Sunday, February 19, 2017

Review: Marsha Bauer’s PIRATE’S ANGEL - A Pirate to Love!

Set in 1814, this is the story of Ivy Woodruff, the product of her mother’s two-week capture by a notorious pirate, Keils Cauldron (his ship is the Black Cauldron). Raised by her English mother and minister father who, though not her real father, loved and accepted her, Ivy hates the pirate who used her mother and then dismissed her.

Ivy is 22 and employed as a governess, sailing on the Chesapeake Bay with her employers, when the Black Cauldron captures her ship. On board, a young pirate leader, Drake Jordan, attempts to take her to his cabin when she cries out to her real father, Keils Cauldron, who is standing on deck. Keils’ only son has just been murdered and Keils is hunting for the killer with Drake when he is faced with the young woman claiming to be his daughter and who has his same violet eyes and black hair.

Drake, who is wildly attracted to Ivy, and Keils take Ivy with them on their hunt for the murderer, a hunt that will have some surprising turns. At the same time, Keils is keeping Ivy close, insisting she sleep in Drake’s cabin so he can watch her and prevent her escape. Keils is also exploring the evidence Ivy says proves she’s his daughter, all the while thinking she is deceiving him. Drake, an educated, wealthy pirate (by choice) prides himself on only having robbed the British, but that doesn’t impress Ivy, who is betrothed to a caring young minister and has no desire to repeat her mother’s history.

Original cover
It’s a story as old as time: we set out to be our own person and end up repeating family history. It’s also a story of choices, some good and others better (though perhaps more difficult). It’s a story of trust and how easily it can be destroyed. And, of course, it’s a story of love. Bauer did a great job of crafting Ivy’s character. She is beautiful, intelligent, honest, principled and courageous. Drake is complex, loyal (to his friends) and brave, a man who doesn’t question his choices. He is also a man who knows his own mind, and he knows he wants Ivy. He is a pirate to love!

Bauer does some important things so well: (1) She develops characters slowly, layer by layer, so you feel you really know them; (2) The chemistry between the hero and heroine develops over time; (3) the love scenes are so tender yet real they will have you squirming; (4) the plot twists are wonderfully creative but still believable, not contrived; (5) her dialog is real and complex; and finally (5) it’s an enthralling story I could not put down.

Bauer does “head hop”, moving from head to head rather quickly and briefly, but the story made up for it. You won’t regret getting this one, I promise.

Friday, February 17, 2017

New Review: Laura Kinsale’s SHADOWHEART – Both Fascinating and Disturbing Pirate Romance

To say this book was difficult to review is an understatement. Let me say at the outset that Kinsale writes brilliantly and has obviously done an amazing job of presenting the historical setting of 14th century Northern Italy. The story certainly held my interest; however, it is also sometimes disturbing and, in places, had me figuratively tearing out my hair. Some historical romance readers will have difficulty with parts of it.

This is the sequel to For My Lady's Heart and much of our introduction to the hero, Allegreto, can be found there, should you want to read it. Shadowheart won the RITA in 2005 for Best Historical Romance, which is interesting in itself, as you’ll see from my comments below. Unlike the prequel, this one is only sprinkled with Middle English, and much better for the change—we can actually understand what Kinsale is saying.

Set in the late 14th-century, Allegreto, the 16-year-old assassin we met in book one, and bastard son of the Italian Navona family, now in his late 20’s, has one goal—to reclaim his birthright in Monteverde (Northern Italy). He is strong, mysterious and ruthless. To secure his claim, he uses treachery to capture the last heir and princess of Monteverde, 17-year-old Elena. Much happened after her capture that bothered me. I apologize for some spoilers, but I can’t review this book without them.

Allegreto (called “Il Corvo” after his island and “pirate” to Elena), rapes her and then calls her “wife,” though there is no marriage nor vows of any kind. How he intended to claim her lands with no lawful marriage mystified me but that’s how the story begins. That Elena, who seemed a bright, independent young woman, could be so witless as to walk into his trap and believe that he had married her and consummated the marriage while she was drugged was just bizarre. She never challenges it, though with her personality, one would have expected her to.

As to Elena and Allegreto’s sexual relationship, I just have to say it was strange for a 17-year-old innocent. While I don’t typically quote other reviewers, the following assessment so closely paralleled my own views I thought to use it: “Had she written a bigger buildup of Elena's obsession with her "angel" of the past so there was a foundation for the present relationship, then made Elena a reluctant apprentice in the S&M and bondage in an effort to "save" Allegreto's black heart and soul, the scenes could have been made darkly beautiful and believable. As it was, we had to make some lightning-fast adjustments to keep up with the young girl we were first introduced to who was alarmed by the aggressive kisses of a romantic knight, and within a matter of weeks morphed into a disturbing and disturbed seductress. We were given no reference point from which to understand the flowering of the relationship between Elena and Allegreto, other than the point at which they came together to draw blood. As a result, we have a very hard time envisioning a happily-ever-anything for these two.” I, too, found it unbelievable. One could expect Allegreto to engage in such behavior given his background, but Elena? Raised as an educated young woman in a happy home in England, it was hard to believe.

Almost all the story is in Elena’s point of view so we know little about Allegreto’s thoughts. We do know (early on) that on his island kingdom he pursued the occult and was creating a generation of young assassins in his own image. Elena, finding that disturbing as well she should, is naïve enough to believe if he promises not to train her own children (when they come) in his murderous ways, those children will somehow be different from their father or the assassin culture all around them. That made her look witless.

The change in the hero and heroine over the course of the book was interesting: she started out weak and became a dominating princess and he started out strong and ended up her love slave.

I wouldn’t recommend this book without the disclaimers in this review. But for those who don’t mind all that, I could say it deserves 4 stars simply for the achievement it represents.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Review: Jennifer Bray-Weber’s DEAD MAN’S KISS – A Hardened Pirate Falls in Love

Back to pirates today… This story is set in 1728 in Cuba, Venezuela and the Caribbean. It tells of Valeryn Barone, captain of the Rissa and a pirate for hire. Arrested as a result of a drunken brawl, Valeyn is forced to escort the mayor’s niece, Catalina Montoya, across the Caribbean so she can gather plant specimens. (Her life’s goal is to be a naturalist.) But there is a condition: he’s to leave her untouched, or lose his ship, his crew and his life.

Catalina was sent to live with her uncle after an illicit affair and now wants only to become a naturalist. She knows Valeryn’s life and that of his crew depends on him delivering her “untouched”, but she intends to seduce him all the same. And how anyone was to know she had been “touched” when she wasn’t a virgin was unclear. But somehow they’d just know. One has to wonder what her uncle was thinking in sending her off with a pirate not known for his morals.

The story is full of authentic pirate dialog and the ship scenes are exciting with a battle that will keep you turning pages. Of course, Valeryn does not resist the cute Catalina long (was anyone surprised?). Catalina seems a selfish, spoiled girl but she is certain she wants the pirate captain. Valeryn has his hands full with all his problems, yet he manages to find time for Catalina. They do seem made for each other.

There are some references to earlier stories and some characters come in at the end that were not a part of the main tale so I assume this is part of a series. But it can be read as a stand alone. Pirate fans will love the action.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Victorian Era Valentines


Though St. Valentine’s Day has been celebrated for a very long time, the Valentine’s Day cards we send today, and their romantic precursors with pictures, real lace and ribbons, didn’t really come into fashion until the mid 19th century with the Victorian era.

Valentine cards were cherished because of the sentimentality attached to them. Designing cards became a highly competitive market, with a vast array of motifs and verses. Suddenly, cards were being produced in tens of thousands, from whimsy and slightly vulgar, to truly sentimental, their designs included lace paper, embossed envelopes, glass or metal mirrors, ribbons, dried ferns and fake advertisements, bank notes and marriage licenses.

 

Valentine’s Day cards became a flourishing trade in central London. Commercially printed cards quickly superseded homemade offerings of earlier times. They reached the height of their popularity during the 1870s and 80s. Yet even those commercially produced featured birds with real feathers, posies of dried flowers and spun glass hearts, all trimmed with ribbons and lace. 








Some valentines were so thick with embellishments, they came in presentation boxes. Some unfolded like fans, while mechanical valentines had levers or disks which made figures dance, hands move and birds flutter their wings. 

 Sometimes a scented sachet would be sent rather than a paper Valentine. The one below with silver lace and flowers and a woven silk message in the center dates from the 1870s.
 
The words in these cards were as effusive as the decorations. Unabashedly sentimental, they pleaded for affection and pledged undying devotion. Even men kept these tokens of affection hidden in their bureau drawers.  

 
The world has changed and so have valentines but sometimes I like to look at the ones from earlier eras and enjoy the sweet sentimentality expressed. Today our affection is often more subtly expressed but it’s still nice to have a day when such tokens of love can be exchanged.

  Happy Valentine’s Day!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Theater Choices in Regency London

Theater Royal-Haymarket
London, February 1818
Morgan O’Connell hardly noticed Sophie as she turned her attention from the stage and artfully tossed her head of dark curls, smiling at him from behind her lace-covered fan. He was tired of his companion’s feigned shyness and coquettish glances, just as he was tired of the play they would be seeing. The Merchant of Venice, though just beginning, held little interest for him. Once a favorite, he supposed he’d seen too many bad productions for it to remain so. Still, he liked the ambience of the Theatre-Royal at Haymarket, which seemed the place he most often sought entertainment now that he lived in London. Sophie seemed to be enjoying it, too.
His gaze drifted to the stage where appeared the three chests from which Portia’s suitors must choose, her dead father having left a puzzle to determine which man would gain both his daughter and his wealth. Gold, silver and lead; only one held the prize. And the cost to hazard a guess was high, for those who failed must vow never to wed.
As the play unfolded, Morgan’s eyes soon diverted from the chests to the woman acting the part of Portia. She was beautiful and young, somewhere between nineteen and twenty-one. Though he couldn’t tell if that luxurious long brown hair was the actress’s own, the sixteenth-century gown was most becoming to her curves. Her acting was extraordinary, holding him enraptured and sweeping him into a story he’d thought no longer held any allure. Small movements of her eyes, facial expressions and gestures conveyed much that Shakespeare’s lines did not. If she’d never spoken a word, he would have known Portia’s true heart. When she did speak, he believed in a real Portia of long ago.                    [from The Shamrock & The Rose by Regan Walker]

If you think we have a lot of theater choices for Valentine’s Day, you might be surprised at all the choices Londoners had in the Regency era. More than one theater had Letters Patent, and could, therefore, claim the name “Theatre-Royal.” In addition to those, there were more specialized theaters and smaller playhouses as well.  

From the variety of choices, it would seem that Londoners often enjoyed an evening at the theater with as many as 20,000 attending the theater on any given evening. One could see a drama, perhaps one of Shakespeare’s plays, a light comedy, or an opera, as well as ballet, pantomimes and skits—even a clown! And some of these might be combined into the entertainment for a single evening.

The theaters were lit mostly by candlelight reflected from many chandeliers. Of course, these were not dimmed as the entertainment began, so you could see everyone in the audience as well as the actors on stage. And they could see you! So whatever activities you engaged in while in your box had best be discreet. The use of candlelight (until replaced with gaslights) also posed a fire hazard, as evidenced by the fact several of the theaters burned down and had to be replaced.
The Theatre-Royal, Covent Garden (now the Royal Opera House) was rebuilt in 1809 after a fire destroyed it the year before. Holding crowds exceeding 3,000, it became, perhaps, the leading theatre of the time.

The principal performers at Covent Garden between 1809 and 1822 demonstrate the talent assembled there: In tragedy, Messrs. Kemble, Cooke, Macready, Young, Mrs. Siddons and Miss O'Neill. In comedy, Messrs. Liston, Munden, Charles Mathews, W. Farren, Mesdames Jordan, Brunton, Foote, C. Kemble. In opera, Messrs. Incledon, Braham, Pyne, and Mesdames Catalani, Bolton, Stephens, and Tree. "Kitty" Stephens made her first appearance here in 1812; Miss O'Neill, in 1814; Macready, in 1816; and Farren, in 1818. Several of these actresses and singers moved from the stage to the peerage when they married men in the nobility. 

Theater-Royal, Drury Lane

The Theatre-Royal, Drury Lane (mentioned in my story, The Holly & The Thistle as providing seasonal entertainment), was redesigned in 1812 after a fire destroyed it in 1809. That was the fourth theatre to be on the site, the first having been constructed in 1663, pursuant to Letters Patent from Charles II. The Drury Lane Theatre was the first theatre to be entirely lit by gaslight in 1817.

The Theatre-Royal, Hay-Market (also known as Haymarket Theatre or the Little Theatre) is in the West End and dates to 1720. (The Shamrock & The Rose opens with a scene set in this theatre—a scene from The Merchant of Venice.) The Haymarket Theatre was relocated and redesigned by John Nash in 1820. The new theatre was in many ways the same as the one that preceded it with flat sidewalls, tiers of boxes, a back gallery and the pit. However, the new theatre was much more opulent with colors of pink, crimson and gold and a circular vestibule “almost lined” with mirrors. It was the last theatre to be lit by gaslight (in 1843).
 
Sadler's Wells Theater
The Sadler’s Wells Theatre in the London Borough of Islington featured famous actors, including Edmund Kean and Joseph Grimaldi. Grimaldi, though a dramatic actor, is best remembered for his character "Joey the Clown" with white face and rouge half-moons on each cheek. Because the period was characterized by public drunkenness, the rural location led the management to provide escorts for patrons so they could safely return to central London.

Sadler’s Wells was also known as The Aquatic Theatre for its sensational naval melodramas, including a recreation of Nelson's victory at the Nile called Naval Pillars, and a recreation of the Franco-Spanish siege of Gibraltar, which included replicas of the fleet of ships, using a one inch to one foot scale, and working miniature cannon.

The Theaters-Royal in Drury Lane and Covent Garden confined their season to the autumn and winter. Sadler's Wells filled the gap with their shows during the spring and summer. From the playbills I reviewed, the Theatre-Royal at Haymarket seems to have operated nearly year round.

In addition to the major theaters holding thousands, there were many other options for the theatergoer in the Regency:

The Haymarket (King's Theater) Opera House was originally built by the architect and playwright Sir John Vanbrugh in 1705. Destroyed by fire in 1789, it was rebuilt and used extensively for opera.

The Lyceum Theater first became a “licensed” house in 1809 and was rebuilt in 1816, and renamed The English Opera House. It was famous for being the first theater in London to feature some gas lighting (1817), and for hosting the London première of Mozart’s Italian opera Così fan tutte.

The Pantheon with its large rotunda

The Pantheon, constructed on Oxford Street in 1772, was originally designed for balls and masquerades before becoming an opera house in 1791. It was converted to a theatre 1811-12 and was the setting for the great Commemoration of Handel performance in 1784, which will be seen in Echo in the Wind. But the Pantheon's role in the theatres of London was to be short lived. Damaged by fire and troubled financially owing to irregularities in its license, it was replaced in 1814 by the Pantheon Bazaar. 
 
The Adelphi Theatre, originally named The Sans Pareil, was constructed in 1806 by merchant John Scott to showcase his daughter's theatrical talents, and was given a new facade and redecorated in 1814. It reopened in 1819 as the Adelphi, named after the area of West London built by the brothers Adam from 1768. (The name "Adelphoi" in Greek means "the brothers.") Among the actors who appeared on its stage was the comedian Charles Matthews, whose work was so admired by young Charles Dickens. Most of its patrons were the salaried clerks of barristers and solicitors.

Olympic Pavillion

The Olympic Theatre was a playhouse built from the timbers of the French warship "Ville de Paris" (the former deck serving as the stage). It opened as the "Olympic Pavilion" in 1806. After financial losses, in 1813, it was sold to Robert William Elliston, who refurbished the interior and renamed it the "Little Drury Lane" by virtue of its proximity to the more established patent theatre. It was rebuilt in 1818.

 

The Royalty Theatre was opened in 1787 by the actor John Palmer in defiance of the 1737 patent monopoly act and featured as its first production As You Like It. Without a proper license, however, it was forced to close. Palmer was arrested. Under the management of William Macready, the Royalty continued on, struggling with pantomimes and burlettas (comic opera). In 1816, it was renamed the "East End Theatre," and continued to offer entertainment until it was burned down ten years later.

 

So, as you can see, the people in Regency London were definitely fond of their entertainment. And with thousands enjoying the theatre each evening, they were fond of the stage!

 

 

A stint playing Portia at the Theatre-Royal at Haymarket in London, a dropped valentine and a dangerous desire lead gentle-born Rose Collingwood into the arms of handsome Irish barrister, Morgan O’Connell, whose love will hazard all she is.

The Shamrock & The Rose is guaranteed to put you in the Valentine's Day mood... and you can read it again for St. Patrick's Day! 99¢ on Amazon

And see it on my website

"A great short story of suspense and romance; I loved it and can't wait to read more by Ms. Walker." 
                ~ Sinfully Tasty Reads

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Review: Patricia McAllister’s SEA RAVEN – Privateer Love on the Irish Sea!


Set in Ireland and England in 1578, this is the story of Bryony O’Neill who was born to sail, and Slade Tanner, the English Captain of the Silver Hart to whom Queen Elizabeth has given the O’Neill lands.

Because her father has never publically acknowledged Bryony, calling her “Changeling” and holding her responsible for her mother’s childbed death, her twin brother Brendan (“Dan”) forces their father to allow her to sail with them. Dan wants to be a farmer but his strong Irish father, the leader of their clan, is having none of it. He refuses to see it is his daughter who was meant to one day take his place, not his son.

When Slade sails into their cove in Ireland to claim the O’Neill holdings given to him by the queen, Bryony takes the ship her father built for her brother and sails into Slade’s path. He follows her and captures her ship. Thinking he will use her to gain his lands from her father, he takes her prisoner. And then he takes her innocence. Bryony falls for the English captain, unaware the Queen has betrothed him to another.

I love that McAllister based her story in a real province of Ireland (see map below) and uses the real family name of O’Neill. To me, it’s a sign of an author willing to do the hard research, and her book is all the more credible for it. Other historical details abound and Queen Elizabeth is a real character in this well written novel. This is a great first in the Raven trilogy. I recommend it!

By the way, I believe the author has updated this version from an earlier one.

The Raven trilogy:

Sea Raven
Fire Raven
Snow Raven

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Review: Janelle Taylor’s FORTUNE’S FLAMES – Exciting Privateer Adventure in New Orleans!

Set during the War of 1812, this is the story of Maren Jones, an American, sailing on her cousin’s ship from England to her home in New Orleans when a privateer by the name of Captain Hawk attacks and boards their ship. 

The infamous Captain Hawk is actually Jared Morgan, a patriot from Savannah who is working for President Madison and looking for traitors supporting the British. Maren’s cousin, Eric, tells her he is also working for the President, but it seems he is lying to her about many things.

Maren met Jared when she was 15 and was so enthralled, she disguised herself as a lad and followed the handsome young man around the wharf. So, when he captures her ship and then steals a kiss, she does not resist. Jared finds her enchanting, but he is also suspicious of both her cousin and her.

This is a tale has many twists and turns and wartime treachery as well. Maren and Jared come together to solve some mysterious happenings and find a way to be together. Jared is certainly a worthy hero I could not help but love. And Maren, having lost her father and mother, is determined to make it on her own with the gambling club left to her, Lady Luck.

There’s a surprise at the end, too!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Review: Sharon & Tom Curtis (aka Laura London) - THE WINDFLOWER – Superb Classic Pirate Romance—a Keeper!

The Windflower was the product of the husband-wife writing team of Sharon and Tom Curtis and some believe it was their best. I can tell you this: this pirate romance set in 1813 during the War of 1812 is one of the finest historical romances I have read. It’s a classic. Originally published in 1984, it was reissued in 1995, and can be obtained in paperback (used). Though you may have to pay a premium, as I did, to get a good copy, for fans of the genre, it is not one to pass up. It’s a keeper among keepers.

It tells the story of innocent, sheltered Merry Wilding, an American living in Virginia with her maiden aunt. Merry has a talent for drawing faces from memory, a talent her brother, an American spy will use to his benefit, exposing her to pirates and worse. Then, on her way to England with her aunt who wants Merry to have a better future, she is kidnapped. Taken to a pirate ship, she meets the English pirate Devon, who remembers her from a night long ago where he encountered her in a tavern. He holds her captive, believing she is involved with his enemy who was also on the ship Merry was sailing on. Protecting her brother, she will not reveal who she is. Devon is intelligent, beguiling and smooth and innocent Merry is powerless to turn away his kisses. The whole crew of pirates comes to love Merry and to teach her many things as she blossoms from shy girl to strong woman.

The writing is superb, the characters courageous, heartwarming and very special; the descriptions of the environs vivid; the metaphors numerous and well done; and the story a wonder to read, and re-read. The plot is intriguing. You will be swept away on a pirate ship to experience many adventures, battles at sea, storms, death, outrageous humor and love. I thought the writing gifted.

Here’s a sample from one scene; I bet it moves you though not a word is spoken:

“His fingers whispered over her face, seeking and slowly stroking nerve points, knowing where, how long, how much to caress. Her skin gained color under his touch; her eyes became enormous; her throat tightened. By her nose his little finger encountered a forgotten tear. Gathering the sparkling drop, he smeared it slowly over the curve of her lips and blew it gently dry. One hand came lightly to rest on her neck; the other supported her cheek as he sought her with his kiss.”

If you love pirate romance, this historical romance will not disappoint. It's on my Top 20 list.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

New Review: Laurie McBain’s CHANCE THE WINDS OF FORTUNE – A Shipboard Romance from the 18th Century: Pirates, Privateers and Sea Captains!

February is pirate, privateer and love on the high seas month on the blog… all those swashbuckling heroes and the heroines who love them. I’m starting with one of my very favorites by a great author.

For those of you who read and loved McBain’s Moonstruck Madness, as I did, this is the next book in the Dominick trilogy. The first was set in England and this one begins there but soon takes off for America and the Caribbean. You should read all three, as they comprise one story. This one begins the romance of Dante and Rhea, which concludes in book 3. The original story was a bodice ripper (I have the original). I don’t know if they changed the new edition.

Set in 1769, this is the story of Dante Leighton, captain of the Sea Dragon and Marquis of Jacqobi who is hoping a buried treasure will return him the wealth he needs for revenge against the man who took from him Merdraco, his family estate in England, and Rhea Dominick, the beautiful and sweet oldest child of Sabrina and Lucien, Duchess and Duke of Camareigh, who we met in the first book. Rhea is now seventeen and the object of revenge by the Duke’s cousin. Abducted and sent aboard a ship to the Colonies, Rhea escapes one man’s evil plans for another’s.

McBain weaves many threads together for an exciting tale of betrayal, revenge and love wrapped around a hunt for a sunken treasure ship. Actually it is a very long but very absorbing introduction to the third novel, Dark Before The Rising Sun. I could not put it down and so appreciated McBain’s command of the English language and her attention to vivid detail. It is superbly written.

You will soon be lost in the world of Dante’s ship the Sea Dragon and feel Rhea’s intense longing to return home to Camareigh even as her desire grows for the brooding ship’s captain. Rhea is a courageous, unselfish heroine with a fondness for God’s creatures and those in need of help. Dante is a self-absorbed aristocrat turned hardened American privateer and smuggler who is not beyond taking a duke’s daughter.

I promise you will love it but get the next one for the end of the story!

Original cover

The Dominick trilogy:

·         Moonstruck Madness (1977) Sabrina and Lucien
·         Chance The Winds Of Fortune (1980) their daughter, Rhea and Dante
·         Dark Before The Rising Sun (1982) Rhea and Dante (cont’d.)