon where they will be serving birthday cake to visitors April 25-26. Now I’m no Shakespeare expert, but I am an English major with four courses in Shakespeare on my transcript and a generalist who spent a portion of each year for more than three decades teaching one of a dozen of his plays. (Twelfth Night was my favorite to teach, and I blush to confess that the last time I taught Hamlet to a class of general studies high school students we had a party to celebrate not Shakespeare’s birth but Hamlet’s death.) I think my experience with Shakespeare is sufficient for me to hold my own celebration: a rereading of my top five Shakespeare-influenced romance novels.

[Journeys end in lovers meeting...]

Apr 7 2014 9:30am

Not Remotely Beautiful: Edith Layton’s Homely Heroes

The best authors of romance fiction know how to use the conventions of the genre. They are skilled not only at storytelling and prose style but also at tweaking and twisting familiar tropes— sometimes even violating taboos—to make their stories stand out from the thousands of other romance novels available in print and digital formats. But one convention that is practically sacrosanct in romance is the appearance of the hero. Most heroes are exceptionally good-looking. Reviewers and other readers routinely sigh over their favorite handsome, hunky, hot heroes. Nora Roberts’s Roarke topped All About Romance’s 2006 mini-poll for favorite hero, and certainly his looks are part of his immense appeal. He is first described in Naked in Death (1995) as “almost ridiculously handsome” with black hair that is “thick and full and swept back from a strong forehead to fall inches above broad shoulders” and eyes of such an extraordinary blue that “the word was much too simple for the intensity of color or the power in them.” Diana Gabaldon’s Jamie Fraser was first runner-up in the AAR poll, and while I’ve never read the Outlander books, I can deduce from Gabaldon’s proposing Gabriel Aubry as a lookalike that Jamie must be extraordinarily good-looking.

Beastly heroes, who may or may not be transformed into handsome princes (or dukes or earls or . . .), are rarer than handsome heroes but still very much a part of the pantheon of Romance’s most beloved heroes. Arguably, Sebastian Ballister, Marquess of Dain, hero of Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels (1995), heads this list. Dain’s “dark . . . harsh, hard” face with his Usignuolo nose is a match for his “Dartmoor soul,” a fitting description for one known as “Lord Beelzebub.” As much as I adore Dain, my candidate for the most visually memorable beastly hero is Sir Alistair Munroe in Elizabeth Hoyt’s To Beguile a Beast (2009): “Black, lank hair fell in tangles to his shoulders. . . . One side of his stubbled face was twisted with red angry scars. A single light brown eye reflected the lightning at them diabolically."

The purpose of my musings about handsome and ugly heroes is that while romance novelists and their readers have embraced both beautiful and beastly heroes, homely heroes are the rarest species to be found in the gallery of romance heroes. “Homely” means plain, of ordinary appearance, not beautiful or good-looking, but not truly beastly either. Perhaps it is the connection with the ordinary that makes a homely hero seem a contradiction in terms, but Edith Layton created a quartet of heroes who demonstrate that homely hero is an oxymoron, an apparent contradiction that proves surprisingly true.

[This makes them practically perfect in every way...]

Apr 3 2014 4:30pm

Lessons from Maud Hart Lovelace’s Betsy-Tacy Series: Love Triangles Are Best When They End as Two HEAs

Heaven to Betsy and Betsy in Spite of Herself by Maud Hart LovelaceI started reading the Betsy-Tacy series when I was five, the same age as Betsy Ray and her best friend, Tacy Kelly, in the first book of Maud Hart Lovelace’s enduring series. I read the six books that cover Betsy’s life from her first year in high school through the early months after her marriage to Joe Willard long before other YA books filled my bookshelves. I loved those books and reread them again and again and again. Betsy, Tacy, Tib Muller (who turned their duet into a trio), and their crowd were as real to me as my own friends.

In Heaven to Betsy (1945), the first of the YA books (the fifth in the series), Betsy meets two boys: the blond Joe Willard, who shares Betsy’s love of reading and writing, and Tony Markham, whom Betsy and Tacy christen the Tall Dark Handsome Stranger. Neither boy is part of the group that Betsy has grown up with in Deep Valley, Minnesota, and their newness is part of their appeal. Joe is independent and a bit mysterious; Tony is funny and charming. Even at eight, I understood  that sooner or later Betsy would have to make a choice, and although I belonged to Team Joe from the first, I wanted Tony to be happy too.

Betsy In Spite of Herself (1946) takes a detour around the original triangle as Betsy catches the attention of the wealthy, sophisticated Phil Brandish and learns an important lesson about being true to herself, but by the next book, Betsy Was A Junior (1947), Joe is involved with Phyllis Brandish, sister of Betsy’s sophomore-year boyfriend, and Tony’s bad-boy vibes appear to be winning the day. Betsy likes the image of herself as the one who saves Tony from himself.

[Such a tempting project to undertake...]

Mar 18 2014 4:00pm

First Look: Eloisa James’s Three Weeks with Lady X (March 25, 2014)

Three Weeks with Lady X by Eloisa James

Eloisa James
Three Weeks with Lady X
Avon / March 25, 2014 / $7.99 print, $6.99 digital

Having made a fortune, Thorn Dautry, the powerful bastard son of a duke, decides that he needs a wife. But to marry a lady, Thorn must acquire a gleaming, civilized façade, the specialty of Lady Xenobia India.

Exquisite, headstrong, and independent, India vows to make Thorn marriageable in just three weeks.

But neither Thorn nor India anticipate the forbidden passion that explodes between them.

Thorn will stop at nothing to make India his. Failure is not an option. But there is only one thing that will make India his.

The one thing Thorn can't afford to lose—his fierce and lawless heart.

Fans of Eloisa James’s Desperate Duchesses series, especially those whose hearts were stolen by Leopold Dautry, Duke of Villiers, will be delighted that Thorn Dautry, oldest of Villiers’s six illegitimate children is, in the words of the heroine of Three Weeks with Lazy X, “a chip off the old duke.”  One description particularly evoked the scene-stealing Villiers from the earlier books: "Shoulder to shoulder, the duke and his son looked like an illustration in Gentleman’s Magazine of handsome gentlemen wearing the very latest fashions.” But even though Thorn is the physical image of his father from his impressive body to the white streak in his hair and also possesses the duke’s air of command, he is quite different from Villiers in significant ways.

Thorn was twelve when Villiers found him and changed him from Juby the mudlark, forced to risk life and limb searching the dirty Thames for objects that could be sold, to Tobias, illegitimate but recognized son of a powerful duke. His early years left him with edges that not even the years that followed in a privileged household with his siblings and a loving father and step-mother could smooth away. In Eloisa James's Three Weeks with Lady X, readers learn he is more than a former mudlark and more than his father’s son. He is Thorn, a self-selected name for a self-made man who earned his fortune, who accepts his bastardry and who refuses to disguise a roughness that is natural to him but foreign to the polished Villiers.

[Ooh! The Taming of the Crude?...]