Carole Cummings, DSPP's Genre Talk, J Tullos Hennig

DSPP Presents: Genre Talk With Carole Cummings and J Tullos Hennig

DSP Publications

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the latest edition of Genre Talk. Today DSP Publications author J Tullos Hennig—Historical Fantasy maven of the Books of the Wode series—has agreed to come and take the helm, and give us a historical perspective on Romance. (Romance. On Genre Talk! I know, right?!) So if any of you have ever wondered about the origins of Romance as a genre, and its various permutations over the years, buckle up—or, rather, unrip those bodices—and read on!

Dividers

ROMANCE—12th Century Style
J Tullos Hennig

So.

When I first pitched this particular idea to Our Fair & Fearless Leader (a.k.a. Genre Talk Co-ordinator Carole Cummings) she blinked at me. Said, “You’re going to talk about Romance for Genre Talk? You.”

Yes, I said. Why not?

At the time we were kvetching about the modern, (and bloody foolish, let’s just say it) notion that if a book or movie doesn’t open with the equivalence of a car chase and shootout, then ‘nothing’s happening’. We were coming up with examples, both written and filmed, where there was no shootout equivalent, but to say nothing was happening was just, well, wrong. The Lion in Winter (the original with Hepburn and O’Toole) was mentioned as a masterpiece of dialogue and in-depth characterization.

(And let’s get this out of the way right now… if you say to either of us that The Lion In Winter is one of those movies in which ‘nothing happens’, then you’d better duck. Seriously. Because there was a ton of happenings in that movie; those characters, that dialogue, and people who staged it told an amazing story.)

All asides aside, I mentioned to the FFL that watching this movie so long ago was the beginning of my fascination and admiration for Eleanor of Aquitaine and the early Plantagenets. And since Eleanor plays a minor, if rather influential, role in the upcoming Wode trilogy (including in the newest offering, Winterwode, now available from DSP Publications… and yes, that is a shameless plug, why?) then I can, in fact, talk about the modern genre of Romance, because Eleanor was instrumental in its invention.

This can be argued, certainly. Not only because everything to do with history will have many fiery-eyed historians fencing over it, believe me, but also this:

Either Eleanor did us an amazing service by breaking societal expectations and, through her patronisation of the arts, further arm a burgeoning cultural revolution based on secular ideals, reason, and the individuated journey, complete with personal sacrifice and fulfillment…

Or an overly idealistic woman, who had been thwarted once too often by society, her marriage partners, fate, and her own biology, decided to spearhead an idealised and over-entitled bit of claptrap that has spawned such things as Disney princesses and the oft-horrific ideal that if we don’t have a “Happily Ever After” then we have somehow failed as human beings.

(Neither argument is quite true, though I will admit subscribing to either theory on alternate Thursdays. ) ;)

But either way Eleanor, a powerful, amazing, and intelligent woman no matter how you parse it, is arguably the one who enabled a lasting portal into the ideal of modern romance.

A little context, first. Contrary to popular belief, life in the early Middle Ages wasn’t all about the “nasty, brutish and short”, and neither were its people. The years circa 1100-1250 A.C.E. are also known as the ‘12th Century Renaissance’. There was an upsurge of the sciences, particularly in the Middle East. Cross-culturalism was a fact, despite—and in some ways, due to—religious war and crusade. Expressions of the arts were in high esteem about this time, not only in the Middle East but Western Europe, with writers, musicians and poets—particularly the trouvère and the troubadour—thriving from high courts to tavern hearths.

And those expressions were changing. Before, they were articulated through the means of the Epic, or chanson de geste, such as The Song of Roland, or the vast amount of Matter of _____ (fill in the blank with some country’s name). They were focused on a hero—usually larger than life, with massive thews and equally-as-massive entitlement, real and imagined—and that hero’s involvement with societal, national and familial doings. Robin Hood began life in this vein; one of his major introductory tales is called A Gest of Robyn Hode.

The mediaeval Romance, on the other hand, had as its focus the individual and interior struggles of that hero. Take The Tale of Gamelyn (I’ve certainly taken it and ran!), which is classified as a Romance. There is no ‘romance’ in it—at least not the way modern audiences would describe it. The only mention that remotely resembles a lover is an unnamed wife he receives at the story’s end complete with his inheritance, therefore more prize than anything. But it is a Romance, by all the definitions of its time: it is a character study, a rather violent journey of an individual (Gamelyn) from dispossession into his own. It’s one of the original Cinderella-type stories, in fact (and without the nasty subtext of ‘just be a ‘good girl’ and take it, and you’ll get that prince’).

The original definition of the Romance could therefore be perceived in two words: character development.

This is where it gets a bit more tangly. From that surge of interest in the individual came interest in all the things that make up an individual: the interior strengths and weaknesses that come along with food, fighting and fornication. Learning was valued. Accepted values were more and more being questioned. The weather cooperated, too; the fire-blasted North had mostly recovered from the Norman Conquest, and pastures and crops waxed abundant. As did the people. All classes were living at a higher standard than before, so there was also the very real problem of lots of children. Territorial children. Daughters raised to manage their dower with iron fingers in velvet gloves, and sons who were raised to fight, covered in iron and leather with no velvet whatsoever. A bunch of bully boys with meat cleavers and pig stickers were, literally, terrorizing the country.

Kids those days!

The religious institutions came up with one answer: send ‘em on Crusade. Scorn nature and kill the godless infidels. But there was another answer, and it came from more secular means. Celebrate nature—in its place, mind—and perhaps nick some of the least offensive ideas from the godless infidels.

(Because, really, they weren’t that much more open-minded than a lot of folks today. Think more Team Bernard of Clairvaux vs. Team Peter Abelard.)

Yet despite what you might have gleaned from the musical Camelot, it wasn’t a King named Arthur who instituted the concepts of chivalry, May revels and ‘knights picking flowers’. It wasn’t even a man. The fiń amor or ‘courtly love’, in which the ideals of love for love’s sake were transliterated into a complex code of service to the object of love—be it unrequited amor, or open expressions of passion—were championed by a woman. Eleanor of Aquitaine. In fact, the court she held and inhabited in Poitiers, during the longest of her varied estrangements from her husband Henry II, was significant in its patronage of one of the original purveyors of the written Arthurian sagas—and likely fully imbibed Arthur and his Table with a concept of chivalry that would inhabit ages to come.

Also interesting is how the cult of the Virgin took possession of the hearts and minds of 12th century individuals. This is part of the conceptualisation of Marion into the outlaw ballads… and actually deserves its own lengthy discussion. Whilst it is easy to look back upon this cult/phenomenon with feminist ire (I’m quite guilty), it also speaks to the very real problem of an affluent society seeking ways to control the rampages of its more powerful citizens. Cast one’s less powerful members into a mould of inviolability, and give the ones in power something to defend and worship…

Therein, of course, lies a problem. Not only from the fact that the poor and anyone considered ‘the other’ are outside this set of protections, but the effects of such. Whilst Romance in its original meaning possesses the natural focus upon character and the individual journey, it also—with the Courts of Love—puts forth another ‘spin’: an ideal lifted above reality, based on longing for the unattainable.

By Church and State channelling an ‘angry young knight’s’ impulses toward Protect instead of Plunder, it also relegated the object of desire to just that: an object. A fantasy, pleasant but ultimately unattainable. A game, where the rules can nibble your ear or bite your arse.

Perhaps the Courts of Love was based on something as simple as Eleanor, thwarted of too many ambitions, having the very real desire to be cherished. We all do, in one form or another. Many of us, regardless of gender, even fancy the notion of being placed on a pedestal.

But the actuality of that pedestal has its drawbacks, many of them quite serious. Which is what I ultimately find fascinating.

So, yes, I can talk about Romance, despite the fact that readers will not find a modern genre romance in my books, but rather more old-fashioned notions of such. If you, like me, fancy the ‘more mediaeval’ definition of Romance-as-character-development, with an individuated journey of interior cogitations, personal struggles and sacrifice, within an oft-brutal lens of nature and reality… well then, you might fancy the Wode books.

For not only Robyn, Marion and Gamelyn are there, but so is Eleanor.

In fact, The Lion in Winter is perhaps a primo example of good, old-fashioned Mediaeval Romance.

Pax~ JTH

Dividers

tna-dspp--j tullos hennig for 10-14Robyn Hood is the undisputed ruler of the wild, green Wode. Reunited with his sister Marion and his lover Gamelyn, Robyn and his band of outlaws seek to raise the Ceugant—the magical trine of the Old Religion—against the tyranny of Church and Crown. Yet their forest kingdom is roiling with conflict. Marion has been made welcome, but old shackles and new fears hamper her true promise. Gamelyn is torn between oaths of heart and head—and the outlaws never let him forget he was but recently Guy of Gisbourne, defrocked Templar and Robyn’s fiercest enemy.

When a lone traveler is waylaid on the road, a common occurrence quickly proves uncommon. Knight and Maiden, Archer and Men, all are conscripted to aid a Queen’s—and ultimately a King’s—ransom. For beneath winter’s chill is awakening the deepest of magics, and there are those who seek the power of Robyn Hood and his Shire Wode for their own ends.

Winterwode, along with the rest of the Wode series, is available now from DSP Publications, Amazon, and most other retail outlets.

You can follow JTH via her website, Facebook and/or Tumblr.

Dividers

Now aren’t you glad your bodice was snug and secure? ;)

Many thanks to J Tullos Hennig for being here, and to Lisa and the crew at The Novel Approach Reviews for giving us a venue in which to talk about such fascinating subjects.

Next time on Genre Talk, Lissa Kasey will be here to talk about her new Fantasy/Paranormal release Evolution: Genesis. Thanks for reading and we’ll see you then!

Standard
5 Stars, Historical Romance, Reviewed by Lisa, S. Joy P., Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Urban Fantasy, Self-Published

Review: Dragon’s Bounty by S. Joy P.

Title: Dragon’s Bounty (Dracula’s Love: Book One)

Author: S. Joy P.

Publisher: Self-Published

Pages/Word Count: 299 Pages

At a Glance: This author’s imagination and delivery of the unique and unexpected continues to impress.

Reviewed By: Lisa

Blurb: In the fifteenth century Wallachia, the self-serving boyars will do anything to advance their own positions while the interests of the Hungarian king and the Ottoman sultan tear their country apart. One interest is shared by all. A weak prince on the Wallachian throne. A prince who bends easily.

But a fierce and spirited man rules the land – Vlad Dracula, and he would rather break than bend. Murderers robbed him of his closest family. Pretenders lay claim on his titles. A noose of intrigues reaching beyond the borders of his realm tightens around him. Undaunted, he fights for his ancestral rights and for the defense of the whole Christendom. In all struggles, Love known as The Englishman stands true and faithful by his side.

Only… Love is not an English mercenary as he says he is, but the god of love who accidentally used his magic on himself, and fell for the only one who claims not to have use for love – Vlad Dracula.

Turbulent events drag them both into a brutal clash of honor and duty against treachery and ambitions. Into a sword dance in which a single wrong step can bring death.

And only one of them is… immortal.

Dividers

Review: Sometimes the difference between a good book and a not so good book is the difference between the unexpected being made believable, and the expected being made unbelievable. Any author who succeeds at the first, something S. Joy P. has proven for the second time she can do with excellence, is an author whose books will make it onto my Must Read list every time.

Once again, the author has culled the annals of history and come up with our unexpected hero in Dragon’s Bounty. Vlad Dracula, the Prince of Wallachia, whose legacy earned him the epithet Vlad the Impaler, and who it is said was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s own Dracula, is (in what may seem impossible odds, given the chronicling of his deeds) a convincing and sympathetic hero, as the author does an excellent job of weaving hints of Stoker’s canonical themes into her novel of the real man’s legend.

A blend of mythology and history, this novel belongs in the category of an epic saga more so than a romance; though, if you broaden the definition of romance to include S. Joy P.’s obvious love of her subject and the setting, then a romantic saga Dragon’s Bounty is. It is also, at least thus far, a story of unrequited love that in all its metaphorical beauty brings Love personified directly into the life of Vlad Dracula, the man who has no use for the emotion but does have use for the god who has disguised himself in the mortal role of an English mercenary. We watch as a love spell backfires on Love, and we follow his journey as he is sentenced to torture and slavery and survives only with the help of his brother Death, and through his willingness to adapt to the most horrific of trials.

Written in a language that not only invokes the imagination as we picture the landscape but also gives this novel its texture, the author deftly weaves into the narrative what feels like a wholly organic tone within the 15th Century setting. S. Joy P. holds nothing back in her developing of the characters, the depiction of the brutality or, to our modern senses, showing what is nothing less than barbaric customs and practices which were native to Wallachia at the time.

Dragon’s Bounty is a story of sacrifice in the name of Love and love, both the man and the emotion. It’s the story of what happens to a god when he’s flung into the mortal coil and gains his humanity while, at the same time, we see him commit inhumane acts in the name of love and loyalty. It’s an allegorical tale of love, the emotion, and Love, the man, which builds a sense of sensual intimacy without being intimate in a sexual way. When love states, “Make no mistake, love can be brutal,” we see two sides to the declaration, that he himself is becoming as brutal as the emotion of which he speaks, and in another lovely contrast, we watch as the man who does not want or need love, call Love to him time and time again, keeping Love close by as the god acts as both narrator and author of his story.

Dragon’s Bounty is not a quick read. It’s a story rich in history and detail, one to be savored as S. Joy P. slowly and with an impressive skill draws her readers into the time and place and treachery of revenge and political affairs, and then leaves Love and Dracula’s story unfinished, much more of this saga left to be told, and I can’t wait for the rest.

TNA_Signature_Lisa







 

You can buy Dragon’s Bounty exclusively at Amazon.com:

Standard
S. Joy P.

Guest Post and Excerpt: We, King Henry VIII by S. Joy P.

Banner

The Novel Approach welcomes author S. Joy P. today with a look at her new novel We, King Henry VIII, a unique and fascinating look at one of history’s most (in)famous monarchs.

Enjoy!

divider

Henry VIII of England seeks his way home – into the arms of his lost lover…

…on the pages of a fictional autobiography We, King Henry VIII. This new release will delight you if you love Henry and enjoy supernatural fantasy in your gay fiction. Sounds good? Read on to find out more. I’ve got a sensual excerpt for you, but let’s start with the book blurb.

divider

WeKingHenry_MediumOn the 27th of January, 1547 AD, one hour before midnight, Henry VIII is mere three hours from his death. On his deathbed, he only pines to behold his true love for one more time. To catch but a glimpse of Adhamh’s face – that he desires above all things. For his whole life fearful of God, he would now give his mind, body, and soul to the Devil if the Dark Lord promised him but one moment with his lost lover. Only his heart Henry could not give, for Adhamh has it in his keeping. It has always been so, from the day they met. And there the story of their star-crossed love truly begins.

In the hot August of the year 1521 AD, England lazily revels in its still young King Henry VIII, the most accomplished and the handsomest monarch of the Christendom. For whole the world, Henry plays the King who lacks nothing, and who fears nobody save God. Deep inside, he is a man tormented by dark secrets shrouding his marriage, tortured by fears for the fate of his dynasty. His summer morning is not filled with idle delight; it brims with barely concealed terrors – until the moment when God sends him a sign: a wolf trapped in the royal chapel. From the first heartbeat of the unexpected encounter, the beast exudes an aura of unalloyed loyalty vested in Henry alone. Overcome with the sight of the wolf’s unconditional surrender into his hands, Henry believes him to be a messenger of God and spares his life.

But… a human heart beats in the wolf’s chest. Adhamh the Seventh, the only son of the House of Svar, the Margrave at Zuria Labarra is the second most powerful man after the King of Cerbeden – and a werewolf cast out of his world as a punishment for a fateful failure. The High Immortal who so sentenced him to die as the Devil’s Own knew nothing about an uncanny resemblance between the King of England and the King of Cerbeden. Neither does Adhamh. In Henry, he sees his own beloved liege lord, whom he could never harm. The moment of his surrender gives birth to a new unbreakable bond and triggers events which neither he, nor Henry could ever foretell.

The affection that arises between them faces constant dangers, both seen and unseen. Constraints placed on them by social norms and Henry’s religious beliefs can be overcome, but what if Adhamh is yanked back into his own world one day? This ever-present peril cannot be provided for. Nor is it the darkest threat lurking close.

divider

Excerpt: He yipped a quiet greeting but did not come to me. Not yet. I knew what had to take place first under the pale light of the moon, and watched him as he bounced across the glade toward the log that we had dragged here four days before. Faster and faster he raced until his silhouette seemed to glide above the grass without ever touching it. The murmurs of the brook drowned out any rustle that his paws might have invoked otherwise, and so he resembled a ghost pursuing an innocent soul. Many might fear him, not so I.

He sprang into the final mighty leap, so full of vigor and life that my belly tightened in need. A part of me was right there, by his side, in the moment of the glorious pain of his transformation. And a part of me just stared at the act in awe.

He landed. Naked as always. And as always I smothered my desire. Merciful shadows of the night made it easier for me. Or… harder. For now I could actually see him in all his beauty. Aye, his mere silhouette. But my longing painted the details where my eyes could not recognize them. And I did not have to hold my gaze locked with his, or averted in a doomed effort not to intrude on his privacy. In the darkness I could blush without fear that he would notice the all-revealing redness.

Why was I never able to repress this reaction to his naked body? It was a sin to want him, and yet, no matter how hard I tried to mold my feelings for him into the pure brotherly affection, I yearned for him all the same, and the pained amorousness consumed both my flesh and my mind. He knew it not, and it had to stay so.

Steeling myself for the inevitable lash of need, I strode over to him. To hand him his clothes and thus end the moments of my greatest pleasure and the greatest torments.

“I must wash first, My King.” His voice in the shadows smiled at my impatience, and the next moment he headed toward the brook.

I followed. He honored, loved, and served me. But it was me who followed him. Always. And I suspected that it would stay so until the end of my days.

Thinking that he would just wash the blood off his face, hands, and chest, I almost stepped in the stream. For he did not stop on its bank. He just walked on, and I was catching my balance in the last possible heartbeat that remained between staying dry and landing in the water.

When my gaze found him again, a half-stifled groan escaped from my mouth. The night clearly made it all more difficult. Or Adhamh did. For he lay in the middle of the shallow brook, letting the ripples touch him just everywhere, and the nefarious light of the moon did not leave me in doubts as to where exactly the water caressed his skin.

I wanted to be water.

But I could not.

And the hopelessness of my desires spilled out of me. “She shall never retreat to a nunnery,” I all but wailed. It was not the true reason of my tension, but how could I possibly tell him the truth?

“She is on the verge of that decision,” he said, his voice joining the bewitching lullaby sung to him by the stream. “Her piety and her pain war with her pride and tenacity. Have patience, Henry.”

“I cannot bear this!” I blurted. And my gaze never left the tantalizing curves of his body. Moonlight tenderly caressed his broad chest, the alluring firmness of his slightly recessed belly, the hard and yet so elegant muscles of his thighs. And the dark nest of pubic hair in his crotch. It revealed his manhood to me, and I suddenly could not even swallow. Only stare I could… and did.

“What is it that you cannot abide?” he asked, lacing his hands behind his head.

“The waiting,” I groaned, clenching my fists to somehow hold myself back from plunging into the stream and plundering the temptation laid before me. “The irony of a wedlock that is not a wedlock at all. The lack of pleasure.”

“Fidelity is not a virtue required of great Kings.” He sat up. “Take any woman you like, discreetly.”

“I cannot just take any woman!”

“Why?” he asked, washing his face.

“Adultery is a sin.” What else could I possibly say? That I could see the droplets of water kissing his cheeks, chin, lips… In my mind I saw them and needed to take their place.

“You shall say more of your prayers,” he predicted, launching back to his feet. “You are but a mortal man, and have your needs like any other.”

Riveted on the spot, I gaped at him as he came close and closer to me. The reflection of the moonlight in the water and the light raining on him from above… I did not need much imagination to spur my want into a painful engorgement. “I am the King,” I grunted.

“Indeed,” he agreed. “And you also are a man. Which of them cannot bear the lack of pleasure?” he asked, reaching for his shirt.

“Both,” I admitted, handing him the saving piece of cloth that would soon cover his nakedness. “But I desire love, Adhamh. And I do not love any woman,” I said more than I had wanted. More than I should have. The soft sigh coming out of his nose told me so before my own mind did.

divider

Have you enjoyed the scene? Would you like to read the book? If so, I have some great news for you. During this weekend (the 20th and 21st of June 2015) you can grab your copy just for $1.99.

Store Link: Amazon

The promo price of $1.99 (plus VAT) is an offer you cannot pass. 75,000 words wait for you on the pages of We, King Henry VIII: Part 1.

divider

S Joy PAnd now a little about me – His Majesty’s secretary charged with writing his tale, and about the birth of We, King Henry VIII:

I was once told, “You understand the renaissance men better than you do those of nowadays.”

“Is that a flaw?” I asked.

Always fascinated with great men of the bygone era, I have been sharing their fates with people since my high school years. Currently I write for two royal patrons: Henry VIII and Vlad III (also known as Dracula). As a novelist, I spend endless hours doing research for my works and always strive to stay close to the historical reality. Of course, given the mix of historical fiction and fantasy in my novels, I take some liberties, but never disregard hard facts. Instead, I incorporate them in the story. The liberties taken fall in the territories uncharted in chronicles.

Henry VIII and I have had a two-decade-long history together, with periods of waxing and waning interest from both sides. I’ve always seen him as a virtuous prince, and I don’t like him to be portrayed as a hulk who was not in control of his eating habits, or as a vessel of illnesses and infirmities of all kinds. Even less I enjoy reading over and over again that he was a tyrant who only pursued his shallow interests, and in the process ruined the lives of his six wives.

One December night in 2013, I watched a documentary which portrayed him in a particularly vicious light. It left me with a bitter aftertaste in my mouth. How could the historians reduce a great man to a large, festering mound of lard, poke and examine him from head to toe regardless his feelings, and worse still, how could they present only findings that supported the common, simplistic view on who Henry was?

For the truth is: he is neither a monster, nor a Bluebeard of the history.

For me, Henry is the king who healed the wounds of England after the War of Roses and who truly united the whole land. He was the one who greatly elevated the image of England in the eyes of the contemporary monarchs. His court was the center of learning and culture. He broke with the corrupt Papacy, and, let’s face it, he was the one who kept wars out of England (with the exception of a short Scottish invasion which was fast crushed). His people loved him, and for all the good reasons. In fact, they loved him so much that not even the Excommunication broke his neck. It shows clearly how great loyalty he enjoyed. A tyrant or a monster never commands such feelings, such remarkable fealty.

I thought it would serve us well to remember that better, and to show him much more respect than he is getting these days.

“You shall write my story, dearest,” a tired tenor voice interrupted my silent seething.

I glanced up from my glass, already knowing whom I would see.

I would love to say I was bedazzled by a man exuding an aura of masculinity, pulsing energy, and power. But the man who carefully sank in the armchair I keep by my writing desk for my patrons was old and jaded. Yet, clad in red velvet and ermine, he still looked royalty. Just as an abandoned shrine is still a shrine, an old king is still a king. It’s enough for me to just narrow my eyes to see him in all his young glory (as you will see him while reading We, King Henry VIII Part 1). That night I had no time for that though. A stifled groan leaked out of his tightly clamped lips, forcing me to promptly offer a footstool to ease his discomfort. I was determined to make him feel better, and I could do my gazing later.

His stiff body posture relaxed a little only when I poured him a glass of wine too. He took it from my hand as a wordless invitation to stay and tell me more. We understood each other perfectly.

“You shall write my story,” he repeated after taking a draught of his drink.

“Why me, Your Majesty?”

“For you see me as I am, and yet you always recognize the virtuous prince in me. It matters not to you whether I am young or old.”

“Thank you.”

“You see through my masks and mistakes. You know who I am inside.”

“I do see your soul, yes. But I don’t write scholarly biographies, and I would do you disservice if I tried.”

“Nay, write about the man whom you know, not about the King.”

“Your Majesty, you are both.”

“Aye, but now I would I were just me.”

“I know. But there is another obstacle. I don’t write about love a man feels for a woman either. How would we handle the fact that you had six wives?”

“You shall write my story, including all of my wives.”

Let’s just say that Henry is as stubborn today as he was more than half a millennium ago.

That night we let the topic go. I’m not his subject, so he couldn’t order me to write for him. Nor did he try to. But we talked for hours about his world and above all – about him. Long story short: hours turned into days and Henry stayed. Since then he has made a remarkable recovery, so now I’m blessed with the company of a young king who exudes an aura of masculinity, pulsing energy, and power just as he did in his life.

He was right that December night. I have written his story for him. But I was right too. It isn’t a scholarly biography and it isn’t a heterosexual romance. It’s a tale of intense love between two men.

If you love Henry VIII and enjoy more than a light touch of supernatural fantasy in your fiction, avail yourself of this novel. For through his memories, you can now witness the power of a bond that changed him, and through his deeds the all of England, forever.

divider

Before I leave you to the joys of a summer weekend, I’ll just very shortly touch the topic of my other series: Dracula’s Love.

If you love novels about Vlad III (aka Dracula), you won’t want to miss it. And as the thanks to my gracious hosts during the New Release Tour for We, King Henry VIII and to all awesome readers who have read this far in the post, I’ve decided to extend the promotional price to Dragon’s Bounty (Book 1 of Dracula’s Love) as well. Through the weekend of the 20th to the 21st of June 2015, you can purchase a copy of this book for only $1.99 (plus VAT) too: Amazon Buy Link

To speak more about Dracula’s Love books would require another long post, so I’ll just say that Vlad III is yet another man whose reputation was tarnished by propaganda that is still well and alive after more than five hundred years. If you’d like to learn the truth about him, I have a gift for you: a 3,000-word-long essay that focuses on his life and sheds light on the purposeful defamation that turned a prince in whose honor the Christendom sang Te Deums into a monster. All you need to do to get a free access to this essay is to subscribe to my newsletter here: http://www.sjoyp.com/

And now I’ll really leave you to the summer joys, hopefully full of sun and books.

Standard
5 Stars, DSP Publications, Literary Fiction, Reviewed by Jennifer, Yeyu

Review: Erasing Shame by Yeyu

Title: Erasing Shame

Author: Yeyu

Publisher: DSP Publications

Pages/Word Count: 350 Pages

At a Glance: This book will rip your heart out and stomp all over it.

Reviewed By: Jennifer

Blurb: The son of a Han traitor who had let the Xianbei Mongols invade the borders, Jiang Shicai swears to restore his family’s honor, hoping to better the Hans’ lives through peaceful means. He believes violence is never the answer, but to gain respect, he finds himself fighting for the Xianbei.

Ten years later, an annoying but handsome playboy, DuguXuechi, arrives as the incompetent new military inspector of Shicai’s region. Shameless, irresponsible, and obnoxious, Xuechi tests Shicai’s patience almost every second. Despite their mutual dislike, Shicai finds himself drawn to the capricious man, especially when he sees the resemblance between Xuechi and his deceased best friend. Yet Xuechi’s self-destructive behavior and refusal to accept help require attention that distracts Shicai from his goal for peace–and it doesn’t help that Xuechi is Shicai’s strongest political opposition. Haunted by a childhood promise he never had the chance to fulfill, Shicai must choose between his feelings and his values.

Dividers

Review: YOU THERE. HALT. RIGHT THERE. If you, like me, are a person who absolutely MUST have a happy-ever-after, or at least a very strong happy-for-now, STOP. Seriously, think twice about this book. I am not saying you shouldn’t read it, because the book is phenomenal and beautiful, but really, think twice about the amount of pain you’re going to be in. I might never recover from this. I sobbed buckets of tears through this story, and my heart hurt so much I thought it was going to burst.

No, I’m not being dramatic.

And yes, I still loved it.

When I requested this book for review, I thought it sounded amazing. What I didn’t notice was the nice little Bittersweet Dreams notification. Yeah. You know what that means if you’ve read from Dreamspinner Press before. But no. I was a fool and didn’t notice that. So, I simultaneously regret reading this book, and do not regret it. How confusing is that? Bear with me.

Despite being seriously upset at Yeyu for stomping all over my heart, the author is incredible. The alternate history Chinese world she has written is so complex and detailed. It is clear how passionate she is about the story she has written, and she does the culture complete justice, even though it’s a combination of several dynasties. I read through the notes at the beginning, and there are even endnotes throughout the book that I was happy to click on with my Kindle Fire. That made the story that much more richly detailed for me. What can I say, I’m a footnote/endnote nerd. Despite having a difficult time with pronouncing names and things, I tried, but sometimes gave up. I think the only name I really got the hang of was Shicai.

Content wise, there is some dubious consent/rape later in the book, so be mindful of that if you have triggers. There are many aspects of the book that are painful to read, though, and that is just one, but I know some people have a big problem with it, so I thought it was fair warning. Though, given the world and time period, I wasn’t surprised when it popped up.

The characters in Erasing Shame are rich and fully developed. Both Xuechi and Shicai are headstrong and will stop at nothing to achieve their goals, and that is what is both their strong point and their downfall. Shicai made a promise when he was younger, and he failed to live up to the promise as most children do, though it’s not through any fault of his own. As a result, he is a driven young man who will do what is necessary to regain his family’s honor and fix his land. Meanwhile, there is Xuechi, who is at first completely irritating and abhorrent in his behavior to both readers and Shicai, but manages to worm his way into your heart. It is clear that he is damaged and wearing masks to hide from everyone, and all is not as it appears to be.

Unfortunately, love doesn’t always win. It’s just not realistic. Not every story has a happy ending, and this novel is a bitter reminder of that. As much as it pained me to read to the end, I appreciate the author for keeping the book so realistic. I know I demand happy endings in my books because life is often painful enough, but not all characters can have the fairy tale ending, especially in a world as torn as the one Yeyu has created. And for that reason, Shicai and Xuechi are perhaps more human than any characters I’ve ever read before. They strive to succeed and they fail, reminding readers that not everything will work out despite how hard we try, and we are not the only ones who have had it happen. Given the struggles these characters face, it really put my own problems in perspective, and for that I was grateful.

If you decide to read this book, you might want to keep some light, fluffy romances around to read immediately after. And you might want to stock up on a few boxes of tissues as well. Will I read another book by this author again? Absolutely. Because her beautiful writing is totally worth the pain.

TNA_Signature_Jennifer






You can buy Erasing Shame here:

OmniLit/ARe

OmniLit/ARe

Standard
5 Stars, Hayden Thorne, Queerteen Press, Reviewed by Jennifer, Young Adult

Review: The Twilight Gods by Hayden Thorne

TNA Page Turner Resized

Title: The Twilight Gods

Author: Hayden Thorne

Publisher: Queerteen Press/JMS Books

Pages/Word Count: 200 Pages

At a Glance: A beautiful story that absolutely must be read.

Reviewed By: Jennifer

Blurb: London during the Great Exhibition of 1851 is a new world of technological advances, eye-popping inventions, and glimpses of exotic treasures from the East. For fifteen-year-old Norris Woodhead, it’s a time of spectral figures mingling with London’s daily crowds and an old rectory in a far corner of the English countryside — a great house literally caught in time, where answers to curious little mysteries await him.

Confined by his family’s financial woes, Norris suffers a lonely and unsatisfying time till the day he (and only he) notices “shadow-people” in the streets. Then a strange widow appears, rents a vacant room in the house, and takes him under her wing. She becomes his guardian, slowly revealing those shadows’ secrets, Norris’ connection with them, and the life-altering choices he has to face in the end.

The Twilight Gods is a retelling of the Native American folktale, “The Girl Who Married a Ghost.” Set in Victorian England, it’s an alternative perspective on a gay teen’s coming-out process, with Norris’ journey of self-discovery couched in magical and supernatural terms and imagery.

Dividers

Review: I love Victorian literature, and right now I’m actually studying it for a graduate course I am in, so reading this novel by Hayden Thorne featuring that period and including the Great Exhibition was timely. And, I must say this novel is incredibly well researched.

That said I’m not sure how to review this book. I absolutely loved it, and that’s the problem. The book was so good I want to gush and gush for days about it, but at the same time I want other readers to discover how wonderful it is for themselves, because there’s so much wonder and beauty in this young adult novel.

Norris is a sympathetic character. The youngest of four, his family struggles financially. Between his older brother trying to save enough to propose to the girl he loves, to his older sisters squabbling every chance they can get and trying to outdo each other on the marriage market, Norris is often forgotten. In fact, he’s so forgotten he doesn’t even go to school; instead, the family has one of their tenants tutoring Norris with old books that are falling apart. And Norris just wants an education. He wants to learn science so he can properly tinker with things and make them work.

One day he starts to see the shadow-people. I’ll admit I had an idea of what they were at first, and I thought it was brilliant. I become so engaged with the story and with Norris attempting to discover who they were that I stayed up until 4AM to finish. I’m so glad I didn’t have to work the next day. I just couldn’t put the book down.

Mrs. Cavendish is a mysterious character, and I loved her for everything she did for Norris. She takes him under her wing and helps him learn about himself. And then there’s Tom. I loved Tom. The rectory is such a wonderful place; I wish it existed because even today, in the twenty-first century, there are people who need it.

While beautiful, I thought the ending was heartbreaking. The choices Norris must make are difficult, and while perfect for the nineteenth century, sadly they are choices people still feel they must make today. It broke my heart and I sobbed through the last few pages. It was perfectly bittersweet.

I don’t want to say any more, for fear of giving away too much. But I will say this. I will be buying a paperback copy of The Twilight Gods for my classroom and for my personal shelves. I adored it and want my students to read it, too.

TNA_Signature_Jennifer






You can buy The Twilight Gods here:

All Romance eBooks

All Romance eBooks

Standard
4 Stars, Historical Romance, Owen Keehnen, Reviewed by Rena, Wilde City Press

Review: December 1903: The Iroquois by Owen Keehnan

Title: December 1903: The Iroquois

Author: Owen Keehnan

Publisher: Wilde City Press

Pages/Word Count: 36 Pages

At a Glance: Owen Keehnen is able to construct a complete story that not only provides us with some great background material about theatre life in the early 20th century, but also the terrible cost of poor planning

Blurb: Chicago during the holiday season in 1903 was a bustling place. This is a tale of passion and love set against a backdrop of the tragic fire at the Iroquois Theatre which killed hundreds. As a love story it is the tale of two men from very different worlds who meet by chance on the street. Frankie is an actor working in the show Mr. Bluebeard which is currently playing at the Iroquois. Following a cast meeting, Frankie leaves the theater en route to his room at a local boarding house until the evening show. On the street he makes knowing eye contact with a handsome and dapper man. The two make small talk. The stranger introduces himself as Otto and in only a few moments the two head off to Frankie s boarding house. Though Frankie knows absolutely nothing about Otto s life outside of the room, they meet again the next night, and the next. As the cold winter wind howls outside the boardinghouse window, they make plans to run away and start a new life elsewhere. They agree to meet on the alley behind the theater that day after the matinee. Frankie has bought Otto a gallery ticket so that he can see him upon the stage. During that day s matinee tragedy strikes and the tragic inferno consumes the theatre. Will one or the other or both lovers perish in the blaze? Can love even survive in the wake of such unspeakable tragedy.

Dividers

Review: At around 14,000 words, Owen Keehnen is able to construct a complete story that not only provides us with some great background material about theatre life in the early 20th century – at least in America – but also the terrible cost of poor planning, the absence of safety laws, and, in the middle of all of that, a love story in the process of blooming. I do want to emphasize that this novelette is a tragedy on many levels. If you’re looking for a romantic HEA, I’ll warn you that this book doesn’t guarantee anything, having a real-life tragedy for its dramatic backdrop, and its conclusion is something that works on a very realistic level. There’s so much mystery behind Otto that ending Frankie’s story the way Keehnen does makes a lot of sense.

The story, from the get-go, isn’t a happy one. Not only do we see Frankie’s struggles to survive as an actor and the lengths he’s forced to go to in order to make it, we also watch him find solace from his loneliness as a gay man by skulking in shadowy alleys, keeping an eye out for possible one-night-stands. When he and Otto cross paths one evening, he knows he’s found the one, and even Otto claims the same thing. There’s so much hinging on their moments alone that even their lovemaking is somewhat tainted by a mild undercurrent of paranoia. Frankie lives in a run-down apartment, and every movement seems magnified by the floorboards or the walls. So that even within the privacy of his home, he really can’t feel safe enough from discovery.

Frankie falls hopelessly in love with Otto, and in an uneven kind of relationship that bummed me out, Frankie shares everything about himself while Otto holds back. Right off the bat, Otto’s at a complete advantage, and it doesn’t take him much to woo Frankie with gifts and declarations of love. When the lovers talk about running away, I could still sense some odd distance from him, and after a certain point, I was questioning my own judgments about the character. It’s one of those kinds of characterization that I enjoy reading – the mystery, the riddle, the person with that quality that’s a little off in such a subtle way. He came across to me as a gray area, who can go either way: throw everything to the wind and run away with Frankie, or suddenly vanish without another word.

And it’s that mystery that muddies the waters following the tragic fire in the theatre where Frankie works.

The fire itself did happen, and the novelette ends with some notes regarding the incident. As can only be expected, so many people died in the fire – both audience and performers alike. With it being the early 20th century, you can only imagine the state of such buildings back then. Emergency exits, fire alarms, what have you – none of those existed then. In fact, reading through the detailed account of the fire, its progress, and the horrific aftermath called to mind the Triangle Factory Fire, another tragedy that makes me ill just thinking about it. The victims’ entrapment are similar. The desperate and ultimately doomed attempts at fleeing, particularly from the upper floors, are also the same.

What follows after the tragedy is almost dream-like in atmosphere and approach. Since we’re seeing everything unfold from Frankie’s POV (first person), we’re very limited in our understanding of how the tragedy affected his and Otto’s relationship. Scenes seem to blend into each other, almost as though we’re walking around in a daze.

For this story, there’s a great deal more telling than there is showing. On the one hand, it distances us from the raw emotion of the events; on the other hand, it distances us from the raw emotion of the events. As much as I’d like to see the narrative broken up more often by dialogue and action (or interaction), particularly after the fire, on another level, I was also somewhat grateful that the tragedy and the aftermath were muted in a way through the heavier reliance on telling.

There are a number of ways one can interpret the story’s denouement, the way I see it. And to Keehnen’s credit, every possibility I could think of works very well with the story, given the nature of the lovers’ relationship and the fact that we’re limited to Frankie’s POV – his biases, his weaknesses, his dreams. Every possibility is realistic, regardless of whether or not it pains us. It’s an effective – not to mention gutsy – way of following through Frankie’s story, and I’m grateful we’re not cheated out of it with something implausible or just plain far out there.






You can buy December 1903: The Iroquois here:

Wilde City Press

Wilde City Press

Standard