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I grew up in Colorado at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, then lived in Denmark and traveled throughout Europe before coming back to Colorado. I have two adult sons, whom I cherish. I started my writing career as a columnist and investigative reporter and eventually became the first woman editor of two different papers. Along the way, my team and I won numerous state and several national awards, including the National Journalism Award for Public Service. In 2011, I was awarded the Keeper of the Flame Lifetime Achievement Award for Journalism. Now I write historical romance and contemporary romantic suspense.

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Seductive Musings

Monday, May 11, 2009

Recommended reads


I think the last time I posted about a book I'd recently read, it was Kathleen Givens' On a Highland Shore, which I still love and still recommend for those who love Scottish history and in-depth, sympathetic characters. I really loved that book.

Recently, I've read two books that I enjoyed so much I thought I'd mention them.

The first is Anna Campbell's Tempt the Devil, which is read last week. Here's a brief synopsis from Amazon:

Any man in London would worship her. Yet Olivia is, quite frankly, bored of them all. Despite her many dalliances, she's never felt true passion, never longed for any lover's touch . . . until Julian, London's most notoriously wanton rake, decided to make her his mistress.

From the moment he first saw her, Julian knew he must possess her. And when he discovers her greatest secret, a scandal that could ruin her reputation and end her career, he knows just the way to use this damaging information to his most delightful advantage. He offers Olivia a deal with the devil: he'll keep her secret . . . if she allows him the chance to show her true ecstasy.

But Olivia must be careful, for Julian has a secret of his own: he will not rest until she is completely, shamelessly his.


I'm not typically one to read Regencies. I'm far less interested in lords and ladies and society than I am in the lives of common people. It's the archaeologist in me. Also, a story with a courtesan as the heroine.... Not typically my thing. But I was excited to read this book because it was written by Anna Campbell. She writes unusual historicals that tend to turn the dominant paradigm on its head. And she's very, very good at making us care about her characters.

I found an emotional richness in this story that is often lacking in romance novels. The depth of the characterization, the fact that neither Olivia nor Julian are one-dimensional characters, the fact that story revolves around sex as an issue and yet isn't about sex at all... A really wonderful story. It brought tears to my eyes at times, particularly the parts that resonated with topics in Ride the Fire. (That's all the hint you're getting from me.)




The second book — one I finished in the wee hours this morning — is historical fiction written by a romance novelist, Joan Wood. The Road to Avalon retells the Arthurian legend in a way that is as historically accurate as you're probably going to get. Again, this thrills the archeologist in me.

In Wood's book, we're actually in post-Roman Britain fighting to survive incursions by the Sea Wolves, the Saxons. One gets a strong taste of the Roman history, but also the Welsh components of the story. Rather than setting the medieval version of the story we all know in a post-Roman setting, she strips many of the medieval components away, revealing a story about a man who was destined to be king, the woman he loved beyond all others, the wife he tried to love, and the kingdom he built through staggering self-sacrifice.

Mary Jo Putney wrote in her forward to the story: "I've never read a version that had greater psychological resonance than Joan Wood's treatment."

I read that before I read the story, thinking, "Yeah, I love Mists of Avalon, and there's no way you can beat that."

However, I have to say that Wood at the very least equalled Mists of Avalon for me precisely because of this psychological resonance. All of the strange events in Camelot — Gwenhwyfar's affair with Bedwyr (often spelled Bedivere, who was her lover prior to Lancelot's appearance in the stories); Arthur's son through incest, Mordred; the deaths of Arthur at Mordred's hand. It all makes sense in this story, and it's all terribly tragic because non of these characters are evil. The Christian vs. Pagan angst of Mists of Avalon is downplayed to the point of being irrelevant, which was fine with me. And these are masculine Romanized Britons, which has its definitely appeal. There is no explicit sex, though there is sex.

And I loved it. It was one of those books where, although you know Arthur dies, you have to keep reading. And when he does die, the bittersweetness of his passing is excruciating.

I've tried to find a .jpg of the book's new cover to post, but they're all very tiny. So instead I'll just show you the painting that's on the cover, "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" (The Beautiful Lady Without Mercy). It's being reprinted, so you'll be able to find it at Amazon and in bookstores soon, I'm guessing.

And just what am I doing reading instead of writing? I read on nights when I'm too exhausted from my job to write. As for why I might focus on reading books about King Arthur and why everything I read for the next several months will be about King Arthur... You'll just have to guess.

I hope all of you mothers had a wonderful Mother's Day. I spent the day with Benjamin, and I've taken an extra day off this week to be with him today. Which is wonderful! We're off to do some grocery shopping — finally I have someone to help! My broken foot rejoices! — and then I'll be back.

So, tell me whether you've read this books, what you thought and what you're reading now.

10 comments:

Luci said...

I have been meaning to get my hands on an Anna Campbell for ages now, so she moves right up on my to-buy list.

These last couple of days I had a Lisa Kleypas kick and I read Mine Till Midnight and Seduce Me at Sunrise. I enjoyed both of them and am looking forward to the thirs one in the series. I read my first Sophie Jordan and a couple of Lorraine Heaths too lately.

I love historical romances but some do tend to blend with others, which is why I love yours as both the setting and heroes are original.

Oh I forgot - I read Elizabeth Hoyt's To Beguile A Beast - very enjoyable.

Next up will be a romantic suspense I think. Haven't decided which though.

Luci said...

Oh, if I am not mistaken the guy on the Anna Campbell cover is Nathan Kamp right?

Barbara said...

I LOVE Anna Campbell's stories. She's such a wonderful writer. I absolutely adored, Untouched.

You know, that medieval pic you posted is hanging in my livingroom, lol. I based all the colors in my LR around that picture because I love it so much.

Oh and Luci, yes, that's Nathan ;)

Annie West said...

Pamela, I absolutely concur with you about 'Tempt the Devil' having an emotional richness that draws a reader in. It's great stuff, isn't it? That's one of the things I enjoy about Anna Campbell's stories. They're so true to the characters and the characters are real.

Thanks for the recommendation on 'The Road to Avalon'. I'm a sucker for a good Arthurian romance and I haven't read one for a long time (since 'Mists of Avalon' in fact). This sounds truly intriguing, from the historical viewpoint and the psychological, so I'll be on the lookout for it.

Oh, I love that painting!

Phyl said...

It was a kick to see this post earlier today when I still had about 50 pages to read in the Anna Campbell book. I've since finished the book and I thought it was just outstanding. Her books certainly show the darker side of human nature. Hmmm, I wonder where we've seen that before?

I don't know what to read next. This one will percolate for awhile I think.

Debbie H said...

No, I haven't read either of them. They sound wonderful and I may have to pick up a copy of each.

Nathan on any book cover is a reason to buy it. LOL

Linda A. said...

Haven't read either, though I'll have to remedy that soon. My favorite Arthurian books are the Mary Stewart series, The Last Enchantment and so on.

I agree with Debbie - Nathan certainly looks good on a cover. And that painting is absolutely beautiful.

Hi, Luci — I think you would really enjoy the story. Like I said, it's a deeper and darker story than you might expect to read, and that's what I love about it. Campbell's stories are also very original and refreshing (for me).

I haven't read the Kleypas books, but I've been wondering for a while if Elizabeth Hoyt is an author I would enjoy. I hear her stories are pretty intense.

Hi, Barbara — I haven't read UNTOUCHED but I hope to do so soon. I'm really looking forward to reading backwards through her back list.

COOL that you have this painting on your wall. I love it. I have "The Lady of Shalott" by J.W. Waterhouse, and I love that. It shows her loosing the boat she's in as she's about to die and float downriver to Camelot. Poignant.

Hi, Annie, and welcome! You put your finger on it: emotional richness. I loved that about the book. I really felt Olivia and Julian's turmoil.

It's so hard to say what any other lover of Arthuriana will enjoy or not enjoy because we all have our favorite aspects of the legend, but as someone who loved MISTS OF AVALON, I really found myself SUCKED in to this story in a way I wasn't reading, for example, THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING, which I still haven't finished. (I feel guilty about that. It's a literary classic! What's my problem?)

Hi, Suzette — I can see you like that same kind of art. There's a whole series of "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" paintings, all of which are very romantic and evocative. I did graduate work in art history and always loved these paintings.

Hi, Phyl — Good to see you! What a fun coincidence that you were reading the story. Haha. I'm glad you enjoyed it, too. I think Campbell handles "the dark side" very deftly. As for who else writes "the dark side".... LOL!

Hi, Debbie — I think you'd enjoy them quite a bit. And, yes, Nathan is a good incentive. It doesn't hurt to have him staring at you, does it? ;-)

Hi, Linda — I read the Mary Stewart series and I really loved them, too, though oddly I can't really remember them at this point. I think MISTS OF AVALON sort of became the definitive version for me for a while -- though that may now have changed. I'll have to review Stewart's books, though, because I do remember really enjoying them.

OK, off to the shower. I stayed home with my son yesterday, and now it's back to the real world.

I hope you're all having a wonderful day.

haleigh said...

I adored Tempt the Devil as well. The emotional depth was just brilliant.

I'm on a research kick at the moment, so not must to recommend. I've got a biography of a CIA spy, a book on covert communication inside terrorist cells, and two books on black market arms dealing. I gotta stop getting these books from the public library -- homeland security is totally going to show up on my doorstep.

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