Kathleen E. Woodiwiss's The Flame and the Flower began the flood of paperback historical romances written by and for women readers in 1972, but it wasn't the first historical romance by any means.
We can go back to the swashbucklers of the 19th and early 20th centuries, by Dumas and Hugo and Sabatini, as well as the historical adventures of the mid-20th century by Yerby and Shellabarger and others. These were the books I and my fellow historical romance writers of the 1980s had grown up reading. We watched the movies of Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power, Cornel Wilde and Burt Lancaster. We weren't into the polite comedies of manners from Georgette Heyer the way we were into the swords and daggers of Edison Marshall.
As I detailed in my analysis of Leslie Turner White's Lord Johnnie, there was a subtle feminism in many of these pre-Woodiwiss novels. Not in all of them, of course, but it's important to remember that women read these books, too, and they watched the movies that were made from them in the 1930s, 1940s, and on. The books, and the authors, had to keep those women in mind.
It was on that foundation that Kathleen Woodiwiss built, to be followed by Rosemary Rogers, Laurie McBain, Jude Deveraux, Rebecca Brandewyne, Julie Garwood, Candace Camp, LaVyrle Spencer, Jo Beverley, Julia Quinn, and so many more.
In the spring of 2000, I wrote my undergraduate honors thesis at Arizona State University West on the feminist potential in romance novels. Eventually I published a digital edition on Amazon, not expecting very much but just to have it easily available.
The changes that have occurred in the romance fiction world since 2000 really warrant another examination of the causes and effects, the actions and reactions. I stated at the beginning of Half Heaven, Half Heartache that I wasn't going to look at gay and lesbian romances because my focus was on the straight romance and how it affected as well as mirrored real life straight romance. Seventeen years later, however, there is now a valid and valuable interaction. The same is true of romances featuring people of color, interracial romances, and all the other "new" forms of romantic fiction, both historical and contemporary, paranormal and fantasy.
My collection of romance novels has grown since 2000, and there has been more non-fiction about romance fiction written and published. Imagine what I could do with that.
Watch this space.
CW: One scene of attempted rape; discussion of rape, assault and atrocities done to Native Americans; and lots and lots of racists dirtbags. This is the frontier, y'all, and the author doesn't shy away from how icky a lot of these people were.
This was unexpected, and in this case that's a good thing. You do need to check your disbelief at the door on this one, at least for the climax. It was a Monty Python case of horrors, that's for sure.
I'm surprised no one yelled, "Why won't you DIE?!" at any point. ;-)
The emphasis is on horror because right away you know things just aren't quite right, and by the end you've got a Most Dangerous Game situation that'll keep you flipping the pages.
What I really liked about this is that it wasn't your typical M/M novel. I would even go so far as to say this isn't a romance, though there is a love story of sorts and an HFN. But this didn't follow the standard formula that has, let's be honest, become somewhat stale. And after The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue, it was nice getting an historical where the characters sound like they're in an historical. It still could've used a bit more detail than what we got, but again, still much better than Gentleman's.
John's struggle to learn to speak up and act on his own behalf and those he cares about was a nice journey to watch, even though it was painful at times. He starts off as a man who just runs from everything and has to figure out through many trials what's worth standing up for. He makes a lot of bad decisions and indecisions along the way but I was never frustrated with him. It was obvious why he acted the way he did, not least because he was trying to save his own hide if people found out he's a sodomite.
Gwennie, Thomas and Palmer are all great supporting characters, and even Samantha gets a point or two in her favor. The ending was a bit abrupt and the epilogue doesn't really wrap up the loose ends. Since the next book is centered around another main character, I'm not sure if we'll see these characters again or not. Hopefully we do because there is certainly more to see with these guys.
For this being self-published, it was surprisingly light on typos. There were a few more near the end than throughout the rest of the book, but it's still much cleaner than most self-published books out there. The story is in first-person, if that's something that concerns you, but John has an easy and approachable POV, so the writing flows rather well.
Everyone's a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too by Jomny Sun was an odd little book. The reader follows our main character who is an alien (or aliebn if you prefer) sent to earth to learn about humans but because he's never met one he assumes every living thing he sees is a human. Therefore, he becomes good friends with a tree, beaver, egg, etc. Reminiscent of Find the Good, this book is chock full of life lessons about what truly matters. Our little alien friend learns how to be content and happy, what loneliness is, how to be a good friend, the value of creativity, and most of all how to accept oneself. There's also an underlying message about doomsday and what the planet would be like without human habitation. Is this actually an apocalyptic tale cloaked behind a cute alien story? I have to point out that the misspelling (as you see in the title) was highly annoying even after I managed to somewhat successfully ignore it and took away some enjoyment from the overall reading of the book. However, if you are able to look past that (and I was mostly successful) then it's a nice little read with great messages. This author isn't afraid to tackle tough subjects and I believe he does so with sensitivity and insight. This would make a great gift for that introspective friend (or a great addition to your own collection). I'd say it was a solid 7/10 because while it was a really nice book it didn't blow me out of the water. (The best graphic novel remains The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil by Stephen Collins.)
What's Up Next: Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore by Matthew J. Sullivan
What I'm Currently Reading: it's 1 day til Christmas...do you think I'm reading?
This is a strange one, so I'm going to split it up.
Things I liked:
Monty's struggles of self-acceptance. He's an arrogant aristocrat, a drunkard and a rake on the surface, but there's a lot more going on and as we learn more about him, it's clear how he got to be so messed up. But he's got his best friend Percy and his sister Felicity, who are more aware of the world around them and help him see what he's always been so blind to. I did like seeing him grow up and learn new things about himself, and that it doesn't happen all at once in a giant ah-ha moment but a little at a time as the story progresses.
Percy was also great. I like that the author acknowledges people of color existed, and as more than just slaves. He was born in a high-class family, but being interracial and a bastard doesn't give him much standing. He's treated as second-class, and while Monty might not treat him that way or understand why anyone else would, Percy is aware of his position in society and how tenuous it is. And that's even before the reveal
that he has epilepsy and his family wants to put him in an asylum because they're tired of dealing with his fits.
Felicity, Monty's sister, knows her own mind and isn't afraid to use it. She wants to study but is limited by her sex. She also helps hold a mirror up to Monty's face, but she's not there just for the benefit of the male characters. She has her own agency and makes her own decisions.
As a road trip gone askew, this is a great book and not nearly as silly or whimsical as I thought it was going to be. And I like that it didn't always follow the tropes to a T, so that it kept you guessing in some places.
The things I didn't like:
As a historical book, this is somewhat lacking. There's nowhere near the level of details that I expect from a historical. Nothing is really described, like the author is expecting the reader to already know what all these places looked like back then and so doesn't have to bother setting the scene. Except for the lack of pay phones, the author could've easily placed this story in the 1960s or 1970s and not have had to change anything except some character names. The rather modernistic manners of the characters would have made a lot more sense and rang truer than they do placed in 1720-something.
The language is definitely too modern. Look, y'all, "abso-bloody-lutely" is annoying AF coming out of mouths from today's youth. It has no place coming out of these characters' mouths. They had their own slang in the 1700s. Use it! There were a few other modernisms like that too, and it just pulled me out of the book every single time. This is basically a historical for people who don't want to read historicals.
There were a few continuity errors too. At one point, Monty has to stop to put his boot back on. I went back several pages to see where the hell he took off his boot - he didn't. At another point, Felicity is hurt rather severely and it's several scenes before she's able to properly tend to her wound. In between, there's an encounter with some rather important people who I would expect to be far more observant than they are. There's no mention at all that Felicity is attempting to hide her wound, yet it's not mentioned and neither does it seem to even bother her. What the hell happened to Lockwood?
Then there's Monty's dad and everyone else practically having no concern whatever that Monty's got a liking for boys. Sure, the author does bother to point out a couple of times that sodomy was a big no-no and even bothers to mention some of the punishments that could befall someone because of it. But then everyone just acts like it's no big deal. Extremely distasteful, sure, but nothing you wouldn't bring up in casual conversation during a ball. It felt like the story and the characters were making far too light of something that could get you killed. The fact this is YA doesn't justify that, and this is far too much a trend in many an M/M historical. I was disappointed to see it happen here too.