In the blogosphere, kindred spirits have a way of finding each other. I met Amy Ruttan as a fellow commenter at Christine d'Abo's blog. We quickly discovered that we share so many quirky tastes in things. Like Gerard Butler. *shiver* (Is that quirky, or just fabulous taste?) We both love Red Dwarf - ever heard of that show? Persuasion with Ciaran Hinds. The Vicar of Dibley. Gwen Stefani. And of course, The Pirates of Penzance.
I'd have to do an entire Thursday Thirteen about the things we've discovered about one another that makes us secret twins.
I got the chance to have lunch with Amy, Wylie Kinson and Leah Braemel before the Toronto Romance Writers meeting last October. After getting to know one another through blogging, it's like meeting a supahstah. So exciting, so wonderful. I was beside myself with waiting until Fox's Bride was released.
1 - Amy is one of the Sexies at Six Degrees of Sexy, along with my fellow Romance Writers of Atlantic Canada writer Renee Field, and fellow blog buddies Christine d'Abo, Wylie Kinson, Red Garnier, and Robin Rotham.
2 - And how exceedingly diverting is Fox's Bride? Read on, me hearties.
Amy's ebook is part of Cerridwen Press's Historical Romance Novel category. The heroine is the much-sought-after mistress of a sugar cane plantation in late 1720's Jamaica. Fortunately, as a girl she was married off to the equally young hero. This gives her protection from avaricious cads who scheme for her and her plantation. Unfortunately, the convenient yet absent husband grew into an utter wastrel.
3 - We meet Madeline Middleton, Lady Foxton, managing her own Jamaican plantation while sending a sizeable stipend to England, to keep her husband's rakish pursuits in full swing. Madeline needs income to purchase slaves away from her neighbors. She makes up for her husband's outrageous allowance by piracy - as the Dread Captain Meg.
4 - William Foxton married the red-headed girl just as his grandmother commanded. He knew their aristocratic family needed income from the Caribbean colonies in order to survive. He understood the worth of his marriage more and more as the years went on, as he discovered his father's betrayal of their family, as he sought to outrun his misery by living life as a scoundrel. What he'd never read for himself was the marriage contract. It sends him on the first ship to Jamaica, to legally claim his bride before it's too late.
5 - Amy's world is so full of characters and action - a wonderful change from the all-romantic-couple-all-the-time structure of most print releases. Cerridwen Press's ebook format gives authors room to explore settings and time frames other publishers wouldn't consider, no matter how hungry readers may be for originality. I threw myself into 1720's Jamaica with abandon.
6 - I especially appreciated the darker undertones to Amy's book. She never shies away from the reality of life for women of all social standings, and plainly spells out the miseries of life as a slave. In a print romance, she would have been asked to tone down or remove all of the social commentary that drives the book through its quick pacing.
7 - I really, really love the bantering that takes place between Madeline and Fox. Her years as a pirate, commanding a crew of men, serves her well when she encounters Lord Foxton, accustomed to deference and the witty company of White's in London.
When they meet up after so many years as mere names on documents, their conversation quickly turns to:
'My lord, I am not your dear anything!'
'Au contraire, you are my dear wife, are you not?' he asked smartly, looking thoroughly pleased parleying words with her.
'A dear wife who you haven’t seen in twenty years, my lord. The last time I saw you, you were a martyr to spotty skin,' she said hotly.
8 - The sexual desire between Madeline and Fox is a knock-down surprise to both of them. It begins from the moment she raids the ship her husband sails to Jamaica, their gazes locking even as she conceals her identity with a mask. When he discovers his wife is a pirate, it only fuels Fox's desire for a woman unlike any he could imagine - and he knew plenty of wild characters as he debauched his way through London. Madeline is likewise confused by her raw attraction to the man whose spending habits forced her to piracy in the first place. But she never recovered from his refusal to back down when she pointed her weapon at him aboard ship.
9 - The cast of characters includes many gray characters - people who display some understandable traits at some points of the novel, then display reprehensible traits at others. Gray characters are my favorite. They tug at my heart and shoot the tension level higher and higher.
10 - Amy really knows how to end each chapter with a hook. Like this, for example:
" 'Well, well, a lord of the realm here on this ship.' She bowed with a flourish and several of her crew, including John, laughed. 'Maybe I should ransom you to your relatives.'
Fox scoffed. 'You could but they’ll never pay. I’m an outcast, my dear.'
She cocked her eyebrow, seemingly intrigued by his response.
'Tsk, tsk. What about your poor wife? I’m sure she would be lost without you.'
'You can try her, she is quite wealthy. Although, you may find her hesitant, she’s never met me.'
'Ha, I find that hard to believe.' Captain Meg unsheathed her rapier and pointed it at his heart. 'Her name, my lord, or I will run you through.'
Fox smirked, thoroughly enjoying his repartee with this enchanting vixen.
'Happy to oblige, my dear. My wife is Lady Madeline Foxton of The Coral Reef plantation in Montego Bay.'
Captain Meg’s eyes flew open in horror and she quickly turned away. Fox was confused by her response.
'Sorry, did I say something to offend?'
She turned around abruptly, the blunt end of her pistol raised. Why is she angry? was his last thought before everything went black."
11 - Amy's scenes are vividly cinematic. I can feel the rhythm of a film editor as she drops us in and out of scenes for as long as she needs us there - and no longer.
Madeline woke with a start to the sound of scratching at her window. She rubbed her eyes, dazed and confused. The moonlight streamed through the white gauze of her curtains so she didn’t need to light a candle.
She got up and padded over to the window, a pistol, which she kept at her bedside, in her hand, cocked and ready to fire.
Madeline pulled back the drape and balked at the sight of Fox, bedraggled and leaning with his both arms outstretched on either side of her balcony window.
His eyes were sparkling as he stared into her bedroom, his shirt open and flapping in a strong breeze. His hair was loose and blowing about his shoulders. He looked wild, like a stormed-tossed sea. It gave her a delicious thrill that traveled down her spine, warming her blood. No, I won’t let him in tonight.
'What do you want?' she asked through the glass doors.
'Let me in,' Fox said, his voice slurring slightly.
She opened the balcony door a crack. She smelled a very strong odor of rum. 'Are you drunk?' she asked, wrinkling her nose in disgust.
'Possibly,' Fox garbled his words. 'No, I’m not drunk, I’m foxed.' He laughed.
She saw that he had climbed up the side of the house to get to the balcony. 'Either way, you’re not coming in here tonight,' Madeline countered. She tried to shut the door, but Fox prevented her.
'I’m coming in to be with my wife, whether you like it or not.'
She held the pistol up. 'I said no,' she warned dangerously.
His eyes glinted in the moonlight. 'You wouldn’t shoot me. You need me.'
'For what?' Madeline asked haughtily. Though she knew, yes she did need him to conceive a child. Tell him the other reason, the reason even you won’t admit yourself, a little voice niggled in the back of her mind.
He swayed to the left and she tried to catch him but it was all a ruse as the pistol was easily tussled from her grip. Fox took the pistol and disarmed it.
'Now, shall we try that again?' he asked huskily.
'Oh go away, Fox, I am in no mood to play your personal whore tonight.' She turned away but he grabbed her roughly and brought her around to face him.
'I do not think of you as a whore.'
'So, women just fall at your feet?' she snapped.
'Yes,' he said as he leaned his mouth down to the pulse point of her neck. 'Especially when I do things like this.'
12 - I'm positive a sequel or two could expand Amy's Coral Reef world. There are so many characters I'd like to follow, like Madeline's butler and pirate hand, John. Or Cristal, the rescued slave from New Orleans.
13 - I leave you with a final excerpt. Enjoy!
"Madeline was angry at her cousin for not showing any interest in The Coral Reef, but when it was an inheritance to be paid to him, he had no problem showing up.
She remembered her cousin Jeremy. He was six years her junior, and she remembered when he became a teenager, a very forceful teenager, and he was randy—that was all there was to it. He tried to accost her in her bedroom. Luckily, Madeline was much stronger than the young fop. She easily threw him off and gave him a thrashing he wasn’t soon to forget. That was the last time she had seen her blood relatives.
As she came down the winding staircase the first thing she noticed was all the luggage. He thinks he’s here to stay.
John motioned to her that Jeremy was in the sitting room. She balled up her fists and proceeded into the room to greet her long-detested cousin.
When Madeline saw Jeremy she had to choke back the laughter that began to bubble in her throat. She had thought she had seen a fop before, but it was nothing compared to the man of twenty years sitting on her settee, fanning himself.
Jeremy was garishly dressed in a huge powdered wig that had a small purple hat pinned to the top. His face was powdered and his eyebrows shaven, the mouse skin eyebrows that he wore were slowly slipping down his face as was the velvet mole from the humid tropic temperatures. Jeremy had obviously put on rouge and painted his lips red. His jacket, waistcoat and breeches were contrasting jewel tones, his shirt was very ruffled. His stockings were striped and his blue buckled shoes had very high heels.
The chokes of laughter were welling up inside her. Madeline looked back at John. His face was very serious but his eyes told a different story. He was trying to suppress his laughter.
'Jeremy…what brings you to The Coral Reef?' Madeline asked.
'Why, my dear cousin, is it so wrong of me to want to visit my only paternal relative?' He got up and with outstretched arms, embraced her.
Madeline remained stiff as her cousin hugged her. She held her breath to suppress Jeremy’s heavily perfumed body. He obviously was trying to mask his sweat with some sort of sweet scent, but he had put so much on his body that it was stifling and overpowering.
Jeremy’s hand began to wander down her back to her rear. Madeline pushed him away violently as she saw John approaching out of the corner of the room.
Jeremy wrinkled his nose in a sneer.
'Still a little randy are we not, Jeremy?' she barked.
'Still a prude eh, cousin?' Jeremy snapped as he sat down on the settee.
'What do you want, Jeremy?' she asked firmly.
'Well, if you must know, cousin, then there is no need to hide my reason for coming to Jamaica. Your marriage has not yet been consummated, and it doesn’t look as if it will be, as the last ship for the season left six months ago.'
'My point is that part of the stipulation of the marriage contract was that you produce an heir with your husband by the time you were twenty-eight or The Coral Reef would fall forfeit…to me,' he said that last bit with such zeal it made her sick.
'I see,' Madeline said tightly.
'I’m not totally heartless, cousin,' Jeremy said. 'I say that we annul your marriage to Lord Foxton.'
'Why would I do that?' she asked uneasily.
Jeremy got off the settee and wandered over to her to whisper in her ear. 'So that we can get married. I find you a desirable woman, Madeline. I think we could rub along nicely together.'
A shiver went down Madeline’s back as she tried not lose her dinner.
'You see the crux of it is, Jeremy, I can’t annul my marriage.'
'Why ever not?' Jeremy demanded.
'Because, quite simply, her husband has consummated the marriage,' a lazy voice drawled from the doorway.
Madeline looked back to see Fox leaning against the doorjamb. His hair tied back but his shirt was unbuttoned, as if to show Jeremy that he and Madeline were just intimate.
She looked at her cousin, who looked outraged at seeing Fox. His face was actually turning red despite the fact he wore face powder. He was so tense that one of the mouse skin eyebrows slid off his face to the floor. She heard John laugh as he walked out of the room, suppressing his laughter into his liveried sleeve.
Fox walked over to Jeremy. Very nonchalant he bent over and picked the mouse skin eyebrow off the floor and held it out to Jeremy. 'I believe you lost this.'
Jeremy snatched it back and turned around to replace the fake eyebrow on his face. Madeline stifled a laugh in her hands.
Jeremy rounded on Fox. 'What are you doing in Jamaica?'
'That would seem obvious,' Fox said sardonically. 'I am consummating my marriage.'
'I thought you were still in London?' Jeremy said disdainfully.
'No, I caught the last ship to the West Indies,' Fox replied.
'Well, what am I going to do now? There’s no ship back to England for a year.'
'You’re more than welcome to stay here with us,' Fox offered.
Madeline gasped in dismay. She didn’t want her cousin to remain at The Coral Reef. He would just harass her. She did not want any of her female workers brutalized by Jeremy Middleton.
'That’s very kind of you, Lord Foxton,' Jeremy acquiesced. His face turned beet red again.
'You can go elsewhere. But I don’t know where, and with the Maroon attacks, I wouldn’t advise trying to travel tonight.'
'I agree, you are most gracious, Lord Foxton,' Jeremy said, defeated.
'John,' Madeline called. John had returned. He had obviously regained his composure. 'Would you show Jeremy to one of the guest quarters?'
'Aye, my lady,' John said, picking up some of the luggage. Jeremy flicked his fan, and with one last disdainful look at Fox and Madeline, followed John out of the sitting room and up the stairs."
- Amy Ruttan, 2008
This brings my second series of Thursday Thirteen book reviews to a close. Next week let's enjoy a little eye candy, shall we...?