Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter Greetings

My Easter weekend is filled with church and family celebrations. To all of you who celebrate, may your Easter be a blessed one. I'll return with a new review on Tuesday.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Serial Review: With This Kiss, Part Three

With This Kiss, Part Three
By Eloisa James
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: March 26, 2013

The final section of Eloisa James’s first serial romance ends with a sigh-worthy exemplification of the healing powers of love and a happily ever after that leaves readers with a satisfied smile. Colin, with all his alphaness in ascendance, offers Grace persuasive evidence that it is she, not Lily he desires, that she, Grace, is the only woman he wants in his bed, in his dreams, and in his heart. In a scene rich with sizzle and symbolism, Grace becomes “blind” in order to see the truth.

Another classically symbolic scene that is both passionate and tender precedes one of the most memorably moving wedding scenes I’ve encountered in romance fiction. In a lovely (both in the sense of being full of love and in the sense of being beautiful and pleasing to the beholder) role reversal, Grace becomes the warrior, winning Colin from the darkness into which war plunged him literally and metaphorically.

Every time they made love, every morning he spent training Daedalus, every afternoon he spent writing, every evening when he read aloud another letter, every time he teased her or asked her a question about one of her paintings, she dragged him farther onto her side. The side with life in it, not death.

All this and the author still gives us a delightful epilogue that confirms the tradition of summers at Arbor House overflowing with children designed to fill their parents’ hearts with more love and their heads with gray hairs continues happily ever after. With This Kiss has joined my collection of all-time favorite romances.

The wedding scene in this book is one that that I will remember with a sigh of appreciation. What’s your favorite wedding scene from a romance novel?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tuesday Review: The Bridgertons: Happily Ever After

The Bridgertons: Happily Ever After
By Julia Quinn
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: April 2, 2013

In June 2006, before the ubiquitous presence of ereaders, Julia Quinn released two novellas, “second epilogues” to two of her popular Bridgerton series: The Viscount Who Loved Me and It’s in His Kiss. The second epilogues were available only in digital format. Quinn’s publishers announced that a second epilogue for the other Bridgerton books would be forthcoming and that sometime after the eighth and final book in the series was published, the novellas would be available in print, all eight together. On the Way to the Wedding was released June 27, 2006; the full Bridgerton series became available in digital format in October 2009, and next Tuesday (April 2) all eight second epilogues plus the bonus story of the Bridgerton matriarch’s great love will be available in print, digital, and audio formats.

Quinn gives readers a prefatory note to set up each epilogue and then offers a look at a moment in the continuing, although sometimes complicated, happily ever afters of the Bridgerton clan. The second epilogues are presented in order of the publication of the Bridgerton novels, which means that they are not in chronological order.

The second epilogue to The Duke and I shows Daphne and Simon at mid-life with twenty-one years of marriage behind them, three daughters concerned with dresses and beaux, a sixteen-year-old heir, and a surprise. A visit from Colin and Penelope brings another complication.

The second epilogue to The Viscount Who Loved Me shows the Bridgertons and spouses in another fiercely competitive Pall Mall match with Kate and Anthony, who after fifteen years of marriage are each determined to win the match, no matter what dastardly trick is required. 

The second epilogue to An Offer from a Gentleman shows Sophie and Benedict, now married three years, delighting in their country life and their two young sons and avoiding London since Sophie’s birth still renders her unacceptable by the sticklers, despite the Bridgerton influence. The focus on this story is Posy Reiling, Sophie’s decidedly not-wicked step-sister. Posy is twenty-five and still unwed, and Sophie’s happiness would be complete if only Posy could find the kind of happiness Sophie has. Then Benedict has an idea.

The second epilogue to Romancing Mr. Bridgerton follows closely after the events of this novel and the one that immediately followed it, To Sir Phillip, With Love. Penelope and Colin are still in the honeymoon stage, the Bridgertons set off for Eloise’s wedding at Sir Phillip’s estate, and Penelope is faced with telling Eloise, her best friend forever, that Penelope has kept the secret of her Lady Whistledown identity from her. 

The second epilogue of To Sir Phillip, With Love is a first-person tale told from the perspective of Eloise’s stepdaughter, Amanda. Eloise is now forty with three children in addition to Phillips twins who think she’s the best mother ever. Amanda, having refused a season because she prefers the freedom of country life, must deal with Eloise’s efforts to bring eligible young men to Amanda’s attention. Amanda accepts her mother’s maneuverings with grace but little interest until Mr. Farraday.

In the second epilogue to When He Was Wicked, Francesca and Michael are still childless four and a half years into their marriage. Sadly, they have accepted the fact that their marriage may never be blessed with children and have determined to enjoy the astounding number of nieces and nephews that Francesca’s Bridgerton siblings have given them. Francesca arrives in Kent for the christening of Hyacinth’s baby daughter, already missing Michael who has been detained in Edinburgh but will join her soon. Francesca is surprised by how much she has missed her family, especially her mother, who shares Francesca’s sorrow even as they rejoice over baby Isabella and the pregnancies of Eloise and Lucy.

The second epilogue to It’s in His Kiss shows Hyacinth paying for her raising, as my mother would have said. Isabella, whose christening was the occasion of the family gathering in the preceding second epilogue is now nineteen and very much her mother’s daughter in looks and temperament. Gareth is securely wound around his daughter’s finger, but Isabella is giving Hyacinth a new appreciation of Violet. Then there’s the matter of those jewels that Hyacinth still hasn’t found and Isabella still hasn’t told her parents about her discovery.

The second epilogue to On the Way to the Wedding has Hyacinth visiting Gregory and Lucy for the birth of their eighth child, which turns out to be the birth of their ninth child as well when Lucy is delivered of twins. Gregory and Lucy are blissfully happy with each other and with their brood that now exceeds even the original Bridgertons in number. But life is never perfect, and in a moment, the very center of Gregory’s world is in danger.

The novella “Violet in Bloom” takes us on a journey through the life of Violet Bridgerton from the time she was a mischievous eight-year-old determined to get the best of that horrid Bridgerton boy to the ballroom where Violet and Edmund fell in love to their wedding to Edmund’s death after twenty years of marriage to the birth of her eighth child whom she names for Edmund’s favorite flower to her seventy-fifth birthday forty years after Edmund’s death.  

I’m sure the epilogue haters will have their usual snarky comments to make about the redundancy of epilogues, the price watchers will complain about the cost, and the cynics will sneer at the sentiment. But I don’t belong to any of those groups. I am an unabashed Julia Quinn fan who has happily read every book she’s published, beginning with Splendid, her debut novel, and I love having all the second epilogues in one book. Quinn has said that she wrote these for fans of her Bridgerton novels, often in response to specific questions they asked. Readers who have not read the Bridgerton novels may be frustrated by the second epilogues or they may view them as appetizers preceding the banquet of Bridgerton books, but they cannot approach these stories with the joy they afford the true Bridgerton aficionado. 

I suspect that I’m typical of the latter group in that I have my favorites among the eight novels. I expected to find my favorites among the second epilogues matched my favorites among the novels. That was not always the case. While I loved seeing Daphne and Simon again and delighted in Eloise’s wedding and Posy’s romance, I laughed hardest at Hyacinth coping with a daughter cut in her own pattern and sobbed over Gregory and Lucy’s near tragedy even though It’s in His Kiss and On the Way to the Wedding are the Bridgerton novels I like least. And the second epilogue to When He Was Wicked vaulted to the top of my favorite epilogue list when I first read it several years ago.

Each second epilogue added a moment I could appreciate to the overall Bridgerton story, and collectively they allowed me to return briefly to a fictional world where I spent some of my most cherished reading hours, a world where true love is forever and families banter, badger, and bear one another’s burdens through the years. As for Violet’s story, it was the perfect ending. Quinn says Violet became her favorite character over the course of the series and that writing “Violet in Bloom” was a “labor of love.” I think that shows as Quinn gives us a look at almost the full span of Violet’s life, a life well-lived with long joys and deep sorrows but overall a life that proved happily ever after, even if it denied Violet the conventional HEA. 

One quibble: I wish the second epilogues had been presented in chronological order, or, failing that, that the chronological order had been provided. I’ll figure it out since I want to reread the full series in order, but it would be easier if someone else had done the work. Nevertheless, I’m so thrilled to add this book to my Bridgerton collection that I’m buying the print version in addition to the digital copy I have. I want the pleasure of seeing the full Bridgerton story on my bookshelf.

What’s your favorite Bridgerton story? How do you feel about Violet never having a second chance at love story? What’s your opinion of epilogues generally?

Saturday, March 23, 2013

My Mother’s Books, Part 5: Emilie Loring (1864-1951)

The first adult romance novel I ever read was by Emilie Loring. I am not certain which of the many Loring books on my mother’s book shelves was my first, but I do know that by the end of that tenth summer I had exhausted her Loring collection and begun on others borrowed from my local library. It was Loring who introduced me to some of the romance tropes that are still favorites—marriage in trouble (Today is Yours, 1938), forced marriage (Stars in Your Eyes, 1941), matchmaking relative (Here Comes the Sun, 1924), vicar/minister hero (Swift Water, 1929), the anti-marriage hero (Love Came Laughing By (1949). Rereading one of these novels today, I find them dated. But to a preteen before the social revolutions of the 60s and 70s, the elegant settings, the beautifully gowned heroines, the stern-faced heroes, the spies in disguise, and the suggestion, despite their wholesomeness, that romance involved more than sweet kisses made the books thrilling and a bit daring.

Mother’s favorite was Rainbow at Dusk (1943), the Loring I’ve probably reread most often. I suspect Mother favored it because unlike most Loring novels which are set in New England, this one is set in the South—in North Carolina. Loring’s books often offer evidence that military heroes in romance are not new. The hero of Rainbow at Dusk is Major Vance Trent who breaks an ankle when he parachutes onto Karrisbrooke Plantation, home of Ellen Marshall, owner of the Marshall Cotton Mills that Vance has been sent to investigate, and into the life of Jessamine Ramsay, Ellen Marshall’s niece. Trent has the courage, the strength, and the definite—if understated—sexiness that contemporary readers expect.

Emilie Baker Loring, born in Boston in 1864, was the daughter of George M. Baker, a playwright and publisher, and Frances Boles Baker. Married to Victor Loring, a lawyer, and the mother of two sons, she was fifty when she began writing. Her earliest publications were articles in magazines such as St. Nicholas and Woman’s Home Companion, published under the pseudonym Josephine Storey. She was fifty-eight when her first novel, The Solitary Horseman, was published in 1922. By the time of her death in 1951, she had written another thirty novels and sold more than a million copies of them. After her death, her sons found an abundance of unpublished material among her effects, and, with the help of a ghostwriter, published another twenty novels under Emilie Loring’s name over the next twenty years.

 Loring’s novels were published as reprints in the 1970s. By the mid-70s, over 34 million copies of the mass market paperback editions were in print, and Loring was being hailed as “America’s Bestselling Author of Romance.”  Her novels with their strong patriotism, independent but conservative heroines, and lack of explicit sex were still attracting a sizeable readership. As recently as 2005, new large-print editions and audio editions of her novels were released.

Loring’s readers frequently cite her attention to details of setting and dress as one of the things they enjoy most in her fiction. This passage from the opening of A Certain Crossroad (1925) is typical of her descriptive passages.

From directly overhead the late July sun blazed down upon a bold stretch of New England coast. Pines, balsams and cedars which swept back and up from shore to skyline simmered in the heat, gave out a spicy fragrance. Under a sky pure turquoise a sea all sapphire ruffled whitely where it laved beach or rock. From the top of a fern-fringed cliff the bleached remains of an oak tree leaned out above a pebbly cove. Its white trunk and few storm-shot limbs suggested a prehistoric skeleton ready to plunge.

Her love of such descriptions is only one of the characteristics that make a Loring revival unlikely. Some of her plots are fairly close to those of current romance fiction, although closer to historical romance than to contemporaries perhaps. One of my favorites, Here Comes the Sun, features impetuous Julie Lorraine, who is on her way to visit her matchmaking Aunt Martha in Maine. Julie jumps off her train just as it is leaving the station to chase a runaway dog. Not only is she stranded but a storm forces her and another dog chaser to take shelter in an abandoned cabin where they are discovered by the political opponent of her fellow fugitive from the storm.  The result is a marriage of convenience that will protect both their reputations. Throw in dastardly deeds by the villains, danger to Julie, and a happy ending for Julie and her spouse, who happens to be the very man matchmaking Aunt Martha had in mind for her last unmarried niece.

Certain patterns are repeated in Loring’s novels. Among them is using an over-fondness for alcohol to identify a weak character, but in at least one of her novels, it is her hero who over indulges, although his error in judgment is back story. In The Solitary Horseman (1927), Anthony Hamilton was driving drunk when he was involved in an accident in which David Grahame, cherished eldest son of widow Claire Grahame, is killed. Tony pledges himself to stand in David’s place and serve as Claire’s emotional support and assistant in the family orchards. The service proves Tony’s salvation. A decade later the orchards are flourishing, Tony is an upright man and beloved member of the Grahame family, and the brother-sister relationship between Tony and Rose Grahame is undergoing a disturbing transformation. Complications arise in the form of Tony’s mother, who decides that she prefers handsome, distinguished Tony to his affable but weak brother; an ex-fiancée; and business sabotage. Again, the plot could still work, but even as historical romance, the characterization would require updating.

Loring’s novels may become no more that material for scholars interested in the history of romance fiction, but she deserves more than a footnote in history. I’m certain that I’m not the only romance reader over fifty that encountered her first marriage of convenience and Big Misunderstanding in the pages of an Emilie Loring novel. For many of us, she was the gateway to the world of romance fiction that still enchants us all these years later. Hardcover copies of her books are still being sold for hundreds of dollars. I hope those collectors are readers too.

What dates a book most for you—details of clothing and technology or differences in style?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Serial Review: With This Kiss, Part II

With This Kiss, Part Two
By Eloisa James
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: March 19, 2013

Grace, having accepted that Colin will never lover her as she has dreamed of for many years, gets on with her life. She accepts the proposal of Lord John McIngle, a kind man who cherishes Grace and with whom she believes she can build a contented, fulfilling life. Meanwhile, a wounded Colin is on his way home. He can finally honorably forsake the warrior’s life that has so scarred him, but he believes it is too late for him to confess his feelings to Grace. She deserves a whole man, and Colin sees himself as less than that. Grace can be his only in laudanum-induced dreams.

Seeing Colin wounded and vulnerable stirs Grace to action. Regardless of the consequences to her reputation, she insists that she will accompany him to Arbor House. With her mother’s help, Grace sets off with Colin, who has been heavily sedated by a doctor too free with the laudanum. The result is an inability in Colin to distinguish dreams from reality and an unwillingness in Grace to believe that the desire he finally expresses for her is genuine rather than the result of his confusion. The section ends with major misunderstanding.

This should be subtitled "The Heartbreak Section." I read it with Kleenex in hand and resorted to using it with soggy frequency. The sad moments start fairly early in this section, beginning when Grace defends her decision to marry John to Lily, the only one who thinks he’s wrong for Grace. I started sniffling with Grace’s words: “No one will ever love me in the right way, not in that feverish way that men fall in love with you [Lily]. I’m not that sort of woman!” I cried during Grace’s conversation with her mother, moved by the relationship James shows us between mother and daughter. I particularly loved this scene since I am often dismayed by the disproportionate numbers of bad mothers in romance fiction. By the cliffhanger ending, which truly is a black moment when it seems impossible that these two characters who clearly belong together can ever resolve all their problems, I had a small mountain of tear-soaked tissues cluttering the table beside my reading chair.

Part Three will be all the sweeter for the heartbreak of Part Two. Thank goodness—and Eloisa James—that readers have to wait only a week for the HEA payoff. I highly recommend With This Kiss, Part Two with one caveat. Do Not read this without having read Part One. Remember that a serialized novel is a single story split into sections. Reading them out of order is like beginning a book by reading the middle chapters first.

Do sad or sentimental scenes in books make you cry? What’s the last book that left you teary?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tuesday Review: The Wanderer

The Wanderer
By Robyn Carr
Publisher: Harlequin Mira
Release Date: March 26, 2013

The bad news is Robyn Carr is not giving her readers the three to five new Virgin River stories that they have eagerly anticipated each year but one since she introduced the series in 2007. The good news is that this month, almost exactly six years after the publication of Virgin River (the first book in the series that has earned Carr thousands of new fans and taken her to the top of bestseller lists), she is introducing a new series, Thunder Point, that promises to be just as addictive as the Virgin River books.

Life as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot conditioned Henry Davidson Cooper, Jr., known as Hank but more often as Cooper (sometimes Coop to his friends), to the nomadic life that he has continued since leaving the Army. In Virgin River, California, on a hunting trip with his old buddy Luke Riordan (Temptation Ridge, VR book 6), Coop learns that Ben Bailey, another friend from his Army days, has been killed and that Cooper is named in his will. Cooper wants more details about his friend’s death, and it is that wish rather than a compelling interest in his inheritance that sends him to Thunder Point, a small town on the Oregon coast.

Upon his arrival in Thunder Point, Cooper discovers that while the circumstances surrounding Ben’s death raise questions, the lack of evidence pointing to foul play has led the local coroner to rule the death as accidental. Cooper plans to stick around for only a couple of days enjoying the scenery, but then he learns that Ben has left him a run-down bait shop and bar and a valuable piece of beachfront property highly coveted by developers. Cooper feels that he needs to stay long enough to determine what Ben hand in mind when he left instructions for Cooper to “take care of things.”

Sarah Dupre is another recent arrival in Thunder Point. A search and rescue helicopter pilot for the Coast Guard, she found Thunder Point when she was looking for a place to move to avoid running into her former husband, a chronic philanderer, at every turn. The small town seemed like the perfect spot for her, her sixteen-year-old brother Landon, and their Great Dane, Hamlet. Even though they have been in Thunder Point for only a few months, it’s beginning to feel like home. Sarah is making good friends, and Landon, who has been Sarah’s ward since their parents were killed more than a decade ago, has earned a spot as quarterback of the high school football team.

Neither Cooper nor Sarah is looking for a long-term commitment. Cooper’s history has convinced him that he’s not meant to be a husband, and his residence in Thunder Point is strictly temporary. Sarah, disillusioned about romantic love after the betrayal of her ex who she believed to be ideal husband and father material, is fiercely guarding her heart from entanglements. But the chemistry between them is strong, and the two engage in a friends-with-benefits relationship that soon has them reconsidering the possibilities.

Fans of the Virgin River series will find in The Wanderer the same strong community identity and large cast of secondary characters, each with his/her own intriguing story, that has made the earlier series so beloved. But Thunder Point is more than just a reimagining of Virgin River. Larger and less quirky and isolated than Virgin River, and without Virgin River’s pervasive military connections, it is a distinctly different place—geographically and in other ways.

Thunder Point felt more familiar to me than did Virgin River. The library, the schools, the local businesses ranging from a grocery store to a real estate office, the presence of Golden Arches and neon bell, the citizens who work in surrounding towns, Friday night football games, and homecoming dances—all these serve to make Thunder Point similar to countless other small towns across the United States and to make it different from Virgin River. But the cast of characters promises the same range of stories that exists in Virgin River. A secondary plot involving Deputy Roger “Mac” McCain, divorced father of three who is in charge of the satellite office of the county sheriff, and waitress and single mother of one, Gina James, sews the seeds of the major plot for the next book in the series. A romance between Mac’s Aunt Lou and a younger man and the budding romance between Mac’s oldest daughter, Eve, and Sarah’s brother suggest that Carr will showcase romance at different stages of life, as she did in the Virgin River books.

I’ve been reading Robyn Carr’s books since the days when she was writing historical romance. For years, she was on my list of she’s-so-great-I-don’t-understand-why-she’s-not-more-appreciated authors. I can remember the excitement I felt when I first read Virgin River and believed that it would be the novel that brought her work the attention it deserved. The very success of the Virgin River books means that The Wanderer couldn’t evoke that same excitement. But it has the heart and the soul of the earlier series. The Riordan connection means that there is a link between Thunder Point and Virgin River, as there is between Virgin River and Carr’s even earlier Grace Valley series. 

In short, The Wanderer has everything it needs to make it Thunder Point a worthy successor to Virgin River. I highly recommend the book to Carr fans and to any reader who has a fondness for small-town stories with characters who capture your interest and win a spot in your heart. The first book will be followed by The Newcomer on June 25 and The Hero on August 27. I can’t wait!

If you are a Robyn Carr fan, how do you feel about the winding down of the Virgin River series? If you have not read the Virgin River books, why not?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Captain Durant's Countess

Captain Durant's Countess
By Maggie Robinson
Publisher: eKensington
Release Date: March 21, 2013

Only the great affection she has for her husband would have sent Maris, Countess of Shelby inside the Reigning Monarchs Society in search of Captain Reynold Durant, who is reneging on the bargain he has struck with the Earl of Kelby. Maris’s relationship with her much older husband may not be the stuff of fairy tales, but her esteem for him and her loyalty to him are unquestionable. Maris understands the desperation that led him to hire Captain Durant’s services, and she is determined to see that the Captain fulfills the agreement for which he has already been paid. Her determination proves strong even when she is confronted by Durant in all his naked insouciance.

Reyn Durant had been desperate himself when he responded to an advertisement in The London List. His sister Virginia was ill, and Reyn needed money to see that she received not only the best medical care but also a home beyond London’s polluted environs where good food and fresh air might increase her chances of survival. Good luck at the gambling tables has given him the means to repay the money Kelby gave him, and he has every intention of doing so. His restlessness and boredom since leaving military life may have led him to participate in the debauchery of London’s most exclusive sex club, but his sense of honor won’t let him serve as stud for Kelby’s countess, no matter if the old man needs an heir to save his estate from a conscienceless nephew. But refusing becomes more difficult once he meets Maris and finds himself inexplicably drawn to her.

Frankly, if an author I trusted less than I trust Maggie Robinson had used this plot, the story line alone would have made me ignore the book. Even though Jo Beverley and Cecilia Grant have proved themselves storytellers gifted enough to overcome my instinctive ick response to the adultery-for-a-greater-good plot, it’s one I prefer to avoid. But I’ve been a Maggie Robinson fan since before she was published, and I know she is an adept writer. Maris and Reyn eventually become winsome characters. Robinson builds layers of complexity into the story, refusing to guild the reality of adultery. Maris’s guilt is real, and Reyn is surprisingly vulnerable beneath the façade of experienced charmer. Watching them become friends as well as lovers made it impossible not to root for their HEA. 

Captain Durant’s Countess may not be quite so spectacularly good as is Lord Gray’s List, but it is a worthy addition to a series built on a fascinating premise. Wherever Maggie Robinson goes next with the London List books, I plan to follow. I recommend both books to readers looking for a sizzling romance, a powerful story, and fine writing.

For a limited time, Lord Gray’s List is available for Kindle and Nook for $1.99.

Are there plots that you usually avoid? Are there authors gifted enough to win you over despite your dislike of certain story lines?