10 Irrational but Nonetheless Persistent Fears I’ve Picked Up from Reading Adult Historical Romances

  1. Apparently, I either have to be so beautiful everyone chases after me, or so unique no one knows what to do with me, in order to get anyone’s romantic attention.
  2. Because I’m fairly certain I’m neither of the above, I shall be forever alone.
  3. I will never be able to breathe properly around my love interest, either because of my unmentionables (damn corset) or because he looks so delicious I hyperventilate into a faint.
  4. When I fall in love it will be with someone who probably doesn’t deserve it.
  5. My romantic interest will have a rake’s past, and therefore, the sexual infections that come along with all those bed adventures.
  6. One or both of my parents will die before I meet my romantic interest, meaning I will doubt his interest in me over my inheritance (which, let’s be honest, will probably not be very much).
  7. When I catch my romantic interest’s gaze across the room, our gaze will burn so hot we might cause people to spontaneously combust.
  8. I will want to have sexy time with him every time I see him. This will prove to be inconvenient should I see him in church.
  9. My romantic interest will have a brooding past, which the books tell me is supposed to make him irresistible. I now fear for my sanity.
  10. The first time I have sexy time with my romantic interest, it will either be mind-blowingly good, or so bad I’m crippled.

What about you?

Best, Belinda

Romance is About Making the Tough Choice

When I first typed the title to this blog post, a Freudian slip occurred and I typed “touch” rather than “tough.” Seems to me both are accurate when it comes to romance, heh. Anyway, I’ve been thinking lately about how people make decisions, and why.

The fact is, romance is a tough decision for some people. “Timing is everything,” I always hear people say. But romance is so more than just timing. Romance is about personalities, wants, needs, desires. Conversation. Physical attractiveness. Mental and emotional attractiveness. Financial compatibility. Family traditions, cultures, expectations. Friends.

Romance, or rather, a meaningful romantic relationship, is a tough decision when you consider all these factors! Yet, people date all the time. People find someone to date, to spend time with, to hang out with friends. People break up with, cheat on, abuse and take advantage of those they date as well.

Way to be a Debbie Downer, Belinda

Those  aren’t the relationships I like to write about. Part of the reason why I write (young adult) quirky  Victorian romances is because the culture is more accessible to me, from a relationship-longevity standpoint.

Don’t get me wrong, just because people stayed married (legally-speaking) for decades only to be truly separated by death, doesn’t mean they didn’t have problems. Well-born Victorian men were notorious for cheating on their wives because they were told it was their nature, they were expected to have a mistress. On the other hand, Victorian women were fed the bull that they were the reason society was as civilized as it was; that the men who courted them would treasure them and therefore they should do their best to give him a wonderful home. Sounds like Mad Men a little, doesn’t it?

I’m stereotyping and simplifying, of course.

Then why write about Victorian romance at all?

The fact is that despite these factors, I choose to write quirky Victorian fiction because I’m allowed to fantasize about a time when men and women made commitments to one another that were meant to surpass time and aging and death and famine and cheating all that. My idealist teenage-reader-mind soaked up Louisa May Alcott, LM Montgomery, Janette Oke, Jean Ferris, Ann Rinaldi, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell… these classic women wrote about heroes who took time to get to know their heroines and determine they were a match.

Not just financially (thank you, dowries), but emotionally, personally, familial…ly… The motivations behind the romances in my books are people are looking for a match. Not a perfect one, for sure, no one is perfect. Even the phrase “don’t look for someone perfect, look for someone perfect for you” implies this person is imperfect and these imperfections may, one day, make you want to throw a vase at him. But there is something fun and magical in reading a story about two people who just might have finally met each other and recognized kindred spirits. It’s something I hope for my friends, family, and myself.

So romance is a tough decision, right? But with the right person, things align. And in a perfect world (that is, fiction), we get to relive those moments over and over again.

For those of you who haven’t yet read Catching the Rose or Haunting Miss Trentwood to see just  how I write about meaningful romance, you might be interested in the promotions below.

Haunting Miss Trentwood is discounted on Kindle. And guess what, Catching the Rose is also discounted on Kindle!

The audiobook version of Haunting Miss Trentwood will be discounted from $19.95 to $5.95 (even less to audible.com members) Saturday August 25 to Sunday September 2.

The newly released behind-the-scenes chapter called The Seance from Haunting Miss Trentwood will be free on Kindle Monday August 27 to Tuesday August 28.

Best,

Belinda

Book Review Extravaganza

Dear Reader,

I read five books last week. Rather than splitting up my reviews so each book gets a dedicated post, I instead posted my reviews on Goodreads and am linking to them from here. They’re all some form of historical romance; three are Regencies and two are Victorian. I’m always surprised there aren’t more Victorian romances… it makes sense, I suppose, because society totally freaked at how loosey-goosey the regency was in terms of morals… but the fun thing about the Victorians is that they actually continued those loose morals… they just stopped talking about it as frequently.

As a quick ROW80 update… I wrote another chapter to The Rebel’s Hero, but I don’t like how it ended. So that needs a rewrite. I’m also keeping to my goal of writing 750 words a week… pretty much blasting that out of the water. So that’s cheering.

Enough of that. Onto the reviews!

His Sinful Secret (Notorious Bachelors, #3)His Sinful Secret by Emma Wildes
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Julianne and Michael are brought together by an arranged marriage, and they start their familial duty of producing an heir for the duchy as soon as possible. Through their entanglements in bed and the pillow talk after, they realize that it just might be possible to have that long-sought-but-rarely-found sort of marriage within the aristocracy: a happy one.

ImpulseImpulse by Candace Camp
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
As always, I love Candace Camp’s stories because she allows the hero/heroine to get to know one another, to feel confident that they have found a healthy match/complement in each other, before hopping into bed.

It’s just refreshing.

The BargainThe Bargain by Mary Jo Putney

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think it’s Putney’s heroes that make me love her writing. Here we have David, who is very good at what he does, killing people efficiently to save his own skin. But the hardships of war didn’t dull his sensitivities toward a Jocelyn, beautiful woman who shies away from marriage the way a horse shies from a snake. He might have been a major, but David is a wonderful beta hero who kept me smiling and wishing he were real so I could take him home to meet my mother.

The Education of Mrs. BrimleyThe Education of Mrs. Brimley by Donna MacMeans
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I think what I loved most about this book was that even though Nicholas could have completely taken advantage of Emma, he always gave her a choice. Now, he could have been a true gentleman and not required Emma to pose for him, but then the story wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting. Talk about foreplay… the slow undressing of the heroine for months built up the tension between them like crazy.

The Fire Rose (Elemental Masters, #1)The Fire Rose by Mercedes Lackey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I wanted to like this book more than I did. The story began slowly, and the description sometimes got in the way of the plot, I felt. At its heart, this is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast. We have the beast, Jason Cameron, a elemental wizard who got too big for his britches and tried a spell he didn’t know how to uncast. We have the beauty, an heiress who was working on her PhD when her father died and left her penniless.

A decent retelling of a familiar and well-loved fairy tale, I wish there had been a little less world-building and a little more relationship-building.

View all my reviews

I LOVE Historical Romance Web Comics

Dear Reader,

If you haven’t realized that I am a huge geek, I am outing myself right now. I have been a fan of web comics for the last… oh… seven years or so. Three of my favorites happen to be historical romances. Be prepared, as this post is a huge love rant for all of them.

The Phoenix Requiem

Sarah Ellerton is a genius. Hands down. Ellerton is the writer and artist behind The Phoenix Requiem, a “Victorian-inspired supernatural fantasy story about faith, love, death, and the things we believe in.” Heavy, right? Not really, it’s a joy to read.  The reason why I love The Phoenix Requiem is because of Ellerton’s detail to clothing and culture; her hero is charming and adorable, her heroine is serious and lovely. From the website…

On a cold December night, a gentleman stumbles into the town of Esk, gunshot wounds leaving a trail of blood in the snow behind him. Despite making a full recovery at the hands of an inexperienced nurse – and deciding to make a new life for himself in the town – he is unable to escape the supernatural beings, both good and bad, that seem to follow him like shadows.

As they try to discover why, the nurse must question her beliefs and risk her own life in order to protect her family, her friends, and those that she loves.

The comic is now complete, and you can read the whole thing from the start. I plan on buying all the volumes once Ellerton puts them in print. That is three (or longer) years of work that she released for free, and as a fellow independent author, I want to support her fantastic work.

Dreamless

Dreamless is another of Sarah Ellerton’s comics, this one written by Bobby Crosby. Set during World War II, this is a tale of star-crossed lovers who share their dreams. Literally. Eleanor and Takashi don’t sleep the way the rest of us do.

When Eleanor sleeps, she is in Japan, seeing what Takashi sees. When Takashi sleeps, he is in the United States, seeing what Eleanor sees. They can’t speak to one another, exactly, but they can hear what the other, and the people around them, are saying. Read the complete web comic to find out what happens to this young couple in the days leading up to Pearl Harbor.

And finally, we have…

The Dreamer

The Dreamer is a web comic by Lora Innes, an artist who lives in the same city as me and seems to know some of the same people I do, going off her blog. I have never met her but it would be pretty sweet if I could! One of these days I will make it to the Columbus Comicon. One of these days. From the website…

Beatrice “Bea” Whaley seems to have it all; the seventeen year old high school senior is beautiful, wealthy and the star performer of the drama club. She begins having vivid dreams about a brave and handsome soldier named Alan Warren–a member of an elite group known as Knowlton’s Rangers that served during the Revolutionary War.

Bea begins to research Colonial America only to discover that her dreams recount actual historical events that she knew nothing about! She grows increasingly detached from her friends and family as she tries desperately to figure out what is happening to her…

This comic is in the middle of its story, so unlike Dreamless and The Phoenix Requiem, you can’t pick this one up like a book and blast through all the pages until reaching the satisfying conclusion. The interesting thing about reading web comics is that it’s a lot like reading a series while the author is still writing them. Remember how antsy you felt when waiting for the next Harry Potter? Same thing. Except it’s on a weekly basis.

So there you have it! Those are the historical romance stories I keep up with weekly in my RSS reader. Are you reading these comics or others that I should know about? Let me know in the comments!

All the best,

Belinda

Book: Private Arrangements

Title: Private Arrangements
Author: Sherry Thomas
Genre: Historical Romance
Length: 351 pgs.

Summary: Everyone in London envies Lord Camden and Lady Gigi Tremaine’s marriage. It is the epitome of the proper marriage, as they never make a scene, they respect one another’s freedom, and they aren’t too lovey-dovey. Oh, and they haven’t seen one another for ten years. Now that Gigi wants a divorce, Camden returns to London with an obnoxious request in exchange for her freedom to marry again.

Excerpt:

pg 1 – Only one kind of marriage ever bore Society’s stamp of approval.

Happy marriages were considered vulgar, as matrimonial felicity rarely kept longer than a well-boiled pudding. Unhappy marriages were, of course, even more vulgar, on a par with Mrs Jeffries’s special contraption that spanked forty bottoms at once: unspeakable, for half the upper crust had experienced it firsthand.

Why should you read this book?

This book is a romance, no doubt about it. The intimate scenes are hot, and most importantly, imperative to the relationship between Gigi and Camden. As a married couple that hasn’t seen one another for ten years, there are past disputes that have to be resolved, old wounds re-opened, and ten years of desire to be satiated. Which they do, but always with a purpose.

For those of you writing romance, read Thomas’s book for an example of well-written intimate scenes that not only further the plot, they shove the plot forward with gusto, making you feel everything the characters feel and more. This is the first romance in a long time where I felt like the author really knew what they were doing. I’m definitely adding Thomas’s backlist to my TBR.

Book: The Somnambulist

Title: The Somnambulist
Author: Jonathan Barnes
Genre: Historical Fiction
Length: 353 pgs.

Summary: Edward Moon, the great detective magician, is past his prime and no longer guaranteed a spot at the tables of the upper crust. When a bizarre case falls into his lap, Moon is sure this will be his greatest and last adventure; his constant and silent companion, The Somnambulist,  warns Moon that this will end badly as assassins from other worlds intervene.

Excerpt:

pg 1 – Be warned. This book has no literary merit whatsoever. It is a lurid piece of nonsense, convoluted, implausible, peopled by unconvincing characters, written in drearily pedestrian prose, frequently ridiculous and wilfully bizarre. Needless to say, I doubt you’ll believe a word of it.

pg 92 – Forgive me if the above sounds condescending—I add this last detail only for the benefit of the ignorant and for tourists. I should hope my readers educated enough to recognize the significance of Wren’s achievement without it being explained to them, but regrettable it remains the case that one must always make allowances for dullards. I cannot police the readers of this manuscript and it is a sad and tragic truth that I have never yet succeeded in underestimating the intelligence of the general public.

Why should you read this book?

Well, the inside cover tells me to “remember the name Jonathan Barnes…for he has burst upon the literary scene with a breathtaking and brilliant, frightening and hilarious, dark invention that recalls Neil Gaiman…read on…and be astonished!”

I’m sad to say that I was not impressed, no matter how the inside cover encouraged me to be suitably astonished and bewildered. I was bewildered, but only because I continued to read the book despite the very annoying, self-indulgent narrator who liked to tell me that the entire chapter I just read was a bald-faced lie. This narrator reminded me of all the arrogant guys in my life that I’ve avoided, and it was only by fierce willpower that I got to the end, which was, thankfully, interesting and well-written.

Read this book if you’re interested in taking complete advantage of the first person narration so your reader questions what is true and what isn’t. And if you want to leave them confused and a little annoyed by the end of the last page.

Book: Silent in the Sanctuary

Title: Silent in the Sanctuary
Author: Deanna Raybourn
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Length: 552 pgs

Summary: Lady Julia Grey is back from her Italian getaway, where she recovered from the loss of her husband, the shock of discovering who killed her husband, the confusing emotions toward the detective hunting her husband’s murderer, and the smoke inhalation from the night all these factors came together in a literal blaze of fury. Home for Christmas in Sussex, Lady Julia is shocked to see among the guests Brisbane, the aforementioned detective, who is newly engaged to one of the silliest women she has ever laid eyes on. When murder happens in the abbey, it is up to Lady Julia and Brisbane to solve the crime despite their tumultuous history.

Excerpts:
pg 158 – She proceeded to comment on everything we passed–the symmetry of the maze, the magnificence of the bell tower, the cleverness of the carp ponds.

And then she saw the gates. She went into raptures about the iron hares that topped them, the darling little gatehouse, the pretty shrubbery by the road. Another twenty minutes was spent on the straightness of the linden allee, and by the time we reached the village of Blessingstoke, my ears had gone numb with the effort of listening to her.

“So many words,” he murmured. “I did not think one person could know so many words.”

pg 482 – “That’s the trouble with women,” she said wonderingly. “We know what we oughtn’t do, but when a man comes along, we only hear his voice, and not our own.”

pg 497 – I finally ran him to ground in the library, gamely working his way through Pride and Prejudice. He sprang to his feet when I entered, smiling broadly.

I nodded to the book. “How are you enjoying Jane Austen?”

He waggled his hand from side to side. “She is a little silly, I think.”

Now I was more certain than ever in my decision. I could not love a man who did not love Jane Austen.

Why should you read this book?
Contrary to many of the reviews that I read on Amazon.com, I really liked this book precisely because the continued love-hate relationship from the previous book, Silent in the Grave, was in no way resolved, and in a way that was true to the characters. That’s genius, if you ask me, because it keeps the true fans of the series panting for more. This book is funny, charming, and portrays High Victorian Society oh so well. The setting is well-written without overtaking the plot, the characters are snappy, and my favorite device is used: giving tertiary characters their own subplots that affect the whole.

Read this book for a sophomore attempt that was as good (if not better) than the first, for a lesson in creating characters that don’t fit in their own society and yet seem genuine to the reader, a true puzzle of a crime, a charming and funny narrator, a passionate romance with no real sense of a happy ending (must continue to read the series!), and the only series in a long time that has an alpha romance lead that doesn’t make me want to shoot him.

Book: North and South

Title: North and South
Author: Elizabeth Gaskell
Genre: Classic Fiction
Length: 452 pgs

Summary: Margaret Hale, a English southerner who migrates to Milton, a northern industrial town, is shocked by the working and living conditions of the cotton mill workers who provide the wealth of the young man her father tutors, Mr Thornton. Her determination to help the mill workers puts her at odds with the charismatic Mr Thornton, who dismisses her concerns as the ignorance of highly-bred woman who cannot understand the political and economic reasons why things are the way they are.

Excerpts:
pg 17 – If the look on [Margaret's] face was, in general, too dignified and reserved for one so young, now, talking to her father, it was bright as the morning,–full of dimples, and glances that spoke of childish gladness, and boundless hope in the future.

pg 62 – Mr Thornton was in the habits of authority himself, but [Margaret] seemed to assume some kind of rule over him at once. He had been getting impatient at the loss of his time on a market-day, the moment before she appeared, yet now he calmly took a set at her bidding.

pg 322 – Oh, how unhappy this last year has been! I have passed out of childhood into old age. I have no youth–no womanhood; the hopes of womanhood have closed for me–for I shall never marry; and I anticipate cares and sorrows just as if I were an old woman, and with the same fearful spirit. I am weary of this continual call upon me for strength.

pg 336 – [Margaret] sat quite still, after the first momentary glance of grieved surprise, that made her eyes look like some child’s who has met with an unexpected rebuff; they slowly dilated into mournful, reproachful sadness; and then they fell, and she bent over her work, and did not speak again. But [Mr Thornton] could not help looking at her, and he saw a sigh tremble over her body, as if she quivered in some unwonted chill. …He gave sharp answers; he was uneasy and cross, unable to discern between jest and earnest; anxious only for a look, a word of hers, before which to prostrate himself in penitent humility. …She could not care for him, he thought, or else the passionate fervor of his wish would have forced her to raise those eyes, but if for an instant, to read the late repentance in his.

Why should you read this book?
I never thought it possible, but this book supplanted Pride and Prejudice as my favorite romance, reasons being that it brings outside philosophical, political, and economic pressures into the romance. The romance is not just that there are misunderstandings and ruined reputations, but that there are actual lives at stake; entire towns that could fall if the mill workers refuse to work; people could be killed in riots; there is communal strife and an inability to communicate between the social classes.

This is an ambitious work that I am head over heels in love with because the prose is poetic, the themes are strong, and the characters sympathetic. Gaskell gives the secondary and tertiary characters all the love, compassion, and motive that is usually reserved for main characters alone. I could go into a detailed analysis of the writing tricks Gaskell uses to appeal to her audience (the sympathetic Victorian woman), such as describing the illnesses of those around Margaret, the way Margaret’s eyes sometimes exhibit a childlike wonder or surprised pain (see pg 336 excerpt above), and the way Margaret shoulders the problems of those around her for that is her role as the daughter in the family (really, this is a brilliant piece of Victorian literature), but I won’t.

I will tell you that if you like reading classics (my childhood was defined by classics, and I desperately miss the feeling of losing myself in that world), you must read this book. If your writing tends toward the classical style, this is a great example to take note of. There are moments when Margaret almost reminds me of Jane Eyre in her contemplations of her role as a female in the world, which makes sense because Mrs Gaskell was actually a sort of social friend of Charlotte Bronte’s. In fact, Mrs Gaskell wrote the first biography of Charlotte, and helped create the rather mythological story behind the woman who wrote such great works as Jane Eyre and Villette.

P.S. The BBC made a two-part miniseries of this book in 2007, and it is excellent. Things have been changed, obviously, to fit the book into a four-hour showing, but it is a great adaptation and the reason why I read the book in the first place.

From the Notebook: Dickens’s Dictionary of London 1888

Things are definitely crazy here on campus (did I mention I’m a Buckeye?), what with it being my last undergraduate year (!!). Grad school applications are slowly going out, and I will admit that a couple of these posts have been timestamped ahead of time just to keep up.

On to the subject of this post. This past summer I found treasure: Dickens’s Dictionary of London 1888 is amazing. It’s written by Charles Dickens’s son, Charles Dickens, and covers everything from how much admission will cost (according to where you sit) in every major theatre in London, to how a person should walk down the street if you don’t want to get mugged. Here is an interesting article about fog that had me chuckling:

Fogs are, no doubt, not peculiar to London. Even Paris itself can occasionally turn out very respectable work in this way, and the American visitor to England will very probably think, in passing the banks of Newfoundland, that he has very little to learn on the subject of fog. But what Mr Guppy called “a London particular,” and what is more usually known to the natives as a “peasouper,” will very speedily dispel any little hallucination of this sort.

As the east wind brings up the exhalations of the Essex and Kentish marshes, and as the damp-laden winter air prevents the dispersion of the partly consumed carbon from hundreds of thousands of chimneys, the strangest atmospheric compound known to science fills the valley of the Thames. At such times almost all of the senses have their share of trouble. Not only does a strange and worse than Cimmerian darkness hide familiar landmarks from the sight, but the taste and smell are offended by an unhallowed compound of flavours, and all things become greasy and clammy to the touch. During the continuance of a real London fog–which may be black, or grey, or more probably orange-coloured–the happiest of men is he who can stay at home…

From Dickens’s Dictionary of London 1888: An Unconventional Handbook by Charles Dickens © 2006 by Old House Books

So… I basically read this “dictionary” cover-to-cover. Shows how much of a research nerd I am, right? I still can’t believe my luck that I found a guide to London published exactly in the middle of my novel’s time line. Dickens is a wonderful writer, as you can tell by the passage above. Who knew fog could be so interesting? You can tell Dickens loved London, that he knew it intimately, and that he was probably a spirited conversationalist. The first couple of pages in the book include a detailed map of London, which is indispensable for a history writer like me.

So let me ask you writers, have you ever found that one source that proved to make the others pale in comparison? A primary source that gives you an insider look? What about sources that sent you on a wild goose chase? Do you even care about research?

WIP: First Paragraphs

Caricature drawn by Worderella
Caricature drawn by Worderella

Everyone talks about how important a first line is, how important the first page is, of any good piece of writing. We go on about how the idea needs to grab the reader, to hook them as one might hook a fish. But we never really give our own examples, unless we’re sure we’ve got it down. And the thing is, I don’t know if I have it down. I’m fairly certain I don’t, if only because I’m a type A perfectionist who second-guesses herself a lot.

So this is what I’m going to do: Below is the hook, and first lines of my working!title Trentwood’s Orphan. Give me your honest opinion, otherwise, I’ll never learn my lesson. But… also keep in mind that this is First Draft B, so I realize it’s still pretty rough.

As always, this is my writing and it is copyright protected, so please, let’s not spread this around and take it for yourself.

The hook for the novel is as follows: A grieving daughter encounters love and ghosts in Victorian England.

And so the novel begins… Continue reading