<i>Full Throttle</i>: Exclusive Excerpt Full Throttle: Exclusive Excerpt Julie Ann Walker "There was no use trying to hide the hunger in her expression..." <i>Mine to Take</i>: Exclusive Excerpt Mine to Take: Exclusive Excerpt Jackie Ashenden "A subtle heat that rested on his skin like a ray of sun. Dangerous." <i>The Highland Dragon's Lady</i>: Exclusive Excerpt The Highland Dragon's Lady: Exclusive Excerpt Isabel Cooper "His lean body snapped to attention and his eyes blazed with silver fire." <i>Rocked by the Billionaire</i>: Exclusive Excerpt Rocked by the Billionaire: Exclusive Excerpt Mandy Baxter "He (looked) so self-possessed, so goddamned gorgeous after so many years..."
From The Blog
November 26, 2014
Families and Holidays
Lucy Dosch
November 26, 2014
5 Reasons You Need to See Beyond the Lights
Rebekah Weatherspoon
November 26, 2014
Dirty Talking in Romance
Laura Kaye
November 25, 2014
The Busybodies of Romance
Marina Adair
November 25, 2014
Gifts for Your Singular Reading Tastes
Team H & H
Showing posts by: Janga click to see Janga's profile
Sun
Nov 9 2014 1:00pm

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...]

Thu
Oct 23 2014 8:30am

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!]

Mon
Oct 13 2014 3:30pm

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...]

Thu
Sep 11 2014 11:00am

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...]

Tue
Sep 2 2014 11:15am

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...]

Fri
Aug 22 2014 10:00am

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?...]

Wed
Aug 13 2014 8:30am

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...]

Wed
Jun 11 2014 8:30am

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!...]

Mon
Apr 14 2014 8:30am

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...]

Mon
Apr 7 2014 8:30am

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...]

Thu
Apr 3 2014 3:30pm

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...]

Tue
Mar 18 2014 3:00pm

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?...]

Wed
Mar 5 2014 2:30pm

Made in America: American Heroines and Heroes in English-Set Historical Romances

Watch the Wall, My Darling by Jane Aiken HodgeFor well over four decades, authors of historical romance novels have found that the conflict between American and British cultures adds interesting layers to the relationship between the hero and the heroine. Granted that sometimes these American characters, born or brought up in the United States, seem little more than stereotypes, but when they are believable, distinctly American characters, they provide a more egalitarian perspective with bourgeois values that contrast, sometimes sharply, with the manners and mores of the British aristocracy.

The first American protagonist I remember in an English-set historical romance is Christina Tretton, the heroine of Jane Aiken Hodge’s Watch the Wall, My Darling (1966), an adventurous romance with Gothic elements. The novel is filled with masked highwaymen, smugglers, spies, and threats of French invasion, all of which, along with her newly met English family, test Christina’s intrepidity. She exhibits her American independence when she, unlike most of her English relatives, refuses to be ruled by her controlling grandfather.

By the 1980s when traditional Regencies topped my list of favorite reading material, the American protagonist was not quite so rare. Regency Sting (1980) by Elizabeth Mansfield was a particular favorite because the American hero, Jason Hughes, Viscount Mainwaring, enjoys playing to his English connections’ assumption that he is a graceless yokel badly in need of tutoring in how to look and behave in ways befitting his newly inherited title. I reread another favorite oldie, Joan Wolf’s American Duchess (1982), not long ago. The basic plot anticipates the “Dollar Princesses” of the late 19th century, the American heiresses who came to England looking to exchange their wealth for marriage to a titled gentleman. While the situation between the rich American heroine, Tracy Bodmin, a dutiful daughter who accepts her father’s plans for her, and the impoverished, aristocratic hero, Adrian, Duke of Hastings, who needs an infusion of cash to protect his family and his heritage, is standard fare, Wolf adds details that make American Duchess more realistic and more substantive than similar tales.

[There is no better marriage than an heiress and an impoverished duke in want of a wife...]

Fri
Jan 10 2014 9:30am

Kissin’ in the Snow and the Rain and...: Weather in Mary Balogh’s Novels

A Precious Jewel by Mary BaloghWhether it is Charles Dickens showing readers poor Bob Cratchitt shivering in the under-heated office of Scrooge and Marley, Emily Bronte revealing Catherine and Heathcliffe swept by storms external and internal, or Agatha Christie using a snowstorm to trap houseguests in her classic country house mystery story, writers have used weather to reveal character, serve as metaphor, and advance plot for centuries. Writers of romance fiction are no exception, and Mary Balogh is perhaps the most skillful of romance authors in using weather for all these purposes.

Sometimes Balogh uses weather subtly. In A Precious Jewel (1993), the entire story rests on the weather. The reader learns in the opening sentences that Sonia, Sir Gerald Stapleton’s regular “girl” at Miss Katherine Blythe’s brothel, is “indisposed” because “she has taken a chill from walking in the park . . . without adequate protection from the cold wind.” It is this fact that leads to Gerald’s introduction to Priscilla Wentworth and sets up Balogh’s popular prostitute-as- romance-heroine novel. In a similar manner but in a quite different scene, No Man’s Mistress (2001) opens with this sentence: “The weather had cooperated in magnificent fashion with warm sunshine and a cloudless blue sky.” The beautiful spring day (May Day, in fact) is both backdrop and metaphor for the easy, carefree, romantic first meeting of Ferdinand Dudley and Viola Thornhill; it makes possible a memory that will be vital to their relationship when the two become antagonists at their second meeting.

[And then comes the snow...]

Tue
Dec 24 2013 12:00pm

Merry and Bright: 5 Favorite Contemporary Christmas Novels of 2013

Christmas in Snowflake Canyon by RaeAnne ThayneI’m a fan of second chance stories, and I don’t think it is a coincidence that my five favorites from among the twenty or so contemporary Christmas stories I’ve read this year all focus on characters who, after knowing real unhappiness, get another chance, not just for a happy Christmas but for a happy life. The lovely gifts in “Grown-up Christmas List” are realized in these books. “And love would never end . . .” That’s my kind of Christmas.

Christmas in Snowflake Canyon by RaeAnne Thayne

Genevieve Beaumont, Hope’s Crossing’s spoiled princess and former Bridezilla, and Dylan Caine, war hero who left a few missing parts in Afghanistan, have only two things in common. They both ended up at drinking at the Speckled Lizard on the Friday after Thanksgiving and they both really dislike the Christmas carols some patron with lousy taste in music keeps playing on the digital jukebox. When Genevieve decides to make her objections to the music known, she ends up in an altercation with a redhead with a fondness for Christmas carols and a job as assistant district attorney. The altercation turns physical, and when the redhead’s obnoxious male companion gets involved, Dylan can’t sit there and watch him manhandle Genevieve, even if she is a spoiled brat. By evening’s end, they have something else in common: they are handcuffed together in a squad car on their way to the police station.

Genevieve and Dylan are not likeable characters. Dylan, of course, is a hero, and he sacrificed enormously in service of his country. It is impossible not to feel sympathy for him, but it’s also difficult to really like him when he is all wounded animal snarling and tearing at his loving family who are brokenhearted over his losses but whose gratitude that Dylan’s life has been spared is even greater. However, with Dylan, readers familiar with the series recognize from the opening scene that his psychological healing has begun, albeit in infinitesimal increments. The Dylan of earlier books would never have agreed to meet his brother Jamie at the Lizard.

[Good thing he did...]

Fri
Dec 20 2013 11:15am

If It’s Christmas, I Must Be Reading Debbie Macomber

The Gift of Christmas by Debbie MacomberThis year Harlequin reissued Debbie Macomber’s first Christmas romance, The Gift of Christmas, almost three decades after it was first published. Since that first holiday book in 1984, Macomber has written another twenty-three Christmas novels plus a novella. This doesn’t count the books reissued singly or in combination. Then, there are the three Hallmark Christmas movies—Mrs. Miracle, Call Me Mrs. Miracle, and Trading Christmas. The first two became Hallmark’s highest rated movies of their respective years, and the third won its slot. For many romance readers and a lot of other readers and viewers who don’t consider themselves romance fans, Christmas wouldn’t be the same without Debbie Macomber’s contribution.

David Hinkley, an entertainment columnist for New York Daily News, called the Hallmark movies based on Macomber’s books “the Labrador retrievers of the movie world” whose “only goal is to make you feel good.” I thought that was an apt characterization of Macomber’s Christmas books as well. Labs are popular and family-friendly, and time with one leaves you smiling. All these things are true of her books.

[Especially her Christmas books...]

Wed
Dec 18 2013 5:30pm

The Best Gifts are Mary Balogh Christmas Novellas

Under the Mistletoe by Mary BaloghFew historical romance authors can equal Mary Balogh’s record in writing Christmas stories. Her first Christmas novella, “The Star of Bethlehem,” appeared in the very first Signet Regency Christmas collection, A Regency Christmas (1989). In fact, a Balogh story was included in the Signet Regency Christmas anthologies for the first nine years they were published. She also wrote a story, “Guarded by Angels,” for Topaz’s Angel Christmas (1995). “A Handful of Gold,” first published in The Gifts of Christmas (Harlequin, 1998), was reissued in Christmas Keepsakes (Harlequin, 2005) and The Heart of Christmas (Harlequin, 2009). Under the Mistletoe, a collection that includes four Balogh Christmas novellas from her Signet years plus a new novella, was published in 2005.

In addition to these dozen Christmas novellas, Balogh has also written four novels with Christmas settings and themes: Christmas Beau (1991), a revenge story turned into a reunion story by the magic of Christmas, A Christmas Promise (1992), a cross-class marriage of convenience tale with a family Christmas that bridges two worlds and a most sigh-worthy conclusion; Christmas Belle (1994), another reunion story, this one with a rare actress heroine; and A Christmas Bride (1997), one of the best redeemed heroine novels. Speaking critically, I think A Christmas Promise is the best of the four. It shows the complications of a marriage between people from different classes, offers a detailed look at the Christmas celebrations of the period, and provides a poignant view of how grief affects the bereaved during a holiday, and it does all this with grace, credibility, and romantic tension. But I love all four books and have reread each one several times.

[Then there are the novellas...]

Fri
Dec 13 2013 9:30am

Five Lords a Loving: The Top Christmas Historical Romances of 2013

Christmas Angel by Jo BeverlyEach year I eagerly await the release of the new Christmas romances and always find at least a handful to add to my Christmas collection that will be brought out for rereading during Christmases yet to come. While that collection of favorite Christmas reads includes everything from children’s books to murder mysteries, I particularly cherish the historical romances that allow me to experience Christmas in a distant place and time. For some reason, historicals have been rather scarce among the Christmas romances I have read in 2013, but thanks to the age of reissues, I still have a top five for the season.

1. Christmas Angel by Jo Beverley

Having survived Vitoria, Toulouse, and Waterloo, Leander Knollis, Earl of Charrington, has returned to England with a sense of his own mortality and a determination to settle down with a congenial wife. His problem is that all the eligible maidens he has met persist in falling in love with him, and Leander believes himself incapable of romantic love. Leaving the lovelorn misses in London, Leander sets out for Hartwell, the Surrey cottage where his friend Lucien de Vaux, Marquess of Arden, and his wife Beth have settled. Beth proposes that Lee consider a local widow for his bride, one certain not to fall in love with him.

[All the best laid plans...]

Sat
Dec 7 2013 2:35pm

Top 10 American Historicals: An Opinionated Opinion

Morning Glory by LaVyrle SpencerI grew up reading and rereading Elswyth Thane’s Williamsburg series, not exactly romance fiction, but with all the matches from Tibby and Julian in Colonial America through six more books to their descendants in World War II England, the series certainly qualifies as fiction with a strong romance element. I didn’t really think about moving to a different genre when I moved from reading Thane, Janet Holt Giles, Elisabeth Ogilvie, and other weavers of American-set historical fiction to reading American-set romance fiction.

For years, American historicals were a regular part of my romance reading. But LaVyrle Spencer and Maggie Osborne retired, Pamela Morsi and Susan Wiggs moved to women’s fiction and contemporary romance (or some hybrid of the two), and Lorraine Heath and Laura Lee Guhrke joined the European historical-writing crowd. These days, except for Frontier/Westerns, which remain strong with frequent contributions from writers such as Jo Goodman, Cheryl St. John, Jodi Thomas, and Kaki Warner, it is rare that I read an American historical that gives me the feeling that I’ve found a gem to add to my collection. But with the boundaries of the American historical expanding into the World War II era and beyond, I have hope that American historicals, from Colonial America settings to the 1960s, will find again a place on monthly lists of available romance novels.

In the meantime, I’ll keep rereading my top ten favorite American historical romance novels (listed in order of publication since I can’t decide which ones I love most).

1. Morning Glory (1990) by LaVyrle Spencer

Among Spencer fans, this one is often cited as the top favorite. With Will Parker, a drifter and ex-con, as hero, and Ellie Dinsmore, a pregnant widow many of the good citizens of Whitney consider mad, as heroine, it offers unconventional protagonists. These two lonely outsiders enter a marriage of convenience in a small Georgia town in the 1940s and capture the reader’s interest and affection in their story about finding a place to belong. Morning Glory’s continued popularity is confirmed by its ranking as #25 on the 2013 Top 100 poll at All About Romance.

[+9 more must-read American historicals...]

Thu
Dec 5 2013 4:30pm

Seeing Your Way to Love: Blind Heroes in Romance

Miss Ware's Refusal by Marjorie FarrellBlind characters feature prominently in Western literature from very early in its history. Tiresias, who received the gift of prophecy from Zeus, was always a favorite of my students, whether they encountered him in the plays of Sophocles, Dante’s Inferno, or Eliot’s “Wasteland.” (Of course, it was the connection with sex rather than his blindness that most of them found appealing, but I digress.) My point is that the idea of blindness being accompanied by a compensatory gift, often a kind of “second sight,” is an ancient one. The blinded war veteran who functions as a metaphor of a wounded post-war world reestablishing order from chaos, although not as old as the blind seer, is another familiar literary motif. Romance fiction lacks a Tiresias figure as far as I know, but historical romance authors have used the blind warrior hero who must come to terms with a new self and reassert his command over a reordered world with wonderful results for at least the past two decades. My top five such stories (in order of publication) includes both medieval warriors and Peninsular War veterans.

1. Miss Ware's Refusal (1990) by Marjorie Farrell

Simon Balance, Duke of Sutton, suffers a head injury at Waterloo and loses his sight as a result. Farrell does a superb job of showing the stages Simon moves through, from disbelief and denial to frustration, fear, and humiliation to an inner darkness more intense than his physical blindness, and finally to—with the heroine’s help—acceptance of his limitations and triumph over them. A bookish hero and heroine make this one a special treat. Words are inadequate to describe my delight that Simon takes his first tentative step out of his self-imposed isolation when Judith reads to him from a copy of William Blake’s engraved Songs of Innocence and Songs of Experience. I wanted to join their conversation.

[And we do, too!...]