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.

Residency-Lucknow

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

White's_Club_St_James's_Street_-_geograph.org.uk_-wikipedia

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

Almack's_Assembly_Rooms_inside-wikipedia

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.

512px-Les_Très_Riches_Heures_du_duc_de_Berry_Janvier

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?

For the Love of Writing

by Ruth J. Hartman

Writing is a journey. There’s so much to learn. When I first started writing for publication, I didn’t know any other authors. I wasn’t active online much and hadn’t tapped into the amazing, widespread fellowship of authors worldwide. Over the years, these fellow writers who are now friends have given me invaluable advice on everything from how to use certain keys on my computer to giving opinions on blurbs I’ve written for new books. Everything was new. The more I learned, the more I realized I had yet to learn. So much information.

At first, it was intimidating. How was I going to absorb and remember all that I read and heard? It wasn’t as if I was just coming out of college. I’d been to college years before, but not for anything writing-related. In fact, it was about as far away as you could get. I was a dental hygienist. So when I did start to seriously write for publication, I felt as if I was getting a late start. But that’s the beauty of using the written word. It’s never too late. As long as you have something to say, say it. If you have something to share, don’t keep it to yourself. Books are a treat for the mind, a gate to new adventures, a relaxing oasis in the midst of life’s turmoil and strife.

It was refreshing to discover that to be a writer, you don’t have to have a special room in which to write, or an ornate desk. If you are a writer, you write. Anywhere. Anytime. On a computer, phone, or a tiny scrap of paper torn from the corner of an old phone book. I know from experience! I had an idea and knew I might forget it if I didn’t write it down. The phone book was the only available surface.

Normally, I write at a counter set up with my laptop. Lately, however, we’ve been in the middle of a home remodel and my counter isn’t available. But, my recliner works nicely. That is, until one or both cats decide they want my attention and don’t understand why they can’t nap on the keys of the laptop.

In the warmer months, I like to write out in our enclosed porch. I’m continually serenaded by goldfinches, chickadees and several varieties of woodpeckers.

But I have to say, the most tranquil spot I ever found to write was while on vacation a few years ago. We’d taken a trip to Mackinac Island. My husband and I were fortunate enough to stay in a hotel that was 150 years old. The rooms were small but unique, and the woodwork throughout the building was beautiful. However, our favorite spot was the wraparound front porch with a long line of rocking chairs. The view was spectacular. Horse drawn carriages, the lapping of gentle waves from nearby water, and the calm, friendly atmosphere of small-island life.

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So if you have a desire to write, don’t let experience, age, or location stop you. Just write!

 

The People in My Head

128px-Library_science_symbol_2By Beppie Harrison

Writing a book is an odd experience.

Of course, I mean writing a whole book of fiction, one with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Many people think about writing a book, and a few of them actually get started. Getting past the beginning is the hardest part, and a lot of those who try give up at that point, and what they write is sometimes rather odd. Some people, of course—even some people who actually finish books—begin not at the beginning, but somewhere else. Marcia Davenport, who wrote many very fine books, wrote that she always started with the end. Her mother, the soprano Alma Gluck, told her that a strong, memorable ending was the most important part of any artistic achievement, and so she always wrote that first.

Writers, by which I mean people who do finish writing their books, often complain about the middle section being like a swamp in which a good book may founder. Certainly I’ve found that it’s often the middle that clarifies for me whether what I’m working on has enough strength to go all the way to the end, or if I need to go back and work out what I’m trying to do in the first place. Middles are hard. The end? Well, if you’re Marcia Davenport you already have that ready. If you’re not, trying to tie up all your loose ends into a satisfying resolution is hard, too. I’ve had a couple of books that wouldn’t stop at what I expected to be the end, and went on and on.

I hope they didn’t read that way!

But then, I’m one who writes making only a very loose plan for the book. Writers like me call themselves pantsers, because we write by the seat of our pants. Plotters are those who feel most comfortable knowing exactly which way the book is going to go. They want a very detailed plan or outline so that each step is worked out in advance, and the writing just fills out that outline with characters who are already defined.

My characters are vague in my mind when I begin. I mean, I know something about them, and have a general idea of what they are going to do in my book, but they have a disconcerting way of grabbing the plot in their own hands and riding off decisively in another direction. (I write historical romance, so the car hasn’t been invented yet and they’re most likely on horseback.) Plotters would be very unhappy with that, if it should happen at all. Most often, of course, it doesn’t.

I tend to grin at the computer, rejoicing that my mind people have turned into characters of their own and follow where they lead, hoping I won’t end up in a blind alley somewhere. Of course, sometimes I do, which is why my laptop has a delete key that is frequently used.

I wonder if all of us, pantsers and plotters alike, walk around hopefully looking normal but with voices going on in our heads? There are books now in print that I can look at and remember, yes, that bit wrote itself in my head when I was turning past the gas station just before I came to the highway. Or perhaps another when I was emptying the dishwasher and stopped with plates in my hand to see how an exchange between two of my characters was going to end.

My world is more real to me when I’m working on a book, and I love that real world. Right now I’ve just finished a Regency novella, which will be The Dowager’s Season, introducing a quartet of novels about the dowager’s four granddaughters. The first will be Clarissa and the Two Suitors. Sometime this summer, I hope? Until then my head will be buzzing.