Tag Archives: romance

Review: The Midnight Quill Trio by Emily Larkin

We all know I’m a Larkin fan, having previously gibbered excitedly about the books in her Baleful Grandmother series of regency romances with a magical element.

I’ve discovered I can always count on Emily Larkin for partnerships of equals: honourable men with heart and brains, and vulnerabilities of their own; women of humour, intelligence and courage, with determined agency even when they’re restricted by society and economic dependence. If I’ve had a rough week, I’ll always reach for Emily Larkin or Tansy Rayner Roberts.

Larkin’s non-magic regency romances are just as delightful, and I recently devoured the novel and two novellas in the ‘Midnight Quill’ series.

The Countess’s Groom

The series begins with a novella set in 1763, The Countess’s Groom, in which a terribly abused young wife is falls in love with her groom, Will Fenmore, who is trying desperately to save her from her brute of a husband without ruining her. The Countess, Rose, is just as imprisoned in her vile husband’s absence by her maid Boyle.

It’s not all down to Will, however. Rose finds courage and determination, and slowly learns to trust the giant but gentle Will. She learns from him, too, that love, and making love, can be tender and joyful.

Larkin always paces her stories perfectly, with just enough detail, just enough danger, to keep the heart racing, even though you know love will win.

Throughout her trials, Rose keeps a diary of her experiences, from the abuse at the hands of the Count, to her blooming under Will’s loving touches. She keeps quite explicit details, and it’s this diary, hidden away in the walls of her room, which is found and made good use of in the novel-length story of the trio.

The Spinster’s Secret

Set in 1815, The Spinster’s Secret sees Edward Kane returning from war, his face and hand disfigured from his wounds at Waterloo. He comes to the grim Creed Hall to return the worldly goods that belonged to his dear friend Toby, Strickland who died before his eyes in the battle.

Circumstance leads Edward to make a rash promise to Sir Arthur Strickland – Sir Arthur has found that a scurrilous author lives in his town! Disgusted, he wants the perpetrator found, exposed and driven from the too-appropriately named Soddy Morton. He thinks the poor writer, whoever it is, should be left in peace (and after all, the Cherie stories do no harm) but he’s honour-bound now.

Which is awkward, considering who it is.

Sir Arthur’s niece, Matilda Chapple, is Toby’s beloved cousin. She’s considered too tall, too rangy and too plain to be a catch for anyone. Her natural wit, warmth and intelligence oppressed by the puritanical strictures of the household, she has a plan to earn enough money to set up an orphange school and escape. And she’s doing it with the aid of the diary of the former Countess and its explicit content.

In fact, Mattie is anonymously writing the very popular and very sensual ‘memoir’ of Cherie. The fact that Mattie’s a virgin matters not at all, as between the diary and one or two other saucy books, she’s making it all up very nicely. That is, until her publisher asks her to write the story of how the fictional Cherie lost her virginity to her dear, late husband.

Matilda is a clever, resourceful, strong willed and determined young woman, so never doubt she’ll find a way.

Larkin, as always, weaves a wonderful story with characters of depth and charm. Edward and his friend Gareth, who lost an arm at Waterloo, are both dealing with what we’d now call Post Traumatic Stress as a result of the horrors of that battlefield.

One thing I always appreciate about Larkin’s books is that her women may be strong or soft, frightened or bold, sporty or delicate, but they are never less than whole people, just as her heroes aren’t all alpha, and have their own fears and doubts as well as strengths and courage.

Both Edward and Mattie have their difficulties to bear, their obstacles to overcome. As the reader, you fear Mattie’s discovery as the writer of these erotic fictions, and want her to succeed in completing her manuscript so that she can fulfil her ambitions of independence. Butyou also want the love that’s growing between her and Edward to find expression without any dishonesty between them.

Larkin brings an ending which is true to both those things, and made me very happy with the balance.

I actually read The Spinster’s Secret before The Countess’s Groom, and neither suffered from being read out of order. (Larkin says in the trilogy forward that many people read them this way.) However, the third book in the series should definitely be the last to read, as it has spoilers in it for The Spinster’s Secret.

The Baronet’s Bride

The last story in the series is the novella, The Baronet’s Bride, dealing with the wedding night of two of the secondary characters from The Spinster’s Secret.

Gareth Locke lost his arm at Waterloo, and he’s still struggling to cope with the loss as well as the ongoing pain. But he’s determined to show no pain, no doubt, no weakness to his new bride, Cecily, whom he met at the dire Creed Hall. Cecily has been married before, which is a relief. That should make things easier.

Cecily, who was married for two weeks before her husband died in an accident, so her experience really isn’t what Gareth thinks it is. Cecy’s general view is that sex is a painful, messy, unpleasant thing that you endure for the sake of the man you love (who seems to enjoy the messy experience) and to have babies.

Those two attitudes are going to meet head-on in the most awkward wedding night ever.

Larkin of course can be trusted to write them out of the awkwardness towards gentler understanding and then a night of caring, loving, joyful passion. The whole night takes nine chapter but, oh, what chapters they are!

The three stories are available separately or bundled as the Midnight Quill Trio. I highly recommend all three if you like smart, funny regency romance full of well-rounded characters and charm.

Buy Midnight Quill Trio

 

Quintette of Questions: MC Baker

This week’s new romance release interview is with MC Baker:

MC Baker

1. What’s the name of your latest book – and how did you choose the title?

Romance Amongst the Roses:
The rebirth of Dennis Brownfield. The title sort of picked itself. The Rose festival in Tyler is a huge event and suited the story to a tea. The rebirth of Dennis Brownfield describes the main characters journey.

2. If you could choose anyone from any time period, who would you cast as the leads in your latest book?

Hugh Jackman would make a great Dennis. Raquel Welch is the red head for Pam, although I would love to hear who others pick. Jackie Weaver for Gloria – a younger version than now though. Maybe even Noni Hazelhurst. (My playschool days may be clouding my thinking.)

3. What five words best describe your story?

Romantic, touching, sexy, funny, heartwarming.

4. Who is your favourite fictional couple or team?

Thelma and Louise always get a run in my mind, I wish I’d written that story. Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant in Notting hill too.

Can I sneak in Mork and Mindy?

5. What song always makes you cry?

What a Wonderful World. It’s so beautiful and descriptive. I hate seeing the video clip on tv though as it’s always with footage from good morning Vietnam.

I could have The Yellow Rose of Texas as the book’s theme song.

That’s a joke.

b. Or What song reflects a theme, character, relationship or scene in your book?

Islands in the Stream. Dolly has a part in the story but the song is relevant to the story.


About Romance Amongst the Roses

Emerging from a dark period following the heartbreaking loss of his wife, Dennis Brownfield is coaxed into embarking on a trip to Texas to visit his son and new daughter-in-law. An errant luggage trolley pushed by Dolly Parton impersonator Gloria almost ends his journey early. She proves instead to be the ideal companion for the long flight to Dallas.

Arriving in the Rose Capital of America, Tyler Texas, right at the time of the annual Rose Festival, provides Dennis with the best chance to meet his son’s new family, and explore his new home.

Accompanying widowed family friend Pam on a simple day trip to Dallas, however, changes everything. Quick action by Dennis avoids a disaster and he is hailed a hero. This opens the door for a cast of characters both real and surreal to have a massive impact on this Aussie widower’s journey as they reveal to him that love hasn’t finished with him yet.

Like the people he touched in this story of his rebirth, you too will fall in love with Dennis, and laugh along with his quirky Australian humour.

About MC Baker

MC Baker lives peacefully in rural Victoria, indulging in his favourite past time of entertaining with his stories. Romance amongst the roses is his first published novel.

Follow MC Baker

Buy Romance Amongst the Roses

Queer Victorian London

In preparation for working on a short story collection set post-The Adventure of the Colonial Boy, I’ve picked up some books to give me insights into late-Victorian queer culture and society’s attitudes towards it.

Victorian attitudes to sex and sexuality (and to a whole bunch of things) is usually deeper and more textured than a cursory glance would indicate. And while it’s true that terms like ‘gay’ and queerness as it’s currently lived and experienced were not how Victorians understood them, that doesn’t negate the fact people who would probably now identify on that spectrum were managing their lives, one way or another.

Which all brings me to this reading matter, designed to help me understand more about how queerness was experienced and lived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, so that I can translate those experiences for Sherlock Holmes and John Watson in a world where they have declared their love and physical desire for each other.

I tend to read books on these topics with a block of sticky notes at hand, so I can mark ideas I want to get back to.

The book pictured in the header, Catharine Arnold’s City of Sin: London and its Vices, is already festooned with notes for me to return to when I do the next round of research, which will be to go over marked passages and decide what to use and how.

One note in City of Sin refers to the pornography people could obtain in Holywell Street, including homosexual and lesbian representations. William Dugdale is noted as a “prolific publisher of filthy books” and further on, Arnold refers to the practice of pornographers having to smuggle their books into the UK, risking fines and imprisonment.

I have made a note that the unexpurgated copy of Richard Burton’s The Arabian Nights is very probably in John Watson’s private book collection. He’s an earthy man, after all, with a penchant for gambling and whisky. Why not a little saucy literature?

Further on I’ve marked the pages about the ‘telegraph boys’ who made extra money by having sex with men. The role of the Turkish baths (which Holmes and Watson frequent in canon) in homosexual liaisons is discussed 25 pages on from that.

I expect to read more queer-specific details of London life in the three other books pictured above, and will doubtless leave those pages bristling like a paper-based porcupine in due course.

I’ve already started with Strangers: Homosexual Love in the Nineteenth Century by Graham Robb, and even the introduction has provided some valuable insights.

How will these snippets and suggestions be used? Will they become significant plot points or background detail?

At this point, who knows? But by filling up my brain with some of that colour, texture and depth, I hope to introduce just enough research to make the stories feel authentic and engaging without presenting them as a series of lectures of What I Learned About Queer Victorians This Summer.

NB: A version of this post originally appeared in my Patreon on 2 February 2018.

Works in Progress 2018 (aka Narrelle’s To Do List is Scary)

Hello all. I’m already bolting out of the gate in 2018 with a series of projects that promise to keep me chained to the keyboard all year.  Yes, that is the sound of me cheering. I quite like my keyboard.

Besides working hard on the day job, I spent January preparing the re-release of the second book of the Duo Ex Machina series, Sacrifice. My Patreon supporters are getting the re-edited chapters of that book every two weeks, and when completed, they’ll get a thank you copy of the book and it’ll go on general sale.

Now that the individual chapters are scheduled in Patreon, I’ll be working on the third and brand new novella in the Duo Ex Machina series,  Number One Fan.

One of the other things I’m working on  is the expansion of Grounded (a sample of which was posted for Patreon supporters in December).  The things I’m writing into it are slotting in very naturally, and now I wonder why I didn’t include them in the first place.  I hope to have completed these edits by the middle of February and soon after be ready to resubmit to the publisher who asked to see a longer version.

I’ve also devised a cover for the proposed short story collection, Scar Tissue and Other Stories. It will contain some of my (edited) Lost and Found flash fictions and reprints of older stories. I’m also planning a number of brand new stories too – a few more Lost and Founds, and a some other short stories, perhaps set in the universes of Ravenfall and Kitty and Cadaver

Scar Tissue and Other Stories is planned to be a reward for Patreon supporters once I reach my first goal of $100/month. I’m not quite there yet, but if you’d like to help me reach that goal (and access reward copies of books, sneak peeks of works in progress and other exclusive content) that would be grand.

These aren’t my only planned projects for 2018.  Among the others are:

  • A re-release of The Opposite of Life
  • Writing the third of the Gary and Lissa books so that there’s a trilogy
  • A series of short stories for Clan Destine Press – The She Wolf of Baker Street
  • A story collection set post-The Adventure of the Colonial Boy
  • Working with a UK artist to develop a potential picture book.

Ambitious, I know. But I’m full of ideas! With fortune and good planning, I might even get all these started (and some even finished) by the end of the year.

Wish me luck.