Twig Domes and Lovespoons – a guest post by Mary Ann Rivers

I got some exciting news this morning: It is January 21 today!  (I know, I know… it’s well past afternoon now, and how could the date be news?  Well, let me just tell you: I am in the depths of the worst allergy season I’ve ever had — currently battling my third case of sinusitis since October — and there is no such thing as time here in the pit of congestion.  I understand that time is a reality for the rest of the world, but sickness creates its own, alternate reality.)

Anyway… why is January 21 an exciting day?  It’s the release day of Live by Mary Ann Rivers, of course!  (Cue the fireworks.)  To celebrate this release, Mary Ann is providing an extended excerpt of the book (the first three chapters) on Scribd.

LIVE by Mary Ann Rivers – Excerpt by Random House Publishing Group

As if that were not exciting enough, subscribers to Mary Ann’s newsletter will also get a link to an exclusive epilogue to The Story Guy, Mary Ann’s phenomenal novella.  All you have to do is sign up for the newsletter, and Mary Ann will send you the link later on this week.  (In other words, sign up pronto. You can do so on Mary Ann’s website.)

And now I’m turning things over to Mary Ann and retreating back to the pit of congestion.

Wanderlust is is a tricky affliction.

First, it is a disease of agony. It agonizes, it seeps in everywhere and not only makes you ache, it makes you restless, often physically restless, so that you’re driving to the grocery store and looking at every exit along the way wondering how far each one might take you.

You pick up books, you put them down. You rearrange the furniture, hoping it tricks the yearning into satisfaction. I was recently telling a friend, when I was in the worst of it several years ago, I used to watch back to back LONELY PLANETS and then go stare at the ceiling on my bed, overcome with the desire to just see something, do something, be a part of something. I remember there was an episode where the host came down with Malaria, and I found myself thinking — oh, that’s amazing. I’ve never had malaria

LIVE is a book about home, but it is also a book about about Destiny — the heroine, and the idea. Her hero, Hefin, is Welsh and has traveled the world but has been held up, for years, in Ohio. Destiny has never been anywhere but her hometown, her own neighborhood. She’s surrounded by people and landmarks she’s known since she was born. 

Hefin plans, finally, on going home. To Wales, which is only his first stop before he will set off in the world again. 

Destiny believes she was always meant to stay and be a part of a landscape as familiar as her own palm. 

Except . . . 

They meet each other.

It’s one of those stories where, if it were an illustration, the picture would show two red hearts on a map, far away from each other, and a lot of uncertainty if there will ever be little dots connecting them, over the wide ocean.

Wanderlust permeates, and I think the restlessness often has to find an outlet. I think that often the outlet is creative output, making something, trying to make some mark, trying to work through all of these ideas about what you see and what you yearn for. 
In LIVE, Des is a fan of the environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy, and the documentary about his work, Rivers and Tides. Goldsworthy uses what’s at hand, in his own environment, to make sculptures and art. He alters what is familiar and makes it unfamiliar, and, yet, the environment always reclaims his domes of twigs and paintings of leaves — returning the landscape to its familiar view. 

She tells Hefin about it here: 

“I don’t do any kind of art. I guess you could kind of count design, but that I only do a little of, and what I do is very functional. But I have a little project, lately.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Do you know Andy Goldsworthy?”

“The natural materials artist?”

“Yes! Wow. No one knows who he is.”

“I’m a wood engineer, remember?”

“Right. Actually, you’re a sunflower engineer. But we’re quibbling. Anyway, I watched his documentary in college, Rivers and Tides and then, for months, I was always trying to make little bits of art when I was at the park—a stack of pebbles, a leaf chain, whatever.”

“Of course. I did similar when I saw it.”

“You know the big, like, hives he makes? The domes? Sometimes from rocks, sometimes from twigs?”

“The giant egg-like structures?”

“Yes! That’s what I’m doing.”

“You’re making a giant egg?”

“Actually, a giant dome. Out of sticks. My landlord, Betty, she used to live in my house with her husband, years ago, and he planted a tulip tree for her when they were young. It’s huge now. But I think it’s sick, or dying, and probably should be taken down, but Betty is sentimental about it. So it stays, but it’s dropping all of these twigs all the time. There are lots of twigs, and sometimes I just need to do something sort of repetitive and soothing to take my mind off things. So I started building one.”

“Ambitious.”

“Yes, I think so.” She was quiet. 

Destiny, here, is still anchored by her neighborhood, her family, but wanderlust has taken her. She’s altering her landscape, altering twigs from a tree that represent a past love, even. Before she’s even read to admit what she wants, her creative output is tell the world what it is she wants.

Likewise, Hefin, who’s an engineer by trade and loved it, but could never find the work that was his sub-specialty in the U.S., returns to woodcarving, the art he learned in Wales, from his father, and is traditional. What he makes is where his mind has already traveled.

Our actions and creativity intersect, often, with what it is we haven’t quite worked out in other ways. It’s part of the affliction agony — a kind of tortured sweetness. 

Perfect for a love story. 

Thank you, Mary Ann, for joining me on the blog today.  Mary Ann has graciously offered to host a giveaway of e-ARC copies of Live to three commenters chosen at random.  To participate in the giveaway (open internationally, I believe), please leave a comment about life, wanderlust, the urge to create, or the awesomeness of the name Hefin (or anything that strikes your fancy, honestly).  I’ll choose three people (with the help of random.org) at some point after 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, January 26.

In case you’re curious about Andy Goldsworthy.

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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. *

Reading with Analysis’s Birthday!

This blog’s first blogiversary is tomorrow, actually, and I want to celebrate a few things.  This year has been remarkable for me in a whole bunch of ways.  For starters, I came out of the romance-reading closet, and I discovered that a heck of a lot of truly brilliant women (and some amazing men) happily read that genre and find intellectual fulfillment in it.  I am not alone.  I know that, now.  In fact, I made friends!  (Anyone who knows me well will understand how big a thing it is for me to make a friend; it’s difficult for me… I’m way too neurotic for most people.)  I have had so much fun talking about books on this blog, on others’ blogs, on Goodreads, and on Twitter with other people who love books (especially love stories in their various forms) just as much as I do.

Anyway, who cares, right?  Let’s get to the good stuff.  I have assembled a somewhat random giveaway (why be boring?) to thank everyone who follows this blog and helps make this whole blogging thing rather an exciting experience for me.

First up is Simon the Fox, squshie extraordinaire.  I love these squshies… they are small felt plush animals (also, dinosaurs and monsters) with vaguely square shapes (hence the name: square plushies = squshies), which is awesome in itself, but my favorite thing about the squshies is that each animal has a totally random story.  Kiki the Tiger, for example, is an encyclopedia-reading cheerleader, and Jasper the Bear loves food on a stick.  For this giveaway, I selected Simon the Fox, who loves to make up stories and wants to write a mystery novel.  (To learn more about squshies, visit squshies.net)

Simon the Fox

Next up are the book prizes.  I agonized about whether I should give away specific books or just offer gift cards for quite a while… And (somewhat obviously) I decided to do specific books.  These books have really knocked my socks off, and I want to give other people the chance to read them (even folk who don’t normally read romance or erotica.  Trust me, these books are good, sexy times notwithstanding.).  Rest assured, winners will have the opportunity to choose their prize, on a first come, first served basis.

1.  The Courtney Milan starter pack, e-book only, available in Kindle or .epub format.  This starter pack includes the novella The Governess Affair and the full-length novel The Duchess War.

Cover image, the Duchess War

Cover image, the Governess Affair by Courtney Milan

2.  The Tiffany Reisz starter pack, e-book or paperback (you choose), includes one copy of The Siren, the first book in Reisz’s Original Sinners series.

Cover image, The Siren by Tiffany Reisz

3.  My favorite Elizabeth Hoyt book, paperback or e-book (you choose).  Includes one copy of The Raven Prince.

Cover image, The Raven Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt

That’s great, Kel, how do we win these prizes?  Funny you should ask!  Here’s them rules:

  1. Leave a comment and answer any (or all) of the following arbitrarily-chosen questions: (1) What are you reading right now? (2) What’s the best book you’ve ever read? (3) How do you go about discussing the books you’ve read?  Are you lucky enough to have an in-person discussion network, or do you primarily conduct any discussions online?  (4) Do you ever read romance or erotica novels?  (5) Do you have a genre that you just can’t like (i.e., I have a tough time reading books set in space… for some reason, I’m just predisposed to dislike ’em.)?
  2. This giveaway is limited to folk who follow my blog.  If you want on this crazy train, just enter your email address in that little box on the sidebar; if you have a WordPress site, just click the follow button.
  3. You need to be willing to provide an email and/or postal address (if you want a real, paper book — or a Simon the Fox — to hold in your grubby hands) in order to claim your prize.

The giveaway will run through Thursday, February 21 at 11:59 p.m.  I’ll announce the 4 winners at some point on Friday, February 21.  My giveaways have traditionally been… less than stellar.  If fewer than four people sign up to participate in this one, I’ll let y’all duke it out to decide who wins what.  I’m flexible.

Thanks, y’all!  This year’s been a blast, and I’m looking forward to another year full of reading and analyzing.

Review and Giveaway – The Warrior by Margaret Mallory

Cover image, The Warrior by Margaret Mallory

What’s better than a shirtless Highlander wielding a giant sword?  Not a whole lot, though cookies do come close.  I was a little worried about accepting this book for review.  I usually try to avoid romances that feature warrior-type hero characters.  All that swaggering testosterone is lost on me.  But the first two books in this series were so well regarded that I opted not to judge the book by its cover and marketing blurb.  I’m glad I made that decision and read this book, because it’s a lot of fun.

Speaking of the blurb (from Goodreads):

Four fearless warriors return to the Highlands to claim their lands and legacies. But all their trials on the battlefield can’t prepare them for their greatest challenge yet: winning the hearts of four willful Scottish beauties.

Star-Crossed

From the Isle of Skye to the battlefields of France, Duncan MacDonald has never escaped the memory of the true love he left behind. Deemed unworthy of a chieftain’s daughter, Duncan abandoned the lovely Moira to prove his worth in battle. Now, when called upon to rescue her from a rival clan, one thing is certain: Moira’s pull on his heart is stronger than ever.

Bartered away in marriage to a violent man, Moira will do anything to ensure she and her son survive. When a rugged warrior arrives to save her, the desperate beauty thinks her prayers have been answered—until she realizes it’s Duncan. The man who once broke her heart is now her only hope. Moira vows never again to give herself—or reveal her secrets—to the fierce warrior, but as they race across the sea, danger and desire draw them ever closer.

From page one, I was able to connect to Duncan’s character (but I had a difficult time connecting with Moira) and felt invested in his story.  Because I felt emotionally vested in the story, it was easy for me to feel immersed in the world – sixteenth century Scotland – and to get caught up in all the adventure of the very active plot.  This story gives Duncan many opportunities to strap on his warrior blade and go out to do manly things, and that’s fun, but Duncan’s a classic warrior-poet with a powerful soft side.  Here’s a man who will write a song for you, pick wildflowers and weave them into a wreath for you, massage your feet, spoon with you without complaint, etc.  So, yeah, Duncan’s got a lot of love to give, and I’m enough of a sap that I loved reading about him giving all that love to Moira.

I got a little bit annoyed at some of the repetitious fights between Moira and Duncan.

Moira: “You treat me like a child!”
Duncan: “I just want to love you and take care of you!”
Moira: “I can take care of myself!”
Duncan: “Really?  You fell into a ravine!”
“Moira: “So?! I can still do it, and you’re stifling me!”
Duncan: “But I love you!” (not actual quotes from the book, by the way)

There were pages and pages of that, and it might be a realistic depiction of the fights many couples have, but that doesn’t mean it was pleasant for me to read.  Other readers might find the spats entertaining–I happen to be easily annoyed by bickering in novels–especially because these fights show Moira to be a strong heroine who is not about to sit around waiting to be saved.  At any rate, I was relieved that the story picked back up fairly quickly, and Moira grew up a little bit, and Duncan realized that Moira was more important than his masculine pride, and I went back to being a seriously happy reader with an emotionally fulfilling tale.

Aside from the lovers’ spats, the pacing of this book is very good.  I don’t usually enjoy when villain scenes are intercut into the main heroic action of a book, but I liked it here, probably because those scenes were very short and took the place of the lengthy exposition scenes that would have been required in their stead.  It helped that the villains in this piece are relatives of the major characters and shared a connection with those characters beyond the “meanwhile in the demon lair, evil is brewing…” interruptions.  I was a little bit thrown by the Scots Gaelic references (actually, more accurate to say I was thrown by the interrupting English translations), but I appreciated how they added to the highland ambiance of the piece.

Although it took me a while to develop a connection with Moira, once I did, I really liked her.  Moira is the daughter of a chieftain, and she’s very spoiled, confident, and carefree in the beginning.  After her marriage, she has time to repent her youth a bit and to wish that she had been taught some basic survival skills.  Throughout the second half of the book, Moira learns a lot and is able to support her argument that she is not a helpless waif.

Bottom line: lovers of highland romances should go nutty for this one, as should anyone who desires an emotional love story featuring a fantastic hero and a flawed but ultimately redeemed (and very strong) heroine.  Although this book is the third book in a series, it works very well as a stand-alone novel (and I would know: I haven’t read the first two books of this series).  Of course, you may not even need a reason to read this story beyond the shirtless, kilted Highlander shown on the cover (I don’t judge).

Giveaway!

That’s right!  The publisher (Forever) has generously agreed to host this giveaway and will send one print copy of The Warrior to two lucky commenters, 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 Monday, November 12.  I will announce the winners on Tuesday, November 13.

Please leave a comment about your favorite kinds of characters (or your favorite specific characters), regardless of what genre you normally read.  So much of one’s enjoyment from a book derives from the connection one is able to make with a book’s characters.  As always, please feel free to ignore my arbitrarily chosen topic in favor of one that is more interesting to you. :)

The Warrior was released on October 30, 2012 as a mass market paperback and eBook from Forever/Grand Central Publishing.  If you are interested in the book, please visit its page on Goodreads here.  Margaret Mallory is on Twitter (@MargaretMallory), so feel free to follow if you’re into that whole Twitter thing.

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