Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Deadline Dungeon, Again!

My apologies for failing to post a review today. I'm on deadline again and am working about eighteen hours a day trying to finish. I'll return on  December 3 with a new post. Tuesday Review will resume December 6. Now, back to the dungeon. . .

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

May your table be filled with good food.
May your hearts be warm with love for family and friends.
May your list of things that you are thankful for rival the stars in number.

I’m taking today off to spend with my family, and then I’ll be deep, deep in the deadline cave. But I’ll be back on November 29 with another Tuesday Review.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tuesday Review: Short Takes

This is Thanksgiving week, and one the many things—great and small--that I’m grateful for in 2011  is the proliferation of novellas and short stories for ereaders. I know that not everyone likes short fiction, but I do, especially when I’m busier than usual and don’t have time for a full length novel. I’m on deadline again, and as usual, I’m pushing to make it and will probably upload my final article minutes before midnight on November 28, making the deadline by a hair. I have a dozen or more novels I’m eager to read, but they will have to wait another week. But I will steal the time during lunch break or just before bedtime to read some short fiction. I’ve already read and enjoyed the following.

“Winning the Wallflower” by Eloisa James ($.99, novella, Avon Impulse, available December 6)

 Cyrus Ravensthorpe, the only son of a successful solicitor and a duke’s daughter who scandalized the ton by falling in love , eloping, and living quite happily forever after, has devoted his life to restoring his family’s reputation and status. He has gone about achieving his goal quite methodically: he has earned great wealth, bought an estate (the one where his mother grew up that his irresponsible, arrogant cousin has been forced to sell), and proposed to towering Lucy Towerton whose height and propriety have made her a wallflower unlikely to capture the title her mother wants for her.

When Lucy unexpectedly inherits a fortune, her snob of a mother pressures her to break the engagement to Ravensthorpe and lines up lords eager to court the new heiress. At first, Lucy is reluctant to break the engagement because Ravensthorpe’s good lucks and perfect height for a tall lady have captured her interest, but she decides handsomeness and proper height may make  a dancing partner but won’t compensate for a man who doesn’t see her, who doesn’t want the person she is rather than an eligible bride. By the time Ravensthorpe discovers that Lucy is not just what he needs to fulfill his plan but the one woman he must have to fill his heart and life, it’s almost too late.

I love Lucy! I love her humor and intelligence and vulnerability, and I love seeing her gain in awareness of her own worth. I love that she becomes self-confident enough to refuse to settle. Ravensthorpe has a sharper learning curve, and although he didn’t inspire the same affection that Lucy did, I did delight in watching him learn.

Lucy’s best friend Olivia shares her insecurities, her mother problems, her unsatisfactory betrothal, and her dream of more. If I had not already read The Duke Is Mine, I would be longing for Olivia’s story. But since I have read The Duke Is Mine and relished every syllable of Olivia’s story, I’m longing for the release date (December 27, 2011) so that we can all rave about it together. Look for my review of that novel next month.

“The Christmas Cookie Chronicles: Carrie” by Lori Wilde ($1.99, novella, Avon Impulse)

If you read The First Love Cookie Club (December 2010), you may remember one of the legends of Twilight, Texas: “On Christmas Eve, if you sleep with kismet cookies under your pillow and dream of your own true love, he will be your destiny.” A year later, Wilde takes us back to Twilight, Texas, with three Christmas Cookie Chronicles. I read the first one.

Eight years ago, on Christmas, Carrie MacGregor and Mark Leland, high school sweethearts, eloped to Las Vegas. When they returned home to Twilight, Mark’s parents and Carrie’s older sister persuaded the teenagers that they should annul their marriage. It seems that Carrie and Mark are the pair that casts into question the legend that is the heart of Twilight. More than a century ago, a statue was erected in the park near the town square memorializing the love between two other teenage lovers: a Union soldier and a Southern belle whose love survived the Civil War and fifteen years of separation. Legend says that a lover who threw a penny into the fountain in Sweetheart Park assured a reunion and a happily-ever-after with his/her high school sweetheart. Carrie threw more pennies than she could count into the fountain, but she has never heard from Mark Leland.

But that’s about to change. Mark, now host of a reality, myth-bursting show Fact or Fiction, is returning to Twilight to check out the facts of the town’s greatest legend. Will the hometown hero destroy the town? An even more important question may be whether the legend’s power will work for the hero and his heroine. The chemistry between Mark and Carrie is as explosive as ever, but can an L. A. star and a small-town girl really reunite for Christmas and for their own HEA?

If you have enjoyed Wilde’s other Twilight books, you will appreciate the community feel, the familiar characters, and the unabashed sentiment of this novella. If you are new to Wilde, this sweet bite with a touch of spice may well inspire you to feast on the series.

The first novella will be followed by “The Christmas Cookie Chronicles: Raylene” ($1.99, novella, Avon Impulse, November 29) and “The Christmas Cookie Chronicles: Christine” ($1.99, novella, Avon Impulse, December 20).

“The French Maid” by Sabrina Jeffries (free, short story, Pocket)
Jeffries's story about a lonely lady unhappy with her ambitious political husband who has no time for her and the mysterious Babette Lebeau, a French maid with a gift for marriage makeovers was released  last month, but I read it only a few days ago. It’s short and sweet, and it left me with a smile and a wish to see more of Babette, who steals the show.

“A Very Holly Christmas” by Sheila Roberts (free, sample, St. Martin’s)
Ambrose the cat is on his ninth life, and it’s in jeopardy when a feline Christmas prayer brings a reprieve and a new home with a fireman who, whether he knows it or not, needs Ambrose. This one is an amusing story, sure to please cat lovers that serves to whet the reader’s taste for Roberts’s Christmas novel The Nine Lives of Christmas (October 25).

“The Glass Case” by Kristin Hannah (free, short story, St. Martin’s)

April Bannerman is not exactly unhappy, but she is questioning the choices that led her to where she is-- mother of three young children, wife to the only man she’s ever loved, fixture in the town she grew up in. Then in a moment, routine turns to nightmare, and April rediscovers not only what matters most but also that love is larger than she knew. This is a quick read, but it has the ordinary people and the extraordinary emotional punch that I look for in Hannah’s fiction.

“Dashing Through the Snow” by Diane Farr ($.99, novella, Amazon Digital Services)

This is the reissue of a Christmas novella I loved and was delighted to reread: “The Reckless Miss Ripley” from Signet’s 2000 Christmas anthology, A Regency Christmas Eve. With an irrepressible heroine, an endearing beta hero, and the warmth and smart dialogue that made Diane Farr a favorite, it’s a winner. I hope these reissues mean that more Diane Farr Regencies await us.

“Lord Samhain’s Night” by Jo Beverley ($.99, novella)

The only Jo Beverley Regency I didn’t own, this is a paranormal tale about a love triangle that should never have happened and the danger of challenging the lord of death. This is the first time this novella has been available since its original publication in 1992.

“Only Us: A Fool’s Gold Holiday” by Susan Mallery  ($1.59, novella, HQN)

Veterinarian Cameron McKenzie is all Carina Fiore ever wanted, and she loves his young daughter Rina devotedly too. But Cameron, whose former wife walked out on him and his infant daughter, thinks friendship is more permanent than the pleasure and promise of a Christmas kiss. This Christmas romance should please readers who are always ready for another visit to Fool’s Gold, California.

“Mistletoe Mine: An Eternity Springs Novella” by Emily March ($1.99, Ballantine, November 21)

Emily March/Geralyn Dawson made an Eternity Springs fan of me with Angel’s Rest, the first book in the series, and I loved the Christmas short “A Callahan Carol” that she shared with readers last year to end the Geralyn Dawson Callahan series and to introduce Eternity Springs. So I was jubilant when I learned she had written another Christmas story, this one set in Eternity Springs and a reunion tale, my favorite trope.

Emma and Jared Stapleton have been estranged for three years, but now their only child Molly is planning a holiday wedding in Eternity Springs. Can the magic of this special town, the wonder of this special season, and the love of a beloved child work a miracle on two wounded hearts?
This one will touch your heart and leave you eager for Lover’s Leap (December 27, 2011), Sarah Reese’s story, one that I’ve been longing for since I read the first book.

“Christmas Scandal . . . Not by Jeanne Savery” (free—may be $.99 later, short story, Ellora’s Cave)

I love Savery’s The Family Matchmaker and The Christmas Matchmaker, and so I was pleased to find this story about two spinster sisters who are foils for one another and sanctuary for a winter visitor. I’ve already bought Runaway Scandal and House of Scandal because I want to read more of the adventures of Elf and Ally.

What ebook bargains have you discovered? What books are you most thankful for Thanksgiving 2011?

Friday, November 18, 2011

My Piece of the Pie: How Many Books Have You Read in 2011?

Last week, via Twitter, Susan Mallery shared information about how many books romance readers are reading. The information, interesting in its own right, becomes even more interesting when juxtaposed with other statistics about readers. A 2007 AP survey found that avid readers among women read nine books a year; men read only five. Now look at the figures for romance readers. Even those in the community who read the least—1-2 books a month—read more than the average avid reader, and the middle third of romance readers  reads more than six times as many books in a year as the general avid reader. The largest group of romance readers (37 percent) reads more than ten books in a month. That’s more in a month than the general avid reader reads in a year. And when we factor in the 50 percent Americans who fail to read even a book a year, romance readers are even more amazing.

Some of our phenomenal reading can be attributed to the fact that more than 90 percent of romance readers are women, and surveys are consistent in reporting that women read more fiction than do men. Some experts have posited that women, who are more empathetic than men and have a greater emotional range, naturally find fiction, which requires a reader to empathize with characters, more appealing. The explanation may extend beyond cognitive psychology to include biology. Some neuroscientists believe that “mirror neurons” located behind the eyebrows control empathy and that women have more sensitive mirror neurons than men, making them more empathetic. Perhaps there is a scientific explanation for the emotional punch we look for in our romance fiction.

I belong to the 17 percent of romance readers who read more than twenty books a month. My average this year, as of November 11, is 1.2 books per day. I may read less since I’m reading more e-books, and currently I’m reading them on my laptop, not optimal reading conditions for me. By the beginning of 2012, I expect to be a new e-reader owner. I’m interested in seeing if the Kindle will increase my reading.

One market study found that many readers who owned an e-reader (40 percent of them) were reading more than they had read before they owned a reading device. Amazon, the biggest seller of e-books, says its customers buy 3.3 times as many books after buying a Kindle. I’m not sure the increase in purchases means the Amazon customers are actually reading more or if it just reflects a shift in where they purchase their books. After all, print books can be bought on line or at local bookstores, Targets, and Walmarts, but Kindle books are largely ordered from Amazon. It seems that almost every day brings news of something new available as an e-book. It’s hardly surprising that romances are the fastest growing segment of e-published books. It takes a lot of books to satisfy the appetites of 29 million regular romance readers.

Are you surprised that romance readers read much more than the general population? Why do you think we as a group are voracious readers? How many books do you read in a month? In a year? Are you an e-reader convert?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tuesday Review: Regency Marriages

Regency Marriages
By Elizabeth Rolls
Publisher: Harlequin UK
Release Date: November 4, 2011
Four Stars

Regency Marriages is a reissue of two of Elizabeth Rolls’s Harlequin Historicals under a single title: A Compromised Lady (Harlequin Historical #864, September 2007) and Lord Braybrook’s Penniless Bride (Harlequin Historical #948, June 2009). I first read Rolls in a Christmas anthology in 2006. As often happens with anthologies, I bought Mistletoe Kisses (2006)because it included a novella “A Twelfth Night Tale” by Diane Gaston, but I also loved Rolls’s story “A Soldier’s Tale” and began looking for her novels. While I like some of her books better than others, I have found her consistently to give her readers enjoyable stories that tweak some of the cherished conventions of the genre. I enjoyed rereading these connected novels.

A Compromised Lady features a heroine who is neither an innocent debutante nor a courtesan by circumstance, design, or confusion. Dorothea “Thea” Winslow is banished from polite society to her aunt’s home in Yorkshire where she remains for eight years. She’s not even allowed to return when her mother dies. Then, one day Thea's brother shows up unexpectedly with orders from her father that she is to return to London for the Season. Circumstances have changed, and it is time for Thea to be married. Thea has no desire for a London Season or for a husband, but she has little choice but to obey her father. Her only solace is that she will be the guest of her godmother, Lady Arnsworth, rather than being forced to stay in her father’s house.

Lady Arnsworth manipulates events so that her favorite nephew, Mr. Richard Blakehurst, is also a guest in her home. She thinks Richard deserves the title that belongs to his slightly older twin brother (Max, Earl of Blakehurst, hero of His Lady Mistress). She can’t give the title to her favorite, but she can see that he has a fortune by throwing him and Thea, who has inherited a fortune from her uncle, into each other’s company.

Richard and Thea were childhood friends, and he has fond memories of the lively girl she was then. But the Thea he meets seems so radically changed that he hardly knows her. It takes time to reestablish their friendship. Richard is ready to take a wife, having observed his brother’s happiness, and although he’s not interested in marrying a woman for her money, he soon comes to believe that Thea will be the perfect bride. But Thea is determined never to marry, and even Richard’s best efforts may not be enough to change her mind.

Both these characters are atypical. Richard lacks not only a title but also a reputation as a rake. Lame from a childhood riding accident, he is a scholar, eager to return to his estate in Kent. He is also honorable, chivalrous, and irresistible as he falls in love with Thea, all the while insisting he is guided by reason rather than passion. It took me longer to like Thea. She evokes sympathy from the beginning, and as her past is revealed, sympathy increases. The secrets of her past are very dark indeed, and Rolls reveals the horrors of that sixteenth spring in puzzle pieces, denying the reader the full story until late in the novel. But I wanted to see Thea be more than her past, and I saw only glimpses of what she was beyond that. But in the end she acts with courage and conviction, and she is rewarded with an HEA larger than her dreams.

Julian Trentham, Lord Braybrook, is a friend of Richard’s and of Thea’s brother, David, in A Compromised Lady. He is the hero of Lord Braybrook’s Penniless Bride. He is a rake with a difference, or rather with five differences. He is responsible for his invalid stepmother, two half-brothers, and two half-sisters. A caring, affectionate guardian, he wants the best for all of them. When seventeen-year-old Alicia falls in love with the questionable Harry Daventry, Braybrook investigates and discovers Harry’s sister, Christiana, about to be evicted from her home. He quickly decides that offering Miss Daventry a position as companion to his stepmother and governess to his siblings will show Alicia what life would be like for a woman dependent upon Daventry.

Predictably Julian comes to admire Christy’s independence and outspokenness, and she begins to see him as more than an arrogant aristocrat. Both are likeable characters, and their relationship is credible and endearing. They, for the most part, behave logically and in keeping with who they are as individuals and who they are in the realities of the time period. The secondary characters are vividly and realistically drawn. Julian’s stepmother is an admirably practical woman with a sense of humor, Alicia behaves like a seventeen-year-old, and young Davy is mischievous without being precocious. Harry is a testament to the harm that can be created by the weak and selfish.

Most impressive is the rich vein of realism that Rolls inserts into the story: Christy’s precarious position as a woman with few resources, the contrast between the privation she has known and the luxuries that are taken for granted by the Trenthams, the stigma of illegitimacy that Christy and Harry bear, even though they are the bastard offspring of a duke, and the prejudices that are deeply ingrained in Julian. If the last chapters of the book feel rushed and inadequately developed, and they do, this nevertheless remains a book worth reading for many reasons.
Do you have an author whose books you never miss that you discovered in an anthology? Who are your favorite characters who are different from the heroes and heroines you usually find in romance?

Friday, November 11, 2011

Congratulations to the Tessa Dare Winners!

Congratulations to Amy Valentini and Betty Hamilton, the winners of an electronic copy of "Once Upon a Winter's Eve" by Tessa Dare.

Ladies, if you will send me your email address at jangarho at gmail dot com, I'll get the novella to you on November 15, the release date.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tuesday Review: A Handful of Christmas Stars to a Reread and a New Read

Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor
By Lisa Kleypas
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Release Date: October 26, 2010

Mark Nolan’s strongest commitment is to his coffee business, not withstanding his long-term girlfriend. That changes when his sister Victoria is killed in an automobile accident and Mark finds that she has named him as guardian of her six-year-old daughter, Holly. Her happiness becomes Mark’s primary concern: “For the first time in his life he knew what it felt like to have his heart broken… not broken in a sad or romantic sense, but broken open. He had never known this before, the desire to surround another human being with perfect happiness.” But Holly, grieving for her mother, has stopped speaking, and Mark feels helpless to end her silence.

Maggie Collins is no stranger to grief. A widow, she has opened a toy store, the Magic Mirror, in Friday Harbor as one more step in building a new life. Even a mute child loves a toy store, and so it’s hardly surprising that Mark and Holly visit the Magic Mirror. Holly is enchanted by a fairy house that Maggie has made, and the two are clearly kindred spirits in their love for the imaginary world of fairy lore and other magic. Mark’s not happy about this departure from reality, but he tolerates it since, with Maggie’s encouragement, Holly begins to speak.

Both Maggie and Mark are quickly aware of their attraction to one another, but neither is ready to act on it. Mark feels a certain loyalty to his girlfriend, Shelby, and Maggie, two years after her husband’s death from cancer, is leery of opening herself to the possibility of more loss. So the two settle for friendship. They enjoy one another; they talk to one another, sharing the best kind of conversation: “As they continued to talk, it somehow slipped into the bonelessly comfortable, unstructured conversation of longtime friends, both of them letting it go where it would.”

But the attraction doesn’t disappear, and Holly’s letter to Santa adds a layer of complication. But Maggie has to be willing to take a risk and Mark has to learn to believe in magic before a little girl’s Christmas wish can come true.

More novella than novel, Kleypas’s first Friday Harbor book has less sizzle than her usual fiction, but it has the memorable characters the mix of sigh-worthy romance and real-life issues that characterized her Travis family contemporaries. Christmas Eve at Friday Harbor is several love stories—the love of a child, the love of family (even dysfunctional ones), and the love between a man and a woman—all tied up in a Christmas bow.               

Reading it, or rereading it, is also great preparation for the next Friday Harbor book, Rainshadow Road, which will be released in February. I’m excited about reading a Lisa Kleypas book, especially after no new books from her in 2011. Rainshadow Road Sam Nolan’s story, and I’m already a little bit in love with Sam. You can read an excerpt here.

Note: I am one of "Lisa's Divas" - a group of select fans who share info and content related to Lisa's novels and get sneak peeks and swag in return.  

Once Upon a Winter’s Eve
By Tessa Dare
Publisher: Samhain
Release Date: November 15, 2011

Spindle Cove’s Christmas ball is in progress, and Violet Winterbottom, an experienced wallflower, has claimed a corner from which to watch the dancing when a stranger, wet and bloody, staggers into the room and falls unconscious at her feet.  The language he speaks is a strange one to the citizens of Spindle Cove; only Violet can understand him. She identifies his language as Breton, the language of Brittany-- “As in Brittany, France,” as Bram Rycliff (hero of A Night to Surrender) says. Bram and the other members of the militia are suspicious of the stranger.  He may be a spy or the scout for an invasion force.

Violet isn’t sure she trusts him either, nor is she sure she trusts herself. The last time she gave her trust to a man, she ended up with a broken heart and indelible memories of The Disappointment.  Should she listen to her excellent mind that tells her this man is a mystery and a stranger, and an enemy stranger at that, or dare she listen once again to her heart?

Broken heads and broken hearts, language games and a truncated letter, pistols and promises—Dare weaves them all into a story with humor and heat and heart-capturing characters. You can read an excerpt here.

I knew I’d love this book from the moment I read the tagline: “Some wallflowers bloom at night...” and I did.  I loved Violet’s intelligence, vulnerability, and courage. I loved her stranger in the night. And I loved seeing Bram and Susanna’s happiness continuing to grow. Spindle Cove has become one of my favorite fictional settings. My second visit there was a rare treat, and I look forward to returning with A Week to Be Wicked (March 27, 2012).

I want to share the love by giving away two ecopies of Once Upon a Winter’s Eve--one in honor of a terrific author and one in honor of an equally terrific editor. Winners will be chosen randomly from among those who comment. With apologies to international visitors, the contest is open only to visitors within the  U. S.

What’s your favorite Christmas novella? To what 2012 books are you most looking forward?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Child’s Play: Defeating the Inner Critic

My demonic Inner Critic’s brutal critique of my writing has been coming through loudly and clearly this week. Even reading, my usual refuge from this enemy, isn’t working. IC just reminds me how foolish I am to think I belong in the company of the authors whose books I’m reading. The new idea that was so shiny I could see my dreams in it last week is just another bit of tarnished trash I mistook for treasure this week.

I had just reached the point of planning an extended pity party for myself when I came across these words from Katherine Paterson, best known as the author of Bridge to Terabithia, The Great Gilly Hopkins, Jacob I Have Loved, and other novels: “Send your inner critic off on vacation and just write the way little children play. You can't be judge and creator at the same time.”  I immediately thought that sending the IC on a l-o-n-g vacation was an excellent idea, but the second imperative required more consideration.

“Write the way little children play.”

It’s been so long since I was a child that my memories of play are not the freshest, but I have ample opportunity to observe the grands at play. And the three youngest at least, at seven, six, and three, still qualify as “little children.”  How then do Myles, Luke, and Caitlyn play and what can I learn about writing from them?

They focus.

Whether it’s Caitlin dressing—or undressing-- her dolls, Luke transforming Optimus Prime to vehicle mode, or Myles practicing soccer moves, they are completely focused on what they are doing. They are able to concentrate sufficiently to block out the noise of their siblings and cousins, to ignore calls to dinner, and to respond with only an absent nod to parental demands to gather shoes and coats.

If I could focus on my writing with such intensity and could ignore ringing phones, Tweet Deck pop-ups, the smell of chocolate, I might be able to write 50K words in a month.

They persevere.

Myles, Luke, and Caitlin are not discouraged by failures or jeers. Tiny fingers find it difficult to manipulate small buttons, a six-year-old struggles to pop wings back on as quickly as he wants to, and a seven-year-old can’t juggle the soccer ball with the skill of his older brother, who ungently reminds him of this fact. But these kids just keep on keeping on until the doll’s dress is buttoned, the wings are on, and even the older brother cheers the budding soccer star’s efforts.
I, on the other hand, am too easily discouraged. When my imagination is less nimble than I wish, when my fingers stutter on the keyboard, when the IC’s harshness pierces my confidence, I’m too quick to think the goal is too high, the task too difficult.

They feel the joy.
Caitlin’s giggle as she puts a different dress on her doll, Luke’s shout of “Yes!” as one step in the transformation is complete, and Myles’s megawatt grin as the soccer ball rolls off the top of his foot all signal their delight in the moment. They are having fun and they are fully engaged in it. Every part of them expresses their gladness not only at a goal completed but at each step toward the finish.

I become so caught up in words counts, in writing the end, and in comparisons with others’ achievements that I lose the joy of creating characters, crafting a sentence that sings, building the world of my book.

November Resolution  
Little children at play are inquisitive, inventive, open, and exuberant. Researchers have found that children who spend time in creative play experience less anxiety and depression. I think Katherine Paterson’s advice is just what I needed. November may not be the usual season for making resolutions, but I’m making one nevertheless. I’ve sent the IC to Siberia, and I’m resolved to write with focus, perseverance, and joy, the way Myles, Luke and Caitlin play. I’m determined to be creator and to jettison the judge until a later stage.

What lessons have you learned from children? The experts remind us that play is part of a healthy lifestyle for adults too. Do you need to add more play to your life?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Tuesday Review: The Black Hawk

The Black Hawk
By Joanna Bourne
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: November 1, 2011
Five Stars

They met in Paris when they were little more than children, but there was nothing childish about Justine DeCabrillac and Adrian Hawkhurst even then. She was an established agent of the French Police Secréte mentored by the Madame of a brothel; he was a reformed thief, a killer, and a newly named agent of the British service in France. Briefly they are partners in a dangerous venture, and then over more than two decades Owl and Hawker are friends, lovers, and enemies, but always there is a connection between them that neither can deny.

Twenty four years later, Justine has opened a shop in London, hoping she has left her past behind her. But when a couple of unsolved murders capture her attention, she knows she has information that Adrian, who has become head of the British Intelligence Service, needs to know. Making her way to him in pouring rain, she is stabbed by an unknown assailant with a poisoned knife belonging to Adrian.

Adrian saves her life, literally at one point giving her his breath. But someone is out to destroy them both, and finding this enemy will require all their skills and their trust in one another. Only when they have defeated this last, mutual enemy can they enjoy the future they’ve been waiting a lifetime to begin.

Sometime you read a book that gets everything right, the big things like characters and plot and setting and the smaller things like thematic threads than run through the story like ribbons of light, sentences that make you catch your breath at their perfection, and scenes that linger in the mind almost with the richness of actual experience. The Black Hawk is such a book.

I’ve been convinced of Jo Bourne’s genius since I first read The Spymaster’s Lady. I read My Lord and Spymaster and The Forbidden Rose and found them compelling, memorable, and significant, but I think The Black Hawk is Bourne’s finest book yet. It is part historical thriller and part romance, and both parts are the work of a writer who practices her craft with unfaltering excellence. She constructs a plot that keeps readers turning pages, reluctant to stop as tension ratchets with every turn. She creates characters whose lives are alien to her readers but whose humanity is so deep and layered that readers know them and are emotionally invested in seeing them safe and happy.

The novel can be read as a standalone. Fans of the series will be pleased to see some characters from other books, but the focus of this book is unswervingly on Justine and Adrian, their stories and their relationship over the greater part of their lives.  Mentally and physically, they belong together. “They knew even the small crevices of one another’s minds,” Justine thinks at one point. And later, “The body has memories deeper than thought. Her body remembered him.”

I am a lover of lyrical prose. I revel in the power of the precise word and the musicality of a beautifully crafted sentence. I also recognize the power of simplicity that can pierce the heart with its truth. Bourne gives readers lyricism and simplicity in passages like this one in which Justine expresses her fear: “I am overwhelmed by a knowledge of mortality tonight. We dance upon the edge of the abyss, and tonight, I cannot stop myself from looking down.”

Perhaps the best example of this powerful simplicity comes in two comparisons Bourne uses, one in the early pages of the novel and one near the close. The first: “After so many years, Hawker’s arms were still as comforting as bread and milk.”  Bread and milk are sustenance and remembrance. On the final page: “She flowed over him like water, refreshing him and filling every empty part of him.” Water is survival, cleansing, renewal. In words from a child’s early vocabulary, Bourne shows readers this elemental, nurturing, necessary relationship.

This is one you don’t want to miss, my friends. I have no doubt that we’ll see it listed among the best books of 2011 on dozens of lists in the next few months, but The Black Hawk is more than a book for this year. It’s a book for many seasons, a book for as many years as are covered in the story—and beyond.

What’s the last book you read that made you want to put it in readers’ hands, saying, “This is wonderful. You should read it”?