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SQUEE! The New Joanna Bourne, The Forbidden Rose

The last couple weeks brought a bonanza of books by my absolute must-buy authors:  Sherry Thomas’s His at Night, Meredith Duran’s Wicked Becomes You, Julia Quinn’s Ten Things I Love About You, Mary Balogh’s A Secret Affair. But all those got left on the TBR pile when I got my hands on an early copy of Joanna Bourne’s The Forbidden Rose. (Those of you who’ve already discovered Spymaster’s Lady and My Lord and Spymaster, please join me in a rousing chorus of SQUEEEEE!!!!)

For those of you who haven’t discovered Bourne yet: don’t let my “SQUEEEEE!”-ing put you off:  this is no mere goofy enthusiasm. This is a pure SQUEEEEE of joy from the deepest, most language-besotted part of my brain, the part that first made me fall in love with words and stories and characters born out of other people’s imaginations.

The next few days will surely bring a flood of glowing reviews for The Forbidden Rose (over at All About Romance, no fewer than six different reviewers laid avid claim to it in their “eagerly awaited” list for June). So you don’t need the standard reader-centered book review from me.

What I want to do instead is give just a small taste of why writers will crazy-love this book, and why they should go plunge their writer-brains in it for awhile. (I’m going to draw examples from the opening chapters only—nothing past page 30—so no worries on spoilers here.)

1. Bourne does great intial set-ups: In Forbidden Rose, Marguerite de Fleurignac’s a French aristo burned out of her home by a Jacobin mob, and William Doyle’s a British spy sent to France to hunt down Marguerite’s father, a mad genius who semi-accidentally created a list of key Englishmen to assassinate. Marguerite tells Doyle she’s a British governess; he tells her he’s a French bookseller. Neither really believes the other, but they both want to get to Paris and need each other to get there, so they play along. (Sweetly, long after they’ve nailed one another’s true identities, she keeps thinking of him as Guillaume, and he keeps thinking of her as Maggie.)

No need for trumped-up Misunderstandings or Deep-and-Terrible Family Secrets. In the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, Bourne’s got herself a setting in which danger’s ambient, everyone’s got serious secrets to keep, and the daily stakes are life and death. You feel you’re being taken seriously when you read her work.

2. Bourne’s characters feel like people: smart, interesting, quirky people with depth and heft (no ditzes or cardboard secondary characters here), and we encounter them in beautifully-handled Deep POV. Here’s our introduction to Marguerite in the book’s opening lines, which immediately give you a sense of a distinct mind and personality:

“You have not been foolish,” she said. “But you have been unlucky.  The results are indistinguishable.”

The rabbit said nothing. It lay on its side, panting. Terror poured from it in waves, like water going down the steps of a fountain.

Her snare circled its throat. She had caught it with a line of red silk, teased and spun from a torn strip of a dress. It could not escape.  Even when it heard death coming toward it through the brush, it didn’t struggle. Being sensible, it had given up.

“The analogies to my own situation are clear. I do not like them.”

3. Bourne’s funny: You get little bits like this all the time:

The servant boy tied the donkeys to a post, swearing a staccato chain of annoyance. A trick of wind blew the words to her, “Donkey feet in butter. Donkey en croûte. Donkey soup. You just wait.”

4. Bourne’s great with dialogue: Here’s an exchange between Doyle and his twelve-year-old street-rat apprentice “Hawker” as they explore the smashed remains of the chateau’s orangerie:

Hawker followed him, crunching glass into the gravel. “The boys in that stinking little village waited years to do this.”

“Did they?”

“They dreamed of it. They’d sit in those pig houses in the village with the shutters closed and the wind leaking in. They’d think about these fancy weeds in here, being coddled, all warm and happy behind glass. Down there, they were freezing in the dark. Up here, they were growing flowers.”

“That’s fixed, then. No more flowers.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Hawker stoop and pick up a rock, draw back and throw. Glass fell with a thin, silver discord. The heroic revolutionaries of Voisemont had missed one pane. Destruction was now complete.

“It would have bothered me all night knowing there was one window left,” Hawker said.

“Anything else you need to break to make it homey in here?”

“That’ll do.”

5. Bourne’s got a serious lyrical gift, and her descriptions are worth savoring:

Here’s a bit more about the rabbit:

“A pulse rippled in the rabbit’s throat, under the fur. That fluttering beat, in a hollow the size of a copper sou, was the only sign of life.”

And here’s Marguerite’s internal response when Doyle captures her and brings her into the  orangerie:

“A chill spread along her skin. The edges of her sight darkened. The shush of the makeshift broom and the scratch of the tumbling glass became distant. She felt as if she were falling into a dream. Not a good dream.”

6. Bourne knows this period inside and out, and uses that knowledge to enhance character:

In his bookseller guise, Doyle shows Marguerite books from “the approved instruction list from the Committee of Education. Some children’s books with proper sentiments in them…’C is for counter-revolutionary. May they all die. D is for duty to France. Let us all try.’ That sort of thing. I got packs of playing cards. Those have fine revolutionary pictures on them. The single pip is a guillotine, which is just going to liven up a game, ain’t it?”

7. Bourne creates wonderful sensual tension, without drawing on the cliché stockpile:

Now I’ve created a problem for myself by limiting my examples to the first 30 pages. But the moment when Doyle catches Marguerite will give you a sense of what Bourne can do with bodies:

By chance or planning, she’d picked a first-rate lookout post.

Even as he thought that, her hand went to the back of her neck. She could feel when eyes were on her, a skill that wasn’t as common as mice in a closet.

She turned. Saw him. The instant stretched tight.

He put himself between her and the back door. She hadn’t thought of keeping two lines of retreat. One for your enemy to block off. One so you can run like hell.

Skirt and apron whirled. She exploded into flight, down the stalls, long braid trailed out behind her. He caught her halfway to the door. Wrapped his arms around her and held on.

She twisted and tried to rake her nails at his face. When he caught her wrists, she curled like an eel and bit the hand that held her, digging her teeth deep.

Well, that hurt. “I’m not going to—” A sabot hit his shin. “God’s…tortoises. Will you hold still? I’m trying not to damage you.” He shifted his grip and she broke a hand free and pulled out a knife.

Enough. He kicked her legs out from under her. The knife bounced away. He flopped her down on her back into the piled straw.

8. She’s got ADRIAN, and now she’s got JUSTINE.  Okay, that one will only make sense if you’ve already read Bourne’s earlier Spymaster books, and if you finish this one. But when you finish this one, your heart will be twisted in a big tender achy snarl, and you will join me in counting the days (no, months, damn it) until Adrian’s and Justine’s story hits the shelves.

Really, I’m just scratching the surface here.  The truth is, it’s really hard to figure out just why Bourne’s books work as well as they do.  She makes it all look easy, but the cumulative effect is terrific.  Everything, everything, works together seamlessly: characterization, description, dialogue, historical and geographical detail, overall plot structure, humor…. And as carefully and thoughtfully crafted as her writing must actually be, it’s also totally accessible, a pure, easy pleasure to read (which is kind of painful in a way, because the book just whizzes by, no matter how much you want to make it last.)

Joanna Bourne is Dorothy-Dunnett good, Patrick-O’Brien good, Diana-Gabaldon good. When you open a Bourne book, you’re in the hands of a master.

Check it out for yourself!

To put (a little bit of) my money where my mouth is, I’m giving away a total of THREE copies of The Forbidden Rose to three lucky commenters today.  One’s reserved for a non-Ruby commenter, but the other two can go to anyone.  SQUEEEEEE!!!  (Oh: and if you haven’t read any Bourne and don’t know what to talk about in your comment, tell me something about an author who makes you go SQUEEEE!!!)

67 responses to “SQUEE! The New Joanna Bourne, The Forbidden Rose”

  1. Laurie Kellogg says:

    She sounds like a wonderful author, Elisa!

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  2. Katrina says:

    Oh my gosh, she’s one of the greats! Thanks, Elisa, for outlining why she’s so special. She also has a great blog about writing, too.

    After reading the first two spymaster novels in two weeks last summer, it’s been a looooong year without her amazing characters. I can’t wait to read this one.

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Yes! Her blog is great: jobourne.blogspot.com. I know I’ve seen you over there!

      And her main web page, joannabourne.com, has a link near the top called “For Writers.” Check out her “Technical Topics.” GREAT material!

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      • Elise Hayes says:

        Oh, cool–I hadn’t thought to check out her website. Thanks for the tip. Elisa!

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  3. I squee for you, Elisa. I feel sort of the same about Janet Evanovich.

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      See…now there’s someone I’ve never read, even though I’ve heard her name many times (I’m a Historical reader).

      Awhile ago, people were gushing over Susan Elizabeth Phillips, whom I’ve also never read, though I did pick up a book Liz Talley mentioned, and it’s on my TBR pile.

      Some of our favorites may seem blindingly obvious to us, but I think we might be surprised at what other readers (even very avid readers) don’t know. We should share more often!

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      • Friends are a great resource for good books. I hate wasting my time reading a “bad” book (watching a bad movie). My mom gives me books, but we don’t always like the same thing.

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      • Hope Ramsay says:

        Elisa, Susan Elizabeth Phillips is one of those authors I squee over. She is wonderful and funny, but always gives you a great emotional read. I would recommend SEP above just about anyone . . .

        . . . except Lavryle Spencer — who doesn’t write books any more. 🙁

        Spencer is, without question, my favorite romance author and back in the 1980-90s when she was putting out new books, I would wait impatiently for each new one and then devour it in one sitting.

        She wrote both contemporaries and US-set historicals in a wide range of time frames. If you are not familiar with Lavyrle Spencer, you should go find one of her books. She is wonderful! I re-read her stuff on a regular basis, and she sits on my shelf next to Charlotte Bronte.

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        • Hope,
          I had to jump in and swim with you in the “I love LaVyrle” pool! She lives here in Minnesota and, while I don’t know her at all, I have a dear friend who is very close friends with her. We are all infuriated that she doesn’t write anymore–but she is adamant that she never will and won’t discuss why. So, not only was she a phenomenal writer, but she’s a mysterious character herself! I, too, would wait impatiently for every new book. Hummingbird and The Gamble are still my two favorites. Although I loved her contemporaries too! And, now, I’ve transferred that adoration to SEP, just as you have. We’ll have a lot in common to start with in Orlando!

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  4. Hope Ramsay says:

    I am not familiar with this author. But she’s going on my TBR pile, right now. The last few books I’ve read have had cliched set ups, heroines that were too stupid to live, and secondary characters who were cardboard cutouts. So, really, I’m more than ready for something good…

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Yup, yup, yup. I was really burning out on books that seemed sub-par, and then somebody happened to mention Spymaster’s Lady, and it singlehandedly restored my faith in the viability of the genre.

      Also, it led me to Sherry Thomas and that led me to Meredith Duran, who are also terrific.

      Another recent find is 2009 Rita winner Pam Rosenthal (The Slightest Provocation and The Edge of Impropriety) who likewise writes wonderful, intelligent, emotionally-engaging books for actual grown-ups.

      There’s good stuff out there these days!! Thank goodness!

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  5. Elise Hayes says:

    I’m about a third of the way through _The Forbiden Rose_. I’m deliberately dragging it out, NOT letting myself read large chunks at a time, and even going back and re-reading sections before moving on, because I want to savor every last word before I turn that last page. Bourne is AMAZING (but since I have the book already, Elisa, take my name off the list of people who could win your copies!). Thanks for turning me onto her Elisa (you’re the reason I picked up Bourne’s first book and then I was HOOKED).

    I haven’t tried Pam Rosenthal yet–I’ll put her on my TBR list!

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      I had the same experience reading Forbidden Rose! Couldn’t I please get a quick case of amnesia, then get to read it again “for the first time”?

      But, as you say, it definitely merits re-readings…and it makes me want to re-read Spymaster’s Lady and My Lord and Spymaster all over again, to look at Doyle and Adrian and Maggie in light of what we now know about them.

      For those who haven’t read any of these books yet, Doyle (the hero of Forbidden Rose) is a supporting character in those books, and is strong and funny, but not obviously sexy (Jo Bourne says she was going for “avuncular.”) But in Forbidden Rose…(fanning self) he’s verrrrry sexy…without violating the essence of the character we’ve already come to know.

      A very impressive transformation! And a *great* lesson about the power of POV.

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Oh, yes, and definitely try Pam Rosenthal!

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  6. I love your goshing. I hope someone will feel that way about my stories one day.

    I’ve never read her work. Is each book stand alone, or should I start with the Spymaster’s Lady?

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  7. Addison Fox says:

    Elisa:

    First of all – THANK YOU – SPYMASTER’S LADY has been on my TBR pile and clearly I need to go straightaway and snatch it up!

    And second, isn’t it wonderful when your reader hat and your writer hat sigh in blissful satisfaction over a good book?!!?! I LOVE it when that happens.

    I have talked to anyone who would listen about Anne Stuart’s ICE series. Oh my gosh, those books are AWESOME. As a reader, they’re edge-of-your seat and sexy as all get out. As a writer, I spent the entire book in awe of her talent.

    Addison

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      <>

      Definitely!

      And I’ve never read any Anne Stuart, either…more to add to my towering TBR!!

      Oh, and speaking of TBR (or former TBR), I finally got to Warrior Ascended, and am halfway through. I don’t usually read contemp OR paranormal, but I’m having a blast!! Fab book, Addison!

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      • Addison Fox says:

        Thank you!!!! You have SO made my day!!! Sending you very large cyber-hugs!! 🙂

        XOXO

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        • Elisa Beatty says:

          Brody’s a very appealing, warm hero (and still plenty alpha), and it’s good watching Ava come out of her shell. (I’m at the part where they’re just heading to Paris…woo!!)

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      <>

      Definitely!

      And I’ve never read any Anne Stuart, either…more to add to my towering TBR!!

      Oh, and speaking of TBR (or former TBR), I finally got to Warrior Ascended, and am halfway through. I don’t usually read contemp OR paranormal, but I’m having a blast!! Fab book, Addison!

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Dang…posting problems this morning! Aside from the double post there, I managed to delete what I was quoting from your comment: “Isn’t it wonderful when your reader hat and writer hat sigh in blissful satisfaction over a good book.” That’s what inspired the “Definitely!”

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    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Oh! Oh! Oh! I LOVE Anne Stuart’s “Ice” series! She writes the best morally ambiguous – okay, maybe sociopathic – heroes EVAH.

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  8. Shea Berkley says:

    Heavens! Ms. Bourne has a wonderful way with words. I love her books because you can tell her characters come from her knowledge. She seemlessly weaves character and plot together that makes you want to cry, in a good way. I haven’t read Forbidden Rose, but now I’m aching to.

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      “Seamlessly” is the right word. Or maybe “alchemically.” There’s something extraordinary about how it all fits together. It’s hard to capture the wonderfulness with just a few snippets…it’s a synergy.

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  9. Diana Layne says:

    Hi, Elisa, I’ve just started Spymaster’s Lady and Joanna is definitely a masterful writer. How exciting that you got to read her newest already! Linda Castillo and her new sequel to Sworn To Silence is on my squee list (Pray for Silence), but she’ll be blogging with us next week so I’ll wait and squee then. 🙂

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Eager to read about Linda Castillo! Another new one for me! (My TBR pile is going to crush my house before I get through all these suggestions…but that’s a good thing, right?)

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    • Addison Fox says:

      Yeah!!! Linda’s work is DEFINITELY squee-worthy!!! I’m so glad she’s joining us!!!

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  10. You had me at: No need for trumped-up Misunderstandings or Deep-and-Terrible Family Secrets. And some of that prose, wonderful! Very soon, Ms. Bourne and I will have to have a nice long read together.

    Thanks for the blog!

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  11. Angi Morgan says:

    I definitely need a copy of Spymaster! Thanks for bringing this series to my attention. Sounds like a wonderful read.

    ~~Angi

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  12. Tina Joyce says:

    Okay, Elisa, you’ve sold me. I haven’t read Joanna Bourne, yet, but I’ve heard so many wonderful things about her. Those snippets did the trick.

    Thanks for the post.

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Oh, hurray! It’s so hard to know if little bits like that can capture anything of the flavor of a book…glad it worked for you! Thanks, Tina!

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  13. Darynda Jones says:

    Elisa, I just ordered Joanna’s first two books because fans like you rave about her. I cannot wait to get caught up to her newest release. I’ve heard such wonderful things.

    Wonderful post!
    ~D~

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  14. Hi Elisa,
    I’m a very sparse historical reader–I’m a contemporary girl and can’t even give you a very good reason for why that is. But, I must say, you certainly do a fantastic job of shilling for these books. I will add them to my TBR pile post haste! Thanks for the enthusiasm 🙂

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Thanks for dropping by, Lizbeth! I promise to check out more contemporaries if some of you contemporary-readers will check these out! Good writing inspires good writing, all the way around…and I love it when there’s more good writing in the world!

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  15. Gwynlyn MacKenzie says:

    Haven’t read any of these, but now you have me considering adding Ms Bourne to my list of “must buys.”

    Guess I’ll be heading to B&N yet again (sometimes I’m just not patient enough to wait for them to come in the mail!)

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      LOL on the impatience! (My sister gets all her romances from her local library. I could NEVER wait that long!!)

      If you’re one of today’s winners, run out and buy the book yourself, and I’ll just send cash in the mail. (g).

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  16. Knowing how similar our tastes are, you pretty much had me from “absolute must-buy authors.”

    “Diana-Gabaldon good” was just the salted-caramel frosting on the cupcake. 🙂 Thank you for the recommendation!

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  17. Gillian says:

    I share your admiration; Joanna Bourne is gifted. I also imagine she’s extremely hard-working. Her website and blog posts are brilliant. She’s just a wealth of information, and generously shares with all.

    Mary Balogh makes me squeeee! I adore her work. I imagine I’d adore her grocery list. 🙂

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      From what she says on her blog about her writing process, it sounds like she suffers a lot…very, very meticulous about research and getting her characters and her language right. It shows (in a good way) in the quality of the writing…but the books are a breeze to read. (She’s done all the suffering for us.) Thanks for stopping by, Gillian!

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  18. J. Keely Thrall says:

    You’ve just sold me. Bourne is going on my to be purchased list and will be added to my TBR pile tout suite (which in my feeble French I think means, PDQ).

    Thanks, Elisa, for the nod!

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  19. Liz Talley says:

    I’ve read the first one and loved it. I’ve not read her second book, but I’m looking forward to it and this one. I agree, she has a way with words and mood that I wish I could grasp hold of. Of course, if I did, I would have sold those historicals, wouldn’t I?

    I really enjoy her writing, but since I’ve bought and read the Julia Quinn, Kelly’s Lily book and one by a new author, my Kindle will have to stay closed. After I finish Kelly’s book, of course.

    But July is not too far away. I’ll put this one first. Oh, but then there’s Autumn’s. Dang. Too many on the TBR again.

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  20. I haven’t read Joanna Bourne, Elisa, but understand it’s way past time. Enjoyed the excerpts tremendously. Susan Elizabeth Phillips is my favorite and has been for a long time!

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  21. rita says:

    I agree Joanna draws you into a story. You feel like you know the character and care about them. I am developing favored authors based on this. When an author can touch your heart and soul with their words and make you feel the love or hate or fear or longing I’m hooked. Like Autumn said my dream is to one day have someone say that about my stories.

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      I didn’t manage to get this into the post itself, but one of the things I love most about her books is the way the love between the characters feels real and deep…

      She captures the *emotional* profundity of the draw between bodies–not just lust, but a real feeling of *belonging* to each other. There’s a kiss in a carriage in Spymaster’s Lady when the lovers haven’t admitted their feelings yet (even to themselves, really), but they think they’re about to be permanently separated, and it’s just….SIGH!

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  22. Shoshana Brown says:

    You convinced me–I’m putting My Lord and Spymaster on my TBR list.

    As for my SQUEEE authors, I don’t want to list them, because I have way too many. Yes. I am a book addict.

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  23. Hi, Elisa! What a fantastic recommendation. I received a fabulous bookstore gift card recently and Joanna Bourne has just shot to the top of my shopping (and squee) list.

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  24. Elisa Beatty says:

    The winners of copies of The Forbidden Rose are:

    Jillian Stone
    Diana Layne
    Hope Ramsay

    I know how to contact all three, so be looking for an email!!

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  25. Arrgh! I’ve fallen behind on my blog surfing and am late to this party.

    Not that I have anything of substance to add! Just nodding along emphatically. Everything I know about writing POV, I learned from reading The Spymaster’s Lady. Bourne’s all-around craftsmanship is the best in our subgenre, and you did an excellent job of explaining just why.

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