Seriously? You read romance? Why?!?

To be fair, I guess I have all the incredulous feelings whenever someone I know admits to reading James Patterson.  I guess the difference is that I don’t carry my Patterson disdain across his entire genre to make the assumption that anyone reading any suspense novel is obviously reading crap and also delusional.

So, it’s been August for a while (20 days, in fact), but I’m finally getting around to mentioning that August is national Read-a-Romance month (who knew?).  To celebrate, 93 romance authors are writing posts about why romance matters over at readaromancemonth.com.  Some of my favorite posts are by Ruthie Knox (surprise, surprise…), Elizabeth Hoyt, Christina Dodd, Julie James, and Maya Rodale.  After reading those last two posts, I went on a little bit of a book buying spree (oops), but it was worth it.

I love this video, courtesy of Maya Rodale:

As a romance reader, I find these posts incredibly empowering.  If you’ve ever wondered why so many women (and men!) read so many romance novels or if you enjoy romance novels and you’ve despaired at so many people feeling the need not only to look down on your choice of reading material but also to tell you about it, you should check out some of these posts.

It’s national Read-a-Romance month, so go out and read a sex novel!  It’s good for you.

Advertisements

Review – A Lady Risks All by Bronwyn Scott

This rant has absolutely nothing to do with the book I’m about to discuss. At all.  The following can just go to hell:

  1. fleas
  2. ants
  3. the sun
  4. my hair
  5. dirty floors
  6. deep cleaning projects that I put off for months
  7. the madness that infects toddlers and makes them whine
  8. the madness within me that makes toddler whining my kryptonite
  9. hormones.

It’s entirely possible that 8 and 9 are actually the same thing.  Anyway, I’ve been trying to write about this book for a few weeks, now, but stuff just kept coming up.  Like I’d intend to sit and write the review, and then I’d notice that the floor was filthy.  Then my kids brought fleas home from preschool, and hormones attacked me, and my youngest started an excessive campaign of whining, and I lost my prescription sunglasses only to find them days later in the diaper bag (WHY did I put them there?), and my hair is evil, and I just didn’t have anything to say other than all this.  It happens.

Cover image, A Lady Risks All by Bronwyn Scott

The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

It would be unwise to mistake me for an innocent debutante—for years I have graced the smoky gloom of many a billiards club and honed my skills at my father’s side.

But now he has a new protégé—Captain Greer Barrington—and while my father would see me attract the attentions of an eligible lord I, Mercedes Lockhart, have other ambitions.… Even if that means seducing the captain to earn back my father’s favor! I know I must avoid falling for Greer’s charming smile…but his sensual kisses could be worth the risk.

When I saw A Lady Risks All on NetGalley, I waffled for a few weeks on whether to request it.  I worried, based on the publisher’s blurb, that it would be told in the first person, and I’m not the biggest fan of that narrative format.  Eventually my curiosity won out, and I actually loved the book, partly because it is, thankfully, told in a more standard third-person narrative.  Also, it’s fantastic.

It’s about billiards, mostly, which isn’t a phrase I ever expected to write when talking about a romance novel.  It’s also about a difficult father/daughter relationship and historical gender politics that gave men the freedom to be go-getters but fettered women to serve some purpose for their families — they could marry well, perhaps, or serve the household or, as in Mercedes’ case, use whatever technical skills they possess to further their families’ self-serving interests.  It’s a story of a woman who is done with being defined by her usefulness to her father, a woman who wants to establish her own place in the world and start being useful to herself.

I’ve got to say, I applaud these types of stories.  I may have mentioned here and there on this blog (read: in almost every freaking post) that I love how subversive the romance genre can be; this book is an excellent example of that subversion in practice.  Mercedes is the very opposite of the innocent miss we (the cultural we) tend to associate with the genre: she’s experienced (if you know what I mean) and shrewdly intelligent, plays billiards better than both Greer and her father (which means better than anyone in the history of ever), and teaches Greer how to hustle.  But while she’s lacking in the softness and innocence that tends to signify femininity in our culture, she’s all woman.  In other words, she tolerates the limitations of her gender and class until the time is right to break free.   (In other words, it’s possible that our culture has an inaccurately narrow view of feminine traits.)

Did I love everything about the book?  No, not really.  There was a wee bit too much billiards talk for me, and sometimes it seemed that the billiards story eclipsed the romance storyline.  It’s more accurate to say that it felt more like Mercedes’ story than Mercedes and Greer’s story.  Greer possessed a fine smolder, but he wasn’t quite a strong or vibrant enough character to contrast favorably with Mercedes, who is simply fantastic.  Finally, the ending, while satisfying, was a bit abrupt.

But, you know what?  I enjoyed the heck out of this story.  Readers who are interested in billiards, gender politics and stories with strong heroines who triumph over all, and — of course — lovers of historical romance should check this one out and keep an eye on Bronwyn Scott.  I imagine she’s got many more interesting stories in store for us.

A Lady Risks All was released on June 18, 2013 as an e-book and mass-market by Harlequin Historical.  For more information about the book, click on the cover above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  For more information about Bronwyn Scott, visit her website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from Harlequin via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Review – The Mistress by Tiffany Reisz with bonus Q and A

the-mistress-banner

See, I told you you’d be hearing more from me about this book.  I love all four books of The Original Sinners: The Red Years, and I love them differently.  If you’re interested in hopping on this bandwagon (and you should be), please check out The SirenThe Angeland The Prince.  A warning, though… once you read one of Tiffany Reisz’s books, other authors’ attempts at bdsm erotica will seem a bit lame.  Honestly, that’s not a bad thing.

There’s punishment – and then there’s vengeance.

Nora Sutherlin is being held, bound and naked. Under different circumstances, she would enjoy the situation immensely, but her captor isn’t interested in play. Or pity.

As the reality of her impending peril unfolds, Nora becomes Scheherazade, buying each hour of her life with stories-sensual tales of Søren, Kingsley and Wesley, each of whom has tempted and tested and tortured her in his own way. This, Nora realizes, is her life: nothing so simple, so vanilla, as a mere love triangle for her. It’s a knot in a silken cord, a tangled mass of longings of the body and the heart and the mind. And it may unravel at any moment.

But in Nora’s world, no one is ever truly powerless – a cadre of her friends, protectors and lovers stands ready to do anything to save her, even when the only certainty seems to be sacrifice and heartbreak…

My Review

The Mistress is an excellent conclusion to the Original Sinners: The Red Years quartet. No matter how you approach these books as a reader — whether you’re looking for a hot story to light your fire or a nuanced and intricate tale you can really sink into — there is plenty to love and enjoy. Though I noticed some pacing issues throughout the first half (that may or may not have been committed on purpose), the second half of the book more than made up for it. And the ending — so perfect and fantastic and funny and (a little bit) sadistic… I really can’t recommend this series highly enough. Anywhere Reisz wants to take me as a reader, I want to go.

If you’re into spoilers or you’ve already read The Mistress and are hankering for a discussion about it, my book buddy Kim and I discussed The Mistress at length over at Reflections of a Book Addict. I’m not kidding about the spoilers, though… Proceed with caution.

Q&A with Tiffany Reisz

1.  RwA: What is your favorite thing about The Mistress or, if you prefer, about the entire series?

Reisz: My favorite part of The Mistress is Grace Easton’s character. Her purpose in the books is allegorical (read The Gospel of Luke if you want to see how), but her character is very real and was an absolute joy to write. I wanted to bring in an outsider to see Søren with new eyes, eyes of faith and an open-heart. Suzanne in The Angel viewed him with a jaundiced suspicious eye. Grace’s eyes were much more enjoyable to see through. And she sees the real Søren. Her view of him is the purest in all the books.

2.  RwA: Was there anything about The Mistress that took you by surprise or pulled you in a new direction while you were writing it?

Reisz: I was surprised by how much I cried writing it. Just sobbed like a baby. I knew how it would end but I was so moved by how much Nora loves. It caught me off-guard. I knew it intellectually but it wasn’t until she faced losing her loved ones that I discovered (and maybe her too) how much she loved them.

3.  RwA: I caught some of the literary/Biblical references sprinkled throughout The Mistress, but I’m sure I missed just as many or more.  What are some of the references readers might discover in this or the other Original Sinners books?

Reisz: In The Mistress, Grace is one big reference to the Gospel of Luke. The last line of the book is an allusion to a famous verse in the Gospel of John AND a reference to Sarah in the Old Testament. Kingsley and Søren have a David and Jonathan relationship. And the three of them—Nora, Søren, and Kingsley—are my unholy Trinity.

4.  RwA: What is the significance of the Jabberwocky as a monster, a safe word, and/or a tie that binds Eleanor and Søren?

Reisz: The Jabberwocky is a nonsense poem and yet it isn’t. The Jabberwocky is a monster and a knight in shining armor comes and cuts his head off. Personally I’d rather have Jabberwockies in the world than men with swords. It’s emblematic of misunderstood monsters who the world thinks need slayed but really should just be written about.

5.  RwA: How does writing The White Years compare to writing The Red Years?

Reisz: Writing the first book of The White Years, The Priest, was ridiculously fun. Nora Sutherlin as a teenage girl? It was a blast. I think The Priest is the most fun I’ve ever had writing. I hope readers find it equally fun to read!

Thank you, Tiffany, for answering my random questions!  I’m looking forward to reading anything you care to write.

Blog Tour Giveaway

Tour-wide Giveaway: **Open to US ONLY**  (1) Kindle 6” E-reader, (10) Signed copy of The Mistress by Tiffany Reisz, (3) e-book of The Mistress, (4) e-book of The Mistress Files, (1) 10 minute phone call with Tiffany Reisz, (1) Swag Bag containing: 4 signed bookplates, bookmarks, 1 Original Sinner button, and 1 Original Sinner pen.

Follow this link to a Rafflecopter giveaway to participate. All winners will be drawn on August 11th and notified by The Novel Tease via email provided.

Author Picture

Tiffany Reisz lives in Lexington, Kentucky with her boyfriend (a reformed book reviewer) and two cats (one good, one evil). She graduated with a B.A. in English from Centre College in Danville, Kentucky and is making both her parents and her professors proud by writing BDSM erotica under her real name. She has five piercings, one tattoo, and has been arrested twice.

When not under arrest, Tiffany enjoys Latin Dance, Latin Men, and Latin Verbs. She dropped out of a conservative southern seminary in order to pursue her dream of becoming a smut peddler. Johnny Depp’s aunt was her fourth grade teacher. Her first full-length novel THE SIREN was inspired by a desire to tie up actor Jason Isaacs (on paper). She hopes someday life will imitate art (in bed).

If she couldn’t write, she would die.

Twitter: @TiffanyReisz  https://twitter.com/tiffanyreisz

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/littleredridingcrop

Website: http://www.tiffanyreisz.com/

The Mistress was released on July 30, 2013 as a paperback and e-book by Harlequin MIRA.  If you like, you can buy this book on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, or you can find out more about it on Goodreads.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Review & Author Interview – The Double Cross by Carla Kelly

Joining me on the blog today is seasoned romance author Carla Kelly promoting the first book in her new series, The Double Cross.  Y’all should know by now how I feel about historical romance — how I’ve read and enjoyed hundreds of books set in Regency England, even when I knew, cognitively, that I should not be enjoying them —  but I get extra excited about books set in atypical regions, time periods, classes, etc.  I was thrilled to discover this book, set in 1780s Spanish-controlled New Mexico.

Cover image, The Double Cross by Carla Kelly

The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

The year is 1780, and Marco Mondragón is a brand inspector in the royal Spanish colony of New Mexico. A widower and rancher, Marco lives on the edge of Comanchería, the domain of the fierce Comanche. Each autumn, he takes cattle and wool, and his district’s records of livestock transactions to the governor in Santa Fe.  He is dedicated, conscientious and lonely. This year, he is looking for a little dog to keep his feet warm through cold winter nights. He finds a yellow dog but also meets a young, blue-eyed beauty named Paloma Vega.

Paloma is under the thumb of relatives who might have stolen a brand belonging to Paloma’s parents, dead in a Comanche raid. As a brand inspector, Marco has every right to be suspicious of brand thieves. If Marco has anything to do with it, Paloma’s fortunes are about to change. Meanwhile, Marco has other challenges to contend with. An elderly ranchero named Joaquin Muñoz has set in motion events that involve the ever-dangerous Comanches and threaten the uneasy peace of Marco’s jurisdiction. Set against the mountains and high plains of northeastern New Mexico during the decline of Spanish power in the New World, The Double Cross is a story of loss and love regained, at a time when honor went hand in glove with bravery, and danger was never far away.

My Review

This is the first Carla Kelly book I’ve ever read, and it definitely makes me want to read more. It’s so darn charming. In list form, here’s what I loved about the book:

  1. The chapter subtitles: Hilarious. Here are some examples: “Chapter Five, In Which Marco Mondragón Confesses, Argues about Penance and Takes an Unwilling Dog”; and “Chapter Eleven, In which Paloma Hears Father Damiano’s Confession and Suffers Delusions from Cabbage.”
  2. The writing style: The humorous chapter subtitles cue readers in to the sly humor that pervades this book. While the subject matter is often dark, the writing is just light enough to ensure a pleasant read and to highlight, by contrast, the darker themes discussed. The book reminded me of Voltaire’s Candide, in reverse. (Don Marco discovers his optimism, rather than losing it to disillusionment, throughout the course of the novel.) The book is funny, smart, and sharp.
  3. The setting: This story takes place in 1780s New Mexico. The historical details of the setting are beautifully incorporated into the story. I never felt like I was reading Kelly’s research notes.
  4. Adorable animal antics: I’m a sucker for animal cuteness in books, and Trece, the yellow dog, filled my heart with happy.

I had an absolute blast reading the book, but there were a few things that stuck out to me.  The language is occasionally jarringly modern, but though it sometimes doesn’t fit with the setting, the language fits the style of the book. (Also, anachronisms don’t bother me much.) Finally, this book seemed (to me) to be historical fiction rather than romance. The story is focused on Don Marco and his adventures, one of which is falling in love with and marrying Paloma Vega, but the story arc is not about the romance. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed The Double Cross, even though it’s not (to me) precisely a romance.

The bottom line, though, is that this book is a delightful read. Lovers of historical romance who are jonesing for interesting new settings should be all over The Double Cross. Lovers of historical fiction or any folk who read and liked Candide should pick it up, too.

Interview with Carla Kelly

1.  RwA: Over the past few months, I’ve been seeing more and more readers of historical fiction and historical romance clamoring for new and different settings (perhaps there has been an over-saturation of regency romances…), and this book definitely qualifies.  What drew you to write a novel set in New Mexico in the 1780s?

Carla Kelly: I totally agree with your comment about over-saturation of regency romances. Ho ho, maybe I’m part of the problem (Of course, I am part of the earlier bunch of Regency writers). Years ago, I was reading a Spanish borderlands history, and came across juez de campo in a mere footnote. It translates literally as “field judge,” but we would call him a brand inspector today. I teased out tiny bits of information here and there, including the statement that jueces de campo also solved petty crimes, in the absence of other forms of law enforcement. I thought first about setting the story in the early 1800s in south Texas, where I used to live, but I really wanted an earlier era. My undergrad degree in history is Latin American History. My grad degree is Indian Wars history. I wanted to combine the two. I shelved the idea until my son moved to northeastern New Mexico around Taos. On a visit two years ago, the whole thing coalesced. My brand inspector would be a New Mexican land grant owner in the 1780s, living on the edge of the most dangerous area in the Southwest, Comancheria. I wanted a time when Spain was growing weak and pulling back its puny protection from the frontier, leaving those self-reliant types to work out their own destinies. And so The Double Cross came about.

2.  RwA: There is so much playful humor in this book.  Do you tend to write with humor, or is the humor a product of these characters or this setting?

Carla Kelly: You’ll note, also, that there is a lot of deadly serious stuff in the novel. I tend to do that – humor and tragedy – because life is like that. We laugh a lot, but we also have cause to cry or mourn. These two characters just lent themselves to that kind of joshing good humor that two lovers in tune with each other have. That’s the way they are. So I suppose the humor is a product of the characters.

3.  RwA: What was the average life expectancy in New Mexico at that time?

Carla Kelly: Most young women married at puberty, around 14. By 18 or so, a young man was either well-seasoned or dead. The fact that Marco is all of 31 testifies to good genes, and the deliberate way he goes about keeping safe, as he explains in the story. The threat of Indians was constant, and disease took a toll. I suppose a woman of 35 and a man of 40 would be considered well into middle age. Life was often short, harsh and brutal.  On the other hand, a healthy person could probably live into the 60s.

4.  RwA: What happens, politically, after the story ends (between, say, 1780 and 1820)?

Carla Kelly:I picked 1780 deliberately because the series begins just after Gov. Juan de Anza has defeated the Kwahadi Comanche, which happened to be the tribe closest to his royal territory. By 1786, de Anza forged a remarkable peace with the Comanche, first white leader to do this successfully. He promised trading rights at the great Taos fair (the Comanche were great traders), in exchange for a cessation of raiding the colony. Both sides actually kept their promises, which meant that the Comanche turned their horrific raids east to Texas. Between 1780-1786 is a time of some peace, some suspicion, some wariness: a great time to write about. There was also a major smallpox epidemic during this time, subject of book 2. By 1810, Mexico had revolted from Spain. New Mexico followed suit later on, mainly because the colony had no huge gripe with Spain and was so remote. By 1820, trade with Americans and fur trappers was well underway, but that’s beyond the scope of my series.

 5.  RwA: How typical was it to have separate churches for the rich and the poor?  Is it fair to assume that in general the breakdown between rich and poor is similar to the breakdown between Spaniards and mestizo/natives?  What kind of impact did that breakdown have on the society?

Carla Kelly: The Indians tended to go to San Miguel in Santa Fe, because it was their mission church. The Spaniards went to San Fernando. You have to understand that by 1780, most so-called Spaniards had mingled with the Indians, creating mestizos. Marco himself is one of these, while Paloma is mostly Spanish, if not all. So the breakdown is actually Spanish/mestizo (rich) and Indian (poor or maybe just Indian). There really weren’t as many class distinctions as one might find in Mexico City. The races mingled far more successfully than they ever did in the English colonies.

RwA: Regarding that last sentence, “The races mingled far more successfully than they ever did in the English colonies,” do you suppose geography and/or a lower population density had anything to do with it?  In a less rugged geography with more people, one can choose one’s neighbors and friends, right?

Carla Kelly: My own studies in Colonial Latin American history assure me that the races mingled successfully because Spaniards were less bigoted than English colonists. They had a two-fold purpose in exploration: wealth, and to spread Catholicism. When natives converted, they were welcomed into the fold. (And true, many were forced into conversion. The priests were often careful to incorporate native beliefs into Catholic New World ritual.) From 711 to 1492, Moors and Spaniards existed together, more or less, in Spain. At least partly because of this, I don’t think the New World conquerors saw Indian contact as a great gulf to overcome. Also, Spaniards didn’t bring along women in their conquests, i.e., they didn’t come as family units, the way many of the English did. The available women were Indian, and Spanish have always been pretty matter-of-fact people.

 6.  RwA: Here’s a trivial question: what kind of dog is Trece?

Carla Kelly: The Trece in my writer’s eye is a sort of Pomeranian, that useless kind of dog good to warm feet.

 7.  RwA: What’s the USD equivalent of 1 peso?  I’m curious to know just how much Marco paid for that dog. 🙂

Carla Kelly: The peso to dollar ratio was about even in 1780: 1 1780 peso = 1 1780 dollar.  The value of such a dollar today would be between $50-$100, probably closer to $100. Marco was completely fleeced, but he knew it. That peso would have bought several very fine cows.

18th century:
1 peso= 8 reales
medio peso= 4 reales
peseta= 2 reales
medio peseta= 1/2 real
cuartillo= 1/4 real  (This probably would have been a logical price for a runt)

8.  RwA: I understand The Double Cross is the first book in a new series; what more do you have planned?

Carla Kelly: Well, we’re headed to an encounter with a disgraced doctor fleeing across east Texas from the American colonies now at war in the distant east. Smallpox is all around (as it was in the early 1780s out West), and Marco had already told Paloma he can protect her from everything except disease. But never fear.  Also, there is the matter of Paloma’s land in Texas. Another book, probably number 3, will involve the Great Taos Trading Fair. And then we’ll see. I intend to write The Spanish Brand series until readers get tired of my charming couple and their enigmatic Comanche.
I know this dates me, but in my mind I see Marco Mondragon and Paloma Vega as the Nick and Nora Charles of the 18th century Spanish borderlands: a little sexy, a little sassy, a little mysterious. I’ve also written it in the style of an 18th century picaresque novel. It’s quite straightforward, as 18th century Spanish writings tends to be.
Also, Marco and Paloma are obviously religious. They lived in a religious society that relied upon the rituals of Holy Church. It governs what they do and how they feel. Paloma is so eager to have children, because they need children. But will it happen? Marco tells her to be patient, and she prays. And so does he. And as Father Damiano says, God does things in His time, not ours. Maybe there is a message here for us about contentment and patience.

Thank you, Carla, for coming on the blog today to answer all my random questions!  I’m looking forward to the next book in this series.  (And I need to check out some of your regency romances!)

The Double Cross was released on August 1, 2013 as a paperback by Camel Press.  To learn more about the book, please click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  To learn more about Carla Kelly, please visit her website.

*FTC Disclosure – I received an e-galley of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*