M/M Romance, You Complete Me

It all started with a podcast–specifically episode 134 of the Dear Bitches, Smart Authors podcast in which Jane and Sarah have a long, reader-altering chat with Jay from Joyfully Jay.

Despite being afflicted with a historical romance novel addiction, my reading never veered into the m/m romance category. Yes, I read and loved the Lord John Grey series by Diana Gabaldon, but despite Overdrive’s categorization to the contrary, they aren’t really romance novels. I was completely unaware that I could find the same tension, angst, and romance in existing historicals with a gay twist. This was mostly due to reader-blinders, or specifically, publisher-blinders. Most of the historical romance novels available at my public library (my entree into the world of romance) are from major publishers like Avon, St. Martin’s Press and Berkley, which are decidedly heterosexual/normative romance publishers. Had it not been for Jay’s infectiously enthusiastic love of m/m romance (and stellar recommendations), I would not have recently read two excellent historicals.

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I Loved a Rogue (ME TOO, Y’ALL. ME TOO.)

Cover: I Loved a Rogue

Title: I Loved a Rogue
Series: The Prince Catchers, Book 3
Author: Katharine Ashe
Purchase: Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Google Play

Startling Confession #1: This is the first Katharine Ashe book I’ve ever read.

Perhaps less startling, but, nonetheless, worth mentioning Confession #2: After finishing this novel, I immediately began my notorious author binge reading habit, complete with library book holds and Kindle purchases of ALL THE KATHARINE ASHE BOOKS.

This one was a stunner y’all. Last in the series, it totally stands on its own super sexy ultra-romantic legs. It has just right mix of angst, sexual tension, deep back story, and gypsies that make it a stop-everything-and-just-keep-reading tale.

Did I mention gypsies? If, like me, you adored Kleypas’ Hathaway series–particularly Merripen and Cam’s stories–you need to pick up I Loved a Rogue immediately.

As the conclusion to what I hear is a fantastic trilogy, I Loved a Rogue is Eleanor Caulfield’s time for love. The consummate vicar’s daughter, Eleanor is steady, responsible, and yes, a spinster. Despite her staid exterior, Eleanor has passion in abundance, and has spent the last eleven years hiding her adventurous spirit, as well as love and heartache. As a young girl she fell in love with Taliesin, the young gypsy boy who was part servant, sometime rival and eventually, lover. His abrupt departure left Eleanor in despair, but she’s picked up the pieces of her life…Or so she thought, until the day that Taliesin shows up again, no longer a boy but a man who stirs her heart in a way she never thought would happen again.

Oh yeah, and he helps her locate her missing parents whom she’s never known because she and her sister’s washed up on the English coast after a brutal shipwreck…and stuff.

I know, I make light of the driving plot of the entire series–three sisters trying to fulfill a gypsy prophecy that says they’ll discover their true parents when one of them marries a prince–but really, it’s all about the Eleanor-Taliesin romance. Yes, the mystery is the driving force behind these adolescent lovers’ reunion, and it’s quite engaging, but for most of the novel it takes a back seat to the unpacking of the love and pain Eleanor and Tali have suffered over the past decade.

There is angst aplenty, but it’s never oppressive or overwhelming. It’s just the right dose for heart-stopping sexual tension (I found myself doing the nail-biting thing) and a deeply emotional connection. As I’ve written before, I adore grand reconciliations in romance novels. As Sherry Thomas once brilliantly stated in an interview for the Popular Romance Project, “We all know shit happens,” and to reflect that in a romance novel (and do it well) takes what could be a good story and makes it so much more powerful. Ashe created two characters who, for various reasons (some valid, some eye-roll inducing), have stayed away from the love of their life for ELEVEN LONG YEARS. Their reunion is intense, awkward, and even a little painful at times. It’s a rebuilding of a relationship left in ruins. Couple that with all sorts of meddlesome secondary characters and you have all the right elements of a seriously engaging novel.

Ashe’s writing is lovely. Her allusions to various lovers from epic tales (Tristan and Isolde; Guinevere and Lancelot) is a signal that Eleanor and Tali’s romance isn’t this sort of fly-by-night, whirlwind romance. There is going to be trouble and there is going to be anger, but there is also going to be the kind of epic love that makes those stories so worth reading.

This one is just as worthy of a read.

Yes, I did find the ending a bit madcap and perhaps a little rushed, but that was in large part because I’d been so focused on Eleanor and Tali that I failed to realize the entire trilogy also needed its own resolution. Perhaps if I had read the first two novels I would have been more invested in the story of the Caulfield daughters’ parentage. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that if you’ve been reading hoping to find the answer to the gypsy prophecy, you will find satisfaction in the end.

Rating: A- (For many wistful sighs, gasps, and sessions of anxious nail-biting, thank you, Katharine Ashe!)

Pickin’ Up the Pieces of My Heart (thank you very much Carolyn Jewel)

One Starlit Night by Carolyn JewelTitle: One Starlit Night (novella)
Author: Carolyn Jewel
Found InSeven Wicked Nights limited edition novella box-set and Midnight Scandals historical romance anthology
Purchase: Amazon | B&N | iTunes | Kobo | Google Play

I’ve been tearing through Seven Wicked Nights, as promised, so expect plenty of reviews from that boxed-set in the next few days. I decided to start off with a new-to-me author, Carolyn Jewel, who writes both historical and paranormal romance.

One Starlit Night is ROMANTIC ANGST at its absolute best. First loves Portia Temple and Crispin Hope, Viscount Northwood, are reunited after 10 years when Crispin shows up for a visit. Spurred into action at the news that Portia is about to marry, Crispin is back to…well…he really isn’t sure why he’s back, but upon seeing Portia it’s clear that there is still some BUSINESS between them. The shaky friendship they’ve built via correspondence for the past decade has done nothing to quell his want for this woman, or her want for him. What follows is a deeply emotional and fantastically sexy reunion that will rip your heart out of your chest, dance around on it for a while, then slam in back in for a sudden finish.

Clearly, I am a fan.

Grand reconciliations only work if there’s something pretty damn big to overcome and love is still hanging on, however misguided and painful. Jewel does a masterful job bringing erstwhile lovers back together and letting their love, lust, and heartache simmer just below the surface until you just can’t take it anymore. Thankfully, it’s a novella, so you don’t have to wait too long.  What Crispin and Portia have been through together is real, folks (no misunderstandings or petty jealousies) and it makes this abbreviated romance that much more amazing.

Read it. Love it. Read it again.

Rating: A+
If you like your romances powerful, full of angst, and with heroes/heroines on the more mature side (for regency romance), One Starlit Night will make you stay up reading long past the point when you swore you’d put it down. It’s a wonderfully moving second-chance romance.

Review: A Good Debutante’s Guide to Ruin by Sophie Jordan

A Good Debutante's Guide to RuinI must confess that I find stepbrother-stepsister and first cousin romances a bit squicky, so I started reading Sophie Jordan’s latest prepared to fling my paperback at the first sign of awkward we-shouldn’t-be-doing-this love-making. Fortunately, Jordan knows how to make a keeping-it-in-family romance work!

Rosalie Hughes has been summarily dumped on her stepbrother’s doorstep after overstaying her welcome at finishing school for 2 years and never hearing a word from her philandering mother (who’s likely touring Europe with a string of young lovers). Declan, the Duke of Banbury, is livin’ it up in London as only a rake can and has no interest in sheltering a stepsister he hasn’t seen in 10 years. To get rid of her as quickly as possible he gives her a ridiculously large dowry and the social guidance of his aunt and cousin. Needless to say, Rosalie and Declan have some HISTORY y’all. There’s an emotional connection that’s about as strong as that tight-in-the-breeches feeling Declan is having for Rosalie. Throw in some family drama, a visit to a club called Sodom (yup, that kind of club), and Declan’s meddling cousin and you have a recipe for SEXYTIMES + EMOTIONS.

Spoilers coming up…!