Tag Archives: M. S. Laurens

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

3 Jan

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

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

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

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

The details of a medieval knight of this period.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy reading!

Sunday Reflections: Upcoming Books, Fun Stuff and Great Deals You Might Have Missed, 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!! 🙂

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