Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Thursday Thirteen - 84 - 13 Reasons to Read Broken Wing by Judith James

For today's Thursday Thirteen, I'm reviewing an instant favorite/forever keeper written by a new breakout author - and a debut one, at that. Not only did her first book receive 4 1/2 stars from Romantic Times, but it got this review from Publisher's Weekly:

"The Napoleonic era comes brilliantly alive in James's debut adventure romance. The pace never falters... The extensive historical detail goes a long way, but Sarah and Gabriel's heart-wrenching struggle to keep their love alive is what will really keep readers entranced throughout this epic read."

1 - Judith James is a fellow Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada chapter mate. Have I mentioned how much I look forward to our monthly lunch-and-meeting combo? And Judith has been someone who makes the lunch absolutely fly by when she sits across from me.

2 - Judith is part of a group blog which will be launching in the very near future. Hoydens and Firebrands will explore the world of the 17th century and features authors:
Anita Davison
Sandra Gulland
Kim Murphy
Mary Sharratt
Alison Stuart and
Holly Tucker as well as Judith.

3 - Having worked as a counselor for 15 years, Judith has a special dedication at the front of her book:

"This book is dedicated to the lost boys. God bless them. May they all find a place to belong, and someone to love them as they deserve." - Judith James

4 - Broken Wing is a Medallion Press release under the Jewel Imprint: Sapphire Historical Romance category. Set at the turn of the 19th century, just after the French Revolution and during Napoleon Bonaparte's rise to power, Judith's novel rides the changing tides of the power structure of Europe. Her two main characters echo this sense of tightrope-walking, indefinable and mercurial.

5 - We meet Sarah, Lady Munroe, as unconventional a young widow as ever sailed the seas in men's clothing, alongside her privateering cousin Davey. Back on land and in gowns befitting her station, she travels to Paris with her older brother Ross to claim her younger brother Jamie, long held prisoner in an upscale brothel.

6 - Gabriel St. Croix was dropped off at the doorstep of Madame Etienne's discreet establishment when he was a very small boy. His beauty makes him a favorite of every depraved customer who frequents the brothel he calls home. Grown to manhood, he feels dead inside - until the arrival of another young boy (Sarah's brother Jamie) awakens a desire to spare an innocent from facing his own fate. Jamie keeps a spark alive inside of Gabriel. When news arrives that the boy's family has finally located him, and is coming to take him home, all that's left of Gabriel's heart crushes to pieces inside of him.

7 - Judith's previous career as a counselor gave her a deep understanding of the confusing array of emotions swirling inside survivors of childhood sexual and physical abuse. Her portrayal of Gabriel rings with authenticity and shoots off into unpredictable directions.

What's also refreshing is Judith's portrayal of Sarah. She often surprises Gabriel with her reactions to him and his behavior. Though her actions and words make absolute sense to the reader, they still have a sense of originality that infuses every scene with discovery. We have not been down Judith's road before.

8 - I especially appreciated the darker undertones to Judith's book. When it comes to tortured heroes, I'm rather gothic. I really want him to suffer. I want my heart to be crushed into tiny shards for him.

Gabriel is so perfect for me, it's scary.

9 - Something I rejoice! Rejoice! in are the ways Judith flies in the face of most historical romance convention. As far as romance novels go, I'm historical-romance oriented. And as far as historical romances are concerned, I really only read the unconventional ones. There aren't really that many of them, to be honest. Judith's book takes me to all the places the major romance publishers would never dare to go.

All the things that make Judith's book work are things for which the major houses would have requested rewrites. But do most conventional historicals get a stunning review from Publishers' Weekly?

10 - Judith really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example:

" 'You're drunk!'

'Completely foxed,' he agreed with a genial grin.

'How did you get in here?'

He crooked a finger toward the balcony. 'Tree.'

'What's wrong?' she asked gently.

'A bad dream,' he said tiredly. 'Nothing more.'

'Well, now that you're here, why don't you tell me about it? It might help you sleep.'

'Christ, woman, I came here for some peace, to escape it, not to wallow in it!' He pulled himself to his feet. This had clearly been a mistake.

'You don't honestly think you can escape it by ignoring it, or running away, do you?'

No, he'd never thought that. Only hoped. He'd hoped he might escape for awhile, by running to her, and hoping was the thing that would destroy him in the end. He knew it. He turned, glaring at her in the dark. 'Shall I tell you then, Sarah? Do you really want to know? Would you like to know what I was doing the night before you and your saintly brother arrived at Madame Etienne's?'

Her silence drove him on.

'I was auctioned off that night, my services for the evening, to the highest bidder. I did my best to appeal, as half the proceeds were mine to keep. I was a very valuable asset there, you know. I'm surprised she released me.'

He stalked toward her, his body tense, vibrating. His voice became cooler, deliberately seductive and compelling. 'It was a husband and wife, or a man and his mistress, a playful pair. I was the wicked footman' - despite his obvious tension, his voice sounded amused - 'burning with lust for my haughty countess. I was...tasting her, pleasuring her, a thing I'm very good at, when her husband arrived, catching us in the act. Naturally he was furious and determined to punish us both. I, the insolent servant, was taught to regret my impertinence by being bound to the bed and whipped by his lordship as his lady knelt between his legs. Fortunately, she was thorough enough that he was not inclined to complete his amorous designs upon my person.'

Silence. It continued unabated, except for their breathing. He knew he'd shocked her, had strangled something delicate that had been growing between them, and he wasn't done yet. 'And do you know what else, my dear?' he asked, his voice mocking. 'I thoroughly enjoyed it.' He wasn't sure what he expected from her - horror, condemnation and disgust, certainly not a reply as cool and detached as his own.

'Well, now, if you'd enjoyed it, it wouldn't be giving you nightmares, would it?'

Rage blasted through him, demolishing years of hard-won control. The bottle flew from his hand, shattering in the corner as a distant part of his brain noted that broken glass was becoming a habit, a different form of comfort. Damn her! Damn her! He took a ragged breath, then another, clenching his fists, refusing to look at her lest she provoke him to further violence. Stiffly he turned toward the balcony and disappeared into the night."

11 - Judith doesn't shy away from the emotional pain of surviving abuse. If that seems too edgy and harsh for a romance novel, to me it makes the healing power of love all the more precious and deeply moving. Though Madame Etienne's most valuable prostitute is undeniably, smoulderingly attractive, and Sarah herself knows how to fill out a pair of men's breeches as well as a frock, the true draw for these characters is their internal thoughts and feelings. Knowing what Gabriel thinks before he acts makes him utterly compelling, and there's no way to resist falling hard for him as a reader.

12 - Though the characters' internal landscapes are vividly drawn and rich with authenticity, Judith doesn't scrimp on serving up a rollicking story. She takes us to locales that dare to exist beyond the confines of the English ton. The plot slices along like a rapier, and the cast of secondary characters is so vivid and solid you'll wonder how she managed to pack so much into one novel.

13 - I leave you with a final excerpt. Enjoy!

"Sarah waited, anxious and eager to have Gabriel to herself. Everything had changed. There was no pretending they were only friends anymore. She longed for, and dreaded, his touch, knowing it would take her past all restraint, to a place from which there was no turning back.

The more she wanted him, the more she feared that if they crossed that tempting border, there would be heartache on the other side. She worried that what he needed was a friend, not a lover, and feared he would come to see her as another in a long line of people who had used him. She feared their friendship would be destroyed, and where there'd been something lovely, there would be only bitterness, disillusionment and regret.

She'd also been struck, seeing him at the docks, tanned and fit, his dark hair streaked with sunlight and his eyes sparkling with excitement, at how beautiful he was. He could have any woman he wanted. If his life had been different, would he have ever chosen someone like her; a disreputable, opinionated, eccentric widow; large boned, far too tall and careless of her appearance? It hardly seemed likely.

Her musings were interrupted by his appearance on her balcony. He stood, framed in the moonlight. An early spring breeze teased his hair, and his eyes sparked with heat and hunger. Her gaze traveled from his eyes to his mouth, to his torso, taut and sleek, his stomach ridged with muscle, his skin alabaster in the moonlight. She groaned in frustration. No woman should be so tempted. He grinned and stepped into the room.

He crossed to her bed without a word, and slid in beside her, gathering her into his arms. He'd meant to tell her he loved her. He'd meant to thank her for the gift, but the moment her arms reached around his neck, he forgot all his carefully planned words and lowered his mouth to hers in a feverish kiss.

Sarah clutched at his hair, pulling him close, deepening her kiss. She shivered in anticipation as his fingertips began to trace her collarbone, sending delicious frissons of pleasure singing along her nerves. She gasped in white-hot pleasure when his lazy tongue rasped wet and hot against her, thrilling her to her core. He looked straight into her eyes, the question clear.

She closed her eyes, trying to gather her tattered wits, stunned by the riotous feelings coursing through her. She'd known no pleasure from her husband, and felt overwhelmed by the wild sensations she was experiencing now. It was too powerful. It was happening too fast. Shifting her weight, she pushed him away. 'Enough, Gabriel, please. We...I...I think we should stop.'

'I'm sorry,' he said, drawing back. 'I thought...clearly, I misunderstood.'

Stricken by the look of hurt in his eyes, she reached out to pull him back, but he was already up, preparing to leave. 'Gabriel, don't!'

'Don't what? Don't kiss you? Don't touch you? I can't help it, Sarah. I think about it all the time. Christ! I can't keep doing this!'

'Please, just listen. Try to understand.'

'I do understand. I've just reminded you of what I am, a jaded, greedy whore. You've been kind to me, indulged me, though I cannot imagine why, but there are limits. The idea of being touched by me that way, knowing what I am, must disgust you.'

'Stop it! I hate when you speak like that! That's not at all what I meant!'

'My apologies,' he said, his voice flat and cold. He turned to go, but she leapt from the bed, blocking his path.

'Gabriel, wait, please! For all the times I've listened to you, will you not hear me out?'

The look he gave her was resentful and cold, but he ceded her the door and went to sprawl ungraciously on the window seat. 'I am listening, mignonne,' he said, his voice remote."

- Judith James, 2008

Please join me next week when I review Christine Wells' The Dangerous Duke