Cheap, Cheerful, and Chaste – Regencies from Joyce Alec


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Although my eReader of choice is Kobo, I have the Kindle app on my phone. I have my phone with me when busing (and ferrying) about town, so I do most of my reading on that. When I finish a book, suggestions for something similar are right there. Buy Now With 1-click is a terrible temptation, especially if it’s inexpensive. And thus I discovered Joyce Alec’s regency romances

In An Earl’s Deception, practical Lady Martha and sensible Lord Weston agree to fake a courtship. They want to influence Martha’s sister to cease her pursuit of the mysterious and probably unsuitable Lord Hobart and return to her apparent first love, Lord Weston. They’ve obviously never seen a 1970s sitcom with a make-’em-jealous story line. However, Weston soon suspects fell for the wrong sister. This is part of the Secrets of London collection.

I followed An Earl’s Deception with the Hearts and Ever Afters collection. You can also buy the books individually, though given the current pricing for the collection I am not sure why you would.   

Lady Donoghue, in An Earl’s Agreement, is about to be promised to the unpleasant Lord Hutton, by her father. When Lord Caldwell discovers her weeping at a ball, he proposes to rescue her by announcing their engagement. The fake engagement will also serve him, by getting his match-making mother off his back, at least temporarily. I don’t think I am giving anything away by revealing that Donoghue and Caldwell discover they are truly fond of each other, but hesitate to act on their feelings. Meanwhile, Hutton will not give up his promised bride without a fight.

Married to a Marquess is a curious twist on second chance stories. Three years ago, Alice was unhappily married off to man she did not know. He was drunk at their wedding, and promptly shipped her to a country estate. He’s supported her financially, but otherwise ignored her. She’s had enough, and has returned to London under a false name, to meet and shame him. She meets him, and as she expected, he does not know who she is. What she did not expect was to feel sorry for him.

Lady Brooke is a widow, after a short arranged marriage to an elderly man. Back in town after the mourning period, and wealthy, she becomes the subject of a bet between the financially desperate Lord Thornley, and Viscount Armitage. As the title, A Viscount’s Second Chance, suggests, the latter was once fond of her. A scandal in his past may cause problems for a relationship between them, and Thornley is not above cheating to win the bet. 

In A Duke for Christmas, Charles is enjoying a dissolute life when the desperate Isabella arrives at his door. She’s the illegitimate product of a liaison between a member of his family (by marriage) and a maid. Charles and Isabella grew up together, but have been out of touch for many years. He’s embraced the carefree life of ease. She does not approve of his current lifestyle, and lets him know.

Finally, there’s Unexpected Earl. The wealthy Lady Hewson is charmed by Lord Kerr, but an old childhood friend she can no longer abide is determined to ruin her happiness, while claiming to have her best interests at heart. This was less satisfying than the others, as Hewson has little agency.

Image of Box set Hearts and Ever Afters

These are light quick reads, and could be a little longer. They sometimes end abruptly, with loose ends (though that is a lesser annoyance than long epilogues that add little). At times the historical authenticity or setting does not ring quite true, and there are occasional minor grammatical or character errors. However, there are appealing touches such as good dialogue and intriguing settings. A bookshop rendezvous turns up more than once, and I’m a sucker for that (note to self: add bookshop scenes to my stories). The women are generally strong characters, within the limits of their era, though their reforming effect on bad boys in several stories, along with the chaste nature of all the stories (nothing more than kisses), has a touch of Angel in the House

On wings of love uplifted free,
And by her gentleness made great,
I’ll teach how noble man should be
To match with such a lovely mate;

Fortunately, the more oppressive aspects of that poem are absent. There’s enough variety and pleasures in these books that I enjoyed reading them, and, especially at their current prices, I’ll happily pick up several more.

Romance One Update: A Better Hero



Mary Pickford at writing desk. Hartsook Photo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Mary Pickford, 1918.


Some months ago I published a few excerpts from the draft of my romance novel, Romance One, and asked for comments. Thanks again to all who commented here, by email, and on Facebook. I also submitted a portion of it for a writing class, and discussed it at a writers’ retreat. Now I am working on another round of revisions. The biggest change is that my hero, Darwin, is more, well, heroic.

When Darwin arrives at Marianna’s campground, he lies to her about why he’s there,  and that causes problems between them when she learns his reason for visiting. He also keeps his engagement a secret, and executes a plan to aggressively flirt with her in order to get information. In short, he’s a sleazy bastard. I like a character who becomes a better person, I like it when one person encourages another to become a better person, and I like it when a character seems terrible at first but is in fact wonderful, but Darwin was just too nasty (or at least too nasty for me to redeem, especially in a short novel).


In my latest revision, while Darwin still lies about why he is there, he has a better reason for lying – the stakes for him are higher. He’s now open about being engaged. Instead of obnoxiously flirting, he resists his attraction to her. (It’s okay for him to be attracted to her despite being engaged, because the engagement is a sham). She also resists all attraction to him. His resistance of the attraction makes him a better person, and the mutual resistance to the mutual attraction makes the romance a slower burn. To allow for the slower development and more tension, I’ve added several days to their initial time together.

Marianna now has a dog. This is a sensible character aspect for a woman living alone in a rural area, gives opportunity for her to talk to the dog on occasion, is a source of minor conflict (Darwin does not like dogs), is a contributor to the slow burn (the dog interrupts an awkward first kiss), and is a chance for Darwin to demonstrate heroic qualities when he rescues the dog.

The black moment has been moved back, closer to the end of the story, and after a new chapter, which should improve the pacing. Finally, throughout the story, I am adding more thoughts and descriptions to the character’s actions and statements.

I wrote the first draft of this story for NaNoWriMo in 2012. It’s been six years, and I’m still enjoying working on it, but I’m happy to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Thanks for taking this journey with me, and I hope you like the result.

Love on Ice: Game Changer


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reid1Game Changer is a new release from Carina Press, an ebook imprint of Harlequin, and the debut novel from Rachel Reid. Scott is the captain of an NHL team. He’s off his game, but one morning he tries a fruit smoothie from the cute Kip, and that night he returns to top form. He credits the morning drink with his recovery, and makes the smoothie purchase part of his daily ritual. Kip enjoys the morning visit, and wonders if Scott might possibly be flirting with him.

The early tension is delicious. There’s the usual awkwardness and uncertainty about whether or not the other person is interested, compounded by uncertainty about the other person’s sexuality, especially as Scott keeps his a secret. Things progress relatively quickly into a sexual relationship, with lots of steamy and detailed sex scenes, balanced with lots of almost unbearably sweet moments and dialogue. To be fair, though neither is a virgin, and both are in their late twenties, neither has been in a relationship before.

The relationship is complicated by the different financial circumstances of the lovers. Kip lives with his parents and is paying off student loans, while Scott lives in the sort of fabulous New York penthouse that only exists in books and movies (such places may exist, but whether mere millionaires can afford them is questionable). Scott’s desire to keep everything secret is also a problem. There are no openly gay players in the NHL (in the story and in real life), so Scott is reluctant to come out, but much as Kip loves Scott, the role of secret lover, meeting only in Scott’s apartment, is not something that Kip sees as having long term potential. The complications, as well as Kips’ employment prospects and the hockey season, give structure to the plot, but everything resolved a little easier than I was expecting.

Hockey romances are apparently a thing, but I don’t have any interest in the game, and not much knowledge of it. I’ve been to one NHL game, with my office, and did not know what was going on most of the time. There were a couple of times in the story where I could have used a little more information about the game, such as the seemingly complex process for resolving a tied game, but too much of that might bore people who know the game.

Reid, and other writers who show gay characters breaking barricades, take a risk that their work might become dated by real events, but when that happens (as it hopefully will), the books will still be a useful and entertaining reminder of how things were (just as we still read historicals with women fleeing forced marriages). These stories may also encourage acceptance.

This was my first male/male romance, though there have been male/male elements in the threesomes I’ve read. With male couples, the power dynamic is potentially different. There are differences in the income, age, and appearance that make it tempting to see Kip in a “female” role, from both a relationship and a narrative structure perspective, but other elements of the story (including who is doing what in the bedroom) suggest this is a relationship of equals – always a good thing. Scott is a famous millionaire, but his closeted sexuality makes him a lonely and therefore sympathetic character.

As a general rule, I find sex first plots less satisfying and prefer sweeter stories, but for those that like them (and hockey), this is a well-written and steamy read. (At least I found it steamy. Another reviewer noted “not many explicit scenes.”) The urban setting is nicely integrated. There is character development, relationship obstacles, and good use of secondary characters, as well as heartwarming moments, so I’d consider this more steamy romance than erotica. The ebook includes the first chapter of the next in this series, and that chapter suggests the relationship there is less sweet than this one, but the romantic conflict is certainly intriguing.

More Alward Cowboys: Crooked Valley Ranch


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Cover - The Cowboy's Christmas GiftSeveral years ago I read (and loved) The Cowboy’s Homecoming, third book in the Crooked Valley Ranch series. In my review, I praised both the story and the series. Now I’ve finally read the first two: The Cowboy’s Christmas Gift, and The Cowboy’s Valentine.

The Cowboy’s Christmas Gift has a slightly misleading title. Duke isn’t a cowboy, he’s a soldier. He’s wounded, discharged, and has conditionally inherited 1/3 of a ranch from his grandfather. He hasn’t been there since he was a child, and the foreman, Carrie, was a fellow elementary school classmate. There’s instant attraction, but Alward maintains sexual tension for a while, which I appreciated, and the eventual bedroom scene (actually, rug in front of a wood stove, sigh) is described discreetly.

A relationship between employer and employee is awkward, which the characters acknowledge, and as it develops they try and keep it secret. Carrie’s financial situation is not great, thanks to family medical expenses. (As a Canadian, I find it sad how often medical expenses come up as a problem in American romances.) Duke is not sure if he’ll stay on at the ranch, which gives us the book’s narrative arc, and Carrie’s job (and the jobs of others) is in jeopardy unless he and his siblings decide to keep the ranch, which gives us the series arc.

The plot escalates with a romance trope I’m not fond of, but at least Alward handles it slightly more realistically than many writers. This book also introduces the characters who will have lead roles in the later books, and contains the meet for Quinn and Lacey. Which brings me to The Cowboy’s Valentine. I loved this book, and it’s my favourite of the three in this series.

alwardvalentineQuinn is the ranch manager, which is somehow different from being the foreman. As a city-slicker, I find all this business side of ranching stuff exotic. Quinn’s a widower, with a daughter around five. Quinn and Lacey met when Lacy came for a family Thanksgiving dinner at the ranch, and they argued over how to mash the potatoes. She wanted to use a ricer instead of a masher. I immediately liked her. (Although a little online research led me to discover that what I call a ricer is actually a food mill.)

Lacey returns to the ranch in January. Her life is not going as planned. She’s divorced, in debt (medical expenses again), and just lost her accounting job. Her 1/3 ownership of the ranch gives her somewhere to stay, at least temporarily, and means she’s frequently sharing space with Quinn, who has an office in the main house. She’s also seeing Quinn’s daughter frequently.

Quinn and Lacey are both wounded people. Quinn lost his beloved wife, and he’s struggling to care for his daughter who lost her mother. Lacey’s having a crisis of confidence, between the collapse of her marriage and the loss of her job. Refreshingly, the end of her marriage was not completely the ex’s fault. The early bickering between Quinn and Lacey is a way to communicate when neither can admit attraction, and even when they admit it, sort of, with a fabulous first kiss about halfway through the story, they are reluctant to enter into a relationship.

Amber is at that all too brief stage when children are impossibly cute. She’s obviously a catalyst for bringing Quinn and Lacey together, and a source of humour. When Quinn is injured in an accident, Amber’s reaction, and Quinn and Lacey’s reactions to that, had me sobbing (as discreetly as possible) in the mall food court. I’m sure I wasn’t this sentimental when I was younger, but that’s not a bad thing. There’s a happy ending of course, and the best possible outcome: nobody gives anything up, and the characters learn to live with their wounds.

Although these stories can be read as stand alones (since I did that with The Cowboy’s Homecoming), the amount of overlap means they work better when all are read, and in order. I enjoyed the Cowboy’s Homecoming more the second time through, as knew the context and secondary characters. Perhaps I need to start becoming a more organized reader.

Love and Lust: Welcome to Sea Port


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Welcome to Sea Port is a series from Katrina Jackson. I read the first three: From Scratch, Inheritance, and Small Town Secrets. The series features mostly Black characters, and a variety of relationships: From Scratch is a threesome (MMF), Inheritance is male-female couple, and Secrets is two women.

Sea Port is a small, remote, and declining town, which is neither a port nor near any water. In this and a few other descriptions, I suspect Jackson is parodying the small town setting of many romance novels. In an attempt to revive the town, newcomers are offered abandoned buildings to start new businesses, and this brings in new people. It’s a fine premise for setting up meets, although in these three books there are two people taking advantage of the small business program, and three new city hires. A subtle reminder that the most efficient job creation program is direct government hiring?

Mary, in From Scratch, has moved to Sea Port to start a bakery. She’s reinventing herself after spending seven years teaching literature at a university. I’ve spent a lot of time at universities, and Jackson’s observations about academic careers and people (faculty and students) are spot on. I particularly liked the sleazy male professor Mary briefly dated – we’ve all met at least one of them. I was not surprised to learn from Jackson’s Amazon bio that she is indeed a college professor. The observations about running a bakery, on the other hand, are less realistic (and bagels are not “fried balls of dough,” though perhaps the flustered character who thought that was confused). However, the entrepreneurship careers common to many romance novel characters succeed at a much higher rate in novels than in real life, and perhaps that is part of having happy endings.

Mary’s not just starting a new career, she’s also changed how she dresses, and generally has a new and happier outlook on life. So when she meets the town’s fire chief and police officer, and is instantly attracted to both of them, she figures why not have both. As for the men, they’ve been buddies forever, and at least one of them is bisexual, so they slip easily from friends to lovers (leaving unanswered the questions of why they’ve never been attracted to the same woman, or each other, before). The relationship leads to a problem for Mary’s new business, but it’s easily resolved.

Inheritance begins with a prologue featuring Mary and her lovers in bed. They remain a presence in this book, and the next. We soon meet Lorraine, who has moved to Sea Port to run the library. The library is being rebuilt, by local contractor Jonah, who moved back to town after his father died. Jonah meets Lorraine, and instantly has an erection. Her response to him is similar, and they soon discover she has an exhibitionist streak (although Mary and her lovers are hardly discrete). Both of our couple have parent issues, both quickly resolved, but there is a sweet subplot involving the library garden.

Small Town Secrets features Sully, who moved to town to start a coffee shop. The high point of her week is receiving deliveries from the bakery, brought by Bria. But lately Willie, the mayor and Sully’s best friend from university, has been paying attention to Sully’s attentions to Bria. Bria has also been crushing on Sully, but when their relationship starts to heat up, Willie wants them to cool it. There are subplots involving other relationships in town, past and present.

The instant attractions, the always horny characters, the relatively challenge-free relationships, and graphic sexual details in what might be considered gratuitous sex scenes all put these books firmly in the erotica category. The writing is rough at times. For example, when a character replied to something, I had to flip back a few screens to see what the question was, and a character who I thought had moved to Sea Port with Mary had in fact only helped her move. The occasional description in brackets made me wonder if it was a note to be expanded or better integrated before publication. However, the open-minded community, the humour, and the sweet and sentimental moments (generally involving secondary characters) were enjoyable, and I found myself skimming past the sex scenes to find more of that.

It’s all taken care of: The Marriage Pact


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sotis1The Marriage Pact, Wendy Sotis, 2018

Several years ago, Sotis started writing Austen fan fiction, and has published many variations of Elizabeth and Darcy’s relationship, with more promised, but The Marriage Pact is an original Regency romance.

James and Celia have been friends for years, due to connections between their families, and as the story opens they are already attracted to each other. She is seventeen, and not looking forward to her first season, thanks to a pushy mother and a generous income likely to attract all manner of suitors, when she’d prefer to marry for love.

James, older, and heir to an earldom, has a similar desire to marry for love, but is often faced with women seeking only to compromise him, to get his title. He has a mistress, but with Celia coming on to the marriage mart he is starting to think about her a new way. Unfortunately, he learns that plans have already been made for him to marry Celia, at the end of her season, and he is not pleased to learn she has lied to him while participating in the scheme. Celia, of course, has no knowledge of the arrangement.

The core issue is a misunderstanding, and it seems thin material to sustain the story. And, since, this is a friends to lovers story, we miss the meet and initial realization that this person may be someone special. However, there is a lot of backstory to reveal how the marriage pact came about, and its conditions. The latter part of the story addresses the conditions. The plot is enriched by subplots such as a cousin’s pregnancy, unreliable friends, the scheming mistress, and a friend of James who fakes attraction to Celia with the intentions of protecting her and encouraging James.

From my reader perspective, James is decidedly unheroic, thinking the worst of his friend with scant evidence, then being slow to accept his mistake and apologize. However, one can enjoy a little Schadenfreude in watching him suffer as he realizes his mistake. From my writer perspective, this book is great example of the importance of having a solid backstory when plotting, and how to reveal it to sustain pacing and interest. There is also good use of repetition in dialogue and structure. The heat level is sweet – nothing more than a kiss – but sexual tension simmers in touches, incidental and intentional, and more humorously in Celia’s observations of her mother’s alterations to the necklines of her gowns.

I watched Pride and Prejudice and Zombies recently, so I’m not up for more Austen fan fiction any time soon, but am looking forward to the next work from Sotis in this series.

More or Less Contemporary Reads


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Now that I’m all caught up reviewing my historical reads, here’s what else I’ve been reading. An assortment of contemporaries, with a little suspense, erotica, a sweet, and even a romantic threesome.

Tell Me No Lies, Kathryn Shay, Harlequin Super Romance, 2006
Cease Fire, Janie Crouch, Harlequin Intrigue, 2018
Mystery Date, Crystal Green, Harlequin Blaze, 2013
Mr. Unforgettable, Karina Bliss, 2018
Mine: MMF Bisexual Menage Romance, Chloe Lynn Ellis, 2018
Concealed in my Heart, Regina Puckett, 2013
Sweet Spot, Amy Knupp, 2016
Sweet Nothings, Natasha Lake, 2016


Tell Me No Lies, Kathryn Shay, Harlequin Super Romance, 2006

I’m not sure what to make of this one. Tessa and Dan are happily married, with children, but there are a few hints of something amiss. Then a figure from Tessa’s criminal past shows up. She’s kept her past a secret from Dan, and tries to continue to hide it, leading to complications in their relationship. The story is like a second chance romance, only it begins with the disintegration of the initial relationship, instead of revealing that in flashbacks. Foregrounding the break up takes away from the romance, and I had trouble accepting the premise. Yes, people may keep secrets, but the story makes clear that Tessa’s arrest and conviction was newsworthy at the time it happened. Apparently Dan never checked his wife’s name online – and he’s a District Attorney. Dan’s also less than heroic when her past is revealed. Although I did not find this a satisfying romance, once I suspended disbelief about the premise, and stopped expecting a more conventional story, it was a well-written family drama that had elements of Cape Fear.


Cease Fire, Janie Crouch, Harlequin Intrigue, 2018

This is one in a series of stories about a bad guy killing members of an elite police agency. The characters have been introduced earlier, and I felt I was missing something by not having read the earlier books. The core plot is one-night stand leads to pregnancy. The relationship is complicated by the heroine’s past.

Keira is a successful businesswoman, who also runs a private shelter and career training facility for abused women, but she used to be a stripper, and endured an abusive marriage to the son of a wealthy and powerful family. Her status as a strong heroine is diminished by her delayed inheritance, which allows her character to have both the sordid past and the respectable present.

Roman is a member of the agency, but his status as an alpha hero is diminished by his initial acceptance of his mother’s concern for the reputation of his powerful and wealthy family. A few months later, Roman learns that Keira may be a target of the mysterious killer, and that she is pregnant, so they reconnect. There’s lots of action, which means less room for romance, and the surprise baby plot tends to push characters together.


Mystery Date, Crystal Green, Harlequin Blaze, 2013

Leigh is a TV cook, who has auctioned off a home-cooked meal as part of a fund-raiser for a sorority. A mysterious but obviously wealthy person has purchased it, and when she arrives at his mansion, he communicates only by phone. Several dates follow, with escalating sexual activity revolving around voyeurism, blindfolds, and so on. Silly steamy fun.


Mr. Unforgettable, Karina Bliss, 2018

Luke is a former competitive swimmer and shy billionaire property developer, wounded by his divorce. Liz is a small town mayor. Her husband, the former mayor, died two years ago, and her public and private life is dedicated to preserving his memory. They meet when his company wants to build a widely opposed children’s camp, and spend discreet time together when she needs to secretly learn how to swim. He gives lessons in exchange for chess games. They become friends (with flirting and sexual tension both in the pool and over the chess board), then friends with benefits…  I’m not keen on billionaire stories, but Luke is relatively ordinary, and Liz doesn’t need money. A couple in their thirties, uninterested in having children, and the challenges of romance for a politician, are less common and enjoyable aspects of this relaxed and well-told romance.


Mine: MMF Bisexual Menage Romance, Chloe Lynn Ellis, 2018

Yes, that really is the title. Three childhood friends, Jack, Dylan, and Cate, are reunited when Kate’s grandfather dies and leaves his Boston townhouse to them. When I read Menage on 34th Street, I complained about the sex. There is lots here as well, but it’s slightly tamer, and considerably more contextual. Who’s doing what to whom illustrates the progress of the relationship, which has a realistic time frame. The characters react in slightly different ways to embracing their sexuality, but everyone is open-minded. For all the detailed steamy sex scenes, this is essentially a friends to lovers story, with three people instead of two. There’s an HEA ending, and a coda that would be cliche in a more conventional relationship, but here it is heartwarming.


Concealed in my Heart, Regina Puckett, 2013

Like Tell Me No Lies, this is a less conventional romance. It’s set in the late 1960s, though I was not sure why. It has the simpler time appeal of no internet and no cell phones, but the plot may have worked better in the 1930s or 1940s, given the plot’s reliance on movies and film publicity as major social events. Charity is a young, naive, recently married actor who has luckily landed the lead role in a football romance movie. She becomes close friends with her supportive co-star David and his wife. Charity’s husband leaves, and David’s wife dies in childbirth. David flees in grief, leaving Charity to look after the baby for eight months (though she stays in his house, and he pays all the bills). When he returns, they need to sort out their relationship, if any. It’s a sweet and sentimental story of friends to lovers, though some of the relationship timing and plot points are odd.


Sweet Spot, Amy Knupp, 2016

Sweet Spot is the second in a multi-author series of stories set at new or renovated businesses on Hale street, in Nashville. Hunter comes home to take over the family business, a money-losing bar. The one bright spot is a smart and attractive bartender, Kennedy. Kennedy used to work in marketing, but two years ago she caught her boyfriend cheating on her…with her friend…at her office. She lost her job, her boyfriend, her friend,  hurt her career, and ended up with  large debts, thanks to a house she and her boyfriend were renovating. Now she has new friends, who have just opened a bakery and want her marketing skills, as well as a hot new boss. Things heat up fairly quickly, but she’s having trouble trusting again. A few steamy scenes, lots of light banter between her and her friends, and many mentions of mouth-watering munchies.


Sweet Nothings, Natasha Lake, 2016

This is another Hale street story. Free-spirited Ivy promised to work at the bakery for a year, and the year is nearly up. She wants to find a replacement baker, and decides the best way to discreetly find one is to attend catered events.  Burke, the staid owner of a hotel under renovation, is trying to project an image of respectability for the re-opening, after being left at the altar by his fiance, a local scandal. He decides the best way to do this is to attend charity events and fundraisers, but has neither the time nor the inclination to date. So it’s a relationship of convenience that becomes real, and both hero and heroine need to overcome the past relationship failures. The plot works better than it sounds in my summary, and the characters are more solid than in Sweet Spot. As in Sweet Spot, supporting and continuing characters add interest.

Historical Reads


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I am behind in reviews, thanks to a busy month which has had more opportunity for reading, but less for writing. I praised historicals in my last post, have read many recently, and I’m going to try and catch up on reviewing them here. Click a title in the list to jump to that review. Hello Stranger, Lisa Kleypas, Avon, 2018 Heart of Fire, Kat Martin, Mira (Harlequin), 2008 Traitor’s Kiss / Lover’s Kiss, Mary Blayney, Bantam, 2008 The Ice Captain’s Daughter, Suzanne G. Rogers, 2014 Jessamine’s Folly, Suzanne G. Rogers, 2014 Lord Livesey’s Bluestocking, Audrey Harrison, 2018 The Complicated Earl, Audrey Harrison, 2014 The Duke’s Cautious Governess, Fanny Finch, 2018 The Love List, Deb Marlowe, 2013 Hello Stranger, Lisa Kleypas, Avon, 2018. Dr. Garrett Gibson, the only female doctor in England (inspired by Dr. Elizabeth Garrett), connects with Ethan Ransom, a former police officer and now possibly a spy. They met in a previous book in the series, which apparently explains why he is stalking her when this story starts. She’s a virgin but DTF, so we get a relationship largely driven by sexual tension and desire. Both characters are strong, and rescue each other. The couple get tied up in a political terrorist subplot, which threatens to overwhelm the romance plot at times. Lots of action and Victorian detail. Heart of Fire, Kat Martin, Mira (Harlequin), 2008. After enjoying Heartless and Royal’s Bride, Kat Martin is a name I look for on the historicals shelf. Coralee, a viscount’s daughter, writes for a ladies magazine. When her sister commits suicide, Coralee suspects an Earl, and contrives to enter his employ, under a false identity, to learn the truth. Romance blossoms, but when her identity is revealed, he’s forced to marry her. Coralee finds herself in a loveless marriage, and someone is trying to kill her. The suspense aspect is a significant part of the story, and the sister’s death and the circumstances around the marriage cast shadows over the story. blayney Traitor’s Kiss / Lover’s Kiss, Mary Blayney, Bantam, 2008 Two books in one, so two reviews in one. Traitor’s Kiss opens in France, in 1813, with the resourceful and mysterious Charlotte arranging for Lord Gabriel Pennistan to escape from prison. She’s not interested in the politics that put him there, or him (at first), but he becomes very interested in her. Lots of tension, romantic, sexual, and otherwise, in the earlier part of the story. Later, in England, the plot takes a more conventional tone, but Charlotte and her goals dominate the plot. Lover’s Kiss has a similar story structure, but this time the hero dominates the story, and the sexual tension is more drawn out. Michael Garrett, an unemployed soldier, finds a naked and unconscious woman in the forest. His rescue of Lady Olivia Pennistan is complicated by the need to keep her kidnapping a secret and her reputation intact. Michael’s subsequent employment at her brother’s estate, in recognition of poor security there, allows the relationship to continue in a more conventional fashion. rogers The Ice Captain’s Daughter, Suzanne G. Rogers, 2014 The cover image notwithstanding, this story is sweeter that those above, as well as lighter, later, and without a suspense subplot. There is no sex, but there are phones. Jillian is en route to London (with her maid) when their carriage is attacked. She receives a minor bullet wound, but manages to stab one of her assailants with a hatpin. Lord Logan, staying alone at a hunting cottage on his estate, comes to her rescue, bandages her thigh wound, and they stay the night (chastely) in his cottage, thanks to a severe storm. Her virtue compromised, her relatives insist they marry. She’s attracted to him, but refuses to have him marry her out of obligation, and carries on to London. Logan, who had previously rejected the notion of marriage after an engagement gone wrong, decides to pursue Jillian in London, but his former fiancé is eager to try again, and does not care for competition. Notwithstanding the opening attempt on her life, the stakes are relatively low, but this is a sweet story that comes together nicely, and even includes a happy ending for one of the bad guys. rogers2 Jessamine’s Folly, Suzanne G. Rogers, 2014 Another sweet Edwardian historical, more complicated than The Ice Captain’s Daughter, but still concerned primarily with manners and propriety. The sudden death of Jessamine’s parents leaves her without a dowry, and the estate is entailed away from her. After enduring a few years of cruelty from relatives (reminiscent of Cinderella), she finds employment as a companion/governess to Lord Kirkendale’s sister. Sparks fly between the Lord and Jessamine, but she is conscious of her standing (thanks in part to other staff), and he is obliged to marry another. The plot is enriched with subplots of the sister’s romance, a scandalous aunt, and scheming cousins and rivals in both families. harrison1

Lord Livesey’s Bluestocking, Audrey Harrison, 2018

Phoebe doesn’t quite fit in with society. She’s not conventionally attractive, wears glasses, and has a reputation as a bluestocking, thanks to being intelligent. She has no need to marry, and little desire to. But, at the request of her family, she spends a couple of weeks at the estate of Lord Livesey. Livesey is a young widower with three girls, who has largely withdrawn from society after the suicide of his wife six years ago. His sister and aunt convince him that his girls need a mother, and arrange for half-a-dozen eligible ladies, along with an equal number of single but less-appealing-than-Livesey men, to spend two weeks at his estate. Livesey decides not to follow his heart, and selects Lady Jane for his bride, but the aunt keeps Phoebe in view, and a few assumptions add complications. Sweet and light, with a strong heroine and good writing. harrison2 The Complicated Earl, Audrey Harrison, 2014 I went from what appears to be Harrison’s latest to her first, sold with the notice that it was professionally proof read after the initial release. Isabelle grew up with loving parents, but found her suitors distasteful, and has settled down with a cousin, planning to live independently. Now her brother is planning to marry the sister of the Earl of Standish, Tom. Tom is cynical of marriage, having witnessed his mother’s affairs, but kept that from his sister. When problems arise in the planned marriage, Isabelle and Tom work together to resolve matters, and both reconsider their view of marriage. But her brothers attempt to rush her into to marriage, concerned they may given her too much freedom, leads to problems, and a previously rejected suitor leads to a suspense subplot. Not as sweet or as light as Lord Livesey’s Bluestocking, but still a good read. finch1 The Duke’s Cautious Governess, Fanny Finch, 2018 Lady Agnes lost her mother many years ago, and when her father dies unexpectedly she is penniless and shunned by relatives. She finds work as a governess to a spoiled little girl, the young sister of a Duke. The Duke and his sister also lost their parents early and unexpectedly. While Agnes was taught how to run an estate, the Duke was not, and she winds up teaching him as well – everything from how to manage the staff to how to host a ball. The ball is a great sequence. Although balls and associated events are common in historicals, this is the first one I’ve read from the perspective of a hostess, as she tries to keep guests entertained and sober, and breaks up fights. The conflict and resolution are predictable (and no less enjoyable for that), but the subplot of the late mother is dark, so this is sweet but not that light. Having the epilogue as an online bonus is mildly annoying, and unusually, the story is almost completely from the perspective of Agnes. marlowe The Love List, Deb Marlowe, 2013 Brynne Wilmott’s father has arranged for her to be married to an evil man, so she runs away to a home for women. But her troubles are just beginning. Someone is planning to republish an updated version of Harris’s List of Covent-Garden Ladies, with her and some of her acquaintances in it, for both personal revenge and political gain. Meanwhile, the Duke of Aldmere, who rescued Brynne from her nominal fiancé at a ball, is looking for his missing brother, who is somehow involved in the new book. Lots of action and suspense as the couple work together, lots of time in the seamier side of London, and we are back where this list started, with political terrorism in the Victorian age. As this list makes clear, historical romances, even limited more-or-less to Regency, have a variety of heat levels and plot structures. I appreciate those that show me famous figures, and provide insights into lesser known aspects of Victorian life, and escapes from peril are fun. However, as with contemporary romances, my preferred reading is towards sweet and light.

Escape to the Past: The Rock Creek Six


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Rock Creek Six box set cover imageAfter several years of reading romance novels, I’ve narrowed my preferred romance story type for reading and writing: Contemporary tales featuring ordinary people, with strengths, flaws, and pasts, who are happy on their own, but find another person who helps them grow. I’ve enjoyed other types – paranormals, millionaire, billionaire, suspense, and so on – but the realistic tales resonate more.

On the other hand, reality sucks sometimes, or at least current political events. Stories of happiness in this world are good, but sometimes I want reading time to be time away from this world. Then I turn to historical romances – Regency or Western. While I will always love Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion, I’m fond of stories that show strong women defying conventions – in part because I have my doubts about the reality of those conventions. It is true that social roles were more constricted in the past, but there have always been people who act outside the roles, and probably more than we know. The same forces that limit social roles suppress stories of people who don’t follow the roles. In the less connected and documented world of the past, or on the frontier, it was sometimes easier to reinvent yourself, or otherwise be unconventional, and I believe many women took advantage of that. With our histories dominated by stories of powerful men, there’s a lot of satisfaction in reading stories of powerful women.

Which brings me to The Rock Creek Six, a series of independently published books alternately written by Lori Handeland and Linda Winstead Jones, who have been writing romances since the mid-1990s. The books were originally published four years ago, but I discovered them from a recent promotion of the first story (yes, promotion works, even on older stories).

Rock Creek Texas, in the late 1800s, is an undistinguished small town, partly abandoned thanks to raids from local bandits, and lacking men after the civil war. School teacher Mary wants a quiet home, after fleeing two other towns during the war, so she travels to Dallas and hires a gunman to save the town. Reese laughs at her offer of $150, but is attracted to her even though, or perhaps because, she reminds him of his prewar past. And his hotel bill is overdue. Mary’s first sight of Reese is him lying on his bed, shirtless. That, his general lack of propriety, and being well-spoken, calls to something in Mary. The sexually charged dialogue in their meeting (and the steamy covers) is appropriate to the heat level in this series – definitely hot, but sex scenes are well-integrated into the plots (and I will never again be able to say I am “cleaning the bathtub” with a straight face).

Reese wants to bring his friends and fellow gunmen, Sullivan, Rico, Jed, Nate and Cash. They fought together in the civil war, and continue as a loose but fiercely faithful group. The premise is common enough – the comitatus arriving to save the town goes back at least to Beowulf, and the series references The Magnificent Seven, both in promotional material and in Reese’s line about his friends: “Together, we’re downright magnificent.” The bandits, and other old west hazard tropes, are subplots to the real stories – the healing and domestication of the men.

Western plots are typically about bringing order – taming the wild people (or outlaws) just as the wilderness is tamed (and in older stories, this has all the colonialism, racism, and sexism you’d expect). The gunslinger or the comitatus come to town to restore social order, but not become part of it. (At the end of The Magnificent Seven, some are dead, some leave town, and one man stays.) In the Rock Creek Six stories, all the fighting men become part of the social order. They stick around, get jobs, fall in love, marry, and have children (not necessarily in that order). To integrate, they need to change, including overcoming past wounds. They are heroic in their actions and passions (and easy on the eyes), but need direction. A group of strong women provide it.

Sullivan, half Comanche and half Irish, is rescued from a bar fight by Eden, on her way to Rock Creek. She already rescued two children during her trip. She’s Jed’s sister, so he accompanies her for the rest of the trip, then tries to keep her out of trouble while they wait for Jed to return. Rico is smitten by Lily, who arrives in town with the deed for the saloon, big plans and a few secrets. He has secrets of his own. Jed admires the wealthy Hannah’s behaviour when the stage they are sharing is robbed. She’s coming to Rock Creek to prove her sister did not commit murder, and recruits Jed to help, but he has conflicting loyalties. Nate is an alcoholic former preacher. Jo is fond of him, and tracks him down when he disappears. He welcomes her into his bed, thinking she’s his long dead wife, easing him into the heaven he doubts exists. And Cash discovers he has a teenage son, who needs to be talked out of becoming a gun for hire.

The stories take place over at least six years, allowing glimpses of the growth of the town and earlier characters. The chronological separation of the stories keeps them relatively independent (though I had to read the whole series). The backgrounds of the heroes and heroines are sufficiently different to keep things interesting, and the sexual histories of the women vary from clueless virgin to relatively experienced (though not necessarily good experiences). All of the men are, of course, well experienced, but I was delightfully surprised to see a first encounter between a couple that was not wonderful for the woman (even if in a flashback). There are a some great bits of dialogue, lots of heartwarming scenes, erotic moments, and good pacing throughout.

I have my doubts about the realism of aspects of the stories, including the three-story hotel central to the series. Would a small town have a structure that tall? And the women have modern and liberal attitudes to everything from sex to the treatment of the Indians. But I love the happy endings, the happy families, the equality, the redemptions, and the eventual paradise on earth that Rock Creek becomes, thanks to women who take charge.

Sharing Something about Shoes



This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

From tech to fetish, shoes in fairy tales are a mark of status

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The glass slippers in Disney’s 2015 film version of Cinderella.
Allison Shearmur Productions, Beagle Pug Films, Genre Films

Rebecca-Anne C. Do Rozario, Monash University

Fairy tales have always had amazing, wearable tech: from the red shoes and the glass slipper to puss’s boots. Disney’s latest princess, Shuri, the Wakandan teen genius of Marvel’s Black Panther (2018), showing off the “sneakers” she has designed and developed, is the most recent hero to understand a shoe’s potential.

Shuri, the high-tech ‘sneaker’ designer in Black Panther.
Marvel Studios, Walt Disney Pictures

In fairy tales, the seven-league boots cover vast distances in a single step, centuries before Neil Armstrong’s space boots landed on the moon with “one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”.

Charles Perrault’s Little Thumbling (1697) even turns the boots into a financial asset. When a poor woodcutter and his wife abandon their children, the children take refuge in an ogre’s house. The youngest, Little Thumbling, thwarts the ogre’s plans to eat them and they flee. The ogre, wearing seven-league boots, gives chase, but tires and falls asleep. The diminutive hero steals the boots from his feet and with them starts a lucrative courier business.

An ogre wearing seven-league boots by Gustave Doré.
Wikimedia Commons

Hans Christian Andersen’s The Galoshes of Fortune (1838) features time and space travelling galoshes, taking wearers to the moon or back to the Middle Ages.

In many tales, shoes are about desire and innovation.

Curses and courtly style

The Red Shoes, illustration by Anne Anderson.
Wikimedia Commons

Once upon a time, a little girl took such joy in red shoes, she was cursed. She could not stop dancing in her shoes. She went to the executioner and asked him to cut off her feet. The red shoes, still fused to her feet, danced off into the woods. Such was the fate of Hans Christian Andersen’s shoe-obsessed Karen.

The shoes are the stars of this 1845 tale. Graphic violence, overt religion, and rigid class hierarchy all conspire to condemn a child for her footwear. When the tale begins, Karen is so poor she is barefoot, with wooden shoes for winter. She is given a pair of shoes cobbled from scraps of red cloth and wears them to her mother’s funeral. Karen’s love of red shoes begins there and when she dares to wear those intended for an aristocrat to her Confirmation, she condemns herself. As Hilary Davidson concludes in her essay in Shoes: A History from Sandals to Sneakers, red shoes embody sex and sin.

Cinderella’s glass slipper, meanwhile, was conjured by Charles Perrault in Stories or Tales of Times Past, with Morals (1697). Perrault worked within the orbit of Versailles, the court of Louis XIV, and he associated with fashionable, aristocratic fairy-tale authors like Marie-Catherine Le Jumel de Barneville, Baroness d’Aulnoy. He had more than a passing knowledge of fashion.

The slipper, fashioned by the fairy godmother’s wand, was a slip on, high-heeled mule, fashionable at court and even a little risqué, having associations with the boudoir. In a culture of glass innovation, the artistry of such a shoe would have appealed to Perrault’s aristocratic audience.

The glass slipper has been reimagined many times. Here it features in the 1950 Walt Disney film Cinderella.
Walt Disney Productions

To this day, the impossibility of the glass slipper inspires. The shoe has been reimagined many times in satins, plastics and crystals. In Disney’s Cinderella (2015), the shoe is solid crystal and only fits on Cinderella’s foot thanks to CGI.

But Cinderella didn’t always wear glass. In Europe, the first Cinderella to appear in print is Zezolla, known as the Cinderella Cat, included in the Neapolitan author, Giambattista Basile’s The Tale of Tales (1634-36). She loses a chianiello. Some English translations refer to this as a patten, worn to protect one’s shoes from the street.

However, the chianiello is related to the remarkable platform shoes with wooden or cork bases, worn by women in the Renaissance. While some served as overshoes, many were decorative, featuring ornate velvet and other trimmings, and worn in their own right. Red was a common colour and the shoes have long been associated with courtesans.

Red was a popular colour for platform shoes worn during the Renaissance.
Wikimedia Commons

Zezolla loses her shoe while fleeing the King, who then delivers a long, impassioned speech about the shoe as he embraces it. It is an erotic gesture.

Madame D’Aulnoy, the author who gave us the term “fairy tale”, presents a quick-witted Cinderella – Finette Cendron (1697). After going to the ball, she loses her slipper walking home in the dark. It is a red velvet mule, embroidered with pearls, the height of fashion in Louis XIV’s court. The following day, the Prince discovers it while hunting in the forest.

A 1910 illustration of The Brothers’ Grimm Cinderella.
Wikimedia Commons

D’Aulnoy’s prince frankly has a shoe fetish. He sleeps with it under his pillow. He caresses it. He languishes with love for the mule. He drives his parents and physicians to their wits’ ends. Presumably, he marries Finette to obtain the other slipper. For d’Aulnoy, it is not the woman who has a mad passion for shoes, but the Prince.

By the time Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm edited their fairy tale collections, fashion had shifted from the mule to the fabric or kid slipper. Their Cinderella (1812/1857) dances in gold and silver shoes: not solid metal, but likely embroidered in metallic thread. They are easily damaged. After her stepsisters cut off bits of their feet to try on the slipper, it is returned to Cinderella’s foot as a ruined, revolting object.

Status objects

Puss in boots by Leon Bakst, 1921.
Wikimedia Commons

In the Grimms’ The Worn-Out Dancing Shoes (1815), too, shoes are ruined. The King wants someone to solve the mystery of how his daughters wear out their shoes every night. They were dancing. Slippers of the period had thin soles. If they’d only had sturdier shoes, the princesses might never have been found out.

In fairy tales, only the very poor or mistreated have no shoes or shoes of wood or iron. Good shoes allow mobility, protecting the feet from the conditions of terrain and weather. Shoes are a sign of respectability, even authority.

In Perrault’s The Master Cat; or, Puss in Boots (1697), the feline con artist requests boots before helping his master. He receives two boots, giving him an upright stance that, along with speech, makes him a match for humans. Earlier tales by Basile and Straparola feature female cats, but they don’t have boots and they don’t become great lords like Perrault’s tomcat.

From tech to fetish, shoes are the sole of human status, the fairy tales tell us.The Conversation

Rebecca-Anne C. Do Rozario, Adjunct Research Fellow, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.