Thursday, May 5, 2011

Book Club: Countess of Scandal by Laurel McKee

By: Anne Woodall
“OKLAHOMA, where the wind comes sweeping down the plains”—my home state and also home to the fabulously talented historical author, Laurel McKee (pen name for Regency romance writer Amanda McCabe), who I’ve just recently discovered. My new discovery has provided me with some excellent hours of reading pleasure and made me extra-glad I took the plunge into the historical romance genre. I’m so excited that a sister Okie is at the top of my list of favorite historical authors these days.

Laurel McKee’s powerful and exceptionally well-written “Daughters of Erin” trilogy is set at the end of the 18th century during the Irish Rebellion. Ireland and its history have always fascinated me. If a book offers me an Irish love story as well, I’m generally convinced to definitely read the book.

Laurel brings Ireland and its troubled past, along with these well-defined characters, to life on the pages of her books. The Irish spirit is vividly captured, the political upheaval is well-defined and fascinating, and the romance is beautifully and sensually portrayed. Ms. McKee has an extraordinary ability to write a well-balanced historical romance. I can assure you that the romance is not overshadowed.

Her writing exudes her love of Ireland and the quality of her research stands front and center. The first two books are excellent.

Book 1 – “Countess of Scandal”

Book 2 – “Duchess of Sin”

Book 3 – “Lady of Seduction” (Release Date: June, 2011)

Book 1

The “Daughters of Erin” series is a well-balanced blend of history and romance. “Countess of Scandal” introduces us to the three Blacknall sisters and their family.

This is the story of childhood friendship between Eliza, the oldest Blacknall sister, and Will, who lives nearby and a hero worthy of the title. Their friendship develops into so much more. But, as we know, there have to be trials and tribulations to overcome before the Happily Every After can occur. Eliza and Will are separated by opposing beliefs. Although Protestant, Eliza considers herself a true Irish woman and feels betrayed by Will when he goes off to serve the English Regiment.

Time passes, and seven years later, Will returns to Ireland to find Eliza is now a wealthy young widow living in Dublin. She is also, much to Will’s dismay, very involved in the secret societies of the United Irishmen. Above all else, Will is determined to keep Eliza safe at all costs and not lose the love and trust they’ve rebuilt. This book is overflowing with passion: the passion of friendship, the passion between a young soldier and a rebellious young countess, passion for one’s country and its people and causes, passion for the safety of family and, of course, the passion shared by these two young lovers. Eliza and Will’s emotions for one another and their physical chemistry heat up the pages.

While telling Eliza and Will’s breathtaking and memorable love story, McKee vividly describes the turbulent struggles that place enemies, family, friends, and lovers against one another in the political battle of the United Irish for their independence from England.

Believe me, Ms. McKee delivers an exquisitely wrapped package in “Countess of Scandal.” Even the girls’ sweet mother has her own romance.

“Duchess of Sin”
Book 2

“Duchess of Sin” continues the saga with Anna Blacknall, the middle sister, who is beautiful and mischievous, with a very strong-will. I loved her feisty and daring attitude. I especially enjoyed the “emerald-eyed Irishman” who she keeps encountering in places she should never be and tempting him beyond anything he’s ever felt. Anna and Conlan’s chemistry sets the pages on fire, their loyalties are tested, and danger surrounda them moment to moment. I must admit that “Duchess of Sin” was a slight favorite for me.

“Lady of Seduction”
Book 3

And the saga will soon continue with Caroline, the youngest Blacknall sister in the leading role. She’s the “bookworm” and “wallflower” who enjoys finding a safe and quiet spot in a library. Caroline is happiest when she goes unnoticed. There’s an arranged marriage being planned for her to an older widower with children who is safe and boring. Of course, we all know that things are not going to go smoothly and there has to be some changes made in this girl’s life. And I can assure you that Caroline is in for the time of her life—because I’ve read the first two books!! I could tell you but that wouldn’t be fair. You deserve the special hours of pleasure that reading these books will certainly bring about. The build-up from the first two books has me eagerly anticipating Caroline’s story in what to date is absolutely one of my very favorite historical series and has found its way to my keeper shelves.

Wrap Up:
Laurel McKee’s books make me sigh, put a smile on my face, bring tears to my eyes, and always leave me thoroughly satisfied while a bit sad, too, knowing I’ve arrived at the last page.

Without reservation, I recommend this series to one and all. And I salute Ms. McKee on her outstanding “Daughters of Erin” series .

An old Irish poem says:

Boxty on the griddle
Boxty in the pan,
If you can’t make boxty,
You’ll never get a man.

And a bit of Irish flavor for the taste buds:

Boxty (Irish Potato Griddle Cakes)

½ pound raw potato
½ pound cooked mashed potatoes
1 cup flour
Milk (as needed, see directions below)
1 egg
1 medium onion, finely chopped
Salt and pepper

Grate raw potato and mix with cooked mashed potatoes. Add salt, pepper, onion and flour. Beat egg and add to mixture with just enough milk to make a thick batter that will drop from a spoon.

Drop by tablespoonfuls onto hot griddle or frying pan. Cook over moderate heat for 3-4 minutes on each side.

Glazed Corned Beef

4-1/2 pounds corn beef, rinsed
1 cup water
1 cup apricot preserves
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoons soy sauce

1 – Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2 – Coat pan with non-stick cooking spray. Place corned beef in dish and add water. Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake 2 hours; drain liquid.

3 – In small bowl combine apricot preserves, brown sugar, and soy sauce. Spread mixture evenly over corned beef.

4 – Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 25-30 additional minutes, or until meat is tender, basting occasionally with pan drippings.

5 – Slice corned beef across grain and serve.