A Debutante’s Guide to Rebellion (Birch Hall #1.5) by Kathleen Kimmel

A debutante's guide to rebellion

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London, 1815: Lady Mildred Weller (Eddie to her friends) has few prospects for marriage. If she can’t attract the available—though considerably older—Lord Averdale, she may be doomed to spinsterhood. She’s even willing to enter into that loveless union, if only to escape her mother’s stifling and increasingly desperate dominance. And she may have found the perfect person to help her achieve that goal.

Ezekiel Blackwood is a botanist as well as Lord Averdale’s nephew and heir. He is also a social disaster. Cross-pollination he understands; the fairer sex not at all. But in Lady Eddie, he discovers a kindred spirit. When she asks for his assistance in assessing Lord Averdale’s interest in her, Ezekiel is crushed. But naturally, he thinks, she could never fall in love with someone like him. Ezekiel’s matchmaking cousin is only too happy to arrange a discreet rendezvous for their conspiracy—a greenhouse. Of course in such a setting, it’s only natural that feelings might begin to bloom…

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Publisher and Release Date: InterMix, April 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: England, 1815
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by: Heather C.

A lot happens in the eighty pages of this novella so that it felt much longer than it actually was. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought this was just a slightly shorter-than-normal length novel. Novellas can sometimes fall into a trap where the pacing feels too fast or characters are left underdeveloped, but not here! Kathleen Kimmel carefully utilizes each word to move the plot forward or flesh out her characters.

Lady Eddie is not your classic beauty and her overbearing mother tells her so every day. Her mother, despairing that Eddie will never be married, sets her sights on Lord Averdale, a much older prospective husband. Ezekiel Blackwell, Lord Averdale’s nephew, notices a beautiful woman one night across the ballroom, but with his deplorable social skills, he ends up talking to her about strawberries. When these two social misfits are thrown into a friendship to help Lady Eddie achieve her mission, what could possibly go wrong?

Within just a few short pages I felt very sure of my feelings for Lady Eddie and Co. Lady Eddie and Ezekiel are not your beautiful, elegant, stars of the ball, but rather studious and even strange to the ton. Their fish-out-of-water nature at these grand Season events made for some comical scenes. Thinking back on it, these would be two people I would probably fit right in with if I’d lived back in that time! Lady Eddie’s mother is certainly not someone to mess with, and that makes it all the more exciting when her daughter does exactly that; even the best laid and devious plans often go awry! Although she might seem a little over-the-top, I’m sure people like her mother certainly existed then as they do now.

The romance element here is sweet and very unexpected for the couple involved; by that I mean that as the reader you see it coming, but the characters not so much. Ezekiel is not interested in looking for love, but eventually decides that a wife could be useful in some ways, while Eddie’s marriage prospects has been laid out by her mother and she is given no say in the matter. It’s refreshing to see these two novices to the Season, which seems filled with those who are playing the game; and that naiveté played into some funny moments that endeared the characters to me.

A Débutante’s Guide to Rebellion is a novella where I felt my time was well-spent. It’s an enjoyable, light-hearted romp and I was impressed with how much I came to care for these characters over just the short amount of time I had to spend with them. I would love to see them appear in another piece of this series, and even though this is part of one, I never felt I was missing something by not having read the previous book. Based on my enjoyment of Kimmel’s writing style, I will definitely be exploring her other titles.

Only Beloved (Survivor’s Club #7) by Mary Balogh

only beloved
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For the first time since the death of his wife, the Duke of Stanbrook is considering remarrying and finally embracing happiness for himself. With that thought comes the treasured image of a woman he met briefly a year ago and never saw again.

Dora Debbins relinquished all hope to marry when a family scandal left her in charge of her younger sister. Earning a modest living as a music teacher, she’s left with only an unfulfilled dream. Then one afternoon, an unexpected visitor makes it come true.

For both George and Dora that brief first encounter was as fleeting as it was unforgettable. Now is the time for a second chance. And while even true love comes with a risk, who are two dreamers to argue with destiny?

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Publisher and Release Date: Signet, May 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: 1820s, London and Cornwall, England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Lady Wesley

Dora Debbins, music teacher to the children of Inglebrook in Gloucestershire enjoyed her life, but she still missed her younger sister Agnes, who had lived with Dora for a year after she was widowed. Agnes has recently married and moved away; both she and her husband had encouraged Dora to live with them, but Dora preferred feeling useful. Sometimes her mind wanders back to a party at nearby Middlebury Park, where Dora had played the harp and pianoforte after dinner. The Duke of Stanbrook had been especially kind to her, and Dora had felt more alive than ever in her entire life. But, as a thirty-nine-year-old spinster, Dora allowed herself to entertain no romantic notions.

Meanwhile, at Stanbrook House in London, George Crabbe waved farewell to his house guests and settled into his comfortable library chair, reflecting how nice it was to know that he could do anything, or nothing, with his time. During the past two years, he had traveled hither and yon attending the weddings of all six of his closest friends, all members of the Survivors’ Club. Now the weddings are over, and George finally admits to himself that he is lonely. He wants companionship, and wonders whether Dora Debbins might be the right woman for him.
Imagine Dora’s shock when George appears unexpectedly in her parlor, announces that he has just arrived from London, and asks, “I wondered, Miss Debbins, if you might do me the great honor of marrying me.”

Thus begins the seventh and final book in Mary Balogh’s Survivors’ Club series. The survivors – five men and one woman – each suffered traumatic injuries in the wars against Napoleon, and the Duke of Stanbrook, whose son had died in battle, opened his estate in Cornwall as a convalescent home. Out of more than two dozen officers who lived there, six had stayed for some three years, and the bond that developed between them was stronger perhaps than those of family. Each of the six previous books focused on one survivor’s struggles, their sometimes incomplete recovery, and their path to happiness in marriage. Although these are romances, Mary Balogh does not sugar-coat the realities of war and its aftermath. For this, she is to be commended, although sometimes it makes for uncomfortable reading.

Only Beloved is quite different from the other books, however. George was not a soldier injured in war. His only child was killed in battle, and shortly thereafter, his wife took her own life. Opening his home to those in need of longer-term care was one way of assuaging his grief. He has appeared in all six books, as a kind of loving father-figure to the others, but we know very little about him, really. And contrary to the standard romance plot, this books begins with the proposal and the wedding, and only afterwards tells the story of George and Dora truly falling in love.

This is a quiet book. Some readers may find the first half or so a bit slow, but I did not, probably because George and Dora are so well-written and their relationship so beautifully and gradually revealed. As an, *ahem*, older reader, I reveled in the notion that this mature couple could find romance and even passion as they experience the ordinary events of everyday life. But, if you’re looking for adventure, this book is not for you. There is no Great Villain or Big Secret shadowing their lives.

There are, however, a villain and some secrets – things which complicate but do not overshadow George and Dora’s lives. It becomes apparent to Dora that George, the deeply compassionate man who took on everyone else’s burdens, has never had anyone with whom to share his. George has suffered tremendously, but he is reticent to share his experience with anyone until his fear of losing Dora convincers him to open up. There is a bit of a mystery here, which is rather well done; I did not anticipate the outcome.

Dora has conflicted feelings about her parents. Her life was almost ruined when her father publicly accused her mother of infidelity. After her mother fled with her supposed lover, her parents divorced, and Dora gave up her hopes for a Season in London to stay home and raise Agnes. The two women have never forgiven their mother and also have some degree of resentment toward their rather distant father for his imprudent public accusation. When Dora learns that her mother, happily remarried for some twenty years, lives in London, that Agnes’ husband has been to see her, and that Agnes refuses do likewise, she is torn. She benefits from George’s huge talent for compassion and understanding, as he supports her through her decision whether to re-establish a relationship with her mother.

George and Dora are expertly drawn. Dora is intelligent, modest, and sensible. Becoming a duchess does not make her giddy (as I believe it would me). Rank is not her purpose in marrying George, and she blossoms under his love and attention. George is downright adorable. His thoughtfulness – buying a harp for Dora, bringing her old piano to Penderris, encouraging her to play and sing for him – made me fall a little bit in love with him myself. They are the focus of the plot, but there are several vivid secondary characters. I was especially touched by the story of Dora’s mother and her husband and repelled by the gossipy Mrs. Parkinson.

I adored the story, and it was great fun to visit with all of the survivors, their spouses, and their growing families. The author spends a good deal of space on the backstory of the Survivors’ Club, which I found distracting. While technically this could be read as a standalone, I think that something would be lost from not knowing more about the Survivors.

Mary Balogh has been writing for more than thirty years, with seventy novels and almost thirty novellas to her credit. I believe that the Survivors’ Club series is her crowning achievement; all seven books are excellent stories of damaged people struggling to achieve some degree of recovery and happiness despite their injuries. I urge you to read them all.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: The Honorable Officer by Philippa Lodge

 

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France, 1668 Hélène de Bonnefoi’s spirit has been squashed by the ever-critical aunt and uncle who raised her. Serving as nanny and stand-in mother to her cousin’s child has saved her from the convent, especially after her cousin’s death. When suspicious accidents threaten the toddler, Hélène overcomes her near-blindness to seek the help of the child’s father, a colonel in Louis XIV’s army. Jean-Louis, Colonel de Cantière, has spent his life proving his worth, integrity, and honor, first to his family and now in the army. When his daughter’s caretaker appears in his camp during a siege, claiming someone is trying to kill the girl, his loyalties are sorely tested. Hélène must convince Jean-Louis the threat is real. But the true danger is to the heart of a shy young woman who has always loved her cousin’s husband from afar and to the colonel’s desire to resist complicated emotions.

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EXCERPT

His first view of Mademoiselle Hélène took his breath away. She was sitting in a beam of light, smiling down at the little girl who sat next to her on the bench. Her hair glinted gold in the sunlight, and her pink lips parted as she laughed.

“Mademoiselle Hélène, Colonel de Cantière is here to see you,” said the woman.

Jean-Louis bowed deeply and raised himself again to find Mademoiselle Hélène curtseying to him and the little girl staring at him, wide-eyed. Mademoiselle Hélène’s features had gone blank, erasing the sunshine and beauty he had witnessed.

“Ondine, chérie,” she said to the girl. “It is your papa, come to see us. Get up and curtsey, ma petite.”

The girl stood up on the bench and bobbed clumsily, clutching at Mademoiselle Hélène for support and reassurance.

Jean-Louis hadn’t seen his daughter since his wife’s funeral, over a year before. She likely had no memory of him, and yet her mistrust cut him to the heart.

“Please, Monsieur, join us for breakfast,” said Mademoiselle Hélène in the soft, shy voice that made him want to protect her.
He gritted his teeth. He was ridiculous. There was no threat here. It was leftover nerves from the battle and a lack of sleep, surely. The long argument with the Prince de Condé to get leave for two days to solve the problem, coupled with the long journey, had sapped what was left of his wits.

He sat across the table from the lady and his daughter and waved Fourbier to a chair. The innkeeper’s wife entered with a servant bringing bread and jam.

They ate in strained silence. He complimented the woman on the delightful sausage; it had been weeks since he had eaten properly, even though he knew he ate better than his soldiers. “Well, Mademoiselle Hélène, I would like the rest of the story of how you came to bring my daughter to a war.”

Hélène looked down at her lap, blushing. “I do not know how I had the strength to do it, but I was so frightened for Ondine. I didn’t feel safe with my aunt and uncle Ferand.”

“You said there was a fire? And your uncle thought it was nothing serious?”

“He said it was just a dropped candle, but there was a great deal of smoke under the door of the nursery. And Ondine had not drunk her milk. She did not want it—if a child who is not even three does not want something, there is no point in forcing—and so we gave it to the cat that sleeps in her dressing room.”

Jean-Louis scratched at his head, confused. He encountered his damned wig, though, and didn’t dare disarrange it any more than it already was so brought his hand back down to the table.

Mademoiselle Hélène turned to the serving girl. “Lily, could you watch Ondine for a short time while I speak to the colonel in the hall?”

The girl agreed, glancing fearfully at Fourbier, who nodded. Jean-Louis followed Mademoiselle Hélène into the dark, cramped hall.

“I did not wish to frighten Ondine. She understands most of what we say, though she doesn’t speak clearly yet.” She dragged her hand along the wall until they were ten feet from the breakfast room.

Jean-Louis leaned against the opposite wall, glancing out a tiny, wavy window to where his carriage was waiting. He wondered again if this was a horrible waste of time.

“You see, Ondine did not drink her milk, but the cat did. When the smoke started, Ondine cried for me to save the cat, but I found it on the floor under the bed, vomiting and twitching. I took up Ondine and opened the window and called for help as I stepped out onto the ledge.”

“The third-story ledge by the nursery?” His heart wrenched.

“Yes. I knew I could walk along it to the balcony two windows down. Amandine used to climb out to escape lessons. The ledge is wide enough to walk on, if one is careful. I had Ondine in the shawl I use to carry her when she gets tired on walks. She stayed very still.”

Jean-Louis stared at Mademoiselle Hélène for a long time after she stopped talking. She was looking in his direction, but not meeting his eyes. He would not have thought her so bold as to walk along a ledge or speak an entire sentence. “Tell me the rest. Why your uncle did not agree there was a threat. Why you chose to leave anyway.”

She sighed and looked down at her twisting hands. She was nervous, not bold at all. “He said the cat must have breathed smoke. The fire was put out very quickly. They were already throwing water on it when I came back in through the schoolroom. We were hardly in, though, when the window broke.”

“Broke?” he snapped. “How?”

“I’m not sure. The window, which is like a narrow door, really, jerked out of my hand and shattered,” she said. “And then I heard a crack.”

His heart stuttered. He swallowed. “Like a gunshot?”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Philippa Lodge has been an avid reader since she asked her mother to point out where it said “Ma” in Little House in the Big Woods. She read everything she could get her hands on until grad school in French Studies, at which time she lost her reading mojo. Only through the twin discoveries of Harry Potter and romance has she gotten her groove back and gone back to what she loved about seventeenth century France: kings, swords, opulence, and love. She lives in the suburbs of Sacramento, CA with her husband, three children, two cats, and a head full of courtesans.

Find her on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorPhilippaLodge
Twitter: @plaatsch
And on her website: http://philippalodge.com

BOOK BLAST: A Pressing Engagement (Lady Darby #4.5) by Anna Lee Huber

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In this delightful novella from the national bestselling author of A Study in Death, Lady Kiera Darby has one last mystery to solve before she can walk down the aisle…

Scotland, 1831. With her wedding to fellow investigator Sebastian Gage only a day away, Kiera is counting down the hours. But just when matrimonial jitters threaten to consume her, Kiera receives a welcome distraction in the form of a mysterious gold necklace.

The Celtic torc, thought missing for decades, was directly involved in a recent investigation. Now, Kiera feels compelled to uncover the truth behind its sudden reappearance.

But with an overwhelming flock of wedding guests, a muddled cat, an unpaid favor, and a ferocious storm throwing things into disarray, it’s anyone’s guess whether Kiera and Gage will actually make it to the altar…

Includes an exclusive preview of the next Lady Darby Mystery, As Death Draws Near.

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Praise for the Lady Darby Mysteries

“[A] fascinating heroine…A thoroughly enjoyable read!”—Victoria Thompson, national bestselling author

“[A] clever heroine with a shocking past and a talent for detection.”—Carol K. Carr, national bestselling author

“[A] must read…One of those rare books that will both shock and please readers.”—Fresh Fiction

EXCERPT

02_A Pressing Engagement“Jock!” I exclaimed with delight. “When did you arrive in town?”

My impish cousin stood to kiss my cheek in greeting. “Just yesterday. Ye dinna think I’d miss out on the chance to see ye wed this rascal, noo, do ye?”

“Even so, it could not have been an easy journey on the muddy spring roads.” I settled down on the ivory brocade settee next to Gage.

“Any trouble it might’ve been ’twill be worth it.”

The sudden regard in Jock’s eyes was so unexpected that it actually made a lump form in my throat. I pressed a hand to my chest, having trouble finding my words.

Fortunately, Jock was not waiting for a reply. “Even Aunt Sarah says so, and ye ken how much she hates to travel.”

I blinked in shock. “Aunt Sarah also came?”

“Aye. And Uncle Andrew, along wi’ cousin Drew . . .” he lifted his eyes in thought and began ticking off several of our family members on his fingers ”. . . Rye, Uncle Owen, and Aunt Natalie. Oh, and Gilly.”

I glanced at Gage, momentarily speechless again.

“The others are restin’ and asked me to convey their regards. They’ll see ye at dinner tonight, but I wanted to bring ye something.” He reached behind him to hand me a flat, rectangular box wrapped in gold paper.

I took it gingerly, having learned long ago not to trust my cousin’s gifts. “What is it?”

He smiled at my obvious trepidation. “It’s an early wedding present.” When I still didn’t move, he laughed. “Open it.”

Gage was looking between us in confusion, so I explained. “I’m not going to lift this lid to find it’s filled with crickets, or a dead fish, or some other disgusting thing, am I?”

“What am I? Ten? O’ course not.” But his mischievous grin did not reassure me.

“Allow me,” Gage offered, taking the box from my hands.

I watched as he opened the lid and pushed back a layer of tissue paper to peer inside, ready to jump to my feet if necessary. When nothing sprang out at us, Gage tipped the package so I could see for myself. It was a necklace. More accurately, a torc, like those worn by members of ancient Celtic royalty and nobility. Its gold had dulled with age, but it still shone in the morning sunlight streaming through the windows behind us. Comprised of twisted gold ribbons, it was typical of Scottish design. Or so I’d read after doing some research when another such torc had been implicated in an inquiry Gage and I had conducted several months prior.

“Didn’t Celtic queens wear those?” Jock asked, lounging back against the cushions in his chair with a pleased smirk. “Seemed only fitting ye should wear something like it on yer special day, Kiera. Can’t think o’ anyone it’d suit more.”

I lifted the torc from the box to view it more closely. “Where did you find this?”

“Some curiosity shop off Canongate. They had all sorts o’ interesting trinkets. Even a set o’ tin
soldiers, like I played wi’ as a lad.”

But I was no longer listening, for something engraved into the rounded knobs at each end of the torc, where the necklace would rest against the front of the neck, had caught my eye. A series of swirls were etched into the metal there, winding into a center point at the very tip. It was a rather distinctive feature that at the same time seemed all too familiar.

“May I?” Gage asked, reaching for the torc, and I guessed he’d also noticed the design. I didn’t speak as he tilted the necklace from side to side to examine it.

“Striking, isn’t it?” Jock murmured.

“Yes,” Gage replied solemnly. “But I’m sorry to say this may have been stolen.”

Jock laughed. “I ken I’m a bit o’ a scamp, but I doubt my cousin would call me a thief.”

“Not by you,” I replied, taking the torc back from Gage.

My cousin’s mirth slowly faded. “Yer serious.”

I looked up to find him glancing between us in bafflement.

“But how could ye possibly ken such a thing?”

We both waited for him to come to the inevitable conclusion.

He sank back in his chair. “Because you’ve already been conductin’ an inquiry into it.”

“Not exactly,” I admitted. “But we are aware of a torc, which is described as being remarkably similar to this particular piece, that has gone missing.” I studied the necklace again. “In fact, I have a hard time believing it’s not the very same.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

03_Anna Lee HuberAnna Lee Huber is the Award-Winning and National Bestselling Author of the Lady Darby Mystery Series. She was born and raised in a small town in Ohio, and graduated summa cum laude from Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN with a degree in music and a minor in psychology. She currently resides in Indiana, and when not working on her next book she enjoys reading, singing, traveling and spending time with her family.

For more information please visit www.annaleehuber.com. Connect with Anna Lee Huber on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Indiana Belle (American Journey #3) by John A. Heidt

Indiana Belle

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Providence, Rhode Island, 2017. When doctoral student Cameron Coelho, 28, opens a package from Indiana, he finds more than private papers that will help him with his dissertation. He finds a photograph of a beautiful society editor murdered in 1925 and clues to a century-old mystery. Within days, he meets Geoffrey Bell, the “time-travel professor,” and begins an unlikely journey through the Roaring Twenties. Filled with history, romance, and intrigue, Indiana Belle follows a lonely soul on the adventure of a lifetime as he searches for love and answers in the age of Prohibition, flappers, and jazz.

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Publisher and Release Date: John A. Heldt, April 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Indiana & California, United States, 1925 and 2017
Genre: Historical/Time Travel with Romantic Elements
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating:
4 stars

Review by: Heather C.

Indiana Belle has so many things going for it that it really defies a distinct categorization. It has a romance thread that runs throughout. It is packed with a little mystery, intrigue, and adventure from the earliest pages. There is the historical setting and some significant events. Oh, and let’s not forget the very critical element of time travel!

I have been a fan of John Heldt’s works since I first read back-to-back The Mine and The Journey in 2013 (both are from his other book series, The Northwest Passage). All of his books include an element of time travel and that was one of the elements that originally drew me to them. In Indiana Belle, the time travel element involves some tunnels, some gypsum crystals, and some scientific formulae. While the time travel element does require some level of suspension of reality, and maybe it’s presentation here isn’t what most would expect for a method of traveling through time, I found it creative and plausible. The novel also tackles the age old idea that if you travel back in time you must be careful to not change the past or it could affect the future. Cameron wrestles with this premise as he does not wish to let a historical murder happen on his watch. Seeing how he struggles with this and what decision he ultimately makes is one of the central concepts of this novel. Some of the best scenes of this book deal with Cameron’s making continuity mistakes while back in 1925 – some were things that I would never have even thought of.

The romance is a very light, but critical, part of the story. What happens if you fall in love with someone who isn’t from your time? It served as more of another obstacle to time travel and the completion of Cameron’s mission than anything else. The scenes were sweet and grew from a natural place.

Mr. Heldt does an excellent job here of bringing to life the Roaring Twenties; from the quiet mid-west town, to the speakeasy parties, to the big church revivals, it has it all. Cameron sees it as a simpler time initially, but it is full of its own problems, like the KKK and women’s struggle for rights. Some of these elements are obvious while others are atmospheric, but all contribute to a well-formed sense of time. The author also tends to cover an event of significance in most of his novels and here we get a little bit of the Tri-State Tornado of 1925. Having survived a tornado myself, his descriptions felt very real.

There was only a small element that I questioned while reading, which I’d thought might be resolved at some point in the novel; but ultimately it wasn’t. Cameron comes from 2017. I wondered at the choice to set the book in the near future instead of the current year. I wondered what difference it could make for anyone reading the book in a couple of years’ time – the entire novel will occur in the past. After reading, I concluded it didn’t have an obvious purpose.

While Indiana Belle is the third book in the American Journey series, it certainly is successful as a standalone novel. I have not read the first two books yet (September Sky and Mercer Street), but did not feel like I was missing out on anything. I have a feeling Geoffrey Bell, the professor referenced in the book description, probably has connections to the first two books based on some allusions to other time travelers and maybe we learn more about him there, but you still come away with a full understanding and appreciation of Indiana Belle on its own.

There is a little something for everyone here and would appeal widely to both men and women!

Kill or Be Kilt (Highland Spies #3) by Victoria Roberts

Kill or Be Kilt

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Lady Elizabeth Walsingham pined after the same man for years. When she finally realizes the brawny Highland laird doesn’t return her feelings, she decides to leave for London and start anew. It seems that her prayers are answered when she catches the eye of a charming actor at the Globe Theatre – a man who is the complete opposite of the Highlander she once loved.

Laird Ian Monroe spends his time avoiding the bothersome young girl who dreams of their union. But when he travels to London and discovers that she has a new love interest with a dishonorable agenda, his perspective changes. Ian soon realizes that Elizabeth is no longer a child with a crush, but a beautiful woman in need of his help. He may have what it takes to rescue Elizabeth from her scheming beau, but does he have the courage to reclaim Elizabeth’s heart as well?

Publisher and Release Date: Sourcebooks Casablanca, May 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Scotland and England, 1613
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars

Review by Caz

Kill or Be Kilt is one of those books that is like a frothy dessert – enjoyable while it lasts, but easily forgotten. It’s decently written and the central characters are reasonably engaging, but it’s ultimately insubstantial, and there are inconsistencies to some aspects of the plot that had me shaking my head at such obvious contrivances.

It’s the third book in Victoria Roberts’ Highland Spies series featuring the Walsingham sisters, daughters of Francis (Elizabeth I’s renowned spymaster) and nieces of Walter Mildmay, also a spy for the Crown. Elizabeth Walsingham’s older sisters are both happily married to highlanders, Laird Ruairi Sutherland and his guard captain, Fagan Murray and Scotland has become their home, but Elizabeth is starting to feel restless. Her older sisters are happy and her younger sister shows every sign of finding her happily ever after in Scotland, too, but Elizabeth feels as though she doesn’t belong and thinks that perhaps it’s time for her to go back to England to find a husband.

Three years earlier, she had developed a massive crush on Laird Ian Munro, a close friend of Ruairi’s. Unfortunately, everyone – including the object of her affections – knew how she felt, but now, at eighteen, she is over him and wants to move on with her life. When news of her uncle’s death in a carriage accident reaches Sutherland, Elizabeth and her sisters travel to England to pay their respects, escorted by Ruairi, Fagan and Ian, and then while Ravenna and Grace go to Apethorpe Hall to visit their aunt, Elizabeth, with the men as her guardians, travels on to Hampton Court, so that the men can present themselves to King James and Elizabeth can experience something of English court life.

Having stayed away from Sutherland for three years simply to avoid Elizabeth’s youthful pestering, Ian is astonished to discover that the girl who annoyed him to distraction has turned into a beautiful young woman. Of course, he doesn’t want her for himself – like her sisters, she’s too clever, too sharp-tongued and altogether too much trouble – but when she attracts the attention of a young nobleman and a respected actor, Ian starts suffering from a severe attack by the green-eyed-monster. And as if that weren’t bad enough, when other members of the King’s Privy Council are found dead under mysterious circumstances, it begins to look as though Mildmay’s death was not an accident, and Elizabeth and her guardians are drawn into the hunt for the killer.

Ian is a bumblingly endearing hero, a big, brawny man who has absolute confidence in his sword-arm, but surprisingly low self-esteem when it comes to his appearance, and has no idea how to woo a woman. Elizabeth is a likeable heroine and doesn’t have as many TSTL moments as Grace did in Kilts and Daggers, but she isn’t very well defined as a character and is ultimately rather bland.

The mystery element is very simplistic and while I enjoyed the banter between Ian, Fergus and Ruari, which is often quite funny, the idea of these big, brawny Scotsmen sitting around discussing women is pretty unrealistic and made me wonder when they were going to start braiding each other’s hair. One thing I found particularly problematic was the author’s use of a number of Gaelic words and phrases in the story. I don’t quibble with her using them, but each time, the phrase is immediately translated into English, which is jarring and quickly became annoying. These examples appear exactly as they appear in the text:

”Turas math dhut,”said Ian. Have a good journey.
Or
”Tha e a-bhos an seao!” It’s over here!

I venture to suggest that there is little point in using a language few of your readers will understand if you’re going to have to translate every word. I’m sure it was done for a reason, but unfortunately, the effect is probably not the one that was intended.

Kill or Be Kilt will perhaps suit someone wanting to while away a few hours with a solidly written, but undemanding story. I didn’t dislike the book, but it’s extremely lightweight – on both the plot and emotional content – and isn’t one I can recommend without reservation.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Lords of Misrule (Roundheads & Cavaliers #4) by Stella Riley

Lords of Misrule March 2016

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Still tied to his desk in the Intelligence Office, Colonel Eden Maxwell has become increasingly disenchanted with both Oliver Cromwell and his own daily existence; and with the advent of new Royalist conspiracies, he despairs of ever getting away.

Then a brick hurled through the window of a small workshop sets in motion a new and unexpected chain of events. After all, who would want to hurt Lydia Neville – a young widow, giving work and self-respect to maimed war veterans considered unemployable elsewhere? But when the assaults in Duck Lane escalate, threatening the life and remaining limbs of some of Eden’s former troopers, finding the culprit becomes personal.

At their first meeting, Lydia finds Colonel Maxwell annoying; by their second, having discovered that he had arrested and questioned her brother in connection with the Ship Tavern Plot, she mistrusts his motives. On the other hand, it swiftly becomes plain that she needs his help … and has difficulty resisting his smile.

Solving the increasingly hazardous mystery surrounding Lydia is not Eden’s only task. Between plots to assassinate the Lord Protector and a rising in Scotland, he must also mend the fences within his own family and get to know his son. Life suddenly goes from mind-numbing tedium to frenetic complexity.

With reckless Cavaliers lurking around every corner and a government still struggling to find its way, Lords of Misrule is set against a time of national discontent and general failure. But readers of the previous books in the series can look forward to catching up with old friends as well as meeting new ones … while, against all the odds, Eden and Lydia find danger and reward in equal measure.

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We’re pleased to welcome Stella Riley back to Romantic Historical Reviews to talk about the latest instalment in her Roundheads and Cavaliers series – LORDS OF MISRULE.

So here, finally, is the book I’ve been asked for more times than I can count since I started re-issuing the Roundheads & Cavaliers series. Affectionately known as “The Eden Project”, the story starts about eight months after the end of The King’s Falcon on the day Oliver Cromwell becomes Lord Protector… and our hero is in a very bad mood.

I didn’t find Lords of Misrule an easy book to write. Eden’s age (he’d have been thirty-five in 1654) defined the period in which the story had to be set if he wasn’t to be well on the way to his fortieth birthday before finding his happy ending! So here we are in the period between the start of the Protectorate in December ’53 and the Rule of the Major Generals in the summer of ’55…and national affairs aren’t going any better than Eden’s private life.

The Lord Protector’s reign didn’t exactly begin in a blaze of glory, and by the time Cromwell finally called Parliament, his popularity was registering at several points below zero. And the Cavaliers weren’t doing any better. They hatched endless failed plots to seize London or Scotland or to assassinate Cromwell – while, in Paris, Charles II and Ned Hyde created the Sealed Knot to coordinate Royalist conspiracies…but it never actually did anything.

As a consequence of all this, much of Misrule revolves around Eden’s developing relationship with Lydia Neville and the seemingly inexplicable dangers surrounding her. The workshop in Duck Lane is a lorinery – a place where bridles, bits, stirrups, and other pieces of harness are made – and where Lydia employs disabled ex-soldiers. She’s twenty-seven years old, nobody’s fool and, as Eden soon discovers, has a spine of pure steel.

Fans of Gabriel Brandon will enjoy meeting him again as, with the utmost reluctance and a good deal of irritation, he takes his seat in Cromwell’s first Parliament. Toby Maxwell plays a much larger role than previously – attracting women like flies and rarely inclined to brush them off. And there are numerous other guest appearances; Dorothy Maxwell, Luciano del Santi, Ashley Peverell, and Sir William Compton – to name but a few.

Through the latter stages of Lords of Misrule I’ve also had my first taste of audiobook creation with the Rockliffe series. This has been a roller-coaster ride; exhilarating, sometimes scary, and quite intense. It has also been an immense pleasure working with Alex Wyndham. All three audios were released within a three-month period – Alex having chosen to work on them back-to-back in order to “stay in the zone.” No one who has listened to anything he’s done will need to be told how supremely talented he is. His performances throughout are outstanding – with The Player, thanks to the numerous subtleties and narrator-traps woven into the text, being particularly impressive. I’m looking forward to collaborating with him again later this year when we’ll be getting to grips with A Splendid Defiance. Meanwhile, I’m contemplating a fourth (and probably final) book in the Rockliffe series.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

stella riley

Stella Riley trained as a teacher in London and after living in numerous UK locations has now settled in Kent.

She enjoys Amateur Dramatics, dancing, reading and travel.

After a long break in her writing career, she has published her back-catalogue as e-books. A Splendid Defiance, The Black MadonnaGarland of Straw and The King’s Falcon will shortly be joined by Lords of Misrule, Book 4 of the Roundheads & Cavaliers series. When not writing, she enjoys travel, the theatre, dancing and reading.

For all the latest information or merely to drop in for a chat, join her at https://stellariley.wordpress.com

RETRO REVIEW: Katherine by Anya Seton

Katherine

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Katherine is an epic novel of a love affair that changed history—that of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the ancestors of most of the British royal family. Set in the vibrant fourteenth century of Chaucer and the Black Death, the story features knights fighting in battle, serfs struggling in poverty, and the magnificent Plantagenets—Edward III, the Black Prince, and Richard II—who rule despotically over a court rotten with intrigue. Within this era of danger and romance, John of Gaunt, the king’s son, falls passionately in love with the already-married Katherine. Their affair persists through decades of war, adultery, murder, loneliness, and redemption. Anya Seton’s vivid rendering of the lives of the Duke and Duchess of Lancaster makes Katherine an unmistakable classic.

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First published in 1954 by Hodder and Stoughton

RHR Classifications:
Place and time: England 1366 – 1403
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Wendy

Anya Seton’s Katherinehas pride of place on my bookshelf. Its hard-backed cover is tatty and falling apart; I ‘borrowed’ it from a communal bookshelf in my WRNS quarters when I was a seventeen year-old girl and herewith confess my crime – I never returned it. It’s THAT book, that ONE book that one never forgets, the one that started my fascination with the Plantagenet dynasty and John of Gaunt in particular, and it is a fascination that has never faded. It says a lot about a book when it has rarely been out of print in over sixty years and whose heroine has her own followings, FB groups and associations.

Katherine Swynford was a living, breathing person and her love affair with one of the most powerful men of his time is unforgettable. Obviously Anya Seton ‘padded-out’ the story of this insignificant girl and the glorious Duke of Lancaster but there can be little doubt that this golden god of a man, third son of Edward III, actually loved the woman whom he eventually married.

Anya Seton became intrigued by the story of this little known medieval woman after reading mention of her in a biography about the poet and writer Geoffrey Chaucer, to whom Katherine’s sister, Phillippa was married. She is the ancestor of not one but FOUR great Royal houses, and luckily for us, Ms. Seton travelled to England from America to carry out her research and to tell what I believe to be one of the most beautiful love stories of all time.

Katherine de Roet was the daughter of a Flemish herald and although beautiful (so we’re told by Chaucer and other contemporary sources) was as poor as a church mouse and as insignificant as one too, especially in comparison to the courtiers of Edward III’s entourage. At that time she would have been well below the notice of the great John of Gaunt who had married for dynastically advantageous reasons, as was most often the case with the nobility. Blanche of Lancaster was both beautiful and well dowered, in riches and lands. The sixteen-year-old Katherine was married off to Sir Hugh Swynford, a lowly knight in Lancaster’s retinue and was sent off to live at his run-down Manor House in Lincolnshire – the gatehouse of which still stands today. Blanche of Lancaster bore the Duke three children, including the future Henry IV, but she died at an early age of the plague, and it is believed that Katherine Swynford nursed her until her death. Or at least, this is how Anya Seton explains Katherine becoming known to the Duke. At some point after Blanche’s death and later Hugh Swynford’s too, Katherine and John of Gaunt became lovers and she bore him four illegitimate children over a period of approximately ten years, who became known as the Beauforts.

John still had his duty to perform and whilst carrying on his affair with Katherine, he married Constanza of Castille who bore him one child, a girl, Catherine, who was to become the ancestor of the Royal Line of Spain.

These were hard times in England, and Richard II, just a boy when he inherited the throne following the premature demise of his father, the Black Prince, was supported by his rich, powerful though unpopular uncle, The Duke of Lancaster. After this tumultuous period in British history, Katherine and John’s affair appears to have ended and there were no more recorded children. He devoted himself to his Spanish wife and child and although generally unpopular with the people of England, nevertheless continued to be the right hand-man of his nephew, King Richard II. After her high profile as the Duke’s mistress, Katherine disappeared from public view with her children by Hugh Swynford and her brood of illegitimate children. It is believed that Katherine retired to care for her children, her deceased husband’s estate and most importantly, to repent of her/their sins which had had a bad effect on the popularity of both herself and the duke.

To me though, the most compellingly romantic aspect of the story is how John reacted after his second wife died. At the age of fifty five, he was at last relatively duty-free and able to follow his heart; he returned to marry his Katherine, and the king legitimised their four Beaufort children, by then all fully grown. This was quite an unprecedented move, and the family went on to became very powerful and rich. Their descendants fought for power amongst themselves, a result of which was the Wars of the Roses. Eventually from these family traumas, the Royal lines of Tudor, Stuart, Hanover and Windsor were born. Quite a woman, our Katherine! From nobody to Royal Duchess and the ancestress of so many great and powerful people. My favourite trope in an historical romance is a rags-to-riches story and this one has to be the most spectacular of all, and not a figment of the imagination either as history shows…“Thou shalt get kings though thou be none.”

For anyone out there who has not read Katherine, is a lover of romance and dazzlingly vibrant, well-researched history, I urge you to read this fantastic novel about one of the greatest love stories of all time. And if anyone has the opportunity to see Katherine’s final resting place – it’s in beautiful Lincoln Cathedral, surrounded by Cathedral Close, where she often stayed and where the local people took her to their hearts as I took her to mine. She died in 1403 and is interred with her daughter, Joan Beaufort/Neville, Countess of Raby.

Spy Fall (Rebellious Brides #1) by Diana Quincy

Spy Fall

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In this uniquely fresh and innovative Regency romance, a fearless French parachutist lands on top of a wicked rogue who endangers her mission—and her heart.

Mari Lamarre is gaining fame on both sides of the Channel for her daring aeronautic endeavors, but she hasn’t come to Dorset to showcase her talents. Rather, she’s been tasked with recovering sensitive information that may have fallen into the hands of the Marquess of Aldridge. It’s the riskiest adventure of her career—and it begins with a crash landing. Her fall is broken by the Marquess’s very own son, Cosmo, who’s clearly a rake and a drunk, not to mention a liability. So why does Mari find him so utterly alluring?

When he first spots the vision of loveliness in the sky, Lord Cosmo Dunsmore surmises he’s imbibed one drop too many, and an angel has come to fetch him. Little does he know that this female daredevil will make him feel more alive than ever before. But when their torrid affair takes a shocking turn, Cosmo must choose where his loyalties lie: with his respectable father—or with the captivating beauty whose fierce passion makes him feel like a new man.

Publisher and Release Date: Loveswept, Random May 2016

RHR CLASSIFICATIONS:
Time and Setting: Regency England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Rating: 4 Stars

Review by Jenny Q

As soon as I saw the description of Spy Fall, I wanted it. Y’all know I’m always looking for something different in romance, and here it is! This is a smart, sassy, sexy, totally original, adventurous, and FUN Regency romance!

When Mari Lamarre parachutes into Dorset, she literally lands on top of Sir Cosmo Dunsmore in a cornfield as he returns from a night of debauchery. Annoyed by the shockingly improper and infuriatingly alluring rake (who can’t wrap his still-drunk head around what he’s seeing), her attitude quickly changes when she realizes who he is: the son of the Marquess of Aldridge, the very man she’s investigating, and her ticket into his house. Faking an injury, Mari convinces an unwitting Cosmo to carry her into the house of the man she intends to destroy. And her luck gets even better. It turns out the Marquess is fascinated with the emerging world of aeronautics and extends Mari an invitation to use his grounds to practice for her upcoming London exhibition. Soon her flying brothers – and fellow spies – arrive, and the three of them get down to work, the brothers canvassing the countryside and village taverns while Mari searches Aldridge’s house for the evidence she needs.

But Cosmo is no dunce, and he is quick to catch on to the fact that his angel is hiding something. He’s fascinated by Mari, who is unlike any woman he’s ever known. So it’s really her own fault that he catches her mid-snoop since he can’t take his eyes off of her. But when he learns why she’s there and what she suspects his father of, he becomes determined to prove otherwise. In the process, he begins to learn more about his father and the burdens he shoulders, and Cosmo starts to do some long overdue growing up. Things get even more complicated when he and Mari finally become lovers. (Things do get a little wild and a whole lot of hot between them, but I found it all to be tastefully done.) As if her profession weren’t already dangerous enough, a series of accidents turns out to be anything but, and Cosmo is forced to accept that not only might his father be a traitor, but someone is trying to kill the woman he loves – and he may be the only person who can save them both.

There is much to love in this sparkling novel from Diana Quincy. The hero and heroine are fresh and engaging, and even the supporting characters have real dimension. The banter between Mari and Cosmo is peppered with wicked dialogue and full of sexy double entendres. And the best part? It has a real plot! I know my above recap seems rather vague, but I don’t want to risk spoiling it for anyone. I was burning through the pages as secrets unraveled and new twists were revealed. There are real obstacles standing between Mari and Cosmo’s happily ever after – no contrived plot points or annoying misunderstandings here. And the entire story is underscored by Mari’s love for balloons and parachuting, and the author has obviously done her research to make that aspect of the story come to life authentically and believably.

I’m bumping it down a notch for some modern language, and because the final resolution of the mystery doesn’t play out quite as I’d thought it would, veering too much into melodrama instead of the poignant turn I was hoping for. I’m left with some questions, but I’m thinking those might be addressed in the next book in the series, which I’ve already added to my wishlist. If you’re like me, always looking for something different in a historical romance, and if you like your romance with healthy doses of sass and sex, add Spy Fall to your list.

The Stepsister’s Triumph (Regency Makeover #2) by Darcie Wilde

The Stepsister's Triumph

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Madelene Valmeyer has never felt welcome in her father’s house. The daughter of his first wife, she will be one of the richest heiresses in England when she turns twenty-five. But for now, Madelene is just a miserably shy girl, tormented mercilessly by her stepmother and three half-siblings. Nearly unable to function socially, Madelene certainly can’t see that Benedict Pelham, the artistic son of a marquis, is falling in love with her.

Benedict Pelham hates London society, blaming its endless seductions for the death of his brilliant first wife. But in quiet, beautiful Madelene, Benedict believes he’s finally found his chance to begin life again.

Madelene, though, is done being quiet. With the help of her friends and fellow wallflowers, she is preparing to transform from shy mouse to brilliant Miss. But social success has a high price—is Madelene prepared to pay with her heart?

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Publisher and Release Date: Intermix, April 19, 2016

RHR Classifications:

Time and Setting: Regency London
Genre: Historical Romance (novella)
Heat Level: 1.5
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

Madelene Valmeyer is an heiress living with ungrateful and selfish relatives who constantly guilt-trip her into giving them more money to pay off their trivial debts, much to the irritation of her long-suffering trustee. She’s a very reserved and shy young woman whose meekness sometimes borders on the pathetic. I found myself constantly wanting her to toughen up and be a big girl and stand up to her good-for-nothing family, like her good friend, the strong-willed bluestocking, Hélène. Madelene is more like a kicked puppy.

And I have to wonder about Benedict Pelham’s own motivation when he only seems to want to protect and save Madelene from her parasitic family. He somehow sees the attractive woman hiding inside the meek façade but honestly, I don’t really see how he could, given the extremely humble way that she presents herself. Perhaps their one enlightening conversation about the painting he creates of her in the first chapter at the gallery provides a tiny clue but before that, he only saw her spying on him when he was commissioned to paint another work at a mutual acquaintance’s house party. So how he made the leap from the timidity he sees to guessing at the genuine woman inside is sort of a mystery to me. But after the drama of Benedict’s tragic first marriage, Madelene’s submissiveness is exactly what attracts him in the first place.

Benedict is an artist and widower, whose first wife’s death causes great speculation and gossip in the ton. He is drawn to Madelene but fears he isn’t good enough for her because, well, he’s an artist, something that wasn’t exactly an acceptable occupation in Regency England.

Madelene and Benedict are a very quiet and understated couple so their passion isn’t very passionate. Their weaknesses – her lack of self confidence, his past demons – aren’t absorbing enough to merit the great conflict of why they cannot be together.

As in the previous novella, Madelene’s best friends Adele (The Bride Behind the Curtain) and Hélène (the next novella) support her and one another in their common quest to conquer London society by dressing well and entertaining the most important names in the aristocracy. Their unconventional chaperone, Deborah Sewell, a novelist (gasp!), continues to intrigue this reader with her secretive and colorful life as she guides and advises her young protégées. I hope Ms. Wilde writes her story in this Regency Makeover series, as she’s a fascinating character.

However, Ms. Wilde does write well – I very much enjoyed her provocative début, Lord of the Rakes – and her pacing is good, keeping the story moving along at a steady clip. This series reads like a serial in that it is presented in installments without a true resolved ending for each of the stories so far. That’s not a complaint, merely an observation. Ultimately, The Stepsister’s Triumph is disappointing, and I just didn’t find Madelene or Benedict very exciting. Likeable – yes. But also a trifle boring.