Friday, May 26, 2017

Just Between Us - - Marry in Haste






Many years ago, Janga encouraged me to read a book by an author who was unknown to me at the time. The book was The Perfect Rake, the author, Anne Gracie, and that one story was all it took to launch my love affair with this author’s stories. If she writes it, I buy it, and more times than not, fall in love right along with her superbly crafted characters. Considering our mutual love of all things Gracie, it made sense to select the author's newest novel, Marry in Haste, for our next Just Between Us chat.


PJ: Speaking of superbly crafted characters, Marry in Haste, a marriage-of-convenience story that begins a new series, features a wonderful collection of characters that have already won my heart. What do you think of the Marry in Haste characters, Janga? Any particular favorite(s)?

Janga: PJ, you know I have a long history of falling in love with Gracie characters, and I must admit the characters in Marry in Haste rank high among my favorites. I have an abiding affection for schoolteacher heroines, and Emm totally captured my interest and my heart. I laughed at her handling of the flirtatious student who tries to fake an injury so Cal can carry her but, like Cal, I was impressed that she treats her student firmly “but with humor and a light touch.” She reveals the same qualities when she deals with Georgiana’s refusal to wear a riding habit and ride sidesaddle. That’s my kind of teacher. I also loved that Emm is practical. She knows the grim future that awaits a woman with no fortune or family, and, despite some understandable reservations, she accepts her marriage of convenience, which offers her not only security but also prestige and a family of her own, as an advantage no reasonable woman would refuse. And I thought it was perfect that some of her former students were among her defenders at the Braxton party. What a delight that scene was! I adored Emm, but I thought Cal was wonderful too. I know you share that impression.

PJ: I do! Cal is an exceptional hero and ranks among my Gracie favorites. He’s a good man - honorable, patriotic, and loyal – yet totally clueless when it comes to the fairer sex; what I’d call a “relationship virgin.” Sent away to school at age 7, then immediately joining the army afterward, Cal has spent most of his life among men. He’s a soldier to the core and used to not having his orders questioned. He sees things in black and white with no shades of gray intruding upon his unquestionable sense of right and wrong. Imagine his confusion, and frustration, when he returns home from the continent to discover he’s now head of his family and responsible for young women who have no intention of following his orders or, worse yet, turn on the tears when he lectures them. Poor Cal. He’s been set adrift in a feminine sea of befuddlement and the only oars in sight belong to our intrepid schoolteacher, Emm. Initially, Cal views Emm as the neat solution to a very big problem: how to insure the safety of his left-behind family while he completes a dangerous mission then returns to the continent and his life as a soldier. It’s all he knows; all he thinks he’s good at, but Gracie has more in store for Cal than he could have imagined. She flawlessly chronicles his journey of growth and self-awareness from a one-dimensional soldier, determined to fulfill his duty but completely out of touch with “finer feelings,” to a fully dimensional man who has learned the value, and joy, of compassion, family, understanding, and love. He’s a sigh-worthy hero and I hope we’ll see more of him in future books in the series.

Janga: Beautifully said. And I totally agree. Anne Gracie’s characterization skills are superb. We see this not only in her protagonists, but also in her secondary characters. She even makes Cal’s friend Bentley, who is killed before the story opens, a real person rather than just a motivator of Cal’s need for revenge. I thought all three of Cal’s charges were wonderful—the intrepid Rose, the soft-hearted Lily, and the unconventional Georgiana. I think I could write a full essay on their names. I especially thought that the flower names of Cal’s sisters served as a pointed contrast to their niece George with her unladylike upbringing. I can’t wait to see what Gracie does with each of them as they become the heroines of their own books. And the aunts! One of my greatest delights in an Anne Gracie book is meeting her older woman character and in Marry in Haste, we get two. Aunt Dottie is a darling. She is much less dotty (and I don’t think the word play is a coincidence) than she appears. I do hope we learn more about her relationship with Logan, the butler. :) Even starchy Aunt Agatha won my heart in the end, and I loved the “dowager with a lorgnette” line. It was the perfect touch after the numerous references to Agatha’s lorgnette. That’s another Gracie trademark—moving her readers to laughter and to tears.


PJ: Oh, I agree! Anne Gracie’s ability to move me to both laughter and tears certainly contributes to her position on my most beloved authors list (And I still find myself humming the lorgnette line - so clever!). Her stories have such a feel-good quality to them and Marry in Haste is no exception. An unexpected treat while reading this book is the appearance of Daisy, heroine of The Summer Bride (Chance Sisters Book #4), in a pivotal scene for Rose, George, and, especially, Lily. Seeing Daisy again reminded me of how much I adore her and (here comes that feel-good factor again) her reaction to Lily when Emm and the girls visit Daisy’s dress shop had me once again wiping away tears. Gracie sure knows how to delve into a reader’s emotions and pluck at those heartstrings. Like you, Janga, I’m eagerly anticipating future stories in this series and I also am looking forward to discovering more about Aunt Dottie and her butler. I wonder if other Chance sisters will make cameos in future books? I sure hope so!



Readers, if you enjoy well-crafted historical romances with engaging characters, lively banter, heart-tugging emotion, scenes that will move you to both laughter and tears, and a happy ending that will have you sighing with satisfaction, we enthusiastically recommend Anne Gracie’s Marry in Haste.

~~~~~~~~~~~~


Have you read Anne Gracie's novels yet?
Do you have a favorite?
What's the last book that moved you to both laughter and tears?

When I notified Anne Gracie of this post, she graciously offered two print copies of Marry in Haste for a giveaway. So, two randomly chosen people who leave a comment before 11:00 PM (EST), May 27th will each receive a print copy of the book.
(Open internationally)

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Marry in Haste
By Anne Gracie
Publisher: Berkley
Release Date: May 2, 2017

Major Calbourne Rutherford returns to England on the trail of an assassin, only to find he’s become Lord Ashendon, with the responsibility for vast estates and dependent relatives. Cal can command the toughest of men, but his wild half-sisters are quite another matter. They might just be his undoing.

When he discovers that Miss Emmaline Westwood, the girls’ former teacher, guides them with ease, Cal offers her a marriage of convenience. But strong-minded and independent Emm is neither as compliant nor as proper as he expected, and Cal finds himself most inconveniently seduced by his convenient wife.

Emm knows they didn’t marry for love, yet beneath her husband’s austere facade, she catches glimpses of a man who takes her breath away. As pride, duty and passion clash, will these two stubborn hearts find more than they ever dreamed of?

 

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

A Tribute to Jo Beverley



Remembering Jo Beverley 
(September 22, 1947-May 23, 2016)




An Overview by Janga

There are many talented romance writers who are skilled in their craft and who earn the admiration and loyalty of their readers, but only a few may legitimately be termed legend or icon. Jo Beverley is in that group. Check any online biography of Ms. Beverley, and you will find that she was a five-time Rita winner and a member of a select group who are members of the RWA Hall of Fame. But that is just part of the story. The five Rita wins do not include the additional six times she was a Rita finalist. Naming her as a Hall of Famer doesn’t say that she was one of the earliest inductees into that group of sixteen nor that she joined the august group relatively early in her career after winning the Rita for Regency Romance three consecutive years: Emily and the Dark Angel, 1992; An Unwilling Bride, 1993; and Dierdre and Don Juan, 1994. She won two Ritas in 1994; the other was for My Lady Notorious (Historical Series). The fifth came in 2001, a golden lady for best novella for “The Demon’s Mistress.” She also won two Career Achievement Awards from Romantic Times, and the Sapphire Award for Best Science Fiction Romance, short form, in 2004 for her novella “The Trouble with Heroes.”

Among the keepers on my bookshelves is a tattered paperback copy of Lord Wraybourne’s Betrothed. I bought it in 1990 because I had already read a hardcover library copy and knew that it was a book I would reread. I was right. I have been rereading it for almost thirty years. I didn’t know when I first read the novel that it was Jo Beverley’s debut. I only knew that I loved the characters who were so fully creatures of their historical moment and that I wanted more from this gifted writer. That paperback is twenty-seven years old now, and my Jo Beverley shelf is filled with her traditional Regencies, Georgian and Regency historicals, Medievals, and a few fantasy novellas. I cherish them all, but, of course, I have my favorites.


Emily and the Dark Angel is my favorite Beverley traditional Regency—or classic Regency, to use the term Jo preferred. Her choice is more accurate since her books were never exactly traditional. I can’t count the number of times I have read Emily and the Dark Angel nor the number of times I have read a reader’s comment avowing love for the book and known I had found a friend. Certainly there are many romance novels that feature a high-achieving spinster and a rake, but none so lively, so engaging, so delightful as the story of Emily Grantwich and Piers Verderan. And I always feel a bit smug when I come across references to Melton Mowbray in books, confident that I learned all I need to know about Regency England’s hunting mecca from Jo Beverley in Emily and the Dark Angel.

Readers entered Jo Beverley’s Rogues World for the first time with the publication of An Arranged Marriage in 1990, although the author had been writing about her company of Rogues for more than a dozen years by then. The Rogues are a group who band together as schoolboys at Harrow under the leadership of Nicholas Delaney. Their friendship endures through the years, and as An Arranged Marriage opens in 1814, Nicholas calls upon some of them for help. In later books, Nicholas is often the one his brother Rogues turn to for help. One of the things I have always liked best about this series is that as the Rogues marry, their wives become part of the company. The series includes books for nine of the Rogues: An Arranged Marriage, the Honorable Nicholas Delaney, 1991; An Unwilling Bride, Lucien de Vaux, Marquess of Arden and heir to the Duke of Belcraven, 1992; Christmas Angel, Leander Knollis, Earl of Charrington, 1992; Forbidden, Francis Haile, Lord Middlethorpe, 1994; Dangerous Joy, Miles Cavanagh an Irishman and heir to the Earl of Kilgoran, 1995; The Dragon's Bride, Con Somerford, Viscount Amleigh, 2001; Skylark, Sir Stephen Ball, lawyer and a reforming Member of Parliament, 2004; Rogue's Return, Simon St. Bride, the Rogue who has been in Canada for the War of 1812 and its aftermath, 2006; To Rescue A Rogue, Lord Darius Debenham, younger son of the Duke of Yeovil, 2006. The story of a tenth Rogue (Major Hal Beaumont) is woven through the other books, and two of the Rogues were killed in battle and are only mentioned in the series. The remaining eight books feature various relatives, friends, and connections of the Rogues.

I could write a thesis on what I love about the Rogues books. They
are comfort reads for me; I turn to them when I need to escape my world or when another romance novel disappoints me. As a reader, I embrace them wholeheartedly; as a writer and reviewer, I am particularly impressed with the heroes. Jo Beverley created some of the most memorable heroes in romance fiction in her original Rogues, and she did so by taking considerable risks. Nicholas Delaney, perhaps her most charismatic hero, chooses love of country over love of spouse. He is unfaithful to his wife after they fall in love because his affair with a despicable female villain is part of a government plot to trap a dangerous spy. The Marquess of Arden strikes his wife in anger. Lord Middlethorpe is a virgin who is seduced by a more sexually experienced heroine, Hal Beaumont lost an arm in war, and Lord Darius Debenham is an opium addict. None of these men fits the common view of romance heroes, and yet I accept them as just that and keep falling in love with them again and again.


Three years after Beverley’s Rogues first captured the hearts of historical romance readers, My Lady Notorious introduced a Georgian series featuring the Mallorens: Beowulf, third Marquess of Rothgar and his half-siblings: Cynric (My Lady Notorious, 1993), Arcenbryght “Bryght” (Tempting Fortune, 1995), Elfred, twin sister to Cyn (Something Wicked, 1997), and Brand (Secrets of the Night, 1999). (Another sister, Hilda, is married before the series begins.) The Mallorens are all different and all intriguing. My Lady Notorious with the adventurous Cyn and his scandalous lady, its crossdressing, and a deliciously sensual food scene is my favorite of the first four books, although tender beta, Brand is my favorite hero among Rothgar’s brothers. In each of the first four books, Rothgar is an inescapable presence—ruthless, powerful, determined to manage the lives of his siblings as well as the affairs of government and yet capable of immeasurable love. Readers were enthralled with him. To say they were eager for his story is an understatement, and in 2000, Beverley gave them what they had demanded in Devilish. In a five-star review of the book I wrote of its hero:

The reader is prepared for his physical and mental prowess, for his near omniscience, for his brilliance in execution of his plans, for all the qualities that have made him such a large presence in the first four books of the series. But in his own book, Beverley moves beyond the larger-than-life Eminence Noir to reveal the essential loneliness and sorrow that make up the character of this man whose life has been shadowed since early childhood by the heinous action of his mother and who, at the age of 19, inherited his title with all its responsibilities, the well-being of his younger half-siblings paramount among them. Early in Devilish, Bryght thinks of Rothgar as “fascinating and admirable, but at times . . . scarcely human.”  What Beverley does in this fifth book is render Rothgar human, to show his fears and frustrations, to reveal a man vulnerable to love. The result is an even more complex character.

Devilish remains one of Beverley’s most popular books and Rothgar, her most famous hero. I still think it is too bad no one has ever brought Rothgar to the screen, large or small.

Following the pattern of the Rogues World books, between 2003
and 2013, Beverley set another eight books in the Malloren world. A lesser author might have found it difficult to maintain the standards set by Devilish, but some of Beverley’s finest work can be found in the books that followed. Winter Fire (2003) is my favorite. I reread it every December for the joy of experiencing Christmas at Rothgar Abbey with all the English traditions plus an Italian touch with the presepe (creche) belonging to the heroine Genova Smith. A Most Unsuitable Man, which is a true sequel to Winter Fire, is also excellent. (The hero, Octavius Fitzroger, is a descendant of Imogen of Carrisford and FitzRoger of Cleeve, the protagonists of Beverley’s Medieval, Dark Champion, 1993.) I also love A Lady’s Secret (2008). How can you not love a book that opens with a cursing nun and ends with a father-daughter reunion? I call this one Jo’s secret-baby book.

In addition to Dark Champion, Beverley wrote three other medieval romances: Lord of My Heart (1992), The Shattered Rose (1996), and Lord of Midnight (1998). I’m not a big fan of this sub-genre, and I read very selectively in it. It is a measure of my respect for Jo Beverley that I have read all four of these books as well as her three novellas set in the Medieval Period. Both Lord of My Heart and Dark Champion were Rita finalists, but my favorite in this group is the novella “The Wise Virgin” from the anthology The Brides of Christmas (1999). It has feuding families, mistaken identity, a Golden Lion of a hero, and an ending that resonates with Christmas meaning.

With Merely a Marriage, her posthumously published novel, Jo Beverley ended her career in her Rogues World where she began it. I delayed reading my ARC of the book because I was sad that it was her last book. I waited for Rothgar (eight years, I think) and joined the Dare’s Alive bandwagon. Every time the subject of unwritten stories romance readers long to see written arose, I shared my hopes for the story of Kevin Renfrew, the Daffodil Dandy, one of my favorite Beverley creations. Before the word “autobuy” was in my vocabulary, Jo Beverley was all I needed to see on a book cover to buy the book. Jo Beverley and her books are woven through my history as a reader of romance fiction. I am having a difficult time imagining a year with no new book to add to my Jo Bev collection. But I am grateful that I can reread the forty-one novels and more than a dozen works of short fiction she left us.

I will remember Jo Beverley for more than her books. Although I never met her, I had contact with her in various ways online. She was always gracious and generous. Several years ago, I was part of the Romance Vagabonds blog. Jo had agreed to be an author guest on our site. Several months after we had scheduled her visit she emailed me saying that she would be traveling on the scheduled day but she would find a way to read and respond to the comments. How she did it, I’ll never know, but she did. The Vagabonds were elated as were the fans whose questions she answered. A classy lady who respected her readers—that’s also the Jo Beverley I will remember.

On “Jo’s Media Page” on her website, she shares some highlights from a speech she gave in 2002 to romance readers in Portland, Oregon. The following is one of those highlights:

Yes, Virginia, love exists and men and women can have healthy lives together. You only need to look around you to see the evidence. Romance novels carry the flame of this essential truth. They make up a rich and deep world of voices, a world of choices, with a story for almost everyone. And that's why romance is the most popular form of fiction today.

For twenty-eight years, Jo Beverley gave us stories in her inimitable voice, stories like those she described. She helped to make romance “the most popular form of fiction.” If you have never read a Jo Beverley book, what riches await you. If you have, isn’t it time to reread one and remember Jo Beverley?


Jo Beverley, Cara Elliott/Andrea Penrose, Joanna Bourne


Postscript: Other Dishes Remember

Manda

Way back in 1992, when I started college, I was still not very open about my romance reading habit. But I took a few books with me when I moved into the dorm. One of them was Jo Beverley's EMILY AND THE DARK ANGEL, which I shared with many college friends, as it happened. Over the years, I've read hundreds, possibly thousands of romances. And of all of them, this story about Emily Grantwich and the darkly dangerous rake Piers Verderan, has stayed with me. Scented powder reminds me of Violet Vane's Poudre de Violettes. Anyone dressed in all yellow brings to mind Kevin Renfrew, the Daffodil Dandy. And any mention of Melton Mowbray reminds me that Jo Beverley mentioned (maybe in the author's note?) that she grew up nearby. Jo Beverley's books have been part of my life--an important part--for twenty-six years. I distinctly recall reading the first Company of Rogues book, AN ARRANGED MARRIAGE, on a family vacation at the beach. I spent many happy hours in the hammock beneath the house on stilts breathing the salt air, but going in my imagination to Regency England. (Though anyone who truly knows me would say that Francis, Lord Middlethorpe is my favorite Rogue, I remember reading Nicholas's story most vividly.)

I was lucky enough, after so many years of admiring her writing, to meet Jo Beverley at the 2007 RWA conference in Dallas. I told her I'd been a fan for years and that I'd admired some set-down she'd delivered online. She laughed and made a self-deprecating remark. I wish I'd written it down. I'm sure it was witty. But I'm content with the memory of her in the peak of health, and laughing. RIP JoBev. You made an impact on this little Alabama girl's life, and I've got the published novels to prove it. You are missed. 

Santa

What I loved most about Jo Beverley's writing was how easy it was to slip into the worlds she created. Medieval, Georgian or Regency - you were guaranteed families, comrades, friends loyal and true to one another; all at the core of who they were and at the base of what their worlds were all about.

The characters in her books were multidimensional both as heroes, heroines and villains. She wrote both the alpha and beta hero with such finesse. Intricate. Intriguing. Page turners all.

And her villains. Ah, written as such ruthless, depraved characters from all walks of life. Jo Beverley wrote one of the most heinous villains and - she's a woman. Therese Bellaire is as vile, ruthless and heartless as they come. We are introduced to her villainy in the first book of her Company of Rogues series and her talons dig into more than one of our heroes.

I could list some of my favorite Jo Beverley books but I fear that list would include all of them. Her traditional Regencies hold a special place in this reader's heart. I will say that Emily and the Dark Angel is an all-time favorite of mine. Once again, her hero's moniker of dark angel for his looks and temperament comes to nothing when his better half proves to be more than his equal in every way.

The book will make you laugh out loud and sigh with such contentment. Actually, all of her books will effortlessly take you away and leave you so much the richer for it.

PJ

I don't remember which of Jo Beverley's books was my first but I do remember that each of them was special, transporting me to Regency, Medieval, or Georgian England and introducing me to characters who became treasured fictional friends. I'd be hard pressed to name a favorite book, series, or character. Many of her books populate my keeper shelves, characters like Dare, Rothgar, Simon St. Bride, Brand, and, of course, Emily and her dark angel, Piers Verderan linger in my mind still, some more than 20 years after reading their stories. That, my friends, is powerful storytelling.

But, while I cherish the books she wrote, it was the woman behind the pen who made the greatest impression on me. I had the opportunity to meet Jo at several RWA national conferences. This NYT Bestselling, multiple award-winning legend of romance was unfailingly gracious, greeting readers with a smile, kindness, and appreciation. No pretenses or diva behavior for Jo Bev. She always took a minute to chat with me, pose for a photograph, and thank me for reading her books. I have many photos of her taken at conferences over the years. She is smiling in every one of them, even the candid shots. I mourn her passing but I celebrate her life, her achievements, the memorable characters she introduced us to, and the journeys we traveled with them...and her.


Anne Gracie, Jo Beverley, Cara Elliott/Andrea Penrose


Tell us about your favorite Jo Beverley books, characters, or memories. 

One randomly chosen person leaving a comment before 11:00 PM (EST), May 25th will receive a print copy of Jo's final book, Merely a Marriage. (U.S./Canada only)


Note: The Word Wenches Blog, of which Jo Beverley was a part, is celebrating their 11th anniversary today and sharing their floral tributes to Jo. Stop by today or tomorrow and leave a comment for a chance to win books from the Word Wenches authors. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Review Tour - - The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels and Other Gentlemen


The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels and Other Gentlemen
By Victoria Alexander
Publisher: HQN Books
Release Date: May 23, 2017
Reviewed by PJ
       





Really, it's too much to expect any normal man to behave like a staid accountant in order to inherit the fortune he deserves to support the lifestyle of an earl. So when Derek Saunders's favorite elderly aunt and her ill-conceived—and possibly fraudulent—Lady Travelers Society loses one of their members, what's a man to do but step up to the challenge? Now he's escorting the world's most maddening woman to the world's most romantic city to find her missing relative. 
While India Prendergast only suspects his organization defrauds gullible travelers, she's certain a man with as scandalous a reputation as Derek Saunders cannot be trusted any farther than the distance around his very broad shoulders. As she struggles not to be distracted by his wicked smile and the allure of Paris, instead of finding a lost lady traveler, India just may lose her head, her luggage and her heart.

For more than twenty years, I have enjoyed the novels penned by Victoria Alexander. Her rich descriptions, intriguing characters, lively banter, depth of emotion, and sense of humor frequently land her books on my must-buy list. I've been looking forward to her new historical romance series about lady travelers since first hearing about it last fall.

Derek Saunders has thoroughly enjoyed his single lifestyle but it's time to pay the piper. His uncle, the Earl, to whom Derek is heir, has reined him in. It's time to learn how to manage the earldom and leave scandal behind. Thus, when Derek discovers his elderly aunt and her two best friends, all widows, are running a lady travelers organization that might be just a wee bit shady and one of their travelers has gone missing (a scandal in the making), his first thought is to find the missing woman and steer the ladies back onto the straight and narrow before their misdeeds become public knowledge and land them in jail. He doesn't expect the missing woman's annoying cousin to be part of the deal.

India Prendergast is a self-righteous, uptight, independent, opinionated, woman who is always right, at least in her own mind. She's also worried sick about the cousin who took her in and raised her after India's missionary parents died. India is also highly suspicious of the Lady Travelers group that planned her cousin's trip and certain that Derek Saunders is the behind-the-scenes mastermind who is taking advantage of his sweet, elderly aunt while stealing money from the group's unsuspecting members. Even though India sees no good reason for anyone to ever leave England, her cousin did, and she's not about to let Derek embark on a search for her cousin without her, dishonest rogue that he is...or so she believes.

The first half of this book is a little slow and, I have to admit, I found the heroine extremely unlikable early on but don't give up. Once we hit the mid-point, things really pick up and we begin to discover the hidden facets of both India and Derek. India, in particular, embarks not only on a journey to Paris to search for her cousin but on a much more important, though unplanned, journey of self-discovery. At several points along the way, through interactions with others, some poignant and others, humorous, she's forced to view herself as others see her and, slowly, she begins to evolve and change, a butterfly emerging, both externally and internally, from a cocoon of her own making. 

Derek has always been a charming scamp but he too evolves during their time in Paris and discovers that the most important things in life often are those that require the most effort. He has a good heart and protective instincts. I loved his relationship with his family as well as the slow, organic progression of his relationship with India. I also thoroughly enjoyed the snappy banter between Derek and India. Each gives as good as they get!

The secondary characters are a delight and add much to the story: from the elderly ladies to Derek's stepbrother, Val (I do hope we see more of him in a future book), to their mother, her husband, and Derek's uncle. It was especially enjoyable, after reading this book, to then meet Derek's mother, uncle, aunt, and her friends in their younger years in the novella prequel, The Proper Way to Stop a Wedding (in Seven Days or Less)

As a lady who loves to travel, I'm looking forward to the next installment in Victoria Alexander's Lady Travelers series, The Lady Travelers Guide to Larceny With a Dashing Stranger, due to be released this November. This one features a desperate widow, a determined bachelor, and a search for a missing masterpiece amidst the romance of Venice, Italy. I'll be there!





Monday, May 22, 2017

On Second Thought - - Gallant Waif





Gallant Waif
By Anne Gracie
Publisher: Harlequin/Harlequin Historical Classic
Release Date: April 15, 2014
(Originally published as
Harlequin Historical #557, April 1, 2001)
Reviewed by Janga






Major Jack Carstairs returned from the Peninsula War with a bayonet scar across his face and a crippled leg that left him unable to ride or dance, activities in which he had been proficient before the war, only to face more losses at home. His father is dead, and his disapproval of Jack’s choice of a fiancée led him to disinherit Jack, leaving him only “whatever is found in my pockets on the day I die.”  Since the deed to a dilapidated country estate, Sevenoakes, was in the senior Carstairs pocket at the time of his death, Jack, who is too proud to accept help from his relatives, at least has a home of sorts. His fiancée, beautiful but shallow and heartless, is unprepared to be the wife of a man who has lost both his looks and his fortune. Jack jilts her after overhearing her plans to jilt him. Wounded by his father’s unforgiveness and disillusioned by his fiancée, he retreats to Sevenoakes with a single man servant, prepared to drink himself into oblivion.

Lady Cahill, Jack’s grandmother, refuses to give up on him and resolves to beard the recluse at Sevenoakes, but first she makes a stop to rescue the penniless, orphaned daughter of her goddaughter. Kate Farleigh is determined not to be rescued; she is prepared to accept a position as a maid and surrender forever the position to which her birth entitles her. Kate’s upbringing has been unconventional in every respect. Her father, who could not forgive his only daughter for the loss of his beloved wife in giving birth to Kate, left her “to run wild as a weed.” Kate not only “never learned to be a lady”; she learned cookery and housekeeping skills no lady of her class would ever know. At seventeen, she accompanies her father as he follows her two brothers who, like Jack, are fighting in Wellington’s campaigns. Kate has three happy years, despite the deprivations and suffering of war, using her unladylike skills to care for the men of her family. However, when her father and brothers are killed, Kate becomes another victim of war.

Kate is too proud and too frightened of her reception in London to accept help from Lady Cahill, but the grande dame refuses to accept Kate’s refusal. She kidnaps her and takes her to Sevenoakes where Kate finds a role she can accept as a much-needed housekeeper for Jack. The two strike sparks off each other as they argue about Kate’s role and Jack’s choices and try to resist their attraction for one another. What follows is sometimes comic, sometimes poignant and always compelling as these two wounded survivors heal one another.

I first read Gallant Waif the year of its U.S. release because it was a big buzz book on All About Romance, and I fell in love not only with the characters but also with the author’s voice and the world she created. I read Tallie’s Knight within weeks of reading Gallant Waif and I haven’t missed an Anne Gracie book since. My romance-reading friends who know me best have all heard me rave about many Anne Gracie books over the past sixteen years, but Gallant Waif remains my favorite—and the one I have reread most often.

One of the things I like best about this book is that, despite obvious differences in economic status and family support, Kate and Jack are very much alike. Both are veterans of a cruel war that left them scarred. Jack bears some of his scars visibly, but both bear irrevocable scars on their souls. They also share the experience of having their illusions about their “beloved” brutally shattered by the way the object of their affections responds to the war wounds. Jack’s anger and grouchiness cannot hide his fundamental decency and kindness, and Kate’s pride and temper cannot hide her vulnerability and courage. I loved both characters from the beginning and was invested in their HEA from their first meeting.

I also adored Lady Cahill. The older woman, often indomitable and managing, is a Gracie trademark, and she creates a gem in Jack’s grandmother. She is one of my all-time favorite secondary characters because she refuses to surrender to the seeming inevitable. When Amelia, Jack’s sister, bemoans his broken heart, her grandmother responds, “Nonsense! He's got a fine strong heart. He's got my blood in him, hasn't he? When you're my age, you’ll stop prating of broken hearts and other such nonsense. Bodies mend and so do hearts.” And when her granddaughter reminds her that Jack’s broken body has not healed perfectly, she retorts, “Don't let me ever hear you speaking such rubbish, do you hear me, gel? Never! That boy is as fine a lad as ever he was, you mark my words! He's got a fine fighting spirit in him.”  One of her best moments comes when Amelia suggests Jack may refuse her admission to Sevenoakes, as he did his sister: 


Lady Cahill gave her granddaughter a look of magnificent scorn. "Don't be ridiculous, Amelia!" 
she snorted. "I have never in my life been denied entrée to any establishment in the kingdom. I 
go where I choose. I was a Montford, gel, before my marriage to your grandfather, and no one, 
not even my favourite grandson, tells me what I may or may not do!
 

This book also contains one of my all-time favorite scenes. Kate's worst fears are realized when she is snubbed at a ball and whispers about her circulate. Her partner abandons her on the dance floor, which has emptied.  



Her body began to shake. She could do nothing. There was no standing up to insubstantial whispers from people who would not even look her in the face. She forced herself to keep walking, desperately hoping the trembling of her body was not visible to the observers.

Was there ever a room so long? Only four more steps.

Three...two...

A powerful black-clad arm snaked out of the dense crowd and pulled her into the centre of the circle again.

“What—”

“I think you must have forgotten me, Miss Farleigh,” said Jack. His normal tone of voice carried in the watching hush.

Kate blinked up at him.

“My dance, I believe. Did you forget it?" He smiled down at her bewildered face, his casual manner belied by the implacable grip on her arm.

“But...” With everyone listening, Kate couldn't say it. She hadn't promised him a dance. He didn't dance. Not since he was wounded, anyway. He only leaned against walls and columns, glaring at her. So why would he seek her out now? Now, when the world was turning against her again and she wanted nothing more than escape. Kate tried to pull away, but his hold on her was too powerful.

Ignoring Kate's glance of pathetic entreaty, Jack moved steadily back through the crowd, towing her beside him, greeting acquaintances in a cheery tone as he went, for all the world as if they were not in the very heart of a major scandal, their every movement watched by hundreds.

His uneven footsteps echoed as he led her out on to the deserted dance floor. He finally released her arm, but took her hand instead. Bowing, he kissed it lightly. Kate stared at him in a daze. He grinned at her, a wicked, tender grin.

“Courage, love," he whispered as he straightened up. “Let's show them that an old cripple and a gallant war heroine are not beaten by a paltry bit of gossip.”

By the end of the scene with Jack, Kate is weeping. So am I, no matter how many times I read this. My tears continue through Kate’s dances with Jack’s friends, and I am ugly crying by the time she dances with two more young aristocrats: a one-armed man and a blind man, both recipients of Kate’s nursing and nurturing on the Peninsula. But I am smiling when Kate takes a “turn around the room” with the guest of honor, Wellington himself. My smile has changed to laughter a few pages later as Kate and Jack achieve their HEA in a fashion true to their relationship.

Perhaps that’s what I love best about this and other Anne Gracie books: they evoke tears and laughter. And I agree with Lady Cahill’s words to Kate: “A good cry and a good laugh. That’s what the doctor ordered.”





Friday, May 19, 2017

Winner - - Vanessa Kelly & The Dukes of Vauxhall






The randomly chosen winner of a digital copy of 
Christi Caldwell's latest book 

and

one book each from Vanessa Kelly, Shana Galen, 
and Theresa Romain
(winner's choice of digital or print) is:

Diane D

Congratulations!

Please send your full name and mailing address to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com




Thursday, May 18, 2017

Review - - Finding You


Finding You
By Jo Watson
Publisher: Forever
Release Date: May 2, 2017
Reviewed by Maria Lokken

  





It wouldn’t surprise me if most readers didn’t equate a quest to find one’s birth parents with a romantic journey, but they’d be wrong. Ms. Watson uniquely tackles the subject of adoption while delivering a quirky, romantic trip to an Island in the Mediterranean.

In Finding You, our heroine, Jane Smith, wakes on her 25th birthday to an unsettling feeling she can’t place. But she follows that emotion out the door and straight to a travel agent’s office where she books a ticket to Santorini, Greece. Jane is going to find her birth father.

In its essence, this isn’t so much a destination novel as what the destination does for the main character, Jane Smith. Yes, that’s her name, I’m not making it up, the author already did. Jane has spent a lifetime pushing away her adoptive family who she feels is better, prettier, and livelier than she is. Through her search to find her father she stumbles into a romance, and equally important, she discovers who she really is.

The author loosely works within the ‘ugly-duckling’ trope. The heroine’s ditzy, apologetic, I’m-not-beautiful mantra became tiresome until I realized the author had a plan. The self-deprecation was finally dropped and our heroine transforms into woman who is self-aware and confident.

As for the hero, well, I have a litmus test he must pass.  Above all things, he needs to be a man who can say the right thing when everything around him is going to hell. Particularly when he’s attempting to win back the heroine in the middle of the third act after he’s done some unspeakably stupid thing.  So, I judge.  Don’t we all? In this novel, Dimitri, the hero, gets high marks from this reader on how to win back the woman he loves.

The journey Jane Smith travels isn’t a simple one. There’s heartbreak, but there’s also a great deal of growing, and this is one heroine that needed a serious adjustment. But that’s what keeps us romance readers going, how our heroes and heroines change and grow and love.


This novel takes place in the romantic country of Greece. So for a few minutes I’ll ask you to forget the fact that you may have a family and twelve children, or a job you can’t leave. Instead, just let your mind wander and imagine a fortune teller has told you your one true love is out there waiting for you. Where in the world would you want to find him?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Review - - Lethal Lies


Lethal Lies
By Rebecca Zanetti
Publisher: Forever
Release Date: May 16, 2017
Reviewed by Nancy Northcott
  


The brothers in Rebecca Zanetti’s Blood Brothers and Sin Brothers series were genetically modified before birth to be super-warriors.  The Sin Brothers series is complete at four books.  Lethal Lies is the second book in the Blood Brothers group but can be read alone.  Characters from the Sin Brothers series make very brief appearances but play no major role in the book.

Working as the Lost Bastards investigations agency, the Blood Brothers, who use the surname Jones, make most of their contacts over the internet or the phone.  They live under the radar and on the move because the doctor who created them and the abusive sheriff who ran the home where they were raised are continually searching for them.  The doctor wants their DNA to breed more advanced soldiers, and the sheriff wants revenge for the death of his brother, whom the boys killed when he was abusing one of them.

The heart of the book, however, is the romance between Heath Jones, the lawyer among the brothers, and criminal psychology professor Anya Bast, sister of an FBI agent kidnapped by a serial killer.  Heath has been working with Anya’s sister.  He wants to catch the killer and protect Anya, a task made harder when Anya taunts the killer in the press.

The FBI is also investigating this killer, and the agent heading their task force is involved with Anya’s sister.  He also wants to protect Anya,  but he and Heath don’t agree on how best to do that.

In addition, Anya’s televised taunt at the funeral, with Heath at her side, has brought him into the very limelight he seeks to avoid. Heath’s brothers and the woman who will soon be his sister-in-law set up fake offices, a fake residence, and a hidden, safe apartment so they can use Anya as bait to draw the killer in.

A soldier working with the doctor and the sheriff is tracking Heath and his brothers, drawing ever closer, and he has unique abilities of his own.  In general, the story moves at a great pace. The tight relationship Heath and his brothers share is very appealing, and Anya displays courage and resolve that are admirable. The book has a lot of action and wrenching emotion.






Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Review Tour: Slow Burn Cowboy


Slow Burn Cowboy
By Maisey Yates
Publisher: HQN
Release Date: April 18, 2017
Reviewed by Hellie







Slow Burn Cowboy begins and ends with a casserole. You know the kind. A mashup up of all the favorite things: pasta, cheese, meat, and enough sauce to spice things up. This book is very much a casserole, putting together all the things a romance reader loves and leaving you so satisfied and content, you immediately want another serving, if you’re the kind of glutton I am.

Rancher Finn Donnelly and store-owner Lane Jensen have been best friends since she came to Copper Ridge ten years ago--Platonic with a capital P. They’re happy to continue on this relationship of mutual convenience: he’s her handyman and she cooks, until that is Finn Donnelly’s idyllic life goes in the crapper. The ranch he’s work on for twenty years, his grandfather’s, has just been left to him and his three half-brothers. Half-brothers who haven’t set foot on the farm in years and certainly haven’t poured the blood, sweat and tears he has into it. To make matters worse, his half-brothers aren’t content to just take the money Finn is offering to go away, each having their own reason for needing to stay at the ranch.

To say the control-freak, suffer-in-silence Finn is unhappy with his new roommates and life is an understatement. So much so that his ability to keep Lane at arm’s length gets flung to the wayside. Now he wants to be friends with benefits, starting immediately. Lane, who depends on Finn’s stability and friendship, is desperate to keep their relationship strictly without sex. She needs the one true thing in her life to stay true, especially since she keeps seeing interviews of her ex-boyfriend, Senator Cord McCaffrey, on TV, reminding her of a past that isn’t buried nearly deep enough for her peace of mind.

What unfolds is one devastating emotional wild ride as the two friends-turned-lovers break down each others’ walls, walls they’ve both spent nearly half their lives putting up and keeping in place. When these two fight, they go down swinging. Both Finn and Lane have tragic pasts that leave you understanding why they don’t want to risk everything again, but hoping that they will be able to finally reach each other for a much deserved happy ending. Every love scene that unfolds is necessary and leaves each of the lovers in a different place than they were before, forever changed. They are naked with each other a lot, and not just for the sex.

This book is a great addition to the Copper Ridge series, and an opening to a new quartet of stories featuring the Donnelly brothers. With meaty emotional scenes, cheesy good familiar tropes (i.e. friends to lovers, two broken people healing each other’s wounds, girls’ night out scenes, brotherly bitch-fests), and a familiar beloved setting in Copper Ridge with other characters we’re familiar with (i.e. pasta), this book is one tasty casserole.

To those who might be as nitpicky as me, I did rather question at first Lane’s hesitation to move the relationship to a non-platonic one, even after her deep dark secret is revealed. Eventually, through more scenes where Lane and Finn have their fights (and reveal deep things), I understood her better and felt it worked. (And I imagine there will be those who will look at Finn’s deep dark secret and wonder why he played so close to his chest.) They are their own people; and Maisey Yates crafts them well. But the thing that actually bugged me were the typos. If typos don’t bother you because you have better things to be mad at, this critique isn’t for you--it’s for those of us who do get mad enough that we’ll set a book aside and move on. I just want to say, typos aside, the story is worth the read. The fight scenes and real emotional talks Finn and Lane have are some of the best I’ve ever read in romance. It’s real and it’s moving. There are those who say romance novels ruin readers--women who want to be in relationships, that this is not how real life is--but I think they teach us how to be better communicators and show us how risking everything is worth it, for love and for yourself. This is definitely one of those books.


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Other stops on the Maisey Yates Slow Burn Cowboy Tour: