Fine Young Cannibal: Beau Crusoe by Carla Kelly

So I recently read Carla Kelly’s Beau Crusoe, and now I can’t shut up about it.

Wonktastical Beau Crusoe

Beau Crusoe: Certified Wonktastical

I read it because Willaful mentioned it in the comments to Cara’s last post about heroines. Cara threw out a reference to “the romance novel version of Alive” and Wilaful said, “Hey, I’ve read that!” As soon as I understood that she wasn’t kidding — that in fact a romance existed somewhere in which the hero ate people — I zipped right over to Amazon and bought it.


Beau Crusoe is a regency historical whose hero, James Trevenen, recently returned to England after surviving being stranded for five years on an uninhabited island. Before he made it to the island, he was in an open boat for at least a week with several other members of the crew. Only James survived. And no, he didn’t eat all of the others, but some pretty gruesome shit happened, and he was in charge.

(Though, refreshingly, Trevenen is not a big important admiral or something. He was a navy midshipman, and though he has some money, he’s not a high-society guy. The only reason he’s in London is because he wrote a treatise about the crabs that lived on his island, and he’s going to get a medal from the Royal Society for it. Also, he has an obscene tattoo and uses bad language that the heroine rolls her eyes over. Yay for a historical with a non-aristocratic hero!)

So anyway, I couldn’t wait to fall virtually in love with this guy. A couple people on Twitter suggested there might be something wonked about the depth of my excitement about this book, which made me wonder, Why did I want to read it so badly? What appeals to me about the story of a man who’s broken what is indisputably one of the Top Five Taboos in the vast majority of world cultures?

Partly, it’s just that. I mean, when it comes to the Damaged Hero, go big or go home, right? The stakes can hardly be too high. And, more to the point, I wanted to see how Carla Kelly would deal with the emotional aftermath of such an event. Would the hero be traumatized and angsty? Would he have nightmares about eating people? Would he be indifferent, hardened, cold? Psychologically, he’s automatically thirty degrees more wonked than the average hero. After all, James Trevenen isn’t simply a loner. No, he’s a man who just spent five years as an involuntary hermit. He’s not brooding over a difficult divorce. Nope, he’s haunted by a huge, psychologically scarring trauma that took place over a five-year period. How can he come home again? How can anybody ever return to the ton after spending half a decade palling around with crabs? Can Carla Kelly make me believe that a man in such a thoroughly screwed up situation might actually be capable of falling in love?Open boat image

Yes. She can.

And it’s even better that this is a historical novel, because the means by which historical romance novels torture their heroes are so often frivolous. There’s so much white-male-social-class-related woe. Oh, I’m a bastard, and the ton will never accept me! I got married over the anvil, and I can no longer waltz in the finest English ballrooms! Wah! Whereas this guy — HE ATE PEOPLE. And that’s not really the biggest of his worries, frankly. I’m not going to spoil the whole book, but his psychological landscape is complex and interesting and really, really cool.

In the end, though, what made Beau Crusoe not simply the best cannibalism romance I’ve ever read but rather one of the best historical romances I’ve read, period, is that Carla Kelly doesn’t allow the story to descend into a pit of angst. Beau Crusoe is — wait for it — funny. It is, at its core, rather lighthearted and hopeful, even as it takes on some seriously gritty themes and does a damn fine job of grappling with them. What makes a man admirable? What does it mean to be brave? Who deserves admiration and acclaim? There’s even some excellent stuff about adultery in there, and morality, and the meaning/value of sex.

It’s so wonked, and so worth it.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite passages from an early chapter. Keep in mind that we barely know the hero yet.

He looked around to see the innkeeper bringing out a roast of beef, all steaming and cunningly sliced so the tender, moist pink interior winked at him like… Oh, God, and now he was thinking of Artemesia, Lady Audley, with her legs spread wide, eager to seduce him after they left the miserable fever harbor of Batavia, prepared to cross the Indian Ocean.

She had succeeded with neither a gasp nor a whimper from him, starved as he had been after five years of abstinence from the delights of both bed and table. The only thing that could have made that first climax more piquant would have been to clutch a chicken leg in one hand as he rode Lady Audley to the finish line.

*happy sigh* Don’t you just love him already?

* * *

Beau Crusoe by Carla Kelly | Goodreads | Amazon | Harlequin | B&N

Posted in Certified Wonktastical | 18 Comments

When fucked up people find love & an announcement

Romance is a flexible mistress, bestowing its pleasure in the darkest of environments, between the most broken of people. A fifty-year-old man who works as a metro bus driver and is a virgin is a sad picture. But then one day on a rainy sidewalk, he stumbles into the forty-seven year old two-time divorcee with one kid in college and a surly teenage boy at home. They’re drawn to each other, the bus driver and the out-of-work tax assistant. They spend time together, they fall in love.

The man is the same age, he still drives the bus, he’s still rather poor and grumpy (though he’s no longer a virgin). He’s the same guy, but the picture is totally different. That is the world we live in. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I hate it, but even in its ugliness, there’s a kind of perverse beauty. I don’t look at that man and get turned on. He’s not at all man candy. But I look at him through her eyes, I imagine her hungry for his touch, I imagine him fantasizing about her at nights, and yes, it’s beautiful and sexy.

The romance genre, however, is stricter. Heroines must be sympathetic, but not sickly sweet. They must be intelligent, but not overly so. They must be pretty, but vanity is frowned upon. On the occasion that they stray from prettiness, they may a) be slightly overweight in a way that is pleasingly plump, or b) be plain in a way that can be easily made over in order to wow the hero. Men must be handsome, though beyond that there are much less restrictions on them than heroines. But above all, they must not be fucked up.

I saw this quote: “A writer is a reader who is moved to emulation.” by Saul Bellow. For me, it is most definitely true. I don’t understand writers who don’t read often or don’t read in their genre. There was a poll somewhere asking which one you’d pick if you could never read again or never write again. And I was fucking shocked when some people said they’d prefer never to be able to read again, than to stop writing. Are you kidding me? Perhaps my confusion came from the fact that I started writing late. I was never a journaler, a doodler, a person-who-dreamed-of-authorship-since-I-was-five. So I know I can get along just fine without writing. But anyways, it’s all in my head. It’s sort of semantics, but I dreamed up a million stories, a million worlds, long before I ever typed a word of it. And I would keep doing so if I never wrote again. The paper or word processor is a prop of my imagination.

I’m a reader. Do you remember that Twilight Zone with that bookish man, I think he was a librarian. Well, the whole world ended. It all fell apart and everyone died. And he’s like, meh, I’ve got my books. And then his glasses broke. That was the twist, that his glasses broke. And the pain of it, my god, that he would forever be surrounded by books, unable to read them, until he died. It tore me up inside, and I think I was like ten when I saw it. Because I’m a reader through-and-through.

The reason why I decided to start writing was that I was moved to emulation. The question is: moved by what? I would never think to try and write a book about perfect heroes and heroines, despite by love for them, because of my love for them, because whatever I could come up with would only ever be a pale comparison to what’s already written. What I was moved by (from reading many books in the romance genre) was the lack of fucked up people. I sought out all the tortured heroes I could find, the abused heroines, the psychologically unbalanced anti-heroes, and they were good. But I thought, what if we take it even further? It’s like the fucked-up-people version of the limbo game – how low can we go?

My first manuscript went there, but nowhere near as far as I plan to go. There’s one piece of feedback that really has stuck with me. Someone said to me, I think it was in a contest feedback, a lot of positive things and then they said about my heroine, “but be careful, you don’t want to make her too broken to be redeemed.” And just to be clear, I’m not talking about murderers or anything like that, which I don’t know anything about or understand, so that can be another author’s crusade. I’m talking about ordinary people living ordinary lives, and sometimes making bad decisions. Being OCD or strange or overall messed up, either from chemistry or bad experiences or whatever. Fucked up, broken.

I totally get it. I get where she is coming from, but it’s also the antithesis of why I started writing. Because what I really wanted to say was that no matter how broken you are, you still deserve love, you can still find happiness. That manuscript, my very first, just sold to Loose Id (yep, that’s my announcement) and I’m thrilled to be able to share my wonkomancery with the world … coming soon :)

Posted in Writing Wonkomance | 14 Comments

Tell Me You Love Me

Happy Valentine’s Day!

…All right, now that we have that nonsense out of the way— Oh, wait. Hmm. It’s Valentine’s Day. A day of flowers and chocolates, champagne and Hallmark cards, proposals and kisses and hand-holding, and a truly horrifying abundance of red and pink. I can hear the long-forgotten sounds of safety scissors chomping through construction paper, in an attempt to create the perfect heart-shaped classroom decoration.

Y’know…Valentine’s Day.

You know what the best part is, right? It’s when you’re celebrating it for the first time with someone you really, really like, and you haven’t yet said those three little-big words. And maybe you’re a titch scared of saying it to this could-be special someone, but the pressure’s on because it’s freakin’ Valentine’s Day. The best part—and I mean this in all sincerity—is that you actually are forced to consider, “Do I love him?” or “Could I be falling for her?” and then realizing you do. You already love him. It’s terrifying and wonderful, and if it doesn’t put your stomach in knots you’re not doing it right.

So, of course, the happy medium is to blush and stammer and hold out a baby-pink carnation with a card attached that says, “I heart you.” Because we all know that “heart” is the step-process equivalent to “I’m totally head over heels for you, but I don’t have the steel vagina necessary to tell you at this point.”

It should come as no surprise, then, that my favorite moments to both write and read in romance novels are the declarations of love. Yes, the build-up is where all the fun and sexytimes happen, and yes, the internal realizations are always a high point for readers and authors alike. But a declaration well-done, in my opinion, is like Valentine’s Day: terrifying and wonderful and stomach-knotting all over the place.

The best I-love-yous I’ve ever read have been wonky. Perhaps it’s because the characters are so unique. Or perhaps it’s because when a wonktastic woman falls in love with her atypical hero, I believe it; I believe in the weirdness. And the declaration I’ve “hearted” the most, ever since reading it (and rereading it…and rereading it again), is the less-than-brilliant Rupert’s calmly delivered reveal to Daphne, a certifiable genius, in Loretta Chase‘s Mr. Impossible (and for those of you who haven’t read this amazing adventure-historical and don’t want to ruin this moment for when you do, I suggest you scroll down while averting your eyes):

“I can’t eat just yet,” he said. “I am too—too—” He frowned. “Too something. Feelings.”

Her green gaze met his. “Feelings,” she repeated.

“I meant to wait,” he said. “Until I was better. Because I didn’t want pity to influence you”

“Pity,” she said.

“On account of my wound,” he said.

“Don’t be absurd,” she said. “I shouldn’t pity you on account of a nick in the belly.”

“In any event, I can’t wait,” he said. “And I had better warn you that I don’t mean to be in the least sporting. If I have to go on my knees, and start bleeding again—”

“I can think of no reason for you to go on your knees,” she said severely.

“Then you’re not thinking clearly,” he said. “It’s the usual way these things are done.”

“These things,” she said, a degree less severely.

“I should have done it that way the first time, but I hardly knew what I was doing,” he said. “You said it was better to marry than to burn, and I was in a state of eternal conflagration, it seemed—but that wasn’t what it was at all.”

She shifted up onto her knees. “Perhaps you ought to take some wine,” she said.

“My strength is up to this,” he said. “I only hope my brain is, too. I want to explain first. Because you aren’t to think it’s completely on account of lust. Lust is a part, yes. A large part.”

She sank back onto her heels and regarded her hands.

“But I liked you from the moment I first heard your voice,” he said, “when I had no idea what you looked like. I thought it delicious, the way you bargained for me, as though I were an old rug. Then I loved the way you ordered me about. I loved your patient and impatient ways of explaining things to me. I love the sound of your voice and the way you move. I love your courage and your kindness and your generosity and your obstinacy and your passion.” He paused. “You’re the genius. What do you think that means?”

She threw him a sidelong glance. “I think you’re insane,” she said. “Perhaps you have developed an infection which has gone directly to your head.”

“I am not insane,” he said. “A woman of your highly advanced intellect ought to be able to perceive that I am in love. With you. I wish you had told me. It was deuced embarrassing to find it out from your brother.”

Oh, feelings. See? Terrifying and wonderful and butterflies-in-the-stomach. Just the way it should be.

If I were the type to read romances on Valentine’s Day (which I tend not to do—I like to spread the love around to the non-greeting-card-holiday days of the year), I could not pick a better, or more surprisingly wonky, romance. Because there’s Rupert, a physical alpha who willingly turns beta in the face of his lover’s intellect…and there’s Daphne, who is too smart for anyone’s good, much less her own…and they’re traipsing across Egypt in 1821, on a treasure hunt (of sorts). And what really makes me love them is knowing, by their cameo appearances in later works of Ms. Chase’s, they kept adventuring together for decades, never having children of their own. Mr. Impossible is wonky, indeed, if you know what you’re looking for while you read.

But the fact remains that it’s Valentine’s Day, a holiday to which many—even the happily-ever-after’d of us—feel a strict aversion. Not that we can be blamed, as those construction-paper hearts are deadly to the soul (and our fingertips). It’s a holiday that often leaves a bitter aftertaste in one’s mouth, and so it’s important that we remember why we’re going all crazy over candy and roses in the first place:

Because we had that moment, once upon a time, that first Valentine’s Day with our lover where we were lucky enough to think, “Wow. I’m in love with him. How crazy is that?” And it was scary. It was amazing. And everything inside just warmed and tingled, and it was perfect.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Posted in Holidays | Tagged , , | 6 Comments