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Book Club: The Windflower by Sharon & Tom Curtis [Updated: Giveaway]

The Windflower by Laura London

 

UPDATE: Robin has an extra copy of the original first edition of The Windflower hanging around the house, that she’s giving away to one commenter. Please see the details at the end of this post and enter via the Rafflecopter.

 

Welcome to the first book club of 2014. Today we are hosting Sharon & Tom Curtis’ book The Windflower.  Read the review here. The following are some questions that will launch our book club chat.

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1.    Okay, let’s get the most important question out of the way first: what have you been doing in the years since you wrote your Romances, and are you planning to write any new books? What kinds of characters and stories interest you now?

In the years since we wrote romances, Tom has been working, driving his 18-wheeler. Sharon worked in bookstore management. Sharon cared for her mother while her mother was ill with lymphoma. We read lots, Tom went on long hikes with the dogs, we watched our children complete their education, start their professional lives, marry and begin families. We played with our grandchildren. Tom and the kids continue to perform Irish music in the family band. We were politically active. Sharon watched baseball. Tom went on three day bike trips with friends, which Sharon calls the tavern tours of northern Wisconsin due to the frequent enjoyment of libations along the way.

We are currently working on an urban fantasy. We like characters with vulnerabilities, psychological baggage, big hearts, a healthy sense of humor and a pronounced appetite for life. We like stories with adventure, humor, surprises and good outcomes.

2.    In what ways do you think the genre has changed since you started writing? Why do you think your books have remained popular for 30+ years?

We love the way the romance genre has grown in readership and the sheer volume of novels that are published every month. There are more sub-genres within the wider circle of romance, more chances for readers to find a niche that really appeals to them and more titles to choose from.

We feel incredibly grateful that there are readers who are interested in our books. Just guessing, but it seems that the product of our imagination must be relatable to the imaginations of our readers.

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3.    There are a number of literary allusions in your books, especially to Shakespeare. Were you intentionally working with any particular types or specific literary works in your books, and if so, can you give some examples?

It’s too long ago for us to remember exact examples, but Tom was an English lit major at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, and had recently completed a two semester course on the complete works of Shakespeare, taught by a brilliant young professor.  To say that these great works were very much on Tom’s mind would be an understatement. He had read and studied in great detail every word Shakespeare had ever written. He had  classes on Milton and Jane Austen that made quite an impression as well. He was more full of literary allusions than you could shake a stick at.



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4.    One of the most appealing aspects of The Windflower for us is the tone of the book. It is a *fun* book to read, and it feels as if you’re both celebrating the genre and gently having a bit of fun with it. Are we reading too much into it, or were you giving a bit of a wink to your readers with Merry, Devon, and Cat?

Thank you for noting and complimenting the tone of The Windflower. We were indeed celebrating the genre and, in moments, and lovingly, having a fun with it. It was a wonderful writing experience.

windflower

5.    It is often said that Romance is a women’s genre, and that it should stay that way. Given the fact that half of the Laura London writing team is male, what do you say to that?
 
Tom says, “Men have romantic feelings but they are not in the habit of fully expressing them. Many of those romantic feelings are based on gratitude. If most men wrote a romance novel, it would be about one hundred ways to say thank you. Very boring.

 

In addition to our review and the Q&A, we’ve put together some questions we hope might help provoke discussion:

1. How do you think The Windflower compares to other historical Romances of its time? Compared to those currently published?
2. Who’s your favorite character and why? Who’s your least favorite character and why?
3. This book is often talked about as part of the “forced seduction” trope, even though Devon and Merry don’t get past second base until they’re married, and by then it’s completely consensual. Thoughts?
4. Why do you think this book remains a classic in the genre? If you don’t think it should be, why not?
GIVEAWAY!
In celebration of the re-issue of The Windflower, we are perversely going to give away one of the original editions of the paperback, published in 1984. These became a bit of a collector’s item over the years, and one of us managed to hoard collect a few of them.a Rafflecopter giveaway

To enter, please tell us which Classic Romance novel you would take with you to a desert island.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

52 Comments

  1. Donna Thorland
    May 27, 2014 @ 09:01:56

    I fell in love with this book as a reader and returned to it a decade later as a writer, trying to tease out–from a craft point of view–what made it so appealing and enduring.

    It occurred to me that if story excitement comes from two sources, action and revelation, the historical romance genre in its current incarnation uses very little revelation (think how fresh the twist in Joanna Bourne’s Spymaster’s Lady was–and how infrequently we encounter reveals like that in the genre). The Windflower uses revelation often and to great effect–turning the story in new directions that keep us turning the pages.

    It’s also got a protagonist in Merry who grows in understanding. There’s some irony in the fact that in response to reader complaints about heroines of yore being too perfect, we’ve gotten heroines who start out with fewer flaws–that is, we get heroines who are worldly and wise at the beginning of the book and they’ve got no place to go–no room for character growth.

    Did I mention pirates?

  2. JewelCourt
    May 27, 2014 @ 09:25:17

    This was one of the first romances I ever read. I stole it from my Mom. She had a bag of “trashy” paperbacks that I wasn’t supposed to touch. it’s funny how out of all the books I snuck, this one stuck with me. Especially since I’ve read so many books since then. But, when I was reading the dueling review, I found myself recalling entire passages. And I also remember being fascinated by Cat. He stole the book.

    I’m afraid to re-read it thought, because I think it would lose some of the magic. Especially since it has some things that, as an adult reader, irritate me i.e.1. Naive heroines and 2. Heroines that are universally adored.

  3. Moriah Jovan
    May 27, 2014 @ 09:45:44

    “Men have romantic feelings but they are not in the habit of fully expressing them. Many of those romantic feelings are based on gratitude. If most men wrote a romance novel, it would be about one hundred ways to say thank you.“

    This may be the most profound (and precise) statement about romance I have ever read.

  4. Lada
    May 27, 2014 @ 10:10:13

    I began reading romance in the early 2000’s and The Windflower came on my radar for 2 reasons. 1) I had read an anthology with a story by the Curtises called The Natural Child which I loved (and still do). And 2) author Deborah Simmons wrote a DIK review at AAR which caught my eye.

    I’ll enjoyed the book for what it was but I’ll honestly say it wasn’t a favorite. The same young, naive heroine I liked from the short story was too much for me in a longer book and somehow, I never got into pirates (which I blame on Johanna Lindsay’s horrible rapey A Pirate’s Love). And by the time I read it, there was a certain dated quality that didn’t work for me. Still, I enjoyed the Curtis’ writing enough to find other works and I reread the wonderful The Natural Child now and again. And like everyone else, I was a Cat fan. He’s the character I remember most over a decade later.

  5. Ani Gonzalez
    May 27, 2014 @ 10:49:03

    Thank you so much for this interview. The Windflower was the first romance novel I ever read and it is still my favorite. The heroine was a bit too innocent (she reminded me of Lewis Carroll’s Alice), the plot is quite convoluted and the language is over-the-top, but these elements all come together to create a one-of-a-kind romance reading experience.

    And by one-of-a-kind I mean one where I don’t really care about the protagonists. Merry and Devon’s romance is all very nice, but the genius of the book is the setting and the supporting characters.

    That’s why the book really comes alive during the “Black Joke” scenes, and, IMHO, flounders in the Virginia/London portions. As I re-read it I find myself skipping over the U.S. scenes, racing to get to the ship and spend some quality time with the pirate crew.

    I still can’t believe that this book did not give rise to a pirate series set in the Caribbean (more Rand and Cat!). Such a wasted opportunity.

  6. cleo
    May 27, 2014 @ 10:49:33

    I haven’t read The Windflower. And, until I read Robin’s and Sunita’s excellent review today, I had no interest in doing so. The Windflower didn’t come onto my radar until a few years ago, when I started reading romance blogs and honestly, I felt that I’d read enough 80s pirate romances to last me a lifetime (and I think it was only a few, but they kind of scarred me). But this sounds like more fun than what I read earlier. I’m still on the fence – mostly because of the abuse.

  7. Ducky
    May 27, 2014 @ 11:12:31

    I didn’t read this book when it was first published but I knew it was a famous romance and I had a chance to read it a couple of years ago and I was glad I did. It is certainly like no other historical romance I ever read. Parts of it – mainly Merry and Devon and the whole pirate ship scenario struck me very much as a satire and the authors playing with a lot of winking to the reader with the genre – but some of the supporting characters came across as very vivid and real and very interesting to me. Cat, Raven and Rand Morgan – they stuck with me.

  8. Elinor Aspen
    May 27, 2014 @ 13:05:30

    I LOVED this book so much back in the 1980s. I read it multiple times, because I found it so much more engaging than the other romance novels of that era that I read (which were only worth a single read). I was an awkward teenage virgin when I first read it, so I could identify with Merry. I also loved history and classic literature, so I enjoyed immersing myself in the world that the Curtises created. I had fond memories of our family’s visit to Disneyworld, where Pirates of the Caribbean was my absolute favorite ride, and The Windflower was like Adventureland for adults. Learning the importance of hearing protection when firing a cannon turned out to be surprisingly useful to me in later life. I honestly can’t choose a favorite character — I love several of them in very different ways (Merry, Rand, Cat, Devon). The villains were rather cartoonish, so it is hard to count them in choosing a least favorite. I was not at all fond of Merry’s Aunt April; I found her almost entirely unlikeable, although in hindsight, I have a lot more sympathy for her. Like JewelCourt, I am afraid to re-read this novel now, because I do not want to tinker with my fond memories.

  9. Kati
    May 27, 2014 @ 13:17:03

    Any romance reader who knows me knows that I have mad love for this book (it’s even listed in my bio). The book works for me on two levels. First is, like Robin, I appreciate Merry’s growth as a character. Is she still a moppet? Yes. But she GROWS during the book. She becomes something more than she was at the beginning, and that’s not just due to falling in love with Devon.

    Second is, I think that Cat and Rand Morgan are two of the best secondary characters ever written. I still regret deeply that neither got a book. I particularly love Rand. I love his machinations. My favorite line in the book is from him (talking about allowing Merry to “escape” in a rowboat with a hole in it) “One must suffer a little adversity to become truly interesting.” Indeed.

    A few years ago, there was a copy of The Windflower that was mailed all over the world to different reviewers. I was shocked that so many didn’t love the book as much as I do. But the truth is that, it is very old school. It does feature the flowery prose that doesn’t work for all readers, although I love it. I features a hero that is, for the most part, unchanged and an alpha in the extreme. For me it is a classic and one of the best examples of old school romance out there. I re-read it every year, and always enjoy my visit to the Black Joke.

  10. Darlene Marshall
    May 27, 2014 @ 13:43:52

    They had me at “pirates”.

    I just re-read The Windflower, but I first read it in 1984. There were so many things I loved about it, then and now: the lush language, the slow reveals, the American vs. Brit dynamic, but, most of all, it was (and is) the secondary characters.

    You could take Devon and Merry out of this story and I’d still want to read it. I’d seldom seen a supporting cast who were so fully realized, and to me as a writer, that’s the real lesson I took away from the book. Characters matter. If the reader isn’t engaged with the people around the H&H, the story will be flatter, the action less intense.

    It was a delight to rediscover this classic, and I’m very much looking forward to reading anything new from the Curtises.

  11. Sunita
    May 27, 2014 @ 13:44:31

    I’m really enjoying everyone’s comments.

    When I first read this a decade or more ago, I appreciated it but I didn’t love it. But on this read I felt as if I cracked the code. I can totally see now how reading this as a teenager or young woman could be a falling-in-love-with-the-book experience. It was way too late for that for me, but the sheer fun and vitality of the story really comes through. In other books I’ll get to a purple section, or an implausible historical character, and it will jolt me out of the moment. But here I always felt as if the Curtises were in complete control and that they had reasons for the choices they made.

    And on this read I really enjoyed Merry. As I said in our review, the way she upbraids herself for her naive behavior made me enjoy her POV, and her thoughtlessness was of the kind inexperienced people show, not selfish or stupid people. And she learned pretty fast. For as ditzy as she could be, she didn’t lapse into TSTL behavior.

    I think it’s a book that can be reread at a later point in your life without ruining the memory. You just have to think of it as a new take rather than trying to recapture what made you love it back then. And there are enough layers, as Robin says, for that to work.

    ETA: I meant also to emphasize my last comment in our review, that this is an ensemble book. Every character matters, and most of them have depth and nuance. As much as the big sweeping canvas and the epic plot, that’s what I miss about Historical Romance today. No one is in there as sequel bait, but readers want sequels because they want to know what happened to these intriguing characters whose stories haven’t been fully told.

  12. Kinsey Holley
    May 27, 2014 @ 14:19:24

    I agree with Kati – best secondary characters in romance novels ever. Cat needs, wants, and deserves his own book.

    I don’t mind that Devon doesn’t change as much as Merry does, because extreme alpha though he may be, he’s not an asshole alpha. Okay, yeah, there’s the kidnapping and near-seduction but in his defense, he thought she was a spy and yes, I’m defending a 30-something aristocrat pirate who kidnapped a 17YO moppet but c’mon – this is Devon. He wasn’t ever going to hurt her. Not really.

    I read Windflower when it first came out and what struck me immediately – as a reader who’d glommed all the rapey rapey historicals in junior high and, as a result, stayed away from romance entirely while in high school – was that the hero and heroine liked each other from the get go. No beating, torturing, raping (he totally WOULD NOT have raped her even if Rand Morgan hadn’t taken her under his protection – y’all need to believe that), no multiple lovers across multiple continents in a journey full of danger, heartache, and longing until she can be reunited with her one true love…Merry gets kidnapped, finds being the two-legged mascot of a shipful of happy pirates doesn’t completely suck, winds up in England and settles down to life among the .02%. It was such a CHEERFUL book – and believe me, historical romances theretofore were anything but.

    I’m 50, and I read a hell of a lot of books, and as a result of both I don’t remember a lot of what I’ve read. But 30 years later I can recall specific dialogue, specific narrative, and characters’ postures and actions in great detail.

    Confession: I wrote a lot of Cat fanfic in college. Fortunately, I don’t have the documents to prove it.

  13. Janine
    May 27, 2014 @ 14:51:44

    I loved your review, Robin and Sunita. I wonder if you could talk a bit about why you chose not to grade the book?

    I read only part of the book and that was around 1999 or 2000, I think. I remember that Merry’s innocence and naivete struck me as extreme; her maturity (initially) struck me as on par with that of a 14 to 16 year old of my own generation. That made the relationship with Devon feel unbalanced — and he came across like a stalker to me. With that said, I think I quit soon after the part Kati referenced, when Merry escaped in the rowboat.

    The Devon/Merry dynamic disturbed me and in reading this discussion, I remembered that Merry struck me as a Mary Sue because of the way all the pirates seemed to have strong emotional responses to her. I can’t recall if she was exactly “universally adored” as JewelCourt suggests, but I do remember having this impression that everyone was at least greatly interested in her, and that this annoyed me.

    Something your review made me recall is that the language was also an issue for me. I often love intricate language, but here I felt it went beyond that to flowery, though I agree the words also felt like they’d been chosen with care. I fuzzily recall an early description of squares of light falling over something that made me feel these were good writers.

    With regard to your questions:

    1. I think The Windflower was published in 1984. In some ways it’s very much of its time– back then American single title historicals were longer, often had multiple settings, and were just as likely to take place away from England as in it. The American war of 1812 setting, which Robin I think gives props for in the review, would not have been at all unusual during that time.

    During the 1980s and early 1990s, I read or came across historicals set in locations like Russia, Revolutionary France, Renaissance Italy, Austria before the outbreak of World War I, Hawaii, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Inquisition-era Spain, Burma (now Myanmar), Panama, Egypt, Scandinavian countries during the Viking era, the Crusades-era “Holy Land,” and many that took place in the United States at all different eras (Colonial, Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Civil War, post-Civil War). Shipboard books weren’t uncommon either.

    Because books were longer, they were often more descriptive and more likely to have a larger cast of characters as well. Sometimes they would have subplots about the supporting characters, and there was more worldbuilding. Characters could be more flawed (sometimes too flawed for me). Many of these things are things I miss.

    But many of these books don’t hold up well. They are problematic, whether because rape was a staple (and sometimes treated as no more than a hangnail), or because of the stereotyping of characters of color. I think The WIndflower was, like some of Jude Deveraux’s books, ahead of its time in that the authors refused to include rape at a time when the publishing industry favored it.

    With that said, I can think of other books from the mid 1980s that don’t contain rape and hold up better than many other books from that time — Eva Ibbotson’s historical romances (recently reprinted as YA books, but originally written for adults), some of Kathleen Gilles Seidel’s categories, some of LaVyrle Spencer’s work, trad regencies by Mary Balogh, and there are others I am no doubt forgetting.

    Something I found disappointing about The Windflower when I tried to read it is how good and sweet Merry seemed for a heroine of a 1980s American single title historical. Heroines of those books often had more alpha qualities like ambition, anger, argumentativeness, and even vengeful impulses.

    Sometimes their “feisty” traits were so concentrated that they grated on my nerves, but when I pick up a book from that time period, I hope to see a bit more of these qualities than Merry evinced in the section I read in the female characters because today such traits get a heroine labeled unlikable or difficult. But since I never finished The Windflower, it’s possible that this was a part of Merry’s character development that I missed.

    2. I haven’t read the whole book so I’m going to skip this question.

    3. I think I’ve already covered this above — for me it had to do with the lopsided balance of power in the section I read, Merry’s extreme innocence and Devon’s obsession with her.

    4. The Windflower is not a classic for me, but since I haven’t read the whole book, I don’t want to argue against it being a classic. I think having some classics is good for the genre, whether or not they appeal to us personally.

  14. Ros
    May 27, 2014 @ 15:03:05

    I have never read The Windflower and I am torn. In general, I find Sunita’s taste a good guide for mine, but almost nothing about this book sounds appealing to me. Has anyone tried reading it for the first time now, without the predisposition of nostalgia? How well does that work?

  15. Robin/Janet
    May 27, 2014 @ 15:46:48

    I just wanted to point out that Devon is, as far as I can tell, about 27. Merry is 19, I think, when they get married. I actually did the math based on Rand’s age and the fact that he’s 12 or 13 years older than Devon, and I think Rand is 39 at the time of the story.

    Re. Devon changing or not and Merry’s relative immaturity, this time I paid really close attention to the relationship between the two and their characterizations, and I found that — for me — neither of these things was really pronounced.

    Merry, for example, is a pretty astute observer right off the bat. For example, when she first spots Rand, she notes that:

    His long hair was midnight black, thick and unruly on his brow, and of the same hue as his silk shirt. There was an aura about him— an air of the craftsman, one whose mastery of certain skills made him indifferent to the judgments of the uninitiated. That is what frightened Merry the most— his indifference. He didn’t look evil, only as if he did not care. If she had seen him on the street, she would have known he was not like other men. She wondered if this magnetism had been there and had forced him into a life of piracy, or if it had come to him as a mantle of the reputation he had gained.

    She understands his moral ambiguity and picks up right away that he is, indeed, a “craftsman” — which I think is a perfect description of the way Rand shapes and molds people and circumstances to fit his sense of how things need to be.

    Also, when Devon and Cat catch her out, she has a pretty mature moment of self-awareness:

    Her palm fell to her cheek; the skin was clammy under her shivering fingers. She was ashamed of her cowardice, her crying, the whimper in her voice. There were probably a hundred spunky things that a woman of spirit would have thought of to say, and all she had managed to do was plead pitifully for her life. In a bitter epiphany she saw herself as she was, an inexperienced, awkward teenager, endowed with more imagination than poise.

    She also has incredibly nuanced insight into her Aunt April, whose life in America is an incredible disappointment to her, since April still longs for English society and the status she believes their family should have. Merry seems to understand this in a loving but clear-sighted way:

    With painstaking deliberation Aunt April was transcribing a letter to England, to a friend who had years ago ceased to care. Faithfully every month Merry’s aunt wrote to more than a dozen ladies and received back, at the most, two letters a year. It seared Merry’s heart to watch April’s elation when letters came, but it hurt much worse to watch her aunt hide her disappointment on those days without number which came and went with a barren post. There was nothing Merry could do except ache with impotent pity and hate the callous British aristocrats who ignored her aunt and those letters filled with forlorn pleasantries.

    I think it’s also worth noting that Merry is herself a hybrid character:

    In her turn Merry had developed like a tree split by lightning, both halves continuing to grow; one side an intense loyalty to her prim, well-meaning aunt, and the other side an exciting patriotism, pride in this rough, wild, unmapped country. It seemed always that she must protect her aunt from how different the two sides really were.

    And in her dual nature, she is much more observant and canny than April, and I think it’s interesting that in many ways she protects April, when April sees herself as Merry’s protector. For me it demonstrates a level of intellectual and emotional maturity that grounds her character for those more OTT moments, where, IMO, Merry is playing more to type and into some of the affectionate playing the Curtises are doing with the characters and the genre itself.

    I see kind of the same thing with Devon, but in reverse. There’s that scene early on where Rand tells him that if he wants Merry in the smuggler’s den, he can have her (she’s disguised as a very pregnant married woman), and Devon muses to himself:

    Once, long ago, there had been a man inside Devon that would have been shocked by the suggestion, though even then he would have had the poise to hide it. The sophisticated corruptions of his young manhood in the years before he met Morgan had been many and varied, but raping women in an advanced state of pregnancy had not been among them. Perhaps it was the rum, but he wondered what other things he had destroyed inside himself as he had slowly exorcised the part of his soul that would have flinched from Morgan’s words.

    He is callous and emotionally hard when they first meet in that smuggler’s den, and he is a man whose life has been narrowed down to vengeance (the crime is revealed later in the book), but over the course of the book, he becomes much more in touch emotionally and, IMO, much younger in his affect. He even notices this about himself, once he and Merry are in England and married, and she asks him if he sees her differently:

    His wrist arched comfortably over her ear; the side of his thumb rode the potent softness of her cheekbone. “No. I seem different to myself.” “How?” “Wiser. And younger. Nearer to myself…”

    Part of this goes back to what Sunita mentioned about the intentionality of the lusher prose, and the way it comes out during some of the more tender scenes between Devon and Merry later in the book. And I think one of the reasons I don’t find the relationship between them to be inappropriate in terms of their differing maturity levels is because 1) the first time Devon meets Merry she’s posing as a married, pregnant woman, so he has reason to believe her to be sexually experienced and older, and 2) when she’s on the ship, he believes her to be Granville’s mistress, and therefore sexually experienced and older. And a liar. And a spy. And he really engages with her through those presumptions, which she cannot adequately refute. Moreover, Devon is so driven by his hatred of Granville and his desire for revenge, that it does not serve him to see her differently. That he is so attracted to her — and he already knows for sure she’s a liar, because of her initial role as pregnant puppeteer’s wife — just amplifies his cause to see her in the worst light. So *of course* his behavior toward her is predatory, because he needs to see her that way for all sorts of reasons.

    However, as his feeling develop for her, and once events occur that force him to face his feelings for her (St. Elise – and isn’t it interesting the way that island’s name echoes Elysium) where I think Devon develops most is in moving back into a more idealized, more emotionally open and more vulnerable space. Which, I think, is why they work for me as a couple, and why, once they get to England, their relationship feels much more ‘romantic’ to me.

  16. Robin/Janet
    May 27, 2014 @ 16:16:06

    @Donna Thorland: I so agree with you about the slow reveals. In fact, I think one of the reasons I adored Spymaster’s Lady so much is it had so much of that same richness and sense of luxurious patience in revealing information. Which, of course, allows for all that layering and richness that you see in so many of those epic historicals. Re-reading The Windflower made me wish for a comeback of those kinds of books!

    @JewelCourt: I loved it more the second time around, although it’s only been about ten years since I first read it, and I was definitely not a teenager then.

    @Elinor Aspen: I was struck this time around by the incredible sympathy and understanding Merry has of and for her aunt. And she does get her own surprising HEA, which I really appreciated this time around. Also, I was much more aware of the political issues in the novel, and the way the Curtises were using the conflict between Britain and the US (and the War of 1812 is downplayed in US history, but as conflicts go, it was significant, especially for Britain) both symbolically and as a real force in the plot itself.

    @Darlene Marshall: Your comment about the secondary characters makes me realize that for all the OTT aspects of the novel, the fact that it has so many memorable and layered secondary characters is a pretty strong feat of craftsmanship. In many ways, this book feels like a Master Class in Romance, and I wonder how many Romance authors have read it.

    @Janine: I thought about giving the book a grade, but that grade would obviously be an A for me, given my obvious respect, appreciation, and affection for the book, but I al also generally ambivalent about grading classic Romances. To me, if they’re classics, they already stand out, and so grading them seems – for me — counterproductive to the reviewing exercise. I understand that others see it differently, and I don’t begrudge them a different choice, but for me, the grade feels diminishing rather than enhancing to the review.

  17. Sunita
    May 27, 2014 @ 16:24:17

    @Janine: To be honest, I had completely forgotten about giving it a grade until you asked the question! I suppose if I were grading it I would give it an A- (because the prose occasionally didn’t work for me and a few minor things), but it seems beside the point to give it a grade. I’d have the same problem if I were writing a review of a book I didn’t like or that I had other problems with if it were a benchmark book from an earlier era (e.g., I haven’t been able to get through The Far Pavilions, but I wouldn’t write a DNF review) .

    When Robin and I were going back and forth with the draft (we wrote it incrementally, with each of us writing a part and then passing it back to the other for the next addition), it started feeling more like a commentary/discussion than a review. So I just forgot that it was posting as a DA Review.

  18. Elinor Aspen
    May 27, 2014 @ 17:45:52

    @Robin/Janet: I do think it is believable that Merry has so much understanding and affection for Aunt April, since she is almost the only person she interacts with on a daily basis. It is not surprising that Merry seems like a younger teenager in many respects, since she has not enjoyed a normal social life. I suppose that is what I dislike most about Aunt April — the self-absorbed way she has isolated and stunted her niece. She does have redeeming qualities, however, and she deserved the particular HEA she got in the end. Looking back, I now picture April as a character in a rom com starring Katherine Heigl.

  19. Robin/Janet
    May 27, 2014 @ 18:18:41

    @Elinor Aspen: I don’t think I found Merry to read as young as some other folks. Or rather, I don’t see her to be *too young* for Devon.

    I see where you’re coming from with April, but I really blame Merry’s father and brother for her situation. I mean, thinking about how they almost live in poverty – certainly her father could provide much better for them. I can’t help but feel sorry for April, who, in only her early 40s, has been consigned to life as a spinster in a country she hates, in order to do her “duty” to her dead sister’s husband, who basically ignores his own child. And she really does love Merry, even though she can’t see through her own prejudices to see what would be best for her. That is sad. And it’s frustrating. Although that seems to be kind of the theme of the book – so many of these characters have narrow perspectives, even if they seem to lead larger lives.

  20. Elinor Aspen
    May 27, 2014 @ 18:42:33

    @Robin/Janet: Regarding the issue of Merry’s youth, I think she has been stunted by her lack of socialization, but she makes up for lost time on the Black Joke. I find her rapid emotional growth to be reasonable, given the intense variety of social interactions she has in that sandbox.

  21. Kinsey Holley
    May 27, 2014 @ 18:46:06

    Robin/Janet: Your comments are insightful and astute. I’m in agreement with and a little in awe of your explication.

  22. Robin/Janet
    May 27, 2014 @ 19:01:42

    @Elinor Aspen: I agree. And I like that she didn’t seem like one of those 19 year old 40 year olds, if you know what I mean. It may not have worked so well for me had Devon not softened up the way he did, but even still, I think Merry went from being a pretty sheltered but smart young woman to a much more worldly young woman in an amount of time that was neither super short (it was months, not weeks), nor excessively long (she doesn’t need years to catch up).

    @Kinsey Holley: LOL, thank you. I love this kind of textual analysis, actually. And I agree with your characterization of the book as “cheerful” – it does have that quality about it, even when things are grim.

    Re. Devon’s age, I found this tidbit describing his mother, Aline, which pretty much makes it impossible for him to be past his mid-twenties, which makes it easier, IMO, to see how they could be attracted to each other so quickly:

    Her appearance illustrated the point that it was possible to be an alluring beauty at age forty-two, even though her hair was usually collapsing like a stack of acrobats, her fingernails were chewed to the quick and, more often than not, grimy, and she had a gap the width of two straws between her front teeth that she poked at nervously with the tip of her tongue when, as now, she was taken with some serious thought.

    Also, isn’t that the most amazing level of detail (and it’s from Merry’s POV)? That’s another thing I love about this book – the realization of ALL the descriptions. There’s barely a person or a thing in the book that isn’t described in such detail as to be fully realizable to the reader’s inner eye.

  23. Sunita
    May 27, 2014 @ 19:17:50

    @Robin/Janet: This is such a great point, and I think our tendency to dislike and/or blame April (I do it too) is probably gendered. I don’t know if it’s that we expect more from her as a woman taking care of a girl, or we’re protective of Merry and resent her situation on her behalf, or if it’s just that we give the men a pass. Or at least we spend less time thinking about their shortcomings. There’s really no excuse for her father’s behavior.

    As I said before, I really didn’t see Merry as immature or young for her age on this read. She’s inexperienced, and she makes the mistakes of inexperience, but she’s a pretty fast learner. And I think the ditziness is as much affect as anything. Also, I’m hesitant to judge her age based on my sense of what I or others in my age cohort were like as teens in the 20thC. On the one hand she was isolated and sheltered, but on the other she would have seen plenty that we didn’t. So I’d rather just take her as I feel the authors mean to portray her, which is not someone who is 18 going on 14, but someone who grows into herself through her adventures and embarks on married life as a somewhat equal partner.

  24. Robin/Janet
    May 27, 2014 @ 19:32:35

    @Sunita: The sadness of April’s own circumstances hit me much harder this time around, especially when compared to Merry’s father, who pretty much does whatever the hell he wants and sees himself leading a much more important life.

    I definitely think it’s tempting to place blame on April, since, as a woman, she might know better what Merry’s needs are. But in many ways I think April and Merry are in the same situation. There’s that scene where Merry asks April about sex, and April knows as much (or as little) it seems, as Merry. It put a lot into perspective for me, in terms of the way April and Merry are both kind of outsiders. April is 40 (I just checked), and Merry wasn’t even 5 when her own mother dies, so April has spent a good deal of her life as Merry’s guardian.

  25. Willaful
    May 27, 2014 @ 21:16:45

    @Moriah Jovan: I was thinking the same thing. It sounds so much like my hub, a very romantic guy, and I so rarely run into anything in Romancelandia that reminds me of him.

  26. Willaful
    May 27, 2014 @ 21:20:41

    @Ros: I read it for the first time a few years ago and it totally worked for me. Though I agree with other commenters that it’s all about the secondary characters and the actual romance isn’t so important.

  27. Willaful
    May 27, 2014 @ 21:25:33

    I just told my husband about Tom Curtis’s comment. His response: “… that’s not wrong.” :-)

  28. Moriah Jovan
    May 28, 2014 @ 00:18:21

    @Willaful: I’ll ask mine. Now I’m really curious.

    I’ve been thinking about this all day, and I *think* this could be the heart of The Grovel.

  29. Ros
    May 28, 2014 @ 03:16:43

    @Willaful: Thanks! I’m going to give it a go, I think.

  30. Kaetrin
    May 28, 2014 @ 03:21:06

    I’m like Ros. Torn. I think I want to *have read it* so I can play in the sandpit with everyone else but I DNFd Lightning that Lingers so I’m not sure whether this book is for me. The last book I read because everybody said I should and that it was wonderful and classic was Black Silk (totally different kind of book I know) and I basically hated it. Maybe I’m better off not actually knowing. LOL.

  31. Isobel Carr
    May 28, 2014 @ 09:09:10

    @Moriah Jovan:

    the heart of The Grovel.

    This is brilliant!

  32. Kinsey
    May 28, 2014 @ 12:14:16

    @Kaetrin: I know exactly what you mean. For years I heard everyone rave about Linda Howard’s After the Night – when I finally read it I was so glad I’d bought it in paper, not e, because I literally threw it across the room – only book I’ve ever done that with. I couldn’t even make it to the Public Restroom Scene, I hated the hero so much. And I’ve never read anything else by Howard, which is probably a mistake.

    But you should totally give WF a chance – it’s just enchanting.

  33. Bona
    May 28, 2014 @ 14:32:27

    1) I think it’s one of the best Historical romances of the time, with a style that remind me of Woodiwiss. It tries to be more literary than the majority of the historical romances of today. But, on the other hand, a good thing about historicals currently published is that some of them try to be more conscious about social matters, or women’s situation in the past, whereas 1980s historicals don’t touch these topics. You can see this perspective if you consider the number of female characters and how they are represented. In ‘The Windflower’ you find really just one female character and at least four well-developed male characters. Nowadays they try to put more developed female characters.

    2) I think it’s Rand Morgan, although I think I missed some subtleties of his character. He’s complex, ambiguous, you can never know what to expect from him. Personally I’d love to see a real love story between him and Cat.
    The least favourite? Perhaps Aunt April but not because of her, but because she is a walking cliché. And I didn’t warm up to Merry.

    3) Devon did not rape Merry, so it’s not one of those ‘forced seduction’s books. But apart from that, he touches and kisses her without consent, and he coerces her, threatens her,… not a very nice treatment, but something that has sense because he thinks she’s a spy or she’s hiding something.

    4) I’m one of those who consider it a classic. It’s well written, it has a plot, interesting characters, and it’s the prototypical novel that comes to your brain when you think ‘a pirate romance novel’.

  34. Rachel Cross
    May 28, 2014 @ 15:06:56

    The Windflower was one of the first romances that I read in my early teens. It introduced me to the genre. I’ve heard it described as a “coming-of-age” story–as much about Merry’s journey of self-discovery and courage as a love story. Since I discovered Laura London/Sharon & Tom Curtis/Robin James I’ve read and reread all of their books countless times, marveled at the lyricism of their writing and given up all hope of emulating it. My favorite is the Amish/Hollywood redemption story Sunshine and Shadow.

  35. Gina Black
    May 28, 2014 @ 18:36:24

    This has long been one of my favorite historicals. I found a copy for 25¢ in an old book shop sometime in the early nineties, read it in a gulp, and since then have picked up many more. Yes, I’m a Windflower hoarder–but I also share.

    I reread it every few years, and each time I love it as much as I did the first time. The writing is lyrical. The characters divine. The plotting intricate and logical and sure. Plus, it features my favorite wedding in a romance ever.

  36. Kinsey Holley
    May 28, 2014 @ 19:01:04

    @Gina Oh oh oh – I haven’t read it in 20 years but I can still picture the wedding – the confused vicar, Merry falling asleep, Devon absentmindedly playing with her hair as he talks about what a PITA she’s been…I need to reread it stat to see if all my memories are accurate.

  37. bn100
    May 28, 2014 @ 22:04:24

    pride and prejudice

  38. Fallen Professor
    May 29, 2014 @ 08:40:02

    More Windflower

    This was a first-time read for me, and to be honest I hadn’t even heard of the book before it was proposed as a club read here and at SBTB. So I guess this fact is going to color my opinion of The Windflower, because after I finished it last week my first thought was: “I wish I’d read this in high school, as one of my very first romance reads.” I still remember the visceral response I had to Savage Thunder and A Knight in Shining Armor, the first two romance novels I read as a teen; and how that response had shifted and mellowed when I re-read them just recently. I still remembered and appreciated why they’d affected me so, but the “innocence” of the moment was no longer there: I was in full-on analysis mode, dissecting plots and characters in a somewhat jaded manner.

    And this happened with The Windflower, too, to some extent. I did appreciate the craftsmanship behind the novel: the unique metaphors, the amazingly complex secondary characters, the rich historical background. But the central love story completely failed to move me, because the way Devon treated Merry a lot of the time just didn’t feel anything but patronizing and downright frightening. Instead, I found that the most tender moments in the book come between Merry and Cat; especially the scene where she prompts him to kiss her and she comes out of the experience having learned a lot more about him than he’ll ever be able to express in words.

    Merry herself read as quite young, as others have mentioned, but I didn’t see a problem in this. She’s been isolated and sheltered, living with her spinster aunt and never having breached the social circles in Virginia. She’s, as someone pointed out, a hybrid trying to choose a path with an understandable amount of enthusiasm and naivete. I doubt many readers would accept her as a character in any romance written today, even YA, because the growing-up experience detailed in The Windflower is largely alien to how we see young people today; and even in a historical setting, we ask for different points of emphasis in character development, and want heroines especially to be radically “not like the others,” whereas Merry is very much a product of her time and place. She can’t be expected to be immediately calm and knowledgeable when she finds herself on the ship because it’s completely out of her realm of experience, and I think the novel does a great job showing that.

  39. Fallen Professor
    May 29, 2014 @ 08:42:50

    The “More Windflower” at the beginning of my previous comment was the title of my document (yes, I write drafts for comments…), so please ignore. Or, you know, just take it as a “more cowbell” kind of comment…

  40. Sunita
    May 29, 2014 @ 10:59:12

    @Fallen Professor:

    I doubt many readers would accept her as a character in any romance written today, even YA, because the growing-up experience detailed in The Windflower is largely alien to how we see young people today; and even in a historical setting, we ask for different points of emphasis in character development, and want heroines especially to be radically “not like the others,” whereas Merry is very much a product of her time and place.

    This is a great point; I agree that Merry is a product of her time and place and part of the disconnect is realizing how different that is from our own. But I disagree that readers don’t want that. In conversations about types of heroes and heroines, there are plenty of readers who are looking for relatively ordinary people who are thrust into extraordinary (or not so unusual) situations. That’s part of the attraction in historicals of governesses, and so on. There’s room for both types of heroines.

  41. Elinor Aspen
    May 29, 2014 @ 11:32:05

    @Fallen Professor: I agree that Devon’s behavior toward Merry is very patronizing. However, I can understand how that would appeal to a young woman who was more or less abandoned by her father and raised without male influence (unless you count Henry Cork).

  42. Fallen Professor
    May 29, 2014 @ 12:40:25

    @Sunita: Oh, I do think readers are interested in these “fish out of water” heroes and heroines. What I was referring to is that there’s a degree of wide-eyed innocence to Merry that contributes to The Windflower feeling dated. I’ve noticed that the trend in historicals over the years has been to move away from the super-virginal heroine to more unusual ones: experienced widows or courtesans, scholars, and generally more worldly women. When I see the older tropes, I do a double-take: I’m reading an ARC now with a “virgin widow” heroine that made me go “Well, it’s been a while since I ran into one of those…”

    But in general, my personal impression is that heroines like Merry have gone the way of the forced seduction (although I was happy to see that there was no forced seduction in The Windflower, and that Merry came into her sexual awareness with a great degree of agency). Oddly enough, it’s in contemporaries and erotica that I’ve seen these ingenues pop up more often (as in 50 Shades). But while Merry had enough charm and resourcefulness to make me follow her story to the end, Anastasia’s brand of innocence made me delete the sample from my Kindle without giving it a second look.

  43. Fallen Professor
    May 29, 2014 @ 12:43:10

    @Elinor Aspen: Yes, I did get that “mentor/authority figure” vibe from him, and I felt it was completely natural. Not just because of her sheltered upbringing, but because I (and I’m sure many others as well) remember how it felt to be that age and get all starry-eyed over an older man, even knowing it would come to nothing ;-)

  44. Kaetrin
    May 29, 2014 @ 19:42:06

    @Fallen Professor: They (super-virginal ingenues) may not be common in historicals anymore (I can’t say because I don’t read a lot of new historical romance these days) but my impression is that there is a great swath of them in New Adult romance.

  45. Fallen Professor
    May 30, 2014 @ 12:45:07

    @Kaetrin: And, from what I’ve seen in erotica as well. I just DNF’d an erotic historical (or historical erotica?) ARC where the virgin widow was written as being so innocent that she made Merry look like a jaded madam in comparison.

  46. Susan
    May 30, 2014 @ 14:05:25

    After so many years of hearing about this book, I was glad to get the chance to download it. . . but I haven’t gotten the chance to read it yet so I’m going to try to hold off reading this post ’til afterwards. I feel like I’m missing out on the party, tho–sorta like last year when I glommed Singh ‘s entire series a week or so *after* all the Heart of Obsidian hoopla and then was dying to “talk” about it after everyone else had moved on. :-)

  47. Robin/Janet
    May 31, 2014 @ 15:51:34

    @Fallen Professor: But the central love story completely failed to move me, because the way Devon treated Merry a lot of the time just didn’t feel anything but patronizing and downright frightening. Instead, I found that the most tender moments in the book come between Merry and Cat; especially the scene where she prompts him to kiss her and she comes out of the experience having learned a lot more about him than he’ll ever be able to express in words.

    I’ve been thinking about this comment, and it strikes me that for me, Cat is the one who delivers (or helps deliver) a lot of the worst blows to Merry. The kiss, for example, and the harsh “lesson” he teaches her. The drugging, and the initial way he treats her when he brings her onto the ship.

    By contrast, I never felt Merry was in real danger with Devon. First, we have the initial scene at the den, where Devon distinguishes himself from the run of the mill rapist pirate, not to mention the odd tenderness he shows her when they are both hiding in the cart. Then there’s the way Merry handles herself on the ship — from the harpoon to her persistent challenging of Devon. Also, Devon makes the greatest sacrifice of anyone for Merry on the island, and while I won’t reveal the spoiler, it could have resulted in his death.

    While I find it really touching that Merry is the one who begins to bring out Cat’s tender side, from the very beginning of the book, her interest was focused on Devon. In fact, her initial take on Cat is pretty insightful:

    Morgan moved through the gaping crowd like visiting royalty, companioned by two men. The younger of the two was near to seventeen, an age that normally might have led him to be described as a “youth,” and yet there was nothing of youth in his coldly Scandinavian face, with hard, milk-blue eyes and lips that looked as though they had never known a smile. His hair was dead straight, almost white from the burn of salt and sun, and so long that it touched his hips; it was pulled across his right shoulder to lie in an ivory fall over one side of his chest. His exposed ear was pierced and held a loop of black thread. As he moved into the room Merry saw pale stripes on the chestnut-tanned skin of his naked back that she shudderingly realized had been inflicted with a whip.
    The exotic boy ranged tigerlike between the tables, oblivious to the tension around him— the indrawn breaths, the nearly exploding lungs. Finally he stopped; everyone breathed again except the unlucky patrons whose table he chose, who scurried away like lizards from fire. He gazed disgustedly at the mass of bottles, empty and full, at the table, and the unplayed hands of piquet and scattered coins which were strewn by each chair. Reaching out, he tipped the table, sending its contents clattering to the floor, followed by a single card, the jack of hearts, which flipped in the air twice and landed gently like a leaf on the floor.

    I think there are a lot of interesting things about that description (not the least if which is that it’s the blond male who’s “exotic” in this scene), including the way Merry picks up on the disdain and “disgust” that characterizes so much of Cat’s behavior and attitude in the book. Obviously he has many sound reasons to be that way, but in many ways I think he’s the most emotionally dangerous character in the book. Because for all Devon’s moody, emotional flip-flopping on Merry, his range of behavior becomes predictable pretty quickly, IMO.

    By contrast, Cat is so wounded and so walled in, that to me, Merry is much less “secure” with him than with Devon. Which I think it also one of the reasons I think so many readers want to see Cat’s story — the fact that he breaks down and cries for perhaps the very first time in his life near the end of the book, and the circumstances of that emotional break, make us all want to see him happy, especially because that seems like something far away but also possible at that point. I actually am not so excited for Cat’s story, because I’m worried that I’ll be disappointed in seeing his story corralled into what is currently expected to fit into a Romance plot, in part because I think he still has so far to go, and also because I wonder if readers would tolerate a book in which he was not the doting, happy romantic partner at the end of the story.

    I *really* want to see Rand’s story, because I think it could be packed into a genre Romance novel without taking away all of the elements that make his character compelling. With Cat, I’m not sure I would believe an HEA within current Romance novel parameters, and I’m not sure how popular a book without that would be.

    With Merry and Devon, at least, their emotional journeys were not so long, and in many way I found them well-suited. As you and Sunita point out, Merry, especially, is sort of “ordinary.” She needed to get some emotional seasoning, and Devon needed to get some vulnerability, but in their own way, she and Devon were both raised in somewhat isolating but also protected environments. In that way I think they’re somewhat “typical” Romance protagonists, which is probably why their story almost seems overwhelmed by the pirate aspects of the book and the secondary characters, especially Cat (and for me, Rand). Still, I liked the “ordinary” aspect of Merry’s character, and the way it allowed us to see her grow during the course of the novel. I’d love to see more of those characters in Romance, especially in historicals.

  48. Robin/Janet
    May 31, 2014 @ 15:57:58

    Re. the paperback I’ve got to give away, I’ve been collecting this particular edition because for a long time it’s been very, very difficult to get for less than a substantial amount of money (anywhere from $20 – $100+). It was a fun game for me to see if I could find inexpensive copies, and so I have a few. In other words, it’s not just a typical paperback – it’s a pretty rare vintage paperback. Ti give you some context, right now on eBay someone’s got a book club hardcover version of the first edition (which was published a little later) for $84.00.

  49. Fallen Professor
    Jun 01, 2014 @ 12:44:39

    @Robin/Janet: That’s the best part about these discussions for me: the fact that each of us comes out of a book with such different readings of it. I guess Devon just got on my nerves with his “I want her but I don’t/can’t trust myself around her” attitude for much of the story. “Enemies to lovers” is not one of those tropes that sucks me into a story, I guess. And while I certainly didn’t see Merry and Cat as romantic potentials, I think she became a good conduit for starting some kind of healing process within him, and by the end of a novel he’s already taken a huge step away from his past.

    As for Cat not fitting into a romantic mold for a novel of his own, I agree that it would take careful planning and writing, but from what I’ve seen in The Windflower, I definitely think the Curtises could pull it off. There are certainly similarly traumatized heroes in historicals, though sometimes their stories tend to spiral into total angst. But a couple of such heroes that worked for me were Dain from Lord of Scoundrels and Jack Devlin from Kleypas’ Suddenly You (I think that’s his book…). Dain’s childhood is set out very clearly in the Prologue, and gives us a good insight to his character at the time the novel proper begins. And even though the tone in Lord of Scoundrels is often much lighter than The Windflower’s, beneath the surface there’s always the image of that sobbing little boy being comforted by the household cook and then being sent away to a rather brutal education. In the end, he gets his HEA, but I wouldn’t call it easily earned or taken for granted.

    In Jack Devlin’s case, his backstory is rather horrifying, and in that sense probably closer to Cat’s. But, like Cat, he has created a personality for himself that transcends this past while retaining many of its after-effects. His HEA comes after much angst and soul-searching, but at the end there’s a definite sense of peace. And I guess that’s what Cat’s HEA would be too: not necessarily jumping-for-joy-with-a-bubbly-soundtrack happy, but a sense of having arrived at a place that offers him comfort and peace.

    I’ve also seen this type of hero in paranormals, especially Kenyon’s Dark Hunter books. As I was reading The Windflower, I thought about Zarek from Dance with the Devil: a slave from a young age, and apparently so unredeemable that at the start of the novel the powers that be are seriously considering his extermination. By the end of the book, he’s not exactly the life of the party, but he’s come a long way towards trusting others not to hurt him.

    Anyway, just some random thoughts. The more I think about The Windflower, the more I realize I liked it, even if I did some eyerolling during certain scenes (I always take notes , and while reading yet another description of pirate chic wardrobe, I wrote down “Hey! It’s Project Gangplank!”). But the inner journey of the characters is what has stayed with me; as I mentioned earlier, if I’d read this book when I was younger, it might have had a much bigger impact.

    It also sparked my curiosity about other Curtis titles, so I downloaded Sunshine and Shadow, which pits an Amish woman against a Hollywood film producer. I’d love to hear opinions from anyone who’s read it.

  50. Elinor Aspen
    Jun 01, 2014 @ 16:34:46

    @Fallen Professor, I’ve read Sunshine and Shadow. I enjoyed it. It’s interesting that the Curtises found a premise that allowed them to write a contemporary romance with an experienced woman (a non-virgin widow) who is nonetheless every bit as sheltered and naïve as Merry.

  51. Molly B.
    Jun 04, 2014 @ 10:52:13

    I have GOT to read this book. Can’t imagine how I’ve missed it all these years. Here’s hoping the book club discussion is still going by the time I’m done. :-)

  52. Zara Keane
    Jun 12, 2014 @ 12:05:19

    I’ve just finished reading ‘The Windflower’ for the first time. Honestly, I expected to be disappointed after hearing all the hype over the years, but I ended up loving it, flaws and all.

    I’m late to the book and late to the discussion, so I’ll keep it brief. I wish Cat had been the hero of the book. Despite thinking he and Merry should have ended up together, I loved the story from start to finish and I didn’t want it to end. I’ll definitely read more Laura London/Tom and Sharon Curtis books. If they ever get around to finishing Cat’s story, I’ll be all over that.

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