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Why The Edwardian Philippines: Guest Post by Author Jennifer Hallock

I’ve been hearing about author Jennifer Hallock for a while now, mostly from fellow Filipino romance readers. I was intrigued from the first time I found out that she writes historical romance set in the Philippines. I’ve been meaning to read her books for the longest time and finally found time to start Under the Sugar Sun, which is still my current read. I find the Philippine setting so refreshing compared to other historical romance reads! I asked Jennifer why she chose to write about this setting, and she was generous enough to write a guest post about it. Please give Jennifer a warm welcome and find out why her historical romances are set in my home country! As always, I hope this guest post will also encourage more readers to pick up her books. 🙂

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Why The Edwardian Philippines
by Jennifer Hallock

I am often asked why I set my romance novels in the middle of the Philippine-American War. Why not Regencies, which are far more marketable? I do love my dukes—I do. But, as you will see, I’m just too much of a history geek to pass up the complex, conflicting legacy of the Americans in the Philippines.

What’s wrong with Regency? Well, nothing. But do you ever wonder the odds of throwing a rock in a Regency romance and hitting a duke? Just exactly how many dukes were there in 1814? Only 25, actually—and only 576 peers above the degree of baronet. This means that out of a British population of almost 19 million, there was one duke for every 756,000 Brits, and one peer for every 33,000. That’s not many—but that’s their appeal, I suppose. Dukes are the billionaire trope of historical romance: desirable, virile, chiseled, strong, and dominant. But were they these things? Let’s start with: were they even young? Dukes in 1814 averaged over 50 years old—my hasty calculation based on Wikipedia peerage lists. And given the average Regency diet and sedentary lifestyle, the rest of the conceit might not hold up, either. But nevermind, because Regency romance has become a world unto itself—a fantasy of masked balls, flavored ices, and daring carriage races through the park. As escapism, these books have huge appeal.

For those of us who like a little more authenticity, historical romances set in Europe and the United States are growing more diverse. Authors like Beverly Jenkins, Courtney Milan, Alyssa Cole, KJ Charles, Rose Lerner, andAmara Royce, to name just a few, are more inclusive as regards to race, class, sexuality, and nationality. They bring a more representative picture to the romance reader.

English-language books with geographic diversity—set outside North America—are harder to find, though not impossible. Take Laura Kinsale’s sweeping love story, Dream Hunter, set in the Syrian desert — with nary a sheikh trope in sight! Or consider Jeannie Lin, who writes Tang dynasty historicals that make the China of a thousand years ago feel both fresh and familiar at the same time.

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It’s fabulous stuff. You get to travel in your head for (nearly) free! So, of all the places you could travel, why choose the Philippine-American War? How about because it is the most important war that America forgot? It’s barely studied in US high schools today, but that’s a mistake. It was a watershed moment that launched the American Century. Before the Philippines, the US swore off overseas possessions and entanglements. Not interested. But when America seized the Philippines in the Spanish-American War (1898), everything changed. The US began to talk about a special mission to shape the world in its own image—but not before engaging in vigorous internal debates over national debt, trade agreements, nation-building, immigration, and the use of military force. Do these issues sound familiar? They should. The America of today was defined by what happened in the Philippines. George Santayana said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” But it is not good enough to just remember the past. You should experience it yourself. That’s the garden where empathy grows. That’s where you get all the feels.

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And you need the feels. Writing happily-ever-afters is a needed tonic to digest all this history. As author Alisha Rai tweeted, “our basic genre requirement…[is] that there’s no black moment that love cannot overcome.” Thus, I wrote a story about an American schoolteacher, one of a thousand sent to the Philippines to establish the first co-educational, secular public school system in Asia. (When I began Under the Sugar Sun, I was also an American schoolteacher in the Philippines. “Write what you know,” as they say.) My heroine, Georgina Potter, represents the best of what America has to offer, but it may not be good enough for Filipino nationalist Javier Altarejos—a sugar baron who is better educated, better traveled, and a better linguist than the Yankee colonial officials sent to “civilize” him. (Their word, not mine.) As Georgina questions her country’s agenda, so does the reader. And, of course, love conquers all because—hello!—romance!

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With the exception of the prequel novella, Hotel Oriente, all my books are interracial romances. These couples forge a path that is not easy, but totally worth it. This moral of multiculturalism is a little advanced for the time period—a deliberate anachronism—but no more so than any of the little lies in Regency romance. My latest novella, Tempting Hymn, is about finding love in the time of cholera*, colonial inequities, and church politics. It is a story of second chances, redemption, and compassion. Because today, in a world of fake news and a remorseless internet, we need empathy more than ever. And love. We need lots and lots of love.

*With my apologies to Gabriel García Márquez.

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Jennifer Hallock is author of the Sugar Sun historical romance series, set in the American colonial Philippines. At her day job, she teaches a trimester course to high school seniors called America in the Philippines, a part of a larger sequence on the history of American imperialism. She studied Southeast Asian history at university and grad school, and then lived and worked in Manila for four years.

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Want Books: Butterfly Swords

Want Books? is a weekly meme hosted here at Chachic’s Book Nook and features released books that you want but you can’t have for some reason. It can be because it’s not available in your country, in your library or you don’t have the money for it right now. Everyone is free to join, just grab the image above. Leave a comment with a link to your post so I can do a roundup with each post.

I’m sure most of you have noticed that I’ve been reading quite a lot of contemporary romance lately. I just find it really easy to go through romance novels, I feel like they’re the type of books that can get me out of a reading slump (not that I’ve had one of those recently, thank goodness). What I need to try more is historical romance because I haven’t read a lot of those. Aside from Joanna Bourne, I don’t think I’ve talked about any other historical romance author here on the blog. I’m hoping that will change soon. Laura Florand, author of the Amour et Chocolat series, mentioned that she enjoyed reading Butterfly Swords by Jeannie Lin and I was immediately intrigued. Asian historical romance? I’m definitely up for that!

Butterfly SwordsHere’s the summary from Goodreads:

During China’s infamous Tang Dynasty, a time awash with luxury yet littered with deadly intrigues and fallen royalty, betrayed Princess Ai Li flees before her wedding. Miles from home, with only her delicate butterfly swords for defense, she enlists the reluctant protection of a blue-eyed warrior…

Battle-scarred, embittered Ryam has always held his own life at cheap value. Ai Li’s innocent trust in him and honorable, stubborn nature make him desperate to protect her – which means “not” seducing the first woman he has ever truly wanted…

I don’t really know much about China’s history but I have a feeling I’ll enjoy reading this one. How about you, what book is at the top of your wishlist? Who are your favorite historical romance authors?


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Historical Romance Recommendation: Joanna Bourne

Historical romance, say what? Regular readers of this blog are probably wondering why I’ve decided to feature a historical romance author when I barely read books from that genre. Most of the romance that I read are contemporary novels but when certain books come highly recommended by those I trust, I’m willing to give them a chance. I remember hearing about Joanna Bourne through Sounis, the LiveJournal community for fans of Megan Whalen Turner’s books. That was before I started this little bloggy. I can’t even remember who first mentioned The Spymaster’s Lady but I do recall that it was said that it’s a good read if one can stomach the naked manly chest on the cover. When I saw a copy in a local bookstore, I decided to give it a try. I’m so glad I did! I enjoyed The Spymaster’s Lady enough to read the rest of Joanna Bourne’s novels when they came out. I like her novels because of all the spying, clever plot twists and witty dialogue. Oh and all the tension leading up to the sexytimes. Joanna Bourne made me realize that spying is pretty similar to thieving and you all know how fond I am of thieves in fiction. If this sounds like your cup of tea, then go ahead and pick up her novels and feel free to let me know what you think of them.

Joanna Bourne's novels

Joanna Bourne's other novels: My Lord and Spymaster, The Forbidden Rose, The Black Hawk

I always think it’s a good thing when an author surprises you with how unexpectedly good his or her writing is. More so when the novel is from a genre you normally wouldn’t read. It’s good to step away from your comfort zone from time to time, right? I’m in the middle of The Black Hawk, Joanna Bourne’s latest, which reminded me of how much I enjoy reading her novels so I decided to talk about them here. Have you ever given an unfamiliar genre a try? What was your experience like?