Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Thursday Thirteen - 125 - 13 Reasons to Read Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks

Deeply-missed book blogger Dewey passed away 10 months ago. For awhile, her blog remained for us to click onto and once again read her insightful reviews of fabulous books.

Recently I've discovered that the link to her blog no longer connects. I guess it's time to let go of some things.

I'm a third of the way through my reading challenge based on books that Dewey reviewed. I recently found a review of another of 'Dewey's books' over at You Can Never Have Too Many Books, along with this wonderful sentiment from Susan:

"That last quote also reminded me of Dewey. It's been almost a year now since she passed away. I'm glad this was a book she loved and recommended. To you, Dewey."

1 - Year of Wonders is the second book I've read for the year-long Dewey Reading Challenge. Good thing for me that there are only six books on this challenge. I noticed that most of the avid readers who signed up for this had read their allotment by March.

The books I read for myself have a habit of getting bumped regularly by new releases which my incredibly-talented friends have written - books I like to review as close to their release date as possible, so I can spread the word. I finished reading Year of Wonders a few weeks ago, but I had three books to review that were hot off the presses first.

2 - Year of Wonders is a Penguin Books release. This debut novel for journalist Brooks became an international bestseller. Not a bad way to switch careers...

3 - The full title is actually Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague. Call me crazy, but that's the thing that grabbed me and made me special order it at the smaller bookstore near my office. I've been able to buy three of the six challenge books off the shelf at the large Chapters, but both of the Geraldine Brooks were special orders because I couldn't wait until I might be able to get to Chapters. I started my challenge with Brooks' March - you can read my review HERE - and I immediately plunged into Year of Wonders.

4 - We meet Anna Frith of Derbyshire, England, daughter of a brutish laborer, young widow of a miner and mother to two young sons. She works as a part-time servant at the manor house and takes in a boarder at her cottage to make ends meet.

5 - Michael Mompellion is the married rector of Anna's village. Young and charismatic, he sweeps his congregation up with the intensity of his gaze and seduces them with the magic of his voice. He rides his powerful stallion Anteros and ministers to his flock with large hands more like a working man's than a cleric's.

6 - The novel jumps back and forth through time. We meet Anna as she keeps house for Mr. Mompellion, in the desperate hush following their year of beating back the plague. Then it flashbacks to the time just preceding the arrival of the decimating disease. Eventually we catch up to the moment of the novel's beginning, where we then move beyond to the conclusion. It's an intriguing way to present the novel, as we assume that how we find the characters at the beginning is the way the novel will end.

But there is more.

7 - Sexual tension flares between Anna and the rector. Although he is passionately married to Elinor Mompellion, the attraction between him and Anna runs throughout all the horror of the plague year. Anna, Elinor and Michael create a love triangle of the most original kind. Anna idolizes Elinor, who teaches her to read and how to use plants to heal. But Anna doesn't realize until much later that part of her kinship with Elinor is her unconscious desire to be Elinor - because Elinor is Michael's wife.

8 - The story is told entirely through Anna's first-person voice. But this is not merely her story. A Novel of the Plague is a perfect indicator of the scope of this tale. We get to know an entire village and suffer along with each individual as the impossible decision is made. By shutting themselves off from the world, they heroically attempt to contain the plague.

9 - Geraldine Brooks' training as a journalist serves the villagers well. Multiple viewpoints and varied reactions to the collective decision are presented through Anna's eyes. Though we know Anna and her stalwart character, we still get vivid depictions of other people who aren't so brave, aren't so sure, who react to the horror in monstrous ways.

There are lots of gruesome images in this book - fair warning to the squeamish. But I found every part of it fascinating, compelling and so very heartrending. There were many times that I had started to read it on the bus, but had to tuck it back into my purse or else sit there crying.

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

"When the Mompellions came to where I stood, Elinor Mompellion held out both her hands and took mine tenderly as the rector spoke to me. 'And you, Anna?' he said. The intensity of his gaze was such that I had to look away from him. 'Tell us you will stay with us, for without you, Mrs. Mompellion and I would be ill set. Indeed, I do not know what we would do without you.' There was no turmoil within me, for I had made my decision. Still, I could not command my voice to give him a reply. When I nodded, Elinor Mompellion embraced me and held me to her for a long moment. The rector moved on, whispering quietly to Mary Hadfield, who was weeping and wringing her hands most piteously. By the time he mounted the steps again and faced us, he and Mr. Stanley between them had shored up every doubter. All of us in the church that day gave their oath to God that we would stay, and not flee, whatever might befall us.

All of us, that is, except the Bradfords. They had slipped out of the church unnoticed and were already at the Hall, packing for their flight to Oxford."

11 - The woman's face on the cover of the book couldn't be more perfect. Taken from a painting by Frederic Leighton - Amarilla - this depiction of Anna's endurance through all her suffering is exquisitely perfect.

12 - There are so many vivid images and scenes from this book that will always stay with me. First published eight years ago, I couldn't imagine why it hadn't been optioned to be filmed. Actually, to do it justice, it would have to be a miniseries - hopefully on HBO so the grisly aspects wouldn't be lost.

Now with the H1N1 virus making the rounds, wouldn't this be a perfect production for our times?

13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Enjoy!

"Mr. Mompellion laid his large hand tenderly upon Jakob Merrill's face. 'Hush now.' His voice was low and even. 'Do not dwell any more on things in the past that you cannot change. When God took your wife to Him, He crowned Maude Merrill with a crown of righteousness. He freed her from all toil and tiredness. God has already made provision for your children. Did he not send young Brand to you, and did you not take him in to your home in his need? Do you not see God's hand at work there?'

Jakob Merrill's hand tightened on the rector's, and his brow unknotted. He asked the rector then to help him make a last will to bind such an arrangement.

It was not for me to be reading Jakob Merrill's private will, and I doubt that Mr. Mompellion would have given it to me if he had known that I could read at all. Indeed, I did not propose to read the words; it was only that my eyes could not prevent me as I blotted the document and set it in the tin box that Merrill had pointed to. I warmed the child some caudle, instructed her how to complete the stew I had begun, and set out with the rector.

Elinor met us, her face creased with concern. Two more bodies awaited their graves. Mr. Mompellion sighed and shrugged off his coat. He did not wait even for some nourishment but went straight to the churchyard.

I let go my pride then, and took my courage into my hands instead. Without telling Elinor what I proposed, I trudged out to my father's croft, hoping that the day was young enough to find him sober still.

I noticed that Steven, their eldest boy, had an angry welt across his cheek, and I did not need to ask how it had come there. I carried some of the herbs we had been preparing and showed Aphra how to make them up into the tonic that Elinor and I had devised.

Speaking with a respectful deference that I did not feel, I explained the plight at the rectory, and, flattering my father about his great strength and fortitude, beseeched his help. As I had expected, he cursed and said he had more than enough work to lay his hand to, and that it would do my 'prating priest' a power of good to get his white hands dirty. So I offered him his choice of my lambs for that Sunday's dinner and another at the new moon. These were generous terms, and though my father cursed and haggled and thumped the table till the platters rattled, he and I eventually came to an agreement. And so I bought Mr. Mompellion a respite from the graveyard. At least, I told myself, my father's clemmed children might get a portion of the meat."

- Geraldine Brooks, 2001

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Thursday Thirteen - 124 - 13 Reasons to Read The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker by Leanna Renee Hieber

Leanna Renee Hieber is a fellow blogger over at Popculturedivas. As she got set for that magical Release Day for her debut novel, I confess I was looking forward to it nearly as impatiently.

Alright, perhaps not quite as much as Leanna must have been.

But I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy. And as it turned out, Leanna embarked upon a mammoth promotional blog tour called the Haunted London Blog Tour, with loads of opportunity to win a copy of her book.

You guessed it - I received my autographed copy in the mail along with a cool little button that says Strangely Beautiful. Yay me!

1 - Treat yourself to this lovely book trailer -

2 - Now, about that Haunted London Blog Tour. With 14 stops, Leanna linked her tour with posts about real London haunted spaces. Included are the totally freaky Black Dog of the infamous Newgate Prison; Jack the Ripper victim Annie Chapman's haunting of a brewery boardroom which now stands on the site of her murder; and playwright Oliver Goldsmith's pesky disembodied head hauntings.

I was completely impressed with Leanna's blog tour. Carrying the theme along from blog to blog kept me coming back for more.

3 - Leanna is a co-founder of Lady Jane's Salon, "Manhattan’s first reading series devoted to romance fiction. Join them on the first Monday of every month at Madame X in Manhattan to hear your favorite authors read from their latest works."

4 - Before publishing her first novel, Leanna wrote one-act plays and a fantasy novella, Dark Nest. She's also a stage and television actress.

5 - The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker is a Leisure Historical Fantasy, an imprint of Dorchester Publishing's Romance category.

I've also seen it described as a Gothic Victorian paranormal, and a YA novel. All of the above categories would fit this unique story.

6 - We meet albino-pale Percy Parker as she enters the Athens Academy at the advanced age of eighteen. A convent-educated orphan, Percy is especially sensitive to the stares of others when they encounter her. She has the looks of a ghost made flesh, with an ability to see and hear the actual ghosts that stream to and fro unnoticed by most other Londoners.

7 - Professor Alexi Rychman is a dark, melancholic leader of a group of gifted men and women known as The Guard. They stand between the living and the dead, ensuring Darkness doesn't engulf the world. It's Alexi's longing-filled lot in life to await a lover fated to be the woman foretold by a vision, when The Guard were first assembled as children. Not only must he be absolutely certain she's the one - if The Guard guesses wrong, the universe as they know it will be forever breached by Darkness.

8 - Although marketed as a Leisure Romance, the love story goes at its own pace and remains highly Victorian in tone. The romance plays out on an almost purely emotional level. Definitely suited to a YA reader.

9 - Besides the developing relationship between the professor and Percy, the other five who make up The Guard are featured prominently, as well as various ghostly characters and otherwordly beings. This is a world well-populated and teeming with Gothic atmosphere.

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

"Alexi, exhausted, took one final moment to contemplate an alternate history where he might have become a renowned scientist instead of an academic who chased ghosts. But The Grand Work had its own agenda, and his mortal desires were in no way considered. Prophecy suggested, of course, that someday his empty heart would be warmed and refreshed, but until he could be sure, until she came forward and his divine goddess could again speak to him, everything, including Alexi, was holding its breath - and choking on it. A little girl on Fleet Street might be safe for the moment, but the rest of London was not.

Still...she was coming, wasn't she? She'd best show herself before the last of his hope died and he didn't recognize her at all."

11 - There are many instances of visions and dreams in this story. Leanna has a gift for turning these moments into cinematic flashes that are just as haunting for the reader as for Percy. Here's a taste:

"A wind swept the room, scattering papers and whipping his black hair across his forehead. Halos of fire surrounded Alexi's outstretched hands, crackling to be released.

The abomination leaned back on pulsing haunches and tilted a vague head, knowing that it had been commanded. Fire burst from Alexi's fingertips, and it yelped and retreated. Then, in a burst of frantic barking, the form shifted into a hundred doglike forms that disappeared like roaches from light, snorting as they vanished through the walls. Only barking lingered in the air."

12 - As an actress and playwright, Leanna truly has an ear for wonderful dialogue. The mannered banter of her Victorian setting is ever so exquisite, and most certainly is never modernized with out-of-place turns of phrase. Standing ovation from me, Leanna!

13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Enjoy!

"Miss Parker's elegant dress and elaborate coif were stunning. Her fine features had been painted with the softest rose blush, and her pale eyes flashed like diamonds. She was by far the most captivating thing ever seen at this silly event. He noted her talking to various young ladies who drifted past, strained into saying something polite. She was gracious and returned their trivial, polite conversation, but when she occasionally glanced away, he read her struggle and isolation. She alone, he was sure, understood why he dreaded this event every year. Such recognition was profound.

An enraptured young couple twirled past. As they did, they waved. Percy returned the gesture happily, then watched them twirl away, her warm smile fading. Something seized up deep inside Alexi. Perhaps she felt the weight of his stare, for she looked up. Eyes like snowcaps finally met his, and the rest of the world was muted.

'There you are - my favorite gargoyle!' came a taunting voice.

Alexi turned and saw Elijah Withersby leading a woman through one of the arched entrances and into the ballroom. Miss Linden. Having only seen her briefly, in the moonlight, Alexi was unprepared for what a well-lit room would do for her beauty. It was unparalleled.

'Here's the man of the hour at last.' Elijah removed the woman's hand from his arm and offered it to Alexi. 'Professor Rychman, here again is our dear Miss Lucille Linden.'

Alexi kissed the woman's gloved hand with solemn courtesy. 'A pleasure to see you, Miss Linden. I am sorry it has taken so long for our paths to again cross.'

'The pleasure is entirely mine, Professor Rychman. Lord Withersby has been kind, as has Miss Belledoux. I am forever in your debt. It is difficult to be a stranger in such a large place, and to feel safe when the world is coming apart at the seams...'

She possessed a magnetic intensity Alexi had never encountered. But then, just over the woman's perfect, bare shoulder, Alexi regarded the opal eyes of Miss Parker looking on in stricken sorrow. Her pale, heather-framed face quickly rallied into a hollow smile, and she tried to pretend she hadn't been staring. But eyes like hers could truly hide nothing; and when the music slowed, the couples parted and still no one came to speak with her, Percy rose from her chair and fled the room.

'Professor Rychman?' called a musical voice, jarring him from his reverie. 'Are you all right?'

Alexi faced Miss Linden. 'My apologies. Something caught my eye.'

'Ah, we interrupt his chaperoning, Miss Linden,' Elijah taunted.

Alexi looked sharply at his friend, but Miss Linden smiled and he felt her smooth gloved hand graze his. 'I admire gravity in a man.'

'If you wouldn't mind, Miss Linden...I am terribly sorry. It was a true pleasure to see you, but I must beg your leave. I believe someone requires my assistance. A student,' he added, staring at Withersby."

- Leanna Renee Hieber, 2009

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Thursday Thirteen - 123 - 13 Reasons to Read the In David's House Collection by Jennifer Leeland

Recently in the RWR, or Romance Writers Report - a romance industry journal available to members of Romance Writers of America - an article by Courtney Milan cautioned bloggers to think twice when holding contests on their blogs. Something to do with legal woes, I believe. She did point out that when the prize's value is under $10.00, there's not such an urgency to investigate. And since most of the contests I've come across are for copies of the author's latest release, that pretty much covers the blog contests in which I've taken part.

And since today's e-book collection came to me through a contest, I just want to thank Jennifer Leeland for holding it and to all the authors whose books I've been so lucky to read after winning them. Please, writers - keep holding your contests! Heck, I've had two contests myself on behalf of my cousin. They're so much fun! I'm glad they can still be classified as promotional expense and most bloggers will never have to worry about the legalities of giving away prizes like a plasma TV.

1 - In David's House is a three-novella erotica collection from Wilder Rose Press. At this point the three stories must be purchased separately, but I won them as a collection, and read them as one connected story. The connecting thread is BDSM dom David, whose handpicked guests arrive to sort out their sexual and romantic lives within the safety of his home.

I would love to see this collection packaged as one volume.

2 - Part of Wild Rose Press's Scarlet Rose erotica imprint, Jennifer's story is contemporary adult erotica using frank language and BDSM situations.

3 - The first story is The Mask She Wears. We meet Catherine, a court reporter who meets a too-dreamy-for-her lawyer at a cafe she frequents. Too bad she needs a bondage mask in order to reach sexual release. The charming lawyer is exactly the kind of guy with whom she'd never share that side of her.

Justin could swear he recognizes Catherine from somewhere - and definitely not the court room. Could this shy, reserved woman have been at one of David's parties? He can't wait until the next one, to see if his instincts about her are correct.

4 - The second story is The Secret She Keeps. We meet Tessa, already involved with Zac and happy with nearly everything about him. If only he would be a little rougher when they had sex. She's never been at ease with her own longings, to which she self-refers as deviant. All of her former relationships had been doomed to failure when her boyfriends realized they could never bring her to orgasm. But she'd never been able to speak aloud the dark fantasies which gave her true release.

Zac breaks things off with Tessa when it's clear their sex life sucks. He'd tried hard to embrace a vanilla life for her, but he needs to dominate and she wasn't the sort at all to submit to that sort of sexual expression. She wore a Wonder Woman costume to a party, for heaven's sake. But a heart-to-heart with David convinces him that it's worth a second chance to see if this woman can take the real him.

5 - The third story is The Trust She Yields. We meet Lee, a medical secretary at a fast-paced office. But no matter how quickly the workday flies by, no matter that she moved to another state, the memories of her previous relationship haunt every moment of her day. She was once the submissive to a well-respected dom, but what no one knew was how the man who imposed rules for others in their lifestyle refused to abide by them in his own relationship with Lee.

David has helped countless others to realize their own sexual beings. As a dom who opens his home to others who need a safe haven, David's generosity and wisdom is legendary. The only thing missing in all of this - for all the couples he has helped to find one another, there's been no one for David himself. Until he spies Lee in a vanilla-world bar and they recognize that thing about each other.

6 - The recurring theme in this collection is learning to accept oneself. Fighting against or denying their sexual natures has led to disaster for everyone involved. Jennifer brings out the dark moment/inner confrontation within each character with great depth, considering she's writing in a short novella format.

7 - I really, really love the power plays between the characters in all three stories. All romantic partnerships have a power play to them. BDSM couples are more up-front with this aspect. The danger with erotica is setting the true allure of power aside with the freedom to write sex scenes with truly frank language. Jennifer keeps the power dynamic front and center at all times.

8 - The rise of erotica as a major player in romantic fiction is something I'm ecstatic to see. When you consider that only three generations ago, women could not present themselves as sexual beings unless they wanted to be labelled tramps and whores, the current erotica industry is nothing short of miraculous.

The subsequent splitting of erotica into subgenres such as BDSM and menage a trois corresponds with some of the most common female fantasies compiled by researcher Nancy Friday in her studies of female sexuality.

In today's world, it's not really PC to be female and admit a desire to be dominated. For women who have it all and do it all, sometimes the greatest relief is to lay down that control to a lover. Ironically, this same desire was traditionally the preserve of high-profile men such as political figures, professionals and CEO's.

Jennifer tackles these issues in this collection. For the men as well, especially Zac from The Secret She Keeps, the desire to be a sensitive and caring partner is at war with these character's inner drive to dominate. Through BDSM, they can have both.

9 - The movement within the stories towards David's own struggle in The Trust She Yields reminded me of one of my truly favorite historical romance series by Jo Beverley - the Malloren series. The eldest brother/patriarch of that noble family makes his delicious presence known in four books before he took center stage in his own. That's one of my favorite books - Devilish. It always makes its way onto my list of favorites, and The Trust She Yields had the same build-up/pay-off for me.

10 - Jennifer really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example, from The Mask She Wears:

"She wanted him to possess her. This lover was connecting with her through the mask, the restraints, through her self-imposed limits. He was shattering her barriers.

Instead of completing the act and ending the encounter, he slowed the pace again. His touch softened. The heat from his skin burned her nerve endings as she teetered on the edge of another orgasm. She arched, and the restraints bit into her wrists and ankles.

For the first time, she wanted the mask off. She wanted to know this man, connect with him.

Never before, in the few anonymous encounters she had allowed herself, had she felt this intense need to strip away the tools that protected her from emotional risk.

Then he eased away, and his warmth, his touch was gone, and a silent scream echoed in the dark corners of her mind."

11 - I'm keeping the truly sizzling aspects out of the excerpts here, but believe me - the exquisite hotness made my knees weak.

12 - Jennifer has all three couples return in The Trust She Yields, which is a very nice full-circle for the collection. The last novella is longer and has room for a few scenes where Catherine & Justin and Tessa & Zac come to bat for Lee & David.

David is a smoldering presence in all of their stories. Their esteem for him is touching when the man who has helped all of them with their sexual healing can use a friend.

13 - I leave you with an excerpt, from The Trust She Yields. Enjoy!

"A month ago he’d been here, just like tonight, alone and relaxed. She’d glanced his way several times and noted the way he stared at her, his expression hungry. She’d ignored him, put distance between them, but he only gave her a knowing smile. They never spoke, yet, they had communicated a wealth of information.

Every Friday night she berated herself for coming back to BC’s, the downtown bar where the clientele was a little older without being snooty. However, here she sat, drinking Crown Royal and Coke in small amounts as she enjoyed the music.

Lee caught her reflection in the bar mirror. Dark, curly black hair tumbled over her shoulders in an unruly mess. Her makeup was understated, almost boring, but it brought out the gold in her hazel eyes. Tonight she wore a burgundy blouse and a black mini skirt with her thigh-high leather boots. The boots added about three inches to her solid five-six frame, and she liked the appearance of control they gave her.

It was all a lie.

Deep down, Lee wanted to lose control, hand it over, be completely controlled by another. If only she could stamp out the need to submit to another person in the bedroom, her life would be simpler. Tears pricked her eyes. She couldn’t let them fall. Her makeup would run.

'May I buy you another drink?' Her gaze jerked to the man standing next to her. It was
him. Stumbling off the bar stool, she backed away. 'I—no. Please, I—'

Fear closed Lee’s throat as she whirled toward the door. The room suffocated her. She had to get out. Had to get away. She burst through the door and sprinted for her car.

She couldn’t do it again. She couldn’t allow another dominant to control her. All that was over.


David Peters frowned as the woman careened out the door. Obviously, she was frightened. Not of men, but of him in particular. As a man who was known for his charm, David wasn’t used to terrifying women. Well, not unless they needed it.

The bartender picked up her glass. 'She wasn’t interested, huh?'

'It was much more than that,' David said, more to himself than the man behind the bar. 'She knew exactly what I was, and it scared her.'

'She’s new in town. From Las Vegas, so I understand.' Jack wiped the counter and smirked. 'It’s nice to see one who doesn’t fall in line for you.'

David glared at the bartender. 'So glad I could entertain you.'

'It’s not often I get to see you strike out, Peters. Let me enjoy it.'

'It’s not often I run into fear like that.' He threw some money on the bar. 'I’ll see her again. You’ll see. She needs me.'

The bartender shook his head. 'You’ve got the biggest ego I’ve ever seen.'

David snorted. 'I doubt that.' He sighed as he always did when trying to explain things to vanilla people. 'It’s not ego. She does need me or someone like me.' He stared at the door as if willing her to come back through it. He’d have to wait a whole week to see her again. That bothered him. Annoyed him.

Worried him.

He shoved the thought away. Of course, he wasn’t worried about a woman he didn’t even know. How could he be? She was just another soul who needed the one thing he offered. Sanctuary.

'Well, good luck.' The bartender’s smile grew faint. 'That lady has baggage.'

'Don’t we all,' David said softly. 'Don’t we all.' "

- Jennifer Leeland, 2009

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Thursday Thirteen - 122 - 13 Reasons to Read Wicked Little Game by Christine Wells

I met Christine Wells when I became a contributor to a group blog called missmakeamovie. Our blog was relaunched as Popculturedivas, and I've struck up a friendship with Christine as she keeps writing about things we share:

Glomming Richard Armitage - it's research!
Hugh Jackman - it's research!
The Anti-Hero
'Don't mention the war'
Her music playlist when she writes - from her very popular group blog, Romance Bandits
A love of book series and film series

1 - Christine's latest release is Wicked Little Game.

It's a Berkley Sensation imprint from Penguin's Berkley Jove romance division, which focuses on mass-market paperbacks.

2 - Christine continues her professional association with cover artist Jim Griffin. I think his work is just delicious.

3 - Wicked Little Game takes us to the high-stakes world of Regency London. What lurks behind the reputations of those in the ton? How far will the elite go to preserve those reputations - deserved or not? When governments can fall if a scandal's bad enough, those in the game can move the play to lethal levels.

4 - Christine has done something in her last two books that conventional wisdom says is a no-no for romance.

You can see the immediate draw for me there.

The heroine of The Dangerous Duke is a widow (heaven's no - readers don't want a story about a widow.) The heroine of Wicked Little Game isn't even a widow - she's currently married to a man who is not the hero of the book (the horror!)

High-intensity stress levels for the characters and a halt-everything-else-except-reading hook for the reader - what's not to love?

5 - Lady Sarah Cole married young to a man whom she was certain she loved deeply, and who appeared to adore her in return. Ten years later, she makes perfumes which she secretly sells to an apothecary to make ends meet. Her husband has become a wastrel, living beyond his means while Sarah keeps their household in barely-respectable rooms let from a landlady with whom her husband flirts to postpone rent payment.

6 - The Marquis of Vane has held a torch for the enigmatic Lady Sarah for years. Rebuffed when he once made an offer for an extra-marital arrangement between them, Vane intercedes despite his anticipated frosty reception - when her scoundrel of a husband sets a price on one night with his wife. For ten thousand pounds.

7 - The sexual tension coils through every scene. Lady Sarah herself has been attracted to Vane for some time when the story begins. In their rarified world, they were bound to encounter one another. Their history holds a sword over their every meeting. But Lady Sarah battles against her husband's bold infidelities by refusing to join in that sordid game. She's too proud to admit to anyone that her youthful decision to marry Brinsley Cole was a life-altering mistake. And she proudly refuses to engage in retaliatory affairs.

8 - I have a great affection for Lady Sarah. Her overriding character flaw - Pride with a capital 'P' - is a flaw with which I closely indentify. Oh, so closely. Her valiant attempts to hold onto her shredded self-respect are heartbreaking. I related to her like I haven't related to any other fictional female character so far.

If I say that the final scene in Turandot, a Puccini opera, where the unwinnable princess discovers that the hero has finally touched her armoured heart, leaves me in tears of recognition and reminds me of Lady Sarah, perhaps you'll understand my affection.

And if I say that the final pas de deux from John Cranko's The Taming of the Shrew ballet leaves me in the same state, then you'll definitely understand my affection. The ballet's heroine reminds me of Lady Sarah as she stops fighting the man who loves her and surrenders to her true feelings. It's filled with intricate trust moves and lifts that allow her to soar (and extremely difficult for the male dancer!)

9 - Now - let's get to Vane.

He's an historical romance hero as he was meant to be experienced.

But don't take my word for it. Here's what a few Amazon readers had to say about him:

"Vane - loved him!!! So, so, so sexy. He was the epitome of a hero! Very in control of his emotions - except when it comes to the heroine. With her, he falls to pieces. I LOVE it when the heroine holds the ability to bring such a powerful man to his knees." - Barbara, New York, USA

"Vane....wow. He is an amazing hero. A lesser man than Vane would have given up on Sarah. She was so hard, so callous and so adept at keeping her icy cold mask in place. But Vane understood her core. He knew what she was protecting and he was determined to break through all her walls." - VampFanGirl, San Diego, CA

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

"He couldn't save her from Brinsley's loathsome schemes. He'd tried. She'd spurned him with her cold, cruel smile. But what if the villain took this offer to another man with fewer scruples than Vane? What then?

'I ought to kill you, Cole.' Vane kept his voice low, aware that a party of men had left Crockford's and headed their way. 'Exterminate you like the vermin you are.'

Brinsley didn't even blink. 'Ah, but I'm well acquainted with your sort, my lord. I know you will not kill a man without a fair fight.' He fingered his bruised throat, then shrugged. 'Call me out if you wish to see Sarah's name dragged through the mud. I won't meet you.'

His expression darkened. 'I married that little bitch, my lord marquis. Short of bloody murder, I can treat her however I damned well pleased. So think well before you threaten me, sir, or your sweet Lady Sarah might suffer the consequences.'

Blind rage, all the more dangerous for its impotence, threatened to overwhelm every principal Vane held dear. He faced Brinsley in the darkness, panting with the effort of keeping his hands by his sides instead of wrapping them around the bastard's throat. This time, he wouldn't have the strength to let go.

He'd never killed a man before...

Their misted breath clashed and roiled upward. The moonlight glinted off wet cobbles, threw Brinsley's profile into high relief. The thoughtful poet's brow that hid a conniving, low mind, the noble nose that sniffed out weakness and despair, the sculpted lips that now curled in a self-satisfied sneer.

Damn him to hell. Brinsley knew he had won."

11 - There is so much going on in Wicked Little Game that it was a bit of a challenge to find excerpts that wouldn't contain spoilers. Be assured that Christine's previous inclination to include spies, political intrigue, suspense and a healthy dose of edge-of-your-seat action is in full array here.

12 - I reviewed Christine's previous book, The Dangerous Duke last December. Check out my review HERE.

13 - I leave you with an excerpt. Enjoy!

"A large hand gripped her elbow, stopping her. She gasped and swung around, to see the hackney driver's reddening face.

She swallowed hard. 'Let go of me. I told you, I'll only be a minute.'

'Where've I 'eard that before?' scoffed the driver. His hold tightened. 'I'll 'ave my money first, ma'am,
if you please.'

Before Sarah could answer, there was a blur of movement and a dull crack. The driver dropped Sarah's elbow with a grunt of pain, cradling his wrist. Sarah's gaze snapped upward. Standing between them, looking down at her with those deep, dark eyes was the Marquis of Vane.

'Did he hurt you?' He made as if to take her arm to inspect the damage for himself, but she stepped back, evading his frowning scrutiny.

She shook her head, insides clenching, heart knocking against her ribs. There didn't seem enough air in the world to breathe. 'A - a misunderstanding, merely. You are very good, but please don't - '

Vane lowered the cane he'd used to break the man's hold and switched his glare to the driver. 'If you don't wish to feel this stick across your back, make yourself scarce.'

The jarvey was a thickset man, but Vane towered over him, all broad chest and big shoulders and pure, masculine power. The driver blenched a little, but he retained enough spirit to mount a case in his defense.

Vane didn't appear to listen, but nor did he stem the flow. Of all the men in the world who might have come upon her in this predicament, why did it have to be Vane?

His swift glance held a gleam of curiosity. She lifted her chin with proud distain. The marquis gave no sign he believed the driver's story, but when Sarah said nothing to contradict it, he flicked a coin to the jarvey and dismissed him with a nod.

Vane turned to her. 'Come, I'll escort you home.'

His low, resonant tone stroked down her spine in a warm, velvet caress. A shocking wave of heat rolled through her body, left her trembling from head to toe. 'That won't be necessary, thank you,' she managed. 'It is but a step.' She gripped her hands together. 'I haven't the funds with me, I'm afraid, but my husband will reimburse you. If you'd be so good as to find him...'

Vane followed her gaze to the coffeehouse and his jaw tightened. 'I don't want repayment,' he said harshly.

There was only one thing he'd ever wanted from her. He still wanted it. She knew by the suppressed violence in him, the tension that held his large frame utterly still.

She was in no better state. Her senses feasted on him. He carried himself like a Roman general, with the grace of an athlete and a habit of command.

Even in the open, bustling street Sarah felt crowded, oppressed, overwhelmed by him. Her pride refused to let her take a backward step. But oh, she wanted to. She wanted to run.

All she could do was conceal her fear beneath that familiar mask of ice. 'Thank you. I'm obliged to you,' she said in a colorless tone.

He continued to stand there, waiting, as if he expected something from her. She wasn't sure what it was, but she knew it was more than she could possibly give. She glanced at the coffeehouse. She needed to get away.

'So cold,' breathed Vane. 'You are...quite the most unfeeling woman I've ever met.'

Sarah forced her lips into a thin, cynical smile. How little he knew her. The danger had always been that she felt far, far too much. An excess of sensibility had led to the great downfall of her existence. She'd paid for her impulsive choice every day for the past ten years.

The suffering had increased a hundredfold since she'd met Vane.

They stared at one another without speaking. The everyday world rushed past in a muted blur, as if she and Vane were surrounded by smoked glass. Those compelling dark eyes bore into hers, determined to read her secret yearning, searching for a response.

Her heart gave a mighty surge, as if it would leap from her chest into his. But she'd built a stronghold around her heart from the flotsam of wrecked dreams.

Someone jostled her as they hurried past. The strange bubble of suspended time burst and the world flooded back, swirling around them. Sarah turned away.

And there, in the bow window of Brown's Coffeehouse, stood Brinsley, her husband.


- Christine Wells, 2009