Monday 27 February 2012

Virgin Heroes

I have set myself a task. The next set of romance novels I intend to read will all feature virgin heroes. The list I have already started on is detailed below, but if you have a favourite novel about a virgin hero please leave a comment about your recommendation, including why you like the novel.
Why have I set this goal?
When I was writing The Montbryce Legacy books about the three Montbryce brothers, Rambaud (Ram), Antoine and Hugh, I wanted them to be alike in so many ways—their bravery, their loyalty to country and family, their good looks, height and masculinity. But I wanted them to be different too—who wants to read (or write) about the same kind of hero all the time?
I made Ram the ambitious stubborn chauvinistic war hero; Antoine is the good natured philanderer—he loves women and they love him. So, Hugh—let’s make him a virgin!
Little did I know what I was getting myself into!
Writing about what men feel when they make love is hard enough for a female writer (pardon the pun). Writing about a man’s first time is—scary! And, to be frank, men are not very forthcoming in talking about it (if they even remember!)
I’m a little in love with the character I created in Hugh, and I’m reasonably confident I did a good job of describing his “first time” with Devona. But now I’ve become a bit obsessed about it! Hence, the objective of “studying” how other writers have dealt with this difficult “situation”.

I began with Lion’s Legacy by Suzanne Barclay. Kieran Sutherland’s lack of “experience” is because of a “vow” he has taken not to have sex until he has avenged the death of his father. On the occasion of his first time, his lust and “need” overwhelm him and he makes love rather forcefully to his bride without much thought for her.
By the way, my character, Hugh de Montbryce, has sworn off women (If Love Dares Enough) because he has a deep fear, rooted in his experience at the Battle of Hastings, that violence arouses him, and he is afraid he will harm any woman he makes love to. His pain is intensified when he does fall in love with the Saxon wife of a brutal Norman noble who has already suffered abuse at the hands of her husband.
I’ve included a brief video clip from Eloisa James about one of her virgin heroes.
So, help me out. Recommend books where you think the author has done a wonderful job of portraying a virgin hero and his “first time.” Or let me know if I should skip ahead in my list, or simply skip! Bear in mind I prefer to read historicals!

Lion's Legacy (1996) by Suzanne Barclay, Kieran Sutherland
The Shattered Rose (1996) by Jo Beverley, Galeran of Heywood
My Forever Love (2004) by Marsha Canham, Ciaran Tamberlane
The Marriage Bed (2001) by Claudia Dain, Richard
Great Maria (1974) by Cecelia Holland, Richard d'Alene
Unicorn Vengeance (1995) by Claire Delacroix, Wolfram
Another Chance to Dream (1998) by Lynn Kurland, Rhys de Piaget
Born in Sin (2003) by Kinley MacGregor, Sin MacAllister
Three Dog Knight (1998) by Tori Phillips, Thomas Cavendish, Earl of Thornsbury
In Pursuit of the Green Lion (1990) by Judith Merkle Riley, Gilbert de Vilers
The Lily and the Leopard (1991) by Susan Wiggs, Rand Fitzmac

Saturday 25 February 2012

The Angel and The Prince

The Angel and the PrinceThe Angel and the Prince by Laurel O'Donnell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love medieval romance, and this is the second time I've read the book-something I rarely do! There is lots of action and excitement that carries the reader from page to page. The author did a good job of portraying the hero, Bryce Princeton.

My only criticm would be that the numerous twists, turns, and complications are almost too much and I found myself wondering when the two protagonists would finally admit their love.

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Wednesday 22 February 2012

Burt Lancaster Like You've Never Seen Him Before

I suppose most authors fantasize about who they would like to see play their hero in a movie version of their book. I’ve avoided this idea in the past because I think every reader conjures a picture in their mind, and sometimes superimposing another image takes away from the readers’ enjoyment.
However, the other evening I watched a movie starring Burt Lancaster, a star who always appealed to me. His successful career spanned decades and he always had that alluring mischievous smile.
Burt died in 1994 at the age of 81, but his timeless charm lives on, and I find myself thinking he would have done a great job playing my hero, Ram de Montbryce from Conquering Passion. Ram is a soft spoken, well-muscled hunk with the same kind of smile and long legs like Burt’s!
Who can forget Lancaster’s steamy scenes on the beach with Deborah Kerr in From Here To Eternity?
Or perhaps that ever present glint in Burt's eyes would make him ideal to be cast as the rake of the Montbryce family, Antoine, hero of If Love Dares Enough?

In homage to Burt, enjoy these photos of him and appreciate his beauty.
Burt at age 54

Monday 20 February 2012

The English Mastiff

I wanted to do a blog on English Mastiffs because I introduced a pair into my novel, If Love Dares Enough. Boden and Brigantia belong to the Melton family. One of them takes a real shine to the hero, Hugh de Montbryce, and is also resposible for saving the life of the heroine, Lady Devona Melton.

There are several theories as to where the Mastiff breed originated but it is generally believed that the British created the breed as it is known today. There is evidence of Mastiff-like dogs dating as far back as 2500 BC in the mountains of Asia. Bas-reliefs from the Babylonian palace of Ashurbanipal (now on display in the British Museum) depict Mastiff-type dogs hunting lions in the desert near the Tigris River.

Marco Polo wrote of Kubla Khan, who kept a kennel of 5,000 Mastiffs used for hunting and war. When Hannibal crossed the Alps, he took with him several battalions of trained war mastiffs, who, during their long travels, "fraternized" with local breeds to produce what became the St. Bernard, once called the Alpine Mastiff, as well as other giant breeds.

All of the massive mountain dogs of Spain, France, Turkey, and the Balkans can trace their size back to Mastiff blood in their ancestry. Even the Chow Chow carries Mastiff blood, as does the Pug, which was originally a form of dwarf Mastiff.

Phoenician traders are believed to have introduced the Mastiff to ancient Britain. When the Romans invaded Britain, they took dogs back to Italy and used them to guard property and prisoners as well as to fight in arenas. Other sources indicate that Mastiffs were used as war dogs by the ancient Celts, and accompanied their masters into battle.

Despite the differences of opinion on where the Mastiff originated, most agree that the British are the creators of the breed as we know it today. Of all the countries that used the Mastiff, it was the British who kept him in his purest form, and it is to them that we owe the Mastiff of today.

They kept Mastiffs to guard their castles and estates, releasing them at night to ward off intruders. They accompanied soldiers into battle and, during the Elizabethan era, Mastiffs were used to fight large game, including bears and tigers, usually for the entertainment of the Queen.

Henry VIII is said to have presented Charles V of Spain a gift of 400 Mastiffs to be used in battle. The Legh family of Lyme Hall, Cheshire, who were given their estate by Richard II (1377-1399), kept and bred Mastiffs for many generations.

Stowe's Annual, a reference book, shows that King James I (1603-1625) sent a gift of two Lyme Hall mastiffs to Phillip II of Spain. These, or their immediate descendants, are certainly the Mastiff-type dogs shown in famous portraits of the Spanish royal children.

By the mid-1800s, dog showing had become popular in England and the first recorded pedigrees for the Mastiff had begun with the Kennel Club of England. By the late 1800s, Mastiffs were being imported into North America where they were often used as plantation guards.

During the First and Second World Wars, Mastiffs were used to pull munitions carts on the front lines. During World War I, the breed started to decline in England and by the 1920s, the breed was almost extinct in that country—It was considered unpatriotic to keep dogs who ate as much in a day as a soldier and, as a result, entire kennels were put down. At the end of World War II, British fanciers began to import stock from Canada and the U.S. in order to revive the breed. Today, the Mastiff breed is well established with the greatest numbers likely being in the U.S.

The Mastiff, also known as the English Mastiff and Old English Mastiff, is one of the heaviest breeds—an adult male can weigh more than 200 pounds. He is massive, powerful, stately and noble in appearance and he is known as the gentle giant of the dog world.

The Mastiff is a versatile working dog. His great strength was once used to turn water wheels, pull carts and carry heavy loads on his back. He was also originally used as a guardian and fighting dog. Today, Mastiffs are excellent companions and family members. They can be seen participating in various activities such as carting, tracking, weight pulling, obedience competition and conformation. They are also used as Therapy Dogs and in Search and Rescue.

The Mastiff is watchful, self-confident and patient. He is very devoted to his family and will protect both his family and property in a calm and dignified manner. While some Mastiffs tend to be aloof with strangers, others are fairly friendly. However, the breed has a strong guarding instinct and will always be very watchful of strangers entering the home and/or around his family members. His good nature, patience and calm, steady demeanour also means that he is generally excellent with children. The Mastiff needs human companionship and is not a dog to be left alone for long periods of time.

Physically, the Mastiff is massive, heavy boned, and muscular. He gives an overall impression of grandeur, power and dignity. When Boden first plants his paws on Hugh de Montbryce’s chest in If Love Dares Enough, he almost knocks him over. Although the Mastiff grows at a tremendous rate for the first 12 months, he does not physically or mentally mature until the age of three or four years. His outer coat is moderately coarse and the under coat is dense, short and close lying. The coat colour is either apricot, silver fawn or dark fawn-brindle. The muzzle, nose and ears are always dark in colour, the darker the better.

All Mastiffs slobber. The amount varies from one dog to the next. While some slobber only when eating, drinking or when they are hot; others seem to slobber constantly.

Another characteristic of the breed is snoring. Snoring is genetic and caused by a long soft palate, so some Mastiffs snore occasionally and others snore very loudly and often.

The Guinness Book of Records holder for the world's largest dog is a Mastiff named Zorba. In 1989, when he was 8 years old, Zorba weighed 343 pounds and measured 37 inches at the shoulder. From the tip of his nose to the tip of his tail, Zorba was 8 feet 3 inches in length.

Good thing Boden didn’t weigh so much. Hugh had to carry him when his foreleg was sliced open by the villain’s sword!

Friday 17 February 2012

You And No Other

You, and No OtherYou, and No Other by Cynthia Wright

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really enjoyed this lush, descriptive romance, set in the reign of Francois I of France. Well researched and fun to read. Very appealing hero. Glad Cynthia has reissued this book digitally.

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Wednesday 15 February 2012

Brenda Novak's The Bastard

The BastardThe Bastard by Brenda Novak

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Interesting historical details. A page turner! Lots of action and adventure. A very appealing hero and a feisty heroine.I felt I was on board the ship as the battle raged on. I wanted to read this book because bastardy is the central theme in my medieval romance novel, A Man of Value.

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Tuesday 14 February 2012

Men In Their Prime

Battle of Crecy

Happy Valentines Day! Let's celebrate by taking a look at "love" in the Middle Ages. Men in their twenties were considered to be in their prime. In their thirties they were “mature” and in their forties “growing old”.
For women, subtract five or six years. They were in their prime at seventeen, mature at twenty-five and growing old by their mid thirties.
Boys and girls were betrothed to each other in infancy and most girls of good birth were married by the age of sixteen. Marriage at twelve was acceptable, although cohabitation was usually not begun until fourteen.
By their mid twenties most women had produced five or six children, at least half of which had died. This is if they survived the high risk of childbirth. Given the violent nature of society, many would already be widows.
Medieval boys were expected to work from the age of seven, and could be hung for theft at the same age. They could marry at fourteen and be called upon to serve their king in a war at fifteen.
Noble youths could be given command of battalions. At the age of 20, Edward III declared war on the Scots and led an army into battle, despite being outnumbered two to one. He had the full confidence of his nobles, knights and infantry.
In 1346 at the Battle of Crecy, command of the vanguard was given to Prince Edward, then just 16.
I’m afraid this means my heroes and heroines are not historically accurate. The men of the Montbryce family are definitely in their “prime” even though they are all close to 30 when they meet and fall in love with their heroines.
I would have a difficult time writing a steamy scenario for a popular romance that involves a fourteen year old boy and twelve year old girl. Good thing I write fiction! While I do strive mightily for historical accuracy in my novels, this is one area I’m likely to keep imposing my 21st century mindset on my stories!

Monday 13 February 2012

(Wo)man Overboard!

Here’s a story from the 14th century chronicler Thomas Walsingham’s Historia Anglicana, as recounted in Ian Mortimer’s book, The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England.
In the autumn of 1379 Sir John Arundel—younger brother of the Earl of Arundel—rides up to a convent with a detachment of soldiers, planning to sail to Brittany. He asks for lodging for himself and his troops while he waits for the wind to change. The Prioress is reluctant, given the number of armed young men, but eventually relents, aware of her obligation to provide hospitality to travellers.
The wind doesn’t change and the men become restless. They start drinking and flirting with the nuns, who then lock themselves in the dormitory. The soldiers force their way in and rape them. They then loot the nunnery. Not satisfied with that, they turn their attention to a nearby church where they encounter a wedding party. They seize the bride and take turns raping her.
Suddenly they become aware the wind has changed and they herd this woman and as many nuns as they can onto their vessel.
A day or so later, a storm blows up from the east. The ship is swept off course and takes on water. Arundel gives the order for the sixty women to be thrown overboard to lighten the load. They are all hurled into the sea, and the ship makes its way to Ireland.
As Mortimer points out, this story is an extreme one, and probably not typical. But Walsingham believed it to be true and this demonstrates that medieval people found it credible that groups of young men who were armed, bored, drunk and in a gang were capable of this kind of atrocity.
No wonder women travelled little in the Middle Ages. Medieval society was more fearful, guarded and violent than our own.
This story drew my attention in particular because in my series, The Montbryce Legacy, set almost two centuries before this event, William the Conqueror rewards Rambaud de Montbryce with vast tracts of lands and manors in what was known as the Rape of Arundel. It was an area of Sussex vital for the defence of England.
One of my villains, Renouf de Maubadon appeals to the Bishop of Arundel when his wife is abducted by my hero, Hugh de Montbryce (If Love Dares Enough).
William the Conqueror hoped to bring The Peace of God to England, but it appears that by the 14th century, fear and confrontation accompanied bands of armed men wherever they went, and lawlessness prevailed when there were few means of detecting a criminal’s identity.

Thursday 9 February 2012

Reign On, Your Majesty

As I mentioned yesterday, this week we are also observing the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth. It’s significant for me in several ways. I was born in England and grew up making scrapbooks of newspaper cuttings about the Royal Family. It was just a thing kids did then. My mother made my first scrapbook out of leftover wallpaper! (Not pre-pasted in those bygone days!)
One of my most prized possessions was my Coronation Mug, given to every school age child in Britain.
My mother’s birthday was February 6th. Though she has since passed on there isn’t a February 6th goes by that I don’t think of how miffed she was when mournful music was played all that day in 1952 on BBC radio in England. Just because a king had died!
I was upset too! I had expected to be happily amused by my daily treat of “Listen With Mother”. Anyone else remember? ‘Are you sitting comfortably? Then we’ll begin.’
Now, I’ve dated myself! But who cares? The Queen is still on the job in her eighties, and I plan to be pursuing my career as an author as long as the stories keep coming. My goal is to become the Queen of Medieval Romance!
BTW did you know Queen Elizabeth is the 32nd great granddaughter of Alfred the Great who ruled from 871 to 899? It was Alfred who invented the military tactic of the shield wall used so effectively by Anglo-Saxons (until King Harold lost the Battle of Hastings, killed by a fluke arrow in the eye). It’s true! My hero, Count Ram de Montbryce was there, and can vouch for it!
Reign on, your Majesty!

Wednesday 8 February 2012

Saluting Charles Dickens

This week we are observing two momentous anniversaries. Two hundred years ago, Charles Dickens was born. Sixty years ago Elizabeth Windsor ascended to the throne of England.
These two events are significant for me. Let’s start with Charles Dickens. He was a prolific writer who popularized the idea of serializing stories. Unlike most authors who employed the same method of bringing their work to the mass market, Dickens often made the episodes up as he went along. I tend to write in the same way. I’m what’s known as a “pantster”—I write by the seat of my pants! True I have a general idea of where the story is going when I begin, but the events, twists and turns usually come to me as I write, or sometimes when I’m asleep!
As I get to know my characters their lives seem to evolve “before my very eyes”. Who knew, for example, that my heroine in Conquering Passion, Mabelle de Valtesse, would be kidnapped by a Welsh rebel chieftain, Rhodri ap Owain? Even less likely was that Rhodri would spawn a clan and a book series of his own! (Coming later in 2012)
Many writers would find my way of doing things difficult. They are “plotters” who have most of the story outlined before they begin. Both methods are of course legitimate and equally creative. I suspect a lot of authors fall somewhere in between.
So I salute Dickens. He wrote what he knew. His childhood was difficult and many of his experiences feature in his stories. It’s reported his last words were, “Be natural my children. For the writer that is natural has fulfilled all the rules of art.”
My favourite book is A Tale of Two Cities. I cried buckets the first time I read it! What’s yours?