This month, readers will find all manner of digital reissues. First up, Heart of the West, a western historical from Penelope Williams, followed by Patricia Gaffney’s Victorian series, the Wyckerly trilogy, and, finally, a category romance—Against the Rules—from Linda Howard, reissued with digital-only 2010 release from newish author Marie Force.
Penelope Williamson: Heart of the West (First published in 1995, digital reissue June 25, 2013)
Two-time best novel RITA-winning Penelope Williamson wrote large, expansive romances. Heart of the West clocks in at 800 pages, with a time span covering twelve years in late 1800s Montana.
Clementine Kennicutt, the daughter of an abusive New England minister, dreams of a different future, away from the straightjacket of a life she foresees if she stays in Boston. With her mother’s approval, she elopes with cowboy Gus McQueen, wholly unprepared for her new home—a Green Acres type house in the middle of nowhere—and her reaction to his brother Zach. Gus is his family’s golden boy, Zach its black sheep.
Clementine loves her husband, even though she realizes her feelings for Zach—who hides his vulnerability, his desire to be wanted and to have a home—run soul-deep. Gus idolizes his wife. Zach loves her for her passion, but don’t worry; there’s no infidelity here. There is, however, a doozie of a long separation. Zach loves his brother so much that he leaves the ranch for seven years to remove temptation. I’ll avoid spoilers, but when Zach returns, he realizes he stayed away years longer than necessary.
Williamson explores the harshness of life and death on the frontier, and what binds women like a Boston-raised ranch wife, a Chinese mail order bride, a woman once held captive by a Native American tribe, and a prostitute-turned-saloon-owner together. Clementine’s friendships with these other woman, sisterhood and motherhood, life and death,are all part of what makes the book expansive.
If you’re interested in filling out Williamson’s backlist, other digital reissues for her include Keeper of the Dream and The Passions of Emma.
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Patricia Gaffney: Wyckerley trilogy: To Love and To Cherish, To Have and To Hold, Forever and Ever (First published 1995-1995, digital reissues June 18, 2013)
Patricia Gaffney turned into a historical romance superstar with the impossible romances she created within this trilogy. I’ll be writing about the first two books in the trilogy; the third I’ll leave you to discover on your own.
The romance in To Love and to Cherish begins after Geoffrey, Viscount D’Aubry, a former soldier suffering the late stages of syphilis, returns to his childhood home in the village of Wyckerley with his wife of four years. Anne’s in a loveless marriage, and though her husband has a title and an estate, they’re, as they say, “cash poor.”
Wyckerley’s vicar is Christy Morrell, Geoffrey’s boyhood friend. He discovers he is uncomfortably attracted to Anne, a situation made worse as Anne involves herself in parish goings-on. Then Geoffrey rejoins the military and heads off to battle and not long thereafter is reported dead. While Anne is in mourning, Christy begins to quietly and insistently court her. But Anne is an atheist and believes she’d be a terrible vicar’s wife. She’ll agree to be his lover, but, of course, if he can’t have her in marriage, he won’t have her in that way.
Even when it looks as though they will find their way to a happily-ever-after, well, Gaffney adds another roadblock. Yes, she does it with the trope of the thought-dead but not-dead spouse (not exactly spoiler material given the age of the book and how often it’s been discussed online), but it works in creating within the reader an intense “you’d better find a way, you fiendish author!” need to see Christy and Anne together.
To Have and To Hold, the second book in the Wyckerley trilogy, was incredibly controversial upon its release in the mid 1990s. With Geoffrey’s death, Sebastian, the entitled, truly rakish son of an extremely wealthy earl, becomes the new Viscount D'Aubrey. On a lark he agrees to serve as magistrate, and must decide what to do when Rachel Wade is brought before him. Rachel spent the past decade [wrongly] imprisoned for the murder of her husband. Her life was spared because of the unspeakable things he’d done to her, but now that she’s free, she’s homeless.
Sebastian decides to get her off the streets by making her his housekeeper. Of course, he also determines to get her into his bed, something that doesn’t surprise Rachel, who’s been dead inside for years. It’s that challenge which Sebastian finds attractive. It’s as though he’s decided to use her as the subject of a set of humiliating psychological experiments simply for shits and giggles. She has little choice but to accept whatever he dishes out, however despicable.
To Have and To Hold is a romance for those who like it dark, really really, dark. As I’ve gotten older, my threshold for material like this has grown. I doubt I’d have finished the book had I tried to read it back in the day. Of course, I vividly recall all the controversy of the time, and knew it wasn’t the kind of thing I’d like. Whatever life experience I’ve had between then and now has changed things, at this point I’m totally down with dissolute heroes deciding to poke women who are dead on the inside for the fun of it.
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Linda Howard: Against the Rules (First published 1983, digital reissue June 1, 2013), part of a two-in-one with Marie Force’s Fatal Affair (First published 2010)
Against the Rules was Linda Howard’s third published book. In it, a young widow returns to the ranch she inherited and must face the first man she loved, who took over the ranch’s operations after her father died. Cathryn Ashe ran away from the ranch and Rule Jackson when she was overwhelmed by his lovemaking. I’m not kidding. Now that she’s back, she’s faced with his manly mojo once again. Does she stay or does she go? Does he love her or just want the ranch?
In an interview with her long ago about the retro (and not in a good way) qualities of her first books, Howard admitted to me that she’d rather readers judge her upon more recent work. Against the Rules is a cut above All That Glitters (her first book) in that the hero doesn’t think the heroine’s a whore. I can’t really say if it’s a cut above An Independent Wife (her second book) because I haven’t read it, but my friend Ellen, who did read it, graded it a D, and my grade for Against the Rules is higher than that. Still, her main criticism of AIW—that unless one of Howard’s almost impossibly alpha heroes is matched with a strong heroine, she’s going to read like a doormat—applies to ATR. Cat isn’t precisely a doormat, but she’s kind of a twit. She doesn’t match up well with the hero, so strong and silent that he never tells her until she’s worried herself to death that he’s loved her forever and would do anything if she’d agree to marry him. What I noticed most of all while reading ATR is that I had to keep checking to make sure I wasn’t reading one of Elizabeth Lowell’s categories by mistake...the difference being that Lowell’s heroes more often cross over into asshat territory than Howard’s do.
If you’re interested in creating a Linda Howard library for your Kindle, by all means add this to it. Very few of her category romances are available for Kindle, unfortunately, but my own recommendations would be the titles available in her Mackenzie series (Mackenzie’s Mountain is not), Almost Forever, and Sarah’s Child (this one is pricey, and the book very controversial—I’m the only one I know who liked it). None of the Kell Sabin books are Kindle-ized, and neither is Duncan’s Bride. Its sequel, Loving Evangeline? Yes. Hopefully this will change soon enough, and if you are a fan of her single title books, you’ll be happy to know you can buy most of that portion of her backlist digitally.
Howard’s reissue is part of a two-in-one with a book from Marie Force, a relatively new author. Fatal Affair was originally published by Carina Press (Harlequin’s digital-only imprint), in 2010. It’s the first in a series which includes six books and a novella. FYI, if you like shopping at eHarlequin, beware that digital books you buy there cannot be read on your Kindle.
eHarlequin heavily DRM-protects ebooks. Until Microsoft Reader went defunct, you could buy and download digital releases from eHarlequin to be read using Microsoft Reader or Adobe Digital Editions. Although there are (unsanctioned) methods for converting ebooks bought for Microsoft Reader into Kindle-readable ebooks, that’s not the case with ADE ebooks. You’ll need to read any ebook you buy via eHarlequin today on your PC or Mac, or
possibly some other digital device, just not a Kindle.
Laurie Gold cannot stop reading and writing about romance—she’s been blabbing online for years. She remains a work in progress. Keep up with her on her My Obsessions tumblr blog, Goodreads (where she spends much of her time as late), follow her on Pinterest, or on Twitter @laurie_gold, where she mostly tweets about publishing news and (probably too often) politics.