FESTIVE ROMANCE: Season for Desire by Theresa Romain

season for desire

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Like her four sisters, Lady Audrina Bradleigh is expected to marry a duke, lead fashion, and behave with propriety. Consequently, Audrina pursues mischief with gusto, attending scandalous parties and indulging in illicit affairs. But when an erstwhile lover threatens to ruin her reputation, Audrina has no choice but to find a respectable husband at once.

Who would guess that her search would lead her to Giles Rutherford, a blunt-spoken American on a treasure hunt of his own? When a Christmas snowstorm strands the pair at a country inn, more secrets are traded than gifts—along with kisses that require no mistletoe—and Audrina discovers even proper gentlemen have their wicked side…

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Publisher and Release Date: Zebra, 7th October 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: England, December 1820
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Caz

In this, the final book in her Holiday Pleasures series, Theresa Romain has skilfully melded together a tender and insightful romance and an intriguing mystery which takes her hero and heroine on a journey across a England at Christmastide – and on a journey of personal discovery.

Lady Audrina Bradleigh, the fifth and youngest daughter of the Earl of Alleyneham, has, since her début, cultivated a slightly scandalous reputation as an act of rebellion against her autocratic and uncaring father. Unfortunately for her, what has hitherto been little more than a series of excursions into dark, secluded corners with her dance partners has turned into something far more dangerous. One of her suitors has decided his debts won’t wait any longer, and has drugged and kidnapped her with a view to marrying her in order to get his hands on her dowry.

Giles Rutherford and his father, Richard, have left their home in Philadelphia in order to search for a set of valuable jewels that belonged to his late mother, the daughter of a marquess. When she fell in love with an American jeweller’s apprentice, her family took away everything of value that she owned – with the exception of this set, which she hid before running away with her lover. Giles has travelled to England with Richard in order to fulfil his mother’s dying request – that her jewellery be found and used to the benefit of her family.

Father and son have been travelling around the country and have recently arrived at The Goat and Gauntlet inn in York when they receive an unexpected – and odd – message from the Earl of Alleyneham, more or less ordering them to put a stop to his youngest daughter’s flight and to detain the couple until he arrives.

Giles takes umbrage at the earl’s high-handedness and is reluctant to get involved, but Richard, never one to pass on “an adventure” is only too pleased to be offer their assistance.

When the earl arrives, he is absolutely furious – but with Audrina rather than her unscrupulous abductor. She is to remain with the Rutherfords and Lady Ingram (an old friend of the family) until after her sister’s wedding, in case the scandal that threatens to surround her causes the prospective bridegroom – a duke – to call off the nuptuals.
Once her father has left, Audrina has no alternative but to join the Rutherfords’ quest for the missing jewels – and to embark upon an adventure that will change her life.

Season for Desire is a thoroughly enjoyable story which brings the traditions of a Regency Christmastide vividly to life. Of course, the path of true love is never without its pot-holes, and there are a few bumps along the way for Giles and Audrina. She is perhaps a little too quick to act first and think later, but as the story progresses and she begins to rediscover her sense of self-esteem, she realises that she no longer needs to fulfil anyone’s low expectations. Giles is a lovely hero – kind, perceptive and reliable – but he fails to see that he’s living his life for everyone except himself. He’s taken on the responsibility of looking after his younger siblings while he also tries to make sure his father’s flights of fancy don’t get too out of hand. This – coupled with the fact that he has eschewed his desire to become an architect so as not to disappoint Richard, who dreams of setting up shop as a maker and designer of jewellery, and his concern that he has inherited an arthritic condition from his mother which renders him unsuitable for marriage to anyone – weighs very heavily on Giles’ admittedly broad shoulders. He can’t abandon the family that needs him in order to remain in England with Audrina, and he certainly can’t ask an earl’s daughter to cross an ocean to an uncertain future.

The relationship between the two principals is tender, passionate and written with a great deal of warmth and humour. It’s clear they belong together, but before that can happen they have to confront the fact that they have been living with false perceptions of themselves which they have to adjust before they can become the person they are meant to be, and be with the person they are meant to be with. I enjoyed the way Giles and Audrina are able to help each other with that adjustment, but ultimately, these are decisions and choices they have to make for themselves, and I was particularly impressed with the way Ms Romain dealt with that aspect of their respective journeys.

There is a strong and quite large cast of secondary characters in the book, many of whom get to narrate the story at certain points, which I admit, I did find a little jarring. It’s usual in a romance to have the story told from both the hero and heroine’s point of view, but in this book, the POV jumps around a bit, which did detract a little at times from the principal story. That said, the characters themselves are all very well rounded out, especially the waspish, be-turbanned Lady Irving, who is one of those terrific, sharp-tongued mature ladies one often finds in the pages of historical romances – a lady with an opinion on everything who isn’t afraid to voice it but who is, underneath, a little lonely and not at all as dragon-like as she seems.

Theresa Romain has become a favourite author of mine over the past couple of years. Her stories are intelligently written, strongly characterised and show her to be a talented storyteller, all traits exhibited in Season for Desire. I enjoyed the slow-burn romance and was thoroughly drawn in by the mystery surrounding the puzzle boxes. If I have a criticism, it’s that the book is perhaps a little “busy” – the large number of secondary characters and secondary storylines did distract me sometimes – but overall, I was captivated by the mystery and by the two central characters and their story.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

TheresaRomainHistorical romance author Theresa Romain pursued an impractical education that allowed her to read everything she could get her hands on. She then worked for universities and libraries, where she got to read even more. Eventually she started writing, too. She lives with her family in the Midwest. Please visit her at http://theresaromain.com.

You can connect with Theresa at: Website * ~ * ~ * Facebook * ~ * ~ * Twitter * ~ * ~ * Goodreads

You can follow Kensington Books’ Holidays and Historicals Book Tour HERE.

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FESTIVE ROMANCE: A Cowboy for Christmas by Lacy Williams

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After an accident leaves her injured, Daisy Richards stays secluded at her family’s Wyoming ranch to avoid the town’s gawking stares. Yet handsome cowboy newcomer Ricky White insists she can do anything she dreams—ride a horse, decorate a Christmas tree… even steal a man’s heart.

Once a reckless cad, Ricky is to blame for what happened to Daisy. Now reformed, he wants to make amends by setting things right for his boss’s beautiful daughter in time for the holidays. But Daisy doesn’t know Ricky’s responsible for her predicament. When the truth is revealed, will he lose the greatest gift he’s ever received—her trust?

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Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin – Love Inspired Historicals, December 2014
Time and Setting: Wyoming 1900
Genre: Western Historical Romance/Christmas/Inspirational
Heat Level: Sweet
Reviewer rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Vikki

I always enjoy inspirational Christmas stories and looked forward to reading this one with great anticipation. I must say I was not disappointed. The storyline is a little different in that the heroine has a disability, which is something I’ve not often come across; and I don’t believe I have ever read one where she is missing a limb. I have read plenty of books where the hero is quite disfigured and/or even missing a limb, but never a heroine.

Daisy Richards barely escapes from a horrific accident when a drunken man stumbles in front of her wagon, startling her horses. They rear up causing it to tip over and trap her underneath, then the attached lantern is smashed and the wagon is set on fire. While the young cowboy pulls her out of the fire, Daisy’s right arm is so damaged that it is amputated. Her life is changed forevermore.

Ricky White is the young man who causes the accident. Daisy’s father hires him so he can help Daisy cope with her new reality. For months after the accident, Daisy remains reclusive, not going into town for any reason, not even to go to church. Her first social gathering is her father’s wedding, which finally brings her into contact with Ricky.

A budding friendship forms as he comes up with inventive ways to help her learn to live with her disability. Daisy fights him all the way, but Ricky does not give up, determined to lead her back into the light. He never expected to fall in love with the beautiful young woman, but as he helps her, his growing attraction takes firm root.

When Daisy is forced to learn to work around the loss of her arm, Ricky is right beside her guiding her and helping her overcome her difficulties. Will their budding friendship grow into love, or will his terrible secrets kill any affection Daisy has for the young cowboy?

Daisy really does not deal well with her infirmity at all. In fact, she suffers from a lot of self-pity, but who can blame her? It would be bad enough to lose an arm, but for it to be her right arm makes it that much worse. I am not sure I would be able to just pick myself up by my bootstraps and move on without experiencing quite a bit of depression over it. While it is extremely difficult for her, she does eventually dig her heels in and accepts the help Ricky offers.

Ricky is a troubled young man. He suffers tremendous guilt over something that happened as a young boy, on top of the fact that he is the cause of Daisy’s predicament. He is my favorite kind of hero, a tortured soul. Fortunately for Ricky, his friend shows him the light of the Lord’s forgiveness, helping his to move past most of his guilt, teaching him to atone for his past.

This is a riveting story from the first page to the last. I could feel Daisy’s pain, experienced her struggles as she learns to cope with her loss. I felt Ricky’s guilt and despair as he learns to accept Christ into his life and deal with his feelings of unworthiness. That said, however, the book is in no way preachy. The element of faith is handled with a masterful touch, adding to the story and making it a richer reading experience.

A Cowboy for Christmas is a story of redemption and triumph, a story of love filled with plenty of tender moments. If you enjoy books that pull at your heart strings and has you rooting for both characters as they travel their difficult path, then I highly recommend this engaging book.

FESTIVE ROMANCE: Christmas in the Duke’s Arms (anthology) by Grace Burrowes, Carolyn Jewel, Miranda Neville, and Shana Galen

christmas dukes arms

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The Duke’s Arms is an undistinguished little inn in the tiny village of Hopewell-on-Lyft. But one Christmas season sees both inn and village seething with adventure, intrigue, rabbits, and, above all, love as four couples find Yuletide happiness.

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Publisher and Release Date: cJewel Books, October 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: England, 1817
Genre: Christmas themed Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 Stars

Review by Lady Blue

A Knight Before Christmas by Grace Burrowes

With her year of mourning at an end, Penelope Carrington must remarry in haste, or her portion of her late husband’s estate won’t be enough to dower her younger sisters. Shy, handsome man of business Sir Leviticus Sparrow longs to give Penelope a marriage proposal for Christmas—and his heart—but Sir Levi must first foil the other bachelors scheming to meet Penelope under the mistletoe in his place.

Leviticus would like nothing more than to marry Penelope, but an unscrupulous woman is trying to force him into an engagement. Being the honorable gent that he is, Leviticus must be sure that he is free, and has to find a way out of this entanglement. Time is running out, and if he is unable to propose, Penelope will be forced to marry someone else. This is a charming story of two people who belong together, and it contains all the warmth you’ve come to expect from Grace Burrowes.

In the Duke’s Arms by Carolyln Jewel

What’s a Duke to do when he’s made an awful impression on the love of his life?

The Duke of Oxthorpe lost his intensely guarded heart to Miss Edith Clay when Edith’s
rich cousin sought to attach the duke’s marital interest. So smitten is Oxthorpe with the former poor relation that he’s gone through intermediaries to sell Edith a property adjoining the ducal seat.

Edith doesn’t much care for the haughty duke, but as Christmas approaches, Oxthorpe reveals himself to be reserved rather than arrogant, considerate, and — blame the mistletoe!— an accomplished kisser. Will Edith hold Oxthorpe’s earlier behavior against him, or will she learn that the best holiday gifts can be the most unexpected?

Oxthorpe is such a reserved man, and I adore him. He’s trying his best to let Edith know that he loves her, but she is oblivious. Edith believe he’s courting her cousin, and never misses an opportunity to promote the match. Despite my continually wanting to tell Edith to open her eyes and see the love waiting for her, I adored this story.

Licensed to Wed by Miranda Neville

If Lord Carbury could learn to take no for an answer, his marriage proposal might earn him a yes!

Wyatt, Viscount Carbury is much too busy to court a bride, but when his childhood neighbor, Robina Weston, is left orphaned and penniless, Wyatt dutifully adds marrying Robina to his list of responsibilities. Wyatt is dismayed to learn that for Robina, poverty and pride are preferable to sharing life with an arrogant, infuriating man who always thinks he knows best.

When Wyatt and Robina must endure Christmas in the country together, antipathy turns to interest, and then to unexpected attraction. Will they fight their feelings, or yield to the surprising gifts the holidays offer?

Wyatt is a very precise sort of man. Every day, he makes a list of items to complete, dutifully crossing them off once accomplished. His latest list includes proposing to his childhood friend, Robina, who’s now impoverished. He feels duty bound to rescue her, and this is the best way to handle it. Surprisingly, he doesn’t find it so easy to do, so it remains each day on his new list. When he finally finds his courage, Robina is not impressed with his proposal skills, and refuses him because she has no desire to be a “duty.” This story is a hoot, and I enjoyed it greatly.

The Spy Beneath the Mistletoe by Shana Galen

Fledgling spy Pierce Moneypence seeks a highwayman and the key to Eliza’s heart.

When weapons designer Eliza Qwillen (Q) and clerk to the mysterious M, Pierce Moneypence, arrive in the English countryside, they’re unprepared for the dangers that await. The operatives are intent upon capturing the highwayman styling himself as the New Sherriff of Nottingham. Secret rendezvous, mistaken identities, and cat-and-mouse games challenge these fledgling agents, but rediscovering their passion for each other is the most rewarding mission of all.

Pierce and Eliza have worked together very well, and both are anxious to take their relationship to the next level. Although we don’t see this encounter, it appears that Eliza was left less than satisfied. Pierce wants to marry her, although when he confesses to Eliza that he doesn’t love her, she turns him down even though she loves him. Pierce is too honest to admit to an emotion that he doesn’t feel. He respects and cares for Eliza, but he believes love is something he may never feel. As he tries to get back into Eliza’s good graces, she leads him on a merry chase as they attempt to capture the highwayman who has been actively robbing people in the vicinity of the Duke’s Arms. Sometimes extraordinary circumstances can make you realize that love is right in front of you all along.

This is an excellent collection of stories by some of today’s top historical romance writers. The stories are enjoyable, fun, and sometimes a little heartbreaking, and the characters are well developed, which is often hard to do in a novella. I wholeheartedly recommend this Christmas read by a stellar lineup of talented authors.

FESTIVE ROMANCE: Her Christmas Earl by Anna Campbell

her christmas earl
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No good deed goes unpunished…

To save her hen-witted sister from scandal, Philippa Sanders ventures into a rake’s bedroom—and into his power. Now her reputation hangs by a thread and only a hurried marriage can rescue her. Is the Earl of Erskine the heartless libertine the world believes? Or will Philippa discover unexpected honor in a man notorious for his wild ways?

Blair Hume, the dissolute Earl of Erskine, has had his eye on the intriguing Miss Sanders since he arrived at this deadly dull house party. Now a reckless act delivers this beguiling woman into his hands as a delightful Christmas gift. Is fate offering him a fleeting Yuletide diversion? Or will this Christmas Eve encounter spark a passion that lasts a lifetime?

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Publisher and Release Date: Anna Campbell, October 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Christmas, 1823-1824, English countryside
Genre: Historical romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

Anna Campbell is one of my favorite historical romance authors and I can always count on her to tell a truly beautiful love story. Her sexy yet sweet plots, her lush writing style, and her exquisite ability to create breathless romance make for a lovely holiday story.

Philippa Sanders has always been the good, quiet, and serious sister, compared to her hoydenish and beautiful sibling, Amelia. Which is why Philippa is in Lord Erskine’s bedchamber on Christmas Eve: she is trying to do the right thing and retrieve an ill-advised and provocative letter that Amelia wrote to Lord Erskine just before Amelia’s engagement was announced.

Philippa has only bad impressions of Blair Hume, Lord Erskine. She believes she’s immune to his roguish charms, something that rankles his manly pride and ego. Unlike her, he has noticed her and how she all but rebuffs him. But when they’re trapped together in a closet, she discovers he might not be such a terrible person after all.

‘It’s Christmas Eve. I’m taking a rest from wickedness.’

Philippa’s calm demeanor surprises Blair, as most women would be screaming bloody murder at being trapped with a renowned rake. Of course, appropriate to the 1823 time period, if they’re caught together, even if nothing happens, they will have to marry. But his kindness to her in their dilemma makes her brave enough to ask for one kiss, a kiss that quickly turns incendiary.

Before they’re forced to marry, Philippa had plans to return to the countryside and live out a quiet life on her mother’s estate. The prospect of marrying out of obligation horrifies her as much as she is attracted to Blair and his sense of honor.

There is a brilliant and critical scene that Campbell could have taken another way but to her great credit, she doesn’t. It reveals a strength of character in both Blair and Philippa, creates trust, and also nicely advances their slowly growing love story.

Blair’s honor is almost too good to be true but, at the age of twenty-eight, he has tired of his debauched lifestyle. He also finds he really cares about the vulnerable and sensible Philippa, especially that her family treats her so shabbily.

Their love story develops at a surprisingly leisurely pace for a novella, but it seems just right, with intense sexual attraction blended with consideration, honor, and protectiveness. Both Philippa and Blair realize their marriage has been forced, yet they agree to make the best of it, discovering many attractive traits in each other: Blair’s sincerity, determination to do the right thing, and kindness to her, and Philippa’s kindness to her undeserving sister and family, her intelligence, wit, and gentleness of spirit. All of which combine to make the love scenes both naughty and very, very nice.

Her Christmas Earl is a wonderfully enjoyable and romantic bon-bon, perfect for a quick read during your busy holiday season.

FESTIVE ROMANCE: The Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willig

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Despite her dear friend Jane Austen’s warning against teaching, Arabella Dempsey accepts a position at a girls’ school in Bath, just before Christmas. She hardly imagines coming face-to-face with French aristocrats and international spies.

Reginald “Turnip” Fitzhugh-often mistaken for the elusive spy known as the Pink Carnation-has blundered into danger before. When Turnip and Arabella find their Christmas pudding yielding a cryptic message, they are launched on a Yuletide adventure. Will they find poinsettias-or peril?

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Publisher and Release Date: Dutton, October 2010

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: England, 1803
Genre: Mystery, Historical Romance
Heat Level:1
Reviewer Rating: 5 Stars

Review by Natalie

Arabella is in that difficult situation faced by so many of our Regency era heroines. She is financially strapped and, with very little social standing in the world, decides to throw herself head first into teaching. While many of her friends and family members are unsure of Arabella’s decision, no one is more wary than Arabella herself. She doesn’t exactly long for adventure and intrigue but she at least thought her life would contain a little more excitement than teaching young ladies. Add to that the fact that she isn’t even very sure that she will be a good teacher, and you have a young lady who is very worried about everything her future holds.

Enter Reginald “Turnip” Fitzhugh. Turnip isn’t your average hero. He is a bit clumsy, can be a little bit thick-headed at times and tends to blunder in to and out of adventure rather than face it head on. He has been mistaken for a great spy on more than one occasion, mostly because those around him cannot believe that his personality is real and imagine that it simply must be a cover. Turnip manages to knock Arabella over when he visits his sister at her boarding school and after picking her up off her backside the unlikely pair accidentally un-cover a secret message meant for the eyes of another. They assume that they have accidentally come upon the secret correspondence of two love-sick teenagers but as they investigate, it becomes clear that there is more here than meets the eye.

The Mischief of the Mistletoe is the seventh book in the Pink Carnation series by Lauren Willig. This fun series follows the mysterious lives of English spies in England and France in the early 1800s, calling to mind the Scarlet Pimpernel. Turnip is a character who has appeared in several of the books and is often mistaken for the Pink Carnation himself – but Turnip was always a supporting character until The Mischief of the Mistletoe.

Instead of suddenly changing the foundation of Turnip’s character to make him a little more of a mainstream hero, Ms Willig allows him to stay true to himself. He has a tendency to be a little absent-minded and isn’t exactly the sharpest Turnip in the turnip patch, but that’s okay. Our Heroine – Arabella – is exactly the opposite; she is smart, wry and maybe a little off from what English society would expect of a young lady in her particular situation. She finds that she admires Turnip’s sense of adventure and his ability to not take himself too seriously.

Mischief is a seriously sweet book and adds a great story to the overall canon of the Pink Carnation. Some of the other books in the series have a little more spice and heat in them but what book seven lacks in passionate scenes it makes up for in a charming love story. And if it happens to leave you wishing for a little more, you can always find the bonus chapter Ms Willig published on her website, Away in a Manger.

This story has characters that are immensely likeable, well written, fun to read and believable. They have foibles and follies and when reading about Arabella and Turnip you can almost imagine that they are real people bumbling around an international spy ring. If you are looking for a delightful tale of intrigue and Christmas romance to help you relax this season, then look no further than The Mischief of the Mistletoe!

FESTIVE ROMANCE: The Christmas Treasure by Mallory Kane

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From award-winning, best-selling romantic suspense author Mallory Kane., comes a short, historical Christmas novella, about loss and lies and the healing power of love.

Lorilla traveled alone over the treacherous Santa Fe Trail to find love. What she finds instead is a man whose heart is turned to stone.

Gabriel Beltran paid dearly for a widow who’d born a child. What he got was a virgin and he is not happy about it.

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Publisher and Release Date: Mallory Kane, October 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and setting: New Mexico 1847
Genre: Western Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer rating: 5 Stars

Review by Vikki

What a wonderful, heart-felt Christmas story! Sometimes the best things really do come in a small package, or in this case, a short story (The Christmas Treasure is approximately 35,000 words), and I couldn’t read this little gem fast enough. One of my favorite tropes is the marriage-of-convenience, and this story is excellent. Mallory Kane has such a smooth and flowing writing style, bringing to life the vivid countryside surrounding Santa Fé, New Mexico with a masterful touch, and allowing me to experience the deep desires of the hero and heroine.

Lorilla Harmon arrives in Santa Fé on Christmas Eve and is rushed to her wedding with widower, Gabriel Beltran. Lorilla’s stepfather had told Gabriel she was a widow who had delivered a stillborn child, which is perfect for his purposes. All Gabriel wants is a son and a sensible, biddable woman to whom he can never give his heart. Gabriel is outraged when he discovers that Lorilla isn’t a widow at all, but an unmarried virgin. The last thing he wants or needs is an innocent woman.

All Lorilla has dreamed of is a man who will love her and a family. When Gabriel turns from her, she takes matters into her own hands and seduces him. He succumbs to her charms, but remains distant. Lorilla prays he will grow to love her if she gives him a son. Will Gabriel let the memory of his first wife go, or will he cling to the past and lose what could be his greatest treasure?

I thoroughly enjoyed Lorilla and Gabriel’s love story. For such a short story the character development is incredible. The plot is intriguing and captivated me from the first page to the last. The emotions run deep in this enchanting tale of a woman’s determination to gain the love she has so desperately craved all her life. Lorilla is an engaging heroine and she grabbed at my heart strings along the way and had me rooting for her HEA.

Gabriel is my favorite kind of hero, a tortured soul who is scared to let go of the past and grasp a new life, yet brave enough to take a second chance on love. If you like western historical romance and warm-hearted Christmas stories, then this is a book you will love. It is one you will want to pull out and read each year during the holiday season – I know I will.

FESTIVE ROMANCE: What a Lady Needs for Christmas by Grace Burrowes

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The Best Gifts are the Unexpected Ones . . .

To escape a scandal, Lady Joan Flynn flees to her family’s estate in the Scottish Highlands. She needs a husband by Christmas, or the holidays will ring in nothing but ruin. Practical, ambitious mill owner Dante Hartwell offers to marry Joan, because a wellborn wife is his best chance of gaining access to aristocratic investors. As Christmas—and trouble—draw nearer, Dante and Joan’s marriage of convenience blossoms into unexpected intimacy, for true love often hides beneath the most unassuming holiday wrapping . . .

 

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Publisher and Release Date: Sourcebooks Casablanca, October 2014

RHR Classifications:
Location and Setting: Victorian Era Scotland
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 5 Stars

Review by Lady Wesley

In What a Lady Needs for Christmas, the fourth novel in Grace Burrowes’ consistently excellent MacGregors series, Lady Joan Flynn (a minor character in Once Upon a Tartan (MacGregors #2)) finds her dream life with the unlikeliest of men – the decidedly unaristocratic mill owner Dante Hartwell.

As the daughter of an marquess, Joan is expected to marry well and have children, but she has a passion for designing clothes and is determined to find a way of pursuing it. To that end, she pays a call upon an aristocratic French lady and her son, Viscount Valmonte, who own a salon in Edinburgh, but Valmonte gets her alone, plies her with absinthe and assaults her. Joan’s memory is hazy, but she is certain that scandal is about to break. She flees the city and boards a train for the Highlands. Her family is gathering at Balfour House to join her brother Tiberius Flynn, Earl of Spathfoy, his wife, Hester, and their extended family for Christmas.

At a small rural station, Joan, who never has traveled alone, finds herself stranded without sufficient funds to complete her journey when a precocious young girl insists to her father, “But, Papa, we should help the lady.” The father is Dante Hartwell, and after reluctantly allowing him to assist, Joan is surprised to find that he and his children are traveling in not one but two private cars. Dante is the son of a miner, and a former miner himself, who married a mill owner’s daughter and inherited the business after her death. He is quite wealthy, and recently spent time in Edinburgh looking for a suitable wife. Joan had danced with him once, and found that he had none of the “attributes she associated with a proper gentleman. He neither gossiped nor flattered nor took surreptitious liberties in triple meter. In short, despite his many detractors — some called him Hard-Hearted Hartwell — she’d liked him.”

Now, he is traveling with his two children, Charlie and Phillip, and their Aunt Margs to Ballator, where they are joining a house party of people who, according to Dante, are “too wellborn to dirty their hands in trade where anybody might notice, and because they cannot abide the notion I might raise such a topic where polite ears could overhear, I’m enduring the fiction that I’m a guest at a house party.” Dante is in hopes that they will invest in his mills.

During the long hours of their trip, Joan and Dante share tea and chocolates and whiskey and become better acquainted, when Joan is surprised to find herself confessing her indiscretion to Dante. For his part, Dante is surprised to find himself proposing marriage to her. I really enjoyed this train trip, as the couple talk to one another so candidly about marriage, sex, children, and class. Their discussions are quite realistic, without their sounding too much like modern characters.

When they arrive at their destination, Dante’s host, the Earl of Balfour mistakes Lady Joan for Dante’s wife, whereupon Joan’s imperious brother Tiberius, Earl of Spathfoy, appears to correct his assumption. After enduring endless introductions to a huge group of titled ladies and gentlemen, Dante launches into protection mode and ensures that Joan is hustled off to her chamber without being interrogated by her brother. (On a side note: I will not attempt to explain the family tree. Suffice it to say that Ms Burrowes could not resist including virtually every major and minor character from the previous books in the series, even though most of them contribute little to the plot. She has helpfully posted a family tree on her website, however, for curious readers.)

At breakfast the next morning, Tiberius rudely cross-examines Dante, who gives as good as he gets. In a Grace Burrowes novel, this antagonism augurs well for the two to eventually become best friends, but at this point Tye is determined to keep Dante away from his sister, whom he mistakenly believes is nursing a broken heart over Viscount Valmonte’s engagement to another lady.

Without explaining exactly how it came about, Joan and Dante announce their betrothal, and the entire stunned family gets in on wedding preparations. And the Christmas preparations. I would not call this a particularly “Christmasy” sort of book. The holiday simply presents a excuse for this vast extended family to gather under one roof and sneak kisses under the countless mistletoe balls decorating the house. At some point everybody troops off to Aberdeen, for that’s where Joan and Dante get married. And who should show up here but Gayle and Anna Windham, now the Duke and Duchess of Moreland from Ms Burrowes’ ten-volume Windham Series, as well as the malevolent Valmonte and his dim-witted but wealthy fiancée, Dorcas.

Despite the many entertaining distractions, the story of Dante and Joan falling in love is dominant. Because they are (mostly) honest with one another, their relationship is built on trust, as well as simmering attraction. Joan is an aristocrat but not a snob; she accepts and indeed admires Dante’s ability to succeed in business. Dante is rather growly but adorable underneath. He is truly working class; he doesn’t know how to address an earl or which spoon to use, but he doesn’t care. He is proud not to be a gentleman. He is devoted to his children and his sister, and as usual, Ms Burrowes creates believable juvenile characters who are important to the story.

I said earlier that the plethora of secondary characters contribute little to the plot, but that was not exactly correct, for besides the beautiful romance, this is a story of family love, and there are many heart-warming and humorous scenes between parent and child and siblings. This is Grace Burrowes’ great strength; she creates a world populated with people that you feel you know, as they bring a tear to your eye and put a smile on your face at the same time.

RETRO REVIEW: Scandalous Desires by Elizabeth Hoyt

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Can a pirate learn that the only true treasure lies in a woman’s heart?

Widowed Silence Hollingbrook is impoverished, lovely, and kind—and nine months ago she made a horrible mistake. She went to a river pirate for help in saving her husband and in the process made a bargain that cost her her marriage. That night wounded her so terribly that she hides in the foundling home she helps run with her brother. Except now that same river pirate is back . . . and he’s asking for her help.

“Charming” Mickey O’Connor is the most ruthless river pirate in London. Devastatingly handsome and fearsomely intelligent, he clawed his way up through London’s criminal underworld. Mickey has no use for tender emotions like compassion and love, and he sees people as pawns to be manipulated. And yet he’s never been able to forget the naive captain’s wife who came to him for help—and spent one memorable night in his bed . . . talking.

When his bastard baby girl was dumped in his lap—her mother having died—Mickey couldn’t resist the Machiavellian urge to leave the baby on Silence’s doorstep. The baby would be hidden from his enemies and he’d also bind Silence to him by her love for his daughter.

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Publisher and Release Date: Grand Central Publishing, October 2011

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: London, 1738
Genre: Historical romance
Heat Level: 2.5
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

Elizabeth Hoyt’s Georgian era Maiden Lane series is written in an almost fairy tale style. But it’s not light as Eloisa James’ Fairy Tales series. It is serious, rather dark, and very romantic.

Indeed, a short passage from an original fairy tale, Clever John, precedes each chapter of this book, perfectly mirroring the events of this romance. I would say it’s more of a morality tale where true love conquers all struggles.

Several months earlier, Silence Hollingbrook was publicly humiliated after spending one night in river pirate Charming Mickey O’Connor’s decadent palace of vice and sin. She was there to plead mercy for her beloved husband, William, who was accused of stealing cargo from one of Mickey’s ships. To spare him, Silence agreed to Mickey’s terms that she stay one night with him and risk her honor…but nothing happened. He merely fed her a delicious and extravagant meal and then let her be. After that fateful night, no one believed her version of the truth, William never looked at her the same way again, and her pristine reputation was shattered forever.

Since then, William has died at sea leaving Silence a lonely and heartbroken widow until an infant was abandoned on her doorstep. She began helping her older siblings more with their charitable endeavor, The Home for Unfortunate Infants and Foundling Children, managing the Home in the dangerous London St. Giles neighborhood and, in doing so, found some meaning, purpose, and peace in her life once again.

The child, christened Mary Darling, was cared for by Silence for almost a year until she was kidnapped. During this time, Silence had also received mysterious gifts, including a lock of black hair that matched Mary Darling’s…and Mickey O’Connor’s. At the beginning of Scandalous Desires, Silence bravely marches back to Mickey’s palace, suspicious that he has the child and demands her back.

Mickey O’Connor is a ruthless and dangerous man who has many enemies. An Irishman raised in St. Giles in poverty, he has known hunger and abuse. But he’s also handsome and charming and Silence agrees to move into his palace to care for his daughter because he promises she may keep the child once he ensures their safety.

Of course, Silence’s family is shocked and outraged because not only will this harm their beloved sister’s reputation even more, it will also reflect on the Home and impair its ability to get rich and aristocratic donors to contribute in order to ensure its continued operation and success.

Soon after she moves in, Silence charms Mickey’s loyal servants, a loveable ragtag group who dine together at one massive table. They smuggle food to her when she refuses to bow to Mickey’s command to join them and are kind to her. This creates some wonderfully funny and almost sweet moments as Silence upends Mickey’s tightly controlled and rigid life. We especially get to know Bert and Harry, Mickey’s most loyal guards.

“Silence disliked him, disobeyed him, argued with him, and was all but starting a rebellion amongst his people, and still he indulged her.” (p.131)

Silence is a strong woman who stands up for justice and she defends those she loves with her life. She represents all that is good, pure, and beautiful in the world to Mickey. It is something he desperately wants in his life but is also something he fears is just too good to be true. As she weaves her way into his life, he slowly lets his guard down and allows her to come to know him, sharing in his darkest secrets and his innermost fears. He is also drawn to her fierce maternal instincts in her love for his daughter, Mary Darling, a child he is ambivalent about until Silence’s goodness helps him realize what Mary means to him. Silence’s beauty and compassion remind him of his beloved mother, with whom he had a complicated and ambivalent relationship.

Silence sees and empathizes with Mickey’s painful and horrific childhood, much as Verity Ashton does with Justin Kinmurrie in Anna Campbell’s Claiming the Courtesan. As she gets to know him, she falls in love with the man she sees inside the cunning pirate facade.

This is a Georgian era romance, set in 1738 and the gritty and perilous streets of St. Giles are a stark contrast to the elegant and inviting atmosphere of Windward House, Mickey’s safe haven in the country where he is merely Michael Rivers, a shipbuilder. The descriptions of this house are some of the best parts of the book; it’s comforting, it’s home, and it’s where Michael gathers all the beautiful things in his life and keeps them safe, including eventually, Silence and Mary.

The ending is a tension-filled and on-edge experience with excitement and danger counting down the pages. There are also some hints of a future love story for Silence’s serious brother, Winter, and a rich, beautiful, and playful patroness, Lady Isabel Beckinall.

And who is the infamous and mysterious Ghost of St. Giles? It’s a mysterious minor subplot that runs through the entire Maiden Lane series and we have hints to his identity in this story. Or do we? He is a sort of Batman figure, dressed as a harlequin, that appears throughout the book, rescuing the poor people of St. Giles from danger and injustice.

Scandalous Desires is a passionate and romantic story told with wonderful pacing and emotion. This is a strong and wonderfully written series, but it is best read in order for character development and time and plot progression.

Sweet Bea by Sarah Hegger

Sweet Bea

Is anything sweeter than revenge?

In a family of remarkable people, ordinary Beatrice strives to prove herself worthy. When her family is threatened with losing everything, she rushes to London to save them. Unfortunately, she chooses as her savior the very man who will see her family brought low.

Garrett has sworn vengeance on Sir Arthur of Anglesea for destroying his life when he was a boy and forcing his mother into prostitution for them to survive. He has chosen as his instrument Sir Arthur’s youngest daughter, Beatrice.

Can Beatrice’s goodness teach Garrett that love, not vengeance, is the greatest reward of all?

Publisher and Release Date: eKensington, September 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: England, early 13th Century
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1.5
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars

Review by Caz

Sweet Bea is an entertaining medieval road-trip story into which the author has thrown a feisty, breeches-wearing heroine, a not-so-heroic hero, a tart with a heart and various other romantic novel clichés and somehow managed to come up with a story I didn’t entirely hate!

Lady Beatrice of Anglesey is the baby of the family (although not for much longer, as her mother is expecting) and even though she’s now a young woman, her family continues to treat her like a child. She’s usually sent from the room when discussions get interesting and it’s clear to her that nobody expects her to amount to very much. To be fair, her parents and siblings think they are doing her a favour by keeping her from hearing stories of the unpleasantness in the world around them, but haven’t stopped to think that perhaps there really are times when a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. The only way Bea ever finds out anything – she says – is when she manages to eavesdrop; and it’s during one such conversation that she learns her family is in danger and that she’s the only one prepared to do anything to help.

She overhears a discussion between her uncle and one of her brothers, from which it seems as though her father has angered the king (John) and that their home may soon come under attack. Her mother is unwell, her brother Henry is unwilling to leave to find their father and brothers – so Bea determines to sneak away and go to London to fetch him.

She can’t travel alone, however, and enlists the aid of her childhood friend, Tom. He’s completely against Bea’s plan – but knowing she’ll likely go anyway, he grudgingly agrees to help. The problem is that he doesn’t really know how to get to London – but Bea is undaunted. She will ask one of the recent newcomers to the village, a man named Garrett (and there’s a typical medieval name if ever I heard one!) to come along, too, as she’s sure he will know the way. She doesn’t know much about him, it’s true, but Garrett is handsome, charming and pays her the kind of attentions she’s never received from anyone else – and she’s very thoroughly smitten.

Tom is suspicious of Garrett right away –and with good reason. He definitely has Bea in his sights as a target for seduction, but for reasons that go deeper than the simple desire of a man to bed a pretty girl. Garrett holds Bea’s father responsible for the fact that he and his mother were forced from their home when he was little more than a child, and for his mother’s having to become a whore in order to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. He plans to ruin Bea, figuring that making a whore of the daughter of the man he regards as his bitterest enemy will be the perfect act of revenge.

At first, the hero’s unlikely name, the heroine’s recklessness and the revenge plot induced much eye-rolling from this reader. But I kept reading and was surprised to myself engaged by the story and characters, which actually have something endearing about them. As the days pass, Garrett begins to realise that Bea is far from the spoiled princess he had thought her; it’s true that her tendency to rush headlong into danger lands them in hot water on more than one occasion, but she’s capable of great generosity and kindness, too. Her bravery and spirit begin to charm him, and to awaken his long-buried conscience.

And while there were times I wanted to throttle Bea for doing something stupid, or not thinking before she acts, she’s a little different from your average “feisty” heroine because she actually learns from her mistakes and wants to do better.

The story really picks up at around the three-quarter mark, when everything Bea has assumed concerning her father’s situation and the threat to her family is turned on its head, and the danger comes much closer to home. The ending is a little too pat, but I couldn’t help smiling at some of the exchanges between Bea’s father, brothers and Garrett.

What didn’t work so well for me, however, was the book’s execution. There is a lack of sophistication to the storytelling; the language is very simplistic, and in spite of the use of a number of more archaic terms – “chainse”, “braies”, for example – the tone is quite modern.

My biggest problem with the book is the fact that Ms Hegger seems to favour the use of lots and lots of short sentences. One after the other. Which happens a lot. And which I don’t like. At all. It’s a matter of personal preference, of course, but it’s something I find particularly irritating, especially when it happens as often as it does here.

Overall though, Sweet Bea is a relatively quick and undemanding read. While some aspects of the story are rather clichéd, it’s nonetheless very readable, and the way that both protagonists grow as characters is definitely one of its strengths.

VIRTUAL TOUR: A Duke’s Guide to Correct Behaviour by Megan Frampton

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All of London knows the Duke of Rutherford has position and wealth. They also whisper that he’s dissolute, devilish, and determinedly unwed. So why, everyone is asking, has he hired a governess?

When Miss Lily Russell crosses the threshold of the Duke of Rutherford’s stylish townhouse, she knows she has come face to face with sensual danger. For this is no doting papa. Rather, his behavior is scandalous, and his reputation rightly earned. And his pursuit of her is nearly irresistible—but resist she must for the sake of her pupil.

As for the duke himself, it was bad enough when his unknown child landed on his doorstep. Now Lily, with her unassuming beauty, has aroused his most wicked fantasies—and, shockingly, his desire to change his wanton ways. He’s determined to become worthy of her, and so he asks for her help in correcting his behavior.

But Lily has a secret, one that, if it becomes known, could change everything . . .

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THE DUKES GUIDEPublisher and Release Date: Avon, 25th November 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: London, 1840
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Claudia

Marcus, the new Duke of Rutherford is wealthy, handsome, unwed – and possessed of a scandalous reputation. Suddenly, a small girl appears on his doorstep and he decides to do what is right and correct his behavior. So he hires a governess.

Lily Russell and her two friends are working hard to make their employment agency successful. So when she receives the inquiry for a governess, she knows they need to do their best – and she takes the position herself. What she does not expect is the attraction that sparks between her and her employer – something she resist, for the sake of her pupil and because of secrets in her past which could destroy everything.

I liked the premise of the book. Despite his upbringing as a gentleman, Marcus is totally unprepared for taking on the duties of a duke and for the responsibility of being a father. This is nicely mirrored by Lily, who has no idea how to be a governess.

There is a lot of humor in the situation of both characters trying to be something they are not, but there is also a lot of honesty and will to do what is right. Nevertheless I had major problems at the beginning with the way they are written; Marcus and Lily sound more like teenagers to me and their behaviour is juvenile – even childish sometimes.

The natural chemistry between them is obvious but at the outset, I could not decide where it came from. Both are gorgeous, but that’s not enough. Yet once their feelings towards each other started to grow, their romance was beautifully developed. Both know what they feel for each other and how they behave towards one another is improper and both try very hard to deny their attraction, but in the end, they cannot fight it. Marcus is concerned that Lily is influenced by his title, but his insecurities won me over by the middle of the book, when he finally asks Lily to tell him that she’s interested in him and wants his kisses. Before that, I found him rather like an adolescent pretending to be an adult, but this was a real turning point, for both him and for me in terms of my enjoyment of the book.

The secondary cast is something to look forward to and I hope to see Lily’s friends in the next book as well as Marcus “new best friend”, who is a very decent friend and a character about whom I would like to read more.

One of the things the book does well is to bring home the point that it was very difficult to raise illegitimate children within society and without their being hurt by the way people perceive them. The way Marcus and Lily try to bring Rose into society was beautifully done.

All in all, The Duke’s Guide to Correct Behavior is a good read, despite the fact that I struggled with the first half. After that, it turns into a love story which is, at times, a real tearjerker. As this is the first book in a new series, I plan to read the next installment, which will hopefully be without the weaknesses but will retain all the humor and romance this book provides.

GIVEAWAY

Megan is giving away a $25 gift card to the e-book retailer of choice to one winner, drawn from all the entries throughout the tour – which you can follow HERE.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

MeganFrampton2Megan Frampton writes historical romance under her own name and romantic women’s fiction as Megan Caldwell. She likes the color black, gin, dark-haired British men, and huge earrings, not in that order. She lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her husband and son.

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