Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Virgin Slave, Barbarian King / Louise Allen. 2007

Back in December, an article appeared in the UK's Guardian noting the 100th anniversary of Mills & Boon Publishers. Julie Bindel penned the now infamous words "mysogynistic hate speech" in her description of M&B books. She targeted in particular Louise Allen's Virgin Slave, Barbarian King. Reaction from romance readers around the blogosphere was swift and vocal. Much of the discussion is neatly summarized on the Teach Me Tonight blog and can be found in the December archive. One result of Bindel's attack on VSBK was the coordination of several reviews in early January and a nifty literary analysis, also at Teach Me Tonight.

So, like the sheep I am I read this book the first of January, intending to post my own review, but I didn't get around to it right away. Then SBTB broke the news about Cassie Edward's plagiarism, and VSBK fell by the wayside. I decided to go ahead and post my review as part of my attempt to catch up and get into a better rhythm of blogging. So here we go:

VSBK opens in AD 410 when the Visigoths are sacking Rome. Our heroine, Julia, outside in the melee, is "saved" by the hero, Wulfric, who takes her back to his camp and makes her his slave. Julia travels with the Visigoths south through Italy and then back north again when the Visigoths' plans to sail to Africa is thwarted by a severe storm that destoys the fleet of ships they were to use. Like any good historical novel, the story is based on the true events surrounding the Visigoths' invasion of Rome and their attempt to find a homeland. As an aside, it was interesting to do some research after reading the book and learn that the Visigoths were a people driven from their own home in Eastern Europe by the Huns. They eventually settled in Spain, although a few settled in Gaul (France).

During this journey through Italy, Julia must acclimate herself to life in the Visigoth camp. And unfortunately, I think this is where the story is the weakest. Julia is a woman who had come from a wealthy, pampered family. She is not used to doing anything for herself. Her family owned slaves. Her transition to being a slave did not ring true. The fact that some members of the Wulfric's tribe accepted her rather quickly also did not ring true. Human life was held rather cheaply in these cultures. Julia's rapid attraction to Wulfric reminded me of a Harlequin Presents novel, so seemed out of place here. Wulfric was a bit better drawn character who dealt with some genuine conflict over the choices his king made as they travelled.

Frankly, what held my interest was the history and the fact the Ms. Allen is a good writer. Her prose is smooth and the history was woven into the story fairly seamlessly; I didn't have to suffer through chunks of infodump. But as other reviewers have pointed out, there is little internal conflict that you look for in a romance novel. After all, it is supposed to be about the relationship. And since so much of that didn't ring true, I wasn't so interested in Julia and Wulfric as I was the Visigoths. When I finished the book I spent a couple of hours reading about the Visigoths in online encyclopedias. In the 1000+ year history of the Romans, the Visigoths were a blimp on the timeline, yet what they did and how they did it was significant and contributed to the eventual fall of the empire. It's worth reading about if you like ancient history.

I commend Ms. Allen for writing about an era we don't normally find on Romance shelves. I see that she's written numerous Regencies. Given my serious love of that sub-genre I was surprised to see I hadn't read her before, but I did find one of her books on my TBR pile. I'll have to get it out. Meanwhile, I will go ahead and recommend this one, with reservations, for the history buffs out there.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Catching Up, Pt. 1--Christmas Reading

Back in mid-December I purchased a half dozen or so Christmas-themed books to read over my Christmas break. I was also the happy recipient of a gift from Angie of two Christmas novellas when I left a comment on her blog. I had a few other books TBR that coincidentally took place around Christmas. It was fun to have the holiday hopping up all over the place while I read. So here are a few of the more memorable ones:

The Down Home Zombie Blues / Linnea Sinclair

Given the positive response on several reader blogs it can hardly be a surprise that I liked it, too. Frankly, I haven’t read anything by Ms. Sinclair yet that I haven’t liked. Her books are fast-paced adventure stories with great touches of humor in spots. Best of all her heroines are strong women who are in charge. What I particularly admired about this book was the way we were looking at present-day Earth through the eyes of an alien. We learn about Jorie’s world indirectly as she puzzles through “odd” human behavior. I love this style of writing which shows rather than tells. Clearly there will be a sequel. Sadly, we’ll probably have to wait at least a year for it. Her website doesn’t say. Oh, and the Christmas connection? Minor in that the book takes place during the holidays.

To Do List / Lauren Dane

This is one of the Samhain novellas that I mentioned came from Angie (I haven’t read the other one yet). This is a friend-to-lovers story about Belle who comes home for Christmas and hooks up with long-time friend Rafe. Belle is a successful lawyer who has pretty much sacrificed any personal life in order to achieve her career goals. As a result she’s nearly cut her family out of her life as well as her old friend Rafe. Belle has to figure out what she wants. It’s pretty obvious that she decides to chuck the high-power legal practice for one that’s saner in order to be with Rafe. So while this book goes just where you expect it to, it does it very well. It’s nicely written with well-drawn characters. I do have one quibble, though. Belle has a conflict with another attorney in her firm. I’d have liked to see him get his comeuppance. But the rest of the story was great. Thanks, Angie!

The Christmas Carrolls / Barbara Metzger

Barbara Metzger is one of those authors who has a very distinctive voice. I love, love her books. She has an extensive backlist of traditional Regencies that I’d eventually like to get my hands on. Since this one is a 1997 release re-issued electronically by Belgrave House I have high hopes that I will indeed get them all someday. Anyhow, this one is actually more like three connected novellas. Lord Carroll has 3 daughters whom he loves and wants to see settled into happy marriages like his own. Each part tells the story of one of the daughters. But woven throughout is the story of the repercussions from a serious mistake Lord Carroll had made several years earlier. His mistake threatens his relationship with his daughters and his wife. Part of the book takes place near one Christmas and ends during Christmas a year later. The theme of forgiveness is told in context of Lord Comfort’s mistake and the Christmas story itself. I loved how Ms. Metzger wove it all together with her trademark humor and obligatory dog.

Patterns of Love / Robin Lee Hatcher

I wish I could remember who recommended this one. Since it is an American historical, most likely it was Kristie(J) or Wendy the Librarian. This was an interesting story of a Swedish immigrant in turn of the century Iowa. Inga is the oldest of 5 sisters. Their father is a pastor in a small farming community. Inga is tall and plain, in sharp contrast to her prettier sisters. Dirk is a local dairy farmer who runs a farm originally started by his now-deceased brother. Dirk is trying to keep it together for his two young nieces. With Dirk’s mother dying, he needs someone to watch the girls and care for his mother. Inga volunteers to help and goes to live on the farm. Both Dirk and Inga believe their dreams have passed them by, and this story of new dreams and new hopes is a lovely one, perfect for the holidays. The book takes place over a lengthy period of time, but a significant portion of it takes place at Christmas. But here’s the best part---Inga’s a quilter! Hence the title “Patterns” of Love. Inga’s quilts tell the stories of her loves and her sorrows. I borrowed the original version of this from the library. Apparently it’s been re-written for the Inspirational market and is to be re-issued again later this spring. If I stumble across it, it may be worth picking up, but I thought it was just wonderful the way it was originally written.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Hmmm, It's been awhile...

Gee, has it really been nearly a month since I posted anything here? I guess so. I've certainly read a few books that have been worth writing about, but I just couldn't summon the energy to write about them. Probably because I was doing a fair bit of sewing between books. Since I'm working on a variety of projects nothing's finished yet. But here's a picture of a small top I finished the other night. This was from a kit I bought on a shop hop last summer and only took me a couple of hours to put together.

I also made a whole bunch of ornaments for various folks. Here are samples of the 3 different ones I made:

Next up, but not tonight, a brief review of some of the more interesting books I read during my Christmas vacation.