Saturday, February 11, 2012

Haywood Smith -- Shadows In Velvet

Rated: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ .   {4.50}
Action: ♠♠♠♠. / Emotion: ♣♣♣♣ / Romance: ♥♥. / Sensuous: ♦ / Suspense: ♠♠♠
Action: 4.5 / Emotion: 4 / Romance: 2.5 / Sensuous: 1 / Suspense: 3 // Historical Flavor: 5 / Laughter: 1 / Tears: 5

Have been in the mood to read medieval romances lately, so picked up Haywood Smith's Shadows In Velvet because it was set in 1652 and the back cover synopsis made it sound like a good story to read.   The book was immediately engrossing and interesting and had a difficult time putting it down to get some sleep.   A couple of personal quirks kept the book from becoming a favorite read or a book to be put on "to be re-read" list.   First, there is the problem with the mental pronunciation of the names in the book -- have no clue on how to pronounce the French names in this novel.   Second, because the book was published in July 1996, it was no surprise, but, nevertheless disappointing, that there was no sizzle in the sex scenes.

Anne-Marie Celeste de Bourbon-Corbay, known as Annique to the residents of Convent Sacre Coeur in Provence, was introduced as an inquisitive, strong-willed, rebellious, but gentle-hearted girl who immediately inspired empathy because it was obvious that life in the convent was not her cup of tea and had not been easy:

"She was safe here.   Blackie and Mamoo knew nothing of Grand Silences, of discipline, of denial, of mortifying the flesh.   Unlike human beings, these gentle creatures asked little and never criticized, never punished; they only gave of their substance and their trusting gratitude in return for her simple care."   (Annique in milking shed, page 3)
Suspense was immediately introduced into the story when the inquisitive Annique snuck into the library to read forbidden scriptures and overheard Father Jules and Mother Bernard arguing about her secretive past and her new future.   Father Jules, who had shown Annique a special preference during her years in the convent, was left to explain why she had been taught subjects like mathematical theory and military strategy . . . and why she was being sent away from the only home she knew to marry a man she had never met.   But what Father Jules, and then Mother Bernard would not tell Annique was who she was and why she had been sent to the convent.

Shadows In Velvet is full of secrets, deception, Court intrigue and the manipulations of the rich and powerful.   As the second, and unloved son, of Henri, duc d'Harcourt, the Marshal of France, Philippe, Duc de Corbay, an officer in the Queen's Guard, was well-versed in the art of deception, having "outwitted armies with his keen sense of strategy" and because "duty and survival forced him to endure father's manipulations."   Philippe is introduced to readers as he plots the best way to break off his affair with the Great Mademoiselle.

It was obvious that Haywood spent an incredible amount of time researching this particular time period in the history of France.   Haywood brought this time period to vivid life by intricately and completely interweaving the lives and actions of key historical figures struggling to rule France in 1652 into Philippe and Annique's story.   Historical figures that were mentioned and played an important role in the plot of the story included: {1} Gaston d'Orléans, the brother to King Louis XIII (died eight years earlier); {2} Cardinal Mazarin, the vicious, evil man who was hand-in-glove with Duke d'Harcourt, was the regent's advisor by the simple virtual of being the queen's paramour; {3} King Louis XIV who would soon celebrate his fourteenth birthday; and {4} Prince Condé, the Great Mademoiselle's cousin and leader of the Frondes, a group of Frenchmen rebelling against the rule of the Italian Mazarin, and the Spanish Queen.

The historical figure featured with a point of view presence and very closely involved with both Philippe and Annique was Anne-Marie Louise Therese, Duchess de Montpensier, the Great Mademoiselle of France, princess, daughter of Gaston d'Orléans, and the true leader of the Fronde.   Although Haywood inspired a bit of sympathy for the courageous, larger than life Great Mademoiselle by explaining why she was driven to deceitfully manipulate people and respond with acts of vengeance when they did not comply with her grand plans, she was not an easy-to-like character.

Not only was Annique unprepared when thrown into the pit of vipers that was Philippe's family upon her arrival in Paris, but she had to do so alone, because her sources of comfort and her escorts, Father Jules and Sister Thomas, left her behind with only a note as solace.   As Annique was trying to come to terms with her distant husband, hoping to develop a friendship, she found herself falling for him during the long, seduction (that was more emotional than spicy) that was their wedding night.   The little bit of trust that Annique was feeling towards Philippe was blasted all to pieces when the Great Mademoiselle exacted vengeance against Philippe (for rejecting her) and Annique (for cleverly calling her old at a ball) by demanding Philippe's presence at her palace on his wedding night.

The frustrating thing about watching the relationship grow between Philippe and Annique was that it seemed impossible that Philippe and Annique could fall in love with one another based on their two acts of lovemaking, because they spent more time apart, being angry at one other, making false assumptions about the other than they spent together.   Although (because of personal background) it was easy to identify with both Philippe's and Annique's struggles to come to terms with their angst-filled pasts, did not "feel" the romance growing between these characters.

This book was such a great read because it resonated within me for several reasons: {1} Annique preferring honesty to deceit; {2} Annique wanting to control her own life choices; and {3} Philippe's angst of being an unloved child.   There were specific times when the words that spewed from the mind of both the hero and the heroine were like spouting my very own thoughts.   Haywood did an incredible job of drawing forth deep emotions as she wrote about the struggles that Philippe and Annique encountered as they learned to love and trust one another.

Philippe and Annique did not have an easy road to their happily-ever-after and there was a definite lack of development when Annique finally called Philippe back home.   One page she was determined to make it on her own, the next she called Philippe, apologized and told him she loved him.   Yes, Haywood, explained why this happened, and it made sense, but after reading 390 pages of well-developed angst that separated the hero and heroine, the abrupt one-page about-face, left something to be desired.   And, no, did not want the book to be any longer (because there were times when it felt like a 700-page book), but wished for a better-written scene for Philippe and Annique's reconciliation . . . and for an Epilogue detailing their happily-ever-after years later.

Haywood did a fantastic job of drawing out the interest in the lives of Philippe and Annique as she slowly developed their personalities.   She also inspired interest in the supporting characters of the book.   However, Haywood spent so much time on the historical aspects of the story that she left one wishing she had spent more time on the background and development of supporting characters like: {1} Jacques and Suzanne, Philippe's two loyal retainers who cared for his home; {2} Father Jules, who loved Annique unconditionally but kept vital secrets from her; and {3} Mother Bernard, whose entire life was shrouded in secrecy.

To summarize, Shadows In Velvet felt more 'Historical' than 'Romantic,' yet it contained the requisites for an enthralling, fascinating read.   {1} A gorgeous, hunky, determined, inspiring hero, who rose above the difficulties placed in his path.   {2} A courageous, spunky, intelligent, heroine who overcame the blows life dealt her.   {3}   Plenty of action to keep the story moving at a steady pace.   {4} An undercurrent of suspense permeated the entire book as wondered what all the secrets were and how Philippe and Annique were going to out-maneuver his father and the princess.   {5} An abundance of historical characters and details interwoven into the story to bring history to life.   {6} A strong emotional connection to Philippe and Annique as they struggled to deal with their respective life issues.   {7} A bit of romance and a bit of sensuality during lovemaking scenes.   {8} A stressful, yet emotional ending for Philippe and Annique's happily-ever-after.

Would recommend this book to romance readers who enjoy extensive historical details interwoven into a story line.   Will not add this book to favorites list because the French setting took away the "knight in shining armor"-feeling prefer in medieval romances.
--Vonda M. Reid (Friday, February 10, 2012 : 5:14 p.m.)

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Shadows In Velvet Quotations:
3She was safe here.   Blackie and Mamoo knew nothing of Grand Silences, of discipline, of denial, of mortifying the flesh.   Unlike human beings, these gentle creatures asked little and never criticized, never punished; they only gave of their substance and their trusting gratitude in return for her simple care.
34"I take great pleasure from my books.   They ask so little, and they're always there when I need them, always the same as when I first discovered them."   He scanned the volumes crowding the shelves of the cozy room.   Books offered the wisdom, the experiences, the emotions of great men, with none of the danger.   . . .   "Books never beg anything of me, and they can do me no harm; for that, I am most grateful."
. . . "Sounds mighty lonely to me, your grace."
65. . . life went on regardless of disappointments."
224"Philippe had always known his father didn't like him, but the words had pierced, sure and deadly, to shatter whatever fragment remained of the child who had once hungered in vain for a father's love."
295"When you've been hurt, badly hurt, there's no runnin' away from the pain.   Avoidin' it only cripples you, makes things miserable for that much longer."
296"It hurts so much to feel, to care, to think."
298"How self-absorbed she had become, never thinking past her own needs, her own problems, her own pain."

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Characters Found In "Shadows In Velvet"
Character Description / Relationships
Philippe, Duc de Corbay[Hero] officer in Queen's Guard (9) honorable man of good reputation and heritage (9) nurtured on deception; not submissive; decisive (10) outwitted armies with keen sense of strategy; duty and survival forced him to endure father's manipulations (11) enjoyed dangerous games of power and seduction, played them well; impoverished second son; crème de la crème of society (12) broad shoulders (13) tall frame; aristocratic planes to his face; coal black hair; spark of amber in blue eyes; velvet and lace of gentleman; hard, disciplined body of fighting man (14) skill and unpredictability as lover (16) elegance of audacity; perceptive (17) recently acquired title: a secondhand duchy for a second son (18) well-healed battle scars marked torso (29) clean shaven (30) classically proportioned face (31) fondness for study and contemplation; hunger for organization (33) 8 years as soldier; 3 years in royal guard (56) tall; powerful build; blue black hair a compelling contrast to his skin as flawless as swallow's egg; breathtakingly handsome; fluid, elegant movements; dark blue eyes as brilliant as stars (64) even white teeth (70) hair smelled of herbs and woodsmoke (71) sharp cynicism (77) formidable wit (83) 28-y-o (110)
Anne-Marie "Annique" Celeste de Bourbon-Corbay
Convent Sacre Coeur, France
[Heroine] taught discipline, denial (5) learned to be quiet, conceal true feeling; taught to recognize the currents of intrigue and political poison within the Court through History (6) curious; taught secular history and politics (7) taught science, medicine, mathematical theory, military strategy (8) convent bred girl of 18 (16) defiant (39) strong sense of fastidiousness (54) alabaster skin (63) radiated impression of intensity (65) face unexceptional; mouth a bit too wide; lower lip bit too full; well-defined chin hardly delicate (66) huge, liquid brown eyes; keen intelligence; no cunning; no malice; compelling presence; (67) deep, full, cultured voice (68) patience; watchful keenness (84) 5'5" (132) hated secrecy; hated dishonesty (200)
BalthusPhilippe's horse (55) huge black stallion (99)
Mother Celeste Bernard
Convent Sacre Coeur, France
[Minor Secondary Character] reverend mother at Convent Sacre Coeur in Provence; shrouded in mystery
Bosarge[Minor Secondary Character] gray-haired captain (265)
King Louis [de Bourbon] XIII [Historical Character / No Book Appearance] past king; died eight years ago; Gaston's brother (12)
Christine [de Bourbon] [Historical Character / No Book Appearance] Louis XIII's sister
Elizabeth [de Bourbon] [Historical Character / No Book Appearance] Louis XIII's sister
Henrietta-Maria [de Bourbon] [Historical Character / No Book Appearance] Louis XIII's sister
Georges Broussel[Minor Secondary Character] Captain; thick lips gave look of permanent petulance; disagreeable nature; Philippe's cousin; beady eyes; father used bribery and influence as councilman to secure appointment at Bastille (60) puffed up bored (61) short; high forehead; petulant expression (65)
Duchess of Châtillon[Minor Secondary Character] The Great Mademoiselle's lady in waiting // complained incessantly (199)
Comte de Chavigny[Minor Secondary Character] officer serving The Great Mademoiselle
Prince Condé[Minor Secondary and Historical Character] Louise's cousin; in Fronde (22) oily beard (208) Prince (209)
Father Jules
Convent Sacre Coeur, France
[Secondary Character] priest at Convent Sacre Coeur in Provence; arranged Annique's marriage; Annique's paternal uncle
Nourrie, Madame Fiésque[Minor Secondary Character] Louise's faithful nurse (20) sympatric; loved Louise; thin arms (21) snored loudly; constantly, explosively passed gas (199)
Marquis de Flamarin[Minor Secondary Character] The Great Mademoiselle's acquaintance // thin; rather unattractive young man (197)
Madame Flobert[No Book Appearance] made Annique's trousseau (42)
Duchess de Frontenac[Minor Secondary Character] The Great Mademoiselle's lady in waiting // little or no personality (199)
Galoise[No Book Appearance] carpenter hired to renovate Maison Corbay Sèvres (18)
Etienne Granville[Minor Secondary Character] Philippe's second in command (222)
Commander Sieur de Guitaut[Minor Secondary Character] Philippe's commander / Captain of the Royal Guard (244)
Dr. Haddad[Minor Secondary Character] slender, olive-skinned man in turban (414)
Elise [d'Harcourt][Minor Secondary Character] Philippe's half-sister; springtime; fair as day in May (67) rosy-cheeked little girl; golden curls; plump little hands (78) "Lili"; large blue eyes; smelled of soap and roses; 3-y-o (79)
Marshal Harcourt
Henri, duc d'Harcourt
[Important Secondary Character] Philippe's father // hand in glove with Cardinal Mazarin, before him Richelieu (4) marshal (6) Philippe's father (12) brutally beat Philippe as child, locked in dovecote (19) gave with one hand while slapping with the other (36) Duke d'Harcourt; marshal of France; statuesque elderly gentleman; wore abundance of lace and ribbons; powdered face and hair (48) rich and powerful (56) relentless precision (57) Henri, duc d'Harcourt (336)
Hélène, duchesse d'Harcourt[Minor Secondary Character] Philippe's step-mother; insipid creature; lived to please husband's whims (35) year younger than Philippe (59) thoughtless; vapid (66) simple; bovine; guileless lack of perception (75)
Henri, Viscount of Harcourt[Minor Secondary Character] Philippe's older brother (18) married 10 years (61) portly (64)
Patrice [d'Harcourt][Minor Secondary Character] Henri's wife; harpy (58) elegant hand; pointed nails evoking images of talons; shrewd (59) no children (61) brittle; vicious (66)
Jacques[Secondary Character] Philippe's servant; Philippe ransomed from prison 4-y-a; former farmer (28)
Jean[Minor Secondary Character] gatekeeper at Maison d'Harcourt; previously gardener
Marie[Secondary Character] Annique's ladies maid // previously served in duc d'Harcourt's house as scullery maid; fifteen (51)
Cardinal Mazarin[Historical Character / No Book Appearance] evil, devious man; "means to use the sovereign power of faith to bend the World to his own devices" (5) regent's advisor (7) Italian by birth; queen's paramour (22) without mercy or conscience; vicious, evil man (277)
Viscount of Nances[Minor Secondary Character] young; penniless; ambitious (381)
Anne-Marie Louise Therese d'Orléans, Duchess de Montpensier,
The Great Mademoiselle
[Major Secondary and Historical Character] princess; powerful; shrewd (11) real force behind the Fronde (11) vast fortune funded the rebellion; regal status; voluptuous figure (12) hungry intelligence; languid body; hard living made her look older than 24; lilac scent; cascade of blond hair (13) beautiful; compelling; intelligent; smug; "wore intrigue like heady perfume, and every word that was said or not said had the weight of nations behind it" (14) employed truth sparingly (16) did not give up without a fight or an elegant revenge (18) vain; hotheaded; courageous (74) larger than life; lush figure; strong profile testified to Bourbon heritage (86) little more than 5'; pale blue eyes; thick dusting of golden lashes; cold eyes (88) deep creases by mouth; heavy coating of powder to hide age (89)
Gaston d'Orléans[Minor Historical Character] The Great Mademoiselle's father (11) plotting for years to seize throne from brother (12) looked like rat; soiled, disheveled little man (230) wisps of yellowish-gray hair that straggled beside haggard cheeks; weak; indecisive; beady eyes (231)
Paoul[Minor Secondary Character] kept Maison Corbay from ruin with little money and no help (144)
Pierre[Minor Secondary Character] Madame Pleuris' son (150)
Pierre[Minor Secondary Character] Suzanne's oldest son; good fellow; hard worker; bright; smitten with Marie (376)
Madame Pleuris[Minor Secondary Character] housekeeper of Maison Corbay (144)
Master Préfontaine[Minor Secondary Character] Louise's personal secretary and confidant; fussy older man (197)
Cardinal Retz[Historical Character / No Book Appearance] interactions with Gaston (231)
Duke de la Rochefoucauld[Minor Secondary Character] injured in battle (245)
Duc de Rohan[Minor Secondary Character] officer serving The Great Mademoiselle
Sister Jonah
Convent Sacre Coeur, France
[Minor Secondary Character] bitter nun who mistreated Annigue // mistress of novices (3) rigid bearing; 40s (36) thin lips; transferred from Mother House two years ago (37) secret delight in shaming Annique; contemptuous; bitter; cruel; wore crucifix inscribed from Louis XIII (39)
Sister Matthias
Convent Sacre Coeur, France
[Minor Secondary Character] nun; cook (369)
Sister Thomas
Convent Sacre Coeur, France
[Minor Secondary Character] kind-natured nun, who was a solace to Annique // plump older nun (2)
Suzanne[Secondary Character] Jacques' wife (28) irreverent wit (377)
General Turenne[Historical Character / No Book Appearance]
Antonin Vendôme[Minor Secondary Character] Philippe's adoring younger cousin; stationed at Orléans under General Turenne; freckled face (61) amiable-looking blond (65) talkative under wine (72)
Lieutenant Vercours[Minor Secondary Character] one of Philippe's men (181)
Tomas Verigny[Minor Secondary Character] drunken soldier gambling with Philippe // voiced what everyone thinking; "we've taken to killing our friends"
Duke of Verigny[Minor Secondary Character] Annique's ardent admirer; renowned sexual prowess (379) scoundrel; loudmouth (380)

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Haywood Smith

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Shadows In Velvet Reviews:
RatedPostedSiteNotes, Comments, Etc.
4.67 average{3 reviews}Amazonas of: February 10, 2012
----Barnes and Noble"Meet The Writer" (not a review)
3.34 average{3 ratings}Good Readsas of: February 10, 2012
----Library Thingas of: February 10, 2012
4.50 average{2 ratings}Paperback Swapas of: February 10, 2012
----Pink Fuzzy Slipper WritersGuest Blog {Very Interesting}
----Publishers Weeklyfound on Amazon
4.5003-30-2010RT (Romantic Times) Book Reviews1996 First Historical Romance Award
4.00{1 review}Shelfarias of: February 10, 2012
4.5002-12-2012Wolf Bear Does Booksshorter post on Amazon, Good Reads, Shelfari

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♥  Disclaimer:   I Purchased This Book
♥  Very Subjective Rating
♥  Willing to share Cheat Sheet
    ♦  in whole or in part
    ♦  WordPerfect or PDF
♣  Will add your Shadows In Velvet review link to table, just ask

1 comment:

  1. This is really a great-looking cover . . . unless you look closely at the man in the picture. There is just something off about the way he is standing and his apparel.