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  • Molly Schoemann-McCann 4:00 pm on 2018/06/21 Permalink
    Tags: a duke to remember, by right of arms, , , it started with a scandal, , , , kelly bowen, meredith duran, my lady notorious, robin carr, , , , , the tender texan   

    The Great RITA Read Takes on Historicals: Oh, Those Dukes, Spies, and Rakes! 

    In the latest installment of my Great RITA Read series, in which I attempt to read as many winners of the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Award as possible, it’s time to discuss a subgenre that happens to be my personal favorite: historical romances.

    The most recent winner of the Historical Romance Rita Award was Kelly Bowen’s delightful A Duke To Remember, which features a lost Duke who does not want to be found and a heroine who is, at various times, an actress, a spy, and a private investigator.

    You would think that A Duke To Remember would have little in common with Day Beyond Destiny, winner of the first Historical RWA award (then the Golden Medallion) in 1982. While there are differences, especially since Day Beyond Destiny is a generational saga, there are similarities which point to the reasons behind the staying power of historical romances.

    First, the heroines are trapped in a world that doesn’t value female sexuality, but they still crave, well, great sex. Bowen’s heroine is instantly attracted to the lost Duke, especially since he pulls her out of a river after she rescued a young boy. In Tessa Dare’s delightful Romancing the Duke, the 2015 Historical Romance: Short winner, the passion-starved heroine is only too glad to become the equivalent of a ruined woman.

    Even back in 1982, the main heroine of Day Beyond Destiny is trapped in an abusive marriage but leaves her husband for a passionate lover who values her.

    These women aren’t ashamed of their sexuality or their needs; instead, they crave the passion and intimacy of a satisfying sexual relationship. It is a pattern that plays out in many romances but, in historicals, particularly the early ones, the heroines must push harder against the social mores of the time.

    Second, many historical romances also explore class and cultural differences between the heroes and heroines. In A Duke To Remember, the gulf between the private investigator and her lost Duke is vast. He’s nobility, she’s a commoner and no virgin. In Meredith Duran’s Fool Me Twice, the Historical Romance: Long winner in 2015, the hero is a Duke mourning not only the death of his wife but her betrayal, while the heroine is the illegitimate daughter of a politician on the run from her father’s assassin. Already, there’s a status difference but the chasm widens when she is hired as his housekeeper. Watching each of them push against this societal gulf is one of the many joys of the book.

    And, of course, in Day Beyond Destiny, the heroine is an American housewife, while the hero is a Greek revolutionary. The cultural differences between them are vast.

    Even Westerns can have these class differences. Jodi Thomas’s The Tender Texan, the Short Historical winner in 1992, features a young cowboy who agrees to an arranged marriage with a widowed German immigrant. The language and cultural differences between this hero and heroine are solved by kindness and love, but there’s a learning curve.

    The last commonality is easy to guess: the heroes of historical romances tend to be nobility of some kind or another. Day Beyond Destiny features a Greek prince of a sort, and that’s part of a pattern too. Even when the heroes aren’t nobility, per se, they are powerful and important, and include: Dukes, various lords, businessmen, and the occasional shipping magnate/pirate.

    If there were as many Dukes in England as in Regency Romance novels, you could stack them up from London to Cornwall and still not have enough room. But this rank for the hero is an important element of the class/power dynamic found in many historical romances. These are stories in which the heroine, by the force of her personality and her competence in her chosen endeavors, wins the heart of the hero. And by winning his heart, I also mean winning his approval of her worldview. One of the few medieval romances to win a RITA, in 1992, in what was then just the Historical Romance category, was Robin Carr’s By Right of Arms. Carr’s story featured a marriage of convenience between a conquering knight and the widow of the lord of the castle. You’d guess he would have all the power in this situation but, no; because she is beloved by her late husband’s knights and local villagers, he must work with her, listen to her, and, eventually, he comes to see that the way she rules the keep is the best way to win the loyalty of those on his new land. (Note, oh, yes, we could do a full article on marriages of convenience….)

    Those three elements: the need for sexual satisfaction, class differences, and intrepid heroines, can be seen in nearly all the historical RITA winners from 1982 to 2017.

    The main manner in which the award-winning novels in these categories have evolved over the years has to do with the sexual history of the heroine. Earlier historical heroines often move from being ignorant of sex but aware of its passionate possibilities, to finding out what it’s all about, such as the on-the-run noble heroine of the late great Jo Beverly’s My Lady Notorious, the Historical Romance winner in 1992. Many later heroines have already experienced sex, like the fallen women with the illegitimate son in It Started With A Scandal by Julie Anne Long, the 2016 Historical Romance Short winner. In years past, this heroine might have been taken advantage of, or forced, or unjustly accused of being a fallen women.

    It seems now that the heroines can actually be “fallen” women.

    Is this a case of our own changing ideas about sex, being reflected back through time? Likely, but then historical romances, like science fiction stories, also tend to have something to say about our present world. The idea that you can be worldly and experienced and still worthy of having your story told is a positive one.

    Next up, it’s time to explore contemporary romance Rita winners and how those have changed through the years. Those too, have a great deal to say about the changes in sexual morals but also about the changing needs of women from the 1980s to the present. One hint: alas, sexual harassment of women in the working world remains as much of a constant as it ever was.

    The post The Great RITA Read Takes on Historicals: Oh, Those Dukes, Spies, and Rakes! appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Corrina Lawson 3:00 pm on 2018/05/17 Permalink
    Tags: , , cheryl etchison, christmas on crimson mountain, deeanna gist, , , , kasey michaels, , meredith duran, michelle major, once and for all: an american valor novel, , , tender texan, texan's reward, , the lurid lady lockport, the rake, tiffany girl, , when the stars fall down   

    The Great RITA Read: Trauma and Recovery in Romance Novels 

    Perhaps the single biggest misconception about books in the romance genre is that they’re fluff.

    I’m up to 70 books in my Great RITA Read, and I cannot stress how wrong this assumption is. There are so many stories of women dealing with real-life issues, so many heroines who have suffered horrible traumas, including, but not limited to: the deaths of beloved family members; sexual assault; exile; cancer; and crushing poverty.

    However, their stories are not about their traumas.

    The stories are about their recoveries.

    Most of these romances begin not when the heroines are traumatized, but when they have decided to take action to improve their lives. And nothing is more hopeful than reading about heroines who begin again and, this time, emerge the victor. Their triumph is inevitably earned by the heroine’s own efforts, which are recognized (eventually) and encouraged by the hero.

    This pattern of recovery with the support of a hero who sees the strength of the heroine, has repeated itself across all the romance sub-genres awarded in the RITA Award, from historicals to contemporary romantic comedies to paranormals and even the recently revived category of mainstream fiction with romantic elements. It’s also a pattern that has existed since the awards first began in 1982.

    Take Carolina Dreaming by Virginia Kantra, the 2017 RITA winner in the Contemporary Mid-Length category. It’s the story of a divorced woman recovering from an abusive marriage. She’s started her own business, a bakery/coffee shop on a beautifully described island in the Carolinas, and is doing all she can to provide stability and love to her son. She’s already on the road to recovery, already making strides, and making plans for the rest of her life. It’s not a sad or tragic book. It’s a joyous book set in a lovely place, one where you can practically feel the sun on your face and the ocean breezes. It’s about living again, for both the hero and heroine, not a deep dive into the trauma that led to it.

    This story of recovery even shows up in comedies. In It Had To Be You by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, winner of 1994 Best Romance Award, the first chapter is set at the funeral of the heroine’s father, a ruthless businessman and owner of the Chicago Stars NFL team. Our heroine hated her father with good reason. He could never show her love or even affection and he certainly never believed in her. But our heroine didn’t fold. She ran away from home, created a new life and fabulous persona for herself, and shows up at his funeral in an outrageous outfit with her little dog and her friend, a prominent male model.

    Comedic chaos ensues. That scene is probably one of the funniest openings to a romance novel ever. The reader doesn’t find out until later in the book that the reason for the heroine’s estrangement from her father was that he never believed her when she reported being raped. (And, yes, her rapist gets a comeuppance in this book.) Again, the book is a comedy but, like all great comedies, it does not overlook the pain behind the laughter. The hero of the story is forced, over and over, to look beyond our heroine’s outrageousness to realize that she has for more strengths and smarts than anyone believes exists. And, of course, he comes to believe in her.

    Fool Me Twice by Meredith Duran, the 2015 Historical Romance: Long winner, is a Regency-set historical with a heroine who falsifies references to gain entry into the home of a Duke. She needs to search the house to find incriminating letters that implicate the man trying to kill her, the plan being to blackmail him to back off. He’s already tried once to murder her, nearly succeeded, and she’s been exchanging identity after identity for several years in order to escape him. Obviously, she’s traumatized but working toward a solution. Meanwhile, the Duke is mired in a deep depression because not only is his wife dead from a drug overdose but she’d been cheating on him for years, with several men, and spilling political secrets to his rivals. The reason I came to love this hero, who enters the story in a scene in which he drunkenly throws a bottle at the heroine, is that he recognizes that while he’s been mired in self-pity and unable to leave the house, the heroine has been remaking her life, and taking steps to outflank her enemies. She is stronger than he is and he knows it.

    Sometimes the reader experiences the heroine’s trauma on the page, at least for a time. When the Stars Fall Down by Anne Stuart, which won the 1986 Single Title Romance RITA when it was named Banish Misfortune, tackles the everyday sexual harassment that women encounter at work (sadly the sexual harassment described in the book is all too depressingly current), and shows the emotional cost of this harassment. The heroine grew up as the child of alcoholics, and was raped by their drinking buddy, and has tried to commit suicide twice. In contrast to the others I’ve described, it is a dark book, but it begins as the heroine believes she’s found a way to function in the world. Problems ensue which cause her to fall apart but, of course, she rallies, and it’s not until she feels centered that she’s able to even think about a relationship with the hero. Like all these stories, the heroine finds love not because she’s been rescued but because she’s taken steps on her own to recover from past events.

    But the genre also explores other traumas aside from rape or physical assault. In The Texan’s Reward by Jodi Thomas, which won the Short Historical RITA in 2016, the heroine is disabled, left without the use of her legs due to a gunshot wound. She spends most of the novel in a wheelchair, wary of anyone pitying her, while she struggles to regain some of her physical mobility. The hero has known her for years and loves her, but her struggle is that she must feel complete again, if not physically, emotionally, first.

    In Christmas on Crimson Mountain by Michelle Major, the 2017 Contemporary Romance-Short winner, the heroine has recovered from cancer and is learning to start planning for a future that’s been on hold for some time. In Once and For All: An American Valor Novelby Cheryl Etchison, the RITA Winner for Best First Book in 2017, the heroine has gone through cancer treatment twice and seeks a way for a new beginning, desperately wanting to be seen as a whole person and not a patient.

    Then there’s the abused widow in Tender Texan, again by Jodi Thomas, the Short Historical winner in 1992. The heiress terrified about being forced into marriage in The Rake by Mary Jo Putney, the 1990 Regency Romance winner. (To say nothing of how well the book portrays the hero’s struggle with alcoholism.) The heroine of Tiffany Girl by Deeanna Gist, the 2016 Historical Romance: Long winner, who refuses to stay at home and work because, if she doesn’t leave, her father will always control her money. The young orphan heroine of The Lurid Lady Lockport by Kasey Michaels, the 1985 Regency Romance winner, who insists on being treated as equal despite having no real power, at least until she insists on it.

    Over and over, these stories feature heroines overcoming doubt, horrific traumas, and the bad hands that fate has dealt to them and, finally, winning.

    Not only winning but winning with style, and building a future in which the hero honors the person she’s fought to become.

    The next time someone calls romance “frilly fantasies,” smack one of these books into their hands and make them eat their words. What they’ll find are stories written mainly by women, writing for women, providing hope, inspiration, and many different roadmaps for triumph.

    The post The Great RITA Read: Trauma and Recovery in Romance Novels appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Tara Sonin 6:00 pm on 2018/02/27 Permalink
    Tags: a court of frost and starlight, , , a rogue of her own, , , , , ashes on the moor, , , , devil in tertan, , ella quin, , , , , his wicked charm, , hurts to love you, , , , , , , , , , , meredith duran, natural blonde instincts, , , sarah m. eden, , , the designs of lord randolph cavanaugh, , the identicals, , , the sins of lord lockwood, , the world of all souls, too wilde to wed, , we can't wait!,   

    Romance Spring Preview: 24 of Our Most Anticipated Novels 

    Valentine’s Day may have come and gone, but Spring will soon be here! There is no better time for romance to bloom than when the frost thaws and our world starts to become sunnier, hotter…you get the idea. Here are 25 of our most anticipated romances coming this season.

    February

    The Identicals, by Elin Hilderbrand (February 20)
    It’s a tale as old as time: twins who couldn’t be more different, find themselves living a life where the grass is always greener, and learning something in the process. Harper is low-key, relaxed…and a complete romantic disaster. Tabitha is dignified, with a high standard for taste (and the debt to match)…not to mention a teenage daughter she can’t reign in. By switching islands and living the other sister’s life, they find a way to bury the resentments of the past, and both find hope for the future.

    Hello Stranger, by Lisa Kleypas (February 20)
    Garrett Gibson has never taken no for an answer—that’s how she became a doctor in an age and a society where women were discouraged from doing anything of the sort. She may be daring, but she’s never taken a risk in matters of the heart…until she meets Ethan Ransom, a detective for Scotland Yard, and gives into the throes of passion. But when she is pulled into a dangerous case, the stakes are raised, and she could lose more than her heart.

    A Princess in Theory, by Alyssa Cole (February 27)
    We’ve all gotten strange emails claiming we’re betrothed to an overseas prince, right? Naledi Smith knows they’re a scam, and one she doesn’t have time for. But in this case, they’re true: Prince Thabiso has been looking for the missing girl he was supposed to marry—and when he meets Naledi, she thinks he’s nothing but a regular person like her. And so he decides to play along, believing he can convince her to love the man behind the crown.

    The Marquis and I, by Ella Quin (February 27)
    Charlotte has been kidnapped, thanks to her brother-in-law’s recklessness (and the enemies he made as a result). But then she is rescued by a man even more unscrupulous, and her reputation is in tatters. She wants nothing to do with Constantine, the Marquis who rescued her…but he is determined to win her heart.

    The Sins of Lord Lockwood, by Meredith Duran (February 27)
    Liam is on a quest for revenge after his wedding to Anna was taken from him thanks to a conspiracy. But Anna has not given up on the man she loves, despite his pleas to leave him to his life of vengeance.

    March

    A Rogue of Her Own, by Grace Burrowes (March 6)
    Miss Charlotte Windham has no intention of ever marrying, and the best way to ensure that no one would ever want to marry her is a simple scandal. Lucas Sherborne is the perfect man to rope into her plan—but instead, thanks to his own desires to marry a woman of influence and wealth, they end up at the altar instead. A marriage neither one of them truly wanted turns into a love they never knew they needed.

    Ashes on the Moor, by Sarah M. Eden (March 6)
    It is 1871, and Evangeline has been sent by her grandfather to a small mill town to teach—and if she fails, she will never see her inheritance or her younger sister, the last family she has left, again. She keeps her upper-class status a secret as she finds a community in the town, bonding with Dermot, an Irish brick mason and his son…but when her secret is revealed, she must piece together the unraveling threads of her life to find a happy ending.

    High Voltage, by Karen Marie Moning (March 6)
    The Fever series continues with Dani protecting the people of Dublin against the forces of evil gathering strength beneath the surface. Her bond with Ryodan is stronger than ever, but even the immortal cannot protect her from the horrors from her past.

    With This Man, by Jodi Ellen Malpas (March 20)
    Jesse Ward is back in the new installment in this erotic romance series, and his entire world is rocked thanks to a tragic accident. Jesse and Ava were happy. But then she ends up in the hospital, and they aren’t sure she’s going to make it. Which would be bad enough…except that when she does pull through, she cannot remember him. Or anything about the last sixteen years. So Jesse is once again given a problem he might not be able to conquer: seducing his wife, and proving to her that the last sixteen years are worth remembering.

    Accidental Heroes, by Danielle Steele (March 20)
    Someone on plane A321 is going to do something terrible, and only Homeland Security agent Ben Waterman can figure out who, and how to stop them in time. In this thriller, a TSA agent informs him of a suspicious postcard with a mysterious message, and together they must rise to the occasion and become heroes to save the day.

    His Wicked Charm, by Candace Camp (March 27)
    Lilah hates Constantine Moreland. To make things worse, his twin brother married her best friend. But when his sisters are kidnapped, she helps him on the case and discovers there is more to him than meets the eye.

    Hurts to Love You, by Alisha Rai (March 27)
    Evangeline Chandler is an heiress, which means she knows the rules: don’t embarrass the family, don’t reveal your true feelings, and don’t hook up with the help. But she can’t help the attraction she feels for Gabriel, even if they can never be together. That is, until they find themselves unable to stop being together.

    Twice Bitten, by Lynsay Sands (March 27)
    Elspeth Argeneau has been alive for almost two centuries, but it’s only after getting away from her very controlling mother that she feels like she can start to experience life. Between hunting vampires, she can certainly find time for a fling. Especially with a guy who has no idea what she is.

    April

    The Thief, by J.R. Ward (April 10)
    The Black Dagger Brotherhood saga continues with the story of Sola Morte, a human woman—and former criminal—who is trying to reform herself and live the life she needs to in order to keep her grandmother safe. What she doesn’t need is a distraction, especially from Assail, the only man she’s ever truly felt something for…though she doesn’t know the truth that he is a vampire, and deals in arms with the Black Dagger Brotherhood. But when his life is in danger, Sola must risk it all to bring them together again.

    Natural Blonde Instincts, by Jill Shalvis (April 16)
    After trying to do her own thing, Kenna has decided it’s time to join the family business and prove herself capable of taking the reigns. The problem? Her boss is hot, powerful, and not falling for her feminine wiles.

    The Designs of Lord Randolph Cavanaugh, by Stephanie Laurens (April 24)
    The titular character of this historical romance is loyal only to those closest to him—for everyone else, his top priority has always been his finances. But when an investment falls through, he is torn between seeking restitution for his losses…and seeking the heart of a brilliant woman.

    A Devil of a Duke, by Madeline Hunter (April 24)
    Gabriel is a rake of the first order, used to getting everything he wants from the world, and from women. Which is why it’s incredibly frustrating to be falling for—and bedding—a woman who will give him her body, but not her name or her heart.

    May

    A Court of Frost and Starlight, by Sarah J. Maas (May 1)
    A continuation of the Court of Thorns and Roses series, this story bridges the initial three novels with the latter tales in the series. Feyre and Rhysand are rebuilding their world following a devastating conflict: love, war, loyalty, and friendship collide for another adventure in the world of the High Fae.

    Someone to Care, by Mary Balogh (May 1)
    Viola has not been able to move on from the shame and trauma of being stripped of her title after the death of her Earl husband. Not the young debutante she once was, but not ready for the grave, either, Viola isn’t sure where she fits…until she finds herself falling for the Marquess of Dorchester, a notorious rake…and a man worth risking her limited standing in society for.

    The World of All Souls, by Deborah Harkness (May 8)
    There is much more to the story of Oxford historian and witch Diana Bishop and time-traveling vampire Matthew Clairmont…and this guide to the world in which they met and fell in love reveals all!

    The High Tide Club, by Mary Kay Andrews (May 8)
    In this perfect early-spring beach read, a woman is given an arduous task by an aging heiress: find the descendants of her long-deceased friends, with whom she was not able to make amends before they died, and bring them together.

    The Other Lady Vanishes, by Amanda Quick (May 8)
    1930’s California is a place of beauty and danger when a woman escapes from a sanitarium and starts a new life, only to be tempted by a widowed businessman and drawn into a murder mystery.

    Devil in Tartan, by Julia London (May 16)
    Lottie is willing to do whatever it takes to keep her home safe, including taking her Highland clan to the ocean for illegal whiskey sales and holding a captain from a rival clan captive after an attack on her vessel. Aulay never thought he’d let himself get bound by a woman’s heart, and yet he can’t help but want to possess Lottie as much as he wants her ship.

    Too Wilde to Wed, by Eloisa James (May 29)
    Since being jilted, North went to war and cultivated a reputation for being ill-suited to marriage. But he doesn’t know that his almost-bride, Diana, never intended to hurt him, and her reputation has paid a price as well.

    The post Romance Spring Preview: 24 of Our Most Anticipated Novels appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
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