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Archive for December, 2011

Heroes I loved in 2011

So last year I did this whole year-end “Best of” thing, with heroes, heroines, supporting characters, titles & covers, etc. This year, between a looming deadline and promo demands for A Lady Awakened, I just don’t have time to pull that off, so I’m going to restrict myself to the one category that made the biggest impression on me this year: heroes.

My apologies to KT Grant, whose Scandal in the Wind would have been my hands-down winner for Best Title of 2011. (I know, I know; I usually don’t like the pop-song titles, but that bonus reference to Gone with the WindScandal is a lesbian love story set in the Civil-War-era South – boomerangs it right back into positive territory and all the way through into awesome.)

And now, on with the heroes.

Jonah Woolner, The Only Gold, Tamara Allen

Jonah is a beautiful balancing-act of a character, exasperating, a bit laughable, and deeply sympathetic all at once. He reminded me a little of the butler-narrator in The Remains of the Day, having devoted himself wholeheartedly to a rather dry and insignificant career, in his case a clerk position at a Gilded Age New York bank, at the expense of any emotional life.

But emotional life comes calling in the form of Reid Hylliard, a brash interloper who wins the head cashier position to which Jonah had aspired and then, to Jonah’s dismay, proposes an endless string of business innovations while winning over the bank’s board and staff with his easy charm. Worse yet, he’s not taken aback in the least by Jonah’s expressions of disapproval, and seems determined to win him over too.

Jonah finds it impossible to swallow his concerns, and tries to reason frankly with Reid:

“You may have done no damage – yet. But I’ve every reason to anticipate it, if we continue so recklessly.”

“Because I’m not doing the job according to your rules?”

“By the rules that govern banking. You’re careless, impulsive, and as steady as a weathervane. You should be mindful, prudent – “

“Those sound like your rules.”

“They are every banker’s rules, and better than no rules at all.”

Reid laid palms flat on the desk and leaned toward him. “The changes I’ve made have been proven at other banks. The board finds them sensible. The staff loves them. You are the only one who foresees disaster. I thought I knew why, but now I’m wondering if it’s more than losing a promotion you thought you deserved. You won’t court change because it involves risk. The untried, the unknown. The unsafe.” Reid’s smile was slight, but unexpectedly sympathetic. “Mr. Grandborough was right. You don’t do anything in haste. Or maybe…” He leaned closer. “You’re just waiting for a push.”

Jonah let a cold smile come. “I’m quite aware of the direction you’d like to push me.”

Reid had the brass to grin. “Mr. Woolner, you don’t have the first idea.”

 


 
Lord Gideon Haverston, Nearly a Lady, Alissa Johnson

I’m one of those oddballs who thinks Henry Tilney is the real catch among Jane Austen’s heroes, so I couldn’t help but love good-natured, quirky-humored, utterly decent Lord Gideon.

He’s attempting to make things right with heroine Winnefred, a long-neglected, just-discovered ward of his father’s, and he proposes to arrange a London season for her and her bosom friend Lily.

Winnefred, raised without social graces, prone to hyperbolic outbursts, fiercely loyal to Lily and aware of a romantic disappointment in her friend’s past, tells him that if this scheme ends up bringing pain to Lily, she will cut out his heart and eat it, raw.

His response:

“Why raw?”

“Why… I’m sorry?”

“Why eat my heart raw?” he repeated. “It’s such an odd qualifier, as if it were assumed I’d prefer it first be roasted and smothered in a fine plum sauce.”

“Plum sauce?” Her mouth fell open, and a bubble of laughter escaped from her throat. “I think you are mad.”

“I’m curious. Would the act of cooking really render the deed less barbaric? And what of the rest of dining etiquette? Is anything permissible? Silverware, for example, or napkins? A seat at the table and a glass of port?”

Her amber eyes began to dance with humor, and her lips trembled with suppressed laughter. “I’m going to take my leave now. Good day, Lord Gideon.”

“Could there be side dishes and lively conversation?” He lifted his voice as she spun on her heel and walked away from him. “Pass the rolls, Mrs. Butley, and another helping of Lord Gideon’s raw heart. No, no, just use your fingers, dear, he’s being punished.”

 


 

Adrian Hawker/Hawkhurst/whatever his real name is, The Black Hawk, Joanna Bourne

Aww, Adrian. I had some trepidations about this book because I knew a big chunk of it took place when he and heroine Justine were teenagers, and I feared I’d get impatient: “Oh, my god, can you dispense with the spy stuff and hurry up to the part where they’re old enough to fall in love with each other already!”

But young Adrian turns out to be a delight, closer to his Cockney-urchin roots in both voice (nobody does voices like Joanna Bourne) and feral-punk attitude. And when older, wiser Adrian and older, wiser Justine finally make their peace, 24 years into their acquaintance, it’s a hard-won summation of all those years in which the two of them so often found their loyalties at odds:

Having perfected the fire, he settled back, his hands at rest on his knees. “I recognize hate when I see it.”

He would not be dismayed by the hatred of enemies. He could be hurt only by his friends. What she had done… “I do not hate you. I have not hated you for a long time.”

His narrow, ruthless face turned to her. He smiled. It was like the sun coming from behind a black and ominous thundercloud. “Do you think I don’t know that?”

On his chest, high on the shoulder, a farthing-sized mark in the shape of a star. That was where she’d shot him, long ago, on the marble stairway of the Louvre. She touched it. “I did this.”

“An accident.” He laughed, deep in his eyes. “I have that from an authoritative source.”

“You think it is funny, that I shot at you.”

“Not while it was happening, no. Looking back, it does have its humorous side.”

No one else in the entire world would be amused by being shot. Only Hawker.

 


 

Tarquin Compton, The Amorous Education of Miss Celia Seaton, Miranda Neville

There are really three Tarquin Comptons in this story: the insufferable, ton-ruling dandy who ruined Celia Seaton’s prospects with one snide remark; the kinder, gentler man who emerges when amnesia robs him of his practiced identity, and, eventually, the more mature person who’s able to integrate the two selves into one.

Because I’m perverse this way, I was secretly partial to the pompous, snobbish Tarquin, and never more so than when he first gets his memory back – and realizes the full extent of the deception Celia has practiced upon him:

“You said we were engaged. My God! We lay together. How could you? What were you thinking? You’re a lady of breeding. How could you allow something so improper?”

“I don’t remember you being so reluctant,” she said with a show of spirit.

She was correct and it made him more furious. He’d known he was doing wrong. In his shame he lashed out at her. “You were a virgin. You should have guarded your virtue.”

Celia had been cringing with guilt, prepared to grovel at his feet and beg his forgiveness, but that riled her. She crawled over to the edge of the loft and glared down at him. “I know about men like you. You seduce innocent girls, force them to your will, then blame them.”

“I beg to inform you, madam,” he sputtered, “that I have never forced a woman, neither have I seduced an innocent, in my entire life. And I certainly wouldn’t have seduced you – and I beg leave to dispute that I was the seducer – had I not believed us to be betrothed.” He put his hands on his hips. “Why did you do it? To trap me into marriage? Well, madam, you fail. I refuse to fall victim to your scheme.”

I think “Well, madam, you fail” – delivered with hands on hips, no less! – may be my single favorite line from a romance this year.
 


 
Readers, add to my list! Who were some heroes who captured your imagination in 2011, and what made them memorable to you?

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I’m at The Romance Dish today, answering another great set of questions and giving away another book to a commenter. Find out my perennial New Year’s resolution, learn what non-romance books are in my TBR pile, and come chat about unlikeable characters you can’t help but love.

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Today (my release day!) I’m over at Romance Reader at Heart’s Novel Thoughts blog talking about yearning, the engine that makes a romance go.  Also giving away another copy of A Lady Awakened.

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The talented and very patient Janine Ballard interviews me today (12/26) at Dear Author. We talk about all things writing-related, and I manage a long-winded reply to pretty much every question she asks! Leave a comment for a chance to win a one of ten giveaway copies of A Lady Awakened.

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This is kind of a special one to me: Michelle was one of the winners in my first round of ARC giveaways, and when I happened to mention something on Twitter about arranging my blog tour, she asked if I’d like to come and be interviewed on her blog.

And then she asked the most delightfully random questions! (Literally: “Tell us five random facts about yourself.”) Most interviewers want to talk about my book (understandably!), and it gets harder and harder to feel like I’m not repeating myself. So this was a really refreshing change of pace.

Go check it out! You’ll learn what middling celebrity I went to high school with, what snack foods I can’t stop eating once I start, and which Pride and Prejudice character restores my faith in life. Also, giving away not one but two copies of A Lady Awakened.

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I don’t think I’ve actually mentioned this before, but when I got my initial supply of Lady Awakened ARCs, the very first book I sent out, before doing any giveaways or anything, was to the blogger AnimeJune, who reviews romance at her Gossamer Obsessions site. Her reviews are unfailingly insightful and laugh-out-loud funny – for good books as well as for bad, which is no mean feat – and from the day I got my “sold” call I was hoping hard that I might be lucky enough to see my debut reviewed on her site.

Even if it turned out to be a bad review, it would be worth it, just so I could read the always-inspired beginning part where she casts the book and then condenses the plot into a few lines of hero/heroine dialogue. So I emailed her, asked if it would be okay to send an ARC, and mailed the thing off.

And oh, boy, was it worth it.

(Once I knew she was going to review it, I tried to guess who she’d cast. I’ve never heard of Sophia Myles, but I IMDB’d her, and she’s in the ballpark. “A cross between Mia Wasikowska and an unsmiling Carey Mulligan” is more or less what I would have said if someone asked me what Martha looked like.

I would never have thought of Brad Pitt! [I’d had in mind a generic English Golden Boy; part Jude Law, part Anthony Andrews, part the young Peter O’Toole.] But I can totally see it, especially in his Thelma and Louise period.)

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I’m answering questions in the Debut Author Spotlight at Romance Novel News, and giving away a copy of A Lady Awakened to one commenter. Stop by and tell me your favorite romance in which the attraction is slow to develop.

Note: this giveaway is international. New Zealanders, step up!

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