Archive for August, 2017

Top Five Heyers

Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

The other day, when I posted about my recent Heyer-a-thon, a funny thing happened in the Comments section: an impromptu discussion of Top Five Heyer novels.

Not four shall you count, not six, but five. (Sorry, Monty Python.) Why five? Perhaps because it’s so impossible to pick just one Heyer. Or, for that matter, three or four. Even picking five is tough– but upping it to ten feels like cheating.

So I thought I’d give it a go. Here, in no particular order, are my top five Heyers:

Devil’s Cub. Georgian, rather than Regency, this book captures the elegance and danger of an era when rakes wore ruffles and thought nothing of running a man through in the road. Vidal, the devil’s cub of the title, is a real rake, not a cutesy imitation one: mad, bad, and genuinely dangerous to know. Fortunately, the heroine, Mary Challoner, a woman of spirit and principle, is more than a match for him and refuses to give him any quarter– until he deserves it. (Side note: this book was the direct inspiration for the third in my Pink Carnation series, The Deception of the Emerald Ring, with its elopement gone wrong.)

The Nonesuch. This book is the archetypal Regency romance, with its country community that can’t help but make you think of the world of Pride and Prejudice, a gentlewoman turned governess for heroine, and a top of the trees (but not toplofty) hero who turns the community upside down by dint of his appearance. (There’s even a secondary romance a la Bingley and Jane.)

A Civil Contract. This one, while also a Regency, is a little different from the usual madcap romp. It’s more sober than Heyer’s other Regencies. The heroine is a “cit”, a rich merchant’s daughter, with none of the graces of the usual Heyer heroine. She’s a short, stout, housewifely soul. The hero, on the other hand, is a romantic, forced to sever his connection with the woman he always believed he would marry. But he discovers, over a year of marriage, that perhaps he’s not such a romantic as he thought, and that his practical Jenny may suit him better than flighty Julia. People seem to either love or hate A Civil Contract. I fall into the “love” category. (You can read my thoughts on it by scrolling down here until you get to the essay titled A Not So Fine Romance, from way back in September 2008.) In the end, is it a love match? That’s up for debate. I think it is– but you can see for yourself.

Arabella. Back to the madcap, Arabella is one of the brilliantly funny Heyers, in which a parson’s daughter come-to-town decides, in a moment of pique, to pretend to be an heiress– but never imagines just how much she’ll be caught up in her own deception. The hero knows almost from the outset, but plays along, first out of annoyance, and later because he’s come to care for her too much to figure out how to tell her he knows the truth. This also falls into the “proud and wealthy hero knocked down from his pedestal and made human” category.

Sylvester. Speaking of proud and lofty heroes…. It takes a novelist (also a twittery sister-in-law, a fop to end all fops, and a determined small child) to crack the ducal reserve of the eponymous Sylvester, with lots of hijinks and some of my very favorite comic scenes along the way.

Honorable mentions: The Talisman Ring, The Quiet Gentleman, and Sprig Muslin.

What are your top five Heyers?

Weekly Reading Round-Up

Friday, August 25th, 2017

Nobody does comic relief quite as elegantly as Georgette Heyer, the woman who invented the Regency romance. So, this week, in honor of Heyer’s birthday, I read two Heyer novels I had somehow missed out on over the years: Cotillion and Venetia.

If there are any Mischief of the Mistletoe fans out there, then hie yourself off to read Cotillion. There aren’t any Christmas puddings, but there is a hero who is quite definitely a close cousin to Turnip Fitzhugh (although Freddy would never be caught in a carnation embroidered waistcoat). The hero of Venetia is much more of the Lord Vaughn mode: mad, bad, and dangerous to know. Or, at least, everyone except the heroine thinks he is.

Right now, I’ve moved away from Regency London to the Scottish Highlands in the 1950s with A.D. Scott’s A Small Death in the Great Glen, the first in a mystery series recommended to me by the wonderful Barbara Peters of The Poisoned Pen, who came to the rescue with a long reading list once she learned I was going to be spending a lot of time pinned under an infant.* A Small Death in the Great Glen paints a richly textured picture of Highland life in the aftermath of World War II– and is making me want to go re-read my collection of Alexandra Raife novels (1990s Scottish women’s fiction), because Highlands.

What have you been reading this week?

*Side note: If you can’t make it to the Poisoned Pen in person, I highly recommend signing up for the Poisoned Pen newsletter or joining one of their book clubs. I’ve found so many good books that way.

Weekly Reading Round-Up

Friday, August 18th, 2017

On tap for this week have been:

— Eva Chase’s Black Rabbit Hall, a dark Gothic (think echoes of The Thirteenth Tale), with a surprisingly upbeat ending, set in a moldering manor house in Cornwall;

— Barbara Michaels’s Wait for What Will Come, because once you read one Gothic set in a moldering Cornish manor house, it generally leads to another (Wait for What Will Come is the archetypal “house” book: American heroine unexpectedly inherits ancestral home in England complete with attic full of antiques, quirky family retainers, and, of course, a family curse);

— Francine Matthews’s Death on Nantucket, the fifth and most recent in her Merry Folger mystery series (which means that I now have to find a new mystery series to binge read…);

— Barbara Michaels’s Here I Stay, because once I start re-reading Barbara Michaels, it’s hard to stay away. My favorite parts of this novel have always been the bits about the heroine’s ups and downs turning an old house into an inn, rather than the ghost story plot.

What have you been reading this week?

Writer’s Digest Conference– This Weekend!

Monday, August 14th, 2017

When we were teenagers, many of my friends had subscriptions to Seventeen Magazine. I had a subscription to Writer’s Digest. Back in the days before the internet, I remember the thrill of the magazine’s arrival, eagerly reading through articles on viewpoint, pacing, research, publishing nitty gritty (back when it was more nitty than gritty). Because isn’t that what every thirteen year old cares about?

So I’m especially delighted to be participating in this year’s Writer’s Digest Conference!

The conference takes place this weekend at the midtown Hilton in New York (6th Avenue between 53rd and 54th). On Saturday at 10:15, I’ll be speaking with Heather Webb, Stephanie Cowell, Nancy Bilyeau, Crystal L King, and Jessica Strawser (our fearless moderator), about Writing about Yesterday, Today: The Art & Business of Historical Fiction.

Here’s the official panel blurb: In this insightful session, our panelists will examine the peculiar difficulties associated with researching and crafting convincing, artful historical fiction that sweeps readers away without bogging them down with too much detail and description.

Peculiar is, indeed, often the word….

If you’re already planning on attending the conference, come find our panel at 10:15 Saturday on the second floor of the Hilton! If you haven’t registered yet, I hear there may still be spots.

We’ll be signing books (and I have snazzy new English Wife bookmarks and postcards to hand out!) starting at 11:20 on the Promenade next to the bookstore.

To see the other panels and authors, check out the full conference schedule, here.

Weekly Reading Round-Up

Friday, August 11th, 2017

The first half of this post was originally meant to go up last week– but the arrival of a small person intervened. So let’s call this fortnightly round-up instead of weekly round-up today? (Also because I just love the word “fortnight”.)

I started last week old school, with a murder mystery from the early 80s: Isabelle Holland’s Flight of the Archangel. Many of the Holland books tend to be in the Elsie Lee mode– first person narratives in which the 1970s career women heroines find themselves taking on international conspiracies, drug cartels, and the like– but this was not one of my favorites, for various reasons. For vintage Isabelle Holland, I much prefer the somewhat spookier Tower Abbey, which has less distressing gender politics.

Needing something a little less grim, I moved on to Jenny Colgan’s The Cafe by the Sea, in which a London paralegal finds herself heading back to the remote Scottish island she’s avoided since her mother’s death– and finds, unexpectedly, that you can come home after all. The Colgan books have become my happy place (who doesn’t want to move to Scotland… or Cornwall… or wherever else?)– so lots of thanks to whoever it was over here who first recommended them!

Then it was back to Francine Matthews’s Nantucket mystery series for Book Four, Death in a Cold Hard Light. There’s only one more left in the series now, so I’m going to have to pace myself– in the hopes she’ll write more!

And since I have a great deal of reading time right now at odd hours of the night, I decided to revisit some old favorites, starting with Lois McMaster Bujold’s The Curse of Chalion— which is one of those books that never stales however many times I read it. It’s like a more upbeat Game of Thrones, or, possibly, Game of Thrones with a moral center, and less violence, where you can trust that good will eventually triumph. Court intrigue, curses… what’s not to love?

Moving from pseudo-medieval court intrigue to Parliamentary scheming, I picked up another fat old mass market paperback: Jeffrey Archer’s First Among Equals, the story of four men as each vies for the ultimate place in British government. I’d read and loved it back when I was in college. What struck me about it now is what a period piece it is, set primarily in the 60’s and 70’s, with the fictional politicians woven into the real political issues of those days. (You can just picture the hair and clothes of the day as you read it.) Definitely a read for people who have been enjoying House of Cards or who have chortled over Yes, Minister re-runs.

And that’s it for me for the moment! What have you been reading this week?

More Pink on Sale!

Thursday, August 10th, 2017

It’s the summer of cheap e-Pink! For a limited time, the third book in the Pink Carnation series, The Deception of the Emerald Ring, is available for only $1.99 in e-book.

1803. Ireland. Intrigue. Plots. Spies. And one accidental marriage of inconvenience….

Here’s the official blurb:

Emerald PaperbackEloise Kelly has gotten into quite a bit of trouble since she started spying on the Pink Carnation and the Black Tulip—two of the deadliest spies to saunter the streets of nineteenth-century England and France. Not only has she unearthed secrets that will rearrange history, she’s dallied with Colin Selwick and sought out a romantic adventure all her own. Little does she know that she’s about to uncover another fierce heroine running headlong into history.

The year is 1803 and England and France remain at odds. Hoping to break the English once and for all, Napoleon backs a ring of Irish rebels in uprisings against England and sends the Black Tulip, France’s most deadly spy, to the Emerald Isle to help. What they don’t know is that also in Ireland is England’s top spy, the Pink Carnation, who is working to shut the rebels down.

Meanwhile, back in England, Letty Alsworthy intercepts a note indicating that her sister, Mary, is about to make the very grave mistake of eloping with Geoffrey Pinghingdale-Snipe (second in command of the League of the Purple Gentian). In an attempt to save the family name, Letty tries to stop the elopement, but instead finds herself swept away in the midnight carriage meant for her sister and is accidentally compromised. Geoff and Letty, to each other’s horror, find themselves forced into matrimony. Then, Geoff receives word that he is to travel to Ireland to help the Pink Carnation and disappears immediately after their wedding ceremony. Letty learns of Geoff’s disappearance and, not to be outdone by her husband, steals away on a ship bound for Ireland, armed and ready to fight for her husband…and to learn a thing or two about spying for England.

You can find The Deception of the Emerald Ring for $1.99 on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and iBooks.

Emerald Ring on sale

In the meantime, the first Pink book, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, is still on sale for $2.99 in e on Kindle, Nook, Kobo, Google, and iBooks.

Because summer is for floral spies?

Happy reading!

If You Like….

Tuesday, August 8th, 2017

A large chunk of The English Wife takes place in the unique environment of the Hudson Valley, just about an hour or so out of Manhattan. Having spent a significant portion of my childhood there, I’d always been fascinated by how different upstate New York feels from New England, shaped as it was by the Dutch settlers who carved out vast estates in the seventeenth century and left a cultural mark that persisted even after the power of the patroons themselves had dwindled.

Unlike the other “if you likes”, where I’ve been trying to stick with the late 19th century, this If You Like looks at books set in the Hudson Valley more generally, from the eighteenth century to the present day.

So, if you like books set in the Hudson Valley, you’ll probably like…

— Donna Thorland’s American Revolution-set novel, The Dutch Girl, in which the daughter of a tenant farmer takes on both the Brits and the patroons– but finds none of it is quite so simple as she’d expected;

— and while we’re talking about patroons, Anya Seton’s Dragonwyck, in which a simple farmer’s daughter goes to live with her patroon cousin at his estate, Dragonwyck. But is it all luxury and romance, or are there dark secrets beneath the rich facade?

— moving away from the patroons, Sara Donati’s Into the Wilderness, which will make you think a great deal of The Last of the Mohicans. How much do I love the book? Let me count the ways– in hours of lost sleep. If you’re an Outlander fan, keep an eye out for a Claire Fraser mention;

— Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth, which opens with the heroine at Grand Central on the way to a house party at a Hudson Valley estate, Bellomont (possibly based on Ruth Livingston Mills’s country house at Staatsburg);

— Isabelle Holland’s Tower Abbey, an Old School modern gothic (and by modern, think late 70s, with that whole 70s gothic vibe) set in a mansion on the Hudson (see also Holland’s Flight of Archangel, a murder mystery also partly set around a decaying mansion on the Hudson);

— Carol Goodman’s Hudson Valley-set mysteries, including The Widow’s House, which has light supernatural elements a la Barbara Michaels, and River Road, which doesn’t;

— Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Adirondack-based Claire Fergusson mysteries, about an Episcopalian priest and the local police chief, who find themselves thrown together in Book I, In the Bleak Midwinter, when a baby is left on the doorstep of the church. They then go on to solve many excellently crafted mysteries together.

What are your favorite novels set in the Hudson Valley?

If You Like….

Tuesday, August 1st, 2017

No Gilded Age novel would be complete without a stop in Newport. So, naturally, my characters (and I) had to spend a bit of time there.

But when I sat down to make this “If You Like” list, I was surprised by how hard it was to think of books set in Newport in the 1880s and 90s. There are certainly plenty of books with Newport interludes– Wharton’s The Age Of Innocence, for one– but it was harder to think of books that took place primarily in Newport. Do you have suggestions? Please feel free to add your own favorites.

In the meantime, if you like books set in Gilded Age Newport, you’ll probably like….

— John Jakes’s The Gods of Newport, in which the author of North and South takes on the rarefied air of 1890s Newport in the story of a robber baron determined to win acceptance for himself and his daughter;

— Daisy Goodwin’s The American Heiress, which, like Edith Wharton’s The Buccaneers, takes place largely in England, but opens in Newport;

— on the mystery front, Alyssa Maxwell’s Gilded Newport mystery series, beginning with Murder at the Breakers, in which a Vanderbilt cousin turns sleuth;

— and along the same lines, Shelley Freydont’s A Gilded Grave and A Golden Cage, featuring an heiress turned sleuth in 1890s Newport.

Where I’m really drawing a blank is romance novels. I’d vaguely remembered Jill Barnett’s Carried Away starting in Newport, but it turned out not to be. There must be at least one 80s-era romance set in Newport, no?

What are your favorite late nineteenth century Newport-set novels?