Wednesday, December 27, 2017

My December Reading

These days, it is rare for me to venture forth with new-to-me authors, and this month I did it with two: Kelly Bowen and Sonali Dev, and I loved both their books. Bowen writes historicals and Dev contemporaries. Bowen's story is set in Regency England, whereas Dev's story is set in Mumbai, India. Two very different kinds of stories, but with wonderful writing apiece.

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
Category: Literary Fiction
Comments: This is such a charming book about Queen Elizabeth II and the subversive power of reading. Alan Bennett is one of England's foremost writers, and while this short novel is a departure from his usual fare of plays, he certainly has the flair for quiet, amusing, and sharply observant tales. One fine morning, out in one of the yards of Buckingham Palace, the Queen found the City of Westminster traveling library. When the startled librarian-driver asks her, "What does Your Majesty like?", the Queen is at a loss since she'd never before taken much interest in reading. Reading to her was a passive activity, and she was a doer. She assiduously devoted herself to all her duties of a monarch. But she borrows a book, nevertheless, and that starts her off on an adventure that has far-reaching consequences for herself, personally, and for her public duties. I loved this book so much! Go forth and read it! My review is here.

Reforming Lord Ragsdale by Carla Kelly
Ravished by Amanda Quick
The Duke's Wager by Edith Layton
Category: Regency and Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: These three stories are hero's journeys where from the depths of despair, it takes them tremendous courage to overcome their circumstances and vulnerabilities to grasp happiness with the heroines of their choice. My brief reviews are here.

The British Knight by Louise Bay
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: Thanks to a wonderful friend, I received this book as a gift. She loved it, as did I. However, at the beginning I was doubtful where it was going, primarily because of the heroine's characterization. She, of the summa cum laude degree from MIT, is waitressing instead of pursuing a high-flung career. The story is that her college boyfriend cheated on her intimately and also stole their startup business from her. So what does this bright young lady do? She has short-term sex-only relationships and waits tables. I'm sure I sound like an elitist snob when I say, really? A computer sciences degree from MIT leads to that? But there you have it—I could not buy that someone would throw away that fabulous chance at a good life away.

So now you're thinking, wait a minute, Keira, you said you loved it. And I did. And the reason is that once Violet King moves to London, she changes completely. Leaving her old life behind breathes new life into her priorities and her outlook to her future. Watching this transformation as she starts on a path to realizing her potential was simply wonderful. While this is a romance, most definitely, the heroine's journey is the most rewarding aspect of the story. The romance between a grumpy workaholic barrister and this woke woman is tender, considerate, and confidence-boosting to both. They are so good together and so good for each other. There's hot sexual tension but there's also a kindliness between them, which makes for a sigh-worthy read.

The Lady in Red by Kelly Bowen
Category: Regency Romance
Comments: This was my first Bowen book, and I fell in love from the get-go, and the feeling did not lessen as the story progressed. With one novella, this author has become an auto-buy for me. Lady Charlotte Beaumont is a painter with immense talent who is almost completely self-taught. She's grown up in seclusion, and there was no one to stop her from painting in vivid oils, in a time, when ladies only painted insipid watercolors. Charlotte has arrived at a point in her life where she's determined to carve out her own destiny and to follow her one dream.

So with the help of well-placed people, she becomes Charlie Beaumont, a youthful painter, who is installed as the assistant to the great painter Flynn Rutledge for the monumental task of painting the ceiling of a well-established cathedral. There are no coy hints from the author that the hero really knows that the heroine is a woman. Instead, we have Flynn and Charlie developing a fast friendship, where each becomes the other's champion, each shoring up the others' low esteem, and each showing that they believe in and trust the other. And out of this powerful friendship comes an astonishing love. A book not to be missed.

(I really want Bowen to write a story of King, the mysterious wealthy (gentle?)man, who's a powerful shadowy figure in the story.)

A Distant Heart by Sonali Dev
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: This is my first romance story set in India and my first by Dev, and I was charmed—charmed by the writing and charmed by the protagonists. In Rahul's POV: Earlier that morning, Kimi had sent him a test message saying: We need to talk—those four words had never in the history of humankind ever led to anything good. This is a modern-day retelling of Rapunzel, a friends-to-lovers romance, and the setting suits the story very well. There's even a true Bollywood gangster endangering the heroine's life. Can you tell, I loved the story? My review is here.

Nile Crossing by Katy Beebe, illustrated by Sally Wern Comport
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: Khepri lives in the Egyptian New Kingdom c. 1550-1070 BCE, when the famous pyramids at Giza were already more than a thousand years old. One day in the cold light of dawn, before my Lord Sun, the scarab Khepri, his namesake, starts sailing his barge across the sky, Khepri's father takes Khepri away from all he knows. Silently down the Nile river, redolent with the smells of fish, rope, and mud, the father poles his son across to the great town of Thebes.

Then my father clasps me to himself
and lets me go
and turns and makes his way
down the crowded street,
back to the river and home,

Khepri is moving into the next phase of his life, leaving his carefree childhood behind to become a scholar and a scribe. As he stands outside the courtyard of his new school listening to the boys inside laughing and reciting their studies, he is hit with nostalgia for the feel of the net and weight of a good catch of fish. It is a touching story that brought tears to my eyes at the thought of this young boy, forging his own destiny, alone. But this is how we all are at the cusp of new beginnings, before we make new connections with strangers.

A World of Cookies for Santa by M.E. Furman, illustrated by Susan Gal
Category: Children's Picture Book
Comments: This is a multicultural, informative book that is utterly festive and delightful! As Santa goes around the world in the dark of the night, he gets to eat yummy goodies in different households across the world. He starts off in Kiritimati, AKA Christmas Island, in the Pacific, which is the first place in the world to welcome Christmas Day. He's welcomed there with sweet, chewy coconut macaroons. From there he heads over to New Zealand and Anzac biscuits.

He travels from there to Australia, Japan, Indonesia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, India, South Africa, Malwawi, Bethlehem, Egypt, Russia, Ukraine, Denmark, Norway, France, Spain, Great Britain, Ireland, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Mexico, United States, Canada, Alaska, and Hawaii.

He travels by sleigh, donkey, and foot. He comes down chimneys, through doors, and through windows. Some children leave hay and carrots for his reindeer and other animals who help him. Some children have stockings, and others, shoes. Sometimes, he gets milk, other times, beer and wine. But above all, he is beloved. (The back of the book has recipes of many of the treats.)

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Merry Christmas!

In my wanderings through different neighborhoods searching for creative Christmas decorations and lights, I came across this one that I just had to share on my blog.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Why Are Medievals Less Popular Than Regencies?

This post was first published on Heroes & Heartbreakers on April 19, 2011. It is archived here. I have posted my original piece unchanged despite my views having undergone a change in the past eight years. This was a controversial post and the comment section shows a vigorous discussion — read the archive.


I adore medievals. I read them. I write them. I consume them.

And yet, the honest part of me admits that there are reasons why medievals are not as popular with readers as Regency-set historicals. says that the synonyms for le bon ton, the Regency nobility, are: civility, correctitude, restraint, decency, decorum, good breeding, orderliness, properness, rightness, seemliness, fashionable, high life, and smart set.

If I were to likewise write the synonyms for the medieval period, they would be: honor, loyalty, tradition, fierceness, oaths, fealty, passion, valor, battle prowess, strife, God, and kingmaking.

Life in medieval times was brutally short. Men and women, even the knights and the nobility, grew up fast and lived hard, swift, intense lives. In that short time, they managed to eke out a long life’s worth of living. All life revolved around warriors and battles, even after the widespread advent of the chivalric code.

Life in the Regency for the nobility, on the other hand, was relatively cushier and sheltered. As a result, life was slower-paced and there was much time for revelry and enjoyment. Of course, wars still happened, battles lost, lives maimed. But the society at large went about without much impact.

In Regency stories, it’s possible to avoid any mention of wars, weapons, and the fallout from battles. It is nearly impossible to write a medieval story without those three elements. For example, in Just One of Those Flings by Candice Hern set in 1813, there’s barely any mention of the Napoleonic wars or the activities of the East India Company.

The settled nature of lives in the Regency means that the authors have more time to explore the intricacies of interpersonal relationships and witty repartée. Given the restricted societal rules, the Regency hero and heroine had to become masters of subtlety. Much was conveyed in a single look. For example, in Pride And Prejudice, when Mr. Darcy walks down the center aisle at the Assembly Rooms of Meryton, in one quick glance, that he just as quickly corrects, he notices Lizzy Bennet and she him, and their mutual interest in each other is born.

The Middle Ages, on the other hand, was a freer time for men and women. There were fewer restrictions and rules on what they should do and what they couldn’t do. For example, in One Knight Only by Julia Latham, it was acceptable for a knight to pull a lady onto his lap in the midst of the revelry following the tournament. He might get his throat cut, but he wouldn’t be forced to marry her; her reputation likewise would remain intact.

Whereas the Regency hero was concerned with being decorous and seemly, the medieval hero was brimming over with life. The Regency hero needed to overcome his restraint in order to demonstrate his passionate side to the heroine, while the medieval hero had to temper his passionate side to show tenderness towards  the heroine.

Royalty did not hold their nobles’ lives hostage in the Regency, whereas fealty to the liege lord controlled all actions in the Dark Ages. The kings had vast powers and used them, sometimes indiscriminately. As a result, the king is an essential character in most medieval stories, whether he’s explicitly present or implicitly so. For example, The Chief by Monica McCarty ends with this: “The ten warriors formed a circle around their king. Swords raised above his head, they cried out, ‘Airson an Leomhann!’ For the Lion. A cry that would come to strike fear in men’s hearts.” On the other hand, Prinny shows up once in a while, in Regencies, as comic relief.

The nobility in the Regency, the dukes, marquesses, and earls, sat in the House of Lords during a period of major political activity, but they had lives that revolved around their estates as well. So it’s possible to write stories that have nothing to do with the politics of the day and everything to do with the other aspects of their lives. Whereas, politics was a part of the fabric of medieval life, so it was impossible to divorce the two. For example, in Lord of My Heart by Jo Beverley, the heroine must wed one of the trio of lords offered by her king. To refuse such an edict was unthinkable.

Medieval noble men and women were expected to do physical work in addition to supervising the provisioning, safety, law, and order of the castles’ many dependents. Regency women, on the other hand, had fewer responsibilities towards their smaller households. Regency men were not required to be magistrates and soldiers for their estates. As a result, Regency men and women had more time to spend in society.

Religion comes up again and again in the early medieval stories, because the Church was just getting a foothold in some parts of England and Scotland, and sometimes, converts reverted to their pagan ways and had to be re-churched.

The presence of God and talk about godliness was a constant conversation. Whereas in the Regency, the Anglican branch of Christianity was such an established tradition that it was a non-issue, garnering only brief mentions of attending Sunday services. For example, in Ransom by Julie Garwood, mentions of the One True God and paying a penance and confessing of sins is brought up again and again, while in An Unlikely Countess by Jo Beverley, the toughest part of the Sunday church service for the heroine is facing the local nobility and gentry and their comments and slights.

For all these reasons, medievals are not as popular as Regencies. It is also precisely for these reasons why they are so near and dear to my heart.