Medieval Mania: By Royal Command by Laura Navarre

  • By Royal Command by Laura NavarreTitle: By Royal Command
  • Author: Laura Navarre
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Carina Press, July 2012
  • Source: NetGalley ($4.16 ebook)
  • Length: 274 pages
  • Trope(s): Widow, Alpha Male(s), Beta Hero, Big Misunderstanding, Simile Sex, Hair Fetish, Evil Royal Relation
  • Quick blurb: Newly widowed niece of King Ethelred (he of the Unreadiness) is forced into a betrothal with a Norman nobleman – but she’s distracted by the large and tawny Viking assigned as her escort.
  • Quick review: The author has a thesaurus, and she knows how to use it.
  • Grade: D

Grappling with savage urgency in a riot of tumbled cushions, she plunged headlong into rapture in the arms of her wrathful angel.

Status Updates: Read With Me Vicariously

You can tell by the dates that I avoided writing this review.

  • 09/12 – 40%: “…the curving shell of secrets nestled between her thighs” o.0
  • 09/13 – 42%: This book is much more Bodice Ripper than I anticipated….
  • 09/13 – 58%: The metaphors. EVERYTHING is a water, fire, weather or war metaphor. And the interjections. By Odin’s smelly underpants, the INTERJECTIONS! Lots of references to Odin and Thor, but no Loki yet. Heroine prefers to invoke St. Cuthbert and St. Wilfrid.
  • 09/14 – 65%: The book that will never end. I made it this far, but this is taking WAY too long to finish.
  • 09/15 – 78%: Still not done… *whimper*
  • 09/17 – 100%: Finally finished, and I still haven’t quite distilled why this didn’t work for me.

When I finally started the distillation process, I had to put the crankypants on.

The writing style….

I can’t really call it the author’s “voice,” because I never really heard one. Instead, I felt bombarded with every literary device we learned in junior high language arts class. Action verbs. Adjectives. Metaphors. Interjections. Euphemisms. Rinse. Repeat.

As he fitted himself against her, an epiphany burst within….

She opened herself to the storm of sensation, reached for him with both arms as he surged inside to fill her. Their joining brought him toppling down on her, in the blazing splendor of the archbishop’s bed. He gripped her in the same desperate clutch, held her moored against his rapid thrusts. Her tight channel stretched to accept him, ripples of pleasure pulsing through her. Blindly, she struggled toward the conflagration.

Without warning, it ignited her. She dug her nails into his sinewed back and clung with all her strength. The cataclysm flung her high, outside herself, as he went rigid in her arms.

The hundreds (literally) of other examples can be grouped into thematic categories, including:

Continue reading

Medieval Mania: A Royal Marriage by Rachelle McCalla

Oh, look — another book written JUST FOR ME. I love it when that happens.
 A Royal Marriage by Rachelle McCalla

  • Title: A Royal Marriage
  • Author: Rachelle McCalla
  • Series/Category: Love Inspired Historical
  • Genre(s): Historical, Inspirational
  • Publisher: Harlequin, November 2012
  • Source: NetGalley ($4.19 ebook, $5.75 mmpb)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Trope(s): Insta-Love, Kidnapping, War, Betrothed to the Enemy
  • Quick blurb: Ruler of small Mediterranean kingdom rescues Charlemagne’s daughter from kidnapping, but must deliver her to her unwanted betrothed – who happens to be his lifelong enemy.
  • Quick review: Fabulous setting/premise and strong heroine, but romance was disappointing
  • Grade: B

“Why? Must you ask why? Must I speak the words I should be ashamed to speak aloud? You, the emperor’s daughter, pledged to marry another? You, who have rescued my heart from the pit where I cast it to die?”

His lips moved down her nose with tiny, featherlight kisses, as though he warred with himself and lost each time he planted one. “You, who have captured my heart.”

I hope this is the first of a series, because I LOVE the ninth-century setting. The historical world-building was spot-on, with just enough detail and only a few minor anachronistic word choices.

I was also really impressed with the presentation of Charlemagne’s daughter Gisela as a strong, smart leader in a historically believable way (see below). She’s one of the best Harlequin heroines, and inspirational heroines, I’ve read so far.

But the insta-love romance was blah — no emotional conflicts, just external political intrigues. Neither the hero nor the heroine had any flaws to overcome; they were both perfectly perfect from start to finish. It would have been MUCH more compelling to have them at odds in the beginning, then slowly learn to respect and trust each other.

Scale back on the military maneuvers and focus on the relationship-building, and this would have been an A grade.

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The history geek unleashed

I now have three Charlemagne biographies on my wishlist, and I spent hours discovering fascinating facts, such as:

In Charlemagne’s seventy-odd years of life, he had four wives, six concubines and at least seventeen children.

Charlemagne and His Scholars by Karl von Blaas (1815-1894)

Charlemagne and His Scholars
by Karl von Blaas (1815-1894)

Source: History in an Hour

He was so careful of the training of his sons and daughters that he never took his meals without them when he was at home, and never made ajourney without them; his sons would ride at his side, and his daughters follow him, while a number of his body-guard, detailed for their protection, brought up the rear. Strange to say, although they were very handsome women, and he loved them very dearly, he was never willing to marry any of them to a man of their own nation or to a foreigner, but kept them all at home until his death, saying that he could not dispense with their society. Hence, though other-wise happy, he experienced the malignity of fortune as far as they were concerned; yet he concealed his knowledge of the rumours current in regard to them, and of the suspicions entertained of their honour.

Source: Einhard’s Life of Charlemagne

His ideas of sexual morality were primitive. Many concubines are spoken of, he had several illegitimate children, and the morals of his daughters were very loose.

Source: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1911

Medieval Mania: More Barbara Samuel

I just HAD to use the original bodice-ripper covers for these….

A Winter Ballad by Barbara Samuel

  • Title: A Winter Ballad
  • Author: Barbara Samuel
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: HarperCollins, October 1994; self-published, October 2010
  • Source: Amazon, 99¢ promo ($2.99 ebook)
  • Length: 352 pages
  • Trope(s): Knight, Damsel in Distress, Revenge, Evil Sibling, Angst, Tragic Past,
  • Quick blurb: Knight on revenge mission tempted to forego his royal mandate to stay with the woman who saved his life.
  • Quick review: Basically a stripped-down, but oh-so-romantic, version of Pillars of Earth
  • Grade: B+

When he made to draw away, Anya caught his hand below the table. “You did not find me whole,” she said, “and could not leave me less.”

Dying knight, spiritually broken heroine, godless priests, evil and/or missing siblings, curses, plagues, assassination plots…. And smooching. Some really, really good smooching.

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Heart of a Knight by Barbara Samuel

  • Title: Heart of a Knight
  • Author: Barbara Samuel
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: HarperCollins, August 1997; self-published, October 2010
  • Source: Amazon, 99¢
  • Length: 368 pages
  • Trope(s): Gentle Giant, Damsel in Distress, In Disguise
  • Quick blurb: An errant knight mysteriously appears to help a beleaguered noblewoman save her castle
  • Quick review: More of a predictable fairy tale than Bed of Spices, but definitely worth reading
  • Grade: B

Better, she said, to remember it was with women that true power lay. A power quiet and subtle, to be sure, but never to be ignored.

The enigmatic hero is the main focus of the story, but Elizabeth is a really strong and compelling character. No TSTL or doormat heroines in Barbara Samuel’s medieval world, THANK GOD.

Medieval Mania: A Bed of Spices by Barbara Samuel

Way back in September/October, before the World Series of Romance, I was immersed in a period-specific historical binge and never got around to reviewing any of them. To remedy that appalling lapse in blogging etiquette….

Let the Medieval Mania begin!

Medieval Mania

We’ll embark upon our odyssey through the Middle Ages with the book I’m using as The Gold Standard for medieval romances. No, I haven’t read Roberta Gellis yet; I have about 17 of hers in my TBR and once I start one, I’ll have to read them all.

ANYWAY. This book was one of my first Kindle impulse purchases, and I’m pretty sure it was my gateway drug to the evil realm of Romancelandia. (The “mania” in the theme wasn’t chosen on a whim, trust me.)

A Bed of Spices by Barbara Samuel

  • Title: A Bed of Spices
  • Author: Barbara Samuel
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Harper Monogram, September 1993; self-published, October 2010
  • Source: Amazon, 99¢ promo ($2.99 ebook, free through Kindle Lending)
  • Length: 352 pages
  • Trope(s): Star-Crossed Lovers, Angst, Reunited
  • Quick blurb: Nobleman’s daughter and Jewish student fight for love in medieval Germany
  • Quick review: Practically perfect in every way.
  • Grade: A+

He did not kiss her, but his eyes held hers as if he had cast some spell, and in his face, she saw the fever of his need. “For this, I have been waiting,” he said in a low, raw voice. “For this, I would die.”

This is one of those books that I feel I could never do justice in a review, other than to say it was BOOK TRANCE from beginning to end. And it was even better the second time when I was reading it more critically with a reviewer’s eye.

A Bed of Spices is a perfectly balanced mix of history, humor, passion, romance, angst, atmosphere, characterization and story-telling. I’m sure I left out other good stuff, but it’s all in there.

For me, this is the epitome of a Star-Crossed Lovers story — and it’s anything but typical. Instead of the usual noble/peasant or bad boy/good girl pairing, we get a couple equally matched in wealth and intelligence, held apart only the yellow star on his tunic.

Samuel brings Frederica and Solomon together unexpectedly:

He was beautiful, as beautiful as a fallen angel or a pagan god. And he stared back at her as if he could not believe she stood there, as if he knew her, as if he were as dazzled as she.

…and lets their relationship grow with some innocent flirting:

“You did not tell me where you came by your ideas,” he prompted.

“I came by mine as you did yours—by thinking.”

He grinned. “Such a strange pastime for a girl.”

…and some not-so-innocent temptation:

In the silent gray fog, they were alone. The knowledge rippled between them as they stood face-to-face, a fearsome and dangerous thing…. For a moment, he held her eyes and she felt the heated pulse of his maleness through the cold mist; sensed once again that she was not alone in her wish to be less polite and more tangled.

Our almost-happy couple fights it as best they can:

He would not stray from within the walls of Strassburg itself. Surely, if he had no glimpse of her, this lunacy would burn itself clean. For, dear God, it must….

…until they both find the courage to admit what they have is more than physical attraction:

A Bed of Spices by Barbara Samuel - original 1993 MMPB cover

Original 1993 cover
(historical accuracy?
what’s that?)

Her free hand lit in his hair. For a moment, she said nothing, only stroked his head silently as he knelt before her. At last she said quietly, “The priest brought me the Bible last night, as instruction.”

She sank down to her knees, to look at him face-to-face. “I made a confession to him that I had spent many hours thinking of a certain man in ways that were not chaste.”

Solomon lifted his fingers, seared by this admission, but she caught his hand before he could touch her. “Father Goddard said there was more to God’s word than prayers,” she said, “and he brought me the Bible to read, with a place specially marked.”

Her eyes softened. “It was,” she said with an ironic smile, “the Song of Solomon.”

“Ahhh.” He closed his eyes and leaned forward to press his forehead against hers, feeling as if he might weep. “And yet, this is impossible, Rica. We cannot love each other.”

“I know.”

For a long moment, they simply remained as they were, their fingers tangled, foreheads pressed together, all else forgotten.

Ohhhh, that forehead-to-forehead thing gets me EVERY TIME. *~*happysigh*~*

With the help of a mutual friend, they make their own vows:

She felt dizzy, as if she were standing in the center of the world and all else would slip into harmony as long as Solomon held her.

He rocked her silently, holding her almost painfully close. “It does not seem an evil thing,” he said with quiet wonder. “It seems as if I have held you thus for all of time, that I should go on doing so forever.”

But alas, we know it can’t go on forever. The author quietly lets the internal angst and conflict seep in….

“Do not speak it, Rica, I beg you.” His eyes were bleak. “There is so little joy in any life, I will take this time with you until I must go.” He smoothed a lock of hair from her face. “In our old age, we’ll remember and be glad.”

…and then it grows:

Two months ago, he’d never seen the woman who now obsessed him. All the years of discipline, all the prudence and resistance he had practiced had come to naught in the face of his longing for Rica. He was ready to storm the castle to carry her away, ready to make a fool of himself to gain a glimpse of her in the bailey. For what? The most he could hope for was a month or two of stolen afternoons, a kiss here and there, and a laugh in a glade. He could never lie with her, sleep next to her, walk in a public square. He could never sit with her over a meal and talk of the day’s work, or take her hand in old age.

…and it festers:

From the beginning, Solomon had known there was no future for them. From the beginning, he had fought against loving her. Now he found he could not bear the thought of another man touching her, when he — who loved her — had barely tasted the edges of her desire.

…until the inevitable external conflicts tear them violently apart:

There were no more tears left in her, only a wild, searing grief. Every corner of her was filled with it, an emotion black and sticky as tar. She could taste it against her tongue and smelled it thick in her nostrils. It held her, immobile, slumped against the wall in the darkness.

But then we finally get the HEA, and it’s WORTHY EVERY MINUTE of all that glorious angst.

“All is well, my love,” he whispered. “All is well.”

In summary: I think everyone should read this book because it is a very good book. And if all those excerpts didn’t convince you, I have no hope for you. I’ll just let you wander back to your pathetic alpha heroes and doormat heroines. Good luck with that.

Next up: One-Quote Reviews for a few more by Barbara Samuel (guess what? I LOVE THEM ALL)

One-Quote Reviews: The Druid Stone and Galway Bound by Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane

I have officially lost my Urban Fantasy Virginity. I feel so dirty. But in a very good way.

The Druid Stone by Heidi Belleau and Violetta VaneThe Druid Stone

  • Title: The Druid Stone
  • Author(s): Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane
  • Series: Layers of the Otherworld, Book 1
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, GLBTQ, Urban Fantasy
  • Publisher: Carina Press, August 2012
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 278 pages
  • Trope(s): Time Travel, Other Paranormal Stuff About Which I Have No Clue
  • Quick blurb: Tortured by murderous recurring dreams, “Sean from America” needs help from paranormal investigator Cormac to rid himself of a cursed Druid artifact.
  • Quick review:  Stayed up until 3 a.m. finishing this, and I don’t even LIKE paranormals.
  • Grade: B

…Sean realized if he wanted to now he could push back, any time, because there was nothing holding him to the wall anymore. Nothing but Cormac’s unspoken expectation and Sean’s unspeakable desire to meet it.

I really hate it when I have to stop reading in the middle of a sex scene because I have to go back and highlight everything because the writing is so fucking good.

For the urban fantasy elements, I must admit that I am in no way qualified to judge the world-building, and I was pretty intimidated when the heavy-duty paranormal stuff kicked in. But after a few chapters, I figured out that reading the Irish mythology as a history lesson with some Harry Potter analogies helped keep me in the story.

I still hate time travel, though. All the “what if?” and “but what about…??? GAH!” moments put my brain in overdrive trying to make everything line up properly.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Galway Bound by Heidi Belleau and Violetta VaneGalway Bound

  • Title: Galway Bound
  • Author(s): Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane
  • Series: Layers of the Otherworld, Book 1.1
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, GLBTQ, Erotica
  • Publisher: Self-Published, October 2012
  • Source: All Romance eBooks, 99c (part of the Cyber Monday Binge)
  • Length: 32 pages
  • Quick blurb: Sean and Cormac indulge in a weekend away to reconnect and celebrate their first year together.
  • Quick review:  If you think BDSM can’t be romantic, THINK AGAIN.
  • Grade: A

Cormac knew he should pull back, delay this, let himself savor Sean’s submission just a little longer, but the truth was — the truth was  even though Sean gave him the drive to be strong, he also gave him the permission to be weak. And Cormac was weak. He was torturously, deliciously weak.

I read it, and then I read it again. Because OH. MY. GOD. *~*swoon*~* <thud>

One-Quote Review: Gnome on the Range by Jennifer Zane

Before you ask “WHY???” (because I know that’s what you’re thinking), I put the full blame for this on Jennifer at Romance Novel News. I dared her to read something called Moosed-Up, so this was my self-inflicted penance.

So actually, it’s my own fault. But then again, Jennifer definitely got the better end of the deal on this one.
Gnome on the Range by Jennifer Zane

  • Title: Gnome on the Range
  • Author(s): Jennifer Zane
  • Series:  Gnome Novel Series, Book 1
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Suspense (*eye-roll*)
  • Publisher: Self-Published, December 2011
  • Source: Amazon, free promo ($4.99 ebook)
  • Length: 216 pages
  • Trope(s): Firefighter, Military Man, Single Mother, Widow, Wacko In-Laws, Sex Toys, Small Town
  • Quick blurb: Single mother and studly new neighbor join forces against evil villain.
  • Quick review:  If not for the noble firefighter neighbor, this book would have been completely OTT WTFery.
  • Grade: D

For the next fifteen minutes, we went over fire inspection paperwork with an elephant in the room the shape of a dildo.

This wasn’t painful, but it wasn’t good. A nearly-TSTL heroine, her way-OTT mother-in-law, a completely transparent “suspense” plot, inane and irrelevant details about houses, horses, sex toys, street names, etc., etc.

And…the Evil Villain. Oy. Uff da.

Are you ready for this? Because this is where the gnomes come into play.

Are you SURE? All righty, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

!!!SPOILER!!!

The Evil Villain is a ranch owner trying to retrieve stolen vials of valuable horse semen that were hidden in garden gnomes purchased by the heroine’s young sons at a yard sale.

But how does that make him villainous, you ask? It doesn’t.

He’s an evil villain because he’s — wait for it — a Pyscho Dom With Horse Tranquilizers.

I SHIT YOU NOT. On all counts.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Epilogue….

While I was reading this, my kids decided to watch Gnomeo and Juliet on one of those mysterious cable movie channels I didn’t even know we had. It was actually tolerable because James McAvoy voiced the main character, and I could listen to him all day. Or night.

But then again, there was this:

Gnomeo and Juliet

The Cyber Monday Damage Report

This has nothing to do with my OCD issues. NOTHING, I tell you.

All Romance eBooks….

Counterpunch by Aleksandr VoinovFor Men Like Us by Brita AddamsTorn in Two by G.S. Wiley, Kelly Rand, Lee Cairney

The Rule of Sebastian by Shelter SomersetCherish by Tere MichaelsGasp! by Z.A. Maxfield

All Roads Lead to You by Harper FoxHalf Moon Chambers by Harper Foxby Harper Fox

Winter Knights by Harper FoxGalway Bound by Heidi Belleau and Violetta VaneMy Nora by Holley Trent

seThe Oil Tycoon and Her Sexy Sheikh by Ros ClarkeWhen I Say When by Tia Fielding

Amazon….

Crooked Hearts by Patricia GaffneySweet Everlasting by Patricia GaffneyAnother Eden by Patricia Gaffney

Pianist in the Dark by Michele HalberstadtThe Winemaker by Noah Gordon

For the daughter….

$1.99 each

Sorcery & Cecelia or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot by  Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer  The Grand Tour: or the Purloined Coronation Regalia by Patricia C. Wrede, Caroline Stevermer  The Mislaid Magician: or Ten Years After by Patricia C. Wrede, Caroline Stevermer

For the son….

$1.32 each

The Kid from Tompkinsville by John R. TunisThe Kid Comes Back by John R. TunisRookie of the Year by John R. Tunis

Highpockets by John R. TunisKeystone Kids by John R. TunisWorld Series by John R. Tunis

Oh gawd, looking at all these on one page makes me a little nauseous – TBR-wise and bank-wise.