Spotlight – Mary Ann Rivers interviewed by Serena Bell

HeatingUptheHolidaysMaryAnnRiversBannerI may have mentioned a few times that I absolutely loved Mary Ann Rivers’ latest novella, Snowfall. I am, therefore, delighted to participate in this Christmas blog tour (*cough* It’s actually Advent *cough*) and share a video of Serena Bell interviewing Mary Ann Rivers.

This video was captured from a Shindig event (that I attended last month) hosted by Loveswept.  The event featured interviews and readings by all three Heating up the Holidays authors and gave participants an opportunity to ask questions and interact a little bit.  There seem always to be technical difficulties and a hearty dose of awkwardness with these events, but I really enjoy them (perhaps because of all the awkwardness… And, dude, I’m not exaggerating: some of the participants choose to participate fully by webcam, and one lady was putting on eye makeup — complete with that open mouth while concentrating on mascara thing — for all of us to see.  It was marvelous.).  Anyway, I hope you enjoy the interview and that you join me in attending the next Shindig event Loveswept hosts.

 Here’s some info about the novella, the author, and the anthology.

Heating Up the Holidays - CoverSNOWFALL by Mary Ann Rivers
Part of the HEATING UP THE HOLIDAYS anthology
Published by Loveswept
ISBN: 978-0-8041-7840-2

Jenny Wright can’t get enough of her erotic conversations with someone she knows only as “C.” Flirting online helps Jenny temporarily escape confronting the changes to her life as she slowly loses her vision. Jenny’s occupational therapist, Evan Carlisle-Ford, is helping her prepare for the challenges ahead, but the forthright, trustworthy man can no longer ignore his growing attraction to his fiercely intelligent client. Now Jenny must choose between the safe, anonymous “C”—or the flesh-and-blood Evan, whose heated kisses can melt snow faster than it can fall.

Mary Ann RiversAbout Mary Ann Rivers

Mary Ann Rivers was an English and music major and went on to earn her MFA in creative writing, publishing poetry in journals and leading creative-writing workshops for at-risk youth. While training for her day job as a nurse practitioner, she rediscovered romance on the bedside tables of her favorite patients. Now she writes smart and emotional contemporary romance, imagining stories featuring the heroes and heroines just ahead of her in the coffee line. Mary Ann Rivers lives in the Midwest with her handsome professor husband and their imaginative school-aged son.

Connect with Mary Ann Rivers

Facebook  | Twitter  | Website

About HEATING UP THE HOLIDAYS

As leftover turkey and stuffing give way to stockings and little black dresses, this tantalizingly sexy eBook bundle offers up holiday-themed novellas from a trio of beloved romance authors. Lisa Renee Jones gives a dedicated reporter and a powerful businessman a chance to count their Thanksgiving blessings in Play with Me; Mary Ann Rivers presents Snowfall, the story of a woman who confronts a life-changing event—hopefully with a special man by her side—just in time for Christmas; and in Serena Bell’s After Midnight, an explosive New Year’s kiss leaves two strangers wondering whether they’ll ever see each other again.

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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.*

Review & Author Interview – The Beauty Within by Marguerite Kaye

I work at a college of science and engineering, and I am surrounded by folk who understand the world as a set of mathematical equations or as a great engineering problem requiring a creative solution or as a fabric woven of nano particles, elements, and covalent bonds.  Sometimes it amuses me to think of all these students and faculty using the power of science and math to make sense of the world – often to attempt to make sense of one another – within a hundred yards of where I sit.  I am not terribly scientific; narratives move me, and I’m rather stuck in my own humanity.  People are interesting to me, and the things people create — literature, music, art, politics, discord, destruction — drive my imagination and rivet my interest.

I loved another of Marguerite Kaye’s books, and I was thrilled to be given the opportunity to read this one for review.  The Beauty Within is a blending of two ways of looking at the world – through the lens of art and the lens of mathematics – and it knocked my socks off.

Cover image, The Beauty Within by Marguerite Kaye

First up, the blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder – Considered the plain, clever one in her family, Lady Cressida Armstrong knows her father has given up on her ever marrying. But who needs a husband when science is the only thing to set Cressie’s pulse racing?

Disillusioned artist Giovanni di Matteo is setting the ton abuzz with his expertly executed portraits. Once his art was inspired; now it’s only technique. Until he meets Cressie….

Challenging, intelligent and yet insecure, Cressie is the one whose face and body he dreams of capturing on canvas. In the enclosed, intimate world of his studio, Giovanni rediscovers his passion as he awakens hers….

Review

When I read The Beauty Within, I was struck by how subversive it is to traditional gender roles and societal norms.  Cressie is a brilliant mathematician who is disinclined to place her fate in a man’s hands; her stepmother Bella, while fully embracing the female role of the time (lie back, think of England, make plenty of male babies), digs in and demands the right to have authority over her reproductive healthcare.  Giovanni is intimately and personally aware of how degrading sex can be when mixed with commerce and how destructive it is to feel that others may have ownership of one’s own body.  Although the focus of Kaye’s writing is always on the characters and how they develop individually and together, these nuances add greater depth to the story and increased my enjoyment of it.  I always love a good love story, but I love one even better if it makes me think and broadens my understanding of the world.  The Beauty Within is just such a book.

This book exists at the crossroads between art and mathematics, two of the languages we can use to describe the beauty of the world.  The story, while a bit episodic, unfolds over a series of painting sessions that result in three paintings using Cressie as the subject.  Cressie and Giovanni both evolve apace with the paintings, each coming into a fuller understanding and acceptance of his or her self, each coming into a fuller appreciation of the beauty within the other.  Kaye’s writing is layered and rich and a little bit decadent, and I can’t wait to read more.  (You should, too!)

Interview with Marguerite Kaye

While I could have written at least a thousand words about this book, how much I loved it, and how I think folk should drop whatever they’re doing and go buy it, that would make for a very long blog post (too long).  Besides, I am very pleased to include an interview with Marguerite in this post, especially because her answers to my random smattering of questions are so engaging.

1.  RwA:  You mention in your historical note that Cressie is based–at least in part–on Ada Lovelace.  What about her life and history inspired you to base a character on her?

Kaye:  I first read Benjamin Woolley’s biography of Ada, Bride of Science, a number of years ago. Ada’s mother, Annabella Milbanke, endured a miserable marriage to Lord Byron, and dreaded her daughter’s inheriting Byron’s artistic temperament and wild, impulsive nature. As a result poor Ada was raised subject to a strict disciplinary regime and an education steeped in logic and reason. I was intrigued by the consequences such an upbringing might have on someone’s personality, and why, unlike Ada, a person might willingly turn to mathematics and science as a sort of antidote to their life. Cressie’s life was turned upside down when her mother died, and then her two elder sisters left home. She turns to numbers, theories, proofs, because they are dependable, they won’t ever let her down. But of course love is one of the most illogical things it’s possible to experience. It can’t be explained, it can’t be rationalised, and emotions are notoriously unreliable. And if you add into the equation an artist, a man who appears to be the antithesis of all Cressie believes in, you’ve got the basis for a very eventful romantic journey indeed.

2.  RwA: How did you conduct your research for this book, particularly your art history research?

Kaye:  Right from the outset, I saw this book very clearly as a sort of contest between art/beauty on one side and reason/logic on the other. I wanted the paintings to define the structure of the story and to reflect the developing relationship between Cressie and Giovanni. The various portraits demonstrate the way their relationship changes their understanding – he of her, her of herself – but I also wanted to show how Giovanni’s art was changed by his feelings for Cressie. At the start, he’s a highly accomplished, much sought-after portrait painter, but his paintings are glossy, perfect and in his eyes facile. By the end of the book, his paintings are much more ‘impressionistic’ and emotional and therefore ‘true’, though he’s not, in the historical sense, an Impressionist since he pre-dates that particular art movement.

I saw the romance as consisting of three stages, which suggested, in artistic terms, a triptych to me. I’m personally always fascinated by the triptych form, which is used quite a lot by one of my favourite artists, the Scottish painter John Bellany. I am not in any way artistic myself so I had to do quite a bit of research on early-19th century painting methods and materials. The portraits that Giovanni paints are all based on real works that I was familiar with, and which I chose because they matched the change in Cressie wrought by her relationship with Giovanni. My working title for the book was actually The Three Faces of Lady Cressida. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but you can find them all on my Pinterest board for the book.

 3.  RwA: I love that your books include some exotic locales — what are some of your favorite geographic areas to write about?  Does your writing change when you change story locations?  Do you ever get to travel in the name of research?

Kaye:  Sadly, I don’t have the luxury of travelling in the name of research – how I wish I could afford to – so I have to rely on my imagination plus a bit of personal knowledge. Aside from my sheikh books, all of my stories are set in places that are familiar to me. I love invoking ambiance, I love incorporating buildings, names, scenery that I love, into my stories. When I’m writing anything set in Scotland, I do find that my style changes because I know it so well. I want to make readers love it as I do, I want them to say, I’d love to visit there – though I do worry sometimes that I sound like a tourist guide! Funnily enough, my sheikh books are often picked out as the most colourful in terms of ambiance, and though I’ve done a deal of research into what the Nineteenth Century Arabian world might have been like, I’ve never been there. Maybe it’s because my home is in one of the wettest parts of Scotland that I can let my imagination run riot when it comes to the sultry heat of the desert.

4.  RwA: I’ve been seeing some headlines lately about romance as feminism, and I wonder if you’d be interested in weighing in on the matter.  Is the romance genre necessarily feminist, being written primarily for women, about women, or is that generalization a bit too broad?  Do you consider your books to be feminist? (I certainly think so, which counts as a compliment from me.)

Kaye:  Difficult one. I write romances because at heart I’m a romantic. I would also consider myself a feminist, though I confess not such an ardent one as I was in my twenties. I write about strong women who take control of their own lives, and who find that love strengthens them and completes them. My heroines would survive on their own if required, they’re not clinging vines, and the relationship between hero and heroine is very much a meeting of equals, though not necessarily in an economic sense (which would be almost impossible, in terms of historical accuracy). My heroines find their happy ever after on their own terms, which don’t necessarily conform to what society requires of them, they are true to themselves first and foremost, and they instinctively rebel against boundaries set by other people. In that sense, which is pretty much my own personal idea of feminism, then they are feminist. But I would be hesitant about claiming any overtly feminist political purpose for my stories because that’s not why I write them.

RwA: (This topic is just too interesting for me to keep out of it…) Oddly enough, what struck me as most feminist about this book was the very lack of any overt feminist political purpose.  Your focus, in the writing, remains on the characters, their development, and the development of love between them — but each character’s acceptance of certain ideas (that Cressie can, despite her non-male status, excel at mathematics; that Lord Armstrong is wrong to so undervalue his daughters and wrong to be so unconcerned about their futures; that Cressie may have a life and a value all her own and may have the choice of how to spend that life), while never drawing the focus of the story, affirms the basic principles of feminism in an understated, and therefore more powerful, way.  This book presents a picture of how the world could look if we stopped seeing feminism as the opposite of patriarchy and instead saw it as a truly egalitarian perspective.

 5.  RwA: What are some of your upcoming and/or recently released projects?

Kaye:  Rumours that Ruined a Lady is the story of Cressie’s younger sister Caroline, and will be out in November. It deals with a very common situation – a woman in the ‘wrong’ marriage –  at a time when divorce was not only extremely rare but almost guaranteed to make a social leper of the woman, no matter how ‘innocent’. Caro is the dutiful sister, the only one to marry the man her father chose for her, but things have gone very badly awry indeed for her – so badly, that the book opens with Caro unconscious and near death in an opium den…

I’m currently working on a trilogy of linked novellas set during the First World War to be released next year, the centenary of the commencement of the Great War. It’s a tragic period in world history but also epoch-changing, which is why it provides such a fascinating backdrop against which romance might flourish. The effect of war on society generally is a theme that runs through many of my books, but the scale of this particular war, the suffering of civilians as well as those doing the fighting, the pace of change, both social and technological, are almost overwhelming. It’s a bit of a challenge (serious understatement!) to write believable romances without detracting from the harsh reality of the war, and I’d certainly say it’s my most taxing project yet, but then I say that about every one of my books!

6.  RwA: What’s the most interesting thing you’ve discovered in any recent research?

Kaye:  Researching the Great War, one of the things I discovered was that the horrific injures suffered by soldiers on both sides forced the medical profession into trying out some radical solutions. A sculptor was employed in one British hospital to make masks for men whose faces were beyond repair, for example. In Lyn MacDonald’s amazing book, The Roses of No Man’s Land, I read that blood transfusions were introduced to British and French field hospitals by a team from Harvard. They required the donor and donee to be placed together in the same operating theatre and involved a warm flask and rubber tubing. Primitive stuff to us, but they saved countless lives.

Once again, I want to thank Marguerite for her graciousness in participating in this interview.  You can bet that I’ll be picking up Rumors that Ruined a Lady, and I’m very interested in reading her romances set against The Great War and will be keeping an eye out for them.  The Beauty Within was released on April 23, 2013 as an e-book and mass market by Harlequin Historical.  If you’re interested in learning more about the book, please click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  To learn more about Marguerite Kaye, please visit her website.

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

Review, author interview, and giveaway – Lord of Darkness by Elizabeth Hoyt

Cover image, Lord of Darkness by Elizabeth Hoyt

I’ve mentioned a few times how much I enjoy Elizabeth Hoyt’s books.  I dig the Georgian setting (with modern sensibilities), the less-than-perfect characters, the ethical questions that are explored.  I abso-freaking-lutely adore the way Hoyt arranges the story so that it weaves around a legend that introduces the book’s main themes–and that those themes differ in each book.  (I hadn’t realized it before, but those legends, which are told throughout the chapter introductions), are rather like the Opening Collects of all sorts of liturgies.)  Anyway, I just love these books, and it’s always a fine day when I sit down to read one.

The blurb, courtesy of Goodreads:

When Strangers In The Night

He lives in the shadows. As the mysterious masked avenger known as the Ghost of St. Giles, Godric St. John’s only goal is to protect the innocent of London. Until the night he confronts a fearless young lady pointing a pistol at his head—and realizes she is his wife.

Become Lovers…

Lady Margaret Reading has vowed to kill the Ghost of St. Giles—the man who murdered her one true love. Returning to London, and to the man she hasn’t seen since their wedding day, Margaret does not recognize the man behind the mask. Fierce, commanding, and dangerous, the notorious Ghost of St. Giles is everything she feared he would be—and so much more.

Desire Is The Ultimate Danger

When passion flares, these two intimate strangers can’t keep from revealing more of themselves than they had ever planned. But when Margaret learns the truth—that the Ghost is her husband—the game is up and the players must surrender…to the temptation that could destroy them both.

My review

I love a good courtship story, but I also get a real kick out of stories that are basically about a couple of strangers who are married (or otherwise tied to one another) for whatever reason and have to muddle through the muck and mire of interpersonal nonsense in order to reach their happily ever after.  These stories are refreshing (to me) because (1) the author doesn’t have to spend time dreaming up ways to throw the characters in company–they’re stuck together– (2) they fly counter to the idea that marriage (or even an engagement) is an end unto itself, a guaranteed happily ever after, and (3) they occasionally contain darker or deeper themes than courtship stories (the characters marry, and suddenly the heroine isn’t just herself, she’s also “wife,” and that added identity can make it more difficult for hero and heroine (also husband and wife) to develop a relationship as individuals outside their marital roles.).

Anyway, Lord of Darkness is a fun twist on the strangers married story type.  Not only are Margaret and Godric (got to love a romance hero named Godric, right?) pretty much a pair of married strangers, but they also have to work through an added layer of difficulty–Godric’s secret identity.  Also, both characters show up with the emotional baggage of a former love (Marianne Dashwood would be horrified), and Margaret’s biological clock ticks at a deafening volume.  I love me some deep-seated emotional issues, so I was a very happy reader as Godric and Margaret each worked through their grief and guilt with emotional poignancy and occasional humor.

As usual, my favorite thing about the story was the legend that was told throughout the chapter introductions, calling attention to the book’s main theme (between the characters, at least), the restoring power of love.  Beyond that theme, the book also discussed social justice, vigilantism, depression (in a way) and family, among other things.

I’m not saying that I loved everything about the story.  The intrigue plot felt like a little bit of a redo, and it seemed (to me) as though Margaret took Godric’s news way too well.  But on the whole, I enjoyed this book, and I’m super excited to read the next one.  I highly recommend this series (and all of Hoyt’s books) to anyone looking for romances with interesting characters set in Georgian England (but with modern sensibilities and language) that explore deeper themes than just person A meets person B; they boink.  (Actually, that would be a fun story to read…)

Interview with Elizabeth Hoyt

I want to start by thanking Elizabeth for coming on the blog today to answer some questions about her newest release.  As those of you who have been following this blog for a while know, I’m a bit of a fan, and I clapped my hands like a little girl when I found out I had the opportunity to host an interview with her on the blog and offer a giveaway of her current series.  (Seriously… I was in public when I read the email… my husband was pretty embarrassed.)

1.  RwA: Is there any historical example for the Ghost of St. Giles, a real-life vigilante?  

Hoyt: I don’t know of any real-life examples (there are of course plenty of fictional ones.) I do know about an example of a historical urban legend that worked kind of like the rumors that swirl around the Ghost. In the late nineteenth century several newspapers reported on a figure called Spring-Heeled Jack, a sort of satanic figure with glowing red eyes who popped up and scared people. He was supposed to make inhuman leaps, hence his name.

2.  RwA: When I read this book, I noticed some parallels (possibly of my own imagination) between the individual ghosts and some modern vigilante archetypes.  Did my imagination get away from me, or are there parallels?

Hoyt: You mean fictional characters? My Ghost was definitely influenced by the modern Batman films, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Scaramouche, and an obscure 1970s Disney film, Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarcrow.

3.  RwA: What illness did Clara St. John have?

Hoyt: LOL! No one has ever asked me that. I think she had some type of cancer or tuberculosis.

4.  RwA: Is it difficult to bridge the gap between a modern audience’s understanding of medical matters and a historical setting wherein many medical matters are unknown and mysterious (and in which the practice of medicine bears almost no resemblance to modern procedures)?

Hoyt: Actually, yes. It’s hard because we all know about germ theory and the importance of hygiene, especially around wounds, but really they had no idea back then. A lot of “medicine” consisted of wine or other spirits and herbs that might have no effect at all. But, oddly enough, people did survive horrific wounds that by all rights should’ve killed them either outright or by infection.

I did quite a bit of research into Godric’s arm injury in Lord of Darkness and the bulky, awkward splint the doctor uses is historically accurate—as is the fear of being crippled for life from a simple break. Bonesetting was an important art.

5.  RwA: During this book, some of the male characters have a discussion about a law attempting to regulate the flow of gin in St. Giles.  What is the significance of this law?

Hoyt: Overall there were seven gin acts put into law over twenty years trying to control gin in London during this time—most of which either didn’t have any effect or actually made matters worse. The act the characters are talking about in Lord of Darkness had to do with trying to arrest unlicensed gin sellers. Unfortunately, the act resulted in a lot of poor people who were selling gin out of wheelbarrows and carts getting arrested. It didn’t stop the bigger sellers (who paid bribes) or the overall distribution of gin. And there were several bloody riots with informers being lynched.

6.  RwA: Most readers of historical romance have a familiarity with Regency England as a historical setting. What are some of the cultural differences between the Georgian period in which you set your books and the later Regency period?

Hoyt: The Georgian period is more earthy, more opulent, and slightly freer. Also, lady’s underwear hadn’t been invented yet. 😉

 7.  RwA: Lady Penelope is a delightfully awful character.  Is there any chance that she’ll get to star in her own story?  (I have my fingers crossed… she’s one of my favorite characters.)

No, but never fear, she does get her own happy ending. 😉

Thank you for having me on Reading with Analysis! Readers can learn more about my Maiden Lane series and Lord of Darkness at my website: www.elizabethhoyt.com. You can also chat with me on Twitter (https://twitter.com/ElizabethHoyt), Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/ElizabethHoytBooks?ref=search&sid=1033016156.428653851), Goodreads (http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16202.Elizabeth_Hoyt), and Pinterest (http://pinterest.com/elizabethhoyt/)

Giveaway epicness!

FOREVER Romance has generously agreed to host this epic giveaway and will send one print copy of all five books in the Maiden Lane series (Wicked Intentions, Notorious PleasuresScandalous Desires, Thief of Shadows, and Lord of Darkness) to one lucky commenter, chosen at random (thank you, random.org).  There are, of course, some rules:

  1. This giveaway is limited to US residents only (sorry!).
  2. You must be 13 years of age or older to enter.
  3. You must comment on this post in order to qualify.  Don’t worry, I’ll give you a topic.
  4. You must be willing to provide your mailing address in order to receive your copy of the book.
  5. The giveaway will run through 11:59 PM pacific time on Thursday, March 14.  I will announce the super lucky winner on Friday, March 15.

Please leave a comment about vigilantism in literature (including comics), movies, and/or real life.  Many of us enjoy stories about dashing heroes taking justice into their own hands, but would you really want to meet one?  What is the draw?  Feel free to ignore my arbitrarily chosen topic in favor of one that is more interesting to you. 🙂

Lord of Darkness was released on February 26, 2013 as a mass market and e-book from Forever.

* FTC Disclaimer – I received an e-galley of this book from Forever through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. *

Review and Author Interview – Wuthering Nights by I.J. Miller (and Emily Brontë)

Cover image, Wuthering Nights by Emily Bronte and I.J. Miller

The blurb, courtesy of the publisher:

Romantics everywhere have been enthralled by Emily Bronte’s classic novel of the tragic love between beautiful, spirited Catherine Earnshaw and dark, brooding Heathcliff. The restrained desire between these two star-crossed lovers has always smoldered on the page. And now it ignites into an uncontrollable blaze. In WUTHERING NIGHTS (Grand Central Publishing; On-Sale: January 29, 2013; $3.99; ISBN: 978-1-455-57301-1), writer I.J. Miller reimagines this timeless story to reveal the passion between Catherine and Heathcliff—in all its forbidden glory.

Interview with I.J. Miller

Wuthering Nights is an interesting take on a classic book, and there is plenty of fodder for discussion.  I am very pleased and thankful that I.J. Miller agreed to participate in an author interview.

1.  RwA: Who is the target audience for this book, readers familiar with Wuthering Heights or readers just discovering that story?
Miller: WUTHERING NIGHTS targets fans of the original as well as those looking for an intense erotic romance.  Those familiar with Bronte’s Wuthering Heights will hopefully appreciate the effort put in to stay true to the original language, themes, and characters, but will understand the nuances of this interpretation and how the plot was altered or developed to make the erotic scenes organic and heighten the romance.  For both old and new fans it is a novel with more layers peeled back, new dimensions added, that make it a story that stands on its own, even if one never read the original.
 
2.  RwA: Why did you choose Wuthering Heights as the background material for your erotic novel?
Miller: It’s a natural choice. Since it was written it has carried the aura of one of the greatest love stories every told and Heathcliff is the original, tragic, alpha-male literary hero, a model for so many others, including Edward in Twilight and Christian in Fifty Shades.  In addition, I was particularly attracted to both Heathcliff and Catherine because they are flawed, not your stereotypical perfect hero and heroine.
 
3.  RwA: What do you think about the recent mainstreaming of erotic literature?
Miller: It’s wonderful that it’s out of the closet.  Perhaps not fully exposed in the mall bookstores and libraries, but certainly going strong with Kindles and Nooks.  As the popularity increases, there is more demand not just to produce a sexy book, but write one that is hot and tells a good story, which is good news for my work, which has always had an emphasis on being literary erotica. 
 
4.   RwA: In your story, Heathcliff is remarkably well-endowed; why?  Does this physical trait have an application to his character, or is it just fairly standard for a leading male in erotic stories to be so endowed?
Miller: So you noticed! The answer is “yes” and “yes.”  Heathcliff has always had a sort of mythical status of inner strength, passion, and even brutality.  It seemed natural that when interpreting him erotically, making him well-endowed would serve this myth well.  And when you are dealing with the heightened emotions of an erotic romance, ample endowment can certainly help contribute to the fantasy aspects of the story.
 
5.  RwA: What is it like being a man writing for a primarily female audience?
Miller: Lots of fun!  It’s certainly a challenge.  Since most of my readers are women, it is essential that I get the female protagonist right.  I enjoy writing strong female characters and as dominant as Heathcliff is, especially with other women, Catherine is more than his equal.  When writing an erotic romance I am looking for the voice that will appeal to women, one that expresses both strength and vulnerability, one that appreciates the full flowering of a beautiful romance.  It helps to be in touch with my feminine side to understand this complexity.  But perhaps I also have an advantage when it comes to the male’s point of view and revealing to women what makes a tragic hero tick.

 RwA:  Thank you, I.J., for agreeing to participate in this interview and for your candor.  I wish you great success with this and future books!

My Review

I love mashups.  So when given the opportunity to check out a mashup between the erotica genre and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, I was curious.  The notion of taking a classic work of literature and mashing it up with an unexpected element… I love it.  I used to be a purist, but, honestly, isn’t it wonderful that these literary worlds, instead of dying from neglect, can be explored by new audiences and illuminated by new contexts?

I love song mashups, too.

My quirky mashup-joy notwithstanding, I don’t think I’m the target audience for this book, even though I enjoy literary erotica as a genre.  For starters, I’m not a fan of Wuthering Heights.  Heathcliff is an asshole, and Catherine is a crazy bitch, and as much as I enjoy the Cathy/Linton/Hareton story line, it isn’t enough of an inducement to get me through a few hundred pages of Heathcliff and Catherine being crazy asshats to each other and everyone else.  So, there you go.  I have a bias in favor of and a bias against Wuthering Nights: An Erotic Retelling of Wuthering Heights.

There were some things that I quite liked about this retelling, specifically:

  1. The erotic elements are very cleverly woven into the story.  How does Heathcliff convince Nelly to help him?  Well…. let’s just say it involves a dungeon.  How does Heathcliff morally destroy Isabella?  Well… let’s just say it involves a good deal of AP (and a dungeon).
  2. Catherine.  Batshit crazy she may be, but Miller did an excellent job blending the characterization provided by Brontë with the new elements he brought to bear on the story.  Actually, I thought Miller did a great job with all the characters, and I want to give him a high-five for excising most of Joseph’s role in the book (dude is soooo annoying in the original.).
  3. The ending between Cathy and Hareton is lovely, and I appreciated the deviation from Emily Brontë’s version of events.
  4. Wuthering Nights is told in a fairly straightforward third-person narrative, excepting the prologue and epilogue.  I appreciated the simplicity of the storytelling, because one of the things that I like least about the original is the shifting first-person narrative between Mr. Lockwood (a tenant and stranger) and Nelly (who tells him the whole sordid tale).

My primary objection to this book is its depiction of female sexuality, especially in Nelly and Isabella. (As an aside, though, I really do need to throw in that I could have happily lived my entire life without being exposed to the three (THREE!!) episodes of butt-licking contained in this one story.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I thoroughly enjoyed my underexposure to anilingus… Sadly, that ship has now sailed.)  As an erotic retelling of the story, I assumed that certain scenes were meant to be titillating to me, the reader, but I was far more often confused than moved by the actions and descriptions that are original to this work, mostly because I was alienated by the female characters’ responses to sexual stimuli.

  • Heathcliff is a domineering, brutal asshole who smells bad (or, at least, has a strong smell), is super hairy, sweats profusely, has bad breath, and has a capacity for rape (I’m never super keen on rape, and that continued to be the case throughout this book), yet Catherine, Nelly, and Isabella are powerless to resist his wiles whenever he flashes his giant dong in their general direction.  
  • There’s a scene about halfway through the book wherein Heathcliff, spurning Catherine’s advances, instead chooses to go outside and build a lattice.  While he hammers rhythmically, the three ladies in the house get hysterical with arousal and, each in her own room, proceed to take care of business.  Thence comes my favorite passage in the book: “Each with their own rhythm, all three might have orgasmed at different times, if Heathcliff hadn’t stopped suddenly, unbuttoned his fly, pulled out his stallion of a cock, and urinated all over the standing wood frame.  The sight of his outrageously massive member — golden liquid arcing in the sunlight, fully drenching the lattice — caused a simultaneous, feminine shudder throughout the home at Thrushcross Grange.”  That’s a lot of pee.
  • The prose used to describe Heathcliff’s manly man-ness is often just a bit over-the-top, but I can kind of go along with the profuse and worshipful descriptions of his shoulders (so broad and manly) and chest (“…the almost pear-shaped, iron arc of each pectoral…”) and how sexy the ladies found those parts to be.  Armpits, however, are not generally considered a super-sexy body part; however: “…revealing a glimpse at the full, dark thicket under his armpit, causing a quick intake of breath in the ladies,” and “[s]he leaned forward, by his armpit, and inhaled deeply the scent of his masculine fineness.”

So, there you have it.  A man may be stinky, both of breath and body, possess whole thickets of body hair, act with domineering brutality, and be bent on destroying a lady, but if he has a giant penis and he shows it to her, she will be powerless to resist it and him.  As long as Heathcliff (and his penis) is virile, forceful, and dominant, no lady can resist him.  The instant he displays “…deep vulnerability and humanness…,” however, “…she was able to see him for the ugly brute he was: sour breath, snoring at night like a windstorm, cruel to every human he came in contact with…”  This is such an intriguing (but also awful, in a way) view of masculinity and femininity.  In Heathcliff, there is masculinity that cannot soften, boundless strength available only through forced rigidity.  In Nelly, Isabella, and Catherine there is an instant, unthinking response to that strength, an instinctive yielding beyond the power of thought or reason.

I should point out that the story achieves something of a middle ground through the romance between Hareton and Cathy.  Hareton treads the territory between brute strength and gentleness, and Cathy is capable of using her brain on occasion. Their section of the book, though lovely, comprises only fifteen percent of the whole, and the rest is such an odd mix of disgusting behavior and worshipful response that I find myself on the negative side of ambivalence.  Although I could not exactly like the book because of its sheer implausibility (and the butt-licking), I’m not sorry I read it.  It is interesting, and I hope more people read it.

Wuthering Nights was released as an e-book on January 29, 2013 and will be released as a trade paperback on April 23, 2013 by Grand Central Publishing, an imprint of Hachette Books.  To find out more about the book, please click on the cover image above to visit the book’s page on Goodreads.  For more information about I.J. Miller, please check out his website.

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