SPOTLIGHT: Home Fires by Jana Richards

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Anne Wakefield travels halfway around the world for love. But when she arrives in Canada from England at the end of World War Two, she discovers the handsome Canadian pilot she’d fallen in love with has married someone else. Heartbroken, she prepares to return to London, though she has nothing left there to return to. Her former fiancé’s mother makes a suggestion: marriage to her other son.

Badly wounded and scarred during the war, Erik Gustafson thinks he’s a poor substitute for his brother. Although he loves Anne almost from the first time he sees her, he cannot believe she would ever be able to love him as he is – especially as he might be after another operation on his bad leg. Anne sees the beauty of his heart. The cold prairie winter may test her courage, but can she prove to Erik that her love for him is real?

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EXCERPT

Anne rose and began gathering dishes and putting away food.

“You don’t have to do that,” Erik said.

She put the bread back in the cupboard, refusing to meet his gaze. “I can do my share.”

“Why don’t you go upstairs and get some rest, make an early night of it?”

She whirled around to glare at him, her eyes blazing. “No! I’m not a child! I don’t have to be mollycoddled and babysat. I spent six years in a war zone, hiding in bomb shelters, never having enough to eat. I worked in a hospital treating blitz victims with wounds so horrendous grown men would gag to look at them. I faced those horrors every day. Sometimes things were so bad I thought I couldn’t go on. But I did. Because I had to. And I’ll face things here, too. So don’t tell me to give up, because I won’t!”

Erik pushed himself out of his chair to face her, awed by her spirit and courage. She lifted her chin as if defying him to contradict her, her hands clenched at her sides. Her dark hair curled in wild abandon as it dried, framing her pale oval face like a halo. Her beauty and ferocity were magnificent.

“I think you’re the strongest woman I know.”

Her eyes widened in surprise, her hands unclenching. He caught the quiver of her chin as she fought to hold back tears.

“I made such a mess of things,” she whispered. “I’m sorry for all the fuss I caused everyone.”

Erik took a step toward her. “It’s not your fault. I shouldn’t have let you go alone in the dark.”

“You didn’t know I would stupidly walk out onto thin ice.” She shook her head. “I wanted to help. I wanted to be useful. I can’t stand feeling so bloody useless.”

“You’re not useless. You’re an amazing woman. Anders is a fool for letting you go.”

She stared at him, her eyes filling with tears. “Thank you.”

He opened his arms and she stepped into them, wrapping her arms around his waist, clinging to him. He held her tightly, inhaling the sweet, clean scent of her, never wanting to let her go.

“Don’t cry. Everything’s all right now.”

“I know I’m being stupid. Tears don’t solve anything,” she said against his chest. “But I was so cold, and so scared. I thought I was going to die.”

He tightened his hold and kissed her hair. “Don’t think about it anymore. You’re safe now.”

He heard her sigh, felt her relax against him. “Yes. I’m safe.”

She lifted her head to look into his face, her dark eyes shiny with tears, her lips slightly parted, and Erik stared at her mouth, wanting desperately to kiss her, to capture her sweetness. He slowly lowered his mouth to hers. To his surprise, she didn’t run off or turn away in revulsion. He was so close her breath mingled with his, her breathing shallow and erratic. His heart slammed against his chest, his body thrumming with need. For the first time in over three years, he felt alive.

The outside door opened and slammed shut. Anne jumped back and took several steps away. She turned her head to hide her expression from him. A moment later Astrid and Ingrid entered the kitchen, each carrying two buckets of milk.

Anne poured hot water from the reservoir in the stove into the dishpan, avoiding any eye contact with him.

“Is everything all right?” Astrid asked, eyeing him closely.

“Everything’s fine,” Erik replied flatly. “Anne wants to do some washing up.”

“I can wash the separator once you’re done,” Anne said, referring to the machine used to separate the milk from the cream. It had many stainless steel parts that were tedious and difficult to clean but had to be kept spotless.

“Don’t worry about it, Anne,” Ingrid said as she poured a bucket of milk into the stainless steel bowl on the top of the separator. “You’ve had a difficult day. I can do it later.”

“No. I said I’ll do it.”

The determination in her voice had both women staring at her. Erik watched as Anne took a deep breath and briefly closed her eyes.

“Please, I need to do something. I need to keep busy. I don’t want to think anymore about…about what happened.”

Ingrid nodded, then began turning the handle on the separator. Astrid gave Anne’s shoulders a brief squeeze.

“I’ll empty the bathtub,” she said.

“I’ll help you, Ma.”

Erik followed his mother into the washroom, glad for the diversion. He affixed a hose to the bathtub drain and began emptying the water into a five-gallon pail. Astrid used a small dipper to scoop out water from the bathtub into another bucket.

“She’s a very beautiful woman, isn’t she?” she said quietly. “She’s a good person, too.”

“What’s your point, Ma?” He detached the hose.

“Just an observation. I like her, and I hate to see her go.”

“There’s no reason for her to stay. Anders is already married to someone else.” Erik hated the anger and jealousy he heard in his voice.

“Do you want her to stay?”

His heart thumped against his ribs. “It doesn’t matter what I want. She’s going back to England.”

“Perhaps if you gave her a reason to stay—“

“Ma, don’t.” She’d bolted from his arms as soon as the others walked through the door. The shock of her close call had lowered her defenses. That was the only reason she’d allowed him to hold her, and nearly kiss her.

He thought of Daphne, the beautiful English girl he’d fallen in love with. He’d seriously considered asking her to marry him. After he was wounded, Daphne had rushed to the hospital to see him. He’d never forget the revulsion on her face the first time she saw his scars. Why subject himself to that kind of rejection again?

Anne wanted his brother, not him.

And that would never change.

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About the Author

Jana Richards pictureWhen Jana Richards read her first romance novel, she immediately knew two things: she had to commit the stories running through her head to paper, and they had to end with a happily ever after. She also knew she’d found what she was meant to do. Since then she’s never met a romance genre she didn’t like. She writes contemporary romance, romantic suspense, and historical romance set in World War Two, in lengths ranging from short story to full length novel. Just for fun, she throws in generous helpings of humor, and the occasional dash of the paranormal. Her paranormal romantic suspense Seeing Things was a 2008 EPPIE finalist.

In her life away from writing, Jana is an accountant/admin assistant, a mother to two grown daughters, and a wife to her husband Warren. She enjoys golf, yoga, movies, concerts, travel and reading, not necessarily in that order. She and her husband live in Winnipeg, Canada with their Pug/Terrier cross Lou and several unnamed goldfish. She loves to hear from readers and can be reached through her website at www.jananarichards.com, and you can sign up for her newsletter here

You can also connect with Jana via her blog *~ * ~ * >Facebook * ~ * ~ * Twitter * ~ * ~ * Amazon * ~ * ~ * >Goodreads * ~ * ~ * Google +.

VIRTUAL TOUR: Music for My Soul by Lauren Linwood

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As the third wife of an abusive French vineyard owner, Madeleine Bouchard hasn’t produced the expected heir after three years of marriage. Fearing he plans to kill her, she flees during a trip to England. Unable to make her way home, she joins a troupe of traveling mummers and reinvents herself as the only woman troubadour in the land, captivating audiences with both song and story.

Nobleman Garrett Montayne’s fascination with Madeleine causes him to pay the troupe to bypass their next stop in order to journey to his estate. Though he suspects Madeleine of being a thief with dark secrets, love blossoms between them under the magical moon of summer solstice.

But Madeleine’s past is about to catch up with her, as her husband is set to arrive to conduct business with Garrett. Madeleine determines to free herself from her loveless marriage and make a new life with Garrett, no matter what the cost.

Find the book at: Amazon US * ~ * ~ * Amazon UK* ~ * ~ * Barnes & Noble * ~ * ~ * Book Depository * ~ * ~ * IndieBound

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Today, we’re delighted to welcome LAUREN LINWOOD to Romantic Historical Reviews, to tell us about her love of Historical Romance.

I am a voracious reader, recently picking up everything from Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken to David Baldacci’s The Target to Victoria Thompson’s newest Gaslight Mystery, featuring midwife Sarah Brandt and Detective Frank Malloy in turn of the century New York. I escape to many times and places—helping Gabriel Allon on a European spy mission, walking the US and getting into trouble with Jack Reacher, or finding political intrigue in the Tudor court with Philippa Gregory’s The King’s Curse.

But when I starting writing the stories in my head, I chose to write romances.

Even though I enjoy catching serial killers or trying court cases vicariously as I place myself in the protagonist’s shoes of the books I read, what I enjoy writing is that Happily Ever After ending. I like writing about relationships—the beginning attraction, the coming together, the difficulties and negotiation of obstacles blocking the way to true love, and then finally the end where two people have overcome everything in their way to unite as one. I enjoy leaving my hero and heroine at story’s end, knowing they will always be together, richer for having known one another and for committing to each other for all time.

So why historical romance?

I was the nerdy, scrawny kid with a passion for reading. My elementary school’s librarian took me under her wing and exposed me to many unique authors, but the biggest gift she gave me? Pointing me toward the biography section. She’d purchased a series of biographies that were only 80-100 pages each, and I raced through every single one of them. Some featured contemporary figures, be it politicians or sports stars, but the bulk told the stories of people from a bygone time.

As I read these factual accounts of once-living people from the past, I fell in love with so many eras in history. I read about Ancient Egypt with Cleopatra and war with the young Maid of Orleans. Benjamin Franklin took me through Colonial America, while I also visited the court of the French Sun King. I hid from the Nazis with Anne Frank and fought the English alongside William Wallace. I studied by candlelight with a young Abe Lincoln and danced with Henry VIII as Anne Boleyn.

History became my favorite class in school. As an adult I became a history teacher, wanting to share my passion for the people who lived long ago who shaped our world as we know it today. I wanted to bring their stories to my students, hoping to explore the fact that these famous people in many ways are similar to us. Sometimes the illustrious names we study are just ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances—and they rose to the occasion.

So what better mix than romance with history? I get to revisit eras I enjoy. I have a blast researching fun facts that I can weave into my narrative. I’m able to share customs and fashions and architecture and traditions—all while bringing two people together, forever.

It doesn’t get any better than that!

EXCERPT


02_Music For My Soul

Garrett peered into the angry face of the woman who haunted his dreams by night and left him absent-minded by day. Their encounter had been brief, but he doubted he had ever met a more remarkable woman. Not even his petite Lynnette had brought such a sweet longing to his loins as did the bewitching creature before him.

Her honeyed hair, loosened from its intricate braid, curled around her shoulders. Tiny beads of sweat had formed just above her upper lip. Without thinking, Garrett reached his thumb towards her and wiped it away. She flinched slightly, her dark, amethyst eyes glowering up at him.

Garrett smiled in spite of himself, offering her a hand to pull her to her feet. He had forgotten how very tall she was as she stared at him, her cheeks flushed with anger.

“Perhaps we could arrange a trade?” he suggested.

She eyed him suspiciously. “I’m not sure if I could trust you, my lord,” she countered.

“Trust me?” he sputtered. “This, from the woman who traipsed about the countryside claiming to be my wife?”

She shrugged nonchalantly, an almost Gallic air about her. She didn’t sound French, but there was an unmistakable manner to her movement. Garrett spent enough time in France to recognize the behavior. However, when she spoke, he quickly put it from his mind.

“I chose a bloody awful name to scare away anyone who accosted me on the road! How was I to know I’d run into you?” She snorted in an unladylike fashion. “I had heard tales of the wicked Lord Montayne, how he frightened old and young alike and gobbled up babes for his dinner. Why, the very mention of his name would cause grown men to plead for their lives and their loved ones. Oh, no, my lord, I was an honest liar. You were the one who resorted to trickery and hid your true identity from me.”

Her accusation so startled Garrett his jaw flew open. No sound came out for a moment. The woman lifted her chin high and turned on her heel. That brought Garrett into motion.

He grabbed her elbow and pulled her around to face him. “Not so fast, my lady.” He studied her a second. Her eyes narrowed at him, but she remained silent. Finally faced with her visage square in front of him, Garrett was at a loss of what to do. His emotions swirled out of control as he spoke.

“’Tis curiosity,” he sputtered.

She looked puzzled. “Curiosity?” she echoed.

He nodded, his words spilling forth rapidly. “I know not who you are, nor where you come from. I’ve dreamed of you since that night only to awaken to an emptiness.” His voice became low and tinged with sadness. “I don’t even know your name.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR


03_Lauren Linwood
Lauren Linwood became a teacher who wrote on the side to maintain her sanity in a sea of teenage hormones. Her romances use history as a backdrop to place her characters in extraordinary circumstances, where their intense desire and yearning for one another grow into the deep, tender, treasured gift of love.

Lauren, a native Texan, lives in a Dallas suburb with her family. An avid reader, moviegoer, and sports fan, she manages stress by alternating yoga with five mile walks. She is thinking about starting a support group for Pinterest and House Hunters addicts.

For more information please visit Lauren’s website. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

AUDIO REVIEW: Salt Bride by Lucinda Brant, narrated by Marian Hussey

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England, 1763. The Earl of Salt Hendon and squire’s daughter Jane Despard share a secret past of mistrust and heartache. Forced into a marriage neither wants, the patient and ever optimistic Jane believes love conquers all; the Earl will take some convincing. Enter Diana St. John, who will go to extremes, even murder, to hold the Earl’s attention. Can the newlyweds overcome past prejudices and sinister opposition to fall in love all over again?

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Publisher and Release Date: Lucinda Brant, June 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Georgian England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Caz

Salt Bride is a thoroughly enjoyable story set in the Georgian era, in which the author’s sense of style and her evocative descriptions of the clothing and various settings bring the period vividly to life.

At the beginning of the story, Miss Jane Despard is obliged to marry the handsome and wealthy Earl of Salt Hendon (or “Salt”, as he is known). One might think being married to a man blessed with both wealth and good-looks would be no hardship, but Salt and Jane have a history which neither of them can ignore. Four years previously, Salt proposed to – and was accepted by – the lovely Jane and, carried away on the tide of passion, the pair anticipated their vows. Fully intending to present himself to her father the following day, Salt is unexpectedly called away, and when he returns a few weeks later, it’s to discover that Jane has been thrown out of her father’s house and is living under the same roof as her uncle-by-marriage, the prosperous merchant, Jacob Allenby.

Hurt and angry at what he believes to be Jane’s heartless defection, Salt assumes Jane is under Allenby’s “protection” as well as under his roof, and takes himself back to London to embark on a spectacular round of bed-hopping. Jane, whose father disowned her when she discovered she was pregnant, believes Salt abandoned her after having his way with her, as he never made any attempt to see or contact her following the letter she sent advising him of her situation. But years later, fate has a cruel sense of irony, and in order to fulfil the terms of her guardian’s will and prevent the financial ruin of her beloved step-brother, Jane has no alternative but to marry Salt after all.

She’s never fallen out of love with him, but his reaction to her is cold and harsh. He is being forced into this marriage because his sense of honour will not allow him to renege on a promise made to Jane’s father on his death-bed. He does not scruple to make Jane fully aware that he is not marrying her by choice, and indeed treats her very poorly, insulting her and telling her that once married, she will be shut away in the country while he gets on with his life in town. And while Jane knows she has no alternative but to go through with the marriage, she is no pushover and gives back as good as she gets, making it clear that she is just as unhappy about the situation as Salt is.

Obviously, this is not the best basis for a marriage – and it’s also not an uncommon premise in an historical romance. The couple has to navigate their way through misunderstanding and misdirection, much of it orchestrated by the villain of the piece, Lady Diana St. John, who is Salt’s cousin, and obsessed with him to the point of madness. As the story progresses, Jane and Salt grow closer and rekindle their old feelings for each other, as well as coming to understand the reasons behind their misconceptions about each other and, more importantly, the lengths Diana has gone to – and is prepared, still, to go to – in order to get what she wants. Knowing that Salt will never marry her, she nonetheless aims to keep him for herself by acting as his hostess and remaining constantly at his side through the glittering political career for which she believes he is destined.

While the story of the forced-into-marriage may be somewhat formulaic, I was nonetheless compelled to keep listening by the quality of the writing, storytelling and narration, and by the deliciously despicable Diana, who is a brilliantly realised character. She’s over-the-top for sure, but she’s so devious and clever that there are times the listener can almost believe she’s going to get away with her nefarious plans – and they really are nefarious, involving not just a determination to dispose of Jane, but revealing a streak of such dark malevolence and cruelty that makes her both repulsive and strangely compelling.

Marian Hussey isn’t a narrator I’ve listened to before, but her performance here is excellent and I will certainly be seeking out more of her work as a result.

Her voice is very pleasantly modulated and her narrative is well-paced and expressive. She differentiates very effectively between characters so that there is never any question as to who is speaking in those scenes – and there are quite a few – in which there are more than two or three characters present. Her interpretation of the various female characters is very strong, with her portrayal of Diana being the stand-out performance. That lady’s languidly supercilious utterances are laced with venom and bitterness as she cuts a swathe through London’s society as its most sought-after hostess. Ms Hussey doesn’t have a particularly deep voice, but her portrayals of the men in the story are successfully done by use of a variety of tone, pitch and timbre. For Tom, Jane’s younger half-brother, Ms Hussey adds a slight edge to her voice and introduces an element of eagerness into his words which expertly convey his youth and inexperience. Salt’s speech is considered and deliberate, with an air of authority and arrogance that perfectly reflect his austerity of character.

Overall, Salt Bride is a very enjoyable listening experience. Jane and Salt make an engaging central couple, there is a well-drawn cast of supporting characters and the makings of a secondary romance which I believe continues into the sequel. Ms Brandt’s eye for detail and her ability to craft a fast-moving, suspenseful and highly entertaining story combined with a highly polished performance from Marian Hussey make this an audio I have no hesitation in recommending to fans of historical romance and romance audiobooks alike.

RETRO REVIEW: In Love and War: A Collection of Love Stories by Carla Kelly

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Beloved romance writer Carla Kelly shares a treasured collection of stories starring dashing war heroes and the sassy heroines who can’t help but fall for them. From daring sea captains to genteel lords, there’s a little something for every heart’s fancy. Readers everywhere will adore these four regency romances—now available together for the first time in one can’t-miss ebook!

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Publisher and Release Date: Cedar Fort, Inc., February 2012
RHR Classifications:
Location and Setting: Regency England
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 Stars

Review by Lady Wesley

Carla Kelly writes some of the best, most thoroughly researched Regency-set historical romances on the market today. If you haven’t read her, this book is an excellent introduction to her work.

This ebook is a reissue of four utterly charming short stories about the men who fought for England in the early 19th century and the women who came to love them. These are not a lot of lords and ladies but rather real people living real lives. As might be expected from a short story, each couple falls in love rather rapidly, but in a quite believable manner.

* The Light Within – A Quaker widow from America is helped by the younger brother of a spendthrift marquess who has returned from Waterloo believing he has no future.

* A Hasty Marriage – While visiting a friend in Portsmouth, an upper class spinster finds herself attracted to an American sea captain from Boston, but war is breaking out and he must flee before his ship is confiscated.

* Something New – A Scots artillery major returns to England with a four-year-old French orphan, and “decent” people seem to think he should turn her over to an orphanage. The widow of a Navy captain, however, sees things differently

* The Background Man – Although he was only a clerk for the East India Company, a mild-mannered young man fought beside Wellington in India. Now he runs a high-class hotel and is content with the hum-drum nature of his life until an unusual guest arrives and shakes him up.

I would give this more than five stars if possible. It was my first Carla Kelly book, and I have gone on to read almost all of her Regencies. She also writes books set in the American West, so if that appeals to you, give one a try.

The Irresistible Miss Peppiwell by Stacy Reid

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With a longing for adventure, the last thing Phillipa Pippiwell wants is to marry. After a painful betrayal by a man she trusted, she is wary when she unwittingly catches the attention of roguishly handsome – and sinfully tempting – Lord Anthony Thornton. Forbidden desires she secretly yearns for threaten to crumble her icy facade and reveal a past scandal best kept buried.

Dissatisfied with his empty life, Lord Anthony seeks a deep and lasting connection… and finds himself intrigued by the Ice Maiden of the haute monde. Undaunted by Phillipa’s aloof nature and her distaste for the idea of matrimony, he sets out to thaw the bewitching beauty by enticing her with adventures of the most sensual type. But he, too, hides a scandalous secret… and if it’s discovered it could rip them apart

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Publisher and Release Date: Entangled Scandalous, August 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: 1880s England
Genre: Historical romance
Heat Level: 2.5
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

Miss Philippa Peppiwell is fleeing a scandal. An American heiress from Boston living in Victorian England, her family’s money is “new money” and, thus, snubbed and belittled by London high society. But her family has high hopes for their daughters to make titled matches and thus advance their station.

But Philippa does not ever wish to marry and distrusts the intentions of all men after her one great disappointment. Her cold reserve and austere beauty – despite her red hair – have earned her the moniker of “ice maiden,” but she is merely protecting her vulnerability behind a wall. This works with most of her eligible suitors but does not, however, deter the determined Anthony Thornton, brother to the reluctant Duke of Calydon.

At first, Philippa is merely another woman he must have and they embark on a passionate affair, but Anthony soon changes his mind. She is “irresistible” and, when she refuses his hand in marriage, he single-mindedly pursues her, despite the scandalous secrets they both hold dear. The sex is graphic but tastefully done as it portrays their deep attraction, both physically and emotionally.

Though the burning sexual tension that Ms Reid creates really simmers throughout this short romance, the ending seems a little abrupt with its uneasy and unrealistic resolution. Most of the story proceeds at a lovely pace, but then it seems to rush through the ending, somewhat disrupting the easy flow of the book.

Nevertheless, this does not detract from the book and I very much enjoyed the writing, the storyline, and the depiction of Victorian London society and fashion in the 1880s. The romance is both erotic and sweet and Philippa and Anthony are likeable characters.

Anthony is a sensual man with very strong sexual passions that have turned off many women and mistresses in his past. This confused me because many men took mistresses at this time in order to indulge in the rougher bed play they felt uncomfortable engaging in with their wives, so why did it shock his mistresses, who are usually considered bolder women by society’s standards? There is no bondage and only some minor spanking in this book, but nothing overtly unorthodox in my opinion.

But Philippa is an adventurous woman who wants to explore life (and sex) and she finds such a match with Anthony. He protects her and cares for her when she is in danger, he is thoughtful and loving to his brother, his younger sister, mother and, eventually, his father. He is everything a gentleman should be, including honorable and protective. He just happens to enjoy adventurous sex (and so does she). Wink.

There is a nasty villain in Lord Orwell with a rather loose thread by the end of the book. The writing is strong and suspenseful – especially in a very frightening scene involving Lord Orwell and Philippa.

This is the second book in a series called The House of Calydon, but the events of book one take place after book two, so this reads as a standalone.

The Irresistible Miss Peppiwell is a wonderfully readable and sexy romance. Fans of Sabrina Darby and Monica Burns as well as those who like their romance on the spicier side may enjoy Stacy Reid.

The Other Girl (novella) by Pam Jenoff

other girl

One woman’s determination to protect a child from the dangers of war will force her to face those lurking closer to home…

Life in rural Poland during WWII brings a new set of challenges to Maria, estranged from her own family and left alone with her in-laws after her husband is sent to the front. For a young, newly pregnant wife, the days are especially cold, the nights unexpectedly lonely. The discovery of a girl hiding in the barn changes everything—Hannah is fleeing the German police who are taking Jews like her to special camps. Ignoring the risk to her own life and that of her unborn child, Maria is compelled to help. But in these dark days, no one can be trusted, and soon Maria finds her courage tested in ways she never expected and herself facing truths about her own family that the quiet village has kept buried for years…

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Publisher and Release Date: MIRA 1st September 2014
RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Poland, World War II
Genre: Historical Fiction
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Maggi

Pam Jenoff is a favorite author of mine. Her latest release, The Other Girl is a short novella, a companion piece to the full-length novel, The Winter Guest. Although I have yet to read the novel, I found this an enthralling and thought-provoking look at villagers riven by war.

Maria is a character who engenders sympathy. She has left the family home disapproving of her father’s actions and married in haste. Now, a husband she barely knows has gone away to war, leaving her with her unaffectionate in-laws. Now living in a small Polish village, she is quite isolated and struggles to understand the undercurrent of fear and uncertainty wrought by the German occupation. There are secrets concerning Maria’s family which she must uncover. With only a touch of the brush in this short story, Jenoff brings her characters to life. Hannah, the young girl Maria discovers hiding in the barn is fleeing the German police who are taking Jews like her away to special camps. I found Hannah’s acceptance of her situation, and how she deals with it, quite moving.

If you like to read World War II fiction, I would certainly suggest this one, but to appreciate this companion piece even more, I would suggest reading The Winter Guest.

SPOTLIGHT: The Red Wolf’s Prize by Regan Walker

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HE WOULD NOT BE DENIED HIS PRIZE…

Sir Renaud de Pierrepont, the Norman knight known as the Red Wolf for the beast he slayed with his bare hands, hoped to gain lands with his sword. A year after the Conquest, King William rewards his favored knight with Talisand, the lands of an English thegn slain at Hastings, and orders him to wed Lady Serena, the heiress that goes with them.

SHE WOULD LOVE HIM AGAINST HER WILL…

Serena wants nothing to do with the fierce warrior to whom she has been unwillingly given, the knight who may have killed her father. When she learns the Red Wolf is coming to claim her, she dyes her flaxen hair brown and flees, disguised as a servant, determined to one day regain her lands. But her escape goes awry and she is brought back to live among her people, though not unnoticed by the new Norman lord.

Deprived of his promised bride, the Red Wolf turns his attention to the comely servant girl hoping to woo her to his bed. But the wench resists, claiming she hates all Normans.

As the passion between them rises, Serena wonders, can she deny the Norman her body? Or her heart?

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EXCERPT


02_The Red Wolf's PrizeRenaud lingered at the high table in the hall until he glimpsed the servant girl with the brown plait carry a pile of linen through the entry heading toward the stairs to the bedchambers. Slowly rising, he nodded to Geoff and followed after her.

Quietly, he stepped through the open door of his chamber. The girl had her back to him as she freshened the bed, the stack of clean linen resting on a nearby chest. He did not acknowledge her but went directly to the trestle table, poured a goblet of wine and sat, pretending to examine a drawing of the lands surrounding the manor.
She turned. “I can come back later, my lord.” She spoke meekly, barely looking at him as she hurriedly finished with the bed and began a hasty retreat to the door.

He replied in the English tongue, as he did to all save his men. “Nay, you may stay. Your work will not disturb me.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her back stiffen. Slowly, she retraced her steps and resumed her work. Her movements were rushed as if she were trying to complete her assigned tasks in haste. Was she nervous at being alone with him? Even with that, Renaud thought she was graceful as she walked to the shelves near where he sat. She held her head high, unusual for a servant in the presence of her lord. Though her long plait was the dull color of country earth, her profile was refined and her features delicate. He rose and silently moved to stand behind her where she dusted a carved box.

She must have sensed his approach.

“My lord?” she said, turning to face him.

Blue-violet eyes held his gaze only a moment before looking down at the floor. Set in her ivory face they reminded him of violets in the snow. So mesmerized was he that, for a moment, he forgot his question.

“Your name is Sarah?”

Keeping her eyes focused on the floor, she said, “Yea, my lord.”

“How long have you been at Talisand?”

“All my life, my lord.” Her voice was soft, a low purr, and with her words a flowery scent drifted to his nose. He was captivated and wanted to touch her. How long had it been since he’d had a woman? And this one was causing his manhood to stir.

Turing back to the shelf, she resumed dusting the carved box, as if to put an end to the conversation. His gaze shifted to her hand as she set down the box. Delicate fingers and ivory skin. It was not the hand of a kitchen wench.

“Let me see your hand.” She started at his request, and though he could see she wanted to resist, she did not fight him when he reached for her hand and brought it close to his body turning her palm upward.
It told him much.

“These blisters are new. You have not always worked in the kitchens nor done the wet work of the laundry, have you?”
She shook her head in silent agreement.

“What were your tasks before I came to Talisand?”

Looking down at her feet, she said, “I was with the Lady Serena, my lord.”

“Ah, a lady’s handmaiden then.” So that is where the girl learned to speak so well, for her speech was not that of an ordinary servant nor her manner that of a scullery maid.

He waited for her to say more but when she did not, he said, “Tell me about her.”

She looked up. “What would you know, my lord?” Blue violet eyes held his. He could get lost in those eyes.

“How does she look?”

“She is tall and her hair is the color of summer wheat, my lord.”

“And her character?”

Turning her gaze again to the floor, she hesitated before speaking. “She loves her people and her family, my lord. She is very loyal. Had she been a man, she would have fought with her father at Hastings. Most of all, she loves Talisand and would die for its people.”

Her voice, nearly breaking at the end, told him her words were spoken with deep emotion. She was close to the Lady of Talisand and to the old thegn.

“I’m told her brother took the lord’s place for a time,” he said, hoping she would continue to talk.
She raised her eyes to his. “Yea, Steinar did lead Talisand for a time, but then he was drawn away by other battles.” When she spoke the young man’s name, a tender look came into her eyes. Did she love the old lord’s son? Mayhap she was his leman. The possibility was not to his liking.

Still holding her hand, he looked down at her palm seeing other signs. “These are the calluses of an archer. How is it a lady’s handmaiden comes to use a bow?”

The girl’s eyes shifted to her hand where Renaud had begun moving his thumb across her palm in slow sensual circles. He was not unaffected and, he suspected, neither was she.

“Rhodri taught me, my…my lord.” She spoke in a halting whisper, confirming his touch was disrupting her thoughts. Then she added hastily, “I was not the only one. It was the old lord’s desire that Rhodri should teach all at Talisand who cared to learn.”

Renaud remembered that when the young servant women had been returned to the demesne, Sir Niel had taken several bows from them.

He stopped stroking her palm. She tried to pull back her hand but he had no intention of releasing her. “Who is this Rhodri?”

“He is a Welsh bard, my lord, who is also skilled with a bow. The thegn met him on his travels and invited him here. He lived among us for several years.”

“Where is the Welshman now?”

“I know not, my lord. Peradventure he is in Wales, though his music and his skill with a bow are much in demand. He may yet be in England.”

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About the Author

03_Regan WalkerAs a child Regan Walker loved to write stories, particularly about adventure-loving girls, but by the time she got to college more serious pursuits took priority. One of her professors encouraged her to pursue the profession of law, which she did. Years of serving clients in private practice and several stints in high levels of government gave her a love of international travel and a feel for the demands of the “Crown” on its subjects. Hence her romance novels often involve a demanding sovereign who thinks of his subjects as his private talent pool. Regan lives in San Diego with her golden retriever, Link, whom she says inspires her every day to relax and smell the roses. For more information please visit Regan Walker’s website and blog. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

The King’s Falcon (Cavaliers and Roundheads #3) by Stella Riley

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A tale of plots and playhouses … war and witchcraft … love and loyalty.

Following his coronation in Scotland, Charles ll leads an army south to reclaim his throne but the dream ends in a crushing defeat at Worcester, leaving no alternative but flight. With little more than the clothes on their backs, Ashley Peverell and Francis Langley manage to reach Paris where Ashley, known to some as The Falcon, resumes his under-cover and unpaid work for the King.

Beautiful, stubborn and street-wise, Athenais de Galzain has risen from the slums of Paris to become the Marais Theatre’s leading actress. Unfortunately, this brings her to the attention of the Marquis d’Auxerre – an influential nobleman of unsavoury reputation who is accustomed to taking what he wants.

While the Prince’s Fronde flares up anew and turns the city into a battle-ground, Francis is bullied into helping his sister, Celia, obtain a divorce from Eden Maxwell. Currently working as a cryptographer in the Commonwealth’s intelligence service, Eden watches Cromwell creating a king-sized space for himself and begins to question the cause to which he has devoted a decade of his life.

From the first, Ashley and Athenais are drawn together with the unstoppable force of two stars colliding; a force which Ashley, lacking both money and prospects and aware of the frequency with which he’s required to risk his life, cannot deny but resolves to conceal. He has only two priorities; his work for Charles ll and his determination to protect Athenais from the Marquis. Both are to test him to the limits.

‘The King’s Falcon’ follows the Cavalier’s last crusade and the bitter, poverty-stricken exile that followed it, whilst also taking us behind the scenes at the Theatre du Marais. There is danger, intrigue and romance in this sequel to The Black Madonna and Garland of Straw.

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Publisher and Release Date: Stella Riley, 3 October 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: England, Scotland and France, 1650-1652
Genre: Romantic Historical Fiction
Heat Level: 1.5
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Caz

The King’s Falcon is the long-awaited third instalment of Ms Riley’s projected quartet of novels set during the tumultuous period of the English Civil War. The two earlier books – The Black Madonna and Garland of Straw – were originally published in the 1990s and revised and republished digitally in 2013, so this is Ms Riley’s first new book in around twenty years. And yes – it was definitely worth the wait.

Like both the books that precede, it, The King’s Falcon is a very well-researched piece of historical fiction which has, at its heart, a strongly characterised and well-developed romance.

The eponymous Falcon was seen briefly in Garland of Straw, and is otherwise known as Ashley Peverell, a Colonel in the Royalist army. His stunning good looks and outward appearance of relaxed amiability hide a sharp intellect and a ruthlessness he has often put to use in the service of King and Country in his work as an intelligence gatherer and spy. Arriving in Scotland to witness the coronation of King Charles II, Ashley meets and strikes up a friendship with Francis Langley (also featured in the previous books), whose sister married Eden Maxwell, now a Colonel in the New Model Army. The story follows Ashley and Francis through the final and disastrous Worcester campaign of 1651, which was the last-ditch effort by the Royalists to re-instate the monarchy, and which ultimately led to Charles’ fleeing to safety in France.

With the king in exile and the Royalist cause seemingly defeated, the story after Worcester focuses more on the personal stories of Ashley and Francis, with both men becoming romantically involved and Ashley undertaking more covert and dangerous work on behalf of the king. Life for a couple of down-on-their-luck soldiers isn’t easy and the two are living practically hand-to-mouth in a dingy Parisian garret. Neither is rich – Ashley is a second son whose older brother switched sides at the last minute and Francis’ estates were sequestered by the Parliamentarians, so returning to England isn’t an option, and paid employment is almost impossible to come by.

On a previous trip to the city, Ashley had briefly caught a glimpse of a strikingly beautiful young actress at the Théâtre du Marais. She’d been playing a bit-part, but her looks and stage presence drew the eye of every man in the place – and Ashley hasn’t quite been able to put her out of his mind. Returning to Paris, he discovers the enchanting Mademoiselle Athenais de Galzain has now become a leading actress at the Marais, and he and Francis venture backstage one evening to meet her.

Athenais may be the toast of the Parisian theatrical world, but she’s a girl from the streets who does what she must to survive and make her way in life. Her father is an ex-soldier who spends most of his time in his cups, and her new found fame has brought her to the attention of the dissolute Marquis d’Auxerre, who intends to make her his mistress. Ever practical, Athenais has always known the time would come when she may have to consider taking such a step simply to safeguard the career she’s worked so hard to build.

But meeting Ashley Peverell changes everything, and Athenais finds herself drowning in an infatuation the like of which she’s never experienced. Ashley, too, is deeply smitten, and with circumstances conspiring to bring the pair into almost daily contact with each other, he finds it increasingly difficult to keep his hands off the lovely Athenais. He’s practically destitute, and his work for the king often sees him in life-threatening situations, so feeling he has nothing to offer her he determines to keep her safe while keeping his distance.

The stage is set for a heartbreakingly sweet romance, but as Ashley and Athenais tiptoe around each other, Ms Riley never loses sight of the bigger picture, reminding the reader of the tumultuous times in which her characters are living. In France, the power struggle between the royal houses of France (some of them backed by forces from Spain and the Netherlands) erupts into violence on the Streets of Paris, leading to the temporary closure of the Marais. And in England, Eden Maxwell, now working as a cryptographer for Cromwell’s intelligence service, uncovers a plot which could have far-reaching consequences.

The King’s Falcon is a well-paced, beautifully-written story in which the author’s extensive research and breadth of knowledge of the period really shine through. Ms Riley’s prose is as crisp and incisive as it ever was, her eye for historical detail is flawless, and she weaves her multiple plot strands together seamlessly and with great skill. The principal romance is by turns sweet and sensual, and is filled with tenderness, humour and a real sense of deep trust and affection that enables Ashley and Athenais to support each other through some terrible times. Each of the principals is strongly characterised and the author has once again presented readers with a hero to swoon over in the form of the dashing Colonel Peverell. Ashley is fiercely intelligent, witty and deeply honourable, a military man with no desire to be a “hero”, but whose covert actions on behalf of his king surely give him the right to that particular epithet.

Athenais is similarly well fleshed-out and given a most intriguing backstory. She’s a young heroine (just twenty) but she’s an old head on young shoulders; pragmatic and quick-witted, she’s nobody’s fool, although she’d be the first to admit that her wits tend to go flying out the window when confronted with a certain handsome English officer.

I’ve had rather a soft-spot for Francis Langley since we first met him in The Black Madonna. In that book, he was a rather self-absorbed, pleasure-loving young man without many serious thoughts in his head. But he’s grown up, his experiences of warfare surely enough to change any man, and over the course of three novels, Francis has become more considered and aware of his situation and his own strengths and shortcomings. It’s wonderful to see him coming into his own here, as he finds his niche and the perfect outlet for his talents in his work for the Marais – and to see him meet his match at last.

This is the third book in a series, but I wouldn’t say that it’s absolutely necessary to have read the other two – although they’re so good, I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want to read them! But because there are a few characters from them who either appear in this one, or are mentioned, I would definitely recommend doing so.

The King’s Falcon is a superb read, and I was completely captivated from first page to last. On a purely personal level, I’m thrilled that one of my favourite authors has resumed her writing career after such a long break, and following such a strong return, make no apologies for saying that I’m going to be very impatiently waiting for the next book in the series.

Warning: There is one (not graphic) scene of sexual assault in the book.

AUDIO REVIEW: Faro’s Daughter by Georgette Heyer, narrated by Laura Paton

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Fiery, strong-willed Deb Grantham, who presides over a gaming house with her aunt, is hardly the perfect wife for the young and naive Lord Mablethorpe. His lordship’s family is scandalized that he proposes to marry one of “faro’s daughters”, and his cousin the proud, wealthy Max Ravenscar – decides to take the matter in hand. Ravenscar always gets his way, but as he and Miss Grantham lock horns, they become increasingly drawn to each other. Amidst all the misunderstandings and entanglements, has Ravenscar finally met his match?

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Publisher and Release Date: Naxos AudioBooks, July 25, 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Regency England
Genre: Historical romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

This is one of the most antagonistic historical romances I’ve ever read, but it is very enjoyable. The hero and heroine spend more time arguing than anything else, and this reminded me a little of Darcy and Elizabeth from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Is antagonism a sign of deep sexual attraction? Hmm…

Max Ravenscar, a powerful and intelligent man, will never allow Miss Deb Grantham to marry his green and vulnerable cousin, Adrian, a rich young gentleman, even though Adrian is completely besotted with her. Deb works in her aunt’s gaming hell, an endeavor borne out of financial straits rather than by thoughtful choice. She’s crafty, intelligent, and devastatingly beautiful, and she has no intention of marrying an infatuated young boy like Adrian Mablethorpe.

So she is outraged when Ravenscar threatens her. The nerve of the man to think her so cheap and conniving as to entrap an unsophisticated youth. He tries bribing her and that’s when she snaps. She’ll teach him a lesson he’ll never forget.

Deb decides to lead Adrian on and during the course of the story, Deb and Adrian encounter a victimized young heiress fleeing from an older man her family insists she marry. This constitutes the secondary love story in the book and it’s more of a convenience than anything else.

There is humor here but it is often biting and edgy. It often teeters toward the cold and malicious but never quite gets there. Which is a good thing, otherwise we would almost miss the hidden attraction between these two intelligent, stubborn, and proud individuals.

The secondary characters are quite colorful and add some much needed lightness to this romance: Lady Mablethorpe, Adrian’s mother and Max’s aunt who is horrified at Adrian’s crush; Arabella, Max’s delightfully coquettish half sister; and Lucius Kennet, Deb’s well-meaning but vengeful friend.

Laura Paton reads with a perfect drollness that matches the moods of the characters. The voices are distinguished and I especially enjoy her reading of the high-strung and nervous Aunt Bellingham. There is appropriately read emotion and antagonism between Deb and Max but sometimes it did make me cringe in its harshness. The innocence and naïveté of Miss Laxton is captured well as are the voices of the lackeys of the gaming hell.

Though scathing, the dialogue is a wonderfully large and engaging part of this battle of wits. We see both Deb and Max’s vulnerabilities and how each owns up to their mistakes and remedies them. The ending is especially lovely and makes up for all the hardship to get there.

But there is never any doubt that this is an exceptionally well written and enjoyable story, especially when listened to read aloud.

On The Mountain by Peggy Ann Craig

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On a cold and still night, a frightened woman makes a frenzied escape down a wooded mountainside. Fear is her only companion. Silence is her only salvation.

Anna Nicholson had lived all her life under the shadow of prejudice in the remote village high on Mount Louis whose reclusive people were considered as wild and primitive as the wilderness from which they lived. So when she awakes one morning to find herself in a stranger’s barn with a rifle to her face and no memory of how she got there, she is overcome with a gripping fear. Yet, instinctively knew it did not arise from the big and burly cowboy standing directly behind the Winchester rifle or the other nine fierce cowboys who called the ranch home, but instead from a memory she could not recall. One, she feared, in which she was the source. Mistaken for a mute teenage boy, Anna is able to hide unseen and unheard from an evil she could not recall.

Wade Haddock is the rough and tough but lonely cowboy who finds a frightened Anna in his barn. Convinced the isolated wilderness was no place for a woman, he allows Anna to hide away on his sprawling Rocky Mountain ranch believing her to be a mute teenage boy. While gradually succumbing to the bond growing between them, the wall around his guarded heart begins to slowly crumble. Only to discover Anna’s deception. And a memory that could destroy their love.

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Publisher and Release Date: Peggy Ann Craig, June 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and setting: British Colombia 1889
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer rating: 4.5 Stars

Reviewed by Vikki

What a remarkable and compelling story! The intensity of the first scene took my breath away and had me sitting on the edge of my seat, feverishly reading to see what happened next. I had no idea what to expect with this book, and after the opening scene, it became a real page turner for me. The location of this history is unique, set somewhere on Mount Louis in British Colombia, and it’s refreshing to read a book set in a different area of the world than the usual fare. A deep shadow of mystery hangs over the tale, which keeps the pacing fast, and I had a really hard time putting the book down.

The story begins with Anna running away, trying to escape from something that has her terrified. She makes it to a barn and hides, only to be found by the rancher. He thinks she is a mute, teenaged boy and she lets him continue to do so, believing it will keep her safe.

Wade Haddock takes her under his wing, allowing her to live and work on his ranch. When he eventually finds out she’s a young woman, he is shocked, but it explains his attraction to her. He allows her to continue hiding out on the Circle H as a house servant instead of a cowhand, still keeping her secret from the other cowboys. Now that Wade knows Anna is a woman, will he give into the growing attraction between them, or will he deny it?

Ms. Craig describes the scenes and surroundings in great detail without going too far. At times, I felt as if I were right there in the scene experiencing what the heroine is seeing. There is deep emotion in her writing and I always love that. When the mystery unravels and reveals Anna’s torment, I sat in shock. Ms. Craig wrote of a horrific situation in such detail it immobilized me. I had to put my Kindle down and take some deep breaths because it was quite painful and truly heart-wrenching to read.

The main reason I haven’t given this book a 5 star rating is because of the disparity in the ages of the hero and heroine – he is forty-four and she is twenty-four. I did not see the need for there to be such a large age difference between the pair, and found it a bit distasteful to have him old enough to be her father. Wade could have been ten or twelve years older than Anna and it would not have affected the premise of the story in any way.

Despite this misgiving, I enjoyed the book. If you are looking for a suspenseful, yet amazing love story then this is a book you will not want to miss. If you choose to read it, you will not be disappointed.