The Gardens at Sissinghurst

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I first discovered Sissinghurst Castle and its wonderful gardens by a very roundabout method. I was fascinated (possibly “overwhelmed” is the better word) by Virginia Woolf, and when I came to Orlando, my imagination was captured by the strange creature she created and that transferred quickly to Vita Sackville-West, whom Virginia Woolf had written the book for and about. Well, once I was onto Vita Sackville-West, discovering the gardens of Sissinghurst Castle was the automatic next step. Vita and her husband, the diplomat and writer Harold Nicolson, had taken the tumbledown ruins of an Elizabeth castle and built a world-famous garden around them.

 

Although I never really developed a passion for Vita’s writing, I have to say the garden that Harold Nicolson designed and Vita planted is one of my favorite places on earth. It must have been a strange place to live in: what was left of the castle was primarily a long strip of entrance building, a section with two towers set off by itself, miscellaneous brick walls, a moat (or bits of one) and two buildings, one of they called the Priest’s House and the other South Cottage. Vita made her workroom in one of the towers; the kitchen for them all and their two sons’ bedrooms were in the Priest’s House, and she and Harold slept in South Cottage. It must have been chilly on a cold winter morning to have to scamper through shreds of snow and icy brick footpaths from the South Cottage to the Priest’s House for breakfast! I think that one of their sons’ response to his first sight of the place, in complete ruins, was not unreasonable: “Do you mean we have to live here?” In the end, the only room designed as a common room was the library at the end of the entrance range.

 

But oh, the gardens! Out of the unpromising materials Vita and Harold planned (that was mostly Harold) and planted (that was mostly Vita) one of the most astonishingly beautiful gardens—a series of rooms between the wall fragments, hundreds of roses tumbling over the brick walls and exquisite flowers everywhere you look. Everyone has their own special place. One of my favorites is the South Cottage garden, where Harold liked to sit in the evenings—all the flowers are in sunset colors, planted thickly and lavishly, around the architectural trees he loved in the middle. My husband loves the rose garden, although there are roses everywhere, not just there. They climb up walls, fall over others with a richness of blossoms, and their fragrance scents the air. We both love the White Garden, where all the flowers are shades of white and grey that contrast deliciously with the rich greens of the foliage.

 

The first picture shows the vista through the sculptured trees to the entrance of the South Cottage (their bedrooms were there, as well as Harold’s writing room), and the other is of me, dreamily clutching my cane—more boring troubles with my spine, etc.—and gazing around at brilliantly red poppies, and rising up over my head, the first rose, a white one, that they planted there. Even before they received the deed!

 

If you go to England, you must go there. It’s in the Weald of Kent, now administered by the National Trust, and it’s unforgettable.

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Lamenting the Lack of Bookstores

by Barbara Bettis

Speaking of books. And where to get them. bookstore

I have a wonderful report (in theory).

This week when I was going through the grocery store checkout and chatting with the clerk, I discovered she was a senior at the local university, majoring in English.

She wants to open a bookstore when she graduates.

I nearly wept on her shoulder. I didn’t though, but I did thank her and encourage her in her dream. Luckily it was a slow day in the supermarket, so we were able to talk for a few minutes. She was cognizant of the difficulty of such an effort, but she said she hoped to open a small place to begin with, something that had space for people to gather, read, hold meetings, have coffee or tea.

She said she wanted it to be a spot for booklovers to congregate, and she would offer all kinds of books for purchase.  

This, in my opinion, is a perfect kind of bookstore, one that encourages people who love to read to gather in the midst of books, to spend time alone with a cup of coffee and their favorite author, or to meet with coffee shop get togethers friends to talk over—whatever they like.

 It can even be a spot where other events are conducted. Our Borders used to host evenings of music, as well.

Our city is the third largest in the state, population-wise. Yet our Hastings left years ago and our Borders, of course, went out when the company folded. (I still miss our Borders. It was so very author friendly as well as reader friendly.) We have a scarce handful of used book stores, one store that sells both used and some new, and the Barnes and Noble, which seems to offer more ‘other things’ as the years go by.

Yes, the burgeoning of e-publishing and the shrinking market for hard-copy books affect booksellers and book buyers, as does the rising cost of books. Yet this young woman said she was willing to take the risk in order to bring back the warmth and energy of a bookstoTheLadyoftheForest_w11020_750re.

I gave her my card and told her to let me know when it happened because I knew of several authors who would immediately patronize the place. (We’ll actually haunt it, but I didn’t want to scare her off.)

Let’s hope she manages to realize her dream.

What’s the reality of bookstores where you live?

 

 

Books: Standing the Test of Time

Shadow of the MoonShadow of the Moon

Review by Jenna Jaxon

Recently, I began re-reading M. M. Kaye’s romance Shadow of the Moon (probably about the 8th time I’ve read it—my first copy fell apart) and while the love story is as wonderful as it ever was, and the descriptions of India are truly magnificent—you can believe you are there—the writing style, jumps out at me as having a lot of things I’ve been taught not to do. How does one judge a work that was written in a different time, with different stylistic expectations?

Shadow of the Moon, set in England and India in the years leading up to the India Mutiny of 1857, is the story of young Winter de Ballesteros, born of an English woman and a Spaniard who met and fell in love in India. Winter is orphaned almost from infancy and raised in a wealthy Indian household. At age six, she is sent back to her relatives in England, where she lives, unappreciated, until she returns to India to marry a distant relative, a Commissioner of the Indian state of Lunjore, she met once and who she has romanticized into a shining knight, able to return her to the wonderful life she remembered there. The Commissioner’s handsome aide, Alex Randall, reluctantly escorts Winter to India, hoping his charge will have the sense to break the engagement when she discovers the truth about her betrothed.

Winter’s dream shatters when she realizes—too late—her knight in shining armor is an older, drunken, debauched man who is only after her wealth. Now trapped in a loveless marriage in the midst of a foreign country on the brink of a violent explosion, Winter works together with Alex to try to prevent the crisis and deny their feelings for one another. In the aftermath of the brutal mutiny, more dangers threaten Alex and Winter and their future happiness.

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The Residence at Lucknow after the India Mutiny

 

I have loved this book, as well as Kaye’s masterpiece The Far Pavillions, since I first read them, though I did wonder how the writing would hold up now that I read as a writer moreso than a reader. Written in 1956, Shadow of Moon includes several things no longer acceptable in the romance genre: head-hopping, a third person narrator, and pages of backstory on the politics and history of 18th and 19th century India. The head-hopping, changing point of view from character to character is constant throughout the book, though after a while it no longer bothered me. The use of a third person narrator helps both with the historical perspective and with the lack of deep POV from the hero and heroine. Again, it takes some getting used to, but as the book is 800 pages long, you come to embrace it along the way. The historical/political backstory, however, I fouOnlyAMistressWillDond myself skipping over in great chunks in favor of getting to the romance. I do not believe the reader’s enjoyment of the book is in any way compromised by doing this and if one finds such things fascinating, it is wonderful contextual reading.

I do recommend this book to lovers of historical romance. Both Shadow of the Moon and The Far Pavillions have made me put a trip to India on my bucket list of things to do. I would love to see some of these storybook palaces, ride horseback on the plains, experience a colorful bazaar myself and in some tangible way relive these masterful stories first hand.

A Personal Roadmap to Research

beppie bio pixOur departure is bearing down on me! We leave tomorrow morning to spend almost a month in England, all because I was smart enough to marry an Englishman an incredible number of years ago, and so lived in London for ten years and since then have traveled back frequently to visit family and friends.

So this is another of those trips. Most of the time I intend to spend eating wonderful British bread and cheese while trying to explain to incredulous English friends what the hell is going on in Washington, but before we get down to that, I’m going to take a wonderful cab ride called Research through the Regency places in London.

I’ve been to most of them one time or another, but never with my Regency goggles on, so to speak. All of the streets, as far as I can tell, are still there. I’m working with my wonderful book The A to Z of Regency London, but since it shows London as it was, not as it is, I’m waiting to get to London to buy a spanking new London A to Z (which, should you ever be trying to buy one, is pronounced “A to Zed”) and the put the two together, and take one of those wonderful English cabs—no longer always black, more’s the pity—with a driver who knows London inside out and backwards, and figure out a sensible route between them, as I’m certain many if not all of them are now one-way streets.

Here’s my list:

Bond Street:

The obvious starting point. Bond Street is still a wonderful shopping experience, assuming your pockets are stuffed with 5 pound notes and higher. (There is no 1 pound note now: that’s a coin.)  The shops my Regency heroines knew are all almost certainly gone, but when I was last on the street there were plenty of new ones, with that distinctive crest showing they have been patronized by a member of the Royal Family. There was also, back in the day, Hookham’s Circulating Library, well known to ladies as they specialized in novels. Jane Austen’s books sold there. Down the street a bit, I imagine, was Gentleman Jackson’s boxing saloon, where the gents could practice their arts and cheer on their friends and sneer at the less capable.

St. James Street:

I know I’ve been down this street because I rem

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White’s Today

ember passing one of the famous men’s clubs there (they still are!) but unfortunately don’t remember which one. White’s, Boodle’s, and Brooke’s were all there and still remain. Back in Regency days, respectable women did not walk nor drive in open carriages, because the men clustered at the windows would remark on what they saw. (Why did they cluster at the windows? To be researched . . . )

 

The Strand

Here I have an address for Ackermann’s Repository of Arts. It stood at 101, where the Savoy Hotel now is. It was a particular favorite for all, rich and poor, to stand gawking at the windows where they posted topical prints and those magnificent caricatures that made fun of everyone, but primarily the rich and famous.

King Street:

This is where the fabled Almack’s stood, and where the ton danced who had managed the difficult feat of obtaining tickets by way of the seven formidable ladies who were the patronesses, each of whom made sure that her tickets only went to the socially deserving. There was an enormous ballroom, about a hundred feet long and

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Regency Almack’s

. One did not come to Almack’s for the refreshments: they were only the lightest of wines, orgeat or ratafia, and the food was sparing and negligible. Almack’s ma

 

 

 

in function was to act as a showcase for the pick of the debutantes. It was there that girls were launched by their mothers and made to parade for inspection. It’s not still there. Isn’t that a pity?

 

Haymarket:

That was where the Prince Regent and affluent others came for their bottles of scent. Both men and women wore scent as a matter of course. The Prince used eau de Cologne, eau de Nile (certainly not what it sounds like!), lavender water, Oil of Roses, Oil of Jasmine and Oil of Orange Flower as well as “Bergamotte.” The best perfumers at the time were a French firm, Bourgeois Amick and Son, with premises in Haymarket.

Haymarket is mostly theaters now, if I remember correctly. But, faithful readers, I will be finding out soon, and my next blog will be a report on how my expedition went.

Au revoir!the reluctant heart

(Images of White’s and Almack’s from Wikipedia)

My Heroes Always Come Home

by Katherine Bone

Ahoy, me hearties! When I was a young officer’s wife and my husband was frequently away on duty, I turned to books to escape. At the time, I had two young children below thkatherine bonee age of two years old and we were living overseas in Italy and Germany (a total four and a half years), far away from family and friends. Books were my mainstay, companionship in times of trouble, and provided adventure far outside of the loneliness I experienced every day.

To stay sane, I devoured romance novels by Kathleen Woodiwiss, Julie Garwood, Johanna Lindsey, Elizabeth Lowell, Rosemary Rogers, and Fern Michaels. Their books led me to historical places where life was gritty and hard, but love ALWAYS won the day. Something I prayed would happen when my husband was serving our country and there were times I feared I would never see him again.

Two more children and eight moves later, I decided to take my art school background and flip it by painting pictures with words. Writing novels is a wonderful opportunity to share my passion for history and the written word, and to pay it forward to readers experiencing the same loneliness I endured so many years ago.

In the beginning of my writing career, I wrote western romance to celebrate my passion for old western frontier Army bases like Fort Laramie, WY, Fort Leavenworth, KS, and Fort Sill, OK. Think John Wayne in the Searchers and Angel and the Badman, Roy Rogers, and the Lone Ranger. (My love for the west deepened at the Fort Leavenworth Museum. It was there I volunteered as an assistant assembling exhibits and created artwork for exhibitions.)

My writing style has been greatly influenced by comic books, Kathleen Woodiwiss, Julie Garwood, Edgar Allen Poe, Louis L’Amour, Zane Grey, Patrick O’Brien, John Jakes, Jane Austen, the Brontës, Alexander Dumaserroll flynn as captain blood 2, and Gaston Leroux. But the theme of my books has always been anchored by hope.

What better way to anchor readers in hope than to write seafaring stories, especially about pirates, eh? (After all, there isn’t much of a jump between the Wild West, men traveling west of the Missouri to forge a living on the plains, to pirates sailing away from civilization to pillage and plunder on the open sea, is there? Pirate!)

Readers can always count on action/adventure sequences sandwiched between sensual scenes and witty repartee in my books. There will always be epic peril involved that can often seem over the top. (My love for over-the-top action is an ode to my youth and comic books!) 😉

Remember those nights I worried about whether or not my rogue would return home? There will be thrilling sea battles and swashbuckling sword fights, or gunfights, to keep readers turning the pages to find out that very same thing. I’ll let you in on a secret. In my books, heroes ALWAYS return home!

Real life is shocking, tragic, throwing curve balls at every turn. Key in overcoming obstacles in our lives is to forge on through every challenge, trusting that our anchor will keep us from dashing upon the rocks or floating away on perilous cthe pirates debturrent

I’m beyond thrilled that readers will soon get the next book in my Regent’s Revenge Series, THE PIRATE’S DUTY. Expect to see Oriana Thorpe’s and Captain Walsingham’s book available mid-July.

Until then, grab a copy of book two, THE PIRATE’S DEBT, in the ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS box set, a May 18th Limited time release! THE PIRATE’S DEBT is Lady Chloe Walsingham’s and Basil, Earl of Markwick’s story.

 

 

 

 

The Medieval Book

by Edwina Moore

I’m delighted to be doing a guest post (my first!). I’m Edwina Moore. I have a PhD in medieval history, which came in pretty handy when I decided to write a romance set in fourteenth-century France. A Knight’s Ransom isn’t published yet, but a couple of agents asked to see the full manuscript, and now I wait…so much waiting. But never fear, gentle readers, I am not sitting idle. A Knight’s Redemption is in the works.

Enough about me. Let’s talk about books. Now, asking a writer to talk about books is a dangerous thing. I could talk about books until the proverbial cows have gone back out again. I thought about my favorite books. Yes, plural, because who has just one favorite? I thought about the book that introduced me to romance (Seduction, by Amanda Quick) and the one that led me to medieval history (The Lord of the Rings), but instead I decided to write about the book in the Middle Ages.

The book format we know—covers, pages, chapters, margins, headings, the use of different colors and fonts to set off information (think a textbook), page numbers, not to mention punctuation and spaces between words, all developed over the Late Antique and medieval periods. In terms of the physical object, books made reading easier—imagine reading Game of Thrones on a scroll and needing to re-read something because you can’t remember who that character is in chapter four. Books are also easier to store than scrolls, and parchment is less vulnerable to damp than papyrus. Rubrication, things like chapter headings and page numbers, made finding information more efficient. Books could also be any size, small enough to fit in your palm—Leona, the heroine of A Knight’s Ransom, has such a book—or so large that it would take a couple of people to hold them.

A lot of work went into producing a medieval book. This included preparing the parchment, making the inks, ruling the parchment—if you look closely at some medieval books, you can still see the pinpricks in the margins and the faint lines crossing the parchment—writing or more likely copying the text BY HAND (think about Game of Thrones or a book by Stephanie Laurens—Lord of the Privateers is 500 pages; imagine copying that by hand), adding illuminations or illustrations, assembling the pages into quires, adding the covers…it’s quite a process.

It’s no surprise, then, that books were status symbols. The more expensive the materials, the more elaborate the illuminations, the more ornate the covers, the more wealth and status the owner had. Most books were simple and, relatively, inexpensive: chapbooks, simple Books of Hours, and the like. Only wealthy patrons could afford something like the Trés Riches Heures du duc de Berry, and books were often handed down in wills as valuable moveable property.

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Medieval books are pretty amazing, and I love to talk about them whenever I get a chance. My thanks to Beppie et al for hosting me and giving me the opportunity to do it.

 

Writing Now, Writing Then

The_novels_and_letters_of_Jane_Austen(1)by Donna Hatch

When people ask me what I do to celebrate completing a manuscript, I am always a little stumped. I don’t celebrate, really. It’s kind of like giving childbirth; I’m usually too exhausted to party. And the work isn’t done. Once I have done all I can with a manuscript, it goes to my editor. The next step is (two or three or more) rounds of edits and sometimes revisions. After that, I proof the galley (the PDF of what the printed page will look like). Once the book goes into production, I promote that it’s coming, schedule blog tours and interviews, and try to hype up release day as well as garner pre-orders. On release date, I promote, promote, promote.

In the midst of that, I start the next piece whether it’s a novella, short story, or full-length novel. I always have ideas of stories I want to write, and works-in-progress in various stages of the writing process. That being said, I did pat myself on the back when the last book came out. It marked my twentieth published title. My husband and I went out for a nice steak dinner and yes, I had dessert.

However, when I finish a manuscript, I do give myself a reprieve. It may only be a day or two but I take a little time to catch up on my To-Do List—neglected chores or errands. One of my favorite ways to relax after finishing a manuscript is to read novels by some of my favorite authors—something I don’t do when I’m in the midst of writing or researching or scrambling to meet a deadline.

Currently, I am working on a Christmas novella about a kiss from a stranger (or was it a romantic ghost?). I’m having a lot of fun with that one. The characters really need each other but refuse to see that and there are a lot of obstacles in the way of their happily ever after.

I’m also in the rough draft stage of the fifth book of the Rogue Hearts series. This one is about a lady who finds her estranged husband murdered and is blamed for the crime. In a time when a suspect was presumed guilty unless proven innocent, she goes on the run. The Bow Street Runner sent to track down the beautiful widow is starting to believe she’s innocent. The real killer wants her dead.

I am also doing research for a Napoleonic War spy series I want to write, and I am planning on writing a second book in the Music of the Heart Series about how music brings two people together.

Then there’s that idea inspired by my research into hot air ballooning.

And that pirate series I mean to write someday.

regency lady reading(1)

So many books to wriand so little time!

What kind of books you like to read? Do you have any favorite tropes?