Friday, January 29, 2016

Constance Gillam Winner

The randomly chosen winner of a Kindle copy of

Lakota Dreaming by Constance Gillam is:



Please send your email address to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

My American Duchess Winner

The randomly chosen winner of a print copy of

My American Duchess by Eloisa James is:

Diane D - Florida


Please send your full name and mailing address to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

Madeline Martin Winner

The randomly chosen winner of a signed, print copy of

Possession of a Highlander by Madeline Martin is:



Please send your full name and mailing address (U.S. addresses only) to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Today's Special - - Constance Gillam

Christy Gillam Photography
Constance Gillam is our special guest at the Dish today. Constance hails from Atlanta, Georgia where I've had the pleasure of meeting her at several Georgia Romance Writers' Moonlight and Magnolias conferences. In addition to writing romances, Constance has also tried her hand at genetic counseling, health underwriting, real estate, medical technologist, bank proof operator and phlebotomist. Wow, I'm worn out just writing that! Constance joins us today to chat about her latest book, Lakota Moon Rising

Welcome, Constance! I’m happy you could join us today. You recently released your first historical romance, Lakota Moon Rising. Please share with our readers what they can expect from this book.

Thanks, P.J., for inviting me. Lakota Moon Rising is a historical prequel to my first contemporary mystery, Lakota Dreaming. The reader can expect adventure on the Great Plains, a peek at two different cultures during the 19th century, and a universal love story between two strong willed characters.

What inspired you to write a love story between a Lakota Sioux warrior and a runaway slave?

I enjoy exploring different cultures. The original premise for the series was to see how two different people would overcome their diversity to find love. I found the characters had more in common than they had differences. 

I’ve always been fascinated by the Native American people and their struggles to maintain their culture and their land. At the same time, I’ve been tracing my ancestors.  Since a large part of my heritage is African, tracing my ancestry has involved an up close and personal study of the institution of slavery in the Americas.

Julia and Sunkawakan Iyopeya come from different worlds yet find in one another their heart’s desire. What do you want readers to understand about these two characters?

That underneath the differences in their worlds are two people looking for a common connection, for a life mate who will travel the rough road with them.

Julia is fascinated by the world she discovers away from the plantation where she had spent her life as a slave. What’s the most fascinating place you’ve visited or would like to visit? Why?

I visited China in 2007 and was humbled by the history.  When I walked the Great Wall of China, it sent shivers through me to remember 2,000 years earlier other feet had patrolled this same path.

At your website you write, “Music constantly flows through my mind as do the next scenes in my current manuscript.” Did you play music while writing Lakota Moon Rising? If so, what was your soundtrack for this book?

A very obvious one, Dances with Wolves. The music was lyrical, symbolizing the flowing of the long grasses and the vastness of the Plain. I also revisited scenes in the movie. I found the panoramic cinematography of the Plains inspirational for describing Julia’s awe as she traveled to Sunkawakan Iyopeya’s camp.

Lakota Moon Rising is the prequel to your contemporary romantic suspense novel, Lakota Dreaming. What can we expect from Lakota Dreaming? Should the two stories be read in any particular order?

Lakota Dreaming is a fish out of water story. Zora, a New York City fashion editor, is plagued by what her psychiatrist calls genetic memories. Zora travels to South Dakota, where her ancestor lived, to put an end to these visions so she can get on with her life. She runs afoul of John Iron Hawk, Captain of a small tribal police force.

I would recommend reading Lakota Dreaming first, then Lakota Moon Rising.

What do you enjoy reading when you’re not busy writing your own books?

I read everything except horror. I love Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series, I’m currently reading Wench by Dollen Perkins-Valdez. I recently read The Resurrectionist by Matthew Guinn. I’m listening to A Dark Lure by Loreth Anne White. In my TBR pile is a National Book finalist, The Turner House by Angela Flournoy.

There are many surprises in store for Julia along her journey. What would readers be surprised to learn about you?

No surprises here. I spend hours each day in front of my computer in my sweats. Pretty boring.

Where can readers find you on the internet?

Twitter:    @conniegillam

What’s next from Constance Gillam?

I’m working on a contemporary sequel to Lakota Dreaming, tentatively entitled Hunter’s Moon.

Thank you so much for visiting with us, Constance. Would you like to ask our readers a question today?

What is your favorite fictional or non-fictional romance and why?

One randomly chosen person leaving a comment will receive a Kindle copy of Lakota Dreaming

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Review - - My American Duchess

My American Duchess
By Eloisa James
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: January 26, 2016

Miss Merry Pelford has the unfortunate habit of falling in love. Repeatedly. With the wrong men. Though perhaps it's more accurate to say Merry has a habit of falling in love with love. After breaking two engagements and being sued for breach of promise by the second fiance, Merry's name is on the lips of every gossip in Boston and her matrimonial prospects are slim. Her guardians, her beloved aunt and uncle, have brought her to London - far from wagging tongues - to find a husband. Merry hopes to find a man who wants her for herself, not her fortune, and believes she's found him in the bright and shiny Lord Cedric Allardyce, younger twin of the Duke of Trent.

The Duke of Trent is captivated by the delightful American miss he encounters on a deserted balcony and by the end of their conversation has decided that he has finally met the woman who will become his duchess. And then he discovers she's already engaged. To his brother. Honorable to his core, he steps aside when Merry tells him she's in love with Cedric though the more he's around the couple the less he believes that's the case. And, try as he might, he just can't bring himself to view her as a sister. The desire is too strong, growing by the day and if he isn't mistaken, reciprocated by Merry.

The very night she becomes engaged for the third time, Merry encounters a man to whom she is immediately drawn. It's only later that she discovers he's the Duke of Trent, the man destined to become her brother-in-law. The more time she spends in his company, the more she likes him while her fiance becomes less appealing with each encounter. While one man appreciates her as she is, the other constantly tries to "improve" her by changing her dress, her hair, her speech and by stifling her natural enthusiasm and American ways. Merry can see the light at the end of the tunnel and knows it's a third broken engagement bearing down upon her but then Ms. James throws in a twist...and another...taking the story in a completely unexpected direction. And that's only half-way through the book!

Eloisa James is one of my favorite authors. She has her own keeper shelf in my library yet even within those keepers there are a few books that rise to the top. My American Duchess is one of the risers. It is Eloisa James at her best. After reading the book (the first time) I tried to think of a word to describe my emotions. That word is joy. This story - these characters - filled me with so much joy. Okay, not Cedric. Definitely no joy there though the book's epilogue leads me to believe there may be hope for him down the road. But Trent and Merry? Oh, yes! Let me count the ways. I love the humor (traditional, smitten English duke vs outspoken, effervescent American miss), their intelligence, kindness, passion. Definitely their passion! I want to be their friend. I want to spend a few weeks at their estate, digging in the garden dirt with Merry and playing with George, their adorable puppy. I want to give Trent hugs because with his childhood he deserves all the hugs he can get. I love that both Trent and Merry bring something to their relationship that the other needs and that, together, they are whole. But I also appreciate that it takes them time to realize this. They both have past baggage to unload and choppy waters to navigate and Ms. James steers them through with supreme skill and realism. Their happiness is hard won and all the more satisfying because of it. I have complete confidence that 40 years from now, they will still be deeply in love and slipping away to the estate greenhouse to indulge in a little "afternoon delight."

If you're an Eloisa James fan, you'll want to add My American Duchess to your keeper shelf. If you haven't yet read her books, this standalone is the perfect place to start. It has my highest recommendation. Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'll pay a visit to Merry and Trent. For the third time.


Have you read any Eloisa James books?

What's your favorite?

Do you enjoy "fish out of water" stories? Merry - our American heroine - certainly isn't swimming in the same pond with English misses - something deeply appreciated by her hero!

Have you read My American Duchess yet? What did you think?

One randomly chosen person leaving a comment will receive a print copy of My American Duchess
(U.S. / Canadian addresses only)

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Review - - On the Rocks

On the Rocks
By Kim Law
Publisher: Montlake
Release Date: January 12, 2015

With one of her best friends reunited with the love of her life and the mother of a blue-eyed baby boy (Ex on the Beach) and the other married to the man of her dreams with a baby on the way (Hot Buttered Yum) and even her widowed mother flashing the perfect engagement ring and planning a wedding, thirty-year-old Ginger Atkinson is fighting the green-tinged monster. She doesn’t want to be jealous of these women she loves, but Ginger thought she would be happily married with a good start on the four children she always planned to have by this point in her life. She’s building her dream house, but even that means less than she thought it would because she has no one with whom to share it. Even though she loves the ferry business she inherited from her father and is proud of having grown it into a business that offers dinner cruises, fishing expeditions, and other activities, Ginger wants more. She also wants more than a series of failed dates and two years of celibacy.

Carter Ridley is mad at the world. He loved growing up on Turtle Island, but he has no desire to be there now. Unfortunately, his mother has guilted him into paying a visit to check on his younger, single sister who is seven months pregnant. Carter reluctantly agrees, but he is determined that he will stay only a few days, not the three weeks on which his mother insisted. All he wants is to be left alone with his anger, his writer’s block, his cigarettes and beer in the house he built for the wife who betrayed him. He’s not doing much more than sniping at his sister and drinking too much when a visit from an old friend starts to change things.

Growing up, Ginger and Carter had been next-door neighbors and good friends, sharing sunrises and dreams and just generally being there for one another. It takes some persistence on Ginger’s part, but gradually they renew their friendship, meeting to watch the sun rise together, to make each other laugh, and to talk at night when the darkness makes it easier to be vulnerable. When Ginger’s contractors let her down, Carter doubles the crew he has coming to the island to renovate his parents’ house so that Ginger’s house will be completed before her mother’s wedding. He even finds a spot in the house that inspires his writing and starts working on his book again. Ginger knows when to push him to talk and when to be silent. When the two of them decide to add benefits to their friendship, they agree that part of their relationship is temporary. They will enjoy each other and still be friends when they are no longer lovers. Of course, it’s not that simple. Time with Ginger has almost healed Carter when a message from his ex reawakens all his bitterness., and things look bleak for these friends who could be much more.

Friends to lovers is one of my favorite tropes when the friendship seems like the real deal. It does in this case. Even though Ginger and Carter lost touch, they have a long history together, and it is clear they know each other in a way that attests to their intimacy.  They genuinely care about one another as well. Carter encourages Ginger to be herself, and she knows he needs to talk about what happened with his ex.  When they become lovers, they are sizzling hot together. Their chemistry is intensified by their knowledge of one another and the trust that already exists between them.

I loved Ginger. She is just eminently likeable with her quirks, her insecurities, her zest for life, and her big heart. I also loved the friendship between her and Andie and Roni. It too feels real, from the phone calls to the girls’ night to their understanding things that are not said. I liked Carter too. It is clear from the beginning that he is one of the good guys who is not dealing well with the knock-out punch his ex gave him. I’m really tired of heroes who are soured on love and life forever because one woman betrayed them, but Carter is dealing with something much heavier than the usual infidelity. There is also an interesting gender role twist going on since Carter is a romantic who expects the HEA. But I think the thing I liked best was that both Ginger and Carter understand they have to find wholeness within themselves; it can’t be given by someone else.

This is the third novel in the Turtle Island series. Readers who read the earlier books will enjoy the updates on Andie and Roni, but the book also works well as a standalone.  I particularly recommend this one for readers who like their romance with heat but have read too many books in which character development and plot are sacrificed to add one more sexy scene. Law gives her readers ample action in the bedroom (and elsewhere), but she does not do so at the cost of her characters and their story.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Today's Special - - Madeline Martin

I'm delighted to welcome historical romance writer Madeline Martin to The Romance Dish today. A 2015 debut author, Madeline now has three published books under her belt. Her latest, Enchantment of  Highlander was released last week and is another winner. I've enjoyed all three books and am excited to see what she brings us next. When Madeline isn't busy writing, working or mothering, she can often be found, as she puts it, "engaging in workouts that keep my life exciting." She has completed a 50 mile mountain bike ride and annually runs a local 10k mud run to support MS research. You can find Madeline online at the following locations:

Twitter (@MadelineMMartin) 

Please give Madeline a warm welcome!

Almost every time I ask my readers what they want to know, I get requests to know more about me and my daily life as an author. Well, prepare to be entirely underwhelmed by the daily life of this writer.  (Warning: contains no glamor)

Before we can get into it, I have to introduce the cast of characters:

Me – I’m heating up the Highlands with my Scottish set historical romance. I love my minions, Mr. Awesome and all the goofy fun we have together. I’m president of my local writing chapter, First Coast Romance Writers, and love to bring authors and readers together with my weekly giveaway on my FB page, Free Book Friday (

Mr. Awesome – He helps me mitigate the crazy and has an incredible ability to keep me from going all Chicken Little when schedules get tight. I swear the man has the patience of a saint and is my personal hero.

OldestMinion – A sweetheart with an artist’s soul and a penchant for starting fights with her younger sister. No, I have not given in to the temptation to let them death match it out. Yet.

YoungestMinion – A hard core Momma’s girl (she’s asked if she can go back in my stomach so we can be together all the time – I know, creepy cute, right?) who thinks her sister is a goddess among men and has more sass than I can sometimes handle.

Now – a typical day:

4:30AM: Wake up and hit start on my beloved Keurig. Correction: Fill Keurig (because those things are always empty) then hit start.

4:33AM: Write/Edit

6:00AM: Present minions with ten and five minute wake-up warnings before sweetly luring them from bed with breakfast. That failing, issue warnings until they finally acquiesce and come downstairs.

7:30AM: Drop off minions at school and go to corporate America job where I pull report with SQL code and make pretty charts in Excel. On my breaks, I reply to FB posts, e-mails and make a to do list for the evening.

11:30AM: Go to the gym. Sometimes the A/C is broken, but that just means I sweat out more toxins,
right??? (Note: If I’m behind on my writing/editing schedule, I’ll do that on my lunch break instead)

4:30PM: Get off work and collect the minions from school before honorably (ie: refraining from cussing) fight through traffic to get home.

5:00PM: Make dinner and help the minions with homework while researching said homework (PS Common Core, I hate you)

6:30PM: Eat dinner together as a family, because I will always believe in the value of that.

8:00PM: Tuck the minions into bed with back scratches, songs and kisses. Then while Mr. Awesome reads them a book (cuz he really is that awesome), I catch up on that to do list I made earlier.

9:00PM: Meet up online with other writers for writing/editing sprints.

10:00PM: Spend quality time with Mr. Awesome and usually head to bed around 11 or so to do it all again the next day.

Friday nights we do Family Fun Nights, which usually consists of a variety of any of the following items: dance-a-thons, junk food, board games, family friendly movies we can all enjoy (Barbie not included – my brain will automatically reject any Barbie movie)

Confession: I remember(ish) almost everything for home and work and school and writing and family with a confetti of post it notes scattered around my world and detailed, color-coded excel spreadsheets. Included in this is a weekly goal spreadsheet where I track what needs to be done in all aspects of my life to ensure what’s important stays forefront.

In between all the times listed above is a bunch of snuggles, kisses, crazy jokes, random silliness and showers (because while I didn’t list it, I swear I do make time to take a shower every day).

Yes, it is a busy schedule, but it’s one I happily do as it’s filled with love and all my dreams come true. 

Readers, tell us about your typical day. Or tell us about your favorite kind of historical romance. 

Do you enjoy highland romances? Madeline writes highlander heroes worth swooning over! 

I have a signed, print copy of Madeline's second book, Possession of  Highlander for one randomly chosen person who leaves a comment on today's post. (U.S. addresses only)

Alec MacLean returns home after a decade to find his recently deceased father has let his inheritance fall to ruin. As the new laird, it’s Alec’s responsibility to rebuild the castle and restore the lands. He must also regain the people’s trust after having abandoned them so long ago, a feat not easily done when he fears he’s plagued with the same darkness as his father. 

Celia escaped the North Berwick witch trials at a young age, surviving because of the sacrifice of her beloved caretaker. She’s made a life for herself in the wilds of Scotland where no laird rules, a life where she heals for coin, a life without love so she can never feel the hurt of loss again. 

When the new laird comes back to claim his land, his determination to restore order threatens everything Celia has worked so hard to gain, especially with the undeniable attraction sizzling between them. Together, they will face all challenges, from the tangle of their own damaged pasts to the fire-fueled witch hunts sweeping the Isle of Mull. Together, they will find that the best way to overcome darkness and war is through the undeniable light of love.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Eloisa James Part Two Winner

The randomly chosen winner from Janga's Eloisa James post - part two is:

Natasha Persaud 

Congratulations, Natasha!

Please send your full name, mailing address (U.S. address only), 

and choice of one of the Eloisa James books

spotlighted in parts one and two of Janga's posts to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

Eloisa James Part One Winner

The randomly chosen winner of a print copy of 

A Kiss at Midnight by Eloisa James is:



Please send your full name and mailing address to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

Avon Anniversary Winners

The randomly chosen winner of Glitter Baby by Susan Elizabeth Phillips and

Cold-Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas is:

Cheryl C


Please send your full name and mailing address to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Review - - Some Kind of Wonderful

Some Kind of Wonderful
By Sarah Morgan
Publisher: Harlequin HQN
Release Date: December 29, 2015
(in twofer with Susan Mallery’s The Ladies’ Man)

Having broken her wrist on a dig, archaeologist Brittany Forrest is returning to Puffin Island, Maine, and Castaway Cottage, the home she inherited from her grandmother. Thanks to her friend, fellow archaeologist, and former roommate, Lily Rose, and Lily’s fiancé, Greek tycoon Nik Zervakis, she is arriving not by ferry but by a Cessna seaplane. Brittany is delighted with Nik’s generosity that will allow her to avoid the crowed ferry—until she sees the pilot: “Dark glasses shielded his eyes, but she felt a jolt of instant recognition followed by a strange flutter in her stomach and an alarming shake of her knees. It had been ten years, but she would have known him anywhere.”

Zach Flynn was an abused, unwanted child who belonged nowhere and to no one. He grew into an angry twelve-year-old already on the path to disaster and self-destruction until an astute, sensitive camp director introduced him to the wonder of flying. It enlarged Zach’s world, gave his life purpose, and, perhaps most importantly, gave him something to love. “On the ground his life was a dead end with no way out, but in the air he saw more than sunshine and fluffy clouds beyond the horizon, He saw a world without limits, full of possibilities. He saw hope.” But even flying cannot heal the damaged soul that is Zach Flynn.

Ten years earlier, an eighteen-year-old Brittany fell in love with bad-boy Zach. Certain that she could “tame the wild in him,” she married him. Ten days later he left her, leaving her with a shattered heart, memories she struggles to suppress, and eventually a determination to get over him and get on with her life. She did well with that last item, but the sight of Zach is enough to tell her that she is not as indifferent to him as she would like to believe. The chemistry is definitely mutual, but Zach is as convinced as he was ten years ago that he is bad for Brittany no matter how strong the attraction between them may be. When they end up involved again, he warns her:

"Nothing is going to change, Brit. I'm not going to change. 
If you're a smart woman, you'll walk out of here and not come back."

"That just shows you don't know as much about women as you think you do, 
because no smart woman would turn her back on sex this good."

Despite everything, she made him smile.        
But Zach is still terrified of emotional intimacy, and without trust, they can have no future.

Some Kind of Wonderful is the second book in Morgan’s Puffin Island series. I loved First Time in Forever, book one in the series, and I think this one is even better. I confess that I’m partial to the reunited lovers trope. When it is done well, it is my favorite, and in this book, Morgan offers a near perfect second chance story. First, Brittany and Zach are both interesting characters on their own. In the decade since they parted, they have both grown into adults with careers that matter to them and a romantic history. No one has spent ten years sighing and pining for what might have been, but they bear scars from their shared past. Second, the chemistry between them remains powerful, and its very power is part of the conflict: “There was nothing civilized about the chemistry between them. Never had been. Being with Zach had been the most dizzying and exciting time of her life. Until he’d dumped her.” Finally, the ongoing conflict is real; no contrived Big Misunderstanding that could have been resolved in one conversation here. Zach is still damaged from his childhood, and Brittany can’t change him. He himself has to see the need and the possibility of change.

I often say that I like my romances rich in context, and Morgan satisfies on that level as well. Brittany’s memories of her grandmother and the tight friendship between her and Emily Donovan and Skylar Tempest, her college roommates, add depth to Brittany’s character and to the story. So too does Zach’s relationship with Philip Law, the man who taught him to fly, and to Ryan Cooper. The latter is especially interesting because of Ryan’s double loyalties to Zach and to Brittany. Puffin Island seems real too with its physical features delineated and its community portrayed with its strengths and its imperfections.

I put this book on my TBB list as soon as I read the first book, but even though the U. K. print version was published last summer, the digital version is only recently available, and it seems that a solo print version will not be available until 2017. Skylar and Alec’s story, Christmas Ever After (which has me almost hyperventilating I am so eager to read it) was available in print in the U. K. last October, but I don’t know when it will be available here. I highly recommend Some Kind of Wonderful. Just remember that in the U. S., it is only available in a duet pub with a reissue of Susan Mallery’s The Ladies Man (2006).


Friday, January 22, 2016

Review - - Alone in the Dark

Alone in the Dark
by Karen Rose
Publisher: Signet
Release Date: February 2, 2016

With a network of villains who will stop at nothing to maintain their power and a determined couple on their trail, the latest in Karen Rose’s Cincinnati based romantic suspense novels is just the thing to curl up with over a long winter weekend.

We first met hero, Army Ranger turned publisher Marcus O’Bannion, in last year’s Closer Than You Think, and the events of that book still haunt him months later—especially the injuries he suffered saving two kidnap victims. And true to form, he begins this book attempting to save another victim, one who unfortunately is killed before he can do so. It’s that murder that brings him back into contact with the beautiful Cincinnati PD detective, Scarlett Bishop, who has haunted him since she visited him at his bedside after he was shot.

Scarlett knows that she’s attracted to the handsome newspaperman with a penchant for rescuing people, but despite her hope that his presence at the murder scene was as innocent as he claims, she’s not quite sure she’s ready to trust him. Not to mention the fact that he wore a bullet proof vest to a meeting with a teenage girl, there’s the fact that he recorded the entire encounter with a mini video camera. Is he just after a great story, or was his presence there simply an attempt to help a young woman in trouble as he claimed. She knows what she wants to believe, but her boss and her cop instincts tell her to be wary.

What unfolds is a high-octane, complicated, romantic, angry-making thriller that kept me turning the pages long after my bedtime had passed. Though I expect a strong mystery plot with a Karen Rose novel, over the past several books these have become “bigger” both in scope and in complexity. And Alone in the Dark is no exception. Along with this super-sized plot comes a higher body count, which at times is even a bit too much for this thriller lover. Even so, Rose makes me care about even the most disposable of secondary characters, and even when that little voice in my head is telling me this couldn’t possibly happen in real life, I’m riveted to the page and telling that little voice to shut up so I can finish the story.

As I’ve come to appreciate about her work, Rose doesn’t stint in the romance department, even when there’s so much more page count needed to unravel the mystery. There was so much exquisite angst between Scarlett and Marcus—they’d pined for one another for months before they saw each other again—and that made their admission of their feelings, and the consummation of them, that much sweeter. I’m a big fan of the “hero and heroine work together to meet a goal” trope and Karen Rose always delivers on that. And even when they’re running for their lives or arguing about which approach to take when confronting the bad guys, there’s never any doubt that these two are meant for each other.

Any series reader will tell you that as soon as they finish one book, they’re wondering whose book comes next, and with this one there are a number of options. It could be Marcus’s brother Stone and the Animal Shelter Director who was also injured by the previous villain. Or perhaps it will be Dani, the sister of Scarlett’s partner Deacon, coupled up with Marcus’s right-hand-man, who has a gruff exterior and a troubled past. All I know is I want that book in my hand.
Right. Thrilling. Now.

~Manda Collins

Manda Collins writes smart, sexy historical romance laced with a touch of mystery. Her most recent book, Good Earl Gone Bad, second in her The Lords of Anarchy series was released in October, 2015 and the next, Good Dukes Wear Black will be released in April, 2016. You can find more information about Manda and her books at her website and connect with her online at Facebook and Twitter.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Enchanting Standalone Novels of Eloisa James - Part 2

In The Ugly Duchess (2012), an ugly duckling transforms herself into a swan with still tender scars underneath her glorious feathers and, in a reverse move, a handsome, popular swan transforms himself into a scarred ruffian shorn of his feathers. This is one of the most beautifully crafted romances I have ever read. Theodora Saxby, the title character, is the antithesis of the prevailing idea of feminine beauty. She’s not dainty or curvy or even very feminine. She’s tall, thin, and small-bosomed with strong features. Not her mother’s insistence that Theo wear pink ruffles and pearls, nor the fortune Theo inherited from her father makes her more acceptable. She feels ugly and ill-at-ease, and she accepts society’s valuation that she looks like a man. In the Hans Christian Andersen tale that inspired this romance, the ugly duckling’s mother insists, “He is my own child, and he is not so very ugly after all if you look at him properly.” Theo has two people in her life who look at her properly, her mother and her life-long friend, James Ryburn, the son of her dead father’s best friend. Her mother and James look at Theo with love, and to them, she is beautiful. James even rejects the masculine diminutive that Theodora has adopted as her name and calls her Daisy, emphasizing his view of her as lovely and feminine.

James Ryburn is broad-shouldered, handsome, and likeable, the kind of young man who leaves young girls giggling and sighing in his wake. He’s not concerned with society’s acceptance or comfortable being a duke’s heir, but there is no question that he would be courted and celebrated if he bothered to attend social gatherings. When his father confesses that he has gambled away all his own funds and a sizeable chunk of Theo’s, James is angry. When the Duke demands that his son marry Theo to hide the crime, James is mad with fury.  The Duke’s demand and James’s response to it interferes with the natural progression of the relationship of Theo and James.

The story turns into one of the marriage-in-trouble tales at which Eloisa James excels. Theodora and her hero are heartbreakingly young when they part, but as tragic as the separation is, it allows both of them to experience transformation. Theo retreats to the Ryburn country estate and uses her considerable intelligence to repair the damage the Duke’s gambling has done to the family fortunes. Her physical transformation comes only after years have passed, it comes at the time she chooses, and she uses her own sense of texture, line, and color to effect it. After she has captured Paris, she conquers London. That she does so in a cape made of “gorgeous swansdown” is the perfect touch.
            The woman poised at the top of the stairs, looking down at all of them with a little smile that indicated absolute self-confidence, looked like a goddess who happened to come           down to earth by way of Paris. She radiated that sort of ineffable glamour that simply cannot be learned. . .

As for James, upon his return he is no longer “a pretty voice and a handsome face.” In fact, his skin is so bronzed that those who look at him aren’t even sure that he’s an Englishman. His hair has grown since he shaved his head, but it’s still shorter than any self-respecting gentleman’s should be. He describes himself as “tattooed and scarred, and bigger than hell.” Even his voice has changed, thanks to a pirate who cut his throat. He has seen and done things the young Earl of Islay could not have imagined.

The wonder in this story is not that James and his Daisy find their HEA but that for James, who has always seen Daisy as beautiful, this is not really an ugly duckling tale after all.

Once Upon a Tower (2013), based upon the story of Rapunzel, is the fifth and final of the fairytale romances. James, a Shakespeare professor in her academic life, has described it as “a Romeo meets Rapunzel mash-up,” adding that the idea for the novel came from her pondering “what Romeo and Juliet’s marriage would look like if their parents hadn't been so grumpy.” The novel’s hero and heroine, Gowan Stoughton of Craigievar, Duke of Kinross, Chief of Clan MacAulay, and Lady Edith Gilchrist, are older than Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, but they are still very young: he is twenty-two, and she is nineteen when they meet. Like Romeo, Gowan falls in love at first sight.

Again, James does a marvelous job of weaving elements of the original tale into her story even as she adds twists to render her re-vision unique. Edie is beautiful like Rapunzel. In fact Gowan’s comparison of her hair to the “golden apples of the sun” echoes the description from the Grimm Brothers’ tale (1812) that calls Rapunzel “the most beautiful child under the sun.”  Rapunzel is musical as well. It is her voice that first enchants the king’s son. Edie is a cellist rather than a singer, but her playing enchants Gowan the first time he hears her. Rapunzel and her prince marry, but they must overcome obstacles before they begin their HEA. Edie and Gowan’s story follows the same pattern. The prince wanders blind, weeping over the loss of his wife. Gowan’s blindness is metaphoric, but he too wanders and weeps for the same cause.  And in both stories, the wife’s tears are healing.

The twist comes with the tower. Rapunzel is shut into a tower that “had neither stairs nor door, but quite at the top was a little window.” The tower sounds similar to Edie’s, but Edie chooses to shut herself into her tower rather than being imprisoned there by an enchantress.  Readers with a Freudian leaning may see the tower as a phallic symbol. I was more interested in seeing Edie’s making choices and taking action as evidence of her maturing and recognizing her autonomy, qualities that link Edie more closely to Charlotte Rose de Caumont de la Force’s version of the tale, "Persinette"  (1697).

I think James doesn’t get enough credit for the skill with which she uses details of clothing, not merely as descriptive detail but to reveal something significant or to provoke an incident. I love what she does with The Dress in this book. I can’t say too much about this without moving into spoiler territory, but readers will understand the importance of The Dress--the one that makes you look the way you want to look, the one that affects him exactly the way you want it too. Edie wears such a dress. It is “China rose. . . . Darker than cinnabar, more saturated than claret . . . well, close to claret.”  It is amazing, and it leads to a Moment. The only other thing I’m going to say is that nobody can make a kiss on the hand as sexy as Eloisa James does.

That brings us to My American Duchess, EJ’s January 26 release. Although it is not a fairytale novel, with its plot of an American heiress who arrives in London in search of a husband and ends up a duchess to her great surprise, it certainly has a fairytale quality. James combines a handful of proven tropes in this one: love at first sight, twins, love triangle, and marriage in trouble as well as the obvious American in London. If you know James’s work, you will not be surprised that she gives each of these a twist that makes it her own.

We have seen runaway-bride romances, but My American Duchess is runaway-ex-fiancée-romance. Merry Pelford has run away from two broken engagements and a reputation as a fickle heartbreaker. Her reputation cannot survive another broken engagement, but it is clear to the reader from the opening of the novel that this is the direction in which Merry is headed. But then James gives the storyline a couple of unexpected turns that create moments of anxiety and elation for the reader.

Merry is something of a paradox. She is both confident and insecure, both proud of her Americanness and at times apologetic for her Yankee uncouthness. Regardless, she is delightful and engaging. Trent is the reserved duke, not arrogant exactly but nonetheless fully aware of who he is and the ways in which his dukedom defines him. He needs Merry, something he realizes subconsciously from the time he first sees her. I loved both these characters and who they become with each other.  Of course, that reaction is pretty much a given since this is an Eloisa James book.

I have referred to these six books as standalones, and I hold to that in the sense that each gives its readers a world complete and satisfying within itself. But three of the fairytale books—A Kiss at Midnight, The Duke Is Mine, and The Ugly Duckling—have connected novellas, and the final sentence of My American Duchess can be interpreted as a hint that there will be a novel or novella connected to Merry and Trent’s world.


Do you prefer standalones or connected novels?

Which of EJ’s fairytale novels most surprised you?

What other fairy tale would you like to see EJ use as inspiration for a romance novel?

Janga will send one randomly chosen person leaving a comment one book of their choice from the Eloisa James books spotlighted in parts one and two. (U.S. addresses only)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Enchanting Standalone Novels of Eloisa James - Part 1

One definition of “enchanting” is “to delight to a high degree,” and that is certainly an apt description of the five fairytale novels (A Kiss at Midnight, Beauty Tamed the Beast, The Duke Is Mine, The Ugly Duchess, and Once Upon a Tower) of Eloisa James and of her upcoming release, My American Duchess. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m definitely a fan of James’s series. I have a designated keeper shelf filled with those series, many of them signed by the author. I am gradually filling my Kindle with digital copies. In fact, I have four copies of my #1 EJ book, Pleasure for Pleasure—an ARC (my first) with a slightly plumper Josie on the cover, a print copy in English, a print copy in French, and a digital copy. And I’m loving the second-generation Duchesses books, not least because Villiers appears in them all. Still, there is something special about the standalones that invite the reader into a world that is wonderfully complete within slightly under four hundred pages.

A Kiss at Midnight (2010) is my favorite of the fairytale romances because it is true to the original with just enough twists to keep it fresh and feminist. EJ’s Cinderella, Kate Daltry, is no patient, submissive Griselda, and she’s no saintly, suffering Disney Cinderella either. In the first chapter the reader sees her as an angry, embattled heroine, who has been the protector of servants and tenants since her father’s death. In fact, it is this concern that gives her stepmother a means of forcing Kate to do her bidding rather than this Cinderella meekly submitting to villainous authority. I loved Kate. From the fierce protector of chapter one to the drowsy princess of the final chapter, she is fully human and wholly enchanting. The prince of this story prince is no closer to the traditional fairytale prince than Kate is to the angelic Cinderella. I’ve always thought the prince in the usual tale was rather boring. He’s little more than a handsome face, overflowing coffers, and a means to the HEA for the deserving heroine. EJ’s prince, in contrast, is no cipher. Gabriel is arrogant, intelligent, responsible, conflicted, and lusty. The last is important. AKAM is a 21st-century romance novel, after all.

I was just one of many readers who hoped James would follow her Cinderella tale with her version of Beauty and the Beast. She did exactly that, and I think When Beauty Tamed the Beast (2011) is probably the fan favorite among the fairy tale books. Scholars have identified 179 Beauty and the Beast tales from different countries, but James’s take on the story is unique among those I’ve read. Traditionally, Beauty’s virtue equals her beauty. James begins her story with Linnet’s virtue being questioned, and Linnet’s beauty has a sensual quality that is a marked contrast to the traditional innocent beauty. Linnet’s aunt says to her, “That dimple, and something in your eyes and about your mouth. You look like a wanton.”

Linnet’s intelligence is as important as her beauty. Moreover, it marks her as a misfit in London society. Her aunt cautions her, “I’ve told you time and time again, all that cleverness does you no good. People would like a lady to be beautiful, but they expect her to be ladylike, in short: sweet, compliant, and refined.” One of the ways the reader understands that Linnet belongs in Piers’s world is that the intelligence, tartness, assertiveness, and earthiness that had to be hidden in the polite world are the very qualities that make her a suitable match for the Beast.

I’m quite certain Piers is the first Beast who is a practicing physician. The Beast most often is imaged as a lion-like creature, although various versions have portrayed him as looking like a bear, a warthog, and an elephant. Piers, on the other hand, looks rough and uncivilized, but Linnet is aware of his physical appeal and power almost immediately.

            Her first impression of the rude man was that he was big—huge, in fact. The blond doctor was tall and lean, but this man was even taller, and much bigger. His shoulders seemed twice as wide as those of the other men. He was all muscle, with a kind of predatory force that looked out of place next to a sickbed. In fact, he looked as if he should be out leading hordes of Vikings . . . berserking, or whatever it was those men did for a living.

James reveals in her “Historical Note” that the cantankerous Piers with his crippled leg was inspired not by earlier Beasts, but by TV’s Dr. Gregory House. House fans will recognize similarities to the acerbic doctor in the Beast’s difficult relationship with his father, his battle with chronic pain, his skills as a diagnostician, and his disregard for medical protocol as well as in his temperament and sharp wit.

James also does some interesting gender role reversal. It is Linnet, not Piers, who undergoes a physical transformation, and it is she who asks the question traditionally posed by the Beast: Do you love me?  In the most emotionally powerful scene in the book, it is Piers who finds Linnet and brings water to revive her. The most traditional part of WBTTB may well be the ending when once again love proves redemptive and a fruitful marriage provides the HEA.

“The Princess and the Pea” serves as James’s inspiration for The Duke Is Mine (2011), the third book in her fairytale series. The novel incorporates elements of the original tale into the romance to the degree that the fairytale narrative is recognizable, but James departs from traditional material to suit her own purposes. The “pea” is a cleverly handled but minor point, the duchess who wrote the book, literally, on what separates “real” duchesses from unsuitable ones is forced to change her opinion, and “realness” becomes a criterion applied to all the characters, not just the heroine.

Like the princess in the fairy tale, when Olivia first meets “the prince,” she is a refugee from the storm. Hans Christian Andersen’s tale describes the princess as “in a sad condition; the water trickled down from her hair, and her clothes clung to her body.” But even in this pitiable condition, Andersen’s princess is confident that she’s the real thing. On the other hand, Olivia doesn’t feel like a real princess—or even a real duchess. She is convinced that she is totally unsuited physically and temperamentally to be a duchess. Olivia is everything Quin’s mother finds most unsuitable for a real duchess, and it is not she but her sister Georgiana who is being tested by the reigning matriarch. But Olivia is no passive princess who goes meekly off to sleep on twenty mattresses. She challenges Quin from their first exchange. I loved her irrepressibility and vulnerability and determination to be herself. I loved that she was more earthy than ethereal. I loved her wit and her bawdy sense of humor. I loved that she matures and sees with clearer vision by the novel’s end. I loved her intelligence, strength, and honor. I loved her understanding heart.

And Quin! I fell hard for him from the first description.

            . . . The Duke of Sconce was the sort of man repulsed by the very idea of fairy tales. He neither read nor thought about them (let alone believed in them); the notion of playing a role in one would have been preposterous, and he would have rejected outright the notion that he resembled in any fashion the golden-haired, velvet-clad princes generally found in such tales.

            Tarquin Brook-Chatfield, Duke of Sconce—known as Quin to his intimates, who numbered exactly two—was more like the villain in those stories than the hero, and he knew it.

I loved Quin’s intelligence, his passion for mathematics, and his logic. Most of all, I loved his overwhelming feelings for Olivia.

Some readers took James to task over Rupert, Olivia’s fiancé who is developmentally delayed, because they felt he was only an object of ridicule. That was not my reading of the book. Yes, there are some insensitive comments early on, but the characters—and the reader—discover by the end that Rupert is the most real of all the characters—not because he ends up a military hero but because he had all along the sensitivity and compassion that are the very definition of realness, as the story of the Princess and the Pea illustrates.

To be continued...

Come back tomorrow for part two of the Enchanting Standalone Novels of Eloisa James!


Have you read the three books discussed in today's post?

Do you enjoy fairytale romances?

Do you agree with Janga's opinions of the books or do your thoughts differ?

Let's dish!

I have a print copy of A Kiss at Midnight for one randomly chosen person who leaves a comment. (U.S. addresses only)