SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: One Step Behind by Brianna Labuskes

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Vengeance never dies…

When the unconventional Imogen Lancaster embarked on a mission to infiltrate high society and avenge her beloved cousin’s murder she never would have guessed she’d end up in the arms of a thief. At least, that’s what she assumes when she discovers Lucas Stone breaking into a private safe.

Lucas Stone, the Earl of Winchester, has a reputation for arrogance and a soft-spot for his sister, which is how he ends up in the predicament of hiding behind a curtain at midnight with the dreadfully dull Miss Imogen Lancaster. But he soon discovers appearances can be deceiving when the country mouse turns into a spitfire in front of his eyes and she makes it clear she wants nothing to do with him.

Though one is chasing a blackmailer and the other a murderer, they quickly realize they are on the hunt for the same villain. Now they must work together, which would be fine, if they could decide if they’d rather fall in love or kill one another.

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EXCERPT

“Did you time your entrance to coincide with the waltz, my lord?”

“Merely a happy coincidence, Gemma,” he said, letting her name melt off his tongue, a deliberate intimacy after the “Miss Lancaster” of earlier. The sweet strains of the strings began, and he swept her into a graceful arc. Colors and light swirled as they spun through the crowd on the dance floor.

Her pulse tripped as the warmth of his hand seeped through the gossamer fabric of her dress. She wanted more. She wished they were alone so he could pull her closer, maybe even kiss her the way he had done after they’d made their deal. She blushed at the memory—and at the urge to repeat it.

Where had these thoughts come from? She had always had a fair appreciation of the male form. But this visceral ache, this need to be closer, ever closer was new and unfamiliar. Scary. But a little invigorating, too, if she were honest with herself. Her fingers dug into the soft fabric covering his broad shoulder.

Then she realized what it was. It was the waltz. She’d always heard it could inflame the senses and cloud logic. That is was sensual and dangerous. She’d laughed the warnings off. The waltzes she had danced before had all been staid, awkward affairs in which she’d been stuck with her partner for half hours at a time. But now she realized why the highest sticklers criticized the dance and restricted who could partake in it.

“Where are your thoughts?” he asked.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brianna Labuskes’ life-long dream was to join the ranks of the superstar women who penned the romance novels — from historicals to contemporaries and everything in between — of which she could never quite get enough. She tries to write the books she wants to read, with spunky heroines who save the day while their heroes watch in awe and admiration. When she’s not writing, you can find Brianna playing with her two adorable nieces, editing health care policy news (while expounding the virtues of journalism) and watching too much Netflix. She also loves travel, feminism, and country music.

Author Website: https://briannalabuskes.com/
Author Twitter: @brilabuskes
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The Tinker’s Daughter by Stuart S. Laing

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Edinburgh, June 1746

In the summer of 1746, a caravan of wandering Gypsies arrive in Edinburgh bringing with them Libby Oliver, a mysterious young woman with a troubled history. Caught in a struggle between a dangerous figure from her past, and forced to do the evil bidding of a man she had thought she could trust, she is desperate to escape from all those who wish to control her for their own nefarious ends.

When the chance for love, happiness and a future of her own choosing presents itself, will she have the courage to seize the moment, or will she remain as no more than the beautiful prize in a struggle between those she has come to despise?

Following a brutal murder in a dank courtyard, the finger of suspicion is pointed firmly in her direction. Desperate to escape injustice, she turns to the one man who she believes can help her: Robert Young of Newbiggin.

Unfortunately he is bedridden with illness, while a plot involving shadowy figures from within the ranks of Edinburgh’s council and powerful guilds swirls in the background.

It will fall to his wife, Euphemia, to search for the truth on the filth choked streets of old Edinburgh, see that the guilty are brought to justice, and allow Libby to find the happiness so long denied her.

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Publisher and Release Date: Stuart S. Laing, June 2016

Time and Setting: Edinburgh, June 1746
Genre: Historical Mystery with romantic elements
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Wendy

Set in post-Culloden Edinburgh, The Tinker’s Daughter opens with a darkly sinister, clandestine meeting in the early hours of the morning. A group of sober, unnamed men who are highly respected members of the city’s Guild of Hammermen, has gathered to discuss an incident they were all involved in thirty years previously when they were apprentices and which has now come back to haunt them. There are various threads of mystery and intrigue running throughout the story and most, in one way or another lead to Libby Oliver and the menacing figure of her adopted father, Balen Oliver, leader of a band of gypsies. Libby is a mysterious, beautiful young woman with an exceptional talent for playing the fiddle; the combination of her fear, musical talents and extraordinary beauty is exploited by Balen, who puts her to work in the streets and taverns around the old town of Edinburgh and its castle. The people of the granite city are still recovering from the devastating effects of the battle of Culloden one month previously and Libby’s musical ability is a light relief and much appreciated by the people of Edinburgh who are anxious to forget their woes. It is on one such appearance that Libby makes the acquaintance of Alice Galbraith who is attracted by her mesmerising music, beauty and person-ability; she stands to listen and watch with Euphemia Young, the youthful wife of Robert Young.

Robert is a kind of private detective whose services are much in demand when the more respectable citizens of Edinburgh don’t really want the Town Guard or other law enforcement involved. Unfortunately when he is approached by one such ‘respectable’ citizen for help, Robert is sick – smitten with a gastric/lung complaint, which renders him so weak and unwell that he is unable to leave his bed. Euphemia is more than capable of standing in for her husband, and with the help of Shug Nicolls, a local tough-guy, she relishes the opportunity to do some investigating of her own.

Alice Galbraith works in an exclusive club, which caters mainly for men, although a few women number among its clients. Alice’s preference is for women, but if she is to make a living, she must cater for the men, too, no matter how distasteful she finds it. This is an interesting departure for this author and I liked that he tackled this shadowy world. Alice and Libby are immediately attracted to each other in a more than friendly manner, but the romance between them lacks something when compared to the strong sense of love and affection that exists between Robert and Euphemia, which is funny and sweet, with the kind of light hearted banter between a fairly newly married young couple that is touching and believable.

Characterisation is Stuart Laing’s strong point, especially when it comes to the working class males of Edinburgh, such as Shug Nicolls and Sgt Angus Maclan of the Town Guard. These men are so real and so very amusing, imbued with an earthiness, quick wit and humour, and I found myself chuckling along with their witty repartée.

The Tinker’s Daughter is the tenth in the A Robert Young of Newbiggin Mystery series, and although the books are all related with many of the characters appearing in all ten books, it can be read as a stand-alone. There is a glossary of Scots words/dialect at the beginning of the book and to anyone not familiar with the vernacular it might be necessary to refer to it from time to time, as the story is rich in Scottish slang. There is an element of romance in The Tinker’s Daughter but it is mild and definitely secondary to the mystery which has an interesting twist; one that I did not see coming. Stuart Laing takes us on a guided tour of the filthy alleyways and streets of working class Edinburgh with his graphic descriptions; and his research, scholarship and love for his city and its people shows in every word.

The Perks of Loving a Scoundrel by Jennifer McQuiston

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Every girl dreams of a hero . . .

No one loves books more than Miss Mary Channing. Perhaps that’s why she’s reached the ripe old age of six-and-twenty without ever being kissed. Her future may be as bland as milk toast, but Mary is content to simply dream about the heroes and adventures she reads about in her books. That way she won’t end up with a villain instead.

But sometimes only a scoundrel will do.

When she unexpectedly finds herself in the arms of Geoffrey Westmore, London’s most notorious scoundrel, it feels a bit like a plot from one of her favorite novels. Suddenly, Mary understands why even the smartest heroines can fall prey to a handsome face. And Westmore is more handsome than most. But far worse than the damage to her reputation, the moment’s indiscretion uncovers an assassination plot that reaches to the highest levels of society and threatens the course of the entire country.

When a tight-laced miss and a scoundrel of epic proportions put their minds together, nothing can stand in their way. But unless they put their hearts together as well, a happy ending is anything but assured.

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EXCERPT

London, May 29, 1858

The smell should have been worse.

She’d expected something foul, air made surly by the summer heat. Just last week she’d read about the Thames, that great, roiling river that carried with it the filth of the entire city and choked its inhabitants to tears. Her rampant imagination, spurred on by countless books and newspaper articles, had conjured a city of fetid smells, each more terrible than the last. But as Miss Mary Channing opened her bedroom window and breathed in her first London morning, her nose filled with nothing more offensive than the fragrance of . . .

Flowers.

Disconcerted, she peeked out over the sill. Dawn was just breaking over the back of Grosvenor Square. The gaslights were still burning and the windows of the other houses were dark. By eight o’clock, she imagined industrious housemaids would be down on their knees, whiting their masters’ stoops. The central garden would fill with nurses and their charges, heading west toward Hyde Park.

But for now the city—and its smells—belonged solely to her.

She breathed in again. Was she dreaming? Imagining things, as she was often wont to do? She was well over two hundred miles from home, but it smelled very much like her family’s ornamental garden in Yorkshire. She didn’t remember seeing a garden last night, but then, she had arrived quite late, the gaslight shadows obscuring all but the front steps. She’d been too weary to think, so sickened by the ceaseless motion of the train that she’d not even been able to read a book, much less ponder the underpinnings of the air she breathed.

She supposed she might have missed a garden. Good heavens, she probably would have missed a funeral parade, complete with an eight-horse coach and a brass band.

After the long, tiresome journey, she’d only wanted to find a bed.

And yet now . . . at five o’clock in the morning . . . she couldn’t sleep.

Not on a mattress that felt so strange, and not in a bedroom that wasn’t her own.

Pulling her head back inside, she eyed the four-poster bed, with its rumpled covers and profusion of pretty pillows. It was a perfectly nice bed. Her sister, Eleanor, had clearly put some thought into the choice of fabrics and furniture. Most women would love such a room. And most women would love such an opportunity—two whole months in London, with shops and shows and distractions of every flavor at their fingertips.

But Mary wasn’t most women. She preferred her distractions in the form of a good book, not shopping on Regent Street. And these two looming months felt like prison, not paradise.

The scent of roses lingered in the air, and as she breathed in, her mind settled on a new hope. If there was a flower garden she might escape to—a place where she might read her books and write in her journal—perhaps it would not be so terrible?

Picking up the novel she had not been able to read on the train, Mary slipped out of the strange bedroom, her bare feet silent on the stairs. She had always been an early riser, waking before even the most industrious servants back home in Yorkshire. At home, the cook knew to leave her out a bit of breakfast—bread and cheese wrapped in a napkin—but no one here would know to do that for her yet.

Ever since she’d been a young girl, morning had been her own time, quiet hours spent curled up on a garden bench with a book in her lap, nibbling on her pocket repast, the day lightening around her. The notion that she might still keep to such a routine in a place like London gave her hope for the coming two months.

She drifted down the hallway until she found a doorway that looked promising, solid oak, with a key still in the lock. With a deep breath, she turned the key and pulled it open. She braced herself for knife-wielding brigands. Herds of ragged street urchins, hands rifling through her pockets. The sort of London dangers she’d always read about.

Instead, the scent of flowers washed over her like a lovely, welcome tide.

Oh, thank goodness.

She hadn’t been imagining things after all.

Something hopeful nudged her over the threshold of the door, then bade her to take one step, then another. In the thin light of dawn, she saw flowers in every color and fashion: bloodred rose blooms, a cascade of yellow flowers dripping down the wrought iron fence. Her fingers loosened over the cover of her book. Oh, but it would be lovely to read here. She could even hear the light patter of a fountain, beckoning her deeper.

But then she heard something else above those pleasant, tinkling notes.

An almost inhuman groan of pleasure.

With a startled gasp, she spun around. Her eyes swam through the early morning light to settle on a gentleman on the street, some ten feet or so away on the other side of the wrought iron fence. But the fact of their separation did little to relieve her anxiety, because the street light illuminated him in unfortunate, horrific clarity.

He was urinating.

Through the fence.

Onto one of her sister’s rosebushes.

The book fell from Mary’s hand. In all her imaginings of what dreadful things she might encounter on the streets of London, she’d never envisioned anything like this. She ought to bolt. She ought to scream. She ought to . . . well . . . she ought to at least look away.

But as if he was made of words on a page, her eyes insisted on staying for a proper read. His eyes were closed, his mouth open in a grimace of relief. Objectively, he was a handsome mess, lean and long-limbed, a shock of disheveled blond hair peeking out from his top hat. But handsome was always matter of opinion, and this one had “villain” stamped on his skin.

As if he could hear her flailing thoughts, one eye cracked open, then the other. “Oh, ho, would you look at that, Grant? I’ve an audience, it seems.”

Somewhere down the street, another voice rang out. “Piss off!” A snigger followed. “Oh, wait, you already are.”

“Cork it, you sodding fool!” the blond villain shouted back. “Can’t you see we’re in the presence of a lady?” He grinned. “Apologies for such language, luv. Though . . . given the way you are staring, perhaps you don’t mind?” He rocked back on his heels, striking a jaunty pose even as the urine rained down. “If you come a little closer, I’d be happy to give you a better peek.”

Mary’s heart scrambled against her ribs. She might be a naive thing, fresh from the country, and she might now be regretting her presumption that it was permissible to read a book in a London garden in her bare feet, but she wasn’t so unworldly that she didn’t know this one pertinent fact: she was not—under any circumstances—coming a little closer.

Or getting a better peek.

Mortified, she wrapped her arms about her middle. “I . . .that is . . . couldn’t you manage to hold it?” she somehow choked out. There. She’d managed a phrase, and it was a properly scathing one, too. As good as any of her books’ heroines might have done.

A grin spread across his face. Much like the puddle at the base of the rosebush. “Well, luv, the thing is, I’m thinking I’d rather let you hold it.” The stream trickled to a stop, though he added a few more drips for good measure. He shook himself off and began to button his trousers. “But alas, it seems you’ve waited too long for the pleasure.” He tipped a finger to the brim of his top hat in a sort of salute. “My friend awaits. Perhaps another time?”

Mary gasped. Or rather, she squeaked.

She could manage little else.

He chuckled. “It seems I’ve got a shy little mouse on my hands. Well, squeak squeak, run along then.” He set off down the street, swaying a bit. “But I’ll leave you with a word of advice, Miss Mouse,” he tossed back over one shoulder. “You’re a right tempting sight, standing there in your unutterables. But you might want to wear shoes the next time you ogle a gentleman’s prick. Never know when you’ll need to run.”

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Avon, September 27, 2016

Time and Setting: England, 1858
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

A few years ago, I read and loved Jennifer McQuiston’s debut, What Happens in Scotland. It was an original and well-written page turner and, since then, she has consistently contributed to the historical romance genre with interconnected novels (and a charming novella) set in early Victorian England.

The Perks of Loving a Scoundrel is the third in her newest series, the Seduction Diaries, featuring the younger brother of Clare (heroine of the first book). Geoffrey Westmore once held much promise and a looked towards a bright future. But his time in the Crimea changed all that as war often does.

Mary Channing is a bookish spinster quietly and contentedly living in Yorkshire when she is summoned to London by her twin sister, Eleanor, to be with her for Eleanor’s final months of pregnancy. Mary is ambivalent because she would much rather stay at home with her books and quiet life but feels she cannot refuse because it is her beloved sister. But, as Mary notes in the very first entry in her diary, she’s also afraid to see Eleanor’s fulfilling life, with her anticipated child and her loving husband, a life she secretly longs for but assumes will never ever be hers.

The novel is interspersed with diary entries that Mary faithfully writes every chance she gets. On her very first morning in London, however, when she has just discovered a lovely patch of garden where she might spend her quiet morning in blissful solitude, she is rudely interrupted by a drunken stranger urinating on her sister’s flowers! This reader admits to feeling every bit as shocked as Mary but I do appreciate the authenticity and realism that Ms. McQuiston introduces in her colorful and very human stories. The odors of London (with its polluted Thames) opens the story and Mary’s first day in the city along with the urinating stranger who turns out to be our hero, Mr. Geoffrey Westmore.

It seems to me to be a bit of a new trend in historical romance – at least the ones I’m reading lately – that historical romance now add a dash of mystery to the love story. Juliana Gray did it in her most recent novella (The Duke of Olympia Meets His Match) and Ms. McQuiston does it here with the hero and heroine accidentally overhearing a plot to assassinate the Queen Victoria when they are caught in a library together and sharing several stolen and passionate kisses.

Geoffrey was once a happy-go-lucky young man, fond of pranks and with an ambition to study architecture. But his dreams crashed down during the war in the Crimea and he has tried to forget it by becoming an irresponsible wastrel, much to the dismay of his loving and loyal valet, Wilson. Wilson is a character who is extremely familiar and informal toward Geoffrey – he still calls him “Master Geoffrey” for example – and also admonishes his disgusting habits and lifestyle. This is not something most servants would ever do so either Ms. McQuiston took some liberties here or there possibly may have been some servants who were almost like family.

Geoffrey spends his days sleeping off his long nights of drinking and whoring with his best friend, Grant, with whom he also experienced the horrors of war. Both are troubled young men and this is the part of the story that didn’t quite work for me. Geoffrey’s turnabout in the face of being caught with Mary seems much too fast. I can kind of see how his loving and close family may have some influence on him – he doesn’t want them to be ashamed of him – but it’s hard to believe that an uptight and proper spinster would be the impetus for his sudden volte face.

Mary has her own melancholy past with great loss and grief that has made her afraid to experience life; she’d much rather read about the world and adventures in books. Her time in London is her one chance to break out of her shell but, until she overhears the scheme with Geoffrey, she isn’t motivated enough to make her life better. When she meets Geoffrey, she is attracted to him but I don’t quite feel the sparks and sexual tension between them. It feels more like Mary is desperate for a change and it’s an opportunity for Geoffrey to reform.

In stereotypical male fashion, however, Geoffrey doesn’t want Mary’s help in uncovering the traitors conspiring to murder the queen even though she has some pretty darn good ideas. But he discovers he likes her determination and willfulness – even if it drives him nuts – and she eventually becomes attractive to him. For her part, Mary is simultaneously attracted to and shocked by Geoffrey’s colorful past, something a good girl has no experience with. I guess you could say opposites attract.

Eventually, Geoffrey begins to question his dissolute life while Mary contemplates her boring one as they work together to uncover truth about the assassination plot. The mystery part of the story is engaging and lively and the ultimate villain is a surprise. I like the unexpected and unique plot twists that Ms. McQuiston creates.

But what I like best about this book – and the entire series – is the strong sense of family that is depicted realistically and lovingly. I did not read the second book in the series but I don’t think you need to read them in order to appreciate and follow the thread of the novels.

I enjoy Ms. McQuiston’s writing style; it flows nicely, her plots are fresh and imaginative, and her characters rich and likable. I just didn’t quite believe what seemed like Geoffrey’s speedy transformation from debauched aristocrat to devoted husband.

If you enjoy heroes and heroines working together to solve a mystery as they fall in love, you will like this story.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

jen-highres-90218417464A veterinarian and infectious disease researcher by training, Jennifer McQuiston has always preferred reading romance to scientific textbooks. She resides in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband, their two girls, and an odd assortment of pets, including the pony she promised her children if mommy ever got a book deal.

You can connect with Jennifer at: her website * ~ * Twitter * ~ * Facebook.

Do You Want to Start a Scandal by Tessa Dare

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On the night of the Parkhurst ball, someone had a scandalous tryst in the library.

Was it Lord Canby, with the maid, on the divan? Or Miss Fairchild, with a rake, against the wall? Perhaps the butler did it.

All Charlotte Highwood knows is this: it wasn’t her. But rumors to the contrary are buzzing. Unless she can discover the lovers’ true identity, she’ll be forced to marry Piers Brandon, Lord Granville–the coldest, most arrogantly handsome gentleman she’s ever had the misfortune to embrace. When it comes to emotion, the man hasn’t got a clue.

But as they set about finding the mystery lovers, Piers reveals a few secrets of his own. The oh-so-proper marquess can pick locks, land punches, tease with sly wit . . . and melt a woman’s knees with a single kiss. The only thing he guards more fiercely than Charlotte’s safety is the truth about his dark past.

Their passion is intense. The danger is real. Soon Charlotte’s feeling torn. Will she risk all to prove her innocence? Or surrender it to a man who’s sworn to never love?

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Publisher and Release Date: Avon, September 2016
Time and Setting: Nottinghamshire, 1819
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Sara

Tessa Dare manages to find the best of both worlds in her latest release Do You Want to Start a Scandal. Combining the strong-willed and passionate women of her Spindle Cove series with the pop culture winks and humor of her Castles Ever After series creates a hilarious and thoughtful story of love between polar opposites.

It all started with the best of intentions. Miss Charlotte Highwood had hoped to warn his lordship the Marquess of Granville about the tricks her mother might attempt to bring them together during the Parkhurst house party. Knowing that she and the lofty peer wouldn’t suit each other as partners Charlotte decides to outsmart her mother by talking to Granville first and making a plan to keep as far from the other as possible for the duration of the party. Finding him alone in Lord Parkhurst’s library seems like the perfect chance to let him know of her plan; however their meeting is rudely interrupted by two other guests barging into the library. Charlotte and Granville hide together in the window seat, managing to hear every moment of the lover’s tryst happening on the other side of the curtain. When the coast is clear they try to leave the scene but the young master of the house sees them in the hallway and raises a cry of alarm. As the other party guests start converging in the hallway the damage to Charlotte’s good name has been done and everyone believes that she and Granville were the library lovers.

Piers Brandon had hoped to keep a low profile while attending the house party. If he had stayed focused on his task of investigating Lord Parkhurst and played his well-rehearsed role of the bored peer then he could have safely maneuvered Charlotte out of the library before they were discovered together. Somehow her forward but charming way of speaking threw him off of his game just enough for him to make a mistake; however Piers isn’t the type to allow an error to go uncorrected. Acting the noble gentleman, Piers makes it seem to all the guests that he and Charlotte have an understanding and he later discusses a real engagement with the woman herself. When she seems more than a bit reluctant to accept his suit Piers puts all of his skills at seduction to use by overcoming Charlotte’s misgivings about a match and showing her just how good they can be together.

I will stop right there with the plot synopsis because how the story unfolds for Charlotte and Piers is too good to be spoiled. On the surface they seem like the most unlikely pair to have such chemistry together. He’s brusque and logical while she’s lighthearted and a bit of a romantic. There’s an age gap which Charlotte notes on more than one occasion that should also keep them from having anything in common. But once they begin to peel the layers back on who they really are there are so many things that make them perfect for each other. Charlotte is smart enough to catch onto Piers’ dry wit and they are amused by the same absurdities they witness at the house party. She can see right through his mask of the lordly Marquess to the man beneath it all who could use a confidante. I adored their conversations not only for the playfulness that sneaks into their remarks but also how well they talk and hear what is being said. Piers tries to keep Charlotte in the dark with his own plans and yet she can understand the subtext and calls him on his duplicity.

Piers may be the smartest man in whatever room he’s in and yet he completely misses the clues within himself that he’s falling for Charlotte. He thinks he’s losing his touch for secrecy and such but it’s more that Charlotte just captures all of his focus whenever she’s in the room with him. She has an exuberance that makes her character different from the two older Highwood sisters and yet she fears that she has nothing to distinguish herself within the family. It was interesting to see both characters believe one thing about themselves but discover so much more as they fell in love. There is an easiness to Charlotte and Piers’ romance that keeps the tone of the entire book very light even when Charlotte learns more about Piers’ darker side.

The humor made things even more enjoyable. I found myself laughing out loud during Mrs. Highwood’s conversation with Charlotte about the wedding night and her silly examples of the male and female parts. This was one of those moments where I’m certain the author was having the most fun writing as she managed to wedge modern emojis into an historical setting. Charlotte’s declaration of love was also a funny moment as her heart gets ahead of her brain and she manages to garble those three little words. I even liked the addition of the young Parkhurst sibling’s ridiculous accusations of a MURDER occurring in the library and trying to capture Piers as the culprit. I love a story that doesn’t get itself get bogged down by all the deep feelings of the characters and just has some fun in creating the romantic situation.

As a fan of both previous series I appreciated the return of several beloved characters as it brought both worlds together in a believable way. We see Piers’ brother Rafe, both of Charlotte’s older sisters with their spouses and of course her aggressively matchmaking mother. I’m not sure if Do You Want to Start a Scandal was intended to close out the Spindle Cove and Castles Ever After series or launch them both into a new direction with a few new characters but I’ll be eager to see what comes next.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Castles in the Air by Sheila Myers

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In Castles in the Air, author Sheila Myers crafts a tale of greed, ambition, and drive for freedom as she continues the fictional account of the Durant family begun in Imaginary Brightness.

When their father dies, William and Ella are finally free of his domineering control to pursue their ambitions. William is now head of the family. Without his father’s ruthlessness and business savvy, he resorts to creative but dubious financial scheming to save what remains of the family fortune and fulfill his visions of grandeur for the Adirondack wilderness as a playground for the rich.

Ella takes off for London to chase her own dream—to return to high society life, become a successful author, and mingle with literary giants. But she struggles to cope as William tightens the purse strings and restricts her freedom, while her feelings for a gallant and enigmatic French aristocrat turn into obsession.

William and Ella head toward an increasingly inevitable collision as they wrangle over their father’s legacy.

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EXCERPT

“Please excuse us, Anny, but I have urgent family news for Ella, and if you don’t mind I need to whisk her away briefly into the guest room.”

“Don’t tarry; dinner will be served shortly,” she said. Her eyes followed them until Poultney shut the drawing room door behind them.

“The impertinence!” Ella snapped as she finally was able to pull her arm away from Poultney’s.

Poultney ignored her and walked over to the small bar to pour a tumbler of whiskey for himself. He downed it in two swigs and poured another. Then he turned to face Ella.

“Do you even know what you’re doing?”

“What are you talking about?” Ella sputtered.

“That man,” Poultney nodded his head in the direction of the ballroom, “the count. Or so he says.”

“Poultney, I am in no mood for your jealous antics.”

“Hah. Ella, my dear, this is not about me being jealous. It’s about you making a fool of yourself with that scoundrel.”

“He’s a gentleman.”

“And how would you know that?”

Ella puffed herself up and went over to the looking glass that was hanging on the wall to adjust her hair and aigrette.

“He’s only here because that idiot Lord Thompson invited him.” Poultney gestured with the drink in his hand toward the door. “They met yesterday at the racetrack. Thompson was besotted with the Count’s ability to beat the odds and in the process lost a small fortune, which the count graciously covered,” he added sarcastically.

“Well, there you have it then. Only a gentleman would cover the debts of an acquaintance,” Ella said as she fussed with her hairpiece.

“Hah,” Poultney laughed at her as if she were an imbecile. “Only a scoundrel looks for easy prey to lure in, and Thompson, poor drunk, is an easy mark. Now he owes the count not only money, but a favor. How else do you think he ended up here at Mrs. Ritchie’s dinner party where he could scope out ladies dripping in jewels looking for a respite from their tiresome marriages?”

Ella reflexively reached for the pearls at her throat. She rounded on Poultney.

“Speaking of marriages. How is yours to what’s-her-name?”

“Edith, you mean? Convenient. For both of us.” He peered into his glass.

Ella turned back to the mirror and straightened her collar. “She’s not here in London with you then?” She tried to sound as if she didn’t care.

“She’s in confinement again. I left her at our home at Malden-on-Hudson,” he said casually.

“Another child for the happily married couple? And your wife in the States while you travel abroad,” she said, her lips curling. “Hmm, I’d say that is convenient. For you, anyway. But having children does not make one an expert on the state of other people’s marriages, does it?”

“Take a look around you, Ella. Your esteemed friend Mrs. Ritchie is trying to hold on to the reins herself. Her ‘boy-husband’ as he’s called behind his back, has another lover.”

Ella stayed quiet for a moment. Poor Anny, she thought. It was a mistake for her to marry someone seventeen years her junior, especially one so sulky as Richmond. She deserved better.

“Who?” She was ashamed to even ask but couldn’t help herself, realizing the tea parlor chatter she had been exposed to over the past couple of months was not as delicious as this.

“Tennyson’s daughter-in-law, Eleanor.”

“Idle gossip, I’m sure,” Ella scoffed. “Anny told me that Richmond is helping Eleanor sort out her affairs.” Eleanor was recently widowed. From what Anny told her, Lionel Tennyson had been unfaithful while he was alive. It appeared to be an epidemic in London society.

Poultney smirked which annoyed Ella.

“Now, you must excuse me. This ruse of bringing me here under the pretense of a pressing family matter has gone on long enough. Since you have nothing to tell me of William, I shall take my leave and return to the party.” She picked up her skirts to leave.

“Did you know that William is finalizing the sale of the Adirondack Railroad Company any day now and will be quite rich from it?”

Ella stopped in her tracks. “How do you know this? Has William been in contact with you?”

“My dear, you forget I’m a reporter. I don’t need to hear it from your brother. Not that he would tell me anyway.”

He left his spot near the bar and walked over to stand in front of her. She turned around again to face the mirror, pretending to ignore him. As he stepped closer, she smelled the familiar scent of his cologne, mixed with whiskey. She stared at his reflection as he stood behind her, breathing on her neck.

Ella bit her lower lip to stop it from trembling. How humiliating to be confronted by the man who had thrown her off, telling her they were just ‘friends’ and then to have him inform her that her brother was withholding information. It took all of her effort to maintain her composure in front of Poultney. She said, “I’m sure William will be sending word to me soon about these developments.”

“I doubt that,” Poultney said bluntly.

Ella swirled around and glared at him. “How dare you! First you tell me that I’m making a fool of myself in front of friends, and then you tell me I’m a fool for trusting my dear brother.”

Poultney let out a hearty laugh. “Why, Ella. You’re angry. There was a time, if you remember, when I could soothe that passion of yours.” He put his palm on her chest, above her left breast. She could feel her heart beating under its warmth.

“Take your hand off me,” she said. Her voice was thick.

“You’re blushing. I always found that attractive. He leaned closer and whispered in her ear, “I also remember a time when you moaned under my touch.” He started to move his hand lower on her chest toward her breast, but she raised her left arm to slap him. He grabbed her wrist before she could strike. She then raised her right arm and he gripped that wrist as well. He pinned her arms against the mirror behind her head.

“You’ll break the glass, you fool!” she cried.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

sheila-myersSheila Myers is an Associate Professor at Cayuga Community College. Her first novel. Ephemeral Summer (2014). is a contemporary coming-of-age story set in the Finger Lakes and intertwines many ecological themes throughout the story.

Myers began writing a trilogy on the family of the robber baron, Dr. Thomas C. Durant, after spending time at Camp Huntington, one of the Great Camps built by his son William, on Raquette Lake NY and now owned by SUNY Cortland.

Her essays about her work on the trilogy have been published in Adirondack Life Magazine, History News Network, and ADK Local Magazine. She has been a contributor to numerous online blogs including the Adirondack Almanack, Books by Women, and the New York History Blog.

Her research has taken her to numerous museums and libraries along the East Coast of the U.S. and the Isle of Wight in England. She has been documenting her research on her website: http://www.wwdurantstory.com/blog. You can also find her on Twitter.

A Spring Deception (Seasons #2) by Jess Michaels

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Miss Celia Fitzgilbert’s grandfather has decreed she must marry a man with a title or he’ll never reveal her mysterious father’s identity. But her engagement to an Earl was already broken, leaving her steeped in scandal. She has all but given up until the reclusive Duke of Clairemont returns to Society and sweeps her off her feet, a potential solution to all her problems.

But things are not so simple for the duke. Aiden is not comfortable with his position in Society, perhaps because he is a fraud. In truth, Clairemont died months ago and the man playing him is a spy, bent on uncovering a dangerous secret. A flirtation with Celia, meant to help him fit in, quickly turns very real. But can Celia recover when the lies come out? Amd can Aiden keep them both alive long enough to even consider a future?

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Publisher and Release Date: The Passionate Pen, September 2016
Time and Setting: London, 1811
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 4 stars

Review by Sara

One of the romantic tropes I always enjoy is a character with a secret identity. Whatever their reasons for hiding their true selves it’s just that much more suspenseful and engaging to see love blossom even knowing that the big reveal must follow. In A Spring Deception it’s the hero – Clairemont – who isn’t all that he seems.

When the War Office learns that the Duke of Clairemont has been murdered it puts a high profile investigation in jeopardy. The duke had long been suspected of working with other men to support traitorous activities in England and his death could force their other suspects to to to ground until the rumors subside. Hoping to salvage their case and find the killer, the head of departnemt decides to keep the murder quiet and use the chameleon-like skills of his best agent – John Dane – to step into the shoes of the dead peer. Since no one in London has seen Lord Clairemont in a decade, who’s to say that the man making his appearance during the season isn’t the reclusive duke?

John, now Aiden Waring to all who meet him, is quickly overwhelmed, having to maintain the façade of a lofty Duke and keeping his ears open to any suspicious comments about his sudden arrival in town. Taking a moment away from a crowded ballroom onto a garden terrace, Aiden interrupts a similar escape by the beautiful Miss Celia Fitzgilbert. Alone and unwatched, Aiden finds himself enjoying a stolen minute to talk to a charming woman who sees him as her social equal and not the former street urchin pretending to be a duke. The feelings she awakens in his heart are intoxicating but once he learns of her connection to a suspect in the duke’s murder he is torn between emotion and duty.

For Celia, the chance meeting with the mysterious Clairemont is almost too good to be true. When her betrothal to an Earl was broken by mutual agreement, Celia found herself a bit lost and wished to find a connection with someone that’s just as strong as the one her sister shares with her husband. After only a few moments of taking with Aiden and then dancing with him Celia knows that he is a man very different than her former fiancé; one that she could form a real bond with. As the season continues Aiden finds small ways to reach out to Celia, through notes just to talk about his day or by seeking her out at events, making her fall even more under his spell. Soon, a formal courtship has been arranged but Celia can sense that Aiden is holding something important back from her and it keeps her on tenterhooks about their future. When the truth about Aiden is violently revealed to Celia and her family it makes her question everything about herself and the love she feels for a man she may not really know.

A Spring Deception is full of what I like to call Angsty-Goodness. “Aiden” comes to care for Celia very quickly but there is always a part of him that fears that it’s all based on smoke and mirrors. Celia doesn’t know the real him and he isn’t 100% sure that he himself knows where the illusion of the duke ends and the true John Dane begins. He’s never known what it’s like to live out in the open and free to express his thoughts and feelings to someone without fear that those emotions will be turned against him. All of those moments where John doubts that Celia could ever care for him without the trappings of a duke are so painful to experience along with the character. I hurt for John just as Celia does when she learns the truth. His journey was compelling and kept me turning the pages to see how everything resolved.

Celia’s growth is just as important, as she is a young woman having to discover who she is for the first time in her life. For years she had to comport herself exactly as her controlling grandfather specified and was even set to marry a man chosen for her in order to make the old man happy. Once free of his guardianship, Celia is somewhat adrift even though her sister and brother-in-law have tried to make her feel welcome in their home. I could imagine myself in Celia’s shoes wanting to take control of my life but not having the tools to do so. Everything she experiences with John liberates Celia and puts her on the path she was always meant for. She is stronger by the end of the book and I believed that she had enough strength to overcome the challenges she would face in being with John for a lifetime.

Jess Michaels has very quickly made herself an auto-buy author and I’d recommend the Seasons series to anyone looking to discover her too. A Spring Deception ties up a few threads left hanging from the previous book An Affair in Winter but leaves just enough loose ends to keep me eager for the next story.

To Kiss a Thief (Runaway Desires #1) by Susanna Craig

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In this captivating new series set in Georgian England, a disgraced woman hides from her marriage – for better or worse…

Sarah Pevensey had hoped her arranged marriage to St. John Sutliffe, Viscount Fairfax, could become something more. But almost before it began, it ended in a scandal that shocked London society. Accused of being a jewel thief, Sarah fled to a small fishing village to rebuild her life.

The last time St. John saw his new wife, she was nestled in the lap of a soldier, disheveled, and no longer in possession of his family’s heirloom sapphire necklace. Now, three years later, he has located Sarah and is determined she pay for her crimes. But the woman he finds is far from what he expected. Humble and hardworking, Sarah has nothing to hide from her husband-or so it appears. Yet as he attempts to woo her to uncover her secrets, St. John soon realizes that if he’s not careful, she’ll steal his heart…

Publisher and Release Date: Lyrical Press, August 2016

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

Review by: Heather C.

Sarah thought that her marriage to St. John would make her the happiest of women, but little did she realize that it would all quickly be snatched away from her, and she would have no idea how or why! Within a day of their nuptial ball she is accused of theft and is whisked away to a small seaside village where she is left to survive on her own. Several years later, St. John finds his wife and is determined to prove she stole from his family, but what he finds makes him question his views on Sarah and everything he has known.

The bulk of To Kiss a Thief takes place once St. John has found his wife again on the shores of a poor fishing village. There is a very short introduction which details the events that transpired on the night of the ball, and the reader will be left just as confused as Sarah about what exactly transpired. While this is sometimes confusing, it keeps the reader on the same level as Sarah, who doesn’t know what happened either, partly she was in an inebriated state, and St. John, who knows what he saw but which clearly wasn’t all it seemed at the time.

The relationship between Sarah and St. John is rocky throughout the novel. They did not know each other very well prior to their marriage and the accusations against Sarah have further pushed them apart. They don’t trust each other, they question the other’s motives and vacillate back and forth as to whether they are going to be able to have a real chance at a relationship. I loved the back and forth that occurred between these two, which was funny and real. Right up until the end I wasn’t sure if they were going to be able resolve their issues or not – and I think I would have been happy regardless of which way the book ended as it was well crafted.

The question as to whether Sarah took the expensive family necklace lingered throughout the novel and we don’t get the answer to the question until the very end of the book. I didn’t exactly predict the outcome – although I was on the right track – so it’s not entirely predictable and made sense given the events which took place during the story without being obvious. While this was the main point of conflict within the story, it wasn’t the main plotline; that would go to the romance between Sarah and St. John.

The main characters could sometimes be infuriating. Sarah was a tad too naïve at the beginning of the novel – and in some ways throughout – although she does grow and adapt to her new way of life and I really liked her by the end. St. John is a little bit all over the place. He was very willing to accept that his wife was a thief and stole the jewels, but continually questions that conviction while still holding on to it like a lifeline. He alternately wants her to be guilty and innocent, and struggles against those conflicting ideas. With that said, his conflict kept him an interesting character.

I was very satisfied with this novel as there was an excellent mix of romance, a little intrigue, action, and character development. To Kiss a Thief was a well-written and evenly balanced read and I am excited to see what comes next from this author.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Wylde at Heart by Rosemary Foy

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May 1789, near the village of Fernsby, Kent, Lady Anne Dankworth sits in her bedchamber in fear. Her husband, a nationally acclaimed military hero, has just threatened to have her deported. There is only one man in the whole of England she can trust with her secret.

Wylde by name and by nature, disgruntled rogue and sea-merchant Sir John needs only to gaze into her dark fathomless depths to know he is still affected by her. But after 20 years, Anne is a changed woman. Gone is the hot-headed temptress from their youth, replaced instead by a cool, serious, good-wife.

In this race against time, admitting their true passion is only the start. The scandal Anne and John uncover will strike fear in the heart of England’s elite—where integrity, love and honour—may well cost them their lives.

All the while, the enemy prepares to strike.

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EXCERPT

“You are another man’s wife, Anne.”

“I am a woman pleading for your assistance! Does your reputation extend to refusing aid to a woman in distress?”

“Not if your distress were real,” he retaliated. “However, you come here with neurotic fancies. Your daughter is about to get married, and you are back at Graystone Manor living with your father who has never been easy, indeed, appears to despise you, and a husband who needs assistance from his comrades about issues beyond your ken. You are anxious and fragile. Who can blame you?”

“You maintain this is in my mind? That I am shallow, some poor mother of the bride, insipid in thought, delusional like my poor mother? Is this what you believe?”

He labored up from his chair. “It was never my intention to offend you. I apologize if you have misconstrued my comments as a reflection on your mother’s health and death. However, as an advisor, a man who has experience of this world, I tell you your family, the military, or perhaps the advice of a leech, are better placed to answer these concerns. Not me. Anyway, I am in the midst of preparations for my next voyage.” He turned away and began walking to the door.

His indifference sent her reeling. The scandal sheet had the facts of the matter—he was an ornament, but hardly brilliant. About as useless as the weaponry adorning his walls.

“You’ve changed.” She remained in her chair. “Where is the man London talks of, who loves adventure and danger? Are you so exhausted by your thrilling living? Is this what life has done to you? One sore leg after an altercation with a jealous husband and you’re a cripple? My request would require two hours of your time in Margate.”

He turned to face her, his gaze like stone, his hand curling and uncurling on the stupid walking stick. The John she knew would never have admitted to such infirmity. She needed his influence and damn him, but she would demand it.

“John, there are rumors in Fernsby that you do not leave the house. Making these enquiries would give you something to do. You can hardly walk, let alone balance on a ship’s deck in rough seas.”

In an instant, his expression went blank.

Empty as a pocket.

She closed her eyes. She’d pushed too far.

He leaned on his stick, turned, and went through to the hall, the stick tapping an echo on the cold marble tiles, his voice colder. “Unfortunately, the cripple can’t help,” he called over his shoulder. “I have heard nothing of artists in the neighborhood, and I repeat…your husband, as head of his household, is better placed to make inquiries.”

She retrieved the gloves from her purse, taking her time to stand and exit his horrible reception room. He put her in her place—at the feet of her husband.

“Either way, it seems someone is admiring your beauty from afar,” he continued, his clipped voice echoing from the main hall where the marble tiles bounced and slapped his cruel sardonic quips in her face. “A romantic notion that should keep your marriage alive, as I am sure your visit to my house will inspire your husband’s affection once he learns of it. It does for most women, even with the reputation of a cripple.”

She fitted her gloves, pushing each finger into its stall, fiddling with the shiny yellow buttons which were too gay and dainty. “You must not ever mention this visit to my husband,” she called back. If he could not bother, neither would she.

“Oh, believe me, this visit is forgettable.” He laughed humorlessly.

Her hands shook as she placed her reticule into the crook of her arm so as to readjust her hat as she followed him out to the hall. “You haven’t changed, John. Always running away when situations became tough. Even now. I did wrong to believe more of you.”

“That was always your problem, wasn’t it, Anne? You never believed in me at all.”

“You never gave me reason to.” At his growl, she let her mouth break into a gaping hole making hollow sounds. “So, thank you, on behalf of the Fernsby Ladies Literati, for your kind and generous donation.” She paused, letting her eyes rake over him one final time. She wanted to unglove her hand and hold it out to him, to have his angry hot lips graze her bare knuckles. One last touch to brand his name into her bones.

But she also longed to slap him. Hard. To hear her hand crack sharp against his arrogant stubbled cheek. To have it hurt him red stinging sore, to leaving him feeling, but for a moment, some of her pain.

Instead she nodded, turned, and crossed the hall to the door his manservant held open.

“See you in another twenty years,” John said, his tone full of boredom.

His stick tapped on the tiled hall, and she turned at the doorway determined to have the last word.

But all utterance died.

Two young women waited halfway on the stairs, holding their arms out to him, crimson and indigo dresses falling off their shoulders, disheveled hair, smiles wide, inviting him up in lewd whispers. He stretched out his arms to them, then leaned forward to get his foot balanced on the stair, his vest rising against his white shirt, as if already undressing. A gray pistol nestled near his spine, close to the hand of the coaxing woman. Not so crippled.

Stinging needled the back of her eyes, her ears hummed, her throat gripped tight, and her chest hurt to breathe. She turned and stepped into the afternoon sunshine, while a pickaxe mined rock-hard ruby chambers in her heart.

Dear God, the agony of scars ripped bare. Neither good enough, nor bad enough.

Forgotten.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

rosemary-foyWhen not studying medical research in dementia care, Rosemary Foy escapes into writing historical romance—it’s a yin-yang thing. She and her ever-patient husband, along with their two beautiful daughters, live beneath Mt Canobolas in regional Australia. Her love of social history and the tranquility of landscapes, together with the cherished friendships of like-minded romance readers and authors, all play a part in the world she creates in her stories.

Author’s Note: Writing historical romance creates a wonderful opportunity to weave fiction with fact. One of Joseph MW Turner’s (1775-1851) last paintings, mentioned in chapter 20, was entitled ‘The Angel Standing in the Sun’ (1846). Indeed, Joseph Turner said of Margate, “dawn clouds to the east and glorious sunsets to the west…the loveliest skies in Europe”. I have also been fortunate to research newspaper articles circa 1789 when writing Wylde at Heart. The items mentioned in this story have been adapted from actual published accounts. I hope you enjoy the rich authenticity of the language in these snippets, which is not generally available in today’s popular literature.

Visit with Rosemary on her website at https://rosemaryfoy.com/
And Pinterest: https://au.pinterest.com/rosemaryfoy123/

Dressed to Kiss (anthology) by Madeline Hunter, Caroline Linden, Myretta Roberts and Megan Frampton

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True love never goes out of style…

Once renowned for creating the most envied gowns in London, Madame Follette’s dressmaking shop has fallen far out of fashion. The approaching coronation of King George IV offers a chance to reclaim former glory by supplying stunning new wardrobes to the most glittering society in Regency England. In the face of long-held secrets, looming scandals, and the potential ruin of their shop, the dressmakers of Follette’s are undaunted, not even by the most unexpected complication of all: true love.

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Publisher and Release Date: Caroline Linden, September 2016

Time and Setting: London, 1821
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Sara

The best romance anthologies are where the stories are linked around a common theme or a single moment. In Dressed to Kiss all four authors have set their stories in and around a dressmaking shop that has seen better days but has a second chance to succeed with the upcoming coronation of King George VI. The women (and one man) who work in the shop each have unique stories to tell and each author puts wonderful spin on love beating the odds.


Madeline Hunter opens the book with her story The Duke’s Dressmaker. Head seamstress of Madame Follette’s dress shop Selina Fontane has made a new life for herself in London after leaving her small village in disgrace years earlier. She allowed herself to fall in love with a visiting lord who promised marriage but left her with a ruined reputation. Now she is put in the very awkward position of designing the wardrobe for the young woman who married her erstwhile suitor. Fortunately the client has no idea of Selina’s history with her husband but her brother-in-law Lord Barrowmore recognizes Selina right away. Selina fears that Lord Barrowmore will cost her an important patron for the shop while Barrowmore fears that a spurned woman could be a problem for his brother’s new wife. The reunion of former adversaries quickly morphs from a tentative truce into an affair of the heart. Barrowmore finds himself attracted to Selina and realizes that his perceptions of her as a scheming title grabber might have been misplaced. Selina makes peace with her ruined courtship years before and her eyes are opened to just how handsome and noble Barrowmore really is.

I loved how the emotional connection between Selina and Rand, Lord Barrowmore grows throughout the story. Both characters are rational about their budding relationship and they keep in mind their strange connection and their differing places in society. Both are comfortable with each other and Selina understands that what Rand offers her is what is expected of a man in his position. Fortunately Rand is also a man who is willing to ignore those expectations to keep close the love that is important to him. 5 stars


Myretta Robens is a new-to-me author and her story The Colors of Love is a cute addition to the mix. Junior seamstress Delyth Owen has a slight problem. She can design some of the best and most innovative gowns produced by Madame Follette’s but her choice of color is completely inappropriate for London fashions. A scathing review by a fashion columnist puts her job in jeopardy and Delyth is scared her one chance to design real dresses rather than costume pieces has been ruined. When a very fashionable brother and sister enter the shop looking specifically for Delyth, she hopes that her prayers have been answered to land an important client who also appreciates her design sensibility. Little does she realize that Mr. Simon Merrithew, author of Aglaea’s Cabinet fashion column, has set up his sister to play an interested party only to learn if Delyth is completely what she seems or if she is praying on helpless clients to make a mockery of the ton and the fashionable elite.

Delyth is guileless and a very sweet heroine. It has always been her dream to design clothing and her openness and joy makes her the kind of character a reader wants to root and cheer for when she gets everything she deserves. Her relationship with Simon was sweet too in that she quickly shows Simon that his cynicism has tainted how he looks not only at colors or fashion but in how he lives his life. I wish that their characters had a bit more depth to them; however their romance is cute and fits nicely with all the other stories in the collection. 3 Stars


Megan Frampton has some fun bringing two awkward characters together in her story No Accounting for Love. Henry Dawkins has always been the bookkeeper at Madame Follette’s dress shop, working first for his mother and now for his sister Felicity. Painfully shy and uncomfortable in such an overly-feminine environment, Henry usually hides in his small office, content to work behind the scenes. He is forced out of his hidey-hole when the daughter of an old family acquaintance arrives in the store with her companion Katherine Grant. Henry knows the young woman has always had a crush on him and he’s tried to dissuade her interest as gently as possible; however he lets himself get caught up in her new schemes if only to get close to the witty Miss Grant. Katherine enjoys getting to know Mr. Dawkins but is afraid that a relationship with him could cost her her position as a respectable companion. Knowing that society might frown on any potential relationship keeps Henry and Katherine on guard, but true love manages to push through both of their defenses.

Henry and Katherine are perfectly adorkable together. He’s a big man, uncomfortable about his size as well as his middle class status. Katherine is always aware of her curvier figure and how it challenged her during her own seasons. At the beginning of the story both of them seem slightly uncomfortable in their own skins. By coming together they realize that what they’ve seen as shortcomings might be attractive in another person’s eyes. Just as in the first story, there is an undercurrent about how London society judges people by their class and how each level is expected to remain with their own. I appreciated that Henry and Katherine find a way to buck the rules to find real happiness with each other. 4 Stars


Caroline Linden finishes out the quartet in A Fashionable Affair by bringing things back to the operator of Madame Follette’s, Felicity Dawkins. She has been a part of her mother’s shop ever since she learned how to sew and it is her dream to see the struggling business find a renaissance through innovative design. In the year she’s been in charge, Felicity has hired the right seamstresses and managed to land a few highly regarded patrons in society. What she doesn’t know is during that same period Lord Carmarthen has been working to create a renaissance of his own on the street on which her shop is located that doesn’t involve Madame Follette’s staying open. His dream is to rebuild Vine Street in a modern style and bring in new merchants. He’s managed to buy out all the other shops on the street but Felicity refuses to sell unless he can find a location with as much prestige as what she’s giving up. Their battles over the shop and real estate in the city get their blood heated, but it’s the underlying attraction between them that keeps that fire burning. It’s a challenge to Felicity’s heart to know that the one man she’s ever wanted could cost her a legacy she’s also dreamed of for years.

Felicity and Evan, Lord Carmarthen, start off on the wrong foot with each other but there is a mutual respect for how they each see the future. Before meeting Felicity, all of Evan’s plans were just business and while he understood there was a personal cost to some people it never touched him. Knowing her, loving her and seeing the other side of things makes it all very personal. Felicity and Evan don’t shy away from their feelings and use them to make their union stronger even with the challenges of her business and his development plans. This story reminded me of the film You’ve Got Mail which has always been a favorite. It was a perfect way to close out the anthology knowing that the future was secure for Madame Follette’s.  5 Stars

AUDIO REVIEW: Katie Mulholland by Catherine Cookson – Narrated by Susan Jameson

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Some women are destined to arouse in men either fierce hatred or insatiable desire. Such a woman was Katie Mulholland.

At 15, a scullery maid in the house of the Rosires, she had been raped by the master. Now, many years later, she had enough money to maintain three carriages if she wanted to, and she was on her way to see Bernard Rosier under very different circumstances.

There was no pride in Katie Mulholland’s heart, however, only fear, for half of Tyneside still talked about the way she had flouted convention, and sniggered about the way she had made her money. So she had decided that her only hope was to climb above them, and that she would conquer her fear with power…

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Publisher and Release Date: Audible Studios, August 2016 (Originally published 1967)

Time and Setting: 1860 – WWII – North East England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars content/5 stars narration

Review by Wendy

Catherine Cookson’s tales of northern England were a part of my growing up. I have many on my ‘keeper’ shelf and have read many of my favourites by her, over and over again. She was a South Tyneside lass, illegitimate and born into abject poverty with a ‘sister’ she later discovered was her mother. Most of her stories are based on the people and places she was familar with. Her stories are gritty, shocking, sometimes sad but always real and compelling, and it is obvious that the poverty she writes of has been inspired by and lived through, not just researched. There is always the obligatory happy ending, but it is not easily reached. Ms.Cookson’s characters are, in my opinion always far more realistic than the norm – very few hearts and roses for her heroes/heroines. And one of the things I have always loved about her writing is that these heroes and heroines are not always beautiful or classically handsome – often they are working men and women who have suffered hardships and misery but who almost always triumph over adversity.

Katie Mulholland spans a period of some eighty odd years, beginning when Katie is just fifteen and has been working as a scullery maid at ‘the big house’ owned by the local landowners and coal mining family, the Rosiers. The tenants and workers of the Rosiers are treated abominably, they live in houses not fit for animals, work in the family mine, and even have to spend their hard earned ‘brass’ (money) on groceries at vastly inflated costs at the company shop. Katie is considered by her cohorts to be lucky not to be working down the mine or in the local rope works. A beautiful, sunny natured child, she is adored by her family and every fortnight, her trip across the moors on her afternoon off brings light into their soul destroying existence. Then one day Katie is brought home in disgrace, she is pregnant and will not name the father of her child for fear of what will happen when her father retaliates; as she knows he will. Bernard Rosier, the eldest son, raped her on the night of his engagement ball and, fearing the repercussions should his fiancée’s powerful family discover his perfidy, forces Katie into marriage with the mine supervisor, Mark Bunting, a man who is despised by the pit men. He holds the miner’s livelihoods in the palm of his hand and by marrying him, Katie will earn the derision of the local people. She marries against the wishes of her family, thinking to save them, but as it turns out, nothing can stop the terrible and tragic series of events which sees Katie and her family on the road with her baby daughter. By now Katie has become the lynchpin of her family. Like children, they all look to her for guidance, and eventually, because of the overwhelming love she feels for them and also the guilt as a result of her pregnancy, she is forced into making a heart-rending decision which will have far reaching consequences. She may think that she has left the Rosier family behind, but her life is inextricably linked with them forever.

Katie meets and eventually marries a Swedish/Danish ship’s captain, Andree Franenkel, whom she calls Andy and, through him becomes a rich and powerful woman. But again and again, her life is touched by the vindictive and tyrannical Bernard Rosier who holds her accountable for every ill that has ever befallen him and refers to her as ‘the Mullholland woman’.

Katherine Cookson’s characters, are real, down-to-earth and intuitively developed. Bernard Rosier, though initially handsome and powerful, degenerates into a dissolute, menacing and frightening monster and each time he made an appearance I was on the edge of my seat. Katie is a beautiful and talented young women, but no matter how powerful she becomes, she never quite conquers her fear of Bernard Rossier and such is the power of Catherine Cookson’s writing that we, the reader, feel that fear, which is palpable and overshadows Katie’s entire life. Andy is just adorable, large, blonde, bearded and older than her by some sixteen years, he is utterly captivated by her from the first night he meets her. It is Andy who is Katie’s salvation and it is he who recognises that the only way he can help his ‘Kaa-tee’ kick poverty and her fear of Bernard Rossier is by making her rich and powerful and sets out to do just that – and succeeds with amazing results.

Susan Jameson, a British actress of some repute, is absolutely superb as the narrator of Katie Mulholland and handles the large cast of male and female characters, northern dialect, upper classes and – later on in the story – an American, with aplomb. I don’t believe that there is another actress who could capture and hold without wavering, and without putting a foot wrong, the dialects, humour and characters through almost twenty one hours of narration in the way that she does. Considering that this story spans such a long period, Katie’s voice goes from a youthful fifteen year old, through to a very old lady and Susan Jameson adapts her own tone and timbre to take account of this ageing process whilst still making Katie very recognisable. Andy’s English, spoken with a strong Scandinavian accent and an undoubtedly male, deeper intonation, is superbly done and the all consuming love he feels for his ‘Kaa-tee’ shines through and is really quite moving at times; even the jaunty sailor in him is apparent.

I just loved this feast of a book, one of Catherine Cookson’s earlier novels, first published in the 1960s. Susan Jameson brings it to glittering life with her very talented acting skills; this is no light listen and it is one which will probably leave the listener feeling wrung-out. Nevertheless I highly recommend it. There are more and more of this author’s books becoming available in audio, all narrated by Susan Jameson and I am holding my breath and waiting for two all time favourites to become available – The Dwelling Place and Kate Hannigan.