Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Thursday Thirteen - 108 - 13 Reasons to Read To Rescue a Rogue by Jo Beverley

Once upon a time I didn't read romance novels.

My sister and cousin enjoyed them. My cousin had even started to write them. Now, of course, she's waiting for a release date for her 14th novel.

When she lived in Ottawa for a few years, and I lived in Toronto, I hopped on a train and visited her and her husband for the weekend. She had just finished reading an historical romance that she was certain I would love. So she loaned it to me, and I started it on the train on the way home.

My cousin knows my tastes well. She was right. I fell for that book and haven't looked back since. It was Dark Champion by Jo Beverley.

1 - To Rescue a Rogue is a 2006 Signet release, an imprint of New American Library, which is a division of Penguin Group. It is part of Ms. Beverley's Company of Rogues series, set in the Regency period.

2 - The Company of Rogues "came about when original Rogue Nicholas and the rest turned up at Harrow School. Schools in those days were almost anarchical places. Nicholas took one look at things and decided to create a small area of civilization. He gathered twelve new boys according to his own gifted whim, and formed a brotherhood of protection. They were not to bully others, or avoid proper duties or deserved punishment, but they would oppose oppression from all quarters. Most bullies and tyrants soon learned to leave them alone." - Jo Beverley, The Company of Rogues

Many of the Rogues joined the army or went to sea during the war against Napoleon.

3 - We meet the heroine just after she's fled the unwelcome attentions of a military hero and acquaintance of her brother. The main male character is an old school chum of the same brother, a family friend and someone with whom she feels very much at ease.

4 - Lady Mara St. Bride sports the devil-hair of her family's heritage. "It predicted a taste for adventure at best, disaster at worst." Though rare, both she and her brother Simon were born with it. Her latest ill-thought-out adventure opens the book, as we meet her wrapped in a scratchy blanket over a shift, making her shoeless way through the unsavoury midnight streets of London.

5 - Lord Darius Debenham returns from an evening on the town to see a sorry wretch huddled on his family's London town house front steps. Only the unfortunate girl is not a nameless London waif, but his friend Simon's sister. Knowing the society scandal that would result if anyone should see her in this state, he scoops her up and away from prying eyes into the safety of Yeovil House.

6 - One of my favorite things about Jo Beverley's writing is her complete disregard for the conventions of the historical romance. If you've read my blog for awhile, you'll know that the Sesame Street song One of These Things is Not Like The Others is my theme song.

A heroine whose youth makes her more prone to too-stupid-to-live decisions? Historically accurate age range for her, though not popular with today's readers, who prefer main female characters in their 20's even though that is completely wrong for most historical time periods? Bring her on.

A hero addicted to opium? A hero whose physical and mental distress is perhaps not Alpha enough for the average reader? Give me some of that.

Ms. Beverley has six Rita Awards for excellence in romance fiction. Bucking convention works for her, and for me - her grateful and loyal reader.

7 - Another thing Ms. Beverley does that irritates some but is a draw for me is her extensive use of dialogue. Many of her scenes read like pages of a script, and as you can imagine, I gobble that up. Her dialogue is extremely natural, which includes some repetition and inclusion of throw-away lines. She always manages to further character development or plot through her dialogue - without any obvious pointers to important-info-here.

Here's a sample:

" 'Take off the remains of your stockings and we'll clean you up.' He went to the washstand.

She sighed and carefully rolled down her silk stockings, but they no longer warranted care. They were embroidered with flowers and had cost a shameful amount, but now they were ruined. As she had almost been.

'They're off,' she said, pulling the blanket back around herself. 'But I have to get home, Dare. Now. Can you -'

'Not before I've checked your feet.' He sat by them and raised each to study it. 'No blood, I don't think.' He looked up, blue eyes steady. 'All right. What happened, Imp?'

She focused and realized what the dark concern in his eyes meant. 'Oh! Nothing like
that, Dare. I ran away.'

'So where did you have to run away from? And,' he added, looking down to dab at the sole of her foot with a soapy cloth, 'why were you there in the first place?'

It stung and she squirmed. 'You don't need to do that.'

'Stop trying to avoid the confession. What bull did you wave a red cloth at this time?'

'It wasn't my fault,' she protested, but then grimaced. 'I suppose it was. I sneaked out of Ella's to go with Major Berkstead to a gaming hell.'

He paused to stare. 'In God's name, why?'

She looked down and saw how grubby her hands were. Not a lady's hands at all. 'I've been asking myself that. I suppose I was bored.'

Surprisingly, he laughed. 'Your family should know better than to let a devil-hair have time on her hands.' "

8 - The sexual attraction between Mara and Dare travels a winding path. Their brother/sister ease with each other at the beginning provides the initial roadblock. But her youth, his addiction and his determination to kick the habit provide the heart of the tension between them.

9 - Being intimately acquainted with chronic pain and with a dependence on painkillers to get through my life, I found the scenes of Darius's journey to break free from the clutches of opium really hit the right chord. Completely fascinating and haunting.

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

"Berkstead stopped and a sneering smile curled his lip. 'Debenham. I know all about you.'

It stung, but Dare hid it. 'I doubt it, but if you don't fear me, fear her brother.'

'A St. Bride of Bridewell?' Berkstead stopped trying to rise but looked more comfortable by the moment. 'A bunch of country mice. Not one of them a soldier.'

'There are St. Bride's and St. Bride's. Simon St. Bride will kill you by inches, but the list lining up behind him will include some of the most powerful men in England, none of them squeamish about crushing lice. I could start with the Duke of St. Raven and the Marquess of Arden.'

The sneer died. 'I want to marry her!' Berkstead protested. 'She's afraid of her family. They won't let her marry out of Lincolnshire.'

'If Mara St. Bride wanted to marry a Hottentot, she would probably do so.'

'I'll buy a house in Lincolnshire.'

Mara was right. The man didn't listen. A table still held scattered cards, two glasses and an empty decanter. On a chair he saw white gloves, a pretty pink dress and a light pelerine of pale cloth. He picked them up, and the slippers from the floor.

Dare headed for the one other door that must lead to the stairs. Hand on handle, he looked back at the crumpled man. 'Remember. None of this happened. That, sir, is your only hope of salvation.' "

11 - Because this is a bit of a wrap-up for the Rogues, there is a reunion of the characters from Ms. Beverley's previous dozen Rogues books. Some readers may find all the names and references dizzying, but for fans of her series, the reunion is a dream come true. The relationships between these men have real history, and you can feel it in their scenes together.

12 - Jo Beverley has published:

4 Medievals
9 Georgians (with a new one due in 2010)
8 traditional Regencies
14 Company of Rogues Regencies, featuring former soldiers returning to Society
11 novellas
3 science fiction/fantasy stories

Click for a list of Jo Beverley's works.

13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Enjoy!

" 'Some young men burn to take risks,' Dare said.

'Like you?' said Mara.

'Not really. I met some officers who only seemed to come alive when in battle. Lacking that, they tended to stupefy themselves with drink, or seek danger in high-stakes gaming.'

They were nearing the inn, and Mara had to ask, 'How will you manage the night here?'

'I'll take an extra dose.'

She turned to him, knowing what that meant. 'Oh, Dare.'

He smiled wryly. 'Apparently it's my next lesson. I have proved I can stand like a wall, Ruyuan says, and must now prove that I can bend like the willow. Or something like that. He becomes metaphorical.'

He took out a finger-sized vial of deep blue glass with gold Chinese lettering. 'I am even in charge of my destiny.' His voice had taken on a bitter edge.

'May I see?'

He passed her the bottle and she saw that on the top of the cap was an etching of an Oriental warrior wielding a sword. 'Laudanum?' she asked, trying to keep her tone mundane.

'Of a sort. Strong and without sugar. I prefer it bitter. I would prefer it to be in an ugly container, but there is some other lesson in that, I gather.'

Mara touched the picture of the warrior. 'Do you still have my favor?'

'Always.' He took back the vial and put it away, then took her hand to lead her down a lane between a house and a cobbler's shop.

There he drew her into his arms and pressed his lips to hers. She sensed he meant the kiss to be brief and decorous but tender need swept through them. She cradled his face and parted her lips to join with him in the only way allowed.

Rough wall pressed at her back, and Dare's strong body enfolded her. Mara lost all sense of reality other than him, and pleasure, and a building desire that could drive her mad.

They pulled apart, staring into each other's eyes, only to press together again, this time bodily, with Mara's head on his chest, within which his heart pounded frantically just like hers.

'Oh, but I want you so much, Dare. I want to be yours completely. I wish it were now.'

'My adored, beloved Mara,' he whispered into her hair. 'Thank God for control, or I'd take you here against the wall.' "

- Jo Beverley, 2006

Join me next week when I review Baby in Her Arms by Stella MacLean.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Thursday Thirteen - 107 - 13 Reasons to Read March by Geraldine Brooks

You may have noticed the badge I have in my sidebar.

And that I've joined a reading challenge held in her honor. Dewey was a book blogger who posted indepth reviews of wonderful books. She also acted as the hub of many blog communities, such as Weekly Geeks, 24-Hour Readathon and Bookworms Carnival.

I'm only a fringe book-blogger, more of a writing-life blogger. I knew of these blog communities and I was a regular visitor at Dewey's blog, The Hidden Side of a Leaf. I left comments for her, and she left comments for me.

Like this one:

"It's nice to read about a family with so many generations still so close!" - Dewey, Aug. 5th, 2007

Here's a wee conversation we had over in her comments section, after her review of Neil Gaiman's Stardust:

Me - "As a film sort of person, I have naturally seen ‘Stardust’ but haven’t read the book. I really enjoyed it, as I did the British TV miniseries ‘Neverwhere’, which is one of my favorite miniseries ever. Of course, didn’t read the book!

Book lovers are often highly displeased with film versions of their favorites. Something is always left out that the reader enjoyed so much. Personally, I always find it fascinating to see different adaptations of stories. One story can be a poem, novel, film, opera or ballet. Each version has to morph into something completely new."

Dewey - "My husband is ESPECIALLY prone to hating any movie made out of anything he’s read. I can sometimes manage to take them as two separate things and enjoy them for what they each are, but other times, like with Shakespeare/Danes/DiCaprio fiasco, not." - (LOL!) Nov. 9th, 2007

Imagine my shock when I clicked over to her blog last Dec. 1st to read these words:

"I’ve got a piece of sad news to deliver. Dewey passed away on Tuesday evening. My wife was unwell and in a lot of pain; I don’t believe she ever discussed that side of her life here, and I’ve no desire to go against her boundaries, just know she was in a lot of pain. I am sad that my wife is no longer here, but she’s not in pain any more."

I read this at work. Luckily, no one saw the tears running down my face.

Dewey's blog friends quickly set up several reading challenges in her honor. Participants are asked to choose 6 books from her 2003-2008 book review archives. This is my first review from the Dewey Reading Challenge.

1 - First of all, as with Kailana's Four-Legged Friends Reading Challenge - the first one I ever joined - I've been led towards a fantastic book I never would have been able to read if I had not crowbarred the time into my schedule.

2 - March is the second book of fiction for Geraldine Brooks, a former journalist. Far from a sophomore jinx, this second offering won Ms. Brooks the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

3 - Ms. Brooks is also the author of Year of Wonders and People of the Book.

I'm currently reading Year of Wonders as the second book for the Dewey Reading Challenge.

Ms. Brooks has also written two non-fiction books:

Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women

Foreign Correspondence: A Pen Pal's Journey from Down Under to All Over

4 - March takes us to familiar territory and then spins our expectations in wild directions. Brooks bases her characters on those of Louisa May Alcott's from her novel Little Women. It is fiction that sees a contemporary author visiting the work of a well-known classic and expanding on the world created by the original author. The whole sub-genre of the parallel novel intrigues me, and the following books are on my wish list:

H. - The Story of Heathcliff's Journey Back to Wuthering Heights

Wide Sargasso Sea - saw the film. Loved it.

Rhett Butler's People

5 - The story is told through two first-person accounts: Mr. March's POV - he's an army chaplain for the Union side during the American Civil War, and Marmee March's POV - she's his wife and the mother of four older girls known to us as the Little Women of Alcott's book.

The changing POV's are handled beautifully. In Little Women, the absent father is at war when the family receives word that he is gravely ill, and Marmee must go to him. March begins in Mr. March's POV, where we remain until the illness sets in. At that point, the POV changes to Marmee's until he is somewhat recovered. Then we end the book once again in Mr. March's POV.

6 - In an inspired choice, Brooks gives us a Marmee very unlike the one we get to know in Little Women. That Marmee is kind and good, self-restrained and the epitome of the loving Woman. Of course, she's also a single mother in practice while her husband is away, and never shows she is unequal to the task of providing a secure home for her daughters. Marmee is an early version of today's Super Mom.

Daughter Jo is hot-headed, dramatic, tomboyish and intellectual. Her sister Beth is often trying to gentle Jo's behaviour.

In a wonderful role swap, we meet a Marmee who is the genesis of her future daughter Jo. Marmee exhibits all the characteristics we know so well as Jo's domain. And in a touching echo of Jo's and Beth's relationship, Mr. March spends quite a few scenes attempting to diffuse his wife's powder-keg temper.

7 - Rather than Jo's vibrant inner world of fictional stories and dramatic plays, Marmee is a passionate abolitionist. Ms. Brooks writes several real life figures of the time into the book: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and John Brown. Louisa May Alcott's father Bronson - the inspiration for Ms. Brooks' character of Mr. March - was a contemporary of all three and was influential upon those great thinkers and rebels.

When he meets Marmee, who already runs a station for the Underground Railroad, he cannot help but join his flame of idealism to hers.

8 - The only cause of the war that means anything to March is the one to free the slaves. His early experiences on a plantation, which begin the novel, and his relationships with slaves bring us deep into the heart of the novel. What truly drives a man like March to temporarily leave his family for an ideal? Ms. Brooks introduces us to numerous characters who are flesh and blood incarnations of the ideals March cherishes. Later in the novel, in Marmee's POV, we discover what living for one's ideals can take from a man - and from a woman.

9 - The relationship between March and Marmee is very he said/she said. Several identical scenes are told from his POV and then later from hers. Being on the receiving end of a Marmee outburst with March, and later discovering how it hurts Marmee when her husband negates her feelings gives a poignant, complex look into a very intense marriage.

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

"I didn't know what I'd be able to do, but this time I had to do something. I moved forward, parting the corn with my arm. A blow to the back of my knees caused me to crumple. 'Stay put, marse,' hissed Jesse, behind me. 'Now ain't no time to make a move.'

'Gentlemen, move out!' the major called. 'We have an appointment to keep.' He lifted a battered
chapeau de bras and swept it across his body in a mockery of a bow, and turned his horse for the woods. I saw that Zannah was running after the party, the need to be with her son more powerful than her fear of reenslavement. One of the irregulars also saw her, and turned to alert the major. The major shrugged, and so the guerilla pushed Zannah forward into line with the tied slaves and roped by the neck.

When they had disappeared into the ragged scallop of cypress woods, Jesse grabbed my hand and started after them, keeping to the corn rows. He had a trash-cutter's knife slung across his back. 'If we can just keep sight of them till nightfall,' he said as we advanced at a brisk jog, 'then maybe when they's sleeping we just might git a chance to cut loose some of them.' It was a better plan than any I had, and so we followed them into the trees."

11 - There are many, many scenes that stay with me. Geraldine Brooks' background in journalism helped her develop a punchy style that paints image-rich scenes with a beautiful economy of words. Her story is often heartbreaking, but that's a place I long to go with open arms. March really took me there.

12 - What did Dewey have to say about March? Click HERE to find out.

13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Enjoy!

"When we were admitted the colonel was still pouring over engineer's drawings and seemed to listen to my complaint with only half an ear.

'Very well,' he said when I had concluded. He turned to the offending soldiers. 'The chaplain is quite right. I won't have civilian women molested, even if they are the wives and spawn of rebels. I understand why you felt driven to do it, but don't be doing it again. Dismissed.'

The soldiers left, their relief propelling them swiftly from the room. Only the corporal paused, to give me a swift grin of contempt. The colonel had taken up a compass and commenced measuring distances on the engineer's drawings.

'Sir-' I began, but he cut me off.

'March, I think you should reconsider your place with this regiment.'


'You can't seem to get on with anyone. You've irritated the other officers...Even Tyndale can't abide you - and he's as much of an abolitionist as you are. I've got Surgeon McKillop in one ear complaining that you don't preach against sin, and yet here you are sowing discord in the ranks by seeing a great sin in harmless soldierly pranks...'

'Sir, such wanton destruction is hardly -'

'Keep your peace, would you, March for once in your life?' He jabbed the compass so hard that it passed right through the chart and lodged in the fine mahogany of the desk beneath. He came around the desk then and laid a hand on my arm. 'I like you alright; I know you mean well, but the thing of it is, you're too radical for these mill-town lads. Most of these boys aren't down here fighting for the nig - for the slaves. You
must see it, man.'

He shot me a hard look. I held my tongue, with the greatest difficulty. He went on, as if speaking to himself. 'Why do we have chaplains? The book of army regulations has little to say on the matter. Odd, isn't it? Well, in my view your duty is to bring the men comfort.' Then he glared at me and raised his voice. 'That's your role, March, damn it. And yet all you seem to do is make people
uncomfortable.' He plucked the compass out of the desk and rapped it impatiently against the chair back. When he resumed speaking, it was in a more civil tone. 'Don't you think you'd do better with the big thinkers in the Harvard unit?'

'Sir, the Harvard unit has famous ministers even in its rank and file - men from its own divinity school. They hardly need...'

He raised his big meaty hand, as if conceding my point. 'Well, then, since you like the Negroes so very much, have you thought about assisting the army with the problem of the contraband? The need is plain. Ever since Butler opened the gates at Fortress Monroe to these people, we've had hundreds streaming into our lines. They are upon our hands by the fortunes of war, and yet, with war to wage, officers can't be playing wet nurse. If something is not done, why, the army will be drowned in a black tide...'

'But, Colonel,' I interrupted, taking a pace forward and putting myself back in his line of sight. 'I know the men in this regiment. I was with them at the camp of instruction; we drilled together. I prayed with them when we got the news of the defeat at Bull Run...'

'Good God, man, I don't need to hear a recitation of your entire service...'

I kept talking, right over the top of him. 'I've been through defeat with these men, I've been covered in their blood. No other chaplain -'

'Silence!' he shouted. He walked over to the window, which opened onto a remarkable prospect of faceted cliffs falling sharply to the crotch of merging rivers. The light was falling and a red glow burnished the surface of the water. He spoke with his face turned toward the view so that he wouldn't have to look at me.

'March, I tried to put this kindly, but if you insist on the blunt truth, then you shall have it. I have to tell you that McKillop is lodging a complaint against you, and some of what he plans to put in it is rather...indelicate. I'm not about to pry into your personal affairs. You may be a chaplain, but you're a soldier at war, and a man, and these things happen...'

'Colonel, if Captain McKillop has implied...'

'March, let me do you a kindness. Do yourself one. Request reassignment to the superintendent of contraband. Who knows? You may be able to do a deal of good there.' "

- Geraldine Brooks, 2005