Thursday, March 10, 2016

Review and Guest Post: Wild Lavender by Nicole Elizabeth Kelleher

Wild Lavender
by Nicole Elizabeth Kelleher
Series:  Aurelian Guard #1
Pub. Date:  March 8, 2016
Publisher:  Diversion Books
Pages:  318
Format:  eARC
Source:  NetGalley

My Rating:  
Sultry Scale:

This gorgeous, sweeping historical romance will enchant the readers of Deanna Raybourn, and introduces a wildly talented new voice. 

Anna was born of Chevring, a territory renowned for its valorous war horses, in the kingdom of Aurelia. But peace reigns, and her family s fortune has dwindled. Her father brokers an alliance with the wealthy Lord Roger of Stolweg. The price: his eldest daughter and the secrets to her family's once great power. Soon after they are wed, Roger proves himself cruel and calculating, a harsh lord who sows the seeds of fear in his people. 

He has an ambitious secret, and nothing will stand in his way. Not his new bride, nor his older brother, heir to all that he covets. But secrets have a way getting out, and the people of Stolweg quietly bide their time, coming to love Anna for her noble bravery in standing up to her scoundrel husband. She will prove the leader they need to rise up and bring their underground resistance to flourish. 

But it is Larkin, a guard of Aurelia, whose presence brings Roger s treachery to the forefront, igniting the spark of war. Larkin comes to Stolweg to investigate Roger for treason against the realm and ends up giving all of his attention to Anna. For she not only captures his heart, she may be the only person who can stop the battle that will tear the kingdom apart. 

Wild Lavender: The Aurelian Guard is the debut novel from Nicole Elizabeth Kelleher, and I have to say that I am quite impressed with her work. I am also very happy that she has chosen the fantasy romance genre because there is just not enough of it out there! I am always scrounging for new books in this genre, but they are few and far between. So hats off to Nicole Elizabeth Kelleher for stepping into the fray.

The setting for this story is the Kingdom of Aurelia, a map of which is provided at the front of the book. It was too small to read on my Kindle app, so I can't offer much by way of description. I can tell you that Aurelia is governed by a sole king, but it has various realms within the kingdom which of course have a responsible lord. It kinda reminded me of Game of Thrones the way the kingdom was set up... but the landscapes seemed more friendly and prosperous than the cold and dreary Westeros.

Our heroine, Aubrianne "Anna" is of Chevring. Her land and family are known for breeding Chevring war horses which I pictured as the beautiful medieval destriers prancing like a Clydesdale. While we meet Anna when she is only 16, that is in a quick prologue where she has a brief interlude with the future hero, then we jump ahead to Anna at 18 just after she has married Lord Roger of Stolweg. Unbeknownst to Anna as she is riding to her new home, this will be a horrible marriage for her and you are going to experience much of it right along with her. I really admired Anna, she is the definition of a survivor. She had to endure horrible treatment from her husband, but she stayed strong to help her friends, family and the people of Stolweg. I loved that she inspired loyalty from the people who watched her dignified suffering knowing that one day she would save them all.

The hero of this first book is Larkin, nephew to the Queen by way of the Queen's half sister. (Side note: I do believe each book will follow a different couple.) Lark is a member of the Royal Guard, and a bit of a cad and ladies' man playing among the Queen's ladies at court. While he and Anna met at the beginning of the book, they are not going to meet up again for a very long time. Seriously - years pass. You will wonder if they are ever going to get together. But once they do get together, it was great. They did go through a tumultuous period which I still don't really get... but they both got past their stubborn selves on the way to their HEA. I liked Larkin, but he was really overshadowed by Anna for me. She is this great warrior come again, totally selfless and protector of her people. While I liked them as a couple - I don't think his character was on equal footing with hers. And that is totally fine and it worked for the story.

This book reminded of what I love and hate about fantasy romance. I both love and hate that the story moves at a slower pace. I love all the descriptions and detail, but I also want to find out what happens. So sometimes I feel like I am rushing toward the end... but then I slow down when I get there. The only thing that I really found lacking for my taste is the fantasy aspect. It was a nice story set in a made up kingdom... but I would have loved to see some fantastical creatures, or magical powers, or even more of the mysticism associated with Anna's ancestral line of female warriors. The closest we got was Anna's horse, Tullian, who was given a personality of his own. Now if he could only talk... or fly... lol.

I received an advanced copy of this book from Diversion Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. I am looking forward to more lively fantasy from this author in the future. 

About the Author

A graduate of the University of Michigan’s College of Literature, Science and Arts, Nicole Elizabeth Kelleher studied French Literature and Language, Spanish and Mandarin while concurrently attending UofM’s Art School. She moved to France and attended the Université Catholique de l’Œest before relocating to Belgium to complete an internship at a fine arts and antiques auction house. During this time, she traveled throughout the countryside of Europe, immersing herself in its history, architecture, and art. Nicole lives in Northern Virginia with her two children, husband and Tully the Dog.

Author Links:  Website | Facebook | Twitter | GoodReads

Guest Post from Author

Wink Wink, Nudge Nudge

Announcing to friends and family that you are writing your first book elicits many and varied reactions. When I told my mom, she said, “Okay, Honey,” in the same tone that I used when my son told me that he wanted to be a professional football player when he grew up. Of course, my practical mom was proud of me, but over the years, there were only so many ways for her to say “keep trying” when the rejection letters began to roll in. My dad was more enthusiastic. He reads books from every genre, a trait that I am grateful to have inherited.

My husband only wanted to know how much money I could make writing. It was a valid question as we had gone from a dual-income family to a sole bread winner. I confess, this query only comes up when he takes over cooking duty for the kids and only on nights when it was actually my turn to put dinner on the table. I count myself fortunate to be married to a man who doesn’t think twice about making breakfast, packing school lunches or whipping up dinner.

Comments from outside of my family were much more interesting. One good friend told me not to get my hopes up, that getting a book published is extremely difficult; another “critiqued” (translation: shredded) the excerpt that I sent her. Regarding the former, it is really difficult to find an agent and publisher. I started writing Wild Lavender nearly seven years ago. I was naïve in believing that an agent would jump at the chance to represent a 1,000 page manuscript written by an unknown author. Good gravy, was I ever wrong. It wasn’t until I cut 120,000 words (including the aforementioned excerpt) that the rejections turned into requests for samples. By the way, I am still friends both women.

I was lucky enough to have three good friends act as “ghost-readers” for me. I liked what I had written, but I needed to hear what other people thought. Without their support and critiques, I mightn’t have pursued writing as a new career. Our extended circle of friends and neighbors wanted to know what it is was that I had written, and I always hesitated before saying “a romance novel.” Now, I love, love, love the romance genre. I’ll pick up three or four books before going on vacation, then end up buying more because I finish them too quickly. So when I look back, I still can’t figure out why I was so reticent to reveal the subject matter of my writing. I promise that I now embrace the genre whole-heartedly. Today, I will proudly tell anyone who asks all about Wild Lavender and the steaminess of some of the chapters. And trust me, people always ask—everyone from family to neighbors, colleagues to friends, and even friend’s husbands.

It goes a little like this:

Friend: “What’s your book about?”
Me: “It’s a romance set in medieval times.”
Friend’s Husband: “A romance? Is it like Fifty Shades of Grey?”

Let me just start by saying that most men probably don’t read romance novels (my editor excluded). So I’m guessing that Fifty Shades is the only title they know.

Five years ago, I had chopped my manuscript into two novels, then sewed it back together and, finally, whittled it down into a manageable size. For the most, I was finished and so ready to discuss it with anyone who would listen. Around the same time, Fifty Shades had been released and the media touted it as if it were the greatest thing to happen for women since Sharper Image started selling electronic neck massagers. I hadn’t read E.L. James’ book. I knew that I would one day, but I sometimes veer away from the mainstream. It’s just the way I am. I like ugly purses. I love an underdog. I’m a Detroit Lions fan for goodness’ sake. But after the umpteenth person asked the comparison question, I decided that I needed to find out the answer.

I remember the day that I bought a copy. It had to have been at least a year after its publication date because my local grocery store chain carried it in their book section. I tossed the paperback in my cart, covered with various sundry items to hide it from view—we’ve all done this, usually with feminine protection products because, hey, it’s not that we as women are ashamed, it’s simply that nobody needs to know our business; am I right or what?

My grocery store had just installed those self-check lanes, so I rolled up my cart and started scanning. When I came to the book, the barcode wasn’t recognized and the “need help” light began flashing. Customer service was prompt, and of course, it was a male manager who came to assist. I swear, when I handed him the book, he nearly dropped it as if it were on fire.

I’m happy to say that I persevered and finished reading the book despite the unnecessary and oft times incomprehensible stigma attached to a woman enjoying reading about gratuitous and graphic sex. Thanks to the movie, I’m still asked that question today. When it happens, I have a ready answer: “Similar to Fifty Shades? Not really. Sure, there was torture and violent sex in medieval times, but there was no sadomasochism because the Marquis de Sade was born in 1740.”

I feel no compunction expounding on the subject, especially if the initial question was asked with a little Monty Pythonesque “wink wink, nudge nudge.” I’ll gladly talk about Wild Lavender’s more racy elements; I wrote it after all, and being able to own it has helped me to grow. Just today, for example, I purchased some feminine products at the grocery store and made no attempt to hide them.