Recommended reads

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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