Tag Archives: Mills and Boon

My Year in Books


Happy New Year, everybody! I wish you all the best for 2014!

As this is not just the time to look forward, but also to look backward, I thought I’d do a review of 2013 in terms of books I’ve read.

2013 was the very first year I’ve managed to keep a reading journal (yay me!). While I haven’t kept track of all the books I’ve read (for example, I don’t note down the books I read for university), I think very few have actually fallen through the cracks.

Gloms

I went through three four five major gloms last year:

  1. I re-read a lot of Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher books in January (she had a new one out in September: Murder & Mendelssohn – loved it!)
  2. In spring and summer I read and re-read most of Michelle Reid’s books. I even bought the M&B Special Edition set (because the books looked so pretty). Reid’s books are a bit of a hit or miss with me: either I really, really like them, or they fall into the meh category for me. One of my favourites of hers is The De Santis Marriage, which plays with the conventions of Italian tycoon stories. Here’s a very nice example:

    Lifting up her hand, she caught hold of his fingers and pulled them away from her mouth. “That was really good,” she commented. “Quite breathtakingly arrogant and rightfully proud of your mighty fine self, in fact, and it should really have put me squarely in my lowly place.”

  3. In May and June I read several of Anthony Berkeley’s Roger Sheringham mysteries. I thought the first three or so quite delightful – very entertaining, with a clever twist at the end – but eventually I figured that the “clever twist” is one of the characteristic features of those mysteries. (When an author insists on depicting his hero as a bit of an arrogant, know-it-all moron, he shouldn’t be suprised when said hero gets on readers’ nerves after a while.)
  4. In October I re-read all of Jacqueline Gilbert’s books. *happy sigh* They’re just so lovely! Old-fashioned, but really, really lovely. With grumpy heroes and all that! *another happy sigh*
  5. I also did a mini-glom / re-read of Dorothy Dunnett’s Dolly series once I realised they had become available as e-books. Her prose is – oh my goodness! – so, so wonderful! Take this sentence from Roman Nights:

    Every ruin is packed like a biscuit box.

    Or this:

    In Rome there is a pathological shortage of small coins. For change, the little shops tend to use candy.

    Or this:

    If a Roman junction during one of the four normal rush hours is suicide, a Roman junction while the traffic lights are off resembles nothing so muhc as a her of myopic rhinoceroses meeting eye to eye with a her of dim-witted elephants and attempting to copulate.

 DNFs

I had quite a number of those, alas. Several of the historicals I bought (luckily, I bought most of them cheaply or got them for free) were simply unbelievable: not only was the writing often stilted or the story mind-numbingly boring, no, several books also abounded with historical inaccuracies. As in: a debutante dances the waltz (!) at Almack’s in 1806 (!!!). *head desk*

I’m afraid even one of Michelle Reid’s books fell into the DNF category: I thought the The Italian’s Revenge was truly, truly awful (“thoroughly disgusted” I wrote in my nifty little reading journal). But then this was one of her older books (originally published in 2000), so this might have had something to do with it. Many of her later books have an underlying humour that I simply love!

Discoveries

At some point in September, I thought it would be nice to have a nice reading copy of Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South aka one of my favourite classics EVER! So I perused various different editions on Amazon and eventually stumbled across the Penguin Clothbound Classics edition of Cranford. Oh my. I mean…. OH MY! Here’s what happened then (Part 2 of my September Book Haul):

Favourite Classic

And speaking of classics, my favourite work of 2013 in that category was Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (translation by Simon Armitage). I read it for the class on medieval literature I’m teaching this semesterand was thoroughly enchanted. There’s also an audiobook available of that translation, read by the translator himself – which didn’t work for me at all, alas. In fact, I had to switch off after a mere five minutes because I felt the desperate urge to throttle the narrator. Ugh. (Why couldn’t they have let RICHARD Armitage read the story? He would have done such a great job, I’m sure, and they would have sold oodles of copies. Hmph.)

Favourite Romance

Apart from my re-reads, my favourite romance of 2013 was Courtney Milan’s A Kiss for Midwinter, her Christmas novella from 2012. The premise is rather unusual, the hero is rather unusual, and the heroine is all prickly. Nice. 🙂

Favourite Books

But two most favourite books this year were Robin Sloan’s Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (a book about books and the love for books and really strange bookshops) and Joyce Dennys’s Henrietta’s War (which I called “Cranford for the 1940s!” in my reading diary). I have to admit I was drawn to both books because of their beautiful covers (well, in Mr Penumbra’s case, I had to order the novel from Canada because all other editions sport rather ghastly covers) – I’m shallow like that. But it’s such a joy when something that looks so pretty turns out to be wonderfully written as well. I highly recommend both books.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

So, that was my year in reading. Which books and authors did you discover in 2013? Which were your favourites? Which were the books that you re-read? Let me know!

Lovely, lovely books

Today I bought/received these two books:


The first one has been written by the wonderful Laura Vivanco, dragonslayer assisstant extraordinaire (i.e., she was one of the poor people who volunteered to proofread my PhD thesis). Laura has been reading and studying Harlequin Mills & Boon romances for a long time, and judging from her postings at Teach Me Tonight and our e-mail discussions, I am certain that her book will knock my socks off. I’m thrilled to pieces for her, and even though I wanted to wait until the POD edition would become available, I’ve just bought the Kindle edition because I simply couldn’t wait.

The second book arrived in today’s mail:


As you know, I’ve become a bit obsessed with sewing lately. So far, all I’ve ever sewn are bags and softies and some really simple quilts, but I do love the idea of sewing my own clothes. So for the past two or three years, I’ve been steadily building my library of sewing handbooks. All I need to do now is to brave the actual process of sewing clothes.

Which, to be honest, scares me witless.

Sewing softies is fairly easy and cotton is a very forgiving fabric, too. If you’ve made a mistake in the construction of the softy, you can always improvise and the result will still look good (well, except for that one doll pattern) (and the sock kitty with the strange head) (hey, but the embroidery on said kitty’s belly is rather good!). But with clothes? That you want to wear???? Uh-oh.

So I’m still scared, still not sewing clothes, and still finding excuses. Ah well … one day … 🙂

Anne Mather, The Reluctant Governess

Several years ago I bought this in the British Bookshop in Mainz. Thanks to the decade-long presence of the US army nearby, the shop had accumulated a nice collection of older Harlequin titles (most of them in desperate need of a dusting – or, in more severe cases, of a wiping down with a damp cloth), so consequently I‘ve accumulated a nice collection of older Harlequin novels as well. Most of which I haven’t yet read, I have to admit.

But this morning, I was in the mood for an older romance and picked Anne Mather’s The Reluctant Governess, first published in 1971. As you can probably tell from the cover it is set in what today would be deemed an “exotic” location for a category title: in Austria. In winter (hence the lovely snow-covered views of steep rocks and the castle). In a remote castle. And I have to say, the castle on the cover even looks like an Austrian castle!

Our dashing hero is Horst von Reichenstein, an embittered and impoverished baron with a ten-year-old daughter, Sophie, the bane of all governesses. Victoria Monroe, the heroine, comes to the castle as — guess what! — Sophie’s governess and is somewhat appalled by the lack of central heating and electricity in the majority of rooms (most certainly in her room). There are also big, huge wolfhounds around (one of which is called Fritz). And a pair of elderly servants, Maria and Gustav, who seem to inhabit the kitchen. So far, Victoria hasn’t had much success in making Sophie behave and instead is currently going for a walk around the castle, with Fritz on her heels.

More to follow!

Currently digging: Jacqueline Gilbert

… and it’s all Laura’s fault! 🙂




Between 1976 and 1994 Jacqueline Gilbert wrote twelve novels for Mills and Boon. I started with Poppy Girl (isn’t that a sweet title? note that there’s no mention of Spanish billionaires, French millionaires, or Greek tycoons!), fell in love with Gilbert’s writing (how can I not love somebody who’s a fan of Dorothy Dunnett?) and thus ran to the computer to order more or her novels. So far, I’ve read The Chequered Silence and Capricorn Man (still no tycoon! nor any secret wives or babies!!) and really enjoyed these, too.

More to come!

Rapturous Rakes

To make up for the medieval disaster (see post below), I bought the Harlequin “Rapturous Rakes” bundle from Fictionwise yesterday. It contains

  • A REPUTABLE RAKE by Diane Gaston (whose book was the reason I became interested in the bundle in the first place: I haven’t yet read any of her books – or at least I don’t remember having read any of her books – and I thought this was the perfect opportunity to catch up),
  • THE RAKE by Georgina Devon, and
  • THE RAKE’S MISTRESS by Nicola Cornick

A few years ago I used to love M&B historicals, though the Regencies were devilishly hard to find in the USBs of Galway, where I was initiated into the joys of category romance (thank you, Ann! *mmmmwah*). Indeed, among my all-time favourite historical romances, there are quite a number of M&B historicals, e.g. Margaret Moore’s THE WASTREL (such a sweet, sweet novel!) (and such a lovely cover!!! one of the first to show only a man), Mary Brendan’s THE SILVER SQUIRE, Ann Elizabeth Cree’s THE MARRIAGE TRUCE, or Elizabeth Rolls’s THE UNEXPECTED BRIDE. Another book I had enjoyed quite a lot was Georgina Devon’s BETRAYAL (the cover is a bit horrid, though – the heroine has a mullet). Therefore I was quite thrilled that another of Devon’s books was included in the aforementioned “Rapturous Rakes” bundle.

When I started reading the novel, I realised I’d read it before (I bought it on 11 January 2001 in Galway), but it was so long ago that I didn’t remember much but the premise and the ending. Which meant that almost no memories spoilt my present enjoyment of the novel. And enjoy it, I did! The novel opens with the heroine, Juliet Smythe-Clyde, being in male disguise and preparing for a duel with the Duke of Brabourne in her father’s stead. When she is wounded, she is forced to spend several days and nights in Brabourne’s house, who, of course, very quickly figures out that she is a girl. He’s intrigued by her courage and loyalty, yet at the same time he also regards her as very much of a nuisance – especially when the secret leaks out that she has spent time under his roof unchaperoned. He cannot help but feel sorry for her when she is ostracised by the ton. So he engages the help of his friends to restore her reputation in the eyes of society. Unfortunately, it seems as if this won’t be enough …

I liked the premise of this novel – hero shoots heroine in duel – oh my! -, and I very much enjoyed the development of Juliet and Brabourne’s relationship. They are both so determined not to get involved with each other, and they both have very good reasons to stay away from the other. It was great fun to see how they nevertheless gradually fell in love. (hehe)

Brabourne is a sexy, sensible man, with dark secrets of his own. He has got very good reasons why he does not want to marry and why he doesn’t trust women (okay, the usual reason…), but that said, he is never cruel to Juliet (hear that, you medieval jerk?). Even against his better judgment he is very much on her side throughout the whole novel.

Juliet is spunky and takes her responsibilities seriously. However, she behaves a bit like a ninny at times and tends to suffer from the historical-heroine-self-sacrifice-syndrome (especially in her insistence that she must protect her father at all costs so he can pursue his strange chemical experiments in peace). As irritating as this kind of behaviour was, it was nice to see that the hero acts as a corrective influence in that respect.

The happy ending could have been a bit more convincing, but all in all, Georgina Devon’s THE RAKE was a truly enjoyable read.

TMT: Negotiating Gender Relations: Penny Jordan’s They’re Wed Again

I’ve just posted a short analysis of Penny Jordan’s They’re Wed Again, which is part of the Mills & Boon Centenary Collection, on Teach Me Tonight. You can check it out here.
They’re Wed Again is a rather sweet second-chance-at-love story. Here’s the blurb:

When Belle found herself seated next to her ex-husband Luc at a wedding, she knew there would be fireworks. She still believed that he was her one true love — and this was the perfect setting to rekindle the flame of their past passion.

Lynne Graham’s Smouldering Heroes and the Kiss of Asphalt

Nobody writes tall, dark, and dangerous heroes bent on revenge as well as Lynne Graham! THE CONTAXIS BABY perhaps isn’t her best novel (I didn’t particularly like the heroine, who when we first meet her is a socialite living on Daddy’s money, and worse, a socialite with a bad taste not only in men but also in whom she befriends), but the hero, Sebasten, smoulders in a most enjoyable fashion throughout the novel. Here’s the blurb from Fictionwise:

In the gossip rags, socialite Lizzie Denton’s situation looks pretty ugly–Lizzie meets boy, Lizzie dumps boy, brokenhearted boy dies in horrific car crash. Suddenly he’s public enemy number one. And a disinherited heiress, to boot. No job, no home and only a designer wardrobe to keep her company. But the worst part is that the papers got it wrong, and Lizzie promised not to tell anyone the truth. Devastated by the death of his half brother, Greek tycoon Sebasten Contaxis decides to punish the woman responsible: Lizzie Denton. But when he discovers that the stunning woman he can’t keep his hands off–an inexplicable case of lust at first sight–is the same woman he’s been seeking, Sebasten alters his scheme. After all, one broken heart deserves another, right? And revenge is so much sweeter when it’s served in bed–that is, until Lizzie has some surprising news for him….

I love, love, love M&B revenge stories! 🙂 Or at least most revenge stories. I’ve recently read one in which the hero called the heroine a slut all through the novel — and then the author expected me to believe in their happily ever after. Um …. not likely!

Speaking of happily ever afters, my bike decided to let me kiss the asphalt today. Now I’ve got one bloody knee, one bloody elbow, and my whole right side is probably going to be one big bruise by tomorrow morning. Ah well … I think I totally deserve another bedtime story! Or perhaps a proper Gisborne smoulder? “I always think there’s a chance for you and me.” *happy, happy sigh*

THE SILVER SQUIRE & Memories of My Year Abroad

When I went to the supermarket today and browsed the magazine shelves, the latest release in CORA’s Lords & Ladies line caught my eye: DER SILBERBARON by Mary Brendan. It didn’t attract my attention only because of its lovely cover (and the cover is lovely, isn’t it?), but also because several years ago I read and hugely enjoyed the English original.

THE SILVER SQUIRE is one of the books I bought during my eight-months stay in Galway, where I got to know a completely new version of rain: one which renders umbrellas useless and has you soaked to the skin whenever you step in front of the door even if you wear a wax jacket that reaches to your mid-thigh. As I didn’t fancy to go sightseeing in the rain (and getting wet all through), I spent a lot of time reading. Within three or four days of my arrival I had found out the locations of all UBS in Galway and from then on browsed them at least once a week (the frequency of my shopping sprees depended on the rain — sometimes the rain was so bad that even a trip to the cornerstore to buy some food seemed excessive. Hey, it’s perfectly possible to survive on cereals or toast for a day or two! *g*).

One of my new friends, Ann, got me hooked on Mills&Boon novels fairly early during my stay, and to my neverending delight I found that most UBS in Galway offered a good supply of M&B books. It was difficult, though, to snatch many Regency novels — these seemed to be among the most popular romances in town. Nevertheless, I was able to get hold of quite a few, among them Margaret Moore’s wonderful THE WASTREL as well as Mary Brendan’s THE SILVER SQUIRE (which I bought on 18 January 2001, to be exact).

THE SILVER SQUIRE is part of a quartet of Regency novels. This is what the “Dear Reader” letter in the front of the book tells us about them:

“Bad Boys can be fascinating. With this in mind I decided to write about some, and the result is a quartet of Regencies that commenced with MR TRELAWNEY’S PROPOSAL. [Got that one, too! 🙂 ] The novels feature heroes, linked by family or friendship, who are definite rogues. Wickedly charming, wryly humorous, dangerously attractive … good girls can’t resist them. […] Sir Richard Du Quesne is […] predatoryy and disreputable in THE SILVE SQUIRE, and relentlessly pursues unassuming spinster Emma Worthington … until she catches him and brings him very willingly to his knees.”

*happy sigh* Doesn’t this sound simply delicious? And the story is just as sweet and delicious as this letter to the reader suggests. And while I can’t exactly remember the whole story, I still remember several charming scenes (I guess this is due to the fact that I almost never re-read a whole book, but do re-readings of my favourite scenes and passages instead). The “hooray-we’ve-finally-figured-out-that-we-love-each-other” scene in THE SILVER SQUIRE is certainly among my favourite in romancelandia. Look here. It all starts with:

“Why are you here?” she asked […].

“You know why, Emma,” he mildly reproved. “The first time we met in Bath you fled. You’ve not stopped running since and I’ve not stopped chasing you from place to place.” He drew deeply on the cigar again then pitched it towards the grate. “But no more.”

And then it’s hunch time:

“You’re my future. I love you. And I know you love me.”

“How do you know?” whispered out of her.

“You could have run the other way,” he said, with a quirk of a smile. “But you didn’t. You ran at me because you trusted me … because you loved me.”

Their eyes locked timelessly, then, because she knew it was all truth, because he never lied, the tears finally spilled and her joy frothed into an explosive sob that squeezed tight her eyes.

Richard approached her slowly, stopped inches away. “Say you love me or I won’t hold you,” he threatened softly.

She leaned into him, crying.

“Say it!” erupted in a pleading growl.

“I love you …” she wailed, and was lifted off the ground and crushed to a broad, muscular torso. Fair and tawny hair mingled as he bent close, soothing her, while spinning them around in sheer thankful happiness.

Ooooooh, lovely! 🙂

There’s also a heroine-bathing-the-hero scene, in which he lets her inspect all his various scars — He continued teaching her about his body via the wounds he’d sustained over the years. — and because the novel is part of a mini-series, we also meet some of the main characters of the other novels, most notably David and Victoria from A KIND AND DECENT MAN (yup, I’ve got that one, too!). One of their scenes contains some of the cutest lines I’ve ever found in romance:

Victoria smiled contentedly down at him. “He is so like you. And Emma is like me. All she wants is Richard. She’d take him as a pauper.”

“I know. So does he. But it won’t stop him wanting to give her the sun … the moon … the stars …”

Victoria placed her hands on her husband’s broad, naked shoulders. They slid over his cool, solid flesh, then she pushed him down onto the bed and flopped on top of him. “Oh, that’s impossible, David!” she giggled as she enveloped him in silky, rose-scented skin and hair. “You already gave those to me …”

See? Cute!

If you like Regencies, I can highly recommend Mary Brendan’s novels.

Anne Weale Dies

Last weekend I put the finishing touches to my ballot for AAR’s Top 100 Romance Novels. Among the many category romances that ended up being on my list is Anne Weale’s Castle in Corsica at #56. I found the book five years ago in the darkest, dustiest corner of the English Bookshop in Mainz, together with several other old Harlequin novels. I greatly enjoyed Weale’s novel, especially the ending when, just as the heroine is about to leave the island, the hero races after her to make her face the truth about their relationship:

“For once in your ostrich existence, I want you to face the truth. If you honestly believe that the feelings that you’ve been at such pains to suppress boil down to nothing more than antagonism — well, I still won’t be convinced but I’ll accept it. But be very sure you aren’t deluding yourself, little one.” He paused and she saw the muscles at his jaw working. “I’m asking you to marry me, Polly.”

Right on the next page he calls her a nincompoop and continues to give her an ultimatum: he’ll wait outside in the car and give her half an hour to make up her mind — and she lets him wait 25 minutes (which he apparently spends “pacing up and down the pavement behind the car” — tee-hee, he is definitely not as cool as he wants to make her believe) before she finally comes after him. I have, of course, no idea whether the author intended it to be read this way, but I thought the scene very sweet and funny, though it does have some gritty undertones. Yes, from among that stack of old Harlequin novels I found in that dark corner in the English Bookshop, Castle in Corsica is one of my favourites.
Yesterday I was greatly saddened to learn from a post on Kate Walker’s blog that Anne Weale had died on 24 October. Between 1955 and 2002 she wrote 88 novels for Mills&Boon, the last one having been The Man from Madrid. In the “Dear Reader” at the beginning of the book, she calls herself a “World Wide Web enthusiast” and writes, “I believe the Web can be used to enhance our enjoyment of reading.” It is therefore not surprising that from 1998 to 2004 she wrote a website review column for the UK magazine The Bookseller, which she later used as a basis for her blog, Bookworm on the Net.
A biography of Anne Weale can be found on the Harlequin website (for some reason the link on the M&B website seems to be broken). Both Kate Walker and Liz Fielding have written tributes to her on their blogs.

(This is a double post from Teach Me Tonight)