I Can’t Stand the Rain! A Musey Thoughtsy from Marguerite Kaye

I’m happy to welcome Marguerite Kaye back to the blog today. (You know… I had planned to write this magnificent introductory paragraph, but… I got nothin’. Just imagine that I’m super smooth and professional over here, despite the sad reality.) Take it away, Marguerite!

The view at sunrise from Marguerite's window

The view at sunrise from Marguerite’s window

I’m lucky enough to live in Argyll, on the west coast of Scotland. The view from my window is of the Firth of Clyde. Directly across the water, the sun rises over the gently rolling hills of Inverclyde. To the south I can see the Ayrshire coast, the Isles of Cumbrae, Arran and Bute. And to the north the Holy Loch, Loch Long, and the Trossachs, the mountains which form the gateway to the Highlands. All without leaving the house.

My view is stunningly beautiful and it’s endlessly inspiring, but for much of he year it’s also rain-drenched. My particular nook of the Cowal Peninsula boasts the second highest annual rainfall in the whole UK – trust me, that’s a LOT of rain. And though I love my home and adore my view, I can’t stand the rain.

It literally seeps into my stories. Today, right in the middle of writing a Regency sheikh set in the searing desert, I still managed to conjure up a storm. Flick through my various books set in Scotland, or featuring Scottish heroes, and you’ll find our damp, driech climate (we’ve got more words for rain than the eskimos have for snow). Between them, the skies and the sea can be up to fifty shades of grey in the space of a morning.

No conversation is complete without a comment on the weather. Here is Fergus, a Highland veteran of Waterloo, describing his home in Argyll to Katerina, a Russian tightrope walker, from The Officer’s Temptation, my contribution to Scandal at the Midsummer Ball, a duet I’ve written with Bronwyn Scott:

‘I’ve never been to Scotland,’ Katerina said. ‘You make it sound so beautiful.’
‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder. It is lovely, though it is also very wet. We have a hundred different ways of describing rain.’
Fergus rolled onto his side, leaning his head on his hand. Automatically, Katerina did the same. ‘Tell me some of them,’ she said.
‘Well, when the sky’s gunmetal grey, and a constant drizzle of soft rain drifts down in a fine mist like this,’ he said, brushing his fingers lightly along her forearm, ‘we say it’s gie driech.’
‘Guy dreeck.’
He laughed. ‘Not bad. And when it’s that heavy rain, the kind that cascades straight down like stair rods and soaks right into your bones,’ he said, drumming his fingers on her arm, ‘we say it’s pelting.’

The incessant rain can affect our mood and make us Scots seem dour, but our rugged landscape also reflects our rugged personalities. We’re stoic, and we’re stubborn. We’re proud, and we’re hardy. Our oppressive weather is also extremely volatile. Four seasons in one day is commonplace, and as a result, we’re eternally optimistic. But because we know perfectly well that most of the time our optimism is unfounded, we’re good at laughing at ourselves – witness our attitude to our soccer team. Our humour is heavily laced with irony.

Kyles of Bute - Ainsley's view

Kyles of Bute – Ainsley’s view

My Scots heroes are borne of the landscape that surrounds me. Like the rain, Argyll and its isles are scattered through my books, and one of my favourites, Strangers at the Altar, is set near Tighnabruaich (Tie Na Broo Aich), about thirty miles from my home, though only ten as the crow flies. I over-dosed on landscape in this book, invoking all my favourite childhood haunts, unashamedly infusing it with nostalgia. Here is hero Innes describing one of my favourite views to heroine Ainsley:

‘That’s the Kyles of Bute over there, the stretch of water with all the small islands that you sailed yesterday,’ Innes said. ‘And over there, the crescent of sand you can see, that’s Ettrick Bay on Bute, the other side of the island from which we set sail. And that bigger island you can just see in the distance, that’s Arran.’

There are pictures of me as a bairn (child) learning to swim in the shallow waters of Ettrick Bay, and photos of me swimming with my nieces and nephews in the same waters just last year, decades on. My siblings and I swam in Ostell Bay too, as Innes does, though I took the liberty of omitting the flying ants which infested our childhood picnics from my adult romance:

The breeze began to die down as they headed into St Ostell Bay. Directly across, the Isle of Arran lay like a sleeping lion, a bank of low, pinkish cloud that looked more like mist sitting behind it and giving it a mysterious air. In front of them stretched a crescent of beach, the sand turning from golden at the water’s edge, to silver where high dunes covered in rough grass formed the border. Behind, a dark forest made the bay feel completely secluded.

Marguerite's home town, Dunoon, Argyll

Marguerite’s home town, Dunoon, Argyll

I tried to instill not only my love but my affection for these childhood (and adult) haunts in Strangers at the Altar, which comes closer than any of my books to a homage to Argyll. The landscape, like my hero, is stark and stunning. Its beauty hides a dark nature. And the climate, our fickle climate, is reflected in the sweeping changes of poor, tortured Innes’s moods.

Innes is an engineer. Iain Hunter, the hero of Unwed an Unrepentant is a ship builder. Boats are another part of my landscape and my heritage that has been creeping ever more into my books. Ferries connect me across the peninsula to the mainland. Liners and tankers and yachts sail past my window every day. My maternal grandfather was a ship’s captain. My paternal grandfather built the things. (His claim to fame was that he made the boilers for the QEII. One of my lasting memories is of him taking a hammer to beat his artificial leg into shape!)

Argyll doesn’t feature in my current book, The Widow and the Sheikh, though my botanist heroine is from Cornwall and has a strong connection to the sea, and my sheikh’s dark broodiness is worthy of the lowering clouds which are scudding over the sky as I write. We’ve officially passed on a summer this year in Scotland, with the wettest, coldest July on record, so it’s probably not surprising that my fantasy desert landscape is all sweltering sands and celestial blue skies. I can take the cold. I can suffer the winds and the snow. But I really, really can’t stand the rain.

The Soldier’s Rebel Lover, the second of my Comrades in Arms duet, is out 1st October in print and digital, UK, US and Canada. The first two books in my Hot Desert Nights quartet, The Widow and the Sheikh, and The (deliberately anachronistic) Sheikh’s Mail Order Bride will be released in March and April 2016. Scandal at the Midsummer Ball, my duet with Bronwyn Scott, will be released in July 2016.
You can read excerpts all my 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

Thank you, Marguerite, for stopping by today (and for sharing the beautiful photos). I’m quite jealous of the view from your window. So for anyone stopping by, let’s chat about climate and its impact on our lives. Marguerite and I represent nearly opposite climates — she’s got all that lovely rain, cold, and changeability, and I’ve got nearly endless cloudless skies, long-ass summers, and 80 degree (F) days throughout winter. Our cultural narratives match our climates. How about yours?

Expectations and endings – a musey thoughtsy about The Soldier’s Rebel Lover by Marguerite Kaye

In one of my recent(ish) email exchanges with Marguerite Kaye (who, in addition to writing some
of my favorite historical romance novels, is a fabulous correspondent), I mentioned that I wanted to start a new series of posts on my blog called musey thoughtsies, places where I or any guest posters could ramble on about whatever. It was just starting to get hot where I live, and there had just been a fire, and I 20150814_145838rambled on in my email about the impact of my home climate — drought-riddled chaparral — on my ability to sojourn in green lands. I spent a week in Ohio over the summer and found it claustrophobic: so much green growth reaching up to the sky and clouds reaching down, enclosing all around.

Anyway, Marguerite encouraged my musey thoughtsy idea, because she’s made of awesome. On Friday I’ll have her on with a guest musey thoughtsy about never-ending rain (something I can’t comprehend at all). But for now, I want to talk about her most recent book.

When Major Finlay Urquhart was last on the battlefield, he shared a sizzling moment with daring Isabella Romero. Two years later, Finlay has one final duty to perform for his country, one that reunites him with this rebellious senorita! Except Isabella has her own mission, which means that no matter how much she craves Finlay’s touch, she can never tell him the truth. But she’s underestimated Finlay’s determination to protect her, and soon she finds herself letting her guard down, one scorching kiss at a time!

God, that cover. It’s grown on me a little bit, but I can’t help but wonder exactly how uncomfortable that model was. Corsets aren’t comfortable when you’re vertical, but they’re about forty times worse when you’re lying down. And then having to be nose to nose with another model, trying not to breathe in his face when you can barely get a good breath anyway… It must have been awful. I guess it’s a good thing that I’m not part of the decision-making process for any covers, because I’m pretty sure I’d find something to complain about every time. Anyway… the book.

I opened The Soldier’s Rebel Lover with high expectations. There’s a good reason that I write about Kaye’s books so frequently on this blog (pretty much every time a new one comes out). They sing to my soul. It’s like she starts with an idea of a heroine, usually someone interesting and a little bit different and beset by a problem that I recognize, and then she builds the story around her.

Be honest: how many times when reading historical romance do you get the sense that the story was built around the heroine? Not often. It’s the heroes who are usually at the focus of both the narrative and our attention. As readers, we want to fall in love with the hero, and all we require from the heroine is that she be worthy of her hero, whatever that means, and not too “difficult.”

Kaye’s interest in her heroines — and through them her readers — and in the issues that impact those heroines — and continue to impact her readers (and herself) today — shines through her writing, even when she’s trying to write a series that is hero-centric. I still feel like what she’s really trying to do is to tell my story, to make sense of my world. And, selfish being that I am, I find that I love the experience. Continue reading

Wounded military code-breakers, artists, agony aunts and engineers

Oh my. The title of this post reminds me of…

Yeah… Anyway. Y’all know that I’m a fan of Marguerite Kaye’s books, right? I mean, I think it’s pretty obvious. I’ve written about her books here, here, here, here, and here. (And probably a few other places besides.) I choose to delude myself with the pretty lie that she’s actually writing these books for me. I’m totally her target audience, after all. I go nuts for heroine-centric historical romance that’s on the serious side, and Kaye’s releases over the last few years (from, say, 2012 on) have consistently delivered my reading catnip.

Kaye has a new release out this week, and it’s a little different from her recent books. [Update: turns out, I’m a trifle precipitous here… the book will be released on March 1. Three cheers for preorder?]

The truth behind the hero Officer Jack Trestain may have been one of Wellington’s most valued code-breakers, but since Waterloo, he’s hung up his uniform. If only he could just as easily put aside the tortured memories he carries deep within; Perhaps enchanting French artist Celeste Marmion might be the distraction he so desperately craves?

Except Celeste harbors secrets of her own, and questions that she needs Jack’s help to solve! With Celeste’s every touch an exquisite temptation, how close can Jack get without revealing his darkest secret of all?

Look, it’s not every day that I sympathize with Lydia Bennett, but can we talk for a second about that guy’s regimentals? And maybe his jaw, too. Damn!

Yum.

You can tell from the cover and title of The Soldier’s Dark Secret that it isn’t exactly my heroine-centric catnip. This book is very much the story of its hero. Don’t get me wrong: I still loved it, but that’s mostly because Celeste is a well-wrought character whose story gets you in all the feels even though it gets less page time overall and is much more subtle. But you should probably take me with a grain of salt, here. I suspect I’m an atypical reader in that it’s usually the way the heroine is handled that makes me love (or hate) a book. I’m all for great heroes, of course, but they’re not usually the focus of my attention. I’ve noticed, in conversation with other readers, that my perspective might be considered unusual.

Jack has returned from Waterloo with what modern readers will easily recognize is a nasty case of PTSD. Kaye does a remarkable job of blending this fraught issue (terribly fraught for its time — after all, it’s not as though Regency era England is known for its compassionate response to mental illness of any sort — and fraught for our current time, as well… let’s be honest: we just barely do better (if at all) at responding to these types of war injuries.) in the story without it becoming an issue book. It’s just part of Jack’s character, and he has to learn to live with it.

Celeste is a French landscape artist with a mysterious past, and most of the plot is devoted to uncovering that mystery, but it’s Celeste’s internal journey from complete emotional disconnect — her entire childhood lives in a memory box labeled “DO NOT OPEN” — to integrated emotional health that is (to me, of course) the most interesting thing about the book, especially because it so neatly balances Jack’s more outwardly dramatic journey. Let me see if I can explain what I mean… Jack’s journey is more obvious. He’s kind of a wreck at the beginning, falling apart all over the place, suffering nightmares and consequently not sleeping, losing time, utterly lost. His family is all up in desperate denial, and things don’t look good for the future. Then Celeste arrives and gives him a purpose — solve this mystery! — and he starts putting the pieces back together again. (As an aside, I think this book will resonate with a lot of readers, because the wounded hero who gets his shit together trope seems to be pretty dang popular.) By contrast, Celeste starts out contained and competent, happy in her little life and independence; as her mystery unravels and she explores her grief, readers and Celeste alike discover that she never was all that happy and, after a bit of emotional upheaval, she realizes that happiness does not lie in a life of emotional sterility but that, to live truly, she needs to love.

So, those of you who know me personally should be smirking right about now. (I’m not exactly known for my emotional connectivity.) And maybe that’s why Celeste’s story resonated so strongly with me… Who knows? Either way, I fell in love with The Soldier’s Dark Secret because it asks such interesting questions about emotional health, grief, guilt, shame, and — especially — love. But I think a slew of other readers will enjoy it because Jack is seriously swoony (also strong and hot).

So, yeah. OK, I know I already talked about this one a little bit (if rather obliquely) in my 2014 historical romance favorites post, but… I have more to say, and now that it’s been out a few months, I’m less concerned about dropping spoilers left and right. Sooo… you with me? Goody.

The secrets behind the wedding veil

For penniless widow Ainsley McBrayne, marriage is the only solution. She’s vulnerable yet fiercely independent, so shackling herself to another man seems horrifying! Until handsome stranger Innes Drummond tempts Ainsley to become his temporary wife.

Once married, Ainsley hardly recognizes the rugged Highlander Innes transforms into! He sets her long-dormant pulse racing, and she’s soon craving the enticing delights of their marriage bed. She has until Hogmanay to show Innes that their fake marriage could be for real.

I hate to say it, but I kinda hate that blurb. I think it’s the exclamation points (and the fragment… and the idea that her pulse has actually been long-dormant. That’s just unhealthy.) Also, what the hell is Hogmanay? I read the book, and I have no idea…. I feel better having gotten that out.

I tend to get excited about marriage of convenience (MOC) books, because.. well… OK, to be honest, it’s because they tend not to rely so much on instalust. They don’t need it to explain why these characters are suddenly spending so damn much time together. (I like friends-to-lovers and second-chance stories for the same reason.) But! Good MOC stories also show characters having to learn how to make it work, how to wiggle around in a relationship with the highest stakes possible (especially in a historical romance). And that can be a fertile ground for a lot of really interesting stuff.

Anyway, in Strangers at the Altar, Kaye brings together an agony aunt (that’s an advice columnist on this side of the pond) and an engineer, each opposed to marriage for compelling reasons yet compelled to marry nonetheless. And — you guys — the meet cute at the lawyer’s office is so fantastic. Innes and Ainsley start out strangers, to be sure, but friendship (and, through it, romance) develops between them. Innes helps Ainsley in writing her advice column. (Those scenes are some of my favorites in the book, along with the scenes between Ainsley and her friend (and publisher) Felicity.) And Ainsley helps Innes make progress with his estate and its people. (He’s reluctant to accept that help, of course, but her outsider’s eye and creative problem solving pretty much save the day. Go Ainsley!)

Together, Ainsley and Innes muddle through their issues and complicate their friendship and marriage with intimacy. As in all the best MOC stories, the scenes wherein the characters adjust to changes in their relationship and/or new things learned about each other carry such tension, such gravity from their married state. (Even among these characters, who plan to part ways after a year.) There is more than just attraction keeping the characters together, and the stakes are high. There’s some delicious drama in their relationship and conflict, and the denouement is just stellar (so, so much groveling. I loved it. LOVED. IT.).

Strangers at the Altar feels heroine-centric to me, mostly because Ainsely is awesomesauce. Innes is a great character — don’t get me wrong — but he can’t compete with Ainsley in my book. And that’s probably because I’m just much more sympathetic to heroines than heroes. Ainsley’s troubles seem more grounded in reality, and what ails her — her financial insecurity — is ubiquitous to almost all women at the time. She has had to deal with first her father then her husband making terrible financial decisions for her, and she has been left to pick up the tab and shift as well as she can. That’s an age-old story, and it feels powerful to me because there’s just so much truth there.

In comparison, Innes’s story seems almost contrived (I mean, it’s actually no more contrived than Ainsley’s story… it’s all fiction, after all, but it’s a much less universal story.). He’s reeling, 14 years later, from guilt and grief after the death of his twin and anger at his father for being such an asshat. Innes leaves (is exiled) the family home and goes out into the world to become an engineer with a penchant for bridge design. I’m pretty sure there’s a metaphor there.

Anyway, what I really wanted to talk about is the book’s lack of a magic baby epilogue. For you genre romance readers out there, how many times have you read a book that features infertility as a plot point or conflict and is resolved by a magic baby epilogue? Countless times, amiright? Our cultural norms of relationship happiness, that 1 + 1 = 3 and that dating leads to marriage and marriage leads to babies, have a strong foothold in genre romance, and it’s a rare book that leaves the fertility question unresolved (or resolved in decided infertility). Strangers at the Altar is one of those rare books that implicitly argues that it’s still “happily ever after” even when not everything is lined up all perfectly right and tight. (That, perhaps, “happily ever after” doesn’t have to include lack of sleep, fighting over conflicting parenting styles, worrying constantly that your little human will turn out to be an asshole, and never having a moment to yourself. Come to think of it, much as I love my children — and I really do — a baby-free “happily ever after” seems much more romantic to me.)

*FTC disclosure – I received e-galleys of both books from Harlequin via NetGalley in exchange for review consideration. My opinion is my own.* (Further disclosure — I think Marguerite Kaye is boss.)

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 & 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 – The Outrageous Confessions of Lady Deborah by Marguerite Kaye

Cover image, The Outrageous Confessions of Lady Deborah by Marguerite Kaye

You know I’m not really going to talk about the plot at all, so here’s the publisher’s blurb:

JUST WHO IS LADY DEBORAH?

I am the Dowager Countess of Kinsail, and I have enough secrets to scandalize you for life. I will never reveal the truth of my soul-destroying marriage—some things are too dark to be told. But at least no one can guess that I, a famously icy-hearted widow, am also the authoress of the shamelessly voluptuous romances currently shocking the ton!

Only now I have a new secret identity, one that I will risk my life to keep—accomplice to Elliot Marchmont, gentleman, ex-soldier and notorious London thief. This adventurer’s expert touch ignites in me a passion so intoxicating that surviving our blistering affair unscathed will be near impossible….

I’ll start with the bottom line: The Outrageous Confessions of Lady Deborah is a lovely example of character-driven writing.  Marguerite Kaye has created two wonderfully complex characters, and she slowly unravels their mysteries for us throughout the various plot points in the book.  There is action in the book (heists and intrigue galore), but it is all secondary to the characters and their development, individually and together (it is, after all, a romance novel.  Of course there’s a Happily Ever After.).  It did strike me as being a trifle folded in (as in A Room with a View with a Staircase and a Pond… see video below), with the characters reacting not only to their counterparts’ actions but also to perceived actions.  It’s not in the least unpleasant, but it did make me think of Eddie Izzard.  (To be fair, the list of things that remind me of Eddie Izzard is long.)

At the heart of the novel is Deborah, a character who vacillates between strength and vulnerability and who protects herself with an icy prickliness (think: hedgehog).  Deborah has issues.  She had a bad marriage, and it left its mark on her psyche.  Deborah is not without a hefty dose of resourcefulness, however, and she is able to survive.  I should note that I reviewed (to great negative effect) a book about a character who also had deep-seated emotional issues stemming from her marriage, and that book made me batshit crazy.  Even though the basic premise of Deborah’s character is very similar to that other, the way Marguerite Kaye handled the situation here is completely different.  Deborah’s issues make sense and are commensurate with her experiences.  I felt that she worked through her issues at an appropriate pace.  I didn’t want to jump into the book and murder her.

I really liked Deborah as a character, but I think I was biased in her favor.  I might be the Least Trusting Woman on Earth, so I identified with Deborah’s inclination to hide behind a wall of reserve, to bifurcate her life (it’s silly to include an inside joke I share with one person on a blog that person doesn’t read, but whatever) and do all her living through an assumed persona.  Other readers may find all that to be annoying or incomprehensible and may wish that Deborah would just get on with it and realize that Elliot is not a bad guy.

Elliot also has issues, but he’s a lot more charming than Deborah.  He helps to balance some of her prickliness, and I particularly enjoyed the way he interacted with his formidable sister.  He’s a thief–the charming kind–and his heists provide some much-needed action and syncopation to the story.  I really loved Elliot.  Deborah, though she has a dry wit, tends to take herself a little too seriously, and Elliot helps to keep the book as light as it can be.

Let’s talk about that blurb.  When I read it, I assumed that the book would be told in the first-person (it isn’t), would contain an outrageous confession or two (it doesn’t), and would be somewhat scandalous (it isn’t).  It is a very good book, but it isn’t the book described by its title or blurb.  When you pick up a book called The Outrageous Confessions of Lady Deborah, you might expect it to contain some steamy sex scenes (or some confessions of past steamy sex scenes), but most of the sex in this book ends abruptly in emotionally-induced coitus interuptus.  Like many women, Deborah just doesn’t know what to do with a penis (but, lucky for her, there was no Cosmopolitan to confuse her and give really bad advice), and her discovery of herself as a sexual creature and of Elliot’s man parts as an extension (ahem, bad pun intended) of him rather than a disembodied manifestation of expectations and judgment is not without its bumps in the road.  As long as you go into this book expecting it to be the exact opposite of what it tells you it is, I think you’ll have a fine time reading it.

For more information on the book and author, please visit Marguerite Kaye’s website here.   She’s got all kinds of fun information and links, including links to purchase the book (if you’re interested).  

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