Books, TBR Challenge

Cora’s TBR Challenge 2015


In the immortal words of John Lennon, “another year over and a new one just begun”. It’s time (if you haven’t already) to make those resolutions for 2015–including one for your TBR pile.

My TBR Challenge was such a personal success last year that I’m doing it again! 2015 is very uncertain for me–my teaching career is up in the air right now (Will I ever teach again? When? Where? How? If not, what else will I do?), and thus so is my writing time (How much energy will I have to devote to a day job? How will my health hold up? The bills have to be paid, but will I be too tired to do anything else?). So this year’s TBR Challenge is a way for me to take a measure of control in addition to finally reading some of the books languishing on my shelves and Kindle.

I’ve tweaked the rules slightly for this year:

1. How many books from your TBR pile will you read? I’m upping my goal to 18 books this year over the 12 I chose for last year. I have so many books floating around the house that 12 felt like just a drop in the bucket, and I’m hoping to make more headway this time around.

2. How long have your books been waiting? For the purposes of this challenge, the books I read must have been acquired by me or placed on my library TBR list (which is also getting out of hand) before August 1, 2014. This means I can’t buy new books in January and count them toward my TBR Challenge come September–which I found myself doing at least once last year, and kind of defeats the purpose of the challenge.

3. How will you hold yourself accountable? Like last year, I’ll post here once a month to share my progress and see how you all are doing. I found the Goodreads shelf and the dedicated page on this blog were enormously helpful, too. I’m a very visual person and being able to see the collection of books that I’d read gave me a nice sense of accomplishment, which made me want to read more TBR books 🙂

Who will take up this challenge with me? Who will commit to wading through the mountains of books you’ve spent your hard-earned money on, but never read? Leave a comment here or on the 2015 TBR Challenge page with your goal: how many books will you tackle this year?

Books, Friday Favorites

Friday Favorite: Best of 2014

In a year of Friday Favorites, which one was the most popular? None other than Richard Armitage reading Georgette Heyer! This post received more views than any other post on And Then He Kissed Her in 2014. I joked at the time that, if I became famous, it would be because of Richard Armitage…and I may not have been far off 😉

Check out the original post here, which includes an excerpt of Richard reading Venitia, interviews conducted during his work on The Convenient Marriage, and links to other audio samples and projects.

John Thornton


Cora’s TBR Challenge Check-In

It’s March fellow readers! Has your TBR pile gotten any smaller?

IMG-20140218-00029I have to say, doing this challenge here on the blog where everyone can watch my progress has been motivating. I’m actively searching for more time to read to ensure I make my goal…sometimes to the detriment of my to-do lists!

One thing that’s helped me this month is finding books in different formats. I snap up little mass market paperbacks at my local library used book sales, but when I get home I have such a hard time reading that tiny print! The book goes in the TBR bin and ends up staying there. But I live in an area with a IMG-20140218-00030wonderful library system–what they don’t have, they can get. So I looked up my mass market paperbacks and found larger version that are much easier to read.

Presto! Two more books climbing out of the TBR bin!

Are you making progress with your commitment? If you missed the beginning of the challenge, it’s not too late to join in the fun! Check out my TBR Challenge Page for more details.

Books, Friday Favorites

Friday Favorites: Prue Batten’s Guy of Gisborne

I write Regency romances, but I also adore medieval novels–and this week’s Favorite is a series I can’t seem to get enough of. Based on an alternate history where Guy of Gisborne looks like Richard Armitage and has nothing to do with Robin Hood, Prue Batten’s Gisborne series is one of my favorite medieval stories. She saw the good in a “bad guy” (if you’ll pardon the pun) and gave him a chance to be the hero, with wonderful results!

Read here about the evolution of Prue’s version of Guy of Gisborne. Click on the pictures to learn more about each book.

Book of PawnsBook of Knights


Cora’s TBR Challenge Check-In


Okay, so it’s been almost exactly a month since I posted my TBR Challenge. How’s it going? How many of you have begun reading books long forgotten? How many of you forgot your pledge?

My own first action was to take stock of my supplies, so to speak. I am one of those compulsively organized people, so my books are already grouped together based on their subject matter. But I have so many still to read, I wasn’t even sure what books were in each group!

IMG-20140214-00028I did find a couple of duplicates–I’d bought a book twice not realizing that I already had it at home. Happily, these were books from the local library used book sale, so I didn’t spend much money. And the duplicate copies will go right back to the library for re-sale, so it works out 🙂

One thing that surprised me, though, was that I found whole series on my Kindle I didn’t know I possessed. I’m notorious for buying the first book in a series when it’s on sale, but forgoing the rest until I’ve had a chance to read the first. I discovered a lot of those as well, but I also found the first five books in Julie Ann Long’s Pennyroyal Green seriesPennyroyal Green series, all of Annette Blair’s Rogue series, all four of Jacquie D’Alessandro’s Regency Historical series, and several “boxed sets” that I bought and didn’t remember I had.

Once I had figured out what was here, the tough part began: which book do I read first? I have more time for reading now, because I’m still not working. But it was really difficult to pick a book–too many choices is almost worse than not enough choices! I finally just grabbed one without looking…and was rewarded with Ellis Peters’ lovely Brother Cadfael 🙂

So how are you fairing this month? What has been the hardest thing about this challenge? Any surprises so far?

You can also check out my TBR Challenge page to monitor my progress or add your thoughts on the books I’m reading.

Flat Arthur

Flat Arthur Visits HNS 2013

Ever hear of Flat Stanley? He’s a character in a children’s story who accidentally gets flattened when a cork board falls on him. He then takes advantage of his two-dimentional-ness to slide underneath doors and go places no one else can.

In 1994, a man named Dale Hubert thought it would be fun if children created their own Flat Stanleys and mailed them to friends and family all over the world. The receiving families would “host” the Stanleys, showing them around town and keeping a journal about the places they’d gone. When the “visit” was over, the receiving family would mail the Stanleys back to their owners, along with the journals. Children could learn about other places in the world in an authentic, non-textbook sort of way. And thus the Flat Stanley Project was born.

I thought it would be entertaining to have a Flat Stanley for the historically-minded, one to take with me on my (admittedly few) travels. Since I’m writing a Regency-era novel, I wanted a prominent, recognizable figure from that time period. It also made sense to continue the theme and use a person who had traveled extensively during his or her lifetime. I settled on Sir Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, who I was familiar with…and who would look good on camera 🙂

Duke of Wellington 1814

I cut him out and pasted him to some sturdy cardboard to help him survive his journeys. Then I packed him in my suitcase and took him to the Historical Novel Society’s 2013 Conference in St. Petersburg, Florida.

We spent most of our time at the hotel, the beautiful Renaissance Vinoy. Photo credit goes to Margaret Rodenberg, who stepped in with her camera when mine threw a tantrum. Thanks Margaret!

Flat Arthur HNS sign

His Grace was also kind enough to come with me to my Blue Pencil Cafe appointment, where I had the first two pages of my WIP critiqued by the lovely Kris Waldherr. He was supposed to give us privacy, but I think he was eavesdropping–listening for his own name, perhaps?


I did not take him with me to David Blixt‘s sword fighting workshop, mostly because I didn’t want to hear him prattle on about his own prowess. Or how my form was wrong. Or how the exit sign that I nearly decapitated never did anything to me. Since I ended up with a nice medieval broadsword rather than a rapier or smallsword (which he’d be more familiar with), His Grace probably wouldn’t have been too critical. But I think he enjoyed his quiet time in the hotel room. I certainly enjoyed the workshop!


We did take a walk together, though, on the last day of the conference, and talked over our experiences in this pretty little park across the street.


Sitting on a bench in the shade, I asked His Grace if he had enjoyed his stay in St. Petersburg. He told me it wasn’t bad–better than his last trip to Spain. But he wished we’d gotten out more, seen more of the town than just the hotel and the park.


Maybe you can help, my wonderful readers! Are you going to a conference or convention involving history or writing? Taking a trip to a historic place with the family? Researching for school, work, or pleasure? Perhaps you could make a Flat Arthur of your own, and take him with you 😀

Books, Friday Favorites

Friday Favorite: Richard Armitage Reads Georgette Heyer

Hold on to your e-readers and mp3 players, ladies! Our Friday Favorite this week is Richard Armitage. He’s best known for his portrayal of John Thornton in North and South, Lucas North in MI-5 (Spooks across the Atlantic), and most recently as Thorin Oakenshield in The Hobbit movies.

Richard Armitage

But in the last few years he’s also gotten into audiobook narration, including three of Georgette Heyer’s novels: The Convenient Marriage, Venetia, and Sylvester.

Audio clips:

Interview for The Convenient Marriage, where Richard talks about the difference between doing audiobooks and screen acting, and his love of music. (June 2010)

Interview for Venetia, where he talks about how he got started with audiobooks, and his reading habits. (March 2010)

Excerpt from Georgette Heyer’s Venetia, complete with separate voices for each character.

You can find these clips and other audio at Richard Armitage Central. But make sure you come up for air once in a while 😉


The 95th Regiment of Foot (Rifles): The first of all Services in the British Army

“In this distinguished Service, you will carry a Rifle no heavier than a Fowling-Piece. You will knock down your Enemy at Five Hundred Yards, instead of missing him at Fifty.

On Service, your Post is always the Post of Honour, and your Quarters the best in the Army; for you have the first of everything; and at Home you are sure of Respect—because a BRITISH RIFLEMAN always makes himself Respectable.

GOD SAVE the KING! and his Rifle Regiment!

 —Wellington’s Rifles: Six Years to Waterloo with England’s Legendary Sharpshooters by Mark Urban


Who says you can’t learn things from fiction?  I was first introduced to the 95th Rifles in Mary Jo Putney’s book The Bargain, where the hero was a wounded officer from that regiment.  (Bernard Cornwell also uses them in his Richard Sharpe series.)  I wouldn’t have thought anything else about it except that she included an author’s note and explained why she picked the 95th.  I’m one of those strange souls who think history is a whole lot of fun, so I went right from the book to the computer and starting poking around the Napoleonic Wars and the 95th Rifle Regiment.  It turns out they were quite different from the rest of their infantry brethren.

The first thing I noticed was that the men and officers of the Rifles wore green uniforms rather than the familiar red—not a huge revelation if one is familiar with the British Army, but a small surprise for me.  Their belts and trim were black instead of the white of the other regiments.  Recruitment advertisements touted these darker uniforms as more comfortable and easier to care for.  In practice, they drew the ridicule of other units (at least in the beginning—once the Rifle Brigade had proved its value, the taunting slowed considerably).

Also, while most officers of the time were still purchasing their commissions and promotions, the majority of officers of the 95th were commissioned or promoted based on merit or seniority.  “Soldiers of fortune” they called themselves, neither nobility nor gentry for the most part.  Perhaps because of this, the Rifles were known as a more egalitarian outfit than their musket-bearing counterparts.

The biggest difference between the Rifles and the rest of the infantry, of course, was their weapon.  While everyone else carried muskets, the 95th carried the Baker rifle which had grooves inside the barrel to spin the bullet as it was fired (you CSI fans and gun enthusiasts will recognize this as the “rifling”).  The spinning increased accuracy immensely—like spiraling a football—allowing these soldiers to fight differently.  Riflemen did not stand shoulder to shoulder and fire into a block of the enemy.  Instead, they could fire individually and from standing, sitting, and kneeling positions, or even laying down, and were trained accordingly.  They were, in fact, founded to emulate the sharpshooters of Continental Army and militias during the American Revolution.  (There’s irony for you!)

The 95th Rifles went on to become wildly famous for their actions during the Peninsular War, being awarded regimental battle honors for Ciudad Rodrigo, Salamanca, Vittoria, The Pyrenees, Toulouse, and Waterloo, among others.  Curiously, though, they were rarely awarded individual medals and recognition, though other soldiers in other units were regularly honored.


Whole Lotta Love: England as a Popular Setting in Historical Romance

I was reading the reviews on Amazon a couple of months ago for some Regency-era novel, and one reviewer was upset because the book was set in England (not the UK—she specifically mentioned England, so Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and the rest of the old Empire were apparently exempted).  She went on to comment that so many historical romances were set in England these days that she was sick of them all, and wondered why authors never used more exotic locales.

My first reaction was indignation—how dare she disparage a place and period so near and dear to my heart?!  And it was a Regency novel she was reviewng, what did she expect?  But the question rolled around in my head for a while, and I began to wonder the same thing, minus the resentment.  Why is England so popular a setting for historical fiction authors?

My attraction to English history is partly personal.  I adore reading about many locations and periods of time, but many of my ancestors are English, including my grandfather.  It’s interesting to me to study the history of a country so closely tied to my family.  And since said grandfather died before I was born, it’s also a way for me to connect with him, to get to know him through the culture and events of his first home.

I think, too, that Samantha Brown (from The Travel Channel) hit the nail on the head when she said that visiting England was, at least for Americans, Europe-light.  It is exotic for us with the differences in food, accents, and dialects, but it’s not way outside our comfort zones.  Traveling to London from the US seems kind of like visiting, say, Atlanta when you’re from Minneapolis—go with me on this one.  Some accents are hard to manage, sure, but they still speak English and you can make yourself understood.  Some of the food is decidedly different from what you’d find on your table at home, but it’s recognizable and you can find something you like.  Your trip is full of new and exciting experiences, and you don’t have to worry about whether or not you can read the street signs.

So what do you think?  Are there other reasons readers might favor stories set in England?  Or are there locations you prefer when you’re choosing a book?


You Bastard! Illegitimacy During the Regency

Because I had to rein myself in last week replying to Barbara’s comment, and because I can use one of my favorite characters as an example (see if you can guess which one it is), this week’s blog post is about legitimacy (or the lack thereof).

In order to be considered a legitimate child during the Regency, your parents had to be married at the time of your birth.  It didn’t matter what their status was at your conception, as long as they made it to the altar—together—before you made an appearance in the world.  If you came before the nuptial ceremony, you were illegitimate, forever, even if your parents married later*.

If your mother was married to another man at the time of your birth, you were legitimate, but legally the child of her husband.  There are all kinds of subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) jokes and references in Regency and Georgian novels about ladies letting a “cookoo” in the nest—passing off the child of an affair as one belonging to her husband.  It’s even a major plot point in Julia Quinn’s It’s In His Kiss: the hero and his “father” both know he’s the product of his mother’s affair, but he’s still the legal heir to his “father’s” title and fortune.

Illegitimate offspring could not inherit titles or entailed property (property that, by law, passed to the next legitimate male heir).  Ever.  They could inherit unentailed property (property that could be disposed of in any manner), money, or goods by will—as could anybody else.

A great example of this is Mary Balogh’s A Secret AffairThe hero, Constantine Huxtable, was born two days before his parent’s wedding, thus rendering him ineligible to inherit his father’s earldom (this is actually the basis for the series, as a cousin inherits instead).  But wait, you say.  Grace Burrowes has a hero who’s illegitimate, and he’s an earl!  In The Soldier, Devlin St. Just is the bastard son of a duke, and he does gain an earldom, but not through inheritance. St. Just’s title was granted for service to the Crown during the Napoleonic Wars, and it was the monarch’s prerogative to confer the honor.  (Where do you think all those nobles came from in the first place?)

Bastardy was also a bar to society, for the most part.  According to Allison Lane, an illegitimate daughter was not accepted or welcome at all socially, while a son could be admitted to the fringes of society with the help and sponsorship of his father.  The heroine of Julia Quinn’s An Offer from a Gentleman is a good illustration: she was the bastard daughter of an earl, but never acknowledged as anything other than the earl’s ward, nor did she move in society (except once, but I won’t spoil it for you).

There were exceptions to this rule (there always are, right?), and a big one was William, Duke of Clarence (later William IV) had ten (yes, ten!) illegitimate children with an actress known as Mrs. Jordan.  Being the bastard get of a royal duke was clearly a better lot than that of other illegitimate children (and many legitimate ones, too).  Since their father was the son and brother of a king (then later a king himself), the FitzClarences, as they were called, did well socially.  They were given the precedence of the children of a marquess, the eldest son was granted an earldom, and the rest married nobles or the children of nobles.

*For those of you that are familiar with the medieval period, you’re probably jumping up and down right now, yelling “John of Gaunt!” or “Beaufort!” (or maybe you’re yelling something else at me!).  Yes, John of Gaunt (son of Edward III) had four children with his mistress Katherine Swynford and given the surname Beaufort (after one of John’s properties).  And yes, they were eventually legitimized by the pope and their cousin Richard II when John scandalized everyone and married Katherine (their children were adults by then).  But this was under the medieval Catholic Church, where rules could be bent for the right price, and John was a very powerful man.  And this legitimacy was questioned a couple of generations later when Henry Tudor, great-great-grandson of John through his eldest Beaufort son, claimed the English throne.  The Regency was several hundred years after the Reformation, andBritain’s aristocracy was (for the most part) steadfastly Protestant.  Different time, different church, different rules.