Tag Archives: Cynster

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff, and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, Week of January 26, 2014

26 Jan

Upcoming Books and New Releases

Self-publishing got a huge boost when historical powerhouse Stephanie Laurens jumped on the bandwagon and her latest novella, The Peculiar Case of Lord Finsbury’s Diamonds, came out January 6th, so go pick it up when you have a chance. Fans of her exceptional Cynster series will enjoy seeing a very pregnant Penelope Adair and her wonderful, crime-solving noble of a husband Barnaby (as well as the ubiquitous Stokes of the police force) join forces to solve a baffling mystery. That a new couple in the making is also desperate to get to the bottom of the murder forms her trademark Regency romance. Keep in mind that this book is one of her ongoing The Casebook of Barnaby Adair series featuring Barnaby and Penelope as well as new couples and I for one am interested to see the reception and type of stories which will emerge in this framework.

In just a couple of days, sensual paranormal and romantic suspense writer Cynthia Eden will be kicking off her new series, Phoenix Fire, by releasing the first novel, Burn For Me, on January 28th. Seeming to focus on paranormal creatures held against their will and the potential mates they encounter, this is a premise we’ve seen before but never with this level of sexual tension or Eden’s great writing. I was fanning myself just from the excerpts from Burn For Me and the second series book due in April, Once Bitten, Twice Burned.

Also on the 28th is the massive release of Jeaniene Frost‘s seventh book in the incomparable Night Huntress seriesUp from the Grave will be her last Cat and Bones novel and she has never written anything that didn’t blow my socks off so this one has been pre-ordered since last July. Frost admits that the couple might pop up in other books in the Night Huntress world (remember we still have another book in the Night Prince series and I’ve got my fingers crossed that Ian has evolved enough to be the hero in his own novel soon). With those possible novels on the horizon (and having the utmost confidence in the creative imagination residing in Frost’s mind), I’m happy to thank her for finally offering Cat and Bones a happily ever after since they’ve been through a lot in their time together! January 28th will be a little bittersweet, but with Frost at the helm, I’m sure to enjoy every page.

Good news for military romance lovers! The next Tawny Weber Uniformly Hot! Harlequin Blaze novel featuring her sexy SEALs will be out on March 18th. Entitled A SEAL’s Kiss, this delicious story involves a SEAL on leave who agrees to be a pretend fiancee to help a woman alleviate the worry of her ailing father. You can imagine that the “no sex” rule of the arrangement becomes increasingly harder to keep as our hero and heroine become attracted to one another! Pre-order it now from Amazon so the day after St. Patrick’s Day will be a little brighter for you.

Also due out on March 18th is Jennifer Ashley‘s latest addition to her unbelievably good paranormal series, Shifters Unbound. Feral Heat is the latest novella which focuses on Jace, the son of the leader and third in command from the Las Vegas Shiftertown who visits the Austin Shiftertown (bring on the sexy Morrisseys, thank you) to discover how to remove the crippling collars which render the shifters at the mercy of humans. When a shattered, beautiful woman, Deni, volunteers to be the test subject, Jace is moved by her circumstances and drawn to mate claim her, but it’s uncertain whether her fragile state can survive the collar removal so she can be a full mate to Jace. We met Deni, the wolf shifter in the novella featuring her brother, Lone Wolf, and this woman’s road has been a heartbreaking one. I cannot wait to see her (and Jace, who is a blisteringly hot feline if ever I saw one) get a HEA.

Erotic author Paige Tyler has succeeded in practically every subgenre of romance fiction – erotic, science fiction, romantic suspense, and paranormal – so I was thrilled to see that Sourcebooks Casablanca picked it  up and will be publishing her upcoming series, entitled X-Ops. The first book entitled Her Perfect Mate not only has a killer cover but a terrific premise. A human Special Forces hero is partnered with a diminutive, seemingly gentle covert ops partner, only to discover she can switch on her feline DNA to deadly effect when necessary – and he loves it. I’ve pre-ordered this one!

Historical romance readers always seem to like the novels of Erin Knightley, so they’ll be thrilled to see that the first book in her new series, Prelude to a Kiss, is due to be published on June 3rd. The Baron Next Door has a cranky war hero recovering from his injuries using the restorative waters at Bath consistently annoyed by the music coming from next door. Discovering the beautiful young musician creating it instills a very different feeling and it’s not long before his feelings undergo a radical change.

Contests and Giveaways

Suspense fans love Cristen Harber’s Titan series, so they will definitely want to enter the Goodreads contest to win book 4 of the series, Savage Secrets, about the firm’s new second-in-command who is on an undercover mission to nab a terrorist. Sounds like an average day at the office for this crew, but unfortunately for him he’s got some strange brain hallucinations he’s neglected to discuss with anyone and is posing as the newlywed husband to a gorgeous woman bent on revenge. Things suddenly just got a lot more complicated…

For those readers who can’t get enough MMA fighters (yes, I am one with you, sisters!) should be aware that Gina Maxwell just released her third book in her Fighting for Love series, Fighting for Irish, and it looks WONDERFUL (a hard-working waitress has to come up with thousands of dollars to cover an ex’s debt and the fighter she’s always loved from a distance steps up to offer himself as collateral *sigh*). Because it was only released on January 13th, we are still enjoying the blog tour and Entangled’s giveaway. Enter before February 6th and you’ll have a chance to win a $50 gift card to B&N or Amazon (reader’s choice). Did I mention the book is also ONLY $.99 RIGHT NOW?! Run and fight for your copy before it goes back to full retail.

Those angels over at Paranormal Romance blog have put together a book giveaway of some terrific authors (Gena Showalter, Michelle Hauf, and Maggie Shayne, for example) for readers who leave a comment on the post detailing their favorite paranormal romance author. I chickened out and revealed my tie between Jeaniene Frost, Nalini Singh and Ilona Andrews (seriously, talk about a Sophie’s Choice to choose a favorite!), but get your vote in before the January 30th deadline to see if you can win.

Fun Stuff

Who knew the Consumer Electronics show could be this exciting? The personal pleasure business OhMiBod revealed that they are offering a fabulous remote controlled vibrator, The Club Vibe 2.OH (*chuckle*). This beautifully crafted electronic device is a rechargeable vibrator which comes with a remote. While obviously a person or their lover can use the remote to activate the vibrator in a more traditional way to excite the wearer, this particular vibrator has a “club mode” which has the microphone of the remote initiate vibrations to the rhythm and intensity of the ambient music (or voice, etc.). This latest edition is a nice complement to the other company products like their Freestyle W:Wireless Music Vibrator which connects to your smartphone or MP3 player and syncs the vibrations of a rabbit style vibrator to the music you are listening to. Gives a new meaning to “beats per minute,” doesn’t it?

The Australian Romance Readers Association was kind enough to put one of their banquet’s most popular speakers, the wonderful Julia Quinn, online (in three parts) giving fans about 45 minutes of pure Julia, who has a wonderful back and forth with the moderator and fans and answers questions about her various series and characters, and her outlook on romance writing. You’ll find even more to love about her!

I know I’m not alone in freezing like a popsicle these last couple of weeks (I celebrated yesterday because it was a whole 6 degrees in my car when I got in it – and I was just ecstatic it wasn’t a negative number anymore!). What do you need to keep warm and make a fashion statement? A literary themed scarf, naturally! Those wonderful people at Book Riot have assembled a terrific list of book-related scarves, several of which look both warm and trendy, so go take a look.

A terrific article in The Atlantic details some recent research showing that regular sex actually improves brain function and long-term memory (while viewing pornographic images has the opposite effect) even making a connection that older adults with early onset Alzheimer’s disease are more likely to not have had sex recently. All the more reason to make that meaningful connection and improve your brain health!!

Great Deals

Donna Kauffman is not only a terrific author who moves the heartstrings but she also makes you hungry as delicious food (usually dessert) features prominently in her writing (thank god). Lucky for all of her devoted fans, Sugar Rush, the first book in her Cupcake Club series, is on sale for the ebook edition, currently only $2.51 on Amazon. When a baker returns to her small town is astonished that her former boss, a British powerhouse she nicknamed Chef Hot Cakes decides to film his cooking show in her storefront, she’s baffled as to why. He knows why he’s there, and it’s not to steal recipes..just her heart.

The first book in Lynda Aicher‘s well-rated Wicked Play erotic series is only $.99 right now, so BDSM fans might want to head over and pick up Bonds of Trust while it’s still at a great price to see if they want to try the other novels in the series. This first one features a heroine who ended a bad marriage and is more than ready to try out all the fantasies she was denied with her ex. Heading to the nearest sex club is naturally the next step (how many of those are there around the country, anyway?). She finds a Dom intrigued by introducing her to the lifestyle but what starts as instruction quickly becomes something much more emotional, and neither party knows if they are ready for that level of commitment.

Readers who love shifters as much as I do will want to take a look at the bundle, Shifter Seduction Box Set, which has novels by Eve Langlais, Mandy Harbin, Tressie Lockwood, S. K. Yule, Crymsyn Hart, and LeTeisha Newton. This wonderful collection definitely falls on the erotic end of the spectrum with this line-up with many of the books focusing on menage relationships that truly are unleashing the animal within. Mrrrooowwww.

Readers of this blog know how much I love the military romance chops of writer Kaylea Cross, particularly her fabulous Titanium Security series. In honor of the latest book of the series, Rekindled having been released just last week, the first book in the series, Ignited, is currently on sale for only $.99. Fans of well-written, detailed and emotional military romance will not be disappointed by Cross, so I’d recommend you pick up this book ASAP!

Happy reading this week! 🙂

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, Week Ending September 29th

29 Sep

Upcoming and Recently Published Books

Just in time for ramping up the creepy factor for Halloween is the latest in Heather Graham’s long-running Krewe of Hunters paranormal series, The Night Is Forever. Featuring an FBI paranormal investigator team (with unusual backgrounds and abilities), this installment features a woman who fears that a Civil War ghost is somehow responsible for the recent death of founder of the animal therapy facility where she works. Calling on her cousin’s team not only brings help but the possibility of something much more with one of the men trying to help her, if they can both survive the threat in the dark.

Fans of Kristen Callihan’s Darkest London series (a group of novels which will appeal to fantasy, steampunk/gaslight, and historical fiction readers alike) will be elated to know that she’s publishing a short story in early November, Entwined, starring a noble roped into standing in for his good-looking brother when it comes to writing to his reluctant noble fiancee. Naturally the lovely but stubborn lady in question begins to fall for the letter-writer, but can a happily ever after magically find it’s way to them? At only $.99, this could very easily be in the “great deals” section, so pre-order your copy prior to the debut on November 5th.

Fans of Meljean Brook’s Iron Seas series who were reluctant to buy the Burning Up anthology which included her fantastic novella, Here There Be Monsters, will be happy to note that it’s now available as a standalone as of October 1st, and for the bargain price of $2.99! This is one of the sweetest stories in the series, starring a red-haired blacksmith on the run from a mad pirate who would do anything to possess her, including play a very patient game until she comes to him. Hot, sexy, and oh-so-emotional, this is exactly what fans of Brooks expect (and love) about her writing!

Stephanie Laurens, the doyenne of Regency romance, has finally brought her website into the 21st century, with not only a modern look, but also an interactive Cynster family tree (hover over the marriage line of a couple and ALL the children pop up!). This is all just in time for her debut medieval novel, Desire’s Prize, coming out on October 21st, under the penname, M.S. Laurens. Despite the looming release date, the book is only as of today available for pre-order on iBooks (which seems baffling) and the book isn’t even listed on her Goodreads account yet. While we all shake our head over Laurens’ continuing struggle with social media (it’s a good thing her reputation allows for her fans seeking her out), it was wonderful to hear that she will be putting out an unrelated Regency novella in a duo anthology with Alison DeLaine, The Trouble With Virtue (December 1, 2013) as well as gearing up for the 2014 release of the next Barnaby Adair novel, The Masterful Mr. Montague. Yes, THAT Montague, the ever-elusive but capable Cynster man of business. I cannot wait to read his story (particularly if a few of my favorite Cynsters can drop in).

Contests and Giveaways

Historical Romance author Christina Brooke gives us a jaded, dissipated rake back from the dead and a schoolteacher who wants to prove to society that she can have a respectable season despite her family in the fourth book in the Ministry of Marriage series, London’s Last True Scoundrel. This book was released at the end of June, but if you’re curious enter the Goodreads giveaway by October 1st to see if you can get a copy.

In one of the most fun giveaways I’ve seen in awhile, talented romance author Tawna Fenske is promoting her upcoming novella, The Great Panty Caper, by asking people to take a picture of the panty thief in their life (my cats have so got this covered) and post it to various social media with the hashtag #pantycaper. The winner will get a $50 gift card to Victoria’s Secret (you have to replace those panties, after all!), awarded October 7th, with the novella released the following day. While you’re waiting, do yourself a favor and read Fenske’s Eat Play Lust in the meantime.

The Book Pushers blog is cleaning their shelves again and have grouped fabulous books by category. Stop over and leave a comment about which set would be your preference if your comment gets picked as a winner!

Foreplay, the first book in the Ivy Chronicles by Sophie Jordan, has the great erotic trope of an inexperienced woman who wants someone close to hear but goes out to find a sexy guy to teach her the ropes in bed – a guy she ends up falling for. If I don’t win this Goodreads giveaway ending October 1st, this one is on my “to buy” pile, for sure.

Fun Stuff

It’s not a secret how much I adore Lori Foster’s writing, but do you know about all the great free stuff she has available on her website? You can download, rippled abs wallpaper *fans self*, puzzles and crosswords based on her books (now that’s a book quiz I can recommend), send her a SASE for free bookmarks and magnets, or even arrange to have her autograph your ebook!

Fans of Bella Andre (and Lord knows I am a fan of her Sullivan series in a big way) need to check out the recent article from Publisher’s Weekly in which Andre lists her picks for the top 10 best romance books – of all time! It was no surprise to me to see my taste gelling with her, particularly with such wonderful classics as Nora Roberts’ Ardmore series, and more recent offerings like Sarah Maclean’s Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake. The only thing I disagreed with was that none of her books were on this list!! Andre fans need to also make sure they’ve ordered her Sullivan Christmas novel, Kissing Under the Mistletoe, which just came out September 24th.

Pregnant women are sexy, seriously! One of my favorite new sites, Lovehoney (a British company), has a wonderful article detailing how pregnant women can enjoy flaunting their stuff with practical but pretty lingerie that flatters their expanding waistline. Forward it to the wonderful pregnant women in your life to let them know that the fun of lingerie does not have to be put aside for the next few months. (And remember that the second semester often has sex drives peaking for pregnant women!)

Great Deals

Tawny Weber’s fantastic Harlequin Blaze novel, A SEAL’s Seduction, is currently free on Amazon for the ebook version. Lovers of books with a military hero (particularly when the heroine is a brainy, red-haired scientist) will not be disappointed by this wonderful book!

Regency romance fans will want to take note that Julia Quinn’s Just Like Heaven (the first book in the Smythe-Smith Quartet) is on sale in ebook form for only $1.99. Leave it to this author to make a bad violinist with her eye set on an unattainable bachelor not realize that love comes in the form of her good-looking, twisted-ankle-prone guardian.

If you feel like some light comedy with a paranormal twist, Jana DeLeon’s Trouble in Mudbug – a tale of a Southern woman who thinks her life has just gotten better with her difficult mother-in-law’s death only to find she’s now haunting her – might be just what you need. Yes, there’s a romance element (as well as mystery) and lots of twists and turns, with plenty of laughs to boot. And it’s free in ebook form on Amazon!

Romantic Suspense readers are more then familiar with the name Maggie Shayne and her reputation for excellent, emotional books that have your heart pounding. Her 2001 release, Gingerbread Man, is now available for free on Amazon, and it’s worth a look if you haven’t get sampled Shayne’s writing. The story of a world-weary detective just off a brutal child murder and a woman who still battles her memories of her baby sister’s kidnapping will have you getting in quite the creepy October mood.

That’s the round up for this week, everyone. Happy Reading!! 🙂

Stephanie Laurens Gets Closer to the Cynster Ideal and Foreshadows the Family’s Future in The Taming of Ryder Cavanaugh

5 Jul

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

It’s no secret that I believe Stephanie Laurens’ Cynster series to be one of, if not the best, Regency series on the market, but I’ve also been vocal in my criticism that this talented author does not play to her strengths in recent years. Her latest novel, The Taming of Ryder Cavanaugh, falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, demonstrating old school strengths of Laurens’ writing, while also still (unfortunately) highlighting some of the weaknesses we’ve seen in the last five novels of the series.

Whereas the first seven or eight books in the Cynster saga possessed strong male leads (rakes, every last one of them) meeting women who they MUST possess and marry, later books in the series, including the Cynster Sisters Trilogy and Cynster Sisters Duo, rely heavily on conflict provided by “mysteries” so obvious my cat could pick out the villain in the first 30 pages. Combined with Laurens’ purple prose tendencies in the bedroom (a propensity you would expect to fade with time as the romance readership has become much more comfortable with specific language and fewer euphemisms), you would expect even devoted readers to throw up their hands and just walk away from her.

But we don’t and it’s largely due – at least on my part – to the fact that her period construction is so tight and realistic that I will never worry about incorrect language spoken by characters living in this time period, or that social constructs will be flaunted without reference to the mores that are there to guide the characters, even if they choose to reject them. I am SO tired with historical romances with dialogue (“We need to talk this over” from a medieval warrior) or actions (Regency heroines having sex with no thought or worry about getting pregnant or the loss of their reputation) but Laurens never fails to make her characters attractive to modern readers yet always living fully within her world.

Devil’s Bride (Cynster series #1 – Devil and Honoria’s story) by Stephanie Laurens (Avon, 1998)

This particular book forms a full circle for the Cynster series, as virtually every character mentioned in the first book of the series has found their match. The heroine of this novel is none other than Mary Cynster, the baby sister who toddled through the wet grass saying a secret goodbye to her dead brother Tolly in Devil’s Bride, the first book that launched the series back in 1998. Now she’s a bossy young woman with a heart of gold who finally has possession of the necklace given to her cousins and sisters by Catriona (Scandal’s witchy Scottish wife) in honor of her “Lady”, a pagan goddess figure. The necklace is supposed to tell Mary who is her “hero” by heating up in his presence. But decisive Mary knows exactly who she should marry and she’d be moving things right along that is, if his pesky older brother, Ryder Cavanaugh, Marquess of Raventhorne, would stop interfering.

But Ryder has no intention of doing so. His half-brother is only in his mid-twenties and much too soft a man for the force of nature that is Mary Cynster. That she’s a stunning beauty and the last of the marriageable Cynsters of her generation makes her an incredible prize for any man wishing to ally himself with her powerful family. But Ryder wants her for another reason – he senses her fire and passion would bring much to a marriage but her sense of family, an inheritance any Cynster brings to a union, is exactly what he wishes to create in his damaged group of siblings. The Marquess of Raventhorne wants any children of his to grow up surrounded by unquestionable love and loyalty – in short, he wants what the Cynsters have.

Mary is no fool. Ryder is sensual, handsome and powerful so she appreciates what Ryder is offering even if she does acknowledge he will not be a man she can control. That he is willing to entertain a partnership has her agreeing to consider him as a suitor, but almost before she can put her mind to that puzzle, an incredible attack and her reputation being comprised forces them into marriage. As strong emotions take root between them, threats to both Ryder and Mary mean they might never have the chance to establish the family they both crave.

It’s not going to be as easy for Laurens to get her heroines undressed when she hits the Victorian period. Yikes!

I really thought that this would be the one to break the recent trend of Laurens’ books which have had great characters but highly manufactured and shallow “danger” propelling the plot forward. The first third of the book had me gripping my iPad in happiness – FINALLY here was a hero to fulfill the Cynster tradition of a rake who sets his eyes on a heroine and will not be swayed from winning her. But before he can hie her off to a conservatory for proper ravishment, some jackass “mystery” plot has to butt its fat head in and derail all that energy and sexual tension. Yes, their relationship is fantastic and continues to progress, but not with the same level of energy.

There is still a great deal to love in this book. Mary’s scene right before her wedding of bursting into Ryder’s bedroom (she has no plans on being the only Cynster female to go to her marriage bed a virgin!) is priceless and filled with the sexy humor Laurens does so well. Any fan of the series will love not only the look at all the past couples but the close up view of the all the children of those matches we’ve loved, with definite hints as to their characters. Seeing Devil and Honoria’s two teenage sons and their high-spirited daughter Louisa, as well as their cousins who followed right behind them in age, means that the next books need only be 10 to 15 years in the future to have these young men and women finding love.

I do worry about all those children and the future of the series. Will Laurens, who has said she intends to write their stories, master the Victorian age with the skill she has the Regency period? How can the Cynster passion hold against the much stricter and rigid Victorian mores (we might have to have virgins in their marriage bed)? With the invincibility of the first generation of Cynster men, the horror that was the Crimean War looms large and could create any amount of damage of this generation. Laurens has also been very, very careful to have each match be highly appropriate in terms of class – Lucifer and Phyllida’s match probably pushes the envelope the most since she’s minor landed gentry and he’s first cousin to a Duke. The Victorian age in England had so many aristrocrats marrying daughters with large fortunes and previously unacceptable backgrounds. Will this be impetus for Americans to break into the Cynster family? I think they’d be right at home.

Where the Heart Leads (The Casebook of Barnaby Adair #1 – Barnaby and Penelope’s story) by Stephanie Laurens (Avon, 2008)

Laurens has made clear that she plans on the next books not immediately jumping into the Cynsters of the future, but rather revisiting her character of Barnaby Adair by adding books to The Casebook of Barnaby Adair series. Right now the only book is the one which fully fleshed out his character (although he appears in other Cynster books as someone who helps solve the mystery), Where the Heart Leads. Here amid a backdrop of stolen orphans and Mayfair burglaries, Barnaby finds his perfect match in the unconventional Penelope Ashford, a Cynster connection several times over as her brother and her sister have both married into the family. The two of them with their inquisitive minds, stellar intelligence and aristocratic (as well as common man) connections team to unravel a mystery and save the day and they are a terrific couple.

Whether the new Adair books will bring in new characters or simply be mysteries featuring Barnaby and Penelope, I don’t know. The only thin hope I’m clinging to has to do with the fact that Laurens’ mysteries were in fact much better during these writing years for her, so my fingers are crossed that she recaptures that ability while showing us glimpses of the Cynsters at play. Stephanie Laurens has always shown her comfort level with jumping back and forth in years, so it’s highly possible these books could predate Mary and Ryder’s love story. Either way, even with her shortcomings, I’ve got enough Cynster fangirl in me to see this family through whatever Laurens throws their way. Bring it on, Stephanie!

Writing Good Sex: Thinking About Steamy Sex Scenes from the Standpoint of a Reader and a Writer

1 Jun

Be a Sex-Writing Strumpet by Stacia Kane (CreateSpace, January 13, 2011)

A writer who can pen hot, steamy, and emotional sex scenes – interactions that are a lot more than tab A going into slot B – always win my loyalty.

I know there are people who love sweet romance and don’t need to to see what happens in the bedroom, but for me, those bedroom scenes often say more about a relationship than the dialogue or character descriptions. Sex also strips people down (no pun intended) to their essential self with the result being that it’s often obvious that a couple is in love with one another before they get around to actually revealing that fact in words. As Stacia Kane puts it “… the fact is, the deepest truths of our characters can be found when they are naked, when they are at their most vulnerable both physically and emotionally, when they let their guards down and just interact.” (Kane, p. 125)

A sex scene – a good one – is the epitome of showing and not telling. “I’m so hot for you” is not as strong as “His hand trembled as he touched his thumb to the thudding pulse in her neck, a beat he had to taste under his tongue while he reminded himself, go slow, don’t rush this…” Just like any other writing skill, some writers are better at this than others and no matter how much of a natural you are, understanding the elements of a good sex scene that take it from “okay, they are having sex” to “my book just burst into flames and not from an ereader malfunction” is vital to success.

Why We Need Great Sex Scenes

Stacia Kane’s fantastic primer for writers is infinitely valuable to readers as well. We know that we love a certain author or a certain scene but can’t always put our finger on why. In her book, Be a Sex Writing Strumpet, Kane took a series of blog posts and organized them into densely packed book focused on understanding why sex scenes can be so vital to plot and character development, how to write them well, and exercises to help each writer understand his or her sex writing voice and comfort level. It’s pure gold for $2.99.

But your crotchety uncle and that nun who taught you in the second grade definitely don’t feel sex should be in books, which begs the question, do we really need sex scenes? Hell, yes! I think I’m going to let Stacia Kane answer:

If you can find another way to illuminate the most private acts of your characters, to demonstrate their connection, their trust, the depth of their feelings…, their desire for each other, the moment their relationship deepens and changes beyond anything they’ve been through before, while also strengthening the story, increasing tension, and adding complications, and also—let’s be honest here—giving the reader what they’ve been waiting for, and you can do all of that in one scene, then no, you don’t need the sex scene. (Kane, p. 6)

firework-79374_640That’s a lot of points in favor of the sex scene. Note she didn’t say titillation? One of the major criticisms of romance novels (and clearly plenty of books outside the genre have sex scenes but they are expected in romance) has always been the “pornographic” nature of the sex. This criticism has always seemed like total bull to me; I’ve never seen a crime or horror writer criticized for too gory a murder. Instead the critic just grimly mentions the level of violence to the reader, as if it’s a point in their favor about their writing style and that they don’t shy away from reality. But romance writers – and let’s face it, it’s because they are usually women writing for mainly other women – get the “mommy porn” thing because god forbid we should show anyone what two people engaged in a mutually satisfying, sexually healthy relationship looks like. Those soccer moms might get ideas or *gasp* expectations.

Some key points Kane touches upon for writers (and which are visible to readers) are vital for emotionally tying us to the characters. Her warning to make everyone wait (for example, the suggestion to write an amazing kissing scene that’s clearly headed you-know-where and interrupt it) builds anticipation. For writers blocked about writing sex scenes, she has the brilliant idea of writing a dialogue between your characters where they talk about their feelings – and then you turn it into a sex scene where they are showing all those emotions through their actions.

Because that’s the point, isn’t it? That our characters show their true selves via their actions (and okay, sometimes their words, when they are actually coherent having sex) and that everything – from first glance to foreplay to actual sex to the aftermath – is built around revealing their soul and their emotion for one another. Let’s take a look at my top love scenes that fit this bill.

Memorable Sex Scenes: The Mrrrrooowwww Worth Reading and Re-reading

If you’re a romance reader, there are memorable sex scenes that are so hot you can’t help but think of them as I’m writing about this topic. Naturally, the writers showcased are women who also happen to be incredibly talented at strong characterization and airtight plotting, but since I’ve seen those qualities in other writers who are terrible at writing sex scenes, I consider these ladies to be the total package. Here are my favorites and why, in no particular order.

Author: Jeaniene Frost
Book: This Side of the Grave (Night Huntress series #5)
Genre: Paranormal/Urban Fantasy
Couple: Cat & Bones
Why: I adore this series (Jeaniene Frost seems incapable of writing anything that’s not absolutely stellar) and I’m sure people familiar with it are surprised that I didn’t list the famous/infamous chapter from the second book in the series, One Foot in the Grave. I absolutely agree that half-vampire Cat Crawfield and her vampire lover/husband/former professional whore Bones is an unbearably hot combination, but that truly astonishing sex scene is brought about the presence of Bones’ former lover Annette and his need to prove to her that she’s truly the love of his heart after she lays down a challenge to him to make her blush the next morning (and she does).

But the sex scene in This Side of the Grave is one between two people who have weathered ups and downs in their relationship and are secure as a result, and it gets listed here because of one very specific reason. It’s not just the unbelieveably inventive combination of candle wax and fangs, but the fact that Cat consciously lets down her final barrier in her relationship with Bones – the fear of how devastated he would be if she lost him. That realization makes this sex scene one in which she demonstrates how she’s decided to hold nothing back by consciously constructing a night of total pleasure for him. It’s so hot and moving that I find myself alternately fanning my face and choking up whenever I reread it.

Author: Stephanie Laurens
Book: A Rogue’s Proposal (Cynster series #4)
Genre: Historical Romance
Couple: Demon & Flick
Why: I am the first to admit that Stephanie Laurens drives me insane with her tendency for purple prose. But the earlier Cynster books, while peppered with the occasional “flotsam” reference (ocean debris = not sexy, Stephanie!), possess fewer of these references with the sex scenes  stronger as a result, none more so than Flick’s deflowering scene. It happens on a dresser in an inn. Harry, aka Demon, is the most sensual beast of all the Cynsters and – as frustrating as his inability to express his love for her is – the one place he can show her how he feels is when they are intimate with each other. It’s not surprising she feels smug looking at his ass in the mirror as he makes love to her. Who wouldn’t?

Author: Lisa Kleypas
Book: Devil in Winter (Wallflowers series #3)
Genre: Historical Romance
Couple: Sebastian & Evie
Why: Another deflowering scene that’s a favorite and honestly one that probably didn’t stop the clock in terms of how long it took. Sexy Viscount Sebastian needs a fortune and heiress Evie is happy to give him hers in trade for letting her escape her abusive relatives but they both agree the marriage has to be legal. Not a problem for Sebastian who’s seemingly bedded all of London’s females over age 17. Exhausted from their trek to Gretna Green and quickie marriage, Evie awakes from a very sexy dream to Sebastian kissing his way all over her naked body. What makes this so unbelievably sexy? The fact that he talks to her – playful, sexy, Sebastian talk that is the essence of his charming, roguish self – until you’re a puddle listening to him bring her to ecstasy  That he has an orgasm so mind-blowing and long that he feels that he might have been the virgin? Icing on the cake.

Author: Jennifer Ashley
Book: The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie (Highland Pleasures #1)
Genre: Historical Romance
Couple: Ian & Beth
Why: If you have to ask, you haven’t read this book yet! Lord Ian Mackenzie is one of the more memorable and unique heroes I’ve ever read. Landing on the autism spectrum in the 19th century meant you were thought mad no matter how brilliant you are, and it’s not like the era was renowned for the tender care of people with psychological differences. When Lord Ian meets the young and beautiful widow Beth, brought up in poverty and the recent heir to a fortune, he immediately wants her while his honest candor and devastating sexuality proves more than she can resist. While I like all their sex scenes, the one that stands out is the one where Beth visits him at his brother’s art studio in Paris to apologize for being nosy (she really didn’t need to). Ian worried he would never see her again and talks her into baring herself to him. Feeling her freedom, she takes off her clothes and dances a little around the studio in happiness with a sheer scarf, which Ian uses to reel her in and proceeds to bring her to orgasm, while never removing a stitch of his clothing. That in itself is damn erotic, but it’s his utter focus on her pleasure, the sensual enjoyment he takes of every little detail of helping her reach ecstasy, that makes this scene one of my favorites.

Author: Laura Kaye
Book: Hearts in Darkness
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Couple: Makenna & Caden
Why: Laura Kaye can throw down the hot emotional sex scenes with veterans in the business and always land at the top of the pack. In this book, our two protagonists are trapped in an elevator together, in the dark, and they didn’t get a good look at each other when they got in. Getting to know one another when it’s hot and stuffy in an enclosed space doesn’t sound awesome, but it is when the two people in question have a lot to reveal and the dark makes for perfect cover. That they get hot and heavy in the elevator (and then take it to her apartment) has been done before, but not like this. The unbridled sensuality and emotion inherent in Makenna, in the pitch black, feeling the piercings and scars on Caden face and connecting them with what he’s revealed to her makes your heart beat faster.

Author: Shelly Laurenston
Book: The Mane Event (Pride #1)
Genre: Contemporary Paranormal Romance
Couple: Dez & Mace
Why: I adore Laurenston’s ability to bring her brand of earthy humor to this incredibly sexy paranormal series. Mace Llewellyn has left his elite military unit (one made up of shifters like himself) and has gone into the security business with his best friend. They’ve based themselves in New York, not just because Mace’s pride is located there, but because this lion has been head over heels in love with the husky-voiced, half-Irish, half-Puerto Rican (extremely busty) Desiree MacDermott since they began high school. He knows that she’s the one for him, and class issues and the pesky fact that he’s a shifter (and she has no idea about their existence) isn’t going to get in the way. This book makes the short list based on one particularly AMAZING scene – and let me tell you, there are plenty of sexy love scenes in this series! – where Dez handcuffs Mace to her bed and has her wicked way with him. The neighbors calling the police is a given since lions are extremely noisy while being tortured with sexual ecstasy. It’s off the hotness meter not just because of what Dez feels comfortable doing with herself in front of Mace but because he wants to prove himself to her so much that he lets her take control.

Author: Kele Moon
Book: Defying the Odds (Battered Hearts #1)
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Couple: Melody & Clay
Why: If you haven’t jumped on the Kele Moon bandwagon, I honestly don’t know what you are waiting for. This astonishingly good writer won my heart with her unlikely tale of a working class victim of domestic abuse slaving long hours as a diner waitress who finds love with a UFC fighter. I knew absolutely nothing about this kind of fighting but Kele Moon’s plotting and characterization moved her into my “must-buy the pre-order” category and she’s never let me down. Clay Powers is a disciplined athlete with a tough beginning but good friends and the way he sees through Melody Dylan’s stress and exhaustion to the beautiful woman underneath will have you sniffling. That Melody discovers she is a highly sensual being at Clay’s hands is wonderful, and the make-up sex which occurs when she travels to Las Vegas to cheer on Clay in his big bout will have you never looking at a picture window over Sin City the same way again. Yowza.

The Future of Sex Scenes in Romance

While many people are crediting the Fifty Shades phenomena or the decline of civilization, the fact remains that romance novels, unless of a specific genre (like inspirational or Amish) are becoming more explicit in their sensuality levels. What RT Book Reviews lists as a “Scorcher” now would very likely have been erotica over a decade ago and there are classic romances that were considered hair curling in their time that I flip the page back with a “that’s it?” comment, thinking I’ve missed something.

My hope is twofold. One, that the trend toward explicit sex between characters means that readers and writers are more comfortable with sex as a natural expression between people. Clearly we see more sex on television and in movies, but a lot of it is objectification, not a loving expression between individuals, so romance fits a vital need to remind us of what sex can be. Second, I believe that there are a lot of truly great authors (see my shortlist above) and publishers who want women to demand their due both as consumers of the romance genre (hell, we deserve hot sex scenes between those fictional people we’ve fallen for!) and as healthy sexual beings in the bedroom. In the end, writers who write hot, emotional sex scenes have not only demonstrated their facility as people who have mastered a craft, but as pioneers showing us all what really love can look like in its most elemental form. And I would like to say to all of them – Thank You.

What favorite sex scenes of yours fits the criteria here? I’d love to hear about them. Happy Reading! 🙂

References

Kane, Stacia (2010-07-19). Be A Sex-Writing Strumpet. Kindle Edition.

Building the Perfect Hero: A Study Using Devil in Winter by Lisa Kleypas

21 Nov

The perfect hero – Sebastian St. Vincent from Devil in Winter (Wallflowers #3) by Lisa Kleypas (Avon, February 2006)

I recently listened to one of my downloaded RWA Conference sessions, “Building the Perfect Hero” run by authors Jenna Kernan, Susan Meier, and Debra Mullins at the 2011 conference. I was wowed by their whirlwind tour of all the details necessary to build the ideal hero (I could barely keep up when typing notes and I am a fast typist!) and I couldn’t help but think, of all the romance books I’ve read who is a perfect hero?

Since I’ve read over a thousand romance books at this point, I sifted out only the five star books in my Goodreads account, keeping the four stars in mind. One five star book was hands down my favorite – Devil in Winter, book 3 of the Wallflowers series by Lisa Kleypas. A Victorian era historical romance, I’m not compelled to reread the series over and over (like I do with Kleypas’ Hathaway series – I have to read all five of that series two or three times a year) but it’s rare a two month period goes by without my treating myself to a hot bath and Devil in Winter. In my opinion, it’s the best romance novel. Period.

Kleypas’ Wallflower series centers on four young women – two American heiresses, one penniless British beauty and a stammering redhead with a good dowry – who have discovered they are not hot properties on England’s marriage mart. They form a close friendship, determined to help one another find a good marriage and hopefully happiness. In the book prior to Devil in Winter, the oldest American heiress has managed to marry the Earl of Westcliff, but not before being kidnapped by his former best friend, renowned rake Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent.

In the opening of Devil in Winter, Sebastian is in his comfortable London townhome nursing the bruises from the beating Westcliff gave him after kidnapping his fiancee. Sebastian needs to marry an heiress, and quickly, since his wastrel father has spent almost the entire family fortune and Sebastian is rather used to a certain level of comfort. When Evangeline Jenner, the quiet redhead wallflower, turns up on his doorstep, unaccompanied, he has no idea if she’s there to berate him for his miscalculation in snatching her friend Lillian away from her betrothed or if she’s there to proposition him.

The answer is the latter. Evangeline (Evie to her friends) has kept secret from the other wallflowers just how bad her situation is. Daughter of a well-born woman who died young and cockney gambler, she has lived her life with her mother’s family with only visits to her father, the famous Ivo Jenner, owner of a renowned gambling club. Jenner has provided Evie with a substantial dowry and would inherit his fortune upon her father’s death, but that’s not helping her prospects. While lovely, no one looks twice at her due to her shyness and stammer, both conditions which can be laid at the feet of her highly abusive relatives. After they announce she will have to marry her corpulent and cruel cousin so they can benefit from her fortune, Evie takes a gamble herself. If Lord St. Vincent was desperate enough to kidnap a woman who didn’t want him, wouldn’t he be willing to elope with one who did?

One of the possible mental images for Sebastian

Sebastian agrees, a little surprised that he, a notorious womanizer, has never noticed just how beautiful this awkward young woman is. He bundles her to Gretna Green and then returns her to Jenner’s so she can nurse her father, who is rapidly dying of consumption. The transformation he undergoes in the course of the novel as he falls in love with Evie is what makes him the ideal example for crafting the “perfect hero”.

Using the some of the structure of their workshop, I’m going to highlight why Sebastian is such a perfect hero, but let me first point out that when Kernan, Meier and Mullins use the term “perfect” they are talking about a man who can carry a romance novel on his broad, muscled shoulders (along with the heroine, naturally). He may be perfect for the heroine, but like a rough diamond, a certain amount of transformation is going to take place on his journey and that, after all, our desire to see just that is why we bought the book in the first place. Be warned, if you are unfamiliar with this classic romance, there are plenty of spoilers in this post!

Strong Description of Hero

The first part of crafting the perfect hero is giving the reader a strong description of him. While readers of the Wallflowers series have met Sebastian in the other novels, it’s important that we see him through Evie’s eyes. Sebastian is known for his physical beauty, his wit, and his womanizing, so we already have a sense of a clever but selfish man clearly willing to put his own needs before others.

She was amazed that she had managed to communicate so well with St. Vincent, who was more than a little intimidating, with his golden beauty and wintry ice-blue eyes, and a mouth made for kisses and lies. He looked like a fallen angel, replete with all the dangerous male beauty that Lucifer could devise. He was also selfish and unscrupulous, which had been proved by his attempt to kidnap his best friend’s fiancee. But it had occurred to Evie that such a man would be a fitting adversary for the Maybricks…

There was nothing kind, sensitive, or remotely boyish about him. He was a predator who undoubtedly liked to toy with his prey before killing it. Staring at the empty chair where he had sat, Evie thought of how St. Vincent had looked in the firelight. He was tall and lean, his body a perfect frame for elegantly simple clothes that provided a minimum of distraction from his tawny handsomeness. His hair, the antique gold of a medieval icon, was thick and slightly curly, with streaks of pale amber caught in the rich locks…His smile itself was enough to steal the breath from one’s body…the sensuous, cynical mouth, the flash of white teeth…Oh, St. Vincent was a dazzling man. And well he knew it.

What I liked so much about the points being made in the workshop was the idea that the description of the hero needs to be richer than just a police blotter sketch of what he looks like. Using the description to incorporate backstory, speculation, attraction, perceptions, unique detail and possible conflict are ways of maximizing a physical description into something much more powerful to the reader. Jenna Kernan’s accompanying handout from the session has some terrific examples of this rich description.

Cultural Heritage

A view of 1840s British society – life would have been largely characterized by being seen at the right events

In contemporary romance, we live in an age where so many heroes and heroines come from diverse cultural and religious traditions, aspects of their culture that clue us in to their character based on how they embrace or reject these pieces of themselves. For historical romance, usually our main characters are white and well-born, but it doesn’t mean that we don’t have to consider their cultural heritage.

For Devil in Winter, understanding Sebastian means understanding the early Victorian culture of the time period and how it would shape his view of himself as a dissipated nobleman and also affect his view of women. As the son of Duke (and a very old dukedom at that) he would have gone to the best schools and universities, yet be raised for a life of indolence since his father was controlling and uninterested in having his intelligent son help him.

Yet for all we understand that, however distasteful to the modern mind, this profound regular waste of money in a society marked by horrible poverty at its base was accepted by the majority of citizens as simply the natural order. Noblemen were seen as wastrels and the hardworking poor led shortened lives. But Kleypas doesn’t make poor financial ability one of Sebastian’s flaws, unlike many of his ilk. Instead we are given to understand that Sebastian, while enjoying comfort, is not totally of this world of the profligate, but at the same time he’s hardly blazing a progressive trail, either. After hearing of his father’s unbelievable waste, Evie expresses her horror.

“No wonder you’re poor,” Evie said, appalled by such waste. “I hope you’re not a spendthrift as well.”

He shook his head. ‘I have yet to be accused of unreasonable financial excess. I rarely gamble, and I don’t keep a mistress. Even so, I have my share of creditors nipping at my heels.”

“Have you ever considered going into a profession?”

He gave her a blank look. “What for?”

“To earn money.”

“Lord, no, child. Work would be an inconvenient distraction from my personal life.”

Women were also divided into categories usually women you could marry (suitable, dowered, relatively class equivalent) and women you had affairs with (often from the same class, frequently married or widowed).  With no loving female relatives, Sebastian’s view of women is highly skewed as his womanizing puts him largely in the company of the type of women he can sleep with, and virgins like our heroine are very, very different.

Understanding not only the current status of Sebastian’s history and character, but more importantly the type of heritage which has formed him (and to his credit, I can’t imagine the heir to any dukedom taking up a profession) gives the reader a foundation when we watch him change as a result of his falling for Evie.

Naming Your Hero

The actual St. Vincent coat of arms from the Earl of St. Vincent (no relation)

It was interesting to hear in the workshop how authors choose the names of their hero. Names are definitely meant to evoke a visceral response in the reader and taking into account historical uses and the sound of the name (soft consonants could mean a smooth operator, shorter names with hard consonants denote men of action) is crucial.

Sebastian is derived from a Greek word, sebastos, meaning “venerable” which is turn is derived from the Greek verb sebas meaning “awe or reverence”. More tellingly regarding this Sebastian is it is also related to the Greek verb sebomai which translates as “feel awe, scruple or be ashamed”. A big piece of Sebastian’s transformation in Devil in Winter stems from his realization of how innocent Evie is in stark contrast to the debauchery he’s participated in and for which he now feels ashamed. His past gets in the way of his future when he worries he’s literally not good enough for her and the idea that he could taint her, ruining the part of her he admires the most, if he sticks around.

I think the St. Vincent part of his name (since we don’t ever read of a different surname, I’m assuming St. Vincent is both his surname and his title) certainly conjures up two reactions. First, it poses a foil for the current state of Sebastian when the reader first gets to know him. While his appearance brings a fallen angel to mind for Evie, she knows that his looks (and name) actually are the opposite of his behavior to date. Second, St. Vincent as a name hints at Sebastian’s true nature. From the start, he begins taking care of Evie and recognizing the wonderful qualities in her. Like a true saint, Sebastian is almost martyred when he literally dives in front of a bullet for Evie. It’s a very appropriate label for him.

It sounds as if many writers use resources like The New American Dictionary of Baby Nameswhich, despite its title, actually covers names from all cultures, explaining their meaning, the centuries and decades the names were popular, and any important literary references to the name. If you are looking for online resources, the Baby Name Voyager lets you put in a first name and see its rise and decline in popularity, at least from the 1880s to the present.

Family Matters

Heroes (and heroines) always bring a lot of emotional baggage as a result of their family experience, whether it be good or bad. It shapes the person they are.

Everyone brings baggage to a relationship. Sometimes it’s a little overnight bag of quirks and at other times it’s several steamer trunks worth of crappy home life and a violent adulthood, but our family and background shapes us. Even when your hero’s family is not present, they are still in your novel, since their influence for good or ill impacts how your hero will behave and react to events and people.

On their hellish drive to Gretna Green, Evie and Sebastian talk a little about themselves and their backgrounds, both as a way to pass the time (like soldiers in foxholes bound together by discomfort) and to know each other better since they are marrying. When she asks him if he has any family, he tells her his mother died when he was an infant, leaving him with his four doting older sisters. But all that love drastically changed when he was a child and he lost three of his siblings to scarlet fever – as the male heir he was sent to safety. His eldest sister married but she died in labor as well, leaving him with no one but an emotionally distant, spendthrift father.

Evie was very still during the matter-of-fact recitation, forcing herself to remain relaxed against him. But inside she felt a stirring of pity for the little boy he had been. A mother and four doting sisters, all vanishing from his life. It would have been difficult for any adult to comprehend such loss, much less a child.

It’s Evie’s understanding of this pain in his background – she’s a keen observer and an astute reader of character throughout the books in which she appears – that allows her to push through the walls he desperately tries to erect toward the end of the book when he is overwhelmed with feeling for her. After almost losing her again, he decides to send her away, on the surface for her “safety” even though the threat is removed, but in reality because he can’t handle his emotions or even put a name on them.

…He broke off and stared at her incredulously. “Damn it, Evie, what is there for you to smile about?”

“Nothing,” she said, hastily tucking the sudden smile into the corners of her mouth. “It’s just…it sounds as if you are trying to say that you love me.”

The word seem to shock Sebastian. “No,” he said forcefully, his color rising. “I don’t. I can’t. That’s not what I’m talking about. I just need to find a way to -” He broke off and inhaled sharply as she came to him. “Evie, no.” A shiver ran through him as she reached up to the sides of his face, her fingers gentle on his skin. “It’s not what you think,” he said unsteadily. She heard the trace of fear in his voice. The fear that a small boy must have felt when every woman he loved disappeared from his life, swept away by a merciless fever. She didn’t know how to reassure him, or how to console his long-ago grief. Raising on her toes, she sought his mouth with her own. His hands came to her elbows, as if to push her away, but he couldn’t seem to make himself do it. His breath was rapid and hot as he turned his face away. Undeterred, she kissed his cheek, his jaw, his throat. A low curse escaped him. “Damn you,” he said desperately, “I’ve got to send you away.”

Of course, he doesn’t and in fact Evie reassures him that the unsettling new feelings surging through him are not only natural but that he will adjust to them in time. As with so many crisis moments in romance novels, fear motivates a character to make a drastic decision, in the hope that they’ll avoid pain. Half the time the character isn’t even fully thinking through the situation. In Sebastian’s case he thinks that by sending Evie away, he’ll both keep her safe and have time to get a handle on his feelings. I think he would have lasted a whole hour without her before ordering his carriage!

Moral of the story: always consider what the family of the hero has given him and, in most cases, how it relates to his internal conflict (which is a whole separate section below).

Flaws

I gather from the knowing murmurs of the crowd at the RWA workshop and from the statements of the authors themselves, editors will often ask for a character’s “fatal flaw”. It seems like writers don’t seem to prefer that term (and it does sound like a terminal disease diagnosis, so I can’t blame them) but understanding the flaws of a character, and more importantly comprehending how to use those flaws in the course of a story, is the mark of a good writer.

What is a flaw, then? A flaw is a trait unique to your character that can be perceived as negative. Habits, attitude, or even physical imperfections all constitute areas for possible flaws. These details help people relate to the character which makes the story compelling, and a compelling story keeps readers coming back. (And as an aside, the speaker mentioned that stories must possess four qualities: they must be interesting, compelling, credible and consistent. I agree. Usually when I get cranky at a book, one or more of these pieces are missing.)

According to our experts, flaws play a few key roles in a story. Let’s take Sebastian as an example, specifically the flaw that he seems to be by his very nature, selfish. This is even acknowledged by the other characters in the book, like when Evie’s friend Lillian comforts Evie that Sebastian will not die of his wounds. “‘He’s not going to die you know. It’s only nice, saintly people who suffer untimely deaths.’ She gave a quiet laugh. ‘Whereas selfish bastards like St. Vincent live to torment other people for decades.'” But Sebastian’s selfishness plays a key role, one that I don’t think could have been fulfilled by different kind of flaw.

  • The flaw needs to fit in the story. Considering the fact that this is a story of a selfish man transformed by love, it’s a great fit.
  • Make your character empathetic but not perfect. Selfishness is often a developmental stage and the argument can be made that his age, his financial circumstances, his lack of responsibility and the absence of anyone who loved him all gave Sebastian a rather extended adolescence. The sudden acquisition of a business and a lovely wife who depends on him to live up to her expectations are all bound to challenge his selfish flaw.
  • What purpose will the flaw serve? Sebastian’s selfishness forms a clever barometer of his level of transformation (see the transformation section below for more information on this key factor in a perfect hero). He relapses here and there, but for the most part is faced with one situation after another in which he must choose to put his own comfort and needs behind that of others, thus eroding his selfishness and beginning his transformation.

The key piece to remember about flaws is that a hero shouldn’t possess a flaw that doesn’t in some way contribute to the story. Like everything, valuable word space is not to be squandered and detailing a flaw is no exception.

Internal Conflict

The hero’s sudden realization that his core belief is actually incorrect is a lot like the coyote having an anvil fall on his head. It’s painful and often requires recovery time.

Meier, Kernan and Mullins make the point in their workshop that all internal conflict arises from what they term “an incorrect core belief” the character has regarding themselves. This was utterly fascinating to me, since I hadn’t really spent any serious brain time contemplating core beliefs as they relate to characters, but obviously it is a great way to go more in depth with characterization.

A core belief is a broad and general conclusion people form based on life experience. Basically everything people do is for the express purpose of avoiding pain and creating pleasure. In thinking about Sebastian’s previous history of womanizing, it’s obvious that, in taking into account his personal history of losing his mother and four sisters, his core belief regarding women is that 1) women are designed to give him attention and 2) women don’t stay. These key points would make it a logical behavioral choice to sleep with plenty of women who are admiring you for your beauty and the great sexual reputation you have and then leave them before they can leave you. Core beliefs rule behavior.

However, most people have an incorrect core belief and these are core beliefs where the conclusion is not based on fact but instead often relate to shame or lack of trust (in self, in others, in life in general, you name it). Certainly Sebastian’s internal conflict centers on his understanding of his nature, which he feels is that of a totally debauched nobleman unsuited for life with Evie. You could say his incorrect core belief is that he doesn’t feel he can be trusted with anything innocent because prolonged contact will sully that which he most admires. His belief is delivered in the novel under various guises and with his characteristic wit, as evidenced by his reaction when Evie stubbornly refuses to move to Sebastian’s nearby townhome and instead insists on staying in the gambling club to nurse her dying father around the clock.

“I was afraid you might say that,” he replied dryly. “It’s a mistake, you know. You have no idea of what you’ll be exposed to…the obscenities and lewd comments, the lecherous gazes, the groping and pinching…and that’s just at my house. Imagine what it would be like here.”

While in the midst of attempting to prove himself to Evie, Sebastian even ponders how his very past would corrupt her, preventing him from having any real relationship.

He was in a peculiar state, struggling to understand himself. He had always been so adept at handling women. Why then, had it become impossible to remain detached where Evie was concerned? He was separated from what he wanted most, not by real distance but by a past tainted with debauchery. To let himself have a relationship with her…no, it was impossible. His own iniquity would saturate her like dark ink spreading over pristine white parchment, until every inch of clean space was obliterated. She would become cynical, bitter…and as she came to know him, she would despise him.

The fact that this supposition is incorrect is even reinforced by other characters who see the truth. While awaiting her husband and Cam, Lillian tells Evie that Westcliff believes Sebastian to be in love with Evie, a fact which startles her and gives her hope. When she asks why the Earl thinks this, Lillian answers.

“…Westcliff sees an odd sort of logic in why you would finally be the one to win St. Vincent’s heart. He says a girl like you would appeal to…hmm, how did he put it?…I can’t remember the exact words, but it was something like…you would appeal to St. Vincent’s deepest, most secret fantasy.”

Evie felt her cheeks flushing while a skirmish of pain and hope took place in the tired confines of her chest. She tried to respond sardonically. “I should think his fantasy is to consort with as many women as possible.”

A grin crossed Lillian’s lips. “Dear, that is not St. Vincent’s fantasy, it’s his reality. And you’re probably the first sweet, decent girl he’s ever had anything to do with.”

Every editor wants to see characters grow, and having them correct an incorrect core belief is the easiest way to satisfy this need in a story. It doesn’t happen overnight, but instead it’s a gradual change with a satisfying ending. It begins with awareness “What if I’m wrong?”  The hero starts to watch for times when he’s wrong, begins experimenting with the veracity of his belief, and then finally undergoes the realization that he’s wrong. By using the idea of correcting the incorrect core belief, we can see how internal conflict leads right into breaking character or “the big transformation.”

Breaking Character or the Big Transformation

A phoenix rising from the ashes is a decent metaphor for a character’s transformation.

Our workshop authors tell us that “Donald Maass calls this the BIG TRANSFORMATION, not just character growth but the moment when the character is changed forever and will never be able to go back to who and what they were before. He calls this: ‘deep-down, soul-shaking, irreversible transformation for good and always.'” The easiest way to demonstrate this change is to show the hero putting someone else’s needs above his own. Despite the constant reminder, usually from Sebastian himself, that he is self-centered, evidence begins to pile up throughout the novel to the contrary.

The early flashes of kindness are the first clue that there is more to Sebastian than merely being a selfish womanizer and Evie sees this when she is taking stock of her fiancee’s character on the hellish ride to Gretna Green.

As the journey continued in a companionable vein, Evie was aware of a contradictory mixture of feelings toward her husband. Although he possessed a large measure of charm, she found little in him that was worthy of respect. It was obvious that he had a keen mind, but it was employed for no good purpose. Furthermore, the knowledge that he had kidnapped Lillian and betrayed his own best friend in the bargain, made it clear he was not to be trusted. However…he was capable of an occasional cavalier kindness that she appreciated.

After they arrive back in London as a married couple, they proceed straight to Jenner’s so Evie can see her father. Sebastian almost instantly begins to evince a strong interest in the gambling club he and Evie are about to inherit. For a man of his dubious personal background, a gambling club is all-too-familiar territory and he has a strong knowledge base. But having declared to Evie his abhorrence at anything resembling work, she’s surprised at his demeanor.

“I’m going to go over every inch of this place. I’m going to know all it’s secrets.”

Taken aback by the statement, Evie gave him a perplexed glance. She realized that subtle changes had taken place in him from the moment they had entered the club…she was at a loss to account for the strange reaction. His customary languid manner had been replaced by a new alertness, as if he were absorbing the restless energy of the club’s atmosphere.

The only thing that Sebastian is more interested in than the club is Evie, who is still refusing to sleep with him out of self-preservation. His obsession with Evie rapidly becomes apparent to others. Cam Rohan (future hero of the first novel in the Hathaway series, Mine Till Midnight) works in the club, having been friends with Evie since she was a child. Sebastian is jealous of their comfortable relationship and warns Cam to stay away from his wife, a wife he has said he has little interest in, despite evidence to the contrary. Cam observes:

There it was – a flash of warning in St. Vincent’s ice-blue eyes that revealed a depth of feeling he would not admit to. Cam had never seen anything like the mute longing that St. Vincent felt for his own wife. No one could fail to observe that whenever Evie entered the room, St. Vincent practically vibrated like a tuning fork.

His obsession with Evie reaches a crescendo when, after some passionate kissing, Sebastian asks her why she won’t sleep with him when it’s obvious she desires him. She lets him know that she has too much self-respect to become one of a stable of women who he sleeps with.

“All right,” Sebastian said huskily. “I agree to your terms. I’ll be…monogamous.” He seemed to have a bit of difficulty with the last word, as if he were trying to speak a foreign language.

“I don’t believe you.”

“Good God, Evie! Do you know how many women have tried to obtain such a promise from me? And now, the first time I’m willing to take a stab at fidelity, you throw it back in my face. I admit that I’ve had a prolific history with women -”

“Promiscuous,” Evie corrected.

He gave an impatient snort. “Promiscuous, debauched – whatever you want to call it. I’ve had a hell of a good time, and I’ll be damned if I say I’m sorry for it. I’ve never bedded an unwilling woman. Nor, to my knowledge, did I leave anyone unsatisfied.”

“I don’t blame you for your past…or, at least…I’m not trying to punish you for it.” Ignoring his skeptical snort, she continued, “But it doesn’t make you an especially good candidate for fidelity, does it?”

His tone was surly as he replied. “What do you want of me? An apology for being a man? A vow of celibacy until you’ve decided that I’m worthy of your favors?”

Struck by the question, Evie stared at him.

Women had always come far too easily to Sebastian. If she made him wait for her, would he lose interest? Or was it just possible that they might come to know each other, understand each other, in an entirely new way? She longed to find out if he could come to value her in ways beyond the physical. She wanted the chance to be something more than a mere bed partner to him.

“Sebastian…” she asked carefully, “have you ever made a sacrifice for a woman?”

He looked like sullen angel as he turned to face her, leaning his broad shoulders against the wall, one knee slightly bent. “What kind of sacrifice?”

That drew a wry glance from her. “Any kind at all.”

“No.”

“What is the longest period of time you’ve ever gone without…without…” She floundered for an acceptable phrase. “…making love?”

“I never call it that,” he said. “Love has nothing to do with it.”

“How long?” she persisted.

“A month, perhaps.”

She though for a moment. “Then…if you would forswear intercourse with all women for six months…I would sleep with you afterward.”

Six months?” Sebastian’s eyes widened, and he threw her a scornful glance. “Sweetheart, what give you the idea that you’re worth a half-year of celibacy?”

“I may not be,” Evie said. “You’re the only one who can answer that.”

It was obvious that Sebastian would have loved to have informed her that she wasn’t worth waiting for. However, as his gaze traveled over her from head to toe, Evie saw the unmistakeable glow of lust in his eyes. He wanted her badly.

“It’s impossible,” he snapped.

“Why?”

“Because I’m Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent. I can’t be celibate. Everyone knows that.”

He was so arrogant, and so indignant, that Evie suddenly had to gnaw on the insides of her lips to keep from laughing. She struggled to master her amusement, and finally managed to say calmly, “Surely it wouldn’t harm you to try.”

“Oh, yes it would!” His jaw hardened as he labored to explain. “You’re too inexperienced to understand, but…some men are possessed of a far greater sex drive than others. I happen to be one of them. I can’t go for long periods of time without -” He broke off impatiently when he saw her expression. “Damn it, Evie, it’s unhealthy for a man to not release his seed regularly.”

“Three months,” she said, “and that’s my final offer.”

“No!”

“Then go find another woman,” she said flatly.

“I want you. Only you. The devil knows why.”

But in the end he agrees. So astonishing is this promise that when Evie tries to convince her friend Annabelle (the heroine of the first Wallflowers novel) how Sebastian is changing by trying to be celibate, Annabelle almost has a heart attack and exclaims, “Good God. I don’t believe St. Vincent and the word ‘celibacy’ have ever been mentioned in the same sentence before.”

Evie’s idea works amazingly well, with both of them spending time together refurbishing and running the club. He continues to kiss her (and in some very provocative places) but they don’t have sex. After Sebastian takes a bullet for Evie while protecting her from a deranged assailant, he realizes that he in all likelihood won’t survive the infection that’s bound to set in. Lord Westcliff, his former best friend, had come to see that Evie was all right and to offer to take her home to live with him, but is able to see just from Sebastian’s demeanor that he has strong feelings for Evie. Returning to help combat the fever, Westcliff has the unique experience of Sebastian begging for protection for Evie, and apologizing to Westcliff for kidnapping Lillian. This uncharacteristic behavior prompts the following reflection from the Earl’s perspective.

To receive an apology from a man who had never expressed a single regret about anything, and then to hear him practically beg for his wife’s protection, led to an inescapable conclusion. St. Vincent had, against all odds, learned to care more for someone else than he did for himself.

In caring for Sebastian as he thankfully recovers from his infection, Evie begins to provoke both admiration and fear in Sebastian. He is moved by her tenderness and desires her presence all the time but finds himself overwhelmed by the intensity of his feelings for her.

He hadn’t comprehended her strength before now. Even when he had seen the loving care she had given her father, he hadn’t guessed what it would be like to rely on her, to need her. But nothing repelled her, nothing was too much to ask. She was his support, his shield…and at the same time she undermined him with a tender affection that he had begun to crave even as he shrank from it.

Even after Sebastian is up and about, a second attack on Evie causes him to feel that it’s too risky for him to love her. Luckily it’s transparent to her what is happening and she’s accumulated enough confidence at this point to speak her mind and gently demand what she needs from her scared husband.

“You’re not trying to protect me. You’re trying to protect yourself.” She hugged herself to him tightly. “But you can force yourself to take the risk of loving someone, can’t you?”

“No,” he whispered.

“Yes. You must.” Evie closed her eyes and pressed her face against his. “Because I love you, Sebastian…and I need you to love me back. And not in h-half measures.”

She heard his breath hiss through his teeth. His hands came to her shoulders, then snatched back. “You’ll have to let me set my own limits, or -”

Evie reached his mouth and kissed him slowly, deliberately until he succumbed with a groan, his arms clamping around her. He answered her kiss desperately, until every part of her had been set alight with tender fire. He took his mouth from hers, gasping savagely. “Half measure. My God. I love you so much that I’m drowning in it. I can’t defend against it. I don’t know who I am anymore. All I know is that if I give in to it entirely -” He tried to control the anarchy of his breath. “You mean too much to me,” he said raggedly.

In the end, the real resolution of Sebastian’s big transformation comes when he finally understands that Evie knows him and loves him for himself, understanding every sordid thing he’s done in the past, and she is still the same wonderful, innocent person he first fell in love with, unchanged by this intimate knowledge..

“Don’t be an idiot,” Sebastian interrupted roughly. “Your stammer would never bother me. And I love your freckles. I love -” His voice cracked. He clutched her tightly. “Hell,” he muttered. And then, after a moment, with bitter vehemence, “I wish I were anyone other than me.”

“Why?” she asked, her voice muffled.

“Why? My past is a cesspool, Evie.”

“That’s hardly news.”

“I can’t ever atone for the things I’ve done. Christ, I wish I had it to do over again! I would try to be a better man for you. I would -”

“You don’t have to be anything other than what you are.” Lifting her head, Evie stared at him through the radiant shimmer of her tears. “Isn’t that what you told me earlier? If you can love me without conditions, Sebastian, can’t I love you the same way? I know who you are. I think we know each other better than we know ourselves. Don’t you dare send me away, you c-coward. Who else would love my freckles? Who else would care that my feet were cold? Who else would ravish me in the billiards room?”

Slowly his resistance ebbed. She felt the change in his body, the relaxing of tension, his shoulders curving around her as if he could draw her into himself. Murmuring her name, he brought her hand to his face and nuzzled ardently into her palm, his lips brushing the warm circlet of her gold wedding band. “My love is upon you,” he whispered..and she knew then that she had won.

You can see from these excerpts how Kleypas manages to do it all. She shows the minimization of Sebastian’s flaw of selfishness, resolves his internal conflict by correcting his incorrect core belief that he would somehow corrupt Evie and alter her personality, while simultaneously completing the transformation he began in the first chapter. It’s a masterful piece of writing and characterization. Jenna Kernan also has a great handout on some of the key features of this big transformation (along with other terrific examples of transformation) that would be of great use to anyone working on their own perfect hero.

Since the tagline of Tori Macallister is “because in love we discover our best self” I’m naturally a huge fan of the big transformation. I firmly believe that strong, true, unselfish love for another person is the crucible that can strip away our worst qualities and transform us into a better person. Lisa Kleypas, by creating the immortal character of Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent, gives us literally a textbook example of creating a perfect hero. As a final note, I thought I’d leave you with a list of the other perfect (or damn close to it by these criteria) heroes I can read over and over again.

Perfect Heroes I Never, Ever Tire Of:

  1. Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent, from Devil in Winter (Wallflowers #3) by Lisa Kleypas
  2. Cam Rohan, from Mine Till Midnight (Hathaways #1) by Lisa Kleypas
  3. Leo Hathaway, from Married by Morning (Hathaways #4) by Lisa Kleypas
  4. Bones, from Night Huntress series by Jeaniene Frost
  5. Simon Cynster, from The Perfect Lover (Cynster #10) by Stephanie Laurens
  6. Alasdair “Lucifer” Cynster, from All About Love (Cynster #6) by Stephanie Laurens
  7. Sylvester “Devil” Cynster, from Devil’s Bride (Cynster #1) by Stephanie Laurens
  8. Cameron Mackenzie, from The Many Sins of Lord Cameron (Highland Pleasures #3) by Jennifer Ashley
  9. Ian Mackenzie, from The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie (Highland Pleasures #1) by Jennifer Ashley
  10. Lucas Hunter, from Slave to Sensation (Psy-Changeling #1) by Nalini Singh
  11. Nicholas St. John, from Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord (Love by the Numbers #2) by Sarah Maclean
  12. Douglas Kowalski, from Midnight Angel (Midnight #3) by Lisa Marie Rice
  13. Dimitri Belikov, from Vampire Academy series by Richelle Mead

Enjoy your perfect hero, whoever he is, whether reading about him or creating him from the ground up. Just like the heroine who believes in him, he’s worth all the hard work to see him become a better, wiser person in love.

Best Regency Romance Series EVER – The Cynster Series by Stephanie Laurens

21 Jul

Australian writer Stephanie Laurens

Some of the first books for “grownups” I read were romance novels.  My mother had a select group she enjoyed, collected during the 70s and 80s, kept on a special bookcase that hung over the back of her bedroom door. (I can still remember my very first, which I later hunted down in a used bookstore, Bride of the MacHugh, instilling a love of all things Scottish). Working hard at the beck and call of lawyers and executives as a secretary, her escape took the form of the costume dramas of Masterpiece Theatre and historical romance novels.

Devil’s Bride (#1 Cynster Series – Devil and Honoria’s story)(Avon, March 1998)

I loved these books once initiated – the dresses, the rakes and rogues, the political machinations keeping the lovers apart only to see them overcome all obstacles. Later I realized the ridiculous devices demanded by the industry – the women were more like girls because they were so young and naturally they were all virgins. The language describing the sex was, in retrospect, hilarious with “throbbing manhoods” and other euphemisms that more confused than enlightened – but like any good genre fiction, the basic formula was a good one.

Because all genre fiction is formulaic. Mysteries often have an interesting and complex protagonist, set in a time period or with a specialty, who has helpful sidekicks who assist him/her in ferreting out the “who dun it” effectively.  Historical romance, pardon me, good historical romance owes a lot of its appeal to its crossover tendencies. It’s hopefully well-researched historical fiction, so its references and social history are accurate. Usually there is a mystery or political intrigue to satisfy those tendencies, and there is, without question, two protagonists who we care enough about to want to root them to live happily ever after.

A Rake’s Vow (#2 Cynster Series – Vane and Patience’s story)(Avon, October 1998)

So why are people so stuck up about romance novels? I know men who read literally any Tom Clancy-esque political thriller (slap a hammer and sickle on it, a handsome but capable ex-Marine, and a love interest who admires herself naked in a mirror in the first 100 pages and they are on it) but have nothing but derision toward women who read romance.  Is it the ridiculous covers? The torrid prose on the back of the book jacket? Folks, those are all the publisher’s doing (and rapidly becoming less common, thank heavens) and no more indicator of what’s inside that book than the paper wrapper on your Big Mac means the sandwich inside is from a tree.

In my opinion, the best modern author who epitomizes the skillful historical romance series is Australian writer Stephanie Laurens, author of over 45 books, many of which have taken a turn on the New York Times Bestseller list.  Her best-loved series is the Cynster novels, a grouping of 19 books based on one family, the proud and tightly knit noble Cynsters led by the head of the family, the Duke of St. Ives, known as Devil to his family and friends.

Scandal’s Bride (#3 Cynster series – Scandal and Catriona’s story) (Avon, March 1999) – set in Scotland

Laurens makes no bones about the fact that her attraction to the Regency era comes from the fact that it was a time of social flux, with enough leeway for the behavior of men and women that interesting situations could occur which would not be possible in the later Victorian era.  Men of privilege were bold and demanding masters of their universe and women had not yet been beaten into submission by later Victorian mores that they couldn’t occasionally stand up for themselves, questioning the inevitability of marriage.  Laurens describes her style as,  “It’s very much in the vein of Errol Flynn meets Jane Austen—lots of dashing derring-do grounded by a healthy dose of feminine common sense.” Men and women in this society, especially well-born individuals, were expected to do their duty and get married to someone appropriate, whether or not the people in question actually wanted the union.

A Rogue’s Proposal (#4 Cynster series – Demon and Flick’s story) (Avon, October 1999) – my second favorite of all the books!

It’s this inevitability that her characters fight, both male and female. Laurens is a godsend in that she believes in older characters (the ladies are usually in their mid to late twenties) and isn’t unwilling to have the occasional female protagonist who isn’t a virgin. The women are strong and stubborn in their way, seeing no reason to be coaxed into a loveless marriage of convenience. Her men, as she states in informational interviews in some of the supplemental material for her books, fall “in lust” at first with the woman in question, their possessive instincts to help and protect stirred. The female protagonist, while attracted to the man, has no wish to surrender her independence, making her that much more of a challenge and prize to be won. In the course of trying to win her body, the male gets to know her and she him, with the result being they fall in love.

A Secret Love (#5 Cynster series – Gabriel and Alathea’s story)(Avon, July 2000)

Devil Cynster, Duke of St. Ives, has one brother and four cousins (each with equally as disconcerting nicknames) similar in age and temperament. All six of them served together in France fighting Napoleon where they earned the moniker of “invincible” since they each returned from the bloody battle of Waterloo without a scratch.  Close friends and with similar rakish tendencies towards the ladies, they are known by the ton as the “Bar Cynster.”

The Cynster family motto is “To Have and To Hold” (love that!) and it is interpreted by the author as the Cynsters possessing a passionate love of the land and of family. With so many romance novel heroes being cold and calculating, the humanity and warmth demonstrated by the Cynster family’s love and affection for one another – these men are friends as well as relatives – is one of the reasons this series stands out from the typical historical romance offering. Readers fall in love not just with the two protagonists, but with the whole family, caring deeply about what happens to the characters not just in the book focused on them, but in subsequent books as well.

All About Love (#6 Cynster series – Lucifer and Phyllida’s story) (Avon, February 2001) – this is the end of the Bar Cynsters part of the series although they crop up regularly in the other books

Laurens uses a deft hand interweaving the books and keeping continuity (check out her chronology placing all her books from this and other series, in order by year of event). One of the tried and true formulas of her books is that she establishes the two major protagonists and the reason they are drawn together (a conflict or mystery to be solved with the characters helping one another as they fall in love). About two-thirds through the book, the Cynster calvalry is called in, with previous characters and family members introduced to help solve the problem and offer backup. The object of Cynster affection then sees the love between family members and further knows that this is a family they can trust and be part of, further sealing the deal.

While there certainly is intrigue and occasionally crime to propel the plot, the obstacles to the future of the characters are largely emotional. The woman does not want to give up her independence; the man hesitates to admit to the weakness of “love.” A quality I adore about Laurens’ writing is that she uses her fiery sex scenes to reveal the emotional progress of her characters. She understands how the physical act of love can unlock emotions and reveal the truth of feelings long-buried.

All About Passion (#7 Cynster series – Earl of Chillingworth and Francesca’s story) (Avon, September 2001) – the Cynsters consider Chillingworth and honorary member of the Bar Cynster

It’s not just the main characters which are well-drawn. The minor characters in these novels are incredibly complex and three-dimensional, doing an excellent job furthering the plot and giving depth to the scene. Lady Osbaldstone, the blunt and all-seeing grand dame of the ton, is a recurring character in most of the books who is a personal favorite. The younger siblings of many of the love interests (or young Cynsters) are written so well that they are able to be easily fleshed out in later novels as they reach an age of falling in love, a happenstance which actually seems like great planning and writing to me.

In addition to well-drawn characters, it’s a profound pleasure to read Laurens’ books because of the level of historical accuracy she attains. Laurens admits that this was of necessity initially in her career as her original contract for Regency romances were published by a British firm that insisted on the utmost accuracy (I gather those British readers, surrounded by Regency settings, are real sticklers for historical details).

The Promise in a Kiss (#7.5 Cynster series – Sebastian and Helena’s story) (Avon, November 2002) – while this is labeled #7.5, it is a prequel focusing on the pre-Revolution romance of Devil’s father and mother, so it could easily be considered #0.5

Besides the obvious historical references (this is a great way for someone to be introduced to the controversy surrounding the Corn Laws in early 19th century history), the language (including colloquialisms and idiom) are correct. The horse references and ton etiquette are a fabulous bonus for someone interested in this period. Laurens admits the only area she takes license with in her desire to bump up the introduction of buttons, particularly for male shirts. It’s hard to get your male protagonist out of his clothes fast enough without those darn buttons!

Having seen video interviews with Stephanie Laurens, it was a jolt to discover that’s not her actual name. Theonne Anne De Kretser took her pseudonym from the names of her two daughters, Stephanie and Lauren when she decided to begin writing romance novels. Like other great romance novelists (like Diana Gabaldon of Outlander fame), De Kretser comes from a strong scientific background, possessing a Ph.D. in Biochemistry. Running a laboratory during the day, she found her relaxation and escape in the form of romance novels. When she realized she had read all the regency romances currently in print, she decided she would write one for herself. When she finished, she realized it was good enough that she could approach a publisher, and the rest was history.

On a Wild Night (#8 Cynster series – Amanda and Dexter’s story) (Avon, April 2002)

The first ten books (all the covers in this post with links the amazon page for each one) deal with actual Cynsters, all of whom you meet or hear about in the first 50 pages of the first book.  By the time we get to books 8, 9, and 10 we are learning about characters who were lanky teens in the first book but are coming into their Cynster legacy with abandon in On a Wild Night and On a Wicked Dawn. The twins Amanda and Amelia are balls of fire (I can imagine the emergence of early gray hairs on the heads of their sexy Bar Cynster cousins) and hands down, #10 The Perfect Lover about Simon Cynster and Luke’s sister (and Amelia Cynster’s sister-in-law) Portia is my absolute favorite. I swear I reread this book about every six weeks on my iPad!

On a Wicked Dawn (#9 Cynster series – Amanda’s twin Amelia and Luke’s story) (Avon, April 2002)

Books 11 through 15 are the “in-laws”, the younger brothers of Cynster brides now searching for their own perfect mates.  These include The Ideal Bride (#11 – Honoria’s brother Michael), The Truth About Love (#12 – Patience’s artist brother Gerard is a hunky painter bent on love and solving a mystery), What Price Love? (#13 – Flick’s honorary brother Dillon is now working for the horse industry in Newmarket but there’s another scandal about to break loose), The Taste of Innocence (#14 – Alathea’s brother Charles’ story), and finally Temptation and Surrender (#15 – Phyllida’s brother Jonas’ story). Of these, The Truth About Love with Patience’s brother Gerrard is outstanding, as is Temptation and Surrender (I adore Jonas and we get a lot of Lucifer and Phyllida in it since they are all in the same town). Don’t worry if you need a visual aid to help figure everyone out. Laurens is nice enough to give us a genealogy chart to keep track of all the matches and their children, although it doesn’t include everyone.

The Perfect Lover (#10 Cynster series – Simon and Portia’s story) (Avon, February 2004)

Recently published books 16 through 19 focus on three sisters, Heather (Viscount Breckenridge to the Rescue), Eliza (In Pursuit of Miss Eliza Cynster), and Angelica Cynster (The Capture of the Earl of Glencrae). All of these girls were mere babies in the first book of the series, so it’s exciting watching them find their destined mate while dealing with an enemy bent on revenge for a perceived wrong committed years ago by their parents. Since the bulk of all the books happen in Scotland, we get a nice dose of Scandal and Catriona with their bairns.

Here’s where Stephanie Laurens does something a little quirky (hey, whatever – as long as she writes Cynster books, I can put up with quirky). Remember my favorite book, The Perfect Lover and #10 in the series? From a chronological standpoint, it actually occurs AFTER all of the above books. Yes, you read that right, ALL of them. Since I do like sometimes reading the books in the order of year the match occured (it saves a lot of “wait, aren’t those two married already?”), I rely on the chronological order of the books (and these are all her books, not just her Cynster ones – Cynsters crop up and cameo in some of her other series). Obviously you can read them in the order published and be fine, but I thought I’d mention this in case someone got confused in the middle of reading the series.

Where the Heart Leads (#1 The Casebook of Barnaby Adair series – Barnaby and Penelope’s story) (William Morrow, 2008)

The only book that comes after The Perfect Lover is not technically a Cynster book, it’s Where the Heart Leads, an amazing novel and one of my favorites as it focuses on Barnaby Adair, a noble-born son who has actually helped solve mysteries in several of the Cynster books. This determined bachelor ends up falling for Portia’s sister, Penelope. I would encourage anyone to read The Perfect Lover followed by Where the Heart Leads for maximum effect. These two sisters are so intelligent and headstrong it’s a wonder they didn’t kill their brother before he had a chance to marry into the Cynster family.

If there is any criticism to offer regarding Stephanie Laurens, it certainly doesn’t pertain to her writing. Rather, it would be regarding her writer’s platform. With a formidable backlist of titles whose quality easily exceeds 95% of the current Regencies published, her website (which looks like it’s from the 1990s) and lack of social presence (she has a decent Facebook author page, but no Twitter account – she should consider linking the two for effortless tweeting) harm rather than support her sales. She’s too wonderful to hide her light under a bushel!

It’s certainly worth mentioning that the excellent Bastion Club series takes place during much of the Cynster saga, containing a certain amount of cross-over.  Both the Bastion and Cynster series have characters that crossover to Laurens other series, the Black Cobra Quartet, which involves a group of soldiers who have to foil a plan conceived in India but with a final impact in England.

So don’t dismiss historical romance, any more than you would any other genre.  If you decide to try it, pick up a Cynster novel by Stephanie Laurens and see what you think.  I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

**Take a look also at my review first book in the Cynster Sisters Duo, And Then She Fell, for more information on the literary evolution of the Cynster family.”

%d bloggers like this: