Guest post – In Search of the Elusive Happy Ending by Marguerite Kaye

I’m trilled to welcome Marguerite Kaye to the blog today to talk about the process of writing her recent release Rumors that Ruined a Lady (see my review here).  Take it away, Marguerite!

Hi there, and thank you so for having me along to chat about my latest release, Rumors that Ruined a Lady.

Caro, my heroine, is the fourth of five sisters, and she’s known as the ‘dutiful’ one – the one who has tried hard to conform, who’s done her best to be the person she was expected by her family to be. And where has it got her? Well, at the start of my book, she’s hit rock bottom, having fled a miserable marriage, been disowned by her father, and resorted to taking opium.

I had this opening scene in my head right from the start of writing Caro and Sebastian’s story. I was very clear that one of the things I wanted to write about was the conflict that arises from trying to mould your character into the form that others expect of you. We all do it, to a greater or lesser degree, because we want to please those we love (or think we ought to love!) – in particular, our parents. When we’re just gritting our teeth and doing minor stuff like paying duty visits to the aged relative with the smelly dog, there’s more positive than negative in doing our duty, but when it comes to bigger things – like, say, working in the family business, having kids (or not), staying at home to look after the kids (or not), and getting married – these are pretty thorny issues, and even today it takes conviction to rebel. So how much more difficult must it have been two hundred years ago, especially for women? It’s not surprising that Caro conforms and marries the man her father has chosen for her. What’s astonishing is that she has the courage to walk away from that marriage.

However, I didn’t want duty to be the only issue my heroine had to confront. One of the things I love about writing historicals is trying to address today’s problems in a historical context. I originally planned on being a lawyer, and studied Scots Law at university. Though I very quickly realised it wasn’t for me, I’ve never forgotten my outrage when I first discovered how incredibly biased the law was, and how relatively recent was the idea of blame-free divorce and separation. At university, when you’re young and pretty naïve, you think the cases you’re presented with are funny – I recall one case where the evidence of the wife’s adultery was a photo of her footprints on the windscreen of her lover’s car, and I remember much tittering in the lecture theatre when the term in flagrante delicto was introduced, and illustrated with a number of juicy cases where the couple were caught in the act. It’s only when you think about it, that you realise the couple concerned must really have been in extremis (to use another legal term) to pursue a divorce, and when you dig deeper into the law, you can see why. Marriage was a contract, and until relatively recently, it was constructed so that it was nigh-on impossible to escape.

Unfortunately, I didn’t think about the practicalities when I started writing Rumors that Ruined a Lady. It was only when I was well into the story and hurtling towards the happy ever after that I realised I’d put Caro and Sebastian in a situation where there might not be a happy ever after. In Romanceland, the hero and heroine finally realising they’re in love is usually the cue for the curtain to come down. In my story, it was the cue for Caro to exit stage left alone. Ripping the story apart and killing her husband off was my first idea. In fact, in one of my original plot-lines, Caro herself killed her husband. But that felt like cheating. I could get her a Parliamentary Divorce, but that was a very long and drawn out process (which I explain in the Historical Note in my book) and it wouldn’t necessarily free her up to marry Sebastian. It would also ostracize her from society. Think about the reaction in Britain to the ex-King, Edward VIII, marrying the divorcee Mrs Wallis Simpson in 1937. Less than a century ago, and they were still forced into exile. Imagine how it would have been two hundred years ago.

So I was on the horns of a dilemma. I could re-write my book, or I could remain true to my original ideas, which meant coming up with an unconventional happy ending. I’ll leave you to read the story, and find out for yourself which path I chose, but be reassured, there is a happy ending!

I finished Caro and Sebastian’s story feeling humbled. I’ve always believed I was a bit of a maverick, and I’ve had my fair share of guilt-ridden moments when I’ve fought against the tide of duty – I’m sure we all have. But would I have had the courage to fight my corner as Caro and Sebastian do, when the consequences of going against custom and convention, to say nothing of the law, were so hard-hitting? You know, I’d like to think so, but I’m not so sure.

Thank you for having me on your blog today and for allowing me to share some of my thoughts. I’m wondering, have I struck a chord? Do you like your historicals to address real, modern-day dilemmas? Does it matter that the happy ending is historically accurate or don’t you care? Do share your thoughts, I’d love to know.

Rumors that Ruined a Lady is out now, in print and digital, UK, US and Canada. You can read an excerpt of this and all my other books over on my website: http://www.margueritekaye.com.

Or why not just come and chat to me about books and life in general on my Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/margueritekayepage or on Twitter: @margueritekaye

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Review – Rumors that Ruined a Lady by Marguerite Kaye

I’ve been looking forward to this book for months, and I clapped my hands and did a little dance when I saw it listed on NetGalley.  Honestly, Rumors that Ruined a Lady had me at opium.

Cover image, Rumors that Ruined a Lady by Marguerite Kaye

The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

SPOTTED: LONDON’S FAVORITE FALLEN HEIRESS, TAKING UP WITH THE ROGUE MARQUIS!

Amongst the gossip-hungry ton, no name has become more synonymous with sin than that of Lady Caroline Rider, cast out by her husband and disowned by her family. Rumour has it that the infamous Caro is now seeking oblivion in the opium dens of London!

There’s only one man who can save her: notorious rake Sebastian Conway, Marquis of Ardhallow. Soon Caro is installed in his country home, warming his bed, but their passion may not be enough to protect them once news of their scandalous arrangement breaks out.

I flat out loved this book, and I have a lot of reasons.

  1. Some of my favorite books end up being the ones where a happy ending doesn’t even seem possible, where I end up a frazzled mass of nerves suddenly doubting that a romance novel will end happily.  For those of you who aren’t clear on what a romance novel is, the happily ever after is part of the genre.  If it doesn’t have an HEA, it ain’t a romance.  It’s always fun for me when authors can believably sell me on the notion that the forces stacked against the characters are too dire for love to triumph; I like it even better when authors perform that magical “Ha, but love triumphs after all!” reversal of fortunes while remaining true to the characters and — to a certain extent — to history and science.  This book did both.
  2. The storytelling format is a bit complicated (the first third of the book features some back and forth between the present day and the characters’ encounters years before), but I liked how the flashback sequences were edited in to the present day scenes and helped create a little mystery about the characters that was unfurled bit by bit as I got to know them.
  3. The character development of Caro is nothing short of divine (and Sebastian is not half bad either.).

What I loved best, though, is that this book deals with some pretty heavy subject matter (spousal abuse), but it doesn’t sensationalize it in any way.  The references to Caro’s abuse are sufficient to carry the point that her marriage is awful, but the story remains focused on Caro and Sebastian and what they will do moving forward.

(Tangent: One of the awesome Vegas conversations — that I participated in only slightly, but it got me thinking — was about rape in literature, that there seems to be a (disturbing) trend of authors forcing their lady characters to endure some pretty harrowing shit in order to have appeal as “serious” characters.  I’m not sure whether authors are doing it on purpose or if it’s just a consequence of our culture (?), but it’s troubling on so many levels.  Those types of experiences as recounted in literature are simultaneously trivialized (because we — the collective audience — are consuming them for entertainment) and sensationalized (because these fictional experiences have to be powerful enough to register with readers), and the result is simply too disturbing for me to get into right now.  Let me know in the comments if you’re interested in my expanding on this tangent in a future post. /tangent)

To go back pre-tangent, I also loved that Caro was never a damsel in distress (except at the opium den, I suppose) and that she helped Sebastian just as much as he helped her.  (Also, isn’t it seriously ballsy for a romance novel to have a heroine who’s married to someone else?)

I’ve been trying to tread carefully in this review to avoid spoiling the story for anyone.  The fact is that I want everyone to read Rumors that Ruined a Lady and then talk about it with me (and anyone, really).  I want to know if there are other readers, like me, who want books that deal with some of life’s darker elements but still recognize that a happy ending (and love) is a valid one.

Stay tuned tomorrow, because I’ll be hosting Marguerite Kaye on the blog to talk about the difficult path to happily ever after.

Rumors that Ruined a Lady was released on October 22, 2013 as an e-book and mass-market paperback by Harlequin.  For more information about the book, please click on the cover image above to visit its page on Goodreads.  For more information about Marguerite Kaye, please visit her website or check her out on Twitter.

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

Review – Driving Her Wild by Meg Maguire

Last month, just a few days after I finished reading Driving Her Wild, I saw this post on Romance Novels for Feminists about cross-class romances, and it encouraged me to delve a little deeper in my thinking about this book.  (As an aside, that blog is fantastic; you should check it out.)  While the characters in Maguire’s book are actually from the same working-class background, the book is chock full of conversations about socioeconomic and cultural issues, and it seemed to me that it contained a narrative about class, despite the characters’ similar backgrounds.

Cover image, Driving Her Wild by Meg Maguire

First off, the publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Winning is good. Succumbing is even better…

Evasion

Recently retired pro MMA fighter Steph Healy is through having rough-and-tumble romps with sexy blue-collar dudes. Unfortunately, Wilinski’s Fight Academy has hired an electrician with a body built to make a gal weep. And avoiding some full-body contact is taking all of Steph’s self-control.

Grapple

Carpenter-turned-electrician Patrick Doherty is damn good with his hands. Sure, he’s not what Steph is looking for—yet. But he’s about to prove that she has seriously underestimated her opponent…

Submission

The moment Patrick has her deliciously pinned, Steph knows she’s in deep, deep trouble. Because this seemingly mild carpenter has the mastery to give her exactly what she needs…and this is one takedown she’s willing to take lying down!

Your eyes did not deceive you: the heroine is a retired pro mixed martial art (MMA) fighter, and the hero is, at first glance, a bumbling electrician with a poor sense of vocation.  It turns out, though, that he’s actually an amazingly talented custom carpenter who, thanks to the economy, has to take lower-paying electrician work that he kind of sucks at, but he’ll do anything to keep from foreclosing on his house.

It would be easy to read this book and pay attention only to surface things — and still enjoy the heck out of it.  The chemistry between Patrick and Steph is incredible; the romance is upbeat and fun; the characters are great, an excellent blend of soft and sharp.  But Driving Her Wild, like all my favorite romance novels, has more to offer the world.

After years of relationships with blue-collar guys like her brothers — the guys from back home — or with other fighters — professional nomads — Steph starts the novel resolved to find a guy with whom she can settle down and maybe start a family, and she wants to find someone who is financially steady.  Having grown up in scarcity and want, she wants a future free from that gnawing worry about money that is the constant companion of those who have not quite enough.

But Steph meets Patrick, a divorcee struggling to manage a mortgage that is slightly bigger than he can handle on his own, a man who appears to be an amalgam of all the guys she’s already dated — kind, well-meaning, a little clumsy — and who seems to offer a future she’s already rejected, a future of struggle and want not quite balanced by companionship and amazing sex.

It’s a romance novel, so you can probably assume that she eventually realizes that a future with Patrick is worth it, and all those concerns about money are superficial and a little bit awful.  The beauty of this novel, however, is that Meg Maguire doesn’t force Steph to choose love over security, and she doesn’t introduce some windfall to render the choice moot (they don’t, for instance, win the lottery or receive an unexpected inheritance that solves all their problems).  Instead, Maguire allows Steph to see Patrick clearly and to ruminate a bit on the idea of a relationship as a partnership.

Now, maybe you need to take me with a grain of salt, because I just read one of those billionaire/ingenue stories (shudder), but it seems to me that a story like Driving Her Wild with its portrayal of the economic realities shared by so many of us is important and helpful.  I, personally, found it reassuring in a way that no fantasy tale of a bajillionaire lover could ever be.  Instead of encouraging me to hide from the realities of life, this book encourages me to look at them from a different, more positive perspective, to find the love and beauty in everyday life.

I honestly can’t recommend this book enough…

Driving Her Wild was released on October 22, 2013 as an e-book and paperback by Harlequin Blaze.  To learn more about the book, click on the cover image above to visit its page on Goodreads.  For more information about Meg Maguire, check out her website or Twitter.

Review – So Tough to Tame by Victoria Dahl

I got home yesterday from an epic trip to Las Vegas with some other book bloggers.  After three days of fascinating conversation, champagne, and the weirdest hotel room bathroom I’ve ever seen, it feels rather strange to be home (but good, of course).  I learned many things this weekend, including:

  1. Some women really will wear skirts so short that they can neither sit nor walk nor dance nor bend in any way without utterly exposing their ass cheeks and lady parts.  Further, they might even think they look sexy while perched awkwardly on freaky heels, adjusting their skirts every few seconds.  What is interesting to me is that I simultaneously felt a fun mix of disdain and pity for these women and a hearty, self-inflicted dose of sartorial inadequacy.
  2. 2013-10-12 14.29.32These shoes exist; they aren’t as high priced as I would have expected; and (thank God) they don’t come in my size.
  3. I really do need to read Gone with the Wind and quick.
  4. It is an amazing, sharpening experience to talk about books with women who write about books.
  5. It is past time for me to catch up on my review backlog.

Without further ado, then…

Cover image, So Tough to Tame by Victoria Dahl

The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Tough to tame, but not too tough to love… Charlie Allington is supposed to be on the fast track to the top — a small-town girl who was making it big in her career. Instead, she’s reeling from a scandal that’s pretty much burned all her bridges. Now, out of options, she needs a place to lick her wounds and figure out her future. True, working at a ski resort in rugged Jackson Hole, Wyoming, isn’t her dream job. But if there’s one perk to coming back, it’s a certain sexy hometown boy who knows how to make a girl feel welcome.

Cowboy Walker Pearce never expected a grown-up Charlie to be temptation in tight jeans. She’s smart and successful — way out of league for a man like him. But he’s not about to let that, or his secrets, get in the way of their blazing-hot attraction. Yet when passion turns to something more, will the truth — about both of them — send her out of his life for good…or into his arms forever?

I read So Tough to Tame two months ago, enjoyed it, and fully expected to have a review up in a much more timely manner, but I had a hard time writing about it, and I’m still not completely sure why.

Dahl’s writing is fun and sharp and quick (and velvety), and I enjoy the hell out of her books.  Part of what I love so much is that she’s writing these edgy, contemporary romances in an unlikely setting.  Who would expect a book that dips its toe in hookup culture to be set in Jackson Hole with a cowboy hero?  I love it!  When I pick up Dahl’s books, I keep expecting — based on the setting and my limited experience of Rocky Mountain geography and culture — an All American Romance complete with a rugged cowboy hero who has no use for love, a down-on-her-luck heroine who makes a fine cup of coffee and somehow finds herself stranded on his ranch, and, eventually, a baby.  But Dahl isn’t writing a western romance.  So Tough to Tame is contemporary through and through.

The contemporary voice really comes through with Charlie’s character.  She’s set up as a fairly classic smart/good girl character.  She did well in school, made all the right choices in high school, tutored Walker, and was not overtly sexual in her girlhood, but (as an adult) instead of her possessing the passive attitude toward sexuality that I was culturally trained to expect from a smart/good girl character, one whose sexuality would typically be nurtured into a full flowering (if you’ll pardon the pun) by Walker, Charlie is confident in and aware of her own sexuality from the start.

I can’t decide whether it’s more remarkable that Charlie’s approach to sexual encounters with Walker is so straightforward or that I still find that approach remarkable in this day and age.  I honestly don’t know.  The vast majority of the romance novels that I read feature heroines who discover their sexuality and enjoyment of sex through their encounters with the hero.  (Caveat: that last sentence is not scientific evidence that proves any point, of course. I haven’t read all the books, and it’s possible that my brain is conveniently forgetting all those torrid novels featuring heroines who know what they want — and how to get it — out of sexual encounters.)  I just thought it was an interesting enough point to provoke a tangent.

In most romance novels, when the hero and heroine get down to business, it’s accurate to say they’re in a “sexual relationship.”  Frequently, it is that sexual relationship that furthers the characters’ intimacy and pushes them towards “falling in love.”  The term “sexual relationship” doesn’t really apply to this book, however.  Charlie and Walker enter fairly quickly into a series of sexual encounters, but their relationship is furthered more by their developing friendship than their physical intimacy.  I found that rather interesting and refreshing.

I have (somewhat inadvertently) focused on sex in this review, but there’s a lot more to the book than smokin’ hot love scenes.  So Tough to Tame has sharp humor, a spunky old-lady character, interesting family dynamics, a cleverly-written redemption story line, an interesting dialogue on the shaming of women who embrace their sexuality, and, of course, smokin’ hot love scenes.

And it has Walker.  He’s pretty great, too.

So Tough to Tame was released on September 24, 2013 as an e-book and paperback by Harlequin HQN.  To learn more about the book, click on the cover image above to visit its page on Goodreads. To learn more about Victoria Dahl, check out her website or Twitter.

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

Mini Review and Excerpt – To All the Rakes I’ve Loved Before (Honeycote #1.5) by Anne Barton

I’m still sick.  I’m just throwing that out there because (1) I’m certain that everyone on the Internet totally cares how I’m doing, and (2) when sick, I turn into the most whiny monster of complainy complainingness that the world has ever seen.  So I can’t help mentioning (read: complaining about) being sick because I had a fever AGAIN today and because I used a sinus rinse for the first time this afternoon and it was soooooo, sooo gross and because I’ve taken more sick time in the last two weeks than I have in the past four years (not counting maternity leave).  So the gigantic to-do list that will await me when I go back on Wednesday? Yeah, that won’t be fun either.  Anyway… enough about me (go ahead and say it, “Quit yer bitchin’, Kelly!”).  Today I’m happy to feature a novella by Anne Barton, whose debut I discussed not too long ago.

Cover image, To All the Rakes I’ve Loved Before by Anne Barton

The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

After being jilted by her former beau, Miss Amelia Wimple retreated to her Mayfair town house and her ever-growing collection of gossips rags. Now, almost two years later, not even her beloved cousins, Rose and Olivia Sherbourne, can persuade her to give love another chance. But an unexpected midnight caller may open her heart once more.

Lord Stephen Brookes is the prince of pleasure, the duke of decadence — and it seems his exploits have finally caught up with him. When Stephen comes to Amelia seeking refuge, she can’t deny him . . . or the intense desire he sparks. As he attempts to heal her broken heart, they indulge in a private passion unlike anything either has experienced. Stephen knows sweet, sensual Amelia is meant to be his one and only. Now, he will do whatever it takes to convince her that a rake really can change his ways.

Mini review

While the premise is ever so slightly implausible (a rake, gambler and world-famous libertine is badly beaten by thugs, and there is simply nowhere else for him to convalesce than at the unchaperoned home of an unmarried miss.  Right…), I enjoyed this quick little romance that offered redemption to two people whose unfortunate choices (or unfortunate fate) left them a bit broken, a bit adrift.  I absolutely loved Stephen’s journey from wastrel to responsible citizen — and I loved that he recognized that he needed to change his ways to be worthy of Amelia’s love — and Amelia’s development from a self-made social recluse to a woman to begins to appreciate her intrinsic value.  I could have wished that the conflict had been stronger to ratchet up the drama a little bit, but maybe that’s just me.  On the whole, I’d say this book is a heart-warming, happy, and positive read with a very sweet ending.  (And I loved all the quotes from Amelia’s diary. Adorable.)

The publisher was kind enough to share an excerpt of To All the Rakes I’ve Loved Before, which I now share with you.  

Boldly, she placed her hands on either side of his face. She was careful to avoid the worst of the cuts as she held his head still. “Shhh,” she said softly. “You’re going to be all right.”

Gently, she smoothed her thumbs over the sides of his jaw, marveling at the warm, abrading feel of his skin. He quieted a little, and as some of the tension left his body, his lips parted. Even though the lower one was split and swollen, she found herself staring at those lips, wondering what they might feel like if she touched them with her own, and what it might feel like to be properly kissed—or rather, wickedly kissed—by a man like him.

These were purely hypothetical questions of course, as she had no intention of kissing anyone, but even the thought stirred something warm and lovely in her belly.

And then, because her amateur attempts at nursing seemed to have the desired effect on Lord Brookes, she continued lightly stroking his face…and the smooth skin below his ears…and the brown curls at his nape. Though unaware of his surroundings, he sighed contentedly.

Well. Apparently, she was quite good at this…this comforting thing. The knowledge not only pleased her, but emboldened her further. She’d noticed the skin exposed by his loosened shirt, of course—any warm-blooded girl would have. Her gaze took in the small hollow above his collarbone, the breadth of his shoulders, and the light sprinkling of hair across the smooth planes of his chest. Never one to waste an opportunity, Amelia let her hand glide down his sinewy neck and over the taut muscles of his shoulder, barely breathing as she did so.

Stay tuned in late October for a review of Barton’s next release, the full-length novel Once She Was Tempted that I’ve been anticipating ever since I read the teaser excerpt in the back of Barton’s first novel.  Once She Was Tempted will be released on October 29, 2013.

To All the Rakes I’ve Loved Before was released on September 3, 2013 as an e-book by Forever Yours.  For more information about the book, click on the cover image above to visit its page on Goodreads.  For more information about Anne Barton, please visit her website.

*FTC disclosure – I received an e-galley from Forever Yours via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Review – Sometimes a Rogue by Mary Jo Putney

So I’m still sick (seriously, I think I came down with the plague… this chest cold / allergy attack / sinus infection — whatever the hell it is — just won’t go away), but I really wanted to get a post up today so I could gush about something completely unrelated to the book I’m about to discuss.  My sister brought a beautiful baby boy into the world yesterday. I’m going to have so much fun spoiling my nephew.  (He’s such a cutie patooty.)

Right.  On with the review.

Cover image, Sometimes a Rogue by Mary Jo Putney

The publisher’s blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Sometimes…

Even the most proper young lady yearns for adventure. But when the very well bred Miss Sarah Clarke-Townsend impulsively takes the place of her pregnant twin, it puts her own life at risk. If the kidnappers after her sister discover they’ve abducted Sarah instead, she will surely pay with her life…

A Rogue…

Rob Carmichael survived his disastrous family by turning his back on his heritage and becoming a formidable Bow Street Runner with a talent for rescuing damsels in distress. But Sarah is one damsel who is equal to whatever comes. Whether racing across Ireland with her roguish rescuer or throwing herself into his arms, she challenges Rob at every turn.

This book struck me as being well written but not necessarily well crafted. It had complete sentences and deft descriptions that provided enough detail but not so much that I was distracted by it. It had a fast-paced adventure story that was entertaining. It had a romance. But it didn’t put all these elements together all that well, and it didn’t have much in the way of character development. As a result, though I was entertained by the adventure story, I didn’t see the point of it.

Rob and Sarah seemed to passively float through the adventure and the subsequent settling-in at Rob’s run-down estate; they didn’t actively participate in the story, changing and being changed by each other, the external forces at work, etc. They were cardboard cut outs that kissed when it was right for the pacing of the story, not when it was right for them as characters. It was a little bit disturbing, to be honest.

Also, there were times when I felt like I was reading one of Stephanie Laurens’ more recent books, except that this book didn’t have any supremely weird sex scenes (for which I am thankful), and Rob was not quite a Laurens-style hero.  It was the adventure that did it: a kidnapping plot–foiled by a dashing rescue–and the characters scampering about the countryside ducking villains at every turn.

Lastly, this book did not entirely work as a standalone story.  Many of the facts that establish these characters and enable one to comprehend why they are doing what they are doing are based in previous books in this series, and Putney did not put a lot of effort into bringing new readers up to speed.  I spent much of the book confused by the characters, but folk who have read the other books in the series might like this one just fine.

One element that I did very much enjoy was the relationship between Rob and his grandmother, because their relationship actually developed over the course of the story (and because I love me a snarky old-lady character, and our introduction to Rob’s grandmother is with her poking his unconscious body rather disdainfully with her cane.  Is it weird that I loved that snippet of the scene?).

I wish I had picked a different first Mary Jo Putney book to read. From the reviews that I’ve very briefly scanned on Goodreads, it seems that her earlier books might be way more up my alley than this one was.  Have any of you read a Mary Jo Putney book that you can recommend?

Sometimes a Rogue was released on August 27, 2013 as a paperback and e-book by Zebra, an imprint of Kensington Books.  For more information about the book, please click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  To learn more about Mary Jo Putney, please visit her website.

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