My guest today, Giulia Torre, has her Ph.D. in Reading/Writing/Literacy from the University of Pennsylvania, where she focused her research on reader-response and the social life of literature. Before earning her Ph.D, she completed doctoral coursework in eighteenth-century literature at the University of Washington in St. Louis, where she studied literary community and the quixotic principle.
All that to say, she likes to read romance novels. She joins us today to tell us why.
Star Wars, Star Trek, or Firefly? Star Trek: Next Generation. Watched it twice through. Love the whole idea of the Federation, and thrilled every time Jean Luc answered a knock at the door with, “Come!”
What is the one thing you can’t live without? Money. I’ve never been able to live the life of the impoverished student or writer. I’d like to try someday, but for now, I work for money. I’m looking forward to the day when I am willing to live without it and simply write.
As a child (or now!), what did you want to be when you grew up? A romance novelist. I wrote my first romance when I was 16. I wish I could find it now. Though I never could write past the love scenes. Once the two “got together,” I couldn’t imagine what would still keep them apart. I still struggle with conflict in my stories.
What is the single biggest challenge of creating the settings in your novels? The setting of Wolfe Island and the emerging Diamonds on the Water series is a fictional representation of the Thousand Islands in Upstate NY. Because it is a place I love, revere and know well, it’s easy enough to evoke. However, Wolfe Island exists in the world, and it’s a different Wolfe Island than I’ve created in the book. I borrow island names from the region, and relocate them. I want to share Wolfe Island with others who love the Thousand Island region and call it home, but as my author’s note explains, my setting is not geographically accurate. My story will not provide a map of the St. Lawrence River Seaway. In fact, I never even use the name of the River. I want the book to be reminiscent of the place, evocative, without being tied to geographical accuracy.
What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever heard? Keep writing! That’s the first, last, best. And hardest. James Boswell wrote a massive tome on the Life of Samuel Johnson, “author” of the first Dictionary of the English language. Boswell describes his friend Joshua Reynolds holding him down in his chair, urging him to write. I wish sometimes I had a friend like this.
Giulia Torre, reads, writes, and thinks about books. She lives in a small town with a thriving Main Street in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, where she plays with her neighbors in lakes, yards, and barns. Wishing she could kiss them all, just once.
What is Meredith Wells to think when her erstwhile friend, Tristan Wolfe, son of a Russian shipping tycoon, fails to reappear for five full years after a childhood of island summers spent together? Until his yacht capsizes her skiff, she assumed he had forgotten her. Meredith is an accomplished botanical illustrator sketching New York’s native island plants. Wolfe’s return brings intimate memories to the surface, and with them an expansion of her artistic repertoire. Wolfe and Meredith’s reunion is a spectacle, but nothing compared to the accidental circulation of her anatomical studies…of him. Meredith is convinced her titillating drawings will lead to a lucrative career, and even progress the woman’s movement. If only she could persuade Wolfe to assist with her scientific rendering of his anatomic detail. But an entourage of city socialites have arrived to witness the unveiling of the most spectacular plan the region has ever seen…an international seaway that will introduce big, brilliant ships to the river. Wolfe is prepared to sacrifice everything to see the seaway realized. Reunited with the young woman he has known since she was hip high, Wolfe is faced with a choice: a marriage contract with the wealthy daughter of his business partner, one that would secure the seaway and prosperity for the only place he’s ever called home. Or succumb to the maddening distractions of a native girl who plays baseball in bicycling pants and swears like a sailor. Can Meredith persuade him to bank diamonds on the water?Set against a lush American landscape in 1893, Wolfe Island is the story of two people deeply connected to the region and to each other.
- Book Title: Wolfe Island: A New York Style American Historical Romance (Diamonds on the Water Book 1)
- Author: Giulia Torre
- Genre: Historical Romance
- Length: 253 pages
- Release Date: December 25, 2014
- Buy Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble
My Review: Wolfe Island: A New York Style American Historical Romance (Diamonds on the Water Book 1)
One of the problems with writing historical romance is the heroine. Within the restrictions of manners and mores, it can be difficult to show a young woman behaving with individuality, let alone kickass snark. Jane Austen’s heroines managed this by using the rules of society as framework for their exquisitely proper/wicked observations and quashing of unwanted suitors. But a writer who wants action outside of decorous drawing room manners has to think of a reason why their heroine might possess both drawing-room sophistication and expertise with a gun, sword, or even fist. In her debut novel, Wolfe Island, author Giulia Torre’s solution is to make heroine Meredith the artistically-gifted child of a brilliant, well-educated scholar who treats her more as a colleague than a daughter. Growing up in isolation on tiny Mosquito Island, she’s had an unorthodox education and unusual amount of freedom. Besides her absent-minded father, the one constant in her life has been her annual summer contacts with Tristan Wolfe, son of the shipping tycoon who owns the “castle” on nearby Wolfe Island.
The book is set in 1893, a period of overwhelming change for both New York’s Thousand Island region and America as a whole. Some were richer—the number of millionaires had risen from about 100 in the 1870s to over 4000 by 1892, general wages had risen more than 60%, while the railroads and factories of second industrial revolution were transforming the country. Some were poorer—the Panic of 1893 was about to plunge the country into its first severe depression, lasting until 1897. Some were politically conservative—Republican Benjamin Harrison had just been re-elected to a second term. Some were politically active—woman’s suffrage groups were pushing for prohibition and the vote, and labor unions were becoming powerful. Some were newcomers—the decade saw the arrival of over ten million immigrants. Some were more socially established—the New York Times published Mrs. Astor’s famous 400 (social register).
In the Thousand Islands region of upstate New York, the newly rich and established elite built resorts, summer homes, and even “castles”. Following his father’s death and an absence of several years, Tristan Wolfe returns to Wolfe Island hoping to realize his dream of building a fleet of huge ships to create a new shipping route, a fourth coast that will be “…the key that will unlock the door from the Midwest to the ocean.” In preparation, he’s sold his father’s fleet and arranged to marry heiress Holly van Ogden, the daughter of the man who will help finance his dream. But standing in his way are Meredith Wells, the girl who has haunted his fantasies, and Mosquito Island, the only home she’s ever known.
I struggled with the number of stars to assign to Wolfe Island. The writing itself was clear, with a consistent voice and feel for the genre. The plot was for the most part well-developed, if occasionally predictable. (Historical romance? Hero gets wet/reluctant attraction blossoms into sexual encounter/couple parts over misunderstanding/heroine faces danger/love’s a triangle? Check, check, check, and check.) But the initially slow pace escalates nicely, and the beautifully documented period detail brings the setting to life.
No, my only real complaint is the character of Holly, Tristan’s proposed bride. It was an interesting choice to make her a lesbian, creating an unusual love triangle. I just wish that author Torre had avoided stereotypes. Especially in Victorian times when such a revelation was actively dangerous, it just didn’t ring true that Holly would be such a sexual predator as to automatically sexually assault Meredith, an injured young stranger—particularly one who was entrusted to her care by her proposed fiance. I didn’t buy it, and it robbed the book of the love triangle aspect. (Not in itself a big issue for me since I’m not a triangle fan, but still…) I see Holly’s character as a missed opportunity. She could have been developed into a more rounded personality, and perhaps then her attraction to Meredith could have added depth and complexity to the story. I’m positive Torre could have achieved this, because her other secondary characters were so well-developed, with three-dimensional flaws and strengths.
But with the otherwise strong writing, solid plot, and engaging main characters, I’d give Wolfe Island four stars. Clearly, there are more books coming in this world, and I look forward to finding out what happens to some of my favorite characters.
**I received this book for free from the publisher or author in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.**
Meredith took two steps for each of his, walking double time to keep up. People were strewn about the street, taking morning strolls. Every woman had on a large hat. They passed in a blur.
At the water’s edge, she chased him over two flights of a dozen stairs that zigzagged down the rock face. When she reached the dock, he was already walking the boards to where her skiff was moored. “Wolfe!”
He turned to face her. The wind whipped his collar against his neck, and he tossed his head to move the hair from his eyes. His hands returned to his hips.
She sighed. He would not apologize for their kiss; he would scold her for it. It had been wrong to kiss him. He had warned her against it. He was to be married. He intended to remind her that kissing was ill-advised. A lecture was forthcoming, but she didn’t want to hear him say the words, that it had been wrong.
She preempted him. “I shouldn’t have kissed you.” She tried to sound reasonable, but she sounded like a petulant child, even to herself.
His head shifted to one side, considering. He nodded and rubbed his jaw. “There is that.” He seemed not to want to discuss the subject at all. Perhaps it was impossible to be disapproving with a woman you’d kissed rather thoroughly the evening before. He held out his hand. In it was a piece of paper, folded and worn. “There is also this.”
Meredith started. She recognized the page. The kiss became the least of her worries. It had been the last thing on his mind. She reached for it. “Where did you get that?”
He held it high above her head, out of reach. “What is it?”
She struggled to mask her mortification. “Isn’t it obvious?” She reached for it again, on the tips of her toes against him.
His face was inches from hers. His pale eyes held not a hint of ice. “Explain it to me anyway.”
She dropped back on her heels, stepped away, and sighed. “It’s…an anatomical study.”
“But it is of me.” He unfolded the paper, held it out to her again. “My…anatomy. Why?”
Meredith bit her lip. He wanted to know why she had drawn his anatomy. Why indeed? She had been unable to stop thinking of his anatomy as soon she learned from the castle staff that he was scheduled to return. And that was months ago before Graven’s ball. She couldn’t very well tell him that. “You happen to be the only man I’ve seen…” her voice trailed off and she waved a hand in the direction of the page.
He might have made a small growl in the back of his throat. “You couldn’t have seen anything. I wasn’t naked.” The emphasis made his meaning clear.
“I didn’t see it. I felt it.”
There. He did growl.
She pinched the paper from his fingers. His arm had dropped within reach while they talked.
“I am launching an international seaway. It’s not just about money. It’s politics. I can’t have illicit pictures of me surfacing in the middle of negotiations.”
Of course, he was right. And the likelihood was increasing that other pictures, more illicit ones, would indeed surface. Who knew where the other several pages were now? She glanced at the sketch. This one was tame. “I can’t answer your question, Master Wolfe, until you tell me where you got this.”
“How did you lose it anyway? And do not call me that.”
“I left it behind at a ball.”
“What? You sketched this at a public event?” He nearly shouted, the sound a musical lilt.
“I was bored,” she said. And she couldn’t stop thinking about him. But she kept that to herself. “Did you buy it?” she asked, now curious.
“Buy it?” He was aghast. He actually took a step back, away from her, as his hand moved to his hair and brushed through it. “Is there a black market for your nudes?”
“I’m not sure.” She said quietly. ”Maybe?”
He threw up his hands.
“I’m sorry,” she repeated. “I didn’t mean for anyone to see them.”
“Them?” He closed the distance between them in a single step. “So there are more.”
“It,” she stepped back, faltering as she tried to recover the lie.
“How many more?”
“One or two. Maybe a few.” She grimaced. “If you would just tell me where you found the one, then I will locate the rest.” It was imperative that she find them before he did.
“The rest. So you’ve lost them all?”
She looked at her shoes.
“And they all are like this?” He took the sketch back from her and studied it again.
She shook her head. This was the only one where he was featured so…prominently. The others, however, were more engaging. She decided that if he asked, that would be the word she chose. Engaging. Her face burned.
He alternated between studying the page and studying her face while she waited for him to press her with details.
“I mean to find an audience, raise funds. Simon suggested I could sell them.” She realized too late that she had said the wrong thing. His temper flared.
“Simon could not have seriously suggested you try your hand at pornography. You would attract more customers if you drew yourself nude.” He stopped. “Have you?”
She ignored the question. “With the right lessons, women might be able to take their rightful place in society. Knowledge is power.” She repeated Simon’s words. “We might someday be able to wear pants. Anywhere.” Her last word was an awed, whispered breath. “I can do this, Tristan. I’m sure I could make a difference. But I would need more practice.”
“My sketches have no detail. They lack precision.”
* * *
He kept his tone impassive as she reached out and touched the sketch, touched it exactly where he could not bear to have her touch it. His voice was strained when he found it. “You want it more detailed?”
“It’s not yet scientific.” She circled her finger in a small loop. He caught his breath. Her touch on the image of him made the blood rush to the item in question, made him full and heavy. She looked up at him. “It’s based on my textbook. Not reality.” She leaned in more closely. “I didn’t really see you.” She looked at the page again, her finger still resting on his drawn figure. She dropped her hand, and he felt the absence of her touch as if it had been removed from his own skin. “To make it truly precise, I need experience with the real thing.”
“The real thing.” He repeated the words, unable to believe they had arrived from his lips. Or hers.
She tilted her head. “Do you think there is money in it?”
There was. Pornography was a lucrative career. He nodded without thinking, without attending to the source of her inquiry. He was dazed. She was asking about drawing naked men, as a career. As part of the women’s movement, of all things.
“Will you help?”
“Help?” He had lost the plot. What was she asking now? Of course he would help her, in anything she asked. One time, he had helped her cross a bridge without a bottom. In a race. That time, he had to haul her up by her ankle, his face temporarily buried in her skirts as she dangled upside down, her foot stuck in the cross beams. Of course, he had been the one to knock her over the side of the decrepit bridge with a board. But in the end, he had helped. He wouldn’t have been there at all if he hadn’t said yes, always yes. He was always willing to help. Help? Of course he would help. “Yes.”
Her face brightened in astonishment. “You will?”
“Yes, of course.” He paused, then belatedly, “Help with what?”
She tapped the page that remained poised between them, clasped in Wolfe’s fingers, forgotten. “With the scientific detail.”
He fell back as if pushed. Had he heard her correctly? The wind whipped at her hair. “You want me to explain it to you?”
She looked at him as though he were a child. “How will that help me? You think I could draw a plant from someone’s description? I need to see it to draw it well.”
See it. She needed to see it. “You need to see it?” He was having difficulty translating the request.
She nodded. “You’ll help me then?”
She wanted him to find a man who would become naked for her, let her study him. Closely. In detail. The image was a punch in gut. Absolutely not. “No.” Her face fell. “There isn’t a man in a thousand miles I would allow to undress before you so you could sketch his…his…” He waved the paper between them.
Her face relaxed again in a smile. “No! No, of course not.” She laughed. And he found himself smiling too at the sound, at the realization that he had been grossly mistaken. She was not so outrageous as that. What had he been thinking? His imagination had gotten away from him. Jealousy had swept over him like a wave. That was a problem. What right had he to feel jealous? He would worry the subject later. But she wasn’t asking for him to procure a man for her. His relief was instantaneous and full.
“I mean you.”
His quick intake of breath became at once a fit of coughing. It took him several moments before he could breathe again. By that time, she had removed the sketch from his hand and was pacing the dock with it, studying it. She tapped her finger tip against her lips. “It is altogether too vague. I can see where I was just,” she waved a hand, “making it up.” She looked back at him. “Others will notice, those who have seen one before. In person. I couldn’t fake it with them.” She approached him again, her tone grave. “You have to show me.”
He shook his head emphatically. “I will not show you.” The words came out in an uneven line.
Why not? Why not. It was a reasonable question. And the most ridiculous one he had ever heard.
“Are you embarrassed of it?”
He shot up a brow in response. “I’m not embarrassed of it.”
“Are you afraid I will tell someone? I won’t tell anyone, Tristan. I promise.”
He hadn’t even thought of that. If he agreed, and word got out, there would be a hell of a lot to answer for. As it was, his face was on how many of these sketches, in how many hands across New York? Though the point was not moot, it was not the point that prevented him. She prevented him. He could not bare himself to her and sit idly by while she studied him, while her hands ran over a page with a pencil and know she traced his likeness, as though her fingers were touching his own skin.
He willed his thoughts to order. His voice was forceful with finality. “No.”
Her teeth worried her lip as her brows closed together. He watched with apprehension as the seed planted and took root. He pinched his nose between his fingers. He needed to find a new metaphor.