Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tuesday Review: Devilish by Jo Beverley

By Jo Beverley
Publisher: Signet
Release Date: April 10, 2000
Five Stars

Since the romance community is focused on the RWA national conference in New York this week and awaiting the announcement of the 2011 Rita winners, I thought it was an appropriate time to review an old favorite that was a Rita winner ten years ago. Devilish won in the Long Historical Romance category in 2001.

 I first encountered Beowulf Malloren, Marquess of Rothgar in the pages of My Lady Notorious, the first of Beverley’s Malloren series. I loved the story of Cyn Malloren and Lady Chastity Ware; indeed, My Lady Notorious still holds a place on my all-time top 100 list. But it was Rothgar who haunted me; his was the story for which I most longed. With the rest of Beverley’s eager fans, I waited for Rothgar for just over seven years. I read Devilish the day it was released, staying up much too late to do so—despite an 8 o’clock class to teach the next morning. It was worth the wait.

In Devilish the Mallorens en masse, have returned to Yorkshire for the nuptials of Brand Malloren and Rosa Overton (Secrets of The Night). Their hostess for the event is Rosa’s cousin, Diana Westmount, Countess of Arradale, who bested Rothgar in Secrets of the Night. The chemistry between Rothgar and Diana that was evident in the earlier book gains intensity in Devilish, but both are committed to remaining free of entanglements. Rothgar has determined to remain unmarried because he fears passing on the madness that led his mother to murder his younger sister, and Diana knows that her only hope of retaining her rare powers as a countess in her own right is to remain a “womanly, virginal earl.”

Their resoluteness is tested when King George III, offended by Diana’s unwomanly power, sends a letter commanding Rothgar to escort the countess to London where an appropriate husband must be found for her, one who will relegate her to the proper female role of obedience to husband and king. At the same time the king is determined to end Diana’s dream of filling her father’s role on the Arradale estates, Rothgar has an unknown enemy who is plotting to destroy him. But the external dangers are more easily confronted than the attraction that blazes between these two proud, intelligent, complex people.

There’s always the risk that a highly anticipated book in a series will fail to meet readers’ extraordinarily high expectations, but Devilish met every expectation. For readers who like a full cast of characters from previous books, Beverley gathers all the Mallorens for the wedding. Even the missing, early married Hilda, Lady Steen, with spouse and children, makes an appearance. Only Cyn and Chastity, prospering in Canada, are missing from the celebration, and there are references to them.

Another concern when an author creates a character as compelling as Rothgar is that his heroine won’t prove to be a fit mate. Diana lack’s Rothgar’s sophistication, but she is a worthy match for him in her courage and her sense of responsibility. Perhaps most significant is her understanding of how power isolates and her determination to break through Rothgar’s carefully constructed guards to the heart and soul of the man.

Then there is Rothgar himself. The reader is prepared for his physical and mental prowess, for his near omniscience, for his brilliance in execution of his plans, for all the qualities that have made him such a large presence in the first four books of the series. But in his own book, Beverley moves beyond the larger-than-life Eminence Noir to reveal the essential loneliness and sorrow that make up the character of this man whose life has been shadowed since early childhood by the heinous action of his mother and who, at the age of 19, inherited his title with all its responsibilities, the well-being of his younger half-siblings paramount among them. Early in Devilish, Bryght thinks of Rothgar as “fascinating and admirable, but at times . . . scarcely human.”  What Beverley does in this fifth book is to render Rothgar human, to show his fears and frustrations, to reveal a man vulnerable to love. The result is an even more complex character.

All these strengths and I haven’t even touched upon Beverley usual splendid use of historical detail to enrich the dimensions of her story nor her skillful use of automatons to reveal Rothgar’s need for control and Diana’s painful relationship with her father. The heat level of the book is moderate, but the love scenes are both sensual and tender. Beverley leaves no doubt that Rothgar and Diana are a perfect match in all areas of their lives.

Since my first reading of Devilish, I have read it several times as part of the continuing series of books set in the Malloren world. I have been delighted to see further evidence of Rothgar’s humanity in subsequent books. Just the thought of Rothgar involved in a secret baby plot still makes me smile. I started reading Jo Beverley with her first book, and I have continued to read and reread her over more than two decades now. Devilish remains one of my top three favorites among her nearly forty books. I’m looking forward to visiting the Malloren world again in February 2012 when the twelfth book in the series, A Scandalous Countess, is released.

Do you have former Rita winners among your all-time favorites? Which of your favorites from ten or more years ago stand up best after a decade or more of reading?

Friday, June 24, 2011

My Top Eight Romances of 2011 (January-June)

I can hardly believe it, but we are just a week shy of being half-way through 2011. I like to take some time at the halfway mark to reflect on my reading year. I’ve read 215 books since January 1, 155 of them romances published this year. I’ve added a substantial number of keepers to my groaning bookshelves, and reviewing my reading journal made me want to reread some of them already. I love making lists, and predictably my reflection led to list making. I intended to select a top ten, but after I had chosen eight, I couldn’t choose another two from among a cluster of ten. Eighteen top romances made me sound distressingly indiscriminate, and frankly, I am too summer lazy to comment on eighteen books.  These eight (in alphabetical order by author) are standouts--books that remain fresh in my memory, books in which I highlighted passages and put exclamation points in the margins, books that I plan to read again and again.

Note: I have reviewed seven of these books, either here or at The Romance Dish or on Goodreads. The titles link to those reviews. For The Orchid Affair, which I did not review, I link to the excellent review at Austenprose.
This is one of those women’s fiction/romance hybrids that I’m partial to. It’s also one of the best views of a marriage that disintegrates rather than explodes and of the effects that disintegration has not only on the marriage partners and their children but also on the extended family. Dale’s writing is lovely.
I really love what Eloisa James is doing with traditional fairy tales. She maintains a perfect balance between being true to the tradition and subverting it. I described WBTTB in my review as “a tale rich with humor, high in sizzle factor, and substantive in its portrayal of love as a healing, transforming power.”

My Favorite Countess, Vanessa Kelly
This is a rare book, both in its redeemed heroine and in its doctor hero who is an accoucheur, the 19th-century version of an obstetrician. The HEA in this case is hard won, but watching these two move toward their happy ending is a joy. You can read my full review here.

Defiant, Kris Kennedy
I still marvel that Kris Kennedy has me reading Medievals. This is her third, and all are remarkable reads. As I said in my review, Defiant, like The Conqueror and The Irish Warrior, has “a richly storied, historically accurate background; compellingly developed characters, primary and secondary; great chemistry between the hero and heroine; and superb prose.”

What I Did for a Duke (Pennyroyal Green), Julie Anne Long
As of 06/23/2011, this is my book of the year. It has everything I want in my romances: wonderful, fully realized protagonists, a love story that is fresh, secondary characters who play meaningful roles, love scenes that have a purpose beyond titillation, and beautifully crafted prose. It even has a great cover that fits the book!

Heartbreak Creek, Kaki Warner
This is the first book in Warner’s new Runaway Brides series, and it’s a winner.  It’s a mail order bride story filled with humor, poignancy, and vivid characters. I’ve recommended it to everyone who will listen to me.
The Beach Trees, Karen White
A lyrical, evocative story of a woman’s journey with a strong romantic element, this book has a sense of place so powerful that the reader can almost smell the ocean. I’ve been a Karen White fan for a long while, and I think this may be her best work so far.
The Orchid Affair, Lauren Willig
I can still remember reading the phrase “silly ideas couched in intellectual unintelligibility” in the prologue of The Secret History of the Pink Carnation and stopping to rejoice in having found another author I could label “kindred spirit.”  This is the seventh book in the series, and like all the others, it confirms that first impression.   The romance is present in the book, both with Eloise and Colin and in the major characters within the historical fiction, but history gets the emphasis in this story set in post-revolutionary Paris.
What books have you read since January 1 that you consider among the best of 2011?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tuesday Review: Waking Up With the Duke by Lorraine Heath

Waking Up With the Duke
By Lorraine Heath
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: June 28, 2011
Four Stars

Three years ago, two men were involved in a horrific carriage accident. One walked away with no visible scars; one was left paralyzed and impotent. The two men, the Duke of Ainsley and the Marquess of Wolfort, are cousins and close friends. For three years, Ainsley’s reputation as a lover had grown. For three years, Wolfort has adapted to a radically changed life. Now Wolfort has a request of Ainsley: impregnate my wife. Jayne, Lady Wolfort, who was three months pregnant when her husband was injured, suffered a miscarriage brought on by grief and stress. Wolfort believes Ainsley is the ideal man to give Jayne the child she longs for and Wolfort an heir with Seymour blood in his veins.

Ainsley’s shock at the request is exceeded only by Jayne’s. He has always secretly wished that he had met Jayne before Wolfort did and had the chance to win her heart and hand, but Jayne despises him, holding him responsible for the accident and her husband’s injuries. Jayne is also offended by the idea of breaking her marriage vows. Wolfort plays on Ainsley’s guilt and on Jayne’s desperate desire for a child until the two agree. They will spend a month together at Ainsley’s country cottage engaged in a physical relationship, one bound by Jayne’s rules. Theirs will be a relationship devoid of even a hint of intimacy. There will be no kisses, only sex.

But the Ainsley Jayne discovers at the cottage is far different from the conscienceless rake she has created in her need to blame someone for the accident. Not only is he a tender and considerate lover who brings her greater pleasure than she has ever known, but he is also a thoughtful, sensitive, vital man who brings joy to their days together. She falls in love with Ainsley, and he falls more deeply in love with her. A happy ending seems impossible, but this is a romance after all. It doesn’t take a perceptive reader to know there is only one way the requisite HEA can be achieved.

This is the third book in Heath’s London’s Greatest Lovers series, following Passions of a Wicked Earl and Pleasures of a Notorious Gentleman, but the book works well as a standalone. There are fleeting references to Ainsley’s brothers and his unique relationship to them, but the focus is solidly on the Ainsley-Wolfort-Jayne story. Jayne is a sympathetic character—a woman, young, vulnerable, honorable, who truly loves her husband. Ainsley is all a reader could ask for in a hero—wealthy, handsome, sexy, intelligent, compassionate . . . In a word, he’s irresistible.  The love scenes between the two sizzle, and Heath includes enough scenes that show genuine liking and emotional intimacy developing between the two to make their falling in love credible. I would have liked to see more of the latter, but given their reason for being at the cottage and the popularity of a high hotness factor, I probably speak for a slim minority.

A secondary plot involving the Duchess of Ainsley, Ainsley’s mother, her much younger lover, and the man she considers the great love of her life adds an extra dimension to the story. The triangle is interesting within itself, and the duchess, a woman who has lived largely and meets the world on her own terms, serves as counterpoint to Jayne who is fearful and concerned about appearances.

Heath is an author who excels at providing the kind of emotional read that has a reader reaching for a second hanky, and she is at her best in parts of this book. I confess when Jayne and Ainsley part at the end of the month, I was a sodden mess. And that was not the only scene that evoked tears. All that kept this from being a five-star book for me was Wolfort’s character. His coldness, his manipulation, and his dishonesty rendered him so unlikeable that it was mandatory that all sympathy be directed toward Jayne and Ainsley. I would have found the story more complex and exceptional had Wolfort been as noble as his wife and his friend.

Do you have a favorite book by Lorraine Heath? Have you read books that fell just shy of your top rating for one specific reason?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Father Images

Sunday is Father’s Day, and I miss my daddy, even though this is our eighth Father's Day without him. But I have so many images of him in my internal memory book. Many of them I included in this prose poem I wrote when he was still alive. He would have been the first to say he wasn’t perfect, but he loved his children deeply. And he showed--and spoke--his love.
He belonged to a generation that left young children largely in the mother's care, as they did most domestic tasks. He was an exception. My sister, my brother and I have dear memories of time we spent with him, fishing, walking, reading, or just being; and although only the oldest grand can remember him, all of them know Gramps's special dishes--tomato gravy, hoe cakes, and peanut butter cake.  I couldn’t think of a better way to say how blessed I was to have him than with this Father’s Day gift.

Father Images: A Prose Poem

My father laughs loudly at bad jokes and drinks beer furtively. He believes in God and FDR and Willie Nelson. He drives a black pickup with a gun rack across the rear window and reads Westerns by Louis L’Amour. He knows real men work hard, protect their women, and never cry.

I remember when I cut my foot, and he held me on the way to the hospital. The blood was bright as hair ribbons, and I was scared. And Daddy said, “Go ahead and scream, honey”—even though I was seven and a big girl. I remember when I had the wreck, and his arm was gentle around my shoulders. The lights were whirling red, and I wanted it all to wind backwards. And Daddy said, “The car don’t matter. You’re ok”—even though I was eighteen and had known how to read STOP for long years. I remember when Ken died, and the pain was white hot inside, and I was far away. And Daddy said, “It’ll be all right, baby; it’ll be all right”—even though I was twenty-two and too old to believe in magic.

Now he sits with hands strangely clean, watching reruns on TV and planning the garden he’ll plant come spring. When I leave him, he still says, “Behave yourself” and “Do you have enough money?”

What are your favorite images of your dad or other father figure in your life?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Review Tuesday: In the Midnight Rain

In the Midnight Rain
By Ruth Wind
Publisher: Harper Collins
Publication Date: May 2000
Five Plus Stars (A Janga All-time Top 100 Book)

I’ve been writing like a madwoman for the past several days, trying to meet a deadline. My read-soon TBR shelf is overflowing with books I really want to read, including some that I have been eagerly awaiting for months. But when I’m under pressure, I tend to reach for a well-worn favorite on my keeper shelf. This week I reached for Ruth Wind’s In the Midnight Rain, a book I’ve read at least a half dozen times. I fell in love with it all over again, as I have each time I’ve read it.

Small town books are big these days, and I’m a fan. But even when I think the small towns are great, I stay at one remove from most of them. They are interesting, amusing, appealing, or some combination thereof, but rarely does one touch my heart with a mix of knowing and wonder. Pine Bend, the small East Texas town that serves as the setting for In the Midnight Rain does exactly that. It’s a slow-paced, Southern town filled with long memories, secrets, old and new, and loyalties as deeply rooted as a bur oak tree.

Ellie Connor is a stranger to Pine Bend, a stranger who is bringing her own secret to this place. Ellie has found success as a biographer of musicians, and her overt reason for coming to town is to research the subject of her next book, Mabel Beauvais, a gifted blues singer who mysteriously disappeared four decades ago just as she was about to “get all the fame and fortune every musician dreamed of.” But Ellie has another reason for visiting Pine Bend. She never knew her parents. Her mother died when she was two, and the grandmother who nurtured her to adulthood knows nothing about Ellie’s father except that Ellie’s mother, Diane, sent a postcard from Pine Bend shortly before her pregnancy. Ellie’s father may be a resident of the town.

Ellie has been offered the use of a guest house on the Fox River estate, the property of Dr. Laurence Reynard, whom she became acquainted with through a blues newsgroup and subsequent emails. Neither of them gets what was expected when the invitation was extended and accepted. Ellie knows Blue Reynard is dangerous to her from the minute she sees him, before she learns that he has the reputation of a heartbreaker. But who can resist him? He’s a handsome, intelligent, wealthy blues aficionado who raises orchids. And he reminds her of Jimi Hendrix music! He’s also lost and needy and anesthetizing his pain with the best Kentucky bourbon. “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places,” Hemingway wrote. ITMR is the story of Ellie and Blue finding the strength to mend their broken places so that they can build a future together.

But this novel is not just a romance. It is also the story of a town and its people, a story of mysteries that must be solved, lessons that must be learned. The secondary characters are not paper dolls. They are real people with histories and hurts and humor. There is much brokenness in this story and much need for earned strength. And beneath it all is the beat of the blues with all its passion, pain, pity, and poetry.

There is poetry too in the prose of Ruth Wind (Barbara Samuel/Barbara O’Neal), a lyricism that sings with beauty and leaves me sighing twice—once with joy and once from envy. When I hear friends say they don’t like description in their fiction, I want to hand them a passage from this book to prove that they’ve failed to understand what power description can have. Wind had me from the prologue:

What she liked best was hearing the blues. The music sailed down the channel made by the river, ghostly guitar and haunted harmonica, even the hint of a man’s ragged voice. It came from Hopkins’ juke joint, upriver a mile or two on the Louisiana side of the Sabine River, and spilled with yellow light and blue cigarette smoke into a forest as dark as sin, as warm as a lover’s mouth. It floated toward her over the stillness hanging above the water. Sometimes she imagined they were playing it just for her.

Or this passage that makes us see Blue and his friend Marcus Williams through Ellie’s eyes:

The black man was the older of the pair, maybe in his mid-forties or a little more. Judging by the length of his legs, propped on the porch railing, he was tall, and his skin was the color of polished pecan. A neatly trimmed goatee with a few betraying curls of white framed a serious mouth. His eyes were large and still.

Ellie could imagine this face behind the notes Reynard had written.

But it was the other man who snared her attention. Darkness lay in the hollows below slashes of cheekbone, and along the fine line of his jaw; peered out from large eyes of a color impossible to determine in the low light. Her mind catalogued other details, his bare feet and worn jeans, the shadow of unshaved beard. His hair was thick and long, of indeterminate color. A skinny white cat sat serenely at his ankle.

Once I would have hesitated to write this review because I would have felt as if I were gloating that I had read ITMR and you might not be able to locate a copy. But the wonder of ebooks is upon us. You can buy the ebook from Amazon or Smashwords today. And, trust me, even if you don’t have an ereader, it’s worth it to read this one on your computer. I’ve already bought my ebook. My print copy is falling to pieces from all the rereading.

Friday, June 10, 2011

June Weddings

My checkbook is still in shock after all of last month’s graduations (from kindergarten through college), and now there are the gifts for June weddings to be bought (four at last count). My family is strictly non-traditional when it comes to wedding months. We celebrate anniversaries in May, August, and October, but, except for extended family members, none in June. So I started wondering about the tradition of June weddings.

A little research taught me that the tradition is an ancient one, perhaps going back to pre-history. The summer solstice occurs in June, and this was a joyous occasion for the ancients. The harshness of winter was over, crops had been planted, food and medicinal herbs were easier to find, and the world was green and beautiful. Also, some ancient people believed that it was unlucky to marry in May because to do so was to compete with the male and female divinities whose “grand union” took place in early May. Moving nearer our own time, a few millennia nearer at least, the Romans celebrated the festival of Juno Monetas on June 1. Juno, goddess of marriage and childbirth, was worshipped in many guises, and as Juno Moneta, she was considered “protectress of funds.”  In all these facets, her festival period, with its attendant blessings, must have seemed an auspicious time for a wedding.

Even the term “honeymoon” is linked to June. The only full moon in June was traditionally called the Honey Moon because it was thought to be the best time to harvest honey from the hive. Honey was also thought to foster love and fertility, and thus newlyweds were given food and drink containing honey to ensure a happy and productive marriage.

In my region, an agrarian culture is not that far in the past. Three sets of my great-grandparents were farmers, and the cycle of planning and harvesting controlled their lives. I imagine that June was less busy for them and their neighbors than most other months, and children conceived in summer months would be born the following spring, increasing their chances of survival after the bleak winter months. Spring births also were less likely to interfere with the harvest in the fall. Also, travel would have been easier in the summer—for wedding guests and for the bridal couple’s wedding trip.

The phrase “June Bride” always evokes for me an image of the six brides-to-be in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) singing the Johnny Mercer (a Georgia native, by the way) song by that title.

LIZA (Virginia Gibson)
Oh, they say when you marry in June,
You're a bride all your life.
SARAH (Betty Carr)
And the bridegroom who marries in June
Gets a sweetheart for a wife.
RUTH (Ruta Lee)
Winter weddings can be gay
Like a Christmas holiday.
MARTHA (Norma Doggett)
But the June bride hears the song
Of the spring that lasts all summer long.
DORCAS (Julie Newmar)
By the light of the silvery moon
Home you ride, side by side
With the echo of Mendelssohn's tune
                                                          LIZA, SARAH & ALICE (Nancy Kilgas)
                                                        In your hearts as you ride.
                                                           ALL BRIDES
                                                       For they say when you marry in June,
                                      You will always be a bride.

I saw that movie first at an impressionable age. All those images of melting snow, flowers blooming, moonlight, a springtime baby,  and the shotgun wedding with six delighted couples . . . I loved it then, and it’s still a favorite oldie.
I’ve only written one wedding scene so far, and it takes place at Christmas, which seemed a lovely time for a wedding to me.

Maybe, in other times, there were reasons, practical and romantic, for marrying in June. But what about 2011? Why are so many brides and grooms still choosing June weddings?

When did your favorite weddings in life and in fiction take place?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Review Tuesday: Silk Is For Seduction

Silk Is for Seduction

By Loretta Chase

Publisher: Avon

Release Date: June 26, 2011

Five Stars

I consider any time that Loretta Chase releases a new book cause for celebration, and when the release is the first of a new series, it’s even more exciting. When the new series is linked to Lord Perfect, my favorite of Chase’s Carsington books, my exhilaration is uncontained. If you haven’t already reached the conclusion, I will admit to being an unabashed Loretta Chase fangirl. While I do like some of her books better than others, I count her among my never-fail authors. Silk Is for Seduction with its combination of humor and emotional punch reinforced her status.

Marcelline Noroit and her sisters, Sophie and Leonie, are members of the DeLucey family, the Dreadful DeLucey branch whose lack of ethics has long scandalized English society. Although Marcelline and her sisters support themselves honestly as dressmakers, they are willing to use the celebrated DeLucey wit and charm to achieve their goal of making Maison Noirot the premier dressmaking establishment in London.  Marcelline has no doubt that her designs are the best, but she needs one influential patron to showcase Noirot gowns. Who better to fill this role, Marcelline reasons, than the affianced bride of the 7th Duke of Clevedon, Gervase Angier? To this end, Marcelline goes to Paris where Clevedon is spending his last days of rakish freedom before returning to England and making official his engagement to Lady Clara Fairfax, eldest daughter of the Marquess of Warford, Clevedon’s former guardian.

After a week of following Clevedon to learn his ways and whereabouts, Marcelline arranges to attend the opera where her prey goes with the intent of seducing his way into the bed of Madame St. Pierre. When Clevedon first sees the mysterious brunette beauty, he determines to meet her. When he meets her, he forgets “about Clara and Madame St. Pierre and every other woman in the world.”  The attraction between the duke and the dressmaker grows through a series of meetings in Paris, on board the ship that takes them back to England, in the Maison Noirot and beyond. Even when continuing to see her jeopardizes her reputation, his relationship with Lady Clara, and the life he expects to lead, Clevedon cannot forget the mysterious Marcelline.

This book succeeds on several levels. First, the relationship between Marcelline and Clevedon is compelling. Although their sexual chemistry is powerful, their emotional connection is even stronger. He proves himself the best of heroes. One of those perfect moments occurs when he says to her, after all her secrets have been revealed, “Life isn’t perfect. But I’d much rather live it imperfectly with you.” Sigh! I particularly relished the realism mixed with the romanticism. These two people recognize that they may never win the acceptance of the ton, that their marriage may always be regarded as an unpardonable misalliance, but they are willing to pay that price to be together.

Then, there is the fact that Marcelline is a self-made woman. Self-made men, although still a minority in historical romance among all the titled heroes, are not uncommon, but self-made heroines are rare. All the details Chase includes of fabric and design and shop scenes make dressmaking more than a mere label. I love Marcelline’s pride and confidence in her gift and her ambition to be “the greatest dressmaker in the world.”  Clevedon’s pride in her achievement and his determination to help her achieve her goal made me cheer.  And the epilogue made my top five list.

As the first book in a series, Seduction in Silk, in addition to succeeding as the story of a particular hero and heroine, must introduce secondary characters that hook the reader without overshadowing the protagonists. Chase does a superb job of this task as well. Sophie and Leonie are distinct and engaging personalities, and I’m certain I will not be the only reader hoping Lady Clara will be given her own HEA. Then, there’s Chase’s secret weapon, Miss Lucie Cordelia Noirot, who just may be the most winsome female child in historical romance since her distant cousin Olivia Wingate won hearts in Lord Perfect.

Is Silk Is for Seduction on your TBB list? What's your favorite Loretta Chase book? Who are your never-fail authors?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Summer Is Playing at a Theater Near You

The season’s official debut is still nineteen days away, but here in the Southland, school is out, the thermometer is regularly soaring above 90, and summer has already claimed the stage. “Summertime, oh summertime, pattern of life indelible . . .  summer without end,” wrote E. B. White in his famous essay “Once More to the Lake.” I’ve been experiencing the same sense of time linkage that White writes about in that essay as the grands plan for camp, chatter about vacations at the beach, and begin the tally of books in the library’s summer reading club. The century may have changed, and the grands may be swimming in backyard pools rather than a community pool, listening to mp3s rather than vinyl, and watching kid-specific channels on big-screen TVs rather than watching westerns on the 21-inch family TV, but in some ways summers remain unchanged.

All this nostalgia for past seasons of home-churned ice cream, lightning bugs in Mason jars, and playing outside until nightfall set me to thinking about the books of summer. These books include books for children, adolescents, and adults; books labeled fantasy, women’s fiction, and romances, historical and contemporary; and books from the long past and the recent past, all of them from my past.
1.     The Distant Summer by Sarah Patterson (1976)
The year is 1943, the place is England, and Kate has fallen in love with Johnny, a rear gunner  who thinks he’s a bad risk for survival and for love. This is a YA book about first love, written by the daughter of author Jack Higgins when she herself was a teen, but it has an honesty and poignancy that should appeal to adult readers as well. This one’s OOP, but you can find copies in some libraries.
  2. Summer Campaign by Carla Kelly (1989)
Another book in which war and its effects on lives lies at its center. Major Jack Beresford, a veteran of Badajoz, is battle weary after four years in Spain fighting the French. War has exacted a price from Onyx Hamilton too; her twin brother died on the battlefield. How these two meet, fall in love, and heal one another is vintage Kelly. Despite Kelly’s usual refusal to prettify war, this story includes laughter and warmth and a love story that lingers in a reader’s heart.
3. That Camden Summer by LaVyrle Spencer (1996)
Spencer takes her readers to the summer of 1916. Roberta Jewett has returned to Camden, Maine, after eighteen years. A divorcee, with three daughters, she is viewed as little better than a prostitute by the townspeople, including some member of her own family. Before the summer is over, she proves her independence, survives a brutal attack, exposes the town’s hypocrisy, and finds a love beyond her dreams.
4. Summer Reading Is Killing Me by Jon Scieszka (2000)
This book, part of Scieszka’s Time Warp Trio series, is Jasper Fforde for the under-twelve crowd. And it’s sure to leave adult bibliophiles laughing with delight. The Time Warp trio--Sam, Fred, and Joe—find themselves trapped in book, chased by a 266-pound chicken as they try to get their summer reading list out of “The Book,” the one that propels them out of their time into hair-raising adventures. With sentences like "We made our way through a crowd of Robinson Crusoe, a blue moose, Julie with some wolves, a snowman, a plain and tall lady named Sarah, a kid with a hatchet, and a very confused-looking Robin Hood helping Eeyore reattach his tail," Scieszka evokes laughter and provides an opportunity for adult readers to get in a plug for other books. My favorite part comes when the trio has to accept help from a girl, even though they don’t know who she is because, you know, guys don’t read girl books. :)

5. Summers at Castle Auburn by Sharon Shinn (2001)

This was my first Sharon Shinn book. I read it after learning that she had read—and reread—every book by Emilie Loring, the author who served as my introduction to adult romance novels the summer I turned ten. It’s part fairy tale, part romance, part coming-of-age story and wholly enchanting. Coriel, the illegitimate offspring of a nobleman and a wise woman, spends nine months of the year with her grandmother, learning from her, and summers with her lovely, loving, high-born sister, Elisandra, at Castle Auburn. As the years pass, the idyll ends, the prince proves a jerk, the knowledge of evil erodes innocence, and Corie becomes a woman.

6. A Summer to Remember by Mary Balogh (2002)

This is one Balogh I almost skipped because I didn’t find Lauren Edgeworth at all appealing in One Night for Love. I’m glad I trusted Balogh because Lauren and Kit ended up being one of my favorite Balogh couples. I loved watching Lauren leave propriety and perfection behind for one summer’s adventure, and I thought she and Kit balanced one another wonderfully. Sydnam, Kit’s brother, is a plus. From the moment I met him in ASTR, I longed for him to win his own HEA.

7. Girls of Summer by Barbara Bretton (2003)
I miss Barbara Bretton’s women’s fiction novels, and this one, along with the other book in this series, A Soft Place to Fall, are particular favorites. Set in the small town of Shelter Rock, Maine, Girls of Summer is the story of Ellen Markowitz whose life was forever changed the summer she was fourteen when she learned that the man she calls father is not really her father and she is forced to spend summers with her biological father and two half-sisters. Now Ellen is an OB-GYN, and she has just endangered her professional reputation and a valued friendship by sleeping with her partner, Dr. Hall Talbot. Even moving into her dream house and the unexpected arrival of her younger half-sister, Deirdre, fail to move Ellen from her preoccupation with what she is certain was an enormous mistake. Family dynamics, shifts in friendships, and two romances provide tension and tenderness as Ellen comes to terms with who she is and what she wants her life to become.
8. Summer by the Sea by Susan Wiggs (2004)
Susan Wiggs has written a number of summer books: A Summer Affair, the conclusion to her Calhoun Chronicles; Summer at Willow Lake, the introduction to her Lakeshore Chronicles; The Summer Hideaway, #7 in the Lakeshore Chronicles; That Summer Place, an anthology with Jill Barnett and Debbie Macomber; and Summer Brides, an anthology with Susan Mallery and Sherryl Woods. But my favorite is Summer by the Sea, a second-chance-at-love romance with a Romeo and Juliet touch that features Rosa Capoletti, whose award-winning restaurant has been voted “best place to propose” and the wealthy Alexander Montgomery, who disappeared from her life twelve years ago. Summer brings a reunion at the beach house where their relationship began, and it brings a chance to reveal secrets that block the way to their HEA.
9. One Reckless Summer by Toni Blake (2009)
It’s a hot summer in Destiny, Ohio, when good girl Jenny Tolliver, whose faithless husband has just administered a tough lesson in the distance between what people appear to be and what they are, meets bad boy Mick Brody, who’s protecting secrets—including his presence in town. What follows is a mix of sweet and sizzle as Jenny and Mick discover that sometimes a reckless choice is the surest way to happily ever after.
10. The Summer of You by Kate Noble (2010)
I’m not a reader who chooses books by their covers, but I do sometimes choose books based on their titles. I knew from the first time I saw this title that I wanted to read this book.  The tale proved to be as seductive and engaging as the title. Although it deals with weighty issues like death, dementia, and despair, it’s a quiet book about two lonely people who over a summer in the Lake District learn they can be their naked selves with one another. I love Jane and Byrne!
Does summer make you nostalgic? Are you a rereader of old favorites? What are your books of summers, past and present?