Queer Historical Romance: A Roundtable

Queer-Romance-Month-2015In celebration of Queer Romance Month, Joanna Chambers, Alex Beecroft and KJ Charles are here to discuss queer historical romance.

KJC: So, let’s kick off with a thing I see a lot. Many readers of queer romance resist historicals because they’ll be ‘depressing’—based on what people know of historical attitudes to homosexuality, particularly between men, and to nonstandard gender identities. Is this a view you’ve come across?

JC: More than that. It was my view :-) Actually it was Alex Beecroft who changed my mind

KJC: Which book?

JC: Captain’s Surrender. (I review it here.) I remember being uplifted the final notes of the book. I mean that in the musical sense. It ends with this wonderful sentiment of No boy ever ran away to sea to be safe. It reminded me of one my favourite poems, ‘Safety’ by Rupert Brooke (“Safe, though all safety’s lost; Safe where men fall; And if these poor limbs die, safest of all.”). Sometimes, safety is … not worth it.

KJC: Yes, I get that. When the stakes are so high, so much higher than they are in a relationship that can be legally sanctioned, and more has to be put at hazard. Which is not to underplay historical suffering, but to credit the courage of people who followed their hearts anyway.

AB: *g* I’m kind of bashful to jump in now, but I’m going to anyway. I’ve certainly come across the idea that historicals must be depressing, but I’ve never thought so myself. If you don’t want to deal in the high stakes drama of love in the face of death, because that cuts a little close to home and sometimes you just want to stop being brave for a while, there are also plenty of historical periods where homosexuality and other gender issues were not a problem. You know? You can write in Rome or Ancient Greece, or navigate the slightly different problems among the Vikings. Do any of us know what the attitude to LGBT people was among the Aztecs? Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out!

KJC: Aztec blood sacrifice romance. Now there’s a conflict. :) But yes, absolutely. One of my favourite books is Brothers of the Wild North Sea by Harper Fox, in which, a bit of unpleasantness with a fanatical monk aside, the male/male relationship isn’t the issue. A lot of the book is the two characters trying to make a relationship and make things better around them.

JC: I’m also kind of fascinated by the gaps in official history. I don’t believe that there were comprehensive attitudes shared by all. It’s that thing of who history is written by. *his*story, you know? I’m interested in the extent to which people found a way.

AB: I’m researching ancient Crete at the moment, and you can literally see how the assumptions of the archaeologists almost completely shape what they’re seeing. The same society, the same relics, and some people see terrible kings with monsters in their basements while some see a peaceful matriarchal society headed by priestesses. Sometimes I think we’re entirely justified in putting things back in, because as you say, people would have found a way and they deserve to be celebrated.

KJC: That’s absolutely right. There are holes in a lot of history, and the threads are spun out of assumptions anyway. I just saw a documentary about a new 16th century graveyard (as in, they just found it digging tunnels for a railway) in London, and the documents discovered have shown a much greater black presence in London than was previously thought. Because (white historian) people weren’t thinking to look.

JC: Yes. This. One of the challenges of writing historical is to walk the line between authenticity and challenging assumptions. Some of the sources I read before writing Enlightenment pointed to a far greater degree of social mobility and interaction than our traditional “Austenesque” or “Heyeresque” view of the Regency period. Yet, if you depict that, people will call you out.

KJC: Don’t start me. The Regency was basically a police state. I’m just finishing a trilogy with a political slant and I was amazed researching it just how bad things were, how oppressive. I really like the way that the genre is broadening. And that conflicts in queer Regency romance are moving beyond the limited and depressing ones (self-hatred and legal sanctions). I think the queer historical genre is in quite an exciting place at the moment.

AB: Yes, one of the things I’m hearing people say at the moment is that they don’t want a lot more books focussed on coming out, or how tragic it is to be LGBTQ. What they want are books in which LGBTQ people have adventures and are heroes, and their sexuality is part of it but not the whole, in the same way as it is for straight readers/characters.

JC: But I think that is an important story too. To realise, how very recently, how difficult that was. To be aware that you take hard-won rights for granted at your peril.

KJC: What really struck me, writing political Regency, was the overlap. Lower class people without votes, women rendered utterly powerless by the laws around property and marriage, gay (as we’d now say) men at risk of hanging—all these people being treated as lesser in different but ultimately similar ways by a patriarchal system.

AB: I think that’s right. One of the things historicals can do is to show how very bad it can get, and why we cannot relax any vigilance now. On the other hand, one of the other things historicals can do is give you a nice holiday away from all of that into a time where almost everything was different. I know I’m harping on Crete at the moment, but there’s an amazing picture of a priestess that suggests at least some kind of degree of genderqueerness in that society. (She’s officiating at some ceremony, bare breasted and wearing what looks like a strap-on.) And of course the theory is that that was a matriarchal and egalitarian society. It’ll be interesting to see what assumptions of mine I end up challenging while writing that. But hopefully the compare and contrast will be both entertaining and useful.

JC: Small aside to squee over Mary Renault’s Bull From the Sea and the companion novel which I ADORED as a teenager.

AB: The Persian Boy is my top m/m ever :)

JC: I have a question about HEAs in historical queer romance, and what it might be. What you find satisfying. Like, with the example from Captain’s Surrender I mentioned earlier and what I said about musical notes. I have this thing about the emotional music / tone at the end of stories. What feeling you are left with. That is what romance readers are waiting for. That is why the HEA is such an endlessly debated topic. With Alex’s book, it was this exuberant hopefulness, this excitement about the future, that contrasted so beautifully with what had gone before. It felt like … I don’t know, swan-diving off a cliff.

KJC: I think this is a fascinating subject. In part because I have a firm belief in any romance that there’s no such thing as an HEA, just an excellent place to stop. (You know, in het romance, we frequently cut before things like trying to give birth without epidurals and hand-washing.)  For me, the wonderful ending is the one where you find the equilibrium, the balance point, the place where they both know and have that connection. It might not mean that all the problems are over forever, of course. But, as with the end of Enlightened, you know that they’ve found a point of … I can’t say it better than balance. Universal balance.

AB: I suppose I don’t really believe in a happy ever after. That’s so final! For example, if they get married at 25, they’re probably going to be alive for up to 75 more years. Did their lives end with marriage/pairing up? No! They just went from having adventures while being alone to having new adventures together. They’ve found someone to share a fascinating new life with, and for some people it may be raising a family, but for others it may be discovering the New World or defeating the Viking invaders. Life gets better when you have someone to share it with, but it doesn’t end there.

JC: I’m no stranger to a controversial view. My personal philosophy on this is that people often focus quite literally on what a HEA or HFN, but in terms of delivery it’s actually more ephemeral than that. It’s not about choosing one of the five or six RWA sanctioned outcomes, it’s about how you feel. It kind of takes us back to KJ’s original question about people worrying about being depressed. They read romance because they want a positive outcome. A happy outcome. Our job is to deliver that in a way that feels real and that doesn’t cause their willing suspension of disbelief to crumble and I LOVE THAT, I love that we get to imagine possibilities of happiness.

KJC: Yes, I get you. I think in the end, all romance, whenever set and whoever between, has that issue. And I think queer historical romance can do it as strongly as any—more so in the periods when people were literally risking their necks for love. When we see the connection made and the determination to overcome whatever obstacles, and the thing that crackles between two people, and both of them fighting for it and getting there—well, that’s what I’m after. I call it a HFN, but I can equally see it as a shining note on which to finish. As long as it shines.

AB: Yes, my only objection to a HEA is that it has too strong a feeling of stopping, for me. As Joanna said, I like the feeling of ending on a new beginning, because better things are yet to come.



Alex Beecroft was born in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and grew up in the wild countryside of the English Peak District. She studied English and Philosophy before accepting employment with the Crown Court where she worked for a number of years. Now a stay-at-home mum and full time author, Alex lives with her husband and two children in a little village near Cambridge and tries to avoid being mistaken for a tourist. Alex is only intermittently present in the real world. She has led a Saxon shield wall into battle, toiled as a Georgian kitchen maid, and recently taken up an 800 year old form of English folk dance, but she still hasn’t learned to operate a mobile phone.

Joanna Chambers always wanted to write. She spent over 20 years staring at blank sheets of paper and despairing of ever writing a single word before she (re)discovered her love of romance after having her first child and found her muse. Joanna lives in Scotland with her family and finds time to write by eschewing sleep and popular culture.

KJ Charles is a writer and freelance editor living in London. She has a husband, two kids, and a cat when he’s not off on a murder spree. Find her all too often on Twitter, or look up KJ Charles Chat on Facebook for book chat and sneak peeks.


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Edward is Edythe and Bella is Beau: Discuss

81qBmqMWSvLOn Tuesday, in honor of the 10th anniversary of Twilight, author Stephenie Meyer released a version of the book with 400 pages of new content. Twilight Reimagined: Life and Death tells the story of Edythe and Beau. Yes, you read that right. Bella is now a boy, Edward and Jacob (Julie) are girls.

Talking about the new book on Good Morning America, Ms. Meyer said she did so in response to readers who felt Bella was simply a “damsel in distress.”

“It’s always bothered me a little bit because anyone surrounded by superheroes is going to be … in distress. We don’t have the powers,” Meyer said. “I thought, ‘What if we switched it around a bit and see how a boy does,’ and, you know, it’s about the same.”

“The further you get in, the more it changes because the personalities get a little bit different, but it starts out very similar and really, it really is the same story because it’s just a love story and it doesn’t matter who’s the boy and who’s the girl, it still works out,” she said.

The idea that it doesn’t matter who’s the boy and who’s the girl in a love story is antithetical to traditional romance. At least I think it is. When I imagine swapping the genders in most of my reading, I’m flummoxed. I can’t imagine Dain as dainty and Jessica as a rake. In fact, I’m not sure I can think of a romance where the gender of the leads doesn’t matter. (I don’t read fantasy or sci fi which may lend itself more to this.)

Maybe I don’t understand what Meyer has done. And given that I’m unlikely to read the novel, I’m not going to learn. I’m curious, but not that curious.

What do you think? Could Bella’s voice be believably male? Would it be interesting if it was? Have you read any romances lately that you could switch the genders of the lovers and it wouldn’t matter? Would you want to read this one?

Dabney Grinnan

Posted in Book news, Books, Books with Buzz, Dabney AAR | Tagged , | 23 Comments

Eagerly Awaiting October Books

As October has come rolling in, it’s time to start sinking into all of those tempting new books. Many on our staff have been looking forward to The Legend of Lyon Redmond from Julie Anne Long, and it’s already gotten a DIK review here. Other historicals are also catching our collective eyes. In romantic suspense, Laura Griffin’s latest, Shadow Fall is out this month, and we’re looking for books in other genres as well. What about you?

Title and Author Reviewer
The Legend of Lyon Redmond by Julie Anne Long The Legend of Lyon Redmond by Julie Anne Long Lynn, Lee, Caroline, Alex, Caz, Mary
Named of the Dragon by Susanna Kearsley Named of the Dragon(reissue) by Susanna Kearsley Shannon, Mary, Lynn
Tall, Dark & Wicked by Madeline Hunter Tall, Dark & Wicked by Madeline Hunter Mary, Dabney, Caz
Shadow Fall by Laura Griffin Shadow Fall by Laura Griffin Lee, Heather, Lynn
The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev The Bollywood Bride by Sonali Dev Dabney, Lynn
After You by Jojo Moyes After You by Jojo Moyes Heather, Lee
I Spy a Duke by Erica Monroe I Spy a Duke by Erica Monroe Caz, Dabney
Everything I Left Unsaid by M. O'Keefe Everything I Left Unsaid by M. O’Keefe Dabney, Heather
The Last Chance Christmas Ball anthology The Last Chance Christmas Ball by Mary Jo Putney, Jo Beverley, Joanna Bourne, Patricia Rice, Nicola Cornick, Cara Elliott, Anne Gracie, and Susan King Lynn, Dabney
Rock Redemption by Nalini Singh Rock Redemption by Nalini Singh Jean, LinnieGayl
All I want by Jill Shalvis All I Want by Jill Shalvis Haley, Dabney
The Adventuress by Tasha Alexander The Adventuress by Tasha Alexander LinnieGayl
Good Earl Gone Bad by Manda Collins Good Earl Gone Bad by Manda Collins Lee
Seduction Game by Pamela Clare Seduction Game by Pamela Clare Dabney
Blood Red by Wendy Corsi Staub Blood Red by Wendy Corsi Staub Anne
Silver on the Road by Laura Anne Gilman Silver on the Road by Laura Anne Gilman Melanie
Again, My Lord by Katharine Ashe Again, My Lord by Katharine Ashe Caz
Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith Jean
The Lake House by Kate Morton The Lake House by Kate Morton Dabney
The Soldier's Rebel Lover by Marguerite Kaye The Soldier’s Rebel Lover by Marguerite Kaye Caz
Closer to Home by Mercedes Lackey Closer to Home by Mercedes Lackey Anne
Pretending to Dance by Diane Chamberlain Pretending to Dance by Diane Chamberlain Shannon
The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim butcher The Aeronaut’s Windlass by Jim Butcher Melanie
Seize the Night Seize the Night(anthology) by Kelley Armstrong, Charlaine Harris, Sherrilyn Kenyon, and 19 more authors Anne
Posted in Lynn AAR, Romance reading | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

A Queer Romance Month Post: Looking at Queer New Adult

Queer-Romance-Month-2015Every Friday in October, AAR will run a guest post as part of our participation in Queer Romance Month. Today’s is hosted by queer romance author Santino Hassell.

New Adult is one of my favorite romance subgenres because of all the ground that’s covered in these novels. There’s college life, newfound independence, economic struggles, interpersonal issues that pop up as characters broaden their horizons, and of course sexual exploration and those first serious relationships. When queer characters are involved, that landscape of “first” themes can become even richer.

In celebration of Queer Romance Month, I’m sitting down to discuss queer NA with Megan Erickson and Amy Jo Cousins.

SH: Hey guys! Thank you for joining me.

AJC: Hi! Delighted to be here, typing over your every word.

ME: Thanks for having us! Excited to chat.

SH: When I first stumbled upon NA, I expected the books to be very Felicity-esque (is this a dated reference? am I being old?). In other words, I thought they would all be college or career oriented, sometimes wholesome, and sometimes messagey. I was then told that a lot of NA is focused more on sexual exploration and pushing sexual boundaries. What do you guys think? What is NA to you?

AJC: Ooh! I have opinions! I think there are a lot of definitions of NA floating around out there, from the standard “18-26 year old characters figuring out how the launch themselves into life now that they’re adults” to this weird new “anything that is edgy will be called NA” thing I’m seeing. To me, NA is mostly a marketing category. It zoomed into existence because publishers weren’t putting out any romances about characters who were younger. In most other genres, there wasn’t this giant gap between YA books and adult novels. In romance, there was. And boom. When authors noticed the gap and filled it, the books sold like crazy. (YES. But I think I’m done)

ME: So, I might have stolen this somewhere, I can’t remember, but to me, Young Adult is learning who you are, and New Adult is figuring out how who you are fits into the wider world. As in, okay, so I think I’m this, now how do I, uh, adult like this?

AJC: I like that definition better than the ones tied to age, Megan. I’m writing a story now with a guy who’s in his thirties but just figuring out his life and it still feels very NA, although I wouldn’t call it that in the market.

ME: Yes! Which is why I find the market to be… kinda odd and fluid. I think there are many books that have a New Adult feel but yet aren’t categorized as such. Which gets murky and weird, which is why I think publishers are having a hard time with NA. Because labels and bookshelves is how they operate.

SH: I think we’re all on the same page as far as thinking New Adult novels should be labeled in terms of themes instead of a specific age range. Do you think that’s partially why there is discussion of NA kind of… fading away as a subgenre? Publishers don’t know exactly where it fits?

ME: I think so. I’ve heard the talk, for sure. I’m not sure if it’s fading, because I think it still sells well. But I think it’s a very, very reader-dictated genre. And most of them like to see a very strong romantic plot. Which to me, works so well for New Adult. I think that sexuality is such a huge part of finding out how you fit into the world, what kind of partner you want to be, etc. And now, add in some queerness and there’s a lot to unpack there in a novel.

AJC: I have to confess that the vast majority of my NA reading is LGBTQ. The ways people learn to navigate their personal lives, the beginning of their professional careers, etc while queer are both profoundly ordinary and universal, while also having very specific challenges that don’t come up for heterosexual characters.

SH: Agreed! Is that why you chose to write queer NA? Let’s hear the origins of how you got into this subgenre.

ME: Well the first NA I wrote was a straight romance series. And it was mostly because of nostalgia, I think. I had such a fun college experience. It was also a time I made mistakes and yet could still bounce back from them, although the consequences were surely a little more intense. So I wrote a college series, called Bowler University, which is published with Avon.

As far as how my LGBTQ books came about…I had this idea for a while about a young man who had just graduated college and was on a road trip to spread his late father’s ashes. But the story and character were NOT coming together for me. At all. I was missing something and I couldn’t figure it out. And then it hit me like a wall–the MC was gay. I started writing Trust the Focus as a NaNoWriMo project and that book really poured out of me. I think I wrote 60K in a month.

I think the New Adult experience is unique and I really can’t get enough of it.

AJC: I don’t think I actually knew what NA was when I first started writing Off Campus. I had just discovered that, in addition to the LGBTQ sci fi and mysteries and lit fic I’d been reading for years, there were actually LGBTQ romance novels. This had somehow never occurred to me until I bought Suzanne Brockmann’s Jules & Robin holiday book, All Through the Night, and the Amazon algorithm started recommending other m/m romance novels to me. I was training for the Chicago Marathon that summer, and on my Saturday morning long runs I kept picturing this one scene between two college age guys who didn’t know or trust each other, but were in this really intimate situation where one of them was injured. I’d run that scene through my head during three or four hours of jogging when I finally realized I was going to write it, I thought, “Well, no one is going to buy this book.”

But when I went looking, I discovered some terrific LGBTQ NA books, like Sara Alva’s Social Skills and the super sweet and totally hot His Roommate’s Pleasure by Lana McGregor. A lightbulb went off over my head. “Ah ha! This is a thing people will read!” And because my brain is incapable of not writing stories for every secondary character in a novel, the series is now looking to hit eight books in total. So, my entry into LGBTQ NA was accidental, but yes, I’ve been very happy to find myself here. I think the “coming out” story is important, and will always be important, but people forget that no one ever gets to come out once and have it end there. You spend the rest of your life coming out over and over again. When you meet new neighbors, or get hired at a new job, you have to decide whether or not you’re going to be totally open from word one, or if the consequences of doing so are potentially too harmful to make that a safe choice. How do you navigate your relationships with family members who know you’re queer but are still awkward in their interactions? It’s not necessarily life or death, all of these little details, but it fascinates me and is one of the reasons I’ve been so happy working on these LGBTQ NA books.

SH: What do you guys look for in terms of queer NA? Are there any books you would recommend to readers who haven’t dipped their toe into the pool just yet?

AJC: Megan’s! Megan’s! I think the books in her In Focus series are a perfect entry to queer NA, because they are this lovely mix of humor and sexiness and this deeply personal journey, with a sweetness you don’t always find in NA. Man, I sound like such a suck up, but it’s the truth.

ME: Thanks Amy! I’m not just saying this because I’m interviewing with her. If you know me on social media, you know that I have always promoted Amy’s Bend or Break series. To me, Off Campus (the first in the series) had an amazingly spot on gay male voice and the conflict was unique and a little raw. Also, Heidi Cullinan’s Love Lessons series–one book was RITA-nominated–is also a fantastic, well-written series. And oh so sexy.

AJC: I love Heidi’s books. I also think JA Rock and Lisa Henry have nailed a terrific NA vibe with their Prescott College books, Mark Cooper vs. America and Brandon Mills vs. the V-Card. They’ve written a really angry young man in Mark Cooper who is not always likable, which is a real challenge for readers, but he fascinated me. Plus, super hot. I mean, *fans self*, like whoa.

SH: I clearly need to read that because I love books about angry young men. Or maladjusted, grumpy people in general because they remind me of myself! But anyway, my TBR list aside, what would you like to see more of when it comes to queer NA? And who would you like to see it from?

AJC: Wait! I forgot a favorite NA series. Heidi Belleau’s Rear Entrance Video series is terrifically diverse, both racially and with regard to sexuality. Her genderqueer hero in Wallflower is one of my favorites. And I know it’s not out yet, Santino, but I think your Sunset Park is a great addition to the LGBTQ NA scene. I love the race/class conflict in that book, plus David and Raymond’s differing views about their own sexualities and how they exist in the world. Fascinating stuff.

ME: Yes, Amy, I agree so much about Sunset Park, as I was lucky to read an ARC as well. Glad you mentioned it! I know a lot of queer NA books that are being written or will be published, so that makes me incredibly happy. As far as what I want to see? I want to see great conflicts. I want to see characters on the entire LGBTQ spectrum. And more POC characters as well — some intersectionality would be great! And I would love to see it from… anyone who is willing to put in the time and energy to make three-dimensional queer characters, with flaws and goals and intense motivations. I admit I probably don’t always get it right, but damn, I try. I try really hard. I think it’s important to also be willing to take criticism, to hear from someone in the marginalized group you are writing about – “Hey, you did it wrong, here’s why.” Listen, listen, listen and strive to do better.

AJC: Yes! I’d love to see more of the L and the B and the T and the Q. I love my m/m romances, but I’d be thrilled to see the market for a wider range of stories grow. And that only happens when we go out and buy, and then read, those books! I know very few writers who can afford to spend months or years working on novels that won’t sell, so it’s a tough challenge, saying I want to see more f/f or trans or genderqueer romance when I know how difficult it is for a writer to commit to that without readers who will show up to read those stories. But I want them! So I’m writing more myself, and putting my money and my mouth where my, uh, mouth is, by buying and reading and then recommending a wide range of books to my friends and fans.

ME: Yes, to what Amy Jo said. Buy, read, and then talk about those books! If you like them, recommend them. Authors live and eat by word of mouth.

SH: Truer words could never be spoke–typed. How about we close up with me asking nosy questions about your future plans? What can we expect to see next from you guys?

AJC: I have all the things in the last few months of 2015. My f/f NA novella, The Belle vs. the BDOC is out in the ‘90s Playlist next month. I’ve got a story about a trans girl in the LGBTQ YA charity anthology How We Began, and I’m revisiting Tom (who is bi) and Reese from Off Campus in a holiday novella coming in November. I really wanted to take those two from their college years into the grown up challenges of keeping a relationship going. Plus, I got to wallow in the HEA, at last.

ME: I have two more books in my In Focus series. I’m writing Out of Frame right now, which is the third book in the series and will be out in March. One of the main characters is bi and a POC. It takes place on a cruise ship on spring break, so there are many shenanigans. I also have an adult M/M releasing in January called Tied to Trouble. This is an incredibly nerdy book with bow ties used in inappropriate ways. One of the main characters is also bi. Oh! And I wrote a New Adult holiday story for an anthology out in December. That Thing is an m/m story about a wedding planner assistant falling for the best man. Amy Jo wrote a story that anthology too, and all the proceeds go to charity. I write straight romances as well. Dirty Deeds is out in December, which features a female mechanic :)

AJC: Yes! The holiday anthology is called Wish Come True. I wrote about an older twink who accidentally catfishes a college football player. That was super sweet and fun.

SH: Those answers got me fist pumping. I’m so hyped right now. All of the good reading to come! Thank you so much for discussing queer NA with me, guys. I can’t wait to read your upcoming stories.

AJC: Thank you for having us! I’m gonna go buy all the books. :)

ME: Thank you, Santino! Can’t wait to read your upcoming books and Amy’s!


Amy Jo Cousins writes contemporary romance and erotica about smart people finding their own best kind of smexy. She lives in Chicago with her son, where she tweets too much, sometimes runs really far, and waits for the Cubs to win the World Series.


Twitter: https://twitter.com/_AJCousins

Megan Erickson lives in southern Pennsylvania, with my husband, two kids and two cats. She likes a good pint of beer, a greasy bacon cheeseburger, homemade mac and cheese, and a great book with a happily ever after. When she’s not tapping away on my laptop, she’s probably listening to the characters in her head who just. Won’t. Shut. Up.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authormeganerickson

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MeganErickson_

Santino Hassell is a dedicated gamer, a former fanfic writer, an ASoIaF mega nerd, a Grindr enthusiast, but most of all he is a writer of queer fiction that is heavily influenced by the gritty, urban landscape of New York City, his belief that human relationships are complex and flawed, and his own life experiences.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/theonlysonnyhassell

Twitter: https://twitter.com/SantinoHassell





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Twenty years ago, Colin Firth Jumped Into a Lake

ppPride and Prejudice turns twenty this year. Not that Pride and Prejudice, the other one. Colin Firth Darcy Pride and Prejudice. Colin Firth Darcy gazing at Jennifer Ehle Lizzy playing the piano Pride and Prejudice. Colin Firth Darcy wet shirt Pride and Prejudice. That one. 

(Apparently Colin Firth has resigned himself to his forever-Darcy status, telling a reporter, “I’m fully aware that if I were to change professions tomorrow, become an astronaut, and be the first man to land on Mars, the headlines in all the newspapers would read, ‘Mr. Darcy Lands On Mars.” Is this another reason to love him, or what?)

Caz, our resident Brit, was at the center of Darcymania when it took off. She says, “I can’t remember how I heard about the 1995 version – it was prime-time Sunday night BBC1 telly, and as I will always watch a costume drama, there was no question that I’d be watching.  I think there was a fair bit of lead-in publicity, some of it talking about the art of the adaptation – Andrew Davies was already a pretty big name when it came to adapting classic literature for television – and I believe there was already a bit of controversy about the wet shirt scene!  Even just a few minutes in, I remember thinking I was watching something special – one of those rare times (rather like has happened with Poldark more recently) when everything just “worked”.  The casting and portrayals are spot on – Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, of course, are brilliant, but Alison Steadman as Mrs Bennet and Julia Sawalha as Lydia can’t be bettered IMO.”

In collecting memories, I noticed how technology has changed. Many of us started with VHS, which had its perils. Mary, Maggie, and LinnieGayl all watched their tapes so many times that the tape wore out (remember that???). LinnieGayl recounted, “I saw it for the first time almost by accident on A&E. I almost immediately started recording it (old VHS). I can’t begin to say how many times I watched re-watched those old videos, and was crushed when the tape eventually died… Then when it replayed once I had a DVR, I recorded it again, and was again crushed when I moved and had to turn in the old DVR machine. Last time I looked it was still on my Netflix “List” so can still watch it (I hope).” Maggie went a different digital route, getting DVD and then Blu-Ray copies. Jenna binge-watched library DVDs “until like 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning” and then bought her own set when she saw them for sale at Costco. You never want to be without!

Pride and Prejudice was a social phenomenon. Blythe watched it with her then-husband, Mary with her mother, and Melanie for a class. Lynn and I (Caroline) both had Pride and Prejudice parties. Lynn and some law school classmates got together for a “good friends and cheap wine” marathon. As for me, I got the DVDs and hosted a party in college. Only three guys came – two were gay, and one was my future husband. Since it is a truth universally acknowledged that a straight single man who attends a Pride and Prejudice party must be in want of a wife, we got together not long after. I will always be grateful to Mrs. Bennet for playing a role in matchmaking for me.

But now I have to out a couple of AAR slackers: Dabney and Heather have NEVER SEEN the 1995 Pride and Prejudice. I don’t know whether to be horrified that they missed it or jealous that they still get to see it for the first time!

Where were you when you first saw Darcy dive in the lake? Who was with you? Did you get it on VHS, or, heaven help you, fall down the black hole of laserdisc? Is this your all-time favorite P&P, the way it is mine, or do you prefer another version?

Caroline AAR

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We Celebrate the Freedom to Read

HT_banned_books_week_jt_130921_wmain_16x9_992Haruki Murakami said, “If you only read the books everyone else is reading you can only think what everyone else is thinking.” This quote speaks eloquently to Banned Book Week. Some people only want us to think what they are thinking. They want only socially approved ideas making it on to the printed page in the hopes, I think, of producing a homogenous world where nothing threatens what they think the status quo should be. Banned Books Week stands firm against the tyranny of that mindset.

Banned Books Week began in 1982 after an increase in requests to libraries, bookstores and schools to pull certain books off the shelves. Lest you think this is a problem from the past check out this article. Since then, Banned Books Week has been an annual celebration of the freedom to read, sponsored/encouraged by schools, libraries, and bookstores determined to see our freedom of speech protected. More than 11,000 books have been challenged in the thirty years since the inauguration of Banned Books Week and that number grows every year. Banned books are an ongoing war in the censorship battle.

The ACLU says “Censorship, the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are “offensive,” happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others.” They are quick to note that private pressure groups “can become dangerous in the extreme”.

It should be noted – and really, I shouldn’t have to mention – that there is a huge difference between warning someone to avoid a book that is poorly written and unenjoyable and trying to prevent people from reading/selling/endorsing a book with ideas/issues you find problematic. Here is how the American Library Association defines challenged and banned books: A challenge is an attempt to remove or restrict materials, based upon the objections of a person or group.  A banning is the removal of those materials.  Challenges do not simply involve a person expressing a point of view; rather, they are an attempt to remove material from the curriculum or library, thereby restricting the access of others.

Books come under target by all sorts, from parents trying to protect their kids’ delicate minds to the politically correct. Mostly the book banning, while possibly done with good intentions, seems to be about infantilizing the reader. It seems to say that while the banner understands the issues they are much smarter and better equipped to deal with it than the rest of us. Therefore, the book should be banned before it somehow damages those of us not smart enough to handle it. To that I say phooey!

I’ve been reading banned books before there was ever an official list of them. Huckleberry Finn (race issues, racial slurs, slurs against the poor) was probably my first. I have to chuckle when I see books like this or To Kill a Mockingbird on the list as a result of race issues because it is clear the banners either didn’t read the book or didn’t understand the book. Yes, there is racist language but neither book advocates the racism. Rather, they call attention to the injustice of a society which allowed that language and attitude to flourish in the first place.

Some bans are even more ludicrous than the above.  Summer of My German Soldier and Anne Frank’s Diary have both been challenged/banned because the endings are sad. Really?

A lot of the books on the list are banned because they deal with difficult subjects. One such novel is The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier. This is the story of Jerry Renault, who refuses to participate in a school fundraiser and thus causes a mountain of problems which end in violence. Protesters have asked to have it banned because it contains foul language, physical conflict and sexual situations, something which children over the age of 12 are never confronted with in real life.

This is one of the things that truly bothers me about many of the books being banned. They are banned for things that happen in real life. Sending your child to school and then being concerned they will pick up curse words from a book is like throwing them in a pool and being worried they’ll get their clothes wet. They are most likely saturated in curse words.

The sexual situations in the book seem entirely age appropriate to me. The issue of the boy who feels guilty for looking at naked women in a magazine and the one who feels excited about touching a girl’s fully clothed breast are also something that teens and even pre-teens deal with. Sexual desire is an urge nicely entrenched in our DNA. Long before this novel was published men and boys had a desire to see naked girls and touch women’s private parts. This book taught them nothing except that it was natural to feel both excited and embarrassed by the sensations.

But personally I think the complaints about the language and sexual situations are smoke screens. Kids know about these things long before they pick up these books. I think what is at issue is that many banned books are about outliers. People who either challenge authority, as Jerry in The Chocolate War or Patty in Summer of My German Soldier did, or folks who like Huck Finn make us feel uncomfortable because they remind us that not everyone gets to (or chooses to) live in a fancy house with a loving family.

Many of these books also challenge the idea of safe places. Unless you live under a rock you know that the bullying which takes place in our school systems has come under increasing scrutiny in the last several decades. Books like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone or The Chocolate War bring that issue to the forefront. They also show that the bullies aren’t only children. Snape and Umbridge often made Harry’s life as uncomfortable as students like Malfoy did. Brother Leon is behind many of Jerry’s problems. These books bring the issue of bad/nasty teachers into full, glorious focus.   That’s a scary premise for many adults who insist that “telling a grown up” will solve all of a child’s problems.

But mostly these books challenge us to think. Do parents always have our best interest at heart? Do teachers? Is there anywhere that is truly, perfectly safe? And should we conform at any cost?

In honor of this special week we have one copy of The Chocolate War to be given away. Entering is easy.  All you need to do is comment to this post by 11:59 pm on Wednesday, September 30.

A few caveats apply:  Due to high postage costs, this giveaway is only open to residents of the U.S. and Canada. The winner will be chosen at random and notified by email on Friday morning October 2.  So, if you enter, please remember to check your email on Friday morning.

Here’s a list of a few banned books. How many have you read? Do you have any thoughts on book banning?

In closing, I leave you with a few words of wisdom from The Chocolate War:

They tell you to do your thing but they don’t mean it. They don’t want you to do your thing, not unless it happens to be their thing, too. Don’t disturb the universe, no matter what the posters say.


-Maggie AAR

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Ruminations on Re-watching Downton Abbey

Downton AbbyIn preparation for the coming (and final) season of Downton Abbey I’ve been binging on the previous seasons. My first thought as I watched those early episodes was that this is an easy show to binge. Every installment is a pleasure, not only is it a superb bit of television in terms of acting and scripting but it’s a complete visual feast. The setting and costuming is so delightful it would be worth watching even if the sound is off.

Here are some of my other thoughts as I watched 42 hours of one of the best shows the small screen has ever seen:

(spoilers about earlier seasons are possible)

To me, Lady Mary is an uppity minx who is the author of her own misfortunes. Those are the words of Mrs. Hughes but they echo my own feelings. Mary can be nice enough to people she likes but for the most part she is an uppity minx, to put it politely. Too few people have said to her what should be said: I don’t care if you’re the Queen of the Upper Nile, no one should behave as you do.

Sorrow seems to shadow them both and in their wake it shadows us. I love Anna. She has the sweetest, kindest of natures. It is true, though, that her story line, tied to the unlucky Mr. Bates, can be exhausting in its misfortune.

She is a good woman. And while the phrase is enough to set anyone’s teeth on edge, there are moments when her virtue demands admiration. If I were to hold anyone up as a role model from this show it would be Isobel Crawley. She can cross the line into being too much of a crusader but the fact of the matter is, she is truly a good and admirable person. Almost all of the Crawleys are likable but I don’t find them particularly admirable.

I’ve got used to having a companion. A friend, you know, someone to talk things over with. The relationship I have most enjoyed watching over the seasons is not a romance but one of true friendship between two incredibly strong women. Isobel and Violet started out on extremely volatile ground but the show has done a beautiful job of building the relationship between them into something lovely.

We’re trapped in a system that gives us no freedom, no value. Hurray to Downton for reminding us how unfair everything in this system was, first through the character of Tom Branson and later through Daisy and Miss Bunting.

I didn’t want to spend my life in a bare knuckle fight. I didn’t blame Tom for not wanting to further his relationship with Sarah Bunting. Love was a battlefield for her. He just wants to build a life for himself and his daughter.

The business of life is the acquisition of memories. In the end that’s all there is. This is a nod to all the characters I miss on the show, the effervescent Lady Sybil, the charming Matthew and sweet William. And also a farewell to those whom I did not care for so much – I’m looking at you Miss O’Brien.

She felt you had used her badly. I don’t think much of Lady Edith as a mother. First she takes young Marigold, who was at least a year old and able to recognize her surroundings, from the only family she has ever known. My heart ached for poor Mrs. Schroeder. Not satisfied with the heartbreak she had caused overseas, Edith repeats the offense with the Drewes. Now Mr. Drewe is definitely partly to blame for this. He should have talked to his wife before making the deal with Edith. But Edith holds the bulk of the culpability. First, she cashed in on a favor that wasn’t hers. Her father had paid Mr. Drewes back rent. Mary and Tom had given him the pig work. When he said he owed the family what he really meant was that he owed those who had done him a good turn. Edith took advantage of that debt to bring Marigold over and have the Drewes do the day to day care of the girl. Then she compounds the crime by taking Marigold away from the family when they don’t dance to her tune. And they are a family, complete with other children who will feel the loss of their young sibling. The heartbreaking scene where Mrs. Drewe says goodbye to young Marigold was truly awful. It should be added that Mrs. Drewe had young Marigold with her all day long. They did laundry together, she gave the girl her nap and fed her. Edith snatched the girl twice from the only life she had ever known so that she could spend an hour or so a day with her. To me it showed that Mrs. Drewe was right – Marigold was more plaything than person to Edith.

You looked at that little girl and you never thought it was my business too? Edith might be such a messy parent because she has a less than stellar mother. Don’t get me wrong, I love Cora. But Edith has always been an afterthought for Lady Grantham. During the first several seasons all Cora could think of was getting Mary married or launching Sybil. As Edith often lamented, it seemed she was special to neither parent. When Mary was possibly going to be embarrassed the family was ready to send her to America. When Edith really was embarrassed by being jilted at the altar, nothing was done. No trip to the continent. No voyage to see Grandmama. I don’t like how the Marigold situation was handled in terms of the adoptive parents but Edith was right to exclude Cora and Robert from her decision making. They hadn’t helped when she’d been in trouble before.

I don’t believe in types, I believe in people. My favorite person at the Abbey is Tom Branson. He ably walks the line between the two worlds and has learned that there are decent people on both sides of any political argument. If more people would think that way the world would be a far better place.

Screaming in the servants’ hall, singers chatting to his Lordship and a footman cooking the dinner. What a topsy-turvy world we live in. It might be a topsy-turvy world but it is one made better by having Mr. Carson in it. He might be a bit pompous but his heart is in the right place, even if he does have a blind spot where Lady Mary is concerned.

You have obviously read too many novels about young women admired for their feistiness. When she first came on the scene, Rose was a poor substitute for Lady Sybil. Where Sybil was rebellious with a purpose, Rose’s only purpose for being scandalous was to avenge herself on her mother. To be fair, her mother is particularly heinous so there’s justification for it. Still, it was nice to see her grow up in Season 5 and become a truly charming young woman. I loved her romance with Atticus.

It’s a skill all women must learn. Behind Lady Sybil and Isobel the most admirable character on the show, imo, is Mrs. Hughes. She tempers common sense with kindness and is active in helping those she feels need a helping hand. A shining moment for her was when she helped Mrs. Crawley by having that fine lady help Mr. Carson’s old friend, Charlie Grigg. Her care for the fallen Ethel showed a nice nobility of spirit too.

It shows you to be a very brave person . . . what you could do in this world, if you just set your mind to it. I have conflicted feelings about Thomas. In a household where others have come out of prison with gentle and kind spirits, where people have been raped or maimed by war and continued good he is one of the few who carries his burdens with angst and anger. And yet, I think him capable of greatness if he can overcome his bitterness. He has certainly shown himself able to be a good friend, first to Jimmy and later to Andy. I’m afraid he won’t find peace in this final season but oh, how I hope he does.

In her husband’s case she has such poor material to work with. I hope we see a lot more of the Aldridge family, most especially Rachel, who seems like a very decent person.

I’ve had my stuffing kicked out more than once. And yet Ms. Baxter is a model of kindness and grace. I doubt I could be half as good as she is – but I hope I might aspire to it one day.

How wonderful to be back in a world where ladies are accompanied by their maids. I’m sure that Prince Kuragin deeply loved Violet at one time. But I found several things wrong with this storyline. While I know the dowager Lady Grantham has a policy of “Never complain. Never Explain.” I was surprised she wasn’t more upset when the Russian Revolution was taking place. There Tom Branson was talking about it at the dinner table and she showed no more reaction to this than to his other “revolutionary” ideas. Way not to foreshadow Downton. As the storyline carried on, I was pleased with how Violet refused to be dragged back into the past and I was delighted she turned the Prince’s “immoral proposition” down. I found it very convenient that he wished to hook up with a rich lover rather than go and be poor in Paris with his wife. I couldn’t help wondering if the money didn’t have a little something to do with it.

We all pander to Spratt. Violet’s butler doesn’t need pandering to. He needs firing – hopefully without a reference.

He’s very kind you know. We should always be polite to people who are kind. There’s not much of it about. Truer words have never been spoken. Not only is it right that we should be polite to kind people because there are too few of them but it is also correct to say that Mr. Mosley is one of those kind folks. His sweetness nicely counterbalances the pomposity of Mr. Carson and the sourness of Thomas.

He’s made a daughter out of his widowed daughter-in-law. I like it when good things come from bad. We see too little of Mr. Mason but he’s a wonderful part of the show. People like him and the Drewes are what made estates like this succeed or fall. That he has faced his losses with grace and courage and opened his heart to his orphan daughter-in-law of six hours shows that Mr. Mason is one in a million. I hope we see him again in the coming season.

What with the toasters and mixers and such like, we’d be out of a job. Mrs. Patmore is always good for a laugh. She has a brassy, sometimes nasty (think first season abuse of Daisy) exterior but beneath it all she has a heart of gold. I hope she marries Mr. Mason so Daisy will have a home with two loving parents at last.

I know lots of things and one of them is not to mess with Lady Mary Crawley. I’ll never understand the appeal of Lady Mary. Never. Here’s a raised glass to all the men she’s loved and lost. Good on you for escaping.

I blame the war. Before 1914, nobody thought about anything at all. A great line with which to end, you can always count on Violet for a zinger. But since we are a post war world, we can talk about what we think. Who do you miss? Who were you glad to see the back of? (*cough*Edna Braithwaite *cough*) Do you have a favorite character? What do you want to have happen in season six? What story line is your absolute favorite? Which romance set your heart aflutter?


Maggie AAR

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Midweek Minis: The September 2015 edition, part two

Welcome to the September Midweek Minis, part two. This week Dabney, Caz, Melanie and Maggie review and rate the books they’ve recently read. There’s a novel by a Pulitzer Prize winner, a WWI suffragette romance, a psychological suspense thriller, a historical romance and three PRNs. Enjoy!


Jennifer Egan’s a storied writer. She won the Pulitzer and the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2011 for Welcome to the Goon Squad. Her writings appear regularly in the New York Times. I’ve enjoyed all of Ms. Egan’s books but my favorite is her first The Invisible Circus. I recommended it my 18 year old niece this summer and, after she returned it–she loved it–I read it again.

The book is set in 1978. Phoebe O’Connor has just graduated from high school and is set to attend Berkeley in the fall. Phoebe’s life is to her, however, of little interest. Since her charismatic, troubled older sister Faith committed suicide when Phoebe was ten, Phoebe’s been frozen, unable to move into her future and obsessed with her sister’s past.

A chance meeting in Golden Gate Park with one of the hippies in Faith’s group of wild and alluring friends sends Phoebe on a trip to Europe where she hopes to understand who her sister (Faith was eight years older) was and why she took her life. As is true for most coming of age journeys, the self Phoebe comes to know is her own.

Ms. Egan prose immerses you in Phoebe, in her thoughts and her emotions. Phoebe travels the places her sister did in the months before her death and the each locale is vividly described, tinctured by Phoebe’s slow understanding of who she is. Halfway through the book, in Munich, Phoebe finds her sister’s old boyfriend, Wolf. The Invisible Circus isn’t a love story, but Phoebe’s and Wolf’s relationship is mesmerizing to read.

Readers who expect the modern storytelling Ms. Egan utilized to great effect in The Keep and in Welcome to the Goon Squad will not find that here. Phoebe tells (though the book is not a first person narrative) her story straightforwardly. The Invisible Circus is an elegant novel about love and loss. It remains one of my favorite books. Grade: A-. Sensuality: Warm.



Not by Sight by Kate Breslin is the story of WWI suffragette Grace Mabry and agent for the crown Jack Benningham. Grace crashes a high society masquerade ball as Pandora and from her box she withdraws white feathers to give to the rich young men who are dancing while her brother fights in the trenches. The first feather she gives is to Jack, a known rogue and reprobate whose exploits often land him in the gossip rags.

Jack’s cover as man about town can be a bit exhausting but it gives him an excellent reason to be seen doing odd things late at night. Tonight is no exception; He is at this party for the sole purpose of stopping a rendezvous between a known agent and his slippery accomplice. Thanks to Pandora distracting him he is unable to catch their meeting so he follows the man he knows in the hope he will lead him to the man he doesn’t. Or that at the very least he can capture the man and the government can force the information out of him. But Jack follows the spy right into a trap and finds himself blinded and scarred in a bomb blast.

Fate, or since this is an Inspirational, the hand of God, lands Grace and Jack together again several months down the road. Grace now works for the Women’s Forage Corp, a group similar to the Land Girls but whose main harvest is hay for the horses in the army. Her first assignment just happens to be at Jack’s estate, Roxwood, where he is recuperating. The two develop a tentative friendship but Grace is afraid to tell him that they have met before, the night she gave him the feather. Will their budding romance survive the truth of that awful first encounter?

A lot of this book is typical historical romance fodder: spies, estates, big misunderstandings and feisty conversations between the hero and heroine. What places this story a bit above the rest is that the author changed the time period from Regency to WWI and as a result the history and setting add a bit of interest to the tale.

The novel is an Inspirational, which includes conversations and introspections on faith and the question of where God is when truly horrible things happen to us. I think the author weaved this seamlessly into the plot but it might be a bit heavy handed for some.

Ultimately, while I struggled with how easy it was for Jack to be blind (I’ve worked with the blind, it’s not easy) I enjoyed the book overall. Grade: B-. Sensuality: Kisses.


A psychological suspense novel which serves as both social treatise and dire warning, Pretty Baby by Mary Kubica leaves you thinking – and vaguely frightened.

Heidi Wood calls all those who see a need and don’t meet it do-nothings.  Heidi is the polar opposite of that- she works for a nonprofit, rescues stray cats from dangerous situations, and is constantly aware of those around her who might need a helping hand.  Which is why it is no surprise that Heidi notices and worries about the young homeless girl with an infant that she sees when Heidi is getting on the train. It is also no surprise when the next time she encounters them, she gives the girl her warm rain parka to wrap the baby in. Also not surprising when she buys the girl a meal. It is surprising – shocking even- when she informs her husband and young daughter that the girl, Willow, and her baby will be staying with them. Indefinitely.

What should happen next is that Heidi, who knows how the system works, helps Willow get on her feet. Instead the two prove to be demanding guests, until Heidi all but forgets her husband and daughter as she cares for their needs. Slowly this sets off a chain of events that lead to an inevitable, startling conclusion.

This book takes a daring look at how our society fails its most vulnerable members and the violent, terrible results that can lead to. The author does a magnificent job of keeping the sand sifting beneath our feet so we are never quite sure what we are looking at or what is really happening. Engrossing, terrifying and heartbreaking this book keeps you guessing to the very end. Grade: B. Sensuality: Subtle.



In The Earl’s Dilemma by Emily Mayed, James Hargrave unexpectedly became the Earl of Arden a year previously following the tragic deaths of his father and brother. On top of having to deal with their loss, and still troubled by his wartime experiences, he also has to contend with the fact that if he is to retain his inheritance, he must take a wife before his thirtieth birthday. This is less than two months away, and as he has so far not found any woman he wishes to wed, so he has travelled to visit his best friend, Harry, Viscount Honeycourt with a view for offering for his twenty-eight year old, red-haired, freckle-faced on-the-shelf sister. James has known Kate forever and thinks that as they at least know and like each other, he might as well marry her as anyone. After all, all cats look alike in the dark, don’t they?

Kate as loved James ever since they were children, but unfortunately for him, overhears the conversation with her brother in which he says quite plainly that he doesn’t love or desire her; he just needs a suitable wife he will be able to get along with and who won’t drive him out of his mind with idle chatter or unreasonable demands.

Knowing that Kate had nursed a youthful infatuation for him, James is fairly confident of success, but when he proposes, her reaction is not what he expects. Knowing that being married to the man she loves so desperately while he has married her merely for the sake of expediency would be torture, Kate turns him down flat, offering instead to find him a wife from amongst the local marriageable young ladies. James really doesn’t want to go down that path, as he hasn’t got time to waste, but he nonetheless agrees to Kate’s plan – on one condition. If none of the ladies she introduces him to take his fancy, then she will marry him herself. Reluctantly, Kate agrees to this, certain that he will find someone else more appealing than he obviously finds her.

James is immediately thrust into a humorous round of teas, dinner parties and outings, but each lady he sees lacks something he absolutely must have in a wife. And not only that, but he gradually begins to see Kate in a different light and to realise that he finds her both attractive and desirable – and that each of those qualities he had found lacking in the other ladies are ones Kate possesses.

It’s not long before James realises that he’s fallen head-over-heels for Kate, and that he doesn’t want to marry anyone but her. But she persists in trying to find him someone else, and finally, in the face of his unequivocal declaration of love, tells him that she’d overheard him talking to her brother and the things he’d said about her.

And thus, the eponymous Earl’s Dilemma. With time fast running out, how can James convince Kate that his love and desire for her are real?

I really liked how the author showed James’ gradual – and initially unwanted – dawning realisation of his growing feelings for Kate. The romance is sweetly sensual, and the central characters are well-matched and likeable. The author adds depth to both their backstories in a credible manner and the emotional connection between them is strongly forged and palpable. I really enjoyed this story and am definitely going to look out for more by this author (who also writes as Emily Larkin). Grade: B. Sensuality: Warm.



I enjoyed Treason by Althea Claire Duffy. In a fantasy world full of intrigue and magic, the spy Elunet (currently masquerading as a housemaid) has been sent to uncover the secrets of House Mellas, rival of her House Corellis. Elunet is set to spy on Tavia, the daughter of the current Lord of the House, and see what she can discover about their business dealings with trade and nearby countries. Unforutnately for Elunet, Tavia is completely uninterested in politics and business. But Tavia does have an interest in transportation spells that could wreak havoc on trade and the other Houses. She also has more than a friendly interest in her maid…..luckily Elunet feels the same way.

There is so much unrealized potential in this story that it almost hurts. The world is fabulous – even with the very brief look we get in this novella, you get a feel for the intrigue and politics, and come on, our main heroine is a freakin’ spy! She’s pretty darn cool! And Tavia, our love interest, is lovely as well – she is pretty much your typical academic, not interested in much outside her studies. The two of them together work really well, which is surprising, again, with how short the story is. Sadly, I was still left wanting more – it was like we only got a peek, when it could have been a full-fledged novel. Instead it was all of 21,000 words. I’m hoping that this is actually going to be part of a series (though there are no hints of one I could find), not necessarily about Tavia and Elunet, but about the world the author created. I would definitely read more. Grade: B-. Sensuality: Warm.

In Soul Selecta by Gill McKnight, love needs a helping hand – in this case, the helping hand of the Soul Selector. She is the one who makes sure that soulmates (the ultimate source of power for the gods, Greek Pantheon style) get together and stay together. But unfortunately, the current set of soul mates isn’t working out right, and now SS is stuck with one girl in the Elysian Fields and the other left pining for something she never knew was there.

This could have been really interesting. Notice the “could have been” there. Unfortunately, the pacing was off, the writing needed a bit more polish, and there was an utterly ridiculous amount of descriptive sex. Most of the characters came across as one dimensional, including our lovely but nameless Soul Selector protagonist. It was a quirky, clever idea, though, and there were parts that were absolutely hysterical – like actually laugh out loud kind of funny. Which shocked me, because I wasn’t really enjoying the book much, but there you have it. Jesse, the one soulmate we follow throughout the beginning, is really obnoxious, and the Soul Selector isn’t much better. As LGBTQA, it was an interesting idea – that these women would be born again and again, meeting each other over and over, but something just got lost in the translation (though I would be interested to see the characters swap genders – who says that a soul is male or female?). Grade: C-. Sensuality: Burning.


Hey, look, it’s time for a rant!

Why do I keep reading Christine Feehan? At this point, it is more habit than anything else, because goodness knows this book infuriated me. Incessantly. I like a good alpha hero as much as the next reader, but this whole story took things way too far. Basically, we have Cat Benoit, on the run from the incredibly dangerous (but still somehow sympathetic) Rafe Cordeau, drug dealer and murderer extraordinaire. Oh, and they are both shapeshifters who turn into leopards. Or at least Rafe is – Cat has to wait until she and her inner cat sync cycles (and didn’t I say a big ole’ WTF to that!). Cat has managed to make a new life for herself when she meets Ridley Cromer, martial arts instructor and security specialist.Cat’s finally starting to trust Ridley when she finds out that wait, nope, he’s actually Eli Perez, member of some alphabet government agency (ATF, I think?), and he basically sold her out. Not on purpose, not completely, but that doesn’t really change things. And so now Cat is stuck with him, as Rafe closes in. And here’s the thing – alpha heros need a strong heroine to bring them balance, and to balance the story in general. And instead of a strong heroine, we have Cat, who starts out with so much promise, but ends up disappointing utterly. And instead of a strong hero, we have Eli, who basically spends the whole book first bossing Cat around, and then going behind her back and doing what he wants anyway. Here’s an example: “I’m listening, woman. I’ll always listen to anything you have to say. You’re just talking a lot of crap right now so I’m dismissing what you have to say as the crap it is.” Nooooope. Or how about this: “I tell you to strip naked and dance on the damn table because I like seeing you up there, you do it.” Seriously? What the hell?

Two more things: 1) If she says she doesn’t want it, even if she’s turned on, that still means no. I am so tired of the whole “he know better what she wants” thing. Rape culture, much? and 2) at one point he curls up behind her to go to sleep so his “worn cock had a soft, warm resting place” between her butt cheeks. Classy. There are some things that just don’t need to be said. That was one of them. Grade: D-. Sensuality: Burning.

Posted in Caz AAR, Dabney AAR, Maggie AAR, Melanie AAR, Mini reviews | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Julie Anne Long on Lyon and Olivia and coming to an end in Pennyroyal Green

After finishing The Legend of Lyon Redmond, I cried. I’ve read all the Pennyroyal Green books several times. What I Did for a Duke garnered the first A grade I gave a romance here at AAR. (It, along with I Kissed an Earl, have remained my favorite books of the series.) Saying goodbye to the Everseas and the Redmonds as well as all the denizens of Pennyroyal Green is hard.

What wasn’t hard was reading, in The Legend of Lyon Redmond, Olivia’s and Lyon’s story. (The book comes out on September 29th.) Olivia and Lyon have been separated for reasons only they really knew for the entire series. Reading their love story, which Ms. Long recounts in both the present and the past, was deeply rewarding. I have met Julie Anne several times now at conferences and we are friends on Twitter. At this year’s RWA I asked if she’d let me interview her about The Legend of Lyon Redmond and she, ever gracious, said yes.

Dabney: Eleven books later and Olivia’s and Lyon’s story is finally told. Their estrangement has been mentioned in every Pennyroyal Green book, has it not?

Julie Anne: I think if the series has a current running through it, it’s the disappearance of Lyon Redmond and how it has impacted every single one of the Redmonds and Everseas—not only in stirring up an ancient enmity that’s basically in the DNA of both families, but in shaping the destinies of every character in the series.  In many ways, Lyon and Olivia are the reason each of the characters in each of the books comes into their own—Violet declares independence and goes in search of Lyon and finds love with a man whose goal is to make sure her brother hangs; Jonathan Redmond, always casually dismissed and underestimated by his father, steps up may in fact become the most formidable and powerful Redmond of them all. And Colin Eversea, who is essentially framed and nearly hung for a murder thanks to Isaiah’s thirst for vengeance, is transformed as a result of that into a formidable man instead of a reckless rogue, a man capable of loving a wounded woman like Madeline. Every single character is touched, if tangentially, by Lyon and Olivia in some way. But the series was always meant to be about the families and the interplay of their relationships, not necessarily just about Lyon and Olivia. Lyon and Olivia were the engine.

Dabney: When you wrote the first Pennyroyal Green book, The Perils of Pleasure (2008), did you know it would be such a long series? What was your inspiration for the town? The Everseas? The Redmonds?

Julie Anne: I knew it would be long running and character driven.  I do love family sagas, particularly because you get to experience each family from the point of view of the other family, and watch various characters (e.g., like Jonathan and Violet Redmond) really come into their own as the series progresses.  And I think when you follow characters through books and see them through the eyes of other characters, you become that much more invested in the stories. I wanted to write something that felt panoramic in scope and multi-dimensional, because I think it makes the stories feel that much more real to the reader. I also find real pleasure in character development, and the feuding families gave me a rich playground for that sort of thing. And as for the town…as a reader, I’ve always found a sense of place really helps invest me in a story, too, and I’ve always loved small town series. Many of my favorite authors have created stories where the setting, whether it’s Scotland, Botswana, Venice, or Regency England, is practically another character in the story.

Dabney: How did you keep track of all your characters?

Julie Anne: Actually, I just file it all away in the memory banks. I seem to have have a pretty good memory. I didn’t know this was unusual until people started remarking on it. :) I don’t really have a series bible. I just think after a while the Everseas and Redmonds start to feel like family, so it’s easy to remember details about them, the way you remember details about people you live with day to day.

Dabney: How did you decide whose story to tell as you wrote?

Julie Anne: It happened pretty organically, I think. I knew which stories needed to be told, and I made decisions based on previous books in the series and how powerfully a given story was speaking to me at the time.

Dabney: Did you always plan to tell Olivia’s and Lyon’s story last?

Julie Anne: I knew their story was a critical destination for the series, and since it’s the main through line, yes, it was always going to be the final book.  I didn’t anticipated quite how passionately readers would respond to Lyon and Olivia, particularly after I Kissed an Earl—that’s when the clamoring for their story really kicked in. So immensely flattering and gratifying to me as an author to know that readers cared so much about them! But other stories needed to be told to get us to that destination. Olivia and Lyon’s arc unites the entire series.

Dabney: Have you always known their story?

Julie Anne: Hmmm…I knew…parts of their story. I knew how it ended. I knew how it began. I knew a bit about the middle of it. And the other things…the bridge between the ending and the beginning…sort of revealed themselves to me as I wrote it. I think it’s always been humming away like background music in my mind as I wrote the other books.

Dabney: Isaiah Redmond has three sons all of whom have married women he absolutely forbade them to. Isaiah is a hard and ambitious man. If there is a consistent villain in the Pennyroyal world, it’s Isaiah. And yet, by the end of The Legend of Lyon Redmond, I found myself feeling sorry for Isaiah. How do you see him? Will you ever tell more of his story?

Julie Anne: Isaiah is one of my favorite characters, I think, because he’s powerful, complex and tragically flawed, and if you’re a compassionate person, it’s hard not to have at least a little pity or sympathy for him—and if a reader doesn’t right now, I suspect they will understand him better by the end of The Legend of Lyon Redmond.  If there’s a powerful theme throughout the series, it’s that love always wins, no matter what you’re up against, even if what you’re up against is Isaiah Redmond. I think Isaiah surrendered his essential nature to a sense of duty a long time ago and he, and his children, have paid the price ever since—victims of his attempt to rationalize his choices. There’s more to Isaiah’s story that remains to be told, and I’ve actually begun writing a novella (a prequel) to the series that addresses Isaiah and Isolde Eversea. Some day I hope to finish it! It’s a fairly intense story. I’ll have to commit time to it in order to do it justice. It’s always about the time. :)

Dabney: Between the two families, there are ten children, six Everseas and four Redmonds. You’ve told the story of the love affairs of nine of the ten children. Why did Marcus Eversea not get his own story?

Julie Anne: Well, Marcus gets his story inside The Perils of Pleasure—and I think he didn’t get his own book because his love story is one of the things that helps propel the series forward,  since he and Colin are at the center of the first story’s conflict. We get his point of view in The Perils of Pleasure, as well as Louisa’s, so I kind of feel he did get his book, even if he wasn’t the star of it. :)

Dabney: In this book you write that no one from Pennyroyal Green (in Sussex) had seen Lyon since the night he left home five years ago. I’d thought he’d seen Violet in Cádiz. Is that not the case?

Julie Anne: No, they never saw each other. They did communicate with each other, however, via messages.

Dabney: In the books, you mix real places and people with those you’ve made up. How do you think about when you write? Do you make up a place when there isn’t a real one that fits your prose?

Julie Anne: Well, naturally, like most authors, I think it’s awfully fun to make stuff up. And yes, that’s exactly what happens—if the story that’s unfurling seems to require a place or circumstance that doesn’t exist, I will take liberties and create it, but then, that’s the beauty of fiction. For it to be convincing, it should contain elements of the real and the invented.

Dabney: In The Legend of Lyon Redmond, the real life reformer Hannah Moore becomes part of the plot. Why did you pick her?

Julie Anne: Hannah More was a remarkable person who lived the kind of life that Olivia Eversea admired fiercely—a woman who was a fearless, admired crusader for the rights of the poor and intelligently, eloquently anti-slavery, both issues that Olivia cared passionately about.  Olivia knew she probably wasn’t destined for that sort of life, given her wealth and position, but she always strived to do what she could.

Dabney: Lyon’s favorite author is Marcus Aurelius and his favorite quote is “Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart.” Is that a quote you love? How did you pick it for Lyon?

Julie Anne: Much of Marcus Aurelius resonates for me, but interestingly not that quote in particular. But it’s perfect for Lyon.  It resonates so strongly for him because “duty” is such a theme in his life—his duty as an heir to the Redmond name and fortune—and he’s never allowed to forget what is expected of him. I think for this reason the word “bind” is the word he’s drawn to as strongly as the word “fate.” He can definitely never shake his destiny as a Redmond fully. And the quote takes on different shades of meaning after he meets Olivia.

Dabney: Lyon’s and Olivia’s love story has defined them since they met. Theirs is a story of love at first sight. You write of them (and this is one of the best descriptions of true love I’ve ever read) “At the quiet heart of the storm of sparks around them was a strange, peaceful certainty. This person was meant for me.” Olivia is the only woman Lyon believes he’ll ever love and, despite being engaged to another, Olivia believes she’ll never give her whole self to anyone but Lyon. What is the thing in the other that makes them feel that so strongly?

Julie Anne: I’m not sure you can name or define that thing anymore than you can, say, hold the eye of a hurricane in your hands. I think it’s possible for one soul to recognize another soul (or heart to recognize another heart, if you will) and know somehow they just belong to each other. I’ve always thought that love at first sight was less about sight (e.g., it’s not the hotness of said person that makes you fall in love), than finally seeing that person you’re meant to be with—that coup de foudre we’ve all heard of is a piercing recognition, if that makes sense. Maybe it’s based on something eternal, and two souls are picking up where they left off, who knows?  Whatever it is, I think some people just do strike our inner gongs, if you will. And this is what happened for Lyon and Olivia. That doesn’t mean destiny is always easy. Just ask any Redmond or Eversea.

Dabney: Was it difficult for you to say goodbye to Pennyroyal Green? Do you think you’ll ever revisit it?

Julie Anne: I’m not sure it IS good-bye, per se. From a personal standpoint, it’s more like I have a permanent residence there that I can return to whenever I please, but my main business there—leading readers through the family stories and culminating in The Legend of Lyon Redmond—is finished for now. But now it’s time to visit other countries and villages and eras. I have soooo many ideas for stories of all kinds, and writing is so delicious that I hope to indulge as many as possible while still keeping readers happy. Some may indeed involve Pennyroyal Green in some fashion. I’m excited to be writing my contemporary series—the first book in it, Hot in Hellcat Canyon will be out in June 2016. It’s a blast to write in a contemporary voice, and my editor says it feels like I’ve been writing that way my whole life! I’ll tell you all more about in the days ahead.

Dabney: Thanks for talking with me, Julie Anne. It was a pleasure.

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Luck Be A Lady: A Pandora’s Box

Welcome to our Pandora’s Box on Meredith Duran’s Luck Be a Lady

They call her the “Ice Queen.” Catherine Everleigh is London’s loveliest heiress, but a bitter lesson in heartbreak has taught her to keep to herself. All she wants is her birthright—the auction house that was stolen from her. To win this war, she’ll need a powerful ally. Who better than infamous and merciless crime lord Nicholas O’Shea? A marriage of convenience will no doubt serve them both.

     Having conquered the city’s underworld, Nick seeks a new challenge. Marrying Catherine will give him the appearance of legitimacy—and access to her world of the law-abiding elite. No one needs to know he’s coveted Catherine for a year now—their arrangement is strictly business, free from the troubling weaknesses of love. Seduction, however, is a different matter—an enticing game he means to ensure she enjoys, whether she wishes to or not…


Dabney: Where to start? Luck Be a Lady is my favorite book Ms. Duran has written in several years. There’s almost nothing about it, I didn’t love.

CazFool Me Twice was a big hit with me, and I thought Luck Be a Lady packed just as much of a punch as that one did, albeit in a different way.  Fool was edgy and intense, what with the darkness surrounding the hero, whereas this book, while every bit as superb in its storytelling, plotting and characterisation is much more understated.

Dabney: Luck Be a Lady isn’t a dark book—except for that one part which we musn’t spoil because it is so wonderful.

Caz:  The curse of the reviewer’s  lot :(  Having to avoid spoilers about the GOOD bits you want to rave about!

Dabney: My husband read it and, I have to say, I think he’s a bit jealous of Nick.

Nick, oh Nick, he is such a stellar hero.

Caz: Nick – *sigh*.  I would be surprised if there was a man alive who wouldn’t feel just a tad inadequate when compared to Nick! There are a lot of gutter-born heroes in the genre who have dragged themselves up by their bootstraps in order to become wealthy and powerful Robin Hood type figures to the people they grew up amongst. It’s a common trope, but what I liked particularly about Nick is that while he’s certainly had a tough life and has done things he’s not particularly proud of, he isn’t weighed down or haunted by it.  He’s not dark and tortured and doesn’t need the heroine to save him from his inner demons.  He know who he is and has plenty of real self-confidence rather than bravado, and for the most part he’s content with his lot. It’s true that Catherine accuses him of cowardice late on in the story, but that’s because she sees that he has more potential than even he knows, and it’s her way or forcing him to look beyond what he’s accomplished.

Also – he’s damn hawt. ;)

Dabney: As I was reading Luck Be a Lady, I was struck by how masterfully Ms. Duran writes sex scenes. Nick pushes Catherine to allow herself pleasure and yet he does so by, in the best way possible, getting her consent at every turn (or kiss). The love scenes between the two do all I want a love scene to. They’re sensual, they illuminate the relationship between the leads, and they make me feel all melty inside.

Caz: It’s always good to read sex scenes like that, ones that add something to what we know about the characters rather than just feeling as though they’ve been added in because “it’s time.” Oh – and the part with the sheet?  (I wonder how many readers initially thought the package Catherine insisted on bringing with her was an enticing nightgown or something?!) Her naivete was rather sweet in a way, and fit her character perfectly.  It’s still difficult for women to be taken seriously in some workplaces and for Catherine it would have been even more so.  As a business woman, she’s competing in a man’s world, and so is in the habit of viewing herself as sexless (to a point).  And with that whole episode, she’s trying to get Nick to see her in the same way, as just a transaction.  And I loved the way Nick dealt with the issue; forceful without being overbearing, completely perfect for that moment in their relationship and in very much in character.

Dabney: Yes. That dynamic, where Catherine wants to see everything in her life as a business transaction and Nick is equally determined she see what happens between them as a relationship, is one of the reasons their romance has resonance for me. Catherine has the higher IQ—or at least is far better educated—but Nick has the superior EQ (emotional intelligence). It’s a lovely way to make them equals as lovers.

I wanted Nick to have a woman who is worthy of him and he does in Catherine. She’s smart, determined, and prickly in wonderful ways.

Caz:  Yes, so often one reads a book where one comes out at the end liking one protagonist more than the other and feeling as though perhaps they didn’t quite deserve the other, but that’s absolutely not what happens here. As Nick can be seen as a tropish hero, so Catherine is a tropish heroine – or could have been in the hands of a lesser author. She’s all about the business (or so she thinks – I love the moment when Nick identifies her drive to succeed as passion!) and actually believes herself to be incapable of anything more.  She’s a bit of a puzzle at first though, because she seems to have grown up having a father who doted on her and it’s only later that we come to see how his treatment of her has affected her.  I like that she’s strong and confident, but also that she is quick to admit the effect Nick has on her.  So often heroines in this sort or situation persist in self-denial when it comes to the way the hero makes her feel, but Catherine doesn’t do that; she refuses to let Nick see it, but knows she’s in trouble almost from the start.

Dabney: And then there’s the story which is complex and rewarding. Part of the joy of reading historical romance is to learn stuff. In this book, Ms. Duran makes the workings of the parish politics and the Water Board intensely interesting. This is a book that argues strongly for the poor and does so in ways that are believable, compelling, and innate to the story.

Caz: The thing about the story which makes it stand out so strongly is how utterly plausible the whole thing is. I read a LOT of historicals (as you know) and there is almost always some element that stretches my credibility a bit too much, whether it’s a virginal heroine suddenly morphing into a sex-kitten, or a miraculous recovery from trauma or whatever; but here there’s none of that.  The whole story is solid and tight-as-a-drum – so much so that I couldn’t find a single thing about it that didn’t ring true (and it’s a sad fact that sometimes, as reviewers, we DO look for those things rather too often!)   Ms Duran’s research into local politics must have been extensive and the political corruption angle rings entirely true.  The asylum plot – also eminently believeable.  I couldn’t find a single plot hole or dangling thread in the entire book.

I’ve seen criticisms of the scene towards the end when Nick – in order to protect Catherine who is recovering from an injury – refuses outright to let her go with him and, knowing she will likely follow him, locks her in her room.  Personally, I didn’t find that upsetting; it made sense in the context of the story and of Nick’s feelings for Catherine.  Did it bother you?


The asylum plot. So good. It’s why I read. Just masterful.

No, Nick’s actions at the end didn’t bother me. Given what had previously happened to Catherine, I can completely understand Nick’s desire to keep her safe at all costs. That’s one of those things where, if he hadn’t locked her in her room and she’d, again, come to great danger, he’d have lost the thing he loves the most. Ms. Duran makes it clear Nick understands how his actions alienated the woman he loves. I was left believing that he’d never do something like that again… unless he was sure it was necessary for Catherine’s safety.

Caz: I’m glad it wasn’t just me that saw it that way!

Dabney: After I finished Luck Be A Lady, I reread all of Ms. Duran’s books. This book is now my fourth favorite of hers, coming in after (in ascending order) At Your Pleasure, Bound by Your Touch, and (tied for first) Written on Your Skin and The Duke of Shadows.

I can’t wait for her next book. You know whose story I’m hoping for next…. (no spoilers, but, oh!)

Caz: Heh. I hope this doesn’t lose me my MD fangirl card, but I actually have a couple of books by her that I haven’t yet read.  In my defence, this is because I hoard them for when I want to read something I KNOW will be awesome and that I will enjoy.  Written on Your Skin is one of those hoarded books. I agree about the others on your list – Bound By Your Touch was the first book of Ms Duran’s I read and it made me an instant, die-hard fan.

Dabney: So many books, so little time…. I’d give Lucky Be a Lady an A-. What about you?

Caz: From me, it gets an A.

Posted in Books with Buzz, Caz AAR, Dabney AAR, Pandora's Box | Tagged | 9 Comments