SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: The Countess’ Captive by Andrea Cefalo

04_The Countess' Captive_Blog Tour Banner_FINAL

Purchase Links: Amazon * ~ * ~ * Barnes and Noble * ~ * ~ * Smashwords * ~ * ~ * Kobo

During March of 1248, Adelaide Schumacher-affectionately called Snow White-has lost so much: her mother, her possessions, and now her home.

Adelaide hates abandoning her home city, her family’s legacy, and her first love?Ivo. More than anything, she hates her father growing closer to her mother’s cousin, Galadriel. Adelaide plots to end their tryst before her fate is sealed, and she never sets foot in Cologne again.

But good and pious can only get Galadriel so far. Never again will she be destitute. Never again will she be known by the cruel moniker “Cinderella”. Never again will someone take what is rightfully hers. No matter what it takes.

The Countess’ Captive is the much anticipated follow-up to The Fairytale Keeper and is book two in The Fairytale Keeper series. The novel combines Grimm’s fairytale characters with real historical settings and events to create a tale that leaves the reader wondering where fact ends and fiction begins.

Praise for The Fairytale Keeper Series

“A…resonant tale set late in the 13th century… with unexpected plot twists. An engaging story of revenge.” –Publisher’s Weekly

“Great historical fiction. Strong emotion injected into almost every page.” –Amazon Vine Reviewer

“…a unique twist on the Grimm’s Fairy Tales. Part fairy tale retelling, part historical fiction… The Fairytale Keeper is a story of corruption.” -Copperfield Historical Fiction Review

“The story that Cefalo weaves is intriguing and leaves you hanging on, wanting more.” -Hooked to Books Book Review Blog

“…it doesn’t feel like any retelling. Because it’s not. The Fairytale Keeper is its own unique story…very entertaining, containing a strong female role, a sweet romance, and much more.” -Lulu The Bookworm Book Review Blog

EXCERPT

The night prior, Adelaide used the gatekeeper’s cutters to free a heretic. As their carriage rolls past the gate to leave Cologne, Addie overhears guards arresting the gatekeeper, Gregor. Addie’s father, Ansel, quickly realizes his daughter had a part to play in this and questions her. Galadriel, Ansel’s mistress and Addie’s rival, risks her own safety to try to rescue the gatekeeper.

03_The Countess' Captive_Cover“What do you know of this?” Father looms above me.

I avert my gaze. Should I tell him?

“Adelaide!”

“I freed Elias last night…and I used Gregor’s cutters to do it.”

“Stop the carriage!” Father barks.

The carriage halts abruptly, rocking Galadriel and Father forward.

“How am I to fix this, Adelaide?” Silence lingers between us, for I haven’t an answer he’ll accept. He snatches me up by the collar. “Answer me, girl.” His scream scalds the side of my face, and I brace for his strike.

It doesn’t come.

I peel one eye open and then the other. Galadriel’s hand rests lightly upon Father’s arm, the arm that holds me in a steel grip.

Her voice, thin as a whisper, says, “I know what to do.”

Father’s grip lightens, and I slip to the ground. “Wait.” His angry gaze darts to me for a moment. Then, his face
falls. “She is my daughter. She is my responsibility.”

She grasps the sides of Father’s face, her pretty blue eyes catching his gaze. “Ansel, look at me. I am a countess.

They shall listen to me, and if not–” She looks down, her full lips curling into a girlish grin. “Well, there is nothing in this world that coin cannot buy.”

She rises, knocking on the carriage to summon the driver. She takes a deep breath and straightens her back. The door opens, and she ducks out. The driver holds out his hand, and she takes it like a queen. I push my back against the seat and watch her through a slit in the shutter from the safety of a carriage.

“You should have come to me,” Father hisses.

“You were angry with me.” A weak defense.

“I am still angry with you! You do not think. Of course, Konrad would have his guards searching Airsbach for the culprit. It is where he thought this rebellion started. How could you not have thought of that?” He shakes his head. “Freeing Elias was a selfish and reckless thing to do.”

“Selfish?! I saved a man’s life and risked my own to do it.”

“You saved yourself from a guilty conscience. By saving Elias from the stocks, you’ve sent him to the stake, and you may send Gregor with him.”

Galadriel saves him as we speak, I think, but the words are too bitter to speak.

“What if we parted earlier or later, Adelaide?” Father continues. “Do you think the archbishop will be a forgiving man today, after his cathedral has burned?”

“No,” I reply.

“What do you think would have happened if those guards had already arrested Gregor?” he asks. “Let me tell you. Gregor would be in the North Tower right now. Konrad would have him tortured. If Gregor yielded, then there’d be a bounty on your head. If Gregor did not, then Konrad would burn him at the stake. Did you think of that?”

“No, you didn’t,” he continues before I have chance to speak. “And Elias, he shall never yield, Adelaide. He’s a heretic according to every law. He’ll die a heretic’s death, taking any followers, any associates with him. He’ll not think twice for doing so. The man believes himself a martyr.”

“You didn’t see him last night. So many days in the stocks would make any man cautious,” I say.

“Did so many days in the stocks make you cautious?”

GIVEAWAY

To enter to win a Fairytale Keeper Clutch Purse & $25 Amazon Gift Card please complete the giveaway form below.

Clutch Purse Giveaway

* Giveaway is open to US residents only.
* Giveaway ends at 11:59pm on April 17th.
* You must be 18 or older to enter.
* Only one entry per household.
* All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspect of fraud is decided upon by blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrants may be disqualified at our discretion.
* Winner will be chosen via GLEAM on April 18th and notified via email. Winner have 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

The Countess’ Captive

Take the The Countess’ Captive Playbuzz Quiz

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

01_Andrea Cefalo_Author Pic 2Andrea Cefalo is an award-winning author and blogger on Medieval Europe. The next three novels in The Fairytale Keeper series will debut in 2015 and 2016. She resides in Greenville, South Carolina with her husband and their two border collies. For more information please visit Andrea Cefalo’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Expressly Yours, Samantha by Becky Lower

expressly yours

Purchase Now from Amazon.

Samantha Hughes has one day to escape from her wicked uncle, and a sign in the post office is her answer. She’ll cut her hair to pose as a man and become Sam Hughes, a Pony Express rider.

Valerian Fitzpatrick doesn’t want the weight of responsibility that his brothers have in the family business. Fortunately, the Pony Express offers a chance to make his own way in the world.

He assumes his new buddy, Sam, is on the run from the law, until she’s hit by a stray gunshot and he has to undress her to staunch the wound. Friendship quickly turns to attraction—and more—but when Sam’s uncle tracks her down, she is forced to run yet again.

Val’s determined to find her, but will a future with Sam mean giving up the freedom he’s always craved?

add-to-goodreads-button

Publisher and Release Date: Crimson Romance, March 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Colonial America
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Susan

A charming love story, Expressly Yours, Samantha delves into the Colonial American lore that romanticizes the Pony Express, the first government funded mail service in America. Terms like “stagecoach stations,” “hitching posts,” and “pioneer wagon trails” have meaning as the author incorporates the vernacular of early Americans into the story. It’s a short history lesson about a part of American culture that is rarely visited in high school textbooks.

Though Becky Lower shows a broad knowledge base of the terms that were common in Colonial America, she isn’t able to separate herself from common 21st century lingo such as “mean dude,” “subterfuge,” and “protect [their] way of life” when referring to the Native American Indians who are referred to as “Injuns” but never savages which they would’ve been by Colonial Americans. The author’s compassion towards American Indians is present throughout the story. Such modern ideas and concepts are scattered throughout the book, which at the heart is about Samantha Hughes and Valerian Fitzpatrick, both Pony Express riders.

Sam must pass for a boy in order to be a rider, a job she wants because of her love of horses and the chance to be on her own and away from her abusive uncle who wants to sell her to a bordello Madame. Val’s reason requires more speculation on the part of the reader, assuming that he enjoys working with horses. Unlike Sam, he is close to his family who loves and protects him in return.

The author enlightens readers about the pledge which the riders must take, a type of knight’s oath of fealty to his liege lord. Although Sam’s situation is very different from Val’s, the two find a common link in their joy in riding and taking care of horses, and their desire to perform an important service for their country. Their integrity is inspiring, though the author does more telling of the tale than of expressing what the characters feel and what sparks their emotions. The writing lacks a personal touch and tends to lay out the action rather than putting the characters, and by extension the readers, in the middle of it.

The premise entices readers of romantic fiction but the minor complication involving Sam’s uncle, who interferes in her life, is pushed into the story to create friction. It’s overly dramatic and takes away from the story’s plausibility. Perhaps it’s my 21st century mind which sees it that way, but it was very convenient when Sam’s uncle seemed to be prescient and was able to locate her – though she left no trail – and deduce that she was disguising herself as a boy to be a Pony Express rider. There is no evidence to suggest he could figure it out on his own. In fact, Sam’s uncle is constantly described as being ignorant.

The love story between Sam and Val, however, buds nicely and believably. Their affection for one another feels genuine and Val’s protective nature, which is spurred on by Sam, fits his character. They are a couple that is made to be together.

Expressly Yours, Samantha charms readers with a romantic pair made to be together and set in the backdrop of Colonial America. Though the author misses the opportunity to describe the stretch of prairies and plains which the riders cross to deliver the mail, it focuses mostly is on what is important, the bond between Sam and Val, which puts emphasis on humans being loving to each other.

One Wicked Weekend (novella) by Charlotte Russell

one wicked weekendPurchase Now from Amazon

Hugh Drake attended the scandalous house party to help a friend, but what he found was a woman he could never relinquish.

FROM THIS NIGHT FORWARD

As a newcomer to Lord Bruton’s scandalous house party, Hugh Drake was to choose first from the proffered female flesh. He would take the woman whose eyes and body excited him most, whose lips and tongue would do all of the things he had been told a true lady never did. He would select the woman who would need all he wanted to give—and less. He would choose she who showed him both strength and desperation, and who would be the answer to his secret mission. He would choose an angel and a temptress, a protégé and a partner. He would choose his future wife.

add-to-goodreads-button

Publisher and Release Date: Boroughs Publishing Group, December 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Regency England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2.5
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

Ever since I read my first F. Scott Fitzgerald story in college several years ago, I have enjoyed and appreciated the brief format of short stories and novellas. It’s a skilled writer who can weave a tight and engaging story, with characters the reader cares about, in a small number of pages, and then reach a satisfying and happy resolution. Charlotte Russell, whose first book, A Spy’s Honor, I glowingly reviewed here a few months ago, has achieved that in this delightful house party romance.

Hugh Drake is a handsome and honorable gentleman, who resists his natural youthful and lustful sexual urges with a conscience drilled into him by his beloved grandmother. He is a kind and likable fellow with a solid sense of honor and duty.

Hugh is at Lord Bruton’s country house party – or, rather, orgy – to search for and retrieve a provocative and incriminating letter written by his friend’s fiancée. While there, he meets Catherine Trent, who he at first believes is playing the role of a stern-faced and serious governess, alongside three other women “entertaining” the gentlemen at the house party: a shepherdess, a milkmaid, and a housemaid.

The lurid plans of the party are for four gentlemen to indulge with a different woman for four days and nights. Initially, Hugh selects Catherine because he senses that she doesn’t really want to be there, a fact that pricks his protectiveness and sets off warning bells since he thought that all the ladies were there voluntarily. He wishes to shield her from the dissolute activities, a fact that Catherine finds charming, incredible, and endearing.

But Catherine doesn’t want Hugh to be too honorable, especially since she needs the money that Bruton has promised her for her willful participation in the party’s debauched festivities, and is prepared to do whatever she needs to do to secure it. Besides, she’s also very attracted to Hugh. But he steadfastly and reluctantly refuses her advances and charms with great difficulty. Hugh offers to pay her the promised money and take her to his pious grandmother for safety until she can procure a suitable position as a governess.

The affinity between Hugh and Catherine is infectious. They get to know each other during the party’s raunchy daily games and wagers as well as the candid conversations in their shared bedchamber. In public, they must pretend to be completely besotted with each other so they won’t have to change partners while remaining chaste in their bed, something that isn’t too hard to fake. But when Bruton begins to get irritated at Hugh’s apparent unwillingness to share and exchange bedmates, they realize that their time together is dangerously limited.

The secondary story of Hugh’s secret hunt for the damaging letter pairs nicely with the budding romance between Hugh and Catherine. Each learns of their respective pasts and secrets as the romance grows ever stronger.

Catherine is a refreshing and no-nonsense young woman, brave in the face of being a woman alone and without family in Regency England. She doesn’t cry and give up in frustration; she is determined to make the best of things and gets out of sticky situations with bravado and quick thinking.

Hugh eventually comes to appreciate Catherine’s independent and unorthodox views on life; he realizes she is more free than he is. The way these two find a common ground is presented in a sweet and fun way.

The sex scenes are scorching hot but always manage to advance the story. The sex games at the house party are shocking and wild but the way that Hugh and Catherine maneuver (and survive) them is quick-witted and funny.

One Wicked Weekend is a very amusing and entertaining novella. Charlotte Russell writes with a joyous and lighthearted quality and her characters are worth caring about. She is an author with promise and I want to read more.

To Save a Lady by Patricia Preston

to save a ladyPurchase Now from Amazon

A DARING MASQUERADE
A move from Paris to New Orleans brings disaster to Elise Plaisance’s predictable life as a lady’s maid. The son of her grief-stricken mistress disappears, and Elise becomes involved in a web of deceit when she turns to a cunning gentleman for help finding the missing boy.

A CAPTAIN BEWITCHED
Captain Jesse Cross has journeyed to New Orleans with General Jackson’s army, but his biggest battle is one of the heart when he falls for a French girl cloaked in mystery. With the city on the brink of war, their romance is born in the darkness of a moonlit courtyard and never meant to last forever.

A FUTURE IMPERILED
Deceived by an adversary and haunted by her tragic past, Elise must risk everything to rescue her mistress’s son before all is lost, and Jesse knows he has to stop her even if it means sacrificing his life to save a lady.

add-to-goodreads-button

Publisher and Release Date: River Oaks Press, November 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and setting: 1814, New Orleans, Louisiana
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Rating: 5 Stars

Reviewed by Vikki

Elise Plaisance is a young lady’s maid to Madame, a woman who saved her from a horrific experience when she was ten years old. She will do anything for Madame, even if it means staying in New Orleans on the eve of battle. Madame’s fourteen-year-old son has run away, and she has already lost two children and her husband. Elise greatly fears that her mistress will grieve herself to death, so she leaves the plantation and comes to the city to look for the boy.

Captain Jesse Cross is part of General Jackson’s staff and has arrived in New Orleans to defend the city against a British attack. When walking down a street in the French Quarter, he senses someone following him. He wheels around and grabs the cloaked figure and to his astonishment, he discovers it is a woman. He is further astounded when the masked young woman tells him she is his liaison between certain individuals desiring to help his general defeat the British.

They make arrangements to meet in a courtyard on the Rue d’Orleans to pass information. If she either of them have anything to impart, they must tie a red ribbon on the carriageway gate as a signal to meet at midnight. During these brief encounters, Jesse is enthralled by the mysterious Rose and aches to see her face. When she finally unveils herself, by removing her mask and telling him about her mission, he loses his heart, even though he believes he can never claim her as his own.

Can Jesse protect Elise from harm, even against her own reckless behavior to save the young boy, or will he lose her forever?

Ms. Preston has written an emotionally-charged story with unforgettable characters. Elise is an incredibly brave and loyal young woman willing to face any danger to find Madame’s young son, even if it means spying for a greedy creole gentleman. She is fearless and determined, and never allows herself to lose sight of her goal. The author is a true master in clearly revealing the goal, motivation and conflict for her heroine.

Her hero is a chief, willing to endanger his life ‘to save a lady’. He is a true leader of men and as fearless and honorable as Elise. His only fault is his domineering insistence on protecting Elise from harm. I love a well-written chief archetype, and in To Save a Lady, Ms. Preston gives me a chief I can love. His willingness to sacrifice himself to fulfill his promise to Elise made my heart melt for his loyalty to the woman he loves.

The plot is well-drawn and the characters are given many facets to their personalities. The tale is steeped in historical detail, bringing to life what it must have been like in the days leading up to the Battle of New Orleans.

The passion between Elise and Jesse is sensual and deeply emotional. While there is explicit language and description, it is the underlying emotions that carry the love scenes. Ms. Preston’s writing brings us up close and personal with the hero and heroine and had me waiting with batted breath to see how they could ever find their HEA. To Save a Lady is an unforgettable tale of love and sacrifice that grabbed me from the first page and held me in its thrall to the very end and I recommend it most highly.

AUDIO REVIEW: Deadly Engagement by Lucinda Brant, narrated by Alex Wyndham

deadly engagement

Available from Audible via Amazon

Spring 1763. Career diplomat Alec Halsey returns to London to the shocking news his estranged brother, the Earl of Delvin, has not only killed his friend in a duel but is engaged to the woman Alec hoped to marry. The dead man’s mother wants Alec to investigate, so he reluctantly attends a weekend house party celebrating the engagement. Houseguests get more than they bargained for when a lady’s maid is murdered, the bride-to-be is attacked, and a guest is shot dead. Uncovering a connection between these sinister acts and his brother’s duel, Alec confronts a cruel twist of fate and why his brother will go to any lengths to ruin him in Polite Society.

add-to-goodreads-button

Publisher and Release Date: Springleaf Pty Ltd, January 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: England, 1763
Genre: Historical Mystery/Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Wendy

Deadly Engagement is a primarily a murder mystery which also features a gently moving romance that does not detract from the devious and sinister goings on.

Alec Halsey has returned from an overseas assignment with the Foreign Department after an eight month absence. A highly intelligent man left to make his way in the world, he is the second son of an earl who nevertheless revels in being allowed to be his own man. I found this description of him early in the story set the scene and firmly embedded him in my mind:

But there was no insolence in the kind, friendly blue eyes that crinkled at the corners; no fancy airs and affected voice like so many visitors to St. Neot’s house. Even the clothes this gentleman wore were not out of the ordinary – no silver lacings, no frothy lace at his wrists, no diamond buckles in the tongue of his leather shoes – just good dark cloth, a plain linen cravat, and shoes without high heels.

Alec and his brother Edward, the Earl of Delvin are at complete odds with each other. Widely believed to have been the result of an affair on the part of his mother, Alex was disowned by his father and brought up by his eccentric uncle, Plantaganet Halsey. Rumours, however, persist that Alex is in fact the elder son, but although Alec has no interest whatsoever in the earldom, his brother doubts this and always sarcastically refers to Alec as “Second”.

Thwarted in love six years previously when the woman he loved was forced to renounce him and compelled to marry against her will, Alec still believes that if she had truly loved him she would have eloped with him when given the chance. Now Selena Jamieson-Lewis is newly widowed, having suffered for her decision with six horrifying years of brutality at the hands of her late husband. Alec nevertheless believes himself ready to move on, but returns to find the object of his flimsy affection, Emily, granddaughter of his godmother Olivia, Duchess of St-Neot’s, just affianced to his despised brother.

Alec has also returned to a mystery. Jack Belsay, an old school friend and Selena’s cousin has died following a duel with Delvin that was fought under rather suspicious circumstances. Alec is asked to investigate by Jack’s grieving mother and although there is no love lost between them, he is not happy to believe his brother guilty of murder. He reluctantly attends the house party arranged to celebrate the engagement of Devlin and Emily – but the proceedings are interrupted by murder, attempted rape, attempted blackmail and some pretty promiscuous behaviour. All the while Delvin, with the aid of Justice Lord Gervais is intent on pointing the finger of suspicion at Alec.

While all this is going on, Alec and Selena begin to rekindle their lost love, although as I said previously this in no way overshadows the mystery – it just adds a spark.

Narrator Alex Wyndham’s perfect pitch and range of voices is quite remarkable. Alec Halsey comes over as honourable and intelligently sexy, always recognisable even when in conversation with others of a similar age, such as his friend Cosmo, who is depicted as bouncy and ‘hale-fellow-well-met’. There is one conversation which sticks in my mind between the Duchess of St-Neot’s – elderly and plummy voiced – and the outrageous and belligerent Plantagenet Halsey which is hilarious, the Duchess’ voice getting higher and higher and the gravely undertones of Uncle Plan trying to pacify her. It’s a long conversation and Mr Wyndham carries it off with skill and humour. The description in the book of Justice Lord Gervais is “fleshy florid face and a morose disposition” and Mr Wyndham nails him, the grumpy, cocky know-it-all judge, is immediately recognisable whenever he speaks, showing his dislike and distaste for Plantagenet Halsey who winds him up and then walks away on numerous occasions – one can almost hear the steam erupting from his ears! The book boasts a magnificent cast of characters, all of whom are perfectly captured by Alex Wyndham, whose evident enjoyment of the telling of the story is obvious.

Lucinda Brant’s research into the fashions, furnishings and customs of the period are stunning and descriptive. I was sorry the story ended on a bit of a cliff hanger as far as Alec and Selena are concerned but there are more books in the series which I hope will rectify that! The plot, with its twists and turns, kept me riveted and the outcome is very clever.

Overall, Deadly Engagement is a fabulous story, made all the more so by the addition of the fantastic Alex Wyndham. I’m eagerly looking forward to the next in the series.

Secrets of a Scandalous Heiress by Theresa Romain

scandalous heiressPurchase Now from Amazon

ONE GOOD PROPOSITION DESERVES ANOTHER . . .

Heiress Augusta Meredith can’t help herself—she stirs up gossip wherever she goes. A stranger to Bath society, she pretends to be a charming young widow, until sardonic, darkly handsome Joss Everett arrives from London and uncovers her charade.

Now they’ll weave their way through the pitfalls of the polite world only if they’re willing to be true to themselves . . . and to each other . . . .

add-to-goodreads-button

Publisher and Release Date: Sourcebooks Casablanca, January 2015

Time and Setting: Bath, England
Genre: Regency Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 Stars

Review by Lady Wesley

Theresa Romain is a new-to-me-author, but based upon this book, I will definitely be reading her other titles. I picked this one because it sounded different from so many other Regency romances, and I was not disappointed.

Hero without title or fortune. Check. Joss Everett is an Anglo-Indian with no fortune who toils as secretary to cousin, the indolent Lord Sutcliffe.

Heroine without title or prospects. Check. Augusta Meredith is wealthy, yes, but as heiress to her father’s beauty products company, she is not accepted as a member of the ton.

Setting outside London. Check. When Augusta’s friend Lady Tallant needs to take the waters of Bath, Augusta goes along as her companion. For reasons not entirely clear at first, Augusta decides to masquerade as “Mrs. Flowers,” a respectable widow, and since practically nobody in Bath knows her, she can get away with it.

We soon learn that Augusta has decided that she needs to take a lover, one who does not know that she is fabulously wealthy. She is finding the task challenging, however, until she encounters Joss Everett. He knows who she really is, but he agrees not to reveal her identity.

Joss is an intriguing character. He has worked for many years as a man of business to his cousin Lord Sutcliffe. Sutcliffe, who is being blackmailed, promises Joss one hundred pounds if he finds the blackmailer. Joss has followed the trail to Bath, where one of the blackmail notes was posted. He desperately wants the money so he can leave his cousin’s employ. Sutcliffe is utterly self-centered and treats his cousin abominably, but we don’t quite hate him because he is so clueless about his behavior. At times, he is almost funny.

Joss reluctantly accepts Augusta’s help in searching for the blackmailer, and she arranges for him to meet several gentlemen who might have knowledge that would help. At the same time, Joss and Augusta are becoming closer to one another and moving from flirtation to attraction to intimacy, where they finally can show their true selves.

The progress of their romance is beautifully revealed through long conversations between them. Although there is a mystery, there is not a lot of action, but the dialogue and the introduction of several secondary characters keeps the air of suspense alive.

Theresa Romain excels at creating interesting, complex characters – not just the hero and heroine but the supporting players as well. Augusta’s friend, Emily, Lady Tallant, has a small but heart-breaking role. Lord Sutcliffe is a typical wealthy, spoiled aristocrat, but he has a few redeeming qualities. Lord Chatfield, who helps Joss with his investigation, is charming but rather intimidating in his vast power.

Ms Romain’s talent for dialogue stands out, from witty banter to heartfelt confessions between Joss and Augusta, and her characters’ voices are true to the period. She also paints a vivid picture of Bath – from the climate to the geography to the familiar sites such as the Pump Room.

Even though I occasionally became impatient with conversations that lasted longer than I would have liked, I truly cannot criticize anything about this book. It was a pleasure to read from start to finish.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Miss Winters Proposes by Frances Fowlkes

MissWintersProposes500

An unseemly proposal…

Juliet Winters has come up with a wonderfully devious plan to avoid marrying her vile cur of a cousin. First, she’ll propose marriage to her handsome, reclusive neighbor, Lord Colwyn. Then, once she has both name and financial support, she’ll be able to pursue her true (if rather unladylike) passion — breeding dogs. But when Lord Colwyn rejects her proposal… Juliet must take matters into her own hands.

The last thing Benjamin Colwyn expected was for the spirited Juliet to blackmail him into marriage — especially not by kidnapping his beloved canine companion. Yet despite his yearning for peace and isolation, he finds himself wanting to help her, if only to protect her from a marriage to a disreputable scoundrel. He certainly doesn’t expect the woman who pilfered his dog to steal his heart, as well…

add-to-goodreads-button

Purchase Links: Amazon * ~ * ~ * Barnes & Noble * ~ * ~ * iTunes

EXCERPT

“Aren’t you the least bit curious to know why I went against social mores to call on you and ask for your hand?” The slight lilt in her question betrayed her nerves.

His gaze fixed on hers. “Since you have claimed disinterest in the viscountcy and have no need of my meager income, what with the riches of your own dowry to offer, I can only presume it was desperation that compelled you, Miss Winters.”

“Yes, but not the kind—”

“To which I take offense.”

Juliet’s mouth hung open. Did he think she carried another man’s child or some other equally outrageous scheme? Why, the only pregnant one involved in this whole mess was his bitch.

This was not going at all as she had planned. He was supposed to thank her for her thoughtfulness and the willingness to perpetuate his line—something she did not even wish to do. “I did not mean to offend, sir. I meant it as a—”

“A compliment?” He peered at her with a pair of questioning eyes. “I am to believe, then, that being proposed to by a woman at the very last inch of her rope, one who has admitted to being driven by desperation to ask for my hand, is a compliment to my character?”

Well, when he put it that way, she didn’t suppose it was. “I hold your character in the highest regard, sir. Indeed, it was why I sought you above your peers. I thought perhaps if I were to—”

“Forgive me for not conceding to your request, but I find I cannot accept your offer, regardless of your reasons for coming here.”

Juliet gaped. Forcing her mouth into motion, she uttered, “But—but, perhaps if you knew my circumstances, you would then realize how I—”

“You must understand, should any other woman come seeking my hand, I would deny her as well. I do not wish to marry, nor do I have any plans to do so in the future.” He tugged on his cuffs, adjusting the fit of his tailored jacket. “Now, if there is nothing else you wish to ask me, I have some pressing business that requires my attention.”

She had been dismissed, tossed aside as though she were an unwanted piece of toast at a harried breakfast.

But Juliet was not finished. She had desperation on her side. And desperate people were…well, desperate. And persistent if nothing else.

“There is one last thing.” Exasperation drenched her words, but she stared at the man with determination.

The reluctant viscount closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose. “And what is that?”

“As you have refused my offer, you now force my hand.”

“Miss Winters, please. I have important business—”

“Agree to marry me, my lord, or you will never see your prize English pointer in whelp again.”

GIVEAWAY

TO WIN AN eCOPY OF MISS WINTERS PROPOSES, ENTER AT RAFFLECOPTER. THE GIVEAWAY IS OPEN FOR SEVEN DAYS, AND THE WINNER WILL BE NOTIFIED SHORTLY AFTER THE CLOSING DATE.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

francesFrances Fowlkes lives in South Carolina with her high school sweetheart, three red-headed sons, and a spoiled standard poodle. When not writing about ardent heroes or strong-willed heroines, she enjoys spending time with her family, fangirling, and planning her next vacation.

You can connect with Frances here:   @francesfowlkes * ~ * ~ * Facebook * ~ * ~ * Website * ~ * ~ * Pinterest * ~ * ~ * Instagram

VIRTUAL TOUR: Of Silk and Steam by Bec McMaster

LondonSteampunk-QuizImageB

PURCHASE LINKS: Amazon * ~ * ~ * BAM * ~ * ~ *
B&N
* ~ * ~ * Chapters * ~ * ~ * Indiebound * ~ * ~ * iTunes * ~ * ~ * Kobo

ENEMIES. ALLIES. LOVERS.
When her beloved father was assassinated, Lady Aramina swore revenge. The man responsible is well beyond her grasp, but his dangerously seductive heir, Leo Barrons, is fair game. When Mina obtains evidence proving that Leo is illegitimate, she has the means to destroy both the killer and his son, a man who troubles her heart and tempts her body.

A woman of mystery, Mina’s long driven Leo crazy with glimpses of a fiery passion that lurks beneath her icy veneer. He knows she’s hiding something, and he’s determined to unravel her layer by silken layer. He just doesn’t expect the beautiful liar to be the key to overthrowing the corrupt prince consort… or to saving his own carefully walled-off heart.

EXCERPT

Barrons looked at her. “Do you trust me?”

“No.” His father would have cut her down without thinking, but Barrons was an enigma. If he were a different man, she would have enjoyed his attentions, but a part of her couldn’t help wondering if his pursuit of her was just a way to get closer, to slip the knife in when she least expected it…

Could she trust that he meant her no harm?

His hand tightened around hers, dark heat sweeping through his irises. He focused on her so intently that she could almost feel it on her skin. “Then let us call a temporary truce for tonight. I shall help you escape. In return…”

“Yes?”

His voice roughened. “I want a kiss.”

A kiss. Tension slid sinuously along her limbs, each muscle clenching. Those motives she could certainly understand.

It didn’t mean she had to like them.

Wariness spread through her as he lifted his hand and slowly, carefully brushed the back of his fingers against her lips. She didn’t flinch. Instead she tipped her chin up and glared him down. “Help me escape and I shall grant you such a liberty.” What harm could a single kiss do? “Until then”—she took a step back, her skirts swishing around her ankles—“I’ll thank you to keep your hands to yourself.”

His hand dropped but the ghostly sensation of that touch lingered, reminding her that it had been a long time since she’d been touched in any way intimately, and never like this. Never…soft. Full of gentleness, as if the very sensation of her skin beneath his was a pleasure in itself, not merely a step to greater satisfaction.

He was far more dangerous than she’d ever suspected, and she’d known, since the first moment she’d met him, that he was dangerous indeed. He was the only man who had ever managed to make her feel something.

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 3rd March, 2015
Time and Setting: Victorian London (alternate)
Genre: Paranormal Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2.5
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 Stars

Review by Jenny Q

9781402291944I love this series! And if you’re a fan of smart, exciting, sexy historical romance with complex characters and a paranormal twist, you will too! Books one and two are fantastic, and there’s a novella in between that’s also great, books three and four are good – though the romance and excitement don’t quite live up to the bar set by the first two, in my opinion – but this, the fifth, brings the series right back up to top-notch reading pleasure.

Bec McMaster has created a fantastic story world set in an alternate version of Victorian England where steam and clockwork are advancing technology and aristocratic blue-bloods (pre-vampires) lord over the lower classes of humans and verwulfen, with the Echelon, the council of dukes, led by the wicked Prince Consort, ruling over them all. But humans are tired of being used and abused by the blue-bloods, and as unrest grows not only among the lower classes but among the upper class as well, the discontented are organizing. The humanist movement has formed and has been strategically taking shots at the Echelon wherever they can, and the moment they’ve been preparing for is finally upon them thanks to an unlikely pair of catalysts.

We first met Leo Barrons in book one, Kiss of Steel, where we learned that he’s the illegitimate son of one of the most powerful dukes in the realm and half-brother to the three Todd siblings. Leo has long struggled to find his place, forced to be a part of the Echelon, yet increasingly sympathetic to the humanist movement, and increasingly attracted to Lady Aramina Duvall, one of only two female blue-bloods known to exist, and the only one with a vote on the council. That literally makes her the most dangerous woman in England. When Leo’s deepest secret is exposed and a price is put on his head, he has nowhere to turn but to his siblings, who are up to their ears in treasonous plots. With nothing left to lose, he places his trust in the very woman who may have betrayed him, and who could end up being his final downfall . . . or his salvation. But Mina has secrets of her own, and when they come to light, the world as they know it will never be the same.

I love this romance because the hero and heroine are made for each other, but their journey to figuring that out is full of angst and emotion which makes the payoff so much sweeter. Mina is a fiercely independent woman who has had to fight for her position, her power, and her very life at every turn. She’s been able to rely on no one but herself, and her greatest fear is that falling for a man will be her ruin. And Leo is a lonely hero longing to belong to someone, to find the happiness and security his sisters have found, to have someone he can trust by his side as he forges a new identity for himself. When these two get together, the sparks are off the charts. But as they are forced to choose sides, the danger they are facing is very real, and they will have to determine what they are willing to sacrifice for freedom, for family, and for love.

One of the things that I felt lacking in books three and four was that the characters from the previous books didn’t have enough of a presence, and since they’re all awesome and all working together toward a common goal, they should have. Finally, at the end of book four, the gang got together again, and they are all here in this book in significant roles, and it made my heart happy. The only thing I didn’t like, and the reason for the bump down from five stars, is that the ending really confused me. After some emotional twists and one heck of a showdown and romantic resolution, there was a revelation and a cryptic conversation that I couldn’t quite wrap my head around. So that was kind of frustrating and left me feeling like I didn’t have the closure I needed. Originally, this was supposed to be the last book in the series, but the ending implies that there could be more to come. I know there is at least one more couple that needs to have their own book, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed!

Each book in this series can be read as a stand-alone since they each focus on a different couple, but the beautiful thing about it is that, in addition to the romances, there is a broader plot arc that develops over the course of the books as the humanist movement prepares to take down the Prince Consort and the Echelon. In each book, new twists and turns arise, enemies and allies are revealed, and pieces are dropped into place, propelling the characters toward a revolution and a series climax. So to fully appreciate this magnificent and complex story world Bec McMaster has created, you should start at the beginning with Kiss of Steel. Seriously. Like, right now. You won’t be disappointed!

GIVEAWAY

a Rafflecopter giveaway

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

bec mcmasterBec McMaster lives in a small town in Victoria, Australia and grew up with her nose in a book. A member of RWA, RWA (Australia) and RWNZ, she writes sexy, dark paranormals and steampunk romance. When not writing, reading, or poring over travel brochures, she loves spending time with her very own hero or daydreaming about new worlds.

You can connect with Bec at: Facebook * ~ * ~ * Twitter * ~ * ~ * Website

The Lover’s Knot by Erin Satie

lover's knot

Purchase Now from Amazon

Memory is his weapon. Forgetting is her armor.

Sophie Roe was once a wealthy young lady, with an adoring fiancé. But that was ten years ago.

Now Sophie barely scrapes a living in trade. Her benefactor, the Duke of Clive, is dead. And the man she jilted is the new duke: rich, powerful, and determined to think the worst of Sophie.

Julian has never been able to forget Sophie. He intends to find out just why she rejected him—and why she’s lying about the old duke’s death.

Sophie is hopelessly entangled in the past. But as long-buried secrets and betrayals come to light, Julian may be the man to set her free…

add-to-goodreads-button

Publisher and Release Date: Little Phrase, December 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: 1839, Derbyshire, England
Genre: Historical Romance/Mystery
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

This original and rather unusual historical romance by Erin Satie is more a dramatic novel of manners than a true historical romance. There’s a melodramatic and sinister mystery plot running through the entire story, one that actually began years earlier and is still reverberating when the story begins. There’s also a love story, which I feel is almost secondary, between Julian (now a duke) and Sophie, Julian’s former fiancée and once a lady of wealth and prestige, who is now a spinster struggling and working for a living in trade.

Handsome and amiable, Julian has returned to his Derbyshire family estate after inheriting the dukedom unexpectedly. Ten years earlier, Sophie broke his heart when she abruptly ended their engagement and he has worked for the Foreign Office ever since. His return to the countryside is bittersweet, but he comes home to an unforseen mystery: the questionable circumstances surrounding the previous duke’s death. He also wants to discover the real reason Sophie ended their engagement.

The novel is presented more from Sophie’s point of view so I didn’t really get a feel for Julian’s character, which is disappointing since he’s an interesting and likeable hero. He’s a kind and forthright gentleman who has never stopped loving Sophie, despite her abrupt severance of their betrothal. But he’s not above suspecting foul play, and even casting suspicion on her.

Sophie Roe is a troubled and sad young woman and I’m not sure I liked her very much. She bears a prominent facial scar after an accident during her engagement ball years before, and she has always somehow believed that Julian was responsible. There’s also a secondary love interest in the strange person of William Allsop. This part of the story is a little confused, which is why I believe Sophie has not been quite right for some time. She has a talent for and is an expert at forgery and writes daily letters from her parents and others (forging their handwriting) only to toss them into the river. She almost seems to live in an imaginary world, where she can pretend the past either never happened or rewrite its truths.

Ever since she ended things with Julian, Sophie has made a living creating quality inks and fountain pens, a lucrative and ambitious business that has earned her prominent clients including the Foreign Office. She hopes to expand her business to a larger town and she enjoys the work but, it seems to me that, she has thrown herself into the endeavor more to heal her broken heart and dreams of life as a lady than any real desire to earn money.

Sophie lives with her relatives, an aunt, uncle, and cousins who took her into their family after her parents’ deaths, and are an integral part of the novel, at first seeming loving and kind but proving dubious as the story moves forward. When the truth finally comes to light, Sophie is understandably hurt but perhaps this explains her depressive nature all along.

The romance between Sophie and Julian has its passionate moments, but it is tinged with a melancholy largely caused by Sophie’s dissatisfied state of mind. Julian often tries to bring light and humor into their time together but I am not so sure about their happy ending.

Erin Satie writes very well in an easy to read and elegant style and I am impressed with the characters she creates and the pacing of the book. If I had to give this novel a mood, however, it would be heavy-hearted; I want the characters to be happy but I’m afraid they won’t be. Perhaps they’ll be content and that’s the best they can hope for.

The Lover’s Knot is the second book in the No Better Angels series though I don’t feel I was missing anything having not read the first book. If you enjoy serious stories, this book is for you.

Beguiling the Earl by Suzanna Medeiros

beguilng the earl

Ever since Catherine Evens has met Earl of Kerrick, best friend to her new brother-in-law, she has had a crush on him and new, he is the one man for her. During her first season Kerrick is also starting to see Catherine in a new light and finding he is searching out her company more and more, although he is 11 years her senior. Just when he decides to make a move, the Earl of Brantford calls in an owed favor for the War Office. Kerrick is suddenly forced to pay court to Rose, the daughter of Lord Worthington who is under investigation for alleged traitorous deeds towards the crown. It is supposed to be a brief courtship but outside forces seem determined to force Kerrick to marry another.

add-to-goodreads-button

Publisher and Release Date: Susanna Medeiros, October 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Regency London
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars

Review by: Claudia

Beguiling the Earl is the second book in a series but it works as a stand-alone. I haven’t read the previous book and although there were a couple of times I felt I’d missed something, that did nothing to reduce the overall impact of the story.

Catherine Evans has been in love with the Earl of Kerrick since she met him, but he has seen her only as the best friend of his sister-in-law. She hopes to change that during her first season and indeed, during some outings Kerrick starts to realize that his feelings for Catherine are more than friendship. Before anything further can develop between them, duty calls. His last order from the War Office is to spy on Lord Worthington, who is a suspect in a fraud case. To get more information on Lord Worthington and to find some evidence he is ordered to pay his addresses to Lord Worthington’s daughter Rose – even if it means having to court her and risk his growing relationship with Catherine.

One of the biggest troubles I had with this story was the plot element that has Kerrick working for the War Office. During his work investigating Lord Worthington, we never get to see him do anything of value besides a mention of searching the Worthington’s office for incriminating evidence. So Kerrick seems more a spy in name than in fact. For someone who seems to be highly thought of by his colleagues, he is surprisingly passive, and in all, he doesn’t really stand out as a character or as a hero. He is rather bland and comes across as average and not really note-worthy.

Catherine on the other hand is a practical and calm character with a no-nonsense attitude. She almost does more for the War Office – and the plot – than Kerrick when she befriends Rose and gleans information about the Worthingtons.

On the whole, the spy plot is not very extensive and very vague – there is no real depth to it and it seems more to just be a frame for a forced betrothal and a way of artificially creating tension and conflict between the main couple. Although Catherine and Kerrick are a sweet couple, there was a lack of development in their relationship and I felt I never really learned how or why they fell in love with each other.

I did, however like the fact that when Catherine works out for herself where the problem lies, she does not act rashly or get herself into a perilous situation. She talks with Kerrick and asks questions and, thank God, he trusts her enough to answer honestly. True to her character, Catherine could handle the truth and tried to support Kerrick in every way she could. This is the most beautiful thing in this book – that the couple works together to solve a problem and they trust each other enough to not let there be a big misunderstanding.

At the end, it becomes quite clear who the next couple in this series will be and this is interesting enough for me to look forward to the next book.

All in all, Beguiling the Earl is a nice read about a sweet couple who manage to get along without any big misunderstandings, but unfortunately, their relationship lacks depth, development, and any real spark between them.