Tag Archives: Sookie Stackhouse

Norse Jewel by Gina Conkle Builds on Viking Interest While Adding a Great New Voice to Historical Fiction

9 Oct

Norse Jewel by Gina Conkle (Entangled, June 2013)

I’m trying to remember if I’ve ever read a Viking-themed romance before this one. Chances are it probably happened in the 80s, hardly the heyday of consensual relationships and whatever I read probably scarred me for a while. That said, I find Norse history fascinating, with their rich mythology and legends and a culture based on a combination of agriculture and carefully executed raids on neighboring lands for goods and slaves.

My great-grandfather was actually from Sweden and while family accounts have him as quite the jackass personality (“mean” and “taciturn” were words bandied about by his wife, my French great-grandmother), he was quite the personality. He immigrated a little after the turn of the twentieth century, actually rode in the U.S. Calvary against Pancho Villa in the American Southwest and then became a chauffeur during the time of World War I in New York City. My great-grandmother came to America from France in 1918 with a couple of her sisters (she was the youngest at a mere 17) trying to escape the devastation of France and got work as a nursery maid for a rich family in Manhattan. Guess who was next door? The handsome, tall, blond Swedish chauffeur, that’s who. They ended up married and with two children, yet she continued to work for the family for some time, traveling all over with them (we called her Tutu after the Hawaiian name for grandmother because her employers spent so much time there).

As Tutu used to say, luckily for her he died (not romantic, I know) because they had a terrible marriage and he was an awful husband. She followed up this disaster of a marriage by marrying the man who would be the love of her life and treated her like a princess, so she got a happy ending, but the legacy of the Swedish great-grandfather lives on in our family who you would easily mistake for Vikings. The men are extremely tall, blond or red-haired with pale blue eyes and the women are beautiful, tall and with the same coloring. I got a little more height than my Mom’s side of the family (not much) but my light eyes and high cheekbones are courtesy of Sweden (so my thanks to that country).

With the mental image of my family members it was rather easy to envision the hero of new author Gina Conkle‘s novel Norse Jewel. Hakan is a Svea chieftain close to his king who wants nothing more than to retire from raiding and work his farm and be with his son. That his king continues to make demands on his time and his grasping ex-wife will not release his son Erik to him as dictated by Norse custom continues to rankle. When he stumbles across the wounded Frankish maid at a slave auction, the last thing he wants is a young, pretty woman stirring up trouble. But it’s clear she’s in danger from the group of Danes trying to buy her, and his instincts have him purchasing her as a thrall, a slave, to work in his home.

The Viking invasion routes during this time period – rather easy to imagine a Frankish maid ending up as a slave in a chieftain’s house, isn’t it?

Helena cannot believe that she’s at the mercy of the tall Norse warrior. She was living her life in her small Frankish village as the daughter of the apothecary and betrothed to a local scholar. The wound on her face is from one of the Danes attempting to cut away the purse around her neck holding the jewel that was to be her dowry, but her intended husband ran to safety when the raiders arrived in the village and she was snatched. Her knowledge of some Norse makes her useful to this man who is clearly a chieftain, but he wants nothing to do with her, beyond mending and cooking.

While Hakan discovers quickly that she cannot cook, he also discovers that Helena is actually an incredibly intelligent woman of many talents, bringing order to his homestead and tremendous wealth to him. As their feeling for one another grows deeper, the barrier of his ex-wife’s betrayal combined with political elements around the king continue to be barriers they cannot cross. Helena has the added mental block that she is truly Hakan’s slave and while she does love him, her self-respect will not allow her to yield to him until he can show her that he truly cares for, preferably by giving her freedom to return home.

Norse mythology and culture are becoming increasingly popular as indicated by movies like Thor and the BBC drama Vikings.

I thought this was a terrific historical romance – at almost exactly 200 pages this had the feel of a category romance in terms of the romance part of the plot, yet Conkle delivers such depth of well-researched information that you feel you are reading a longer book set in the time period, complete with complex religious and cultural conflicts our hero and heroine encounter. Both characters are highly sympathetic (and stubborn) but the feeling between them is very real, and I love that the author has them becoming friends first even though the frisson of attraction is always present.

The actual sex comes pretty late in the book and it was a little bit of a closed-door scene (you only get to see the hot foreplay) which did not make me happy. Yet I was so thrilled they were finally confessing their feelings to each other that I was okay with it, which honestly indicates how great Conkle’s writing is because normally I’d be pretty pissed about being denied by detailed sexy times. This lack of explicitness nevertheless makes this novel highly appropriate for readers who like their romance a little more on the sweet side.

What I cannot figure out is if there will be a series based on some of the characters introduced in this book! *arrgggh* Considering that the political situation continues to be unresolved, and that I want to know what happens to Hakan’s best friend Sven who has seemingly betrayed him, I feel like Entangled would be crazy not to pursue at least a second related book. Yet, no indication exists on Goodreads or Conkle’s website to hint that there will be other books related to this one, so I’m going to have to keep my fingers crossed.

Erik Northman, the millenia-old vampire in Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse books (and in its companion TV series, True Blood) is a Viking living in modern times, but with an age-old ruthlessness

There is no denying a cultural upswing in interest around Norse culture. Thor and it’s upcoming sequel prove the box office loves Norse gods and mythology and the BBC series Vikings (a Canadian-Irish drama) was picked up by the History Channel¬†proving so popular there is going to be a second season (it’s also on Hulu and I have it in my queue to watch). Yet Norse historical romance is still in such an early stage of development in the world of romance that there doesn’t seem to be a dedicated Goodreads list. You can find the “Best Viking Books” listing Norse Jewel alongside erotica with a Norse theme and historical fiction by Bernard Cornwell. More than a few of these books (particularly the romances) have time-travel or paranormal themes, featuring Vikings living in the present (think of Eric Northman from Charlaine HarrisSookie Stackhouse series) rather than plunging readers into the world of the past.

Gina Conkle’s Norse Jewel not only adds a wonderful novel to the world of Viking romance but it also showcases a vibrant new voice to the world of historical fiction with her layered world, well-written characters and plots that demand more than one book to flesh out. My fingers are crossed that more books will be on there way soon since I find this writer a bargain at a mere $2.99.

Happy Reading! ūüôā

Picking Out The Best Novella/Short Story from Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse Series

15 Aug

Night’s Edge, anthology containing “Dancers in the Dark” novella by Charlaine Harris (# 4.2 in the Sookie Stackhouse series) (Harlequin, 2009)

I haven’t done a series review of Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse books, probably because they aren’t technically romance (but rather mystery or urban fantasy with strong romantic elements). Romance always has a happy ending, and Harris has made no bones about the fact that this is not her goal for the characters in this excellent paranormal series.

Even people who haven’t had the pleasure of reading this series have probably heard of the HBO companion series TrueBlood, which diverges from the books but keeps the spirit of Harris’ original work alive according to fans. The name of the series is clever considering that the entire premise of Harris’ world is built on the idea that, after Japanese researchers develop a synthetic blood substitute (one brand of which is named TrueBlood), vampires come “out of the coffin” and reveal themselves to humans so they can live alongside them. Major repercussions ensue from this announcement, particularly for small-town Louisiana barmaid and telepath, Sookie Stackhouse, who finds the stillness of vampire minds to be almost intoxicating.

Sookie, or rather the supernatural creatures drawn to her, attracts trouble like it’s going out of style and the thirteen full-length novels in this series chronicle her growth and romantic difficulties as she works alongside vampires, werecreatures, and fairies, often reluctantly. In addition to these stories, Harris has penned at least thirteen short stories and companion novellas, practically all of which star Sookie (and some of which you MUST read in order to understand the next full-length novel which follows it in the series).

The other day I discovered a novella I hadn’t read in the series and immediately set about rectifying my faux pas, only to discover that I had missed the best companion story out of all of them! Dancers in the Dark, published in the anthology Night’s Edge,¬†stars Sean and Layla, the briefly glimpsed professional ballroom dancers seen in All Together Dead, the novel in which Sookie accompanies the Queen of Louisiana to the vampire summit so she can ferret out the undercurrents from the human minds standing alongside their vampire companions. Sookie along with everyone else is impressed and mesmerized by the two vampire dancers Sean and Layla who perform during the ball and I definitely felt that there was something extremely powerful about these two minor characters. When I heard that the novella I’d missed was the one fleshing out their story, it was a no brainer to snap it up.

All Together Dead (#7 Sookie Stackhouse series) by Charlaine Harris (Ace Books, 2008)

Layla, currently using the name Rue, is busy disguising herself in Rhome, Illinois, while she takes classes and desperately tries to find work as a dancer. When she sees the ad for Blue Moon, a known dance troupe specializing in vampire occasions, she heads off to audition. There she meets her new partner, the handsome, red-haired Irish vampire Sean. She not only admires his outstanding dancing but the fact that his almost expressionless demeanor offers her a safe, professional distance.

Rue/Layla knows that a few people see through her disguise, recognizing her as the Southern beauty queen raped and beaten almost to death by a favored son of her town, but most days she can fly under the radar and attempt to create a life for herself. At first she’s frightened when she realizes that Sean is secretly following her home each night after their nighttime practices and performances, but when she realizes there is no menace in his actions, she begins to relax and let a friendship develop. Soon there’s more than just a friendship at stake (no pun intended), but Layla has no idea if she’s capable of any relationship, particularly one which such a powerful creature.

Sean is intrigued by his stunning dance partner but he’s fallen in love a few times before in his long existence and it’s always ended badly. Yet he’s feeling things for Layla he’s never felt before and when he discovers on his own the hair-raising circumstances of not only her attack but her family’s callous treatment afterward, he knows his goal is to keep her safe and find her attacker, now released from the mental institution he talked his way into.

Unlike the Sookie Stackhouse novels which are written solely from Sookie’s perspective (common for urban fantasy), this novella thankfully switches between Layla and Sean’s POV, offering us insight into both wonderful characters. There is no way you can’t feel for Layla and find yourself gently falling in love with the stoic Sean as he coaxes her into trusting him by being so solid and dependable. I honestly found myself incredibly disappointed that Harris didn’t decide to make this a spin-off series since the dance troupe has so many fascinating characters (vampire and human) that it would be wonderful to develop each of their stories (romances preferred, naturally). Since the world is already well-established, I’m going to have to surf the web and see if any fan fiction exists (or maybe write it myself)!

Sunday Romantic Reflections: Upcoming Books, Deals and Fun Stuff You Might Have Missed (Week of July 21st)

21 Jul

Upcoming Books and New Releases

Sigh. I don’t know if you were as disappointed and angry in the “final” Sookie Stackhouse book, Dead Ever After, as I was (I’m still formulating that post in my head and it’s scathing) but just to milk even more money out of dedicated fans, the “final” book in the series that’s meant to wrap up all the characters is available for pre-order. After Dead, to be published on October 29th of this year, is not even a narrative story, but rather a listing of characters with a description of what happened to them. Yes, I’m disgusted with myself that I already pre-ordered it, but am calming myself with the promise that I’ll write a fan fiction version of the ending that series deserved. Enjoy bathing in $100 bills, Harris!

The excitement has begun building for the fabulous Laura Kaye’s next novel, Hard As It Gets, including a cover blurb endorsement by none other than J. K. Ward! Kaye’s writing is as addictive as crack for me, in particular, Her Forbidden Hero, and one of my favorite re-reads, Hearts in Darkness, so any book by her immediately goes in my Kindle and bumps my other to-reads down a notch. This new novel builds on her ability to take damaged, military heroes and pair them with the woman who will rock their world to its core and shake loose their emotions. Hard As It Gets also kicks off a new series for Kaye, Hard Ink, described on Goodreads as “A romance series about four ex-soldiers who run a renegade operation against an organized crime ring out of the back of a tattoo shop.” This first installment will be out in late November (do you smell the Thanksgiving turkey burning from neglect yet?) with the second book publishing the following year.

Fun Stuff

heartcondom_127721723While my condom in romance novels post was aimed at younger romance readers when I wrote it, a recent article by Vice.com detailing the epidemic in sexually transmitted infections among the senior crowd proves that the retired demographic needs plenty of education, too. I still remember touring the Villages in Florida (a retirement complex the size of Manhattan) with my resident grandmother and being given the hairy eyeball by a restaurant host because he thought I might be one of the many hookers that plague the community. (Be warned, if you’re 32 and in a sundress, you’ve got a “twenty dollars for a trip around the world” label attached to you.) My horrified grandmother informed me of the astronomic sexually transmitted disease rates, fueled in large part by the wicked combination of Viagra, a women to men ratio in the gent’s favor, and way too much free time. Yikes.

Wonder what kind of childhood produces a romance writer? The wonderful people at the Popular Romance project have produced a four minute video of interviews with writers like Nalini Singh, Jill Shalvis, and Caridad Pinerio, discussing their hometowns, parents, and families. 

For Writers and Interested Readers

mystery-69453_640In the wake of J. K. Rowling‘s recent outing as the well-regarded detective novelist Robert Galbraith, BookRiot posted an interesting article about the reasons extremely famous people have chosen to use pseudonyms when publishing books. The information is an interesting contrast to most romance authors, who usually chose a pen name because they are worried about censure or discomfort from their employers or are trying out a new genre and want separate branding in order to not confuse dedicated readers.

Dear Author has written a treasure of a post, taking the finalists for the RITAs “Best First Book” category and listing read-a-likes from more established authors who are similar. You might just find a new favorite in this crew and the information she includes is incredibly fun to read.

Great Deals

Lisa Renee Jones is offering an amazing deal on three full-sized books in her Tall, Dark and Deadly series – the first two books of the series and a full-size bonus book related to the characters – for only $.99! That’s almost six hundred pages for under a dollar and it’s Lisa Renee Jones. Considering that there are eight books in this series about a security firm run by a trio of brothers, it’s a clever idea to get you hooked and a great way for readers to figure out if they’d like to purchase the others with little risk.

If it’s wicked hot erotica you’re after, no deal is going to beat the Alpha Bad Boys Box Set released this week, containing over 1300 pages covering seven novels by authors like Shayla Black & Lexi Blake, Olivia Cunning, Lisa Renee Jones, Selena Blake, Eliza Gayle and Cat Johnson. For $.99 (!), you get such erotica favorites as¬†1) Black & Blake’s first book in their Masters of Menage series (which I love despite the names), Their Virgin Captive;¬†2) the first two books in Cunning’s One Night with Sole Regret series, Try Me and Tempt Me;¬†3) Jones’ first book in The Cinderella Chronicles, One Night Forever;¬†4) Ask for It by Selena Black about the NFL player who has retired and is finally going after the journalist he’s lusted after for years; 5) the first book in the Purgatory Masters series by Eliza Gayle, Tucker’s Fall; ¬†and 6) a sexy menage story by Cat Johnson about a society girl banished to Colorado only to find herself surrounded by gorgeous brothers in Educating Ansley. Any one of these stories is a bargain at $.99 to say nothing of getting all of them for that price.

Entangled Publishing is offering an amazing deal on their Indulgence line of ebooks (a group of novels on par with category romance like Harlequin’s Presents or Desire lines – lots of alpha males!) where they are discounted from their usually reasonable price of $2.99 down to $.99 each! Take a look at the Amazon Kindle deals page dedicated to them and enjoy.

Sarah MacLean is a historical romance writer who has yet to produce a book that isn’t at the top of her genre. For a limited time, the first book in her By the Numbers series, Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake (the novel that began the numbers trend and list fixation in Regency romance) is available at the discounted price of $1.99 for its ebook form. If you haven’t read this series, you might be in danger of having your romance reader card revoked. Take a taste and see if you can manage not to devour all three books (and then move on to Maclean’s other series). I bet you can’t read just one!

Also in the realm of amazing historical romance ebook deals is author Tessa Dare, whose classic A Week to Be Wicked is currently being offered at $.89 – I didn’t even know Amazon sold books for less than $.99! This is the second full-length novel in her acclaimed Spindle Cove series, so you may very well like it so much that you avail yourself of the one of the other five books that make up this beloved Regency location that locals have nicknamed “Spinster’s Cove.” Be warned, you won’t find ladies who are going to stay unmarried for long here!

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