Tag Archives: Cynster Series

Regency Doyenne Stephanie Laurens Moves to Medieval with Desire’s Prize

3 Jan

Desire’s Prize (Chronicles of Claerwhen #1 – Alaun and Eloise) by M. S. Laurens (Savdek Management, October 18, 2013)

Anyone who is a fan of Stephanie Laurens’ Cynster saga is familiar with her Regency heroes referring to their Norman heritage, usually in the sense of being conquerors both of land and of the ladies. Finally, this writer has gotten a chance to refresh her perspective and dive into the bold men and women of this particular time period with her offering, Desire’s Prize, released under a new pen name, M. S. Laurens.

Not only has Laurens developed the related pseudonym to distinguish this work from her popular Regency novels, but it appears that she also has self-published this particular story. I haven’t read if that decision was due to lack of publisher interest (hard to believe with a name as powerful as Laurens) or if she was interested in dabbling in being a hybrid author, but considering her pull and established audience self-pubbing this one is quite smart financially as I’m sure her usual publishing house (Avon) takes a much bigger piece of her pie when she releases a new book.

In Desire’s Prize, Alaun de Montisfryth is a powerful lord and the right hand of Edward III, a monarch who has used his knight’s prowess to subdue his enemies and secure the Welsh border. Now Alaun has been ordered by that same king to marry now that he can finally return home to his stronghold after three long years away. An undisputed warrior who avoids tournaments, when Alaun hears that Versallet Castle is hosting a grueling contest he detours his sizable retinue during their journey home to attend and to compete. The head of the de Versallet family bilked a young Alaun out of his father’s stallion nine years ago and getting a measure of revenge in his fully-grown adult form feels like an excellent coming home present. One look at the eldest de Versallet daughter and suddenly there is a larger prize beyond honor for Alaun at stake.

The details of a medieval knight of this period.

In actuality, Alaun’s fight with her father happened on the occasion of Eloise de Versallet’s marriage to Raoul de Cannar. Barely fifteen, the proud girl was shackled inadvertently to a sadist of the first order, a man who made her brief marriage a living hell until God came to her aid and killed him with a lightening strike. She fled to the Claerwhen convent which had educated her for the first four years of her widowhood until her mother’s death necessitated her moving back home to be chatelaine to her father and brother. Five years of running a castle have proven gratifying and while her beauty and substantial dowry attracts men, her frosty demeanor and widow’s status mean no one can force her to marry. She’s been under the thumb of one man and has no desire to ever place herself in such a position again.

But Eloise cannot deny that there is some kind of spark between her and Alaun, but it doesn’t mean she has no intention of fighting it. A clever wager with her father means that if Alaun wins the tournament, Eloise’s father will transfer her to Alaun’s protection. It’s not marriage, but it would necessitate her becoming this knight’s chatelaine and would be a natural precursor to an official union. For Alaun, he must use every minute with Eloise to undo the damage left in the wake of her first husband as well as bind her to him so she will consider marriage – his king’s edict hangs over him and suddenly no other woman will do. However, this fiery woman will not easily come to heel. Some type of partnership must be forged in order for the two of them to grasp a future neither one envisioned – but both want now that they’ve seen the possibility.

While the image isn’t English or Welsh, this castle fits my mental image of Alaun impressive stronghold.

My reaction to this particular book was mixed (the first two thirds of the book had me thinking four stars but the ending had me dragging that down to three), but definitely positive. The heat between Alaun and Eloise is palpable and well-expressed through all their naked sexy times, scenes which fortunately contained a minimum of Laurens’ tendency for purple prose (I think she only referenced “the furnace” once, thank heavens). She did a great job showing not only the progression of feeling between them, but the growing confidence that Eloise could be a full partner despite her rough first marriage. The language felt pitch perfect for the period and the level of historical detail was outstanding – accurate details reflected the summer course Laurens mentions she took on the medieval period yet are so skillfully delivered it never feels like an info dump. Alaun and Eloise are both strong, proud nobles of their period yet empathetic characters who you easily support.

Where Laurens falters is where her books usually fall apart – the driving external conflict. As the Cynster series progressed, the mystery or conspiracy around which the entire book’s ending revolves became incredibly simplistic and often two-dimensional. Similar to the last five or six of the Cynster books, the initial two-thirds of Desire’s Prize focusing on the two characters coming together and recognizing their feelings is outstanding, but the manufactured conflict for the final third weighs heavily on the reader. In this work, an unbalanced young woman with Eloise in her sights provides what I thought was the novel’s “black moment” only to be succeeded by an additional peril when Eloise is captured by a group of un-introduced knights who were only vaguely hinted at in two other places in the book. It’s a bit jarring and awkward and it didn’t have to be – it almost felt like something a strong editor would have caught and corrected. A great epilogue fortunately pulls up the end of the novel and re-establishes the connection between the characters that made the first part of the book so compelling.

Many medieval convents (not all) where places fostering female leadership and education, housing great wealth and often providing a formidable security to its inhabitants, as Claerwhen Convent does.

One point in the author’s note at the end which confused me was that Laurens makes a point of saying that this book comes between Captain Jack’s Woman and Devil’s Bride. She must mean this in terms of her personal writing chronology since these two books are still in the late 18th/early 19th century. I don’t know if this makes me feel better since I actually feel that the overall writing in Desire’s Prize feels more like the early Cynster works (which is a terrific thing) and I had hoped this had meant a return to that stronger writing and characterization, but it doesn’t if this book was actually written years ago during the author’s golden age.

Yet the fact that this book is listed as the first in a new series, Chronicles of Claerwhen, makes me hope that there will be other books based around women who attended this illustrious convent led by a strong mother superior (and perhaps starring heroes like Alaun’s sensual right hand knight, Roland). It’s an excellent device and one that could be quite effective for framing a series, particularly if a dip into the medieval period helps bolster Stephanie Laurens’ creative juices.

I feel tentatively hopeful at the start of this series, with my fingers crossed that Laurens continues to develop this time period into another wonderful group of books with characters I revisit again and again.

Happy reading!

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, December 15, 2013

15 Dec

Upcoming Books and Recent Releases

It’s well known that I feel Stephanie Laurens’ Cynster series is one of the best Regency romance series out there, so I’m pleased to see that Avon Publishing is cleverly releasing the first three books of it (and they are AWESOME) as a e-bundle for people wanting to try it. Available as of December 17th, Cynsters: The Beginning includes Devil’s Bride, A Rake’s Vow and Scandal’s Bride and will cost only $13.59, a massive discount from the $7.99 for each book which is the standard retail price.

Angela Knight announced the prequel to her successful Magverse series, Wicked Games, will be released as of April 1, 2014. Containing not only the story that started this fantastic reinterpretation of Arthurian tales (think sexy vampires as knights and plenty of magic), it also bundles several previously released e-tales which have been revised and expanded for this anthology.

Vivian Arend’s next novel in her Thompson & Son series, Baby, Be Mine, will be published on February 25, 2014. This book combines a friends to lovers trope along with a surprise baby and amnesia when Gage Jenick takes advantage of long-time friend and hottie Katy Thompson kicking her boyfriend to the curb, even if his work is going to make him incommunicado for a couple of months. What he didn’t anticipate was that his girlfriend would have no memory of him or their incredible night together after she is involved in a car crash. While Katy wonders why Gage returns acting so territorial around her, she’s way more interested in how on earth she could be pregnant? In Arend’s hands, this is bound to be pure gold, so pre-order now!

Arend is going to win the busy bee award in February, considering that earlier in the month she also has the next installment of her Adrenaline Search & Rescue series, High Seduction coming out on February 4th. Armchair adrenaline junkies will definitely want to pre-order this puppy, a sexy chopper pilot looking for someone else to take control in the bedroom and the old flame paramedic who is more than happy to give her exactly what she needs.

Contests and Giveaways

Hustle over to Goodreads today for a chance to enter the historical romance anthology At the Duke’s Wedding, featuring stories by such powerhouse authors as Caroline Linden, Katharine Ashe, Miranda Neville and Maya Rodale. Enter by December 15th for a chance at these stories in print form for the first time!

Vampire Book Club, a blog whose reviews can always be counted on to inform, is offering a fabulous Urban Fantasy giveaway, with books by Adrian Phoenix, Jess Haines, Christina Henry and Eileen Rendahl to populate your bookshelves. Get over there before December 19th to enter for your chance to win!

With a mid-week deadline, another giveaway worth entering is for the first book of Emma Barron‘s Tropical Nights series, Exposed, which ends on December 18th. When a reporter is assigned the interview of a reclusive CEO, she thinks it’s a run-of-the-mill assignment not realizing her boss has led the company to believe that it’s a write up for a major economics journal and not the gossip magazine she works for. But both this sexy businessman and determined reporter have had their heart burned before, so as they realize that this interview is revealing their desire for one another as well as the facts, the question remains if they can get past their trepidation to find something real together.

Contemporary author Leah Braemel is participating in the Mistletoe Madness Blog Hop, offering a $10 Amazon or B&N card as a present to a lucky visitor who participated in her Rafflecopter giveaway by December 19th. For an even bigger prize (and a bit of guide through the Mistletoe Madness Blog Hop) head to P. J. Schnyder‘s blog and look at her giveaway which garners you entries via tweeting and commenting at the various participants blogs. In addition to Braemel and Schnyder (two excellent authors) they’re joined by such wonderful authors as Laura Kaye (of Hard As It Gets fame), Christine d’Abo, Christi Barth, Cat Johnson, and Dana Marie Bell among others. Enter before December 20th to see if Santa is going to give you something electronic under your tree via a $200 gift card to Best Buy if you manage to win this one!

Speaking of the Cynster saga (see the Upcoming Books and New Releases entry above), Goodreads is having a giveaway of one of the spin-off books from that Regency saga, Where the Heart Leads, the first in The Casebook of Barnaby Adair series. Currently the only entry in that series, Laurens recently announced she’ll be adding several books to it and I’m elated, as Barnaby, the aristocrat with a penchant for investigation via London’s burgeoning police force is a favorite of mine! This book is the one where he falls for the cerebral yet beautiful Lady Penelope Ashford, and it’s a doozy with some of my favorite characters making appearances. Enter before December 20th for your chance to win!

New York Times Best-Selling author Donna Grant is having a Twelve Days of Christmas giveaway on her Facebook page where she is posting lovely daily prizes for commenters (like $50 bookseller gift cards!), so head over there and start contributing! I imagine they’ll just keep getting better and better the closer to Christmas we get. :-)

It’s tough not to giggle at some of Harlequin’s titles and the Intrigue novels are usually the most chuckle-worthy. That does not stop this imprint from periodically hitting a home run, and I have to confess to putting Secret Agent Secretary , the second book in Melissa Cutler‘s ICE: Black Ops Defenders series, on my to-read list. When a desk jockey is catapulted into the arms of a handsome agent, they need to work together to foil a nefarious plan. Luckily for all of us, it’s also being offered in a Goodreads giveaway for people who enter prior to the end of December.

The erotic romance author group collectively known as the Smutketeers (R. G. Alexander, Eden Bradley, Rachel Grace, Eve Berlin and Robin L. Rotham) on their blog of the same name have begun their Twelve Days of Christmas giveaway with not only daily prizes and fabulous highlights of recent books you’ll want under your tree, but a cumulative prize of a $300 gift card for a dedicated reader who posts a comment on each day of the celebration. That’s a lot of books….

Fun Stuff

‘Tis the season for finding gifts for all the readers in your family, and game enthusiasts might want to take a gander at all the book-related board games out there geared toward readers. Flavorwire has a terrific list of 10 board games for book nerds (why are we always nerds?) including ones based on Pride & Prejudice and Beowulf, or you can get a classic like Bookopoly, geared toward middle school kids but great for readers of all ages.

I usually don’t post stuff about YA romance (probably because I think about it all the time in my day job as a young adult librarian) but I had to share the wonderful post by author Diana Peterfreund on the RITA awards and their perhaps misguided treatment of YA romance. Peterfreund has numerous successful books under the belt, many of which should be award-winners in multiple categories, but this thoughtful analysis of the Romance Writers’ Association and YA is worth a read and re-read.

Great Deals

The full-length erotic novel (gracious, that sounds dirty!) Sexual Persuasion by Maryn Sinclair is currently free on Amazon. When a woman is rescued from an uncomfortable encounter with an ex, she can’t deny the heat between her handsome rescuer and herself. But when that gorgeous man is revealed to be an attorney with one client (the local mob head), and she hears the rumors that this same man who is clearly interested in getting her in bed also was the lover of his male mob boss, she’s confused. Will his past come between them or can she be persuaded?

Erotic historical author Kate Pearce currently has the prequel to her Sinners Club series also available for free, The First Sinners. The series features men who belong to a private gentlemen’s club filled with men who have either sketchy pasts or specific predilictions – and the need to keep both quiet. In this novella, an Earl investigating possible treason deploys all his wiles at a house party in the hope of uncovering valuable evidence. What he is surprised to uncover is one innocent young miss determined to find a man who can teach her carnal pleasure (and his lordship knows exactly who can fulfill that role).

Following in today’s erotic historical romance bargains trend is Samantha Kane‘s Regency menage novel, The Courage to Love, the first of her Brothers in Arms series which is also available for free on Amazon as of right now. A dress shop owner is still recovering from a vicious rape but feels safe when surrounded by two men who served with her late husband on the Peninsula – two men she’s been in love with for quite some time. Shocked they feel the same toward her (and have a relationship with one another), her past nevertheless intrudes on them moving forward.

The holidays always come with bargains if you know where to look, and the A Naughty Little Christmas (Cowboys, Cops and Kilts) Bundle, featuring a smorgasbord of authors across genres (cowboy, romantic suspense, small town contemporary, paranormal, Highlander, etc.) is the ultimate bargain at $.99 for eight novellas. With authors like Paige Tyler, Ann Bruce and Dawn Halliday in this grouping, I’ve already got it sitting in my Kindle app to warm my holiday nights!

If you haven’t had a chance to run and buy The Theory of Attraction by erotic romance author Delphine Dryden, go run to Amazon and grab it while it’s free. With a slightly autistic scientist who happens to be a serious Dom (and definitely high on the hottie) scale and the next door neighbor who decides to help him get a promotion by being his girlfriend who can read departmental situations, this sexy nerd romance is simultaneously erotic and sweet. It would be worth paying full price for, but free? You don’t need a genius IQ to figure out that’s a bargain.

Cynster Sisters Duo Proves an Upswing in Recent Cynster Books with And Then She Fell by Stephanie Laurens

21 Apr

And Then She Fell (Cynster Sisters Duo #1, Cynster Series #19 – Henrietta Cynster and James Glossup) by Stephanie Laurens (Avon, March 26, 2012)

If anyone remembers the first time they read Devil’s Bride, the book one in the now legendary Cynster series by Stephanie Laurens, I’m sure they can picture the sweet scene where the children of the family go to say goodbye at the graveside of their brother and cousin Tolly, the littlest ones struggling with the walk in the night as Devil and Honoria look on, restraining themselves from helping lest it ruin the ceremony. I don’t know how old this makes you feel (Devil’s Bride was originally published in 1998), but I end up with the impression that the Cynsters are somehow an extension of my own family, particularly with the realization that these youngest members are all grown up and ready for their own romance novels.

And Then She Fell is the first in the spin-off series the Cynster Sisters Duo (two books still attached to the Cynster series – this is the nineteenth book) focusing on the two youngest daughters of Arthur and Louise – Henrietta and Mary – sisters to twins Amanda and Amelia (On a Wild Night and On a Wicked Dawn) and Simon (The Perfect Lover). Of all these books, Simon’s story in The Perfect Lover is probably the most crucial to read prior to this one, as the hero to Henrietta Cynster is none other than James Glossup, the younger son of the house and murder suspect in the country house party mystery that provides the setting for Simon and Portia to fall in love with one another. (Anyone needing a series overview should take a look at my post on the entire Cynster series for a refresher.)

Henrietta is in her late twenties having never quite found her hero and to be honest, she’s not looking that hard, a fact immensely frustrating to her younger sister Mary. Mary’s rising blood pressure relates to the belief that she thinks she has possibly found her hero but can’t verify the fact until the amethyst necklace blessed by the Lady and given to the girls by Catriona Cynster (wife to Scandal Cynster and a Scottish pagan whose story is told in Scandal’s Bride). This necklace has been used to good effect by their cousins in the Cynster Sister’s Trilogy and Mary knows that Henrietta must use it first since she’s older. The necklace heats up in the presence of the man destined to be the fated mate of the Cynster woman, thus directing her efforts. At Mary’s insistence, Henrietta dons the necklace and the games begin.

Fashion plate of riding attire from 1837 (the year And Then She Fell is set) from La Mode

Known as the “Matchbreaker”, Henrietta has garnered quite a reputation for using her vast network of contacts within the ton to research a young man upon request of a young lady considering his suit, often discovering sordid habits, shifting finances or simply conformation of it not being a love match. That final point seems to be a common request as it has become more fashionable for well-born young women to want to marry for love. When a good friend of hers asks Henrietta to check on James Glossup, a suitor who has been making his preference for her known, Henrietta is forced to come back with the information that James has some kind of financial imperative to marry and doesn’t seem to be factoring love into the equation. A bit wistful, the friend and her parents are nevertheless grateful for averting a mismatch and James is nicely sent packing.

Naturally, he’s livid at getting his conge and angrily approaches Henrietta in a crowded ballroom. What Henrietta didn’t know was that James has unexpectedly received an inheritance from a great-aunt who wanted to ensure that the bachelor would knuckle down and get married, so he must marry within the month in order to release the funds which would allow him to support the estate and everyone on it. His noblesse oblige has him frantic to follow the stipulations of the will so as not to put hundreds of people out of work and Henrietta’s interference has botched everything. He doesn’t seem to hear too well Henrietta’s empathetic explanation that, since her friend wanted to marry for love and James clearly didn’t love her, it wouldn’t have worked anyway, but in the end, the soft-hearted Henrietta makes James a compelling offer. She will use her contacts to help him find a bride within the allotted time period.

Spending time with Henrietta pointing out the eligible young woman who fit his criteria and who she knows of are good character and temperament allows James to decide fairly quickly that his perfect match is actually standing right next to him. The emotion for this decision is ratcheted up by a series of what seem like accidents befalling Henrietta, accidents which are quickly revealed to be a pattern of attacks by an unknown foe. Every Cynster relation and Cynster friend come out of the woodwork to help (so reread the series and the Bastion Club books if you want to not be scratching your head remembering who’s who) constituting a type of Old Home Week for fans of Stephanie Laurens. Naturally the bad guy doesn’t have a chance, and James and Henrietta get their happily ever after, with Mary the happy recipient of the necklace and the next book in the series.

The Taming of Ryder Cavanaugh (Cynster Sisters Duo #2, Cynster Series #20) by Stephanie Laurens (Avon, June 25, 2013)

And let me make clear how much I am looking forward to the next book, The Taming of Ryder Cavanaugh. And Then She Fell is solid Stephanie Laurens fare, but like many of her recent publications, she veers away from her strength, namely the utterly wicked rake ensnared completely and utterly by the spunky heroine. Laurens’ ability to write honorable rakes nevertheless well-schooled in the arts of debauchery seemed to lessen after The Perfect Lover, highlighting her weaknesses (plodding mystery plots and ridiculous prose for the sex scenes that could easily win a purple prose award).

In the Cynster Sisters Trilogy, I was so excited as Viscount Breckenridge, no slouch in the rake department (as realized in the book about his young widowed stepmother, The Ideal Bride) fit this hero mold, but the setting of the book being on the road as he runs down Heather Cynster’s kidnappers, failed to highlight his rakish tendencies in Viscount Breckenridge to the Rescue. Instead it took the utterly alpha male villain-turned-hero on his home turf in Scotland to give us a little taste of the old Stephanie Laurens in The Capture of the Earl of Glencrae.

Based on the teaser chapter, Ryder Cavanaugh fits the mold of our original Bar Cynster (the virile and deliciously naughty males comprising the first six books of the series). He’s fascinated by the headstrong Mary Cynster who seems to think that Ryder’s half-brother is her intended hero. Ryder is taken not just by Mary’s beauty but her spunk, a quality not well-appreciated by the ton and an attribute that actually renders her a complete mismatch for Ryder’s younger brother, who would let a strong woman ride roughshod over him. That he clearly sees her as a prize – she is the last unwed Cynster female of her generation and therefore the last opportunity for any family to make a connection to this powerful family – is apparent, but we know Laurens’ tried and true method of falling “in lust” first and love second will prevail. Since this rake’s “prowling grace” and naughty past was alluded to in the teaser, and since it hints at the majority of the book happening on his home turf in the ballrooms of the ton, I’m hoping that Laurens will play to her strengths and give us an alpha hero of yore.

Let me be clear – I think Stephanie Laurens is an immensely talented writer who has given the romance world one of the best Regency series ever, but I worry that over the course of now twenty years of her career, she has lacked editors or agents encouraging her to evolve as a writer. I recently listened to a few RWA conference sessions and was struck by the number of highly successful New York Times best-selling authors who mention that they continue to take classes and read professional books to evolve as writers, forcing themselves to read all the recent award winners in order to understand what the market wants.

When I read Laurens’ books, I am often struck by how outdated they can seem, particularly in the area of sex scenes which I felt were such a strength in her early works. I would encourage her to consider playing on her prodigious abilities (well-drawn characters, strong historical settings, and an unbelievable sense of family) while shoring up her weaknesses in order to make sure that she doesn’t get left behind with all the great historical romance writers emerging on the market. Don’t get left behind, Stephanie. We love you and these characters way too much to watch that happen.

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