Someone to Wed (Westcott #3) by Mary Balogh

Purchase Now from Amazon

When Alexander Westcott becomes the new Earl of Riverdale, he inherits a title he never wanted and a failing country estate he can’t afford. But he fully intends to do everything in his power to undo years of neglect and give the people who depend on him a better life . . .

A recluse for more than twenty years, Wren Heyden wants one thing out of life: marriage. With her vast fortune, she sets her sights on buying a husband. But when she makes the desperate-and oh-so-dashing-earl a startlingly unexpected proposal, Alex will only agree to a proper courtship, hoping for at least friendship and respect to develop between them. He is totally unprepared for the desire that overwhelms him when Wren finally lifts the veils that hide the secrets of her past . . .

Publisher and Release Date:  Berkley, November 2017

Time and Setting:
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Sara

Someone to Wed is the third in Mary Balogh’s charming Westcott series, showing readers more of the dramatic changes brought to the family by the late Earl of Riverdale’s bigamy.  This time the focus is on Alexander Westcott, the reluctant heir to the title who finds that his elevation in status comes with its own set of challenges.

Alexander had been quite happy with the direction his life was taking him.  Through years of hard work he had turned his family estates around and was ready for the next chapter of his life as a landed gentleman.  Sadly, through the misdeeds of his second cousin, that path was changed and at thirty Alexander has to restart his life as the Earl of Riverdale.  The title is flush with property, including the family seat of Brambeldean Court, and tenants dependent on the lands; however all of the money to run the estates was inherited by the late earl’s legitimate daughter.  Alex has little money of his own and Brambledean Court has been mismanaged for too long to refill the family’s coffers.  It upsets the young man’s pride to even consider that the fastest way to gain a fortune is to marry a woman with a large dowry but the reality is he may have to sacrifice his own plans for the good of his title.

Having grown up as a neighbor to the virtually abandoned Brambeldean Court, Miss Wren Heyden knows about Alexander’s new financial problems.  Alone after the death of her aunt and uncle, Wren has decided to use the large fortune she inherited from them to buy the one thing she has never had, the attention of a man.  Inviting the impoverished new Earl to tea, Wren hopes to entice Alexander with the promise of wealth if he’ll marry her and show her the physical pleasures of a courtship.  Their first meeting does not go as smoothly as Wren hoped, as she’s flustered by Alexander’s attractiveness as well as his hostility when she makes her offer of marriage.

For his part, Alex is shocked by the impropriety of meeting Wren virtually alone and it puts him on his guard.  It doesn’t help matters when the woman is completely hidden from view by the veil over her face.  Her cool offer of a convenient marriage comes across like a business transaction where he’s the commodity being traded.  Wanting to throw the woman off her game Alex asks to see her face before he will commit to anything.  Reluctantly Wren agrees and shows Alex the disfigurement – a large, purple birthmark – that has made her a recluse for almost twenty years.  Sensing that Alexander has already made up his mind about her offer Wren dismisses him but she’s surprised when instead he challenges her to meet him again at his estate.

When Wren arrives at Brambledean Court a week later it’s the start of a very strained courtship between the two.  For as much as Alexander comes to admire Wren’s independence, there is something about her demeanor that keeps him on guard.  Wren herself is uncomfortable in Alex’s company and despite his assurances that her marked face is something easily overlooked she still uses it to convince herself that Alex is the wrong person for her.  As Easter approaches and Alex discusses his plans to leave the country for London, Wren decides to withdraw her proposal and release Alex from any obligation he feels towards her.  It’s a painful choice, as Wren has come to admire Alex, but she knows it’s the best for them both.

Alexander arrives back in London resigned to the idea that marrying a woman with money is still the only way to save his estates; however each young lady he meets pales in comparison to Wren.  Feeling that he may have made the wrong decision to leave her behind, Alex is surprised when he sees her familiar figure walking along the Serpentine.  Wren had sworn she would never visit London – it had been one point of contention between them – yet there she is, running away from him.  Alex chases her down and, unwilling to let her disappear ,he invites her to stay with his family in town while allowing him to escort her during her visit.  Wren is reluctant to accept but when his family opens their arms to her in friendship it makes the decision easier.  Seeing Wren accepted by his mother and sister reinforces Alex’s own changed feelings for Wren.  He makes it his goal to show Wren that she can trust him and that there might be a future for them after all.

Someone to Wed is a slow-burning romance that is a pleasant change of pace from other stories with a similar storyline.  Alex and Wren aren’t driven by lust or their physical attraction into hasty choices;  instead they truly get to know each other before leaping into marriage.  Their relationship builds over time, with the uncomfortable getting-to-know-you phase happening in the safe and private confines of Brambledean Court or Wren’s home in the country.  When they separate it forces both Alex and Wren to think about those moments and what they meant.  As things pick up in London, there is more ease to their interactions and Alex becomes that safe place for Wren to expose herself and her self-doubts without fear of rejection.  Having that foundation makes their emotions true when they can admit just how much they feel for each other.

The dramas of the extended Westcott family come into play during Wren and Alex’s courtship and I liked how Wren inherently understands how important that dynamic is to Alex.  Her love for him shines through when she can put aside her discomfort around people to help his cousin or to invite the former countess and her daughter to return to the Westcott fold.  Alex isn’t blind to Wren’s sacrifices for his family and he protects her with everything he is when her own family secrets are exposed.  It’s very easy to love both main characters for their strength but they are also to be admired for their frailties and how they each overcome those problems.

I enjoy Mary Balogh’s stories for all of the emotion she conveys while still keeping her characters grounded in the societal norms of the times.  In Someone to Wed there are no grand and over the top declarations of love between Alex and Wren, yet the feelings they share come across so strongly, I was reluctant to put the book down.  Knowing that the former Countess of Riverdale’s story is next I’m eager to see how this incredible family will continue to strengthen their bonds around their most frayed connection.

 

 

Count the Shells (Porthkennack #6) by Charlie Cochrane

Purchase Now from Amazon

Michael Gray returned from World War One injured, but at least he returned. Others were not so fortunate, including his first and greatest love, Thomas Carter-Clemence, with whom Michael had parted bitterly before the conflict began.

Broch, the Carter-Clemence home in Porthkennack, was an integral part of pre-war holidays for the Grays, the two families drawn together in the wake of their sons’ friendship. Returning to the once-beloved Cornish coast for a break with his sister and her family, Michael has to find the courage to face old memories . . . and dare new relationships.

When Thomas’s brother Harry makes an unexpected appearance, Michael is surprised to find himself deeply attracted to Harry for his own sake. But as their relationship heats up, it unearths startling revelations and bitter truths. Michael must decide whether Harry is the answer to his prayers or the last straw to break an old soldier’s back.

Publisher and Release Date: Riptide Publishing, October 2017

Time and Setting: Cornwall, post WW1
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars

Review by Em

Count the Shells is the sixth standalone novel in the loosely linked Porthkennack series.  The series – comprising a mixture of contemporary and historical romances – started off strongly, but I have to confess the last few novels haven’t quite lived up to their predecessors and sadly, Charlie Cochrane’s entry fares much the same.  Set during an idyllic summer on the Cornish coast shortly after the end of the World War I, Count the Shells is a nostalgic trip down memory lane for Michael Gray, a soldier who survived the war but can’t seem to shake off his memories of the friends and lovers he lost.

The novel begins on a promising note.  Holidaying with his sister Caroline and her family, Michael is on the beach with his precocious nephew Richard, counting the shells in the many languages he knows – much to Richard’s delight.  Ms. Cochrane paints a lovely picture of the pair enjoying a splendid summer afternoon together… until Michael’s counting segues into a mental tally of former lovers.  I couldn’t help but wince as Ms. Cochrane juxtaposed the innocence of Richard’s enjoyment with Michael’s memories of sexual partners and liaisons.  His thoughts seem off-note to the setting and scene until it becomes clear that the counting ritual is simply the means by which Ms. Cochrane introduces the other principal character of the story, Thomas Carter-Clemence.  Killed shortly after the start of the war, Thomas was the love of Michael’s life, and his memories of Porthkennack are linked inextricably to Thomas and his lingering regret over their angry parting before the war.

This first, best part of Count the Shells details Michael’s return to Porthkennack and High Top, the house he where he spent halcyon summers with this family and with Thomas, who lived nearby.  This is Michael’s first trip back to Porthkennack since his fight with Thomas, and he’s a bit overwhelmed by memories of a happier, simpler time in his life.  Thoughts of Thomas creep up on him unawares and are triggered by the inquisitive nature of his nephew, who likes nothing more than to hear about his uncle’s history and friendships during summers on the coast.  Michael is filled with longing and regret for Thomas and the other men he loved and lost over the course of the war.  His nostalgia, tinged with regret over Thomas, have prevented him from moving on with his life.

One afternoon walking with Richard, the pair are nearly run over by a motorbike.  When Michael angrily approaches the rider, he’s shocked when the man removes his helmet – it’s Thomas.  Only it isn’t – it’s Harry Carter-Clemence, Thomas’s younger brother.  After getting over their initial surprise, the men exchange pleasantries and Michael feels a frisson of attraction for the younger man, though he assumes it’s because he reminds him of Thomas.  Later that day when his sister encourages him to invite Harry for a visit, Michael is anxious – seeing Harry has stirred up long repressed memories of his parting with Thomas, and he isn’t sure he’s prepared to deal with them yet.

Nevertheless, Harry visits and Michael enjoys the visit more than he anticipated and the pair make plans for Michael to visit the Carter-Clemence estate, Broch, the following afternoon.  Michael initially avoided a visit – too many memories of Thomas and afternoons sneaking away to make love – but he finds himself eager to spend time with Harry.  Reader – are you sensing a theme here?  You should be! Michael spends an inordinate time thinking about sex, his former lovers (especially Thomas), and wondering who his next lover will be (maybe Harry?), and truly not much else.  Oh, he also spends a good bit of time entertaining his sweet (if overly mature) nephew.  But that’s pretty much it.  Anyway, the visit goes surprisingly well and as he gets to know the charming Harry – visiting him at Broch, Michael finally begins to feel the return of a sense of hope and happiness.  Despite barely giving him a passing thought before the motorcycle incident, the relationship between Michael and Harry progresses quickly (this is an understatement), setting in motion several plot lines, not the least of which is an affair between the men (which apparently seems strange to no one but me).  Unfortunately, during a post-coital cuddle wherein Harry admits to having admired Michael for years, he also inadvertently makes a revelation about Thomas that shakes Michael to his core.  [Side note: They’re talking about Thomas – Harry’s brother and Michael’s former lover – in bed after having sex.  It’s weird.]

Harry’s inopportune words – and the secret he reveals – drive Michael from his bed.  Upset, angry and unwilling to hear anything else Harry has to say, Michael returns to High Top determined to ferret out the truth.  The secret has profound repercussions for everyone Michael loves, and leaves him feeling bitter and betrayed.  I won’t spoil it here except to say that Michael’s reaction and easy assignment of blame, grew tiresome.  Thomas, as any astute reader would have cottoned on to by this point, wasn’t perfect.  But Michael, who has embarked on an affair with his former lover’s brother, comes across as sanctimonious and hypocritical in equal parts.

I liked the Thomas plot twist.  It made sense in the context of the story and I think Ms. Cochrane shows a deft touch as she details Michael’s bewildered response to it – and the reactions of those close to him – as Michael finally begins to accept that Thomas wasn’t quite the man he remembers.  Michael’s relationship with his family is particularly well done, and his extended family – especially his kind and practical brother-in-law – are a nice contrast to Michael’s rather mercurial temperament.  It’s unfortunate that the same can’t be said of Michael’s other relationships.  Thomas was the love of his life, but after a foolish prank, Michael refused to speak to him again.  He instead spent the following summer with a different lover (number two if you’re keeping count).  Discovering that Thomas also had a liaison with someone else angers Michael – but his inability to see the hypocrisy of his anger, especially in light of his own behavior, is ridiculous.  Ms. Cochrane doesn’t spend nearly enough time developing Harry’s character or the relationship he forms with Michael, and in a novel that purports to be a romance, it’s a shame.  Michael barely had a thought for Harry even as a boy, but he suddenly develops a tendre for him and after a bit of perfunctory lovemaking, they’re talking about a future together in London.  The relationship simply isn’t well developed or romantic… and frankly, it was odd.

The setting, the sense of time and place, and the premise of this story are highlights in Count the Shells. Unfortunately, the central romance is disappointing and underdeveloped, and despite its strengths, the novel ultimately left this reader unsatisfied.

 

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: River Road (Tortured Souls #3) by R.C. Matthews

Purchase Now from Amazon

When a pirate and voodoo priestess must lift a deadly curse on those they love, do they dare let a relationship blossom amid danger? River Road is the gothically satisfying end to this fan-favorite series!

Charles Moore relishes his dangerous life as the pirate Hatchet, since manning a clipper ship keeps his mind off the role he played in the brutal Civil War. But now an ancient curse has killed two of his loves, and he can’t ignore the whispers that New Orleans’s Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau herself, has hexed his family.

Creole widow Hope Leblonc bristles under the city’s Black Codes that have stripped her of so many freedoms and forced her practice of voodoo underground. When Hatchet treats her like the respectable woman she is, she offers him a deal: she’ll lift the curse if he’ll steal back a family relic she needs to become a mambo in her religion.

But they’re both holding secrets that endanger their lives. When ghosts from the past exact revenge for the skeletons in the Moore family closet, they reveal a connection between Hope and Hatchet that makes the curse more powerful than ever. Will they discover that love is worth the risk in time to survive the coming darkness?

add-to-goodreads-button

EXCERPT

“What nonsense do you speak of?” his father asked with a lift of his brow. “Charles is cursed? By whom?”

“Something about a voodoo queen,” Maribeth replied with a shrug. “I should like to meet her. Do you know her?”

“Certainly not,” his father said with a sniff. “Marie Laveau hasn’t been seen in more than a decade. She might be dead for all I know. Do not speak of her or this voodoo nonsense again unless you’re keen on spending the night in a dank jail cell.” His gaze met Hatchet’s. “That’s what happens these days to those who practice the dark arts.”

“Well, what’re we going to do with this baggage?” Victor asked, scowling. “Can’t very well send her back to England unattended.”

Father set her back on her feet. “She’s more than welcome to join us. Charles, your mother will return to the plantation after a short stay in the city. You and Maribeth should accompany her. Harmon Grove offers many amusements for a curious young lady.”

Hatchet could not commit to anything until he found a quiet moment to mull over the situation. Dammit! Maribeth’s presence was problematic, robbing him of hours that would be better served in pursuit of information on the curse.

“Let me think on it after we settle in. The girl is young and fragile, making her vulnerable to disease,” he said with a pointed look in her direction. “I don’t want her too close to Mother.”

His little charge growled. “I’m not fragile.”

Father waved his hand. “No worries on that front. Lucetta is already back on her feet and a woman about town. Been at least a week since she recovered. Only last evening, she prayed for your early arrival so we might celebrate your birthday. She’ll be delighted when I share the news.”

“Is that so?” Hatchet asked with a long drawl. “Your letter left no doubt as to her condition. ‘Mother lies on her deathbed and begs for your return.’ Those were your exact words.”

Brushing away an imaginary speck on his jacket, his father avoided his gaze. “Yes, a remarkable recovery. Well, I must be off. I’ll send the carriages around before noon. Please, do not dally. Your mother will be intolerable company until you arrive. Perhaps I shall keep your early arrival a secret.”

“Speaking of secrets,” Hatchet said, walking with his father to the gangplank, away from prying little ears. “What business do you have on The Angelica? The captain and crew are untrustworthy, the lot of them. Best not to be seen dealing with them.”

Father folded his arms and puffed out his chest. “You’re advising me? I’m rather more than seven, my dear boy. Did you fail to notice the early-morning hour of my visit or my black attire? The Moore-Lloyd Shipping Co. is the most successful shipping venture this side of the Gulf. Believe me when I say I know precisely what I’m doing. But I thank you for your concern.”

A few moments later, Father entered his carriage, and Hatchet let out a sigh as the horses clomped away.

“Yes, Father, I noticed both the early hour and your fine clothing, along with the company crest on your carriage.”

Little had changed in his absence. Mother still manipulated the people who loved her by any means available, and Father knew what was best for them all. Well, with his mother in good health, at least he would have plenty of time to investigate the rumors of the blasted curse. His Nicolette and Emma were dead, as well as the spouses of his siblings. With four deaths among them, Hatchet could no longer blame coincidence. He must rid his family of the hex. And then he would get the bloody hell out of New Orleans, again.

As he turned to attend his duties, another carriage rolled to a stop in front of The Angelica. The driver hopped to the ground and assisted a woman out. Unlike Isaac, this woman did nothing to disguise her appearance as she boldly boarded the pirate ship.

Even from a distance, Hatchet discerned her beauty: a rich, bronze skin tone and lustrous black hair. New Orleans had many attractive women, but the best among them were the Creoles, forbidden as wives but coveted as lovers. His loins stirred as his gaze roved over her full bosom, to her cinched waist and the gentle swell of her behind.

“I’ve sent Maribeth to break her fast with Mercy,” Victor said, leaning his hip against the rail. “We’ve a lot to accomplish before noon.”

His gaze followed Hatchet’s to the forecastle deck of The Angelica, and he whistled. “Captain Corbin doesn’t waste time. You should seek out female company while in town. Tomorrow is your birthday, after all. We buried Emma nearly six months ago. You must move on at some point, and a brothel poses no risk. You will not fall in love with a lady of the night.”

Lie with another woman? No, he could not. But as he watched an argument unfold between Captain Corbin and the exotic minx, he couldn’t deny her allure.

“Maybe,” Hatchet amended as the black-haired beauty slapped the captain then stomped down the gangplank. “I’ve never sought one night of pleasure in the arms of a comely wench. Perhaps I must accept that as my fate, because falling in love three times in one lifetime seems against all odds.”

At least he had that going for him.

GIVEAWAY

ENTER TO WIN River Road! THE GIVEAWAY IS OPEN FOR SEVEN DAYS AND THE WINNER WILL BE NOTIFIED SHORTLY AFTER THE CLOSING DATE.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

R.C. Matthews lives in Michigan where she enjoys the four seasons and indulging her imagination while writing romances. Find R.C. Matthews at http://www.rcmatthews.com/, on Facebook, and on Twitter @RCMatthews123.

Snowdrift and Other Stories by Georgette Heyer

Purchase Now from Amazon

Previously titled Pistols for Two, this collection includes three of Heyer’s earliest short stories, published together in book form for the very first time. A treat for all fans of Georgette Heyer, and for those who love stories full of romance and intrigue.

Affairs of honour between bucks and blades, rakes and rascals; affairs of the heart between heirs and orphans, beauties and bachelors; romance, intrigue, escapades and duels at dawn. All the gallantry, villainy and elegance of the age that Georgette Heyer has so triumphantly made her own are exquisitely revived in these wonderfully romantic stories of the Regency period.


Publisher and Release Date: Sourcebooks Casablanca, October 2017
Time and Setting: Georgian & Regency England
Heat Level: 1
Genre: Historical Romance – Short Stories
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Caz

If you’re already a fan of the great Georgette Heyer – the author who pretty much invented the Regency Romance single-handedly – then it won’t take much persuasion from me to send you in the direction of this newly re-issued collection of the author’s short stories, most of them written for and published in prestigious women’s magazines of the 1930s. There are fourteen in this collection, of which eleven were previously published in the anthology Pistols for Two; Snowdrift contains those plus three that have been newly discovered by the author’s biographer, Jennifer Kloester. Is it worth obtaining this new collection to read those new stories? On balance, I’d say that yes, it is, especially as one of the new stories (Pursuit) turned out to be one of my favourites of the set.

I don’t plan on reviewing each individual story here, as that would take more space than I have, so instead I’ll cherry pick as, like most anthologies, there are some excellent stories and some not quite so good ones. Each one features character types and plot elements that will be familiar to regular readers of historical romance; cross-dressing heroines, elopements, mistaken identity, dashing military men, second-chance romance, duels, high-stakes card games, regency-slang and, best of all, those handsome, authoritative heroes and their intelligent, witty heroines. Fans of the author’s will no doubt recognise the seeds of some of the plots and characters who later appear in some of her full-length novels here, too. I’ll also add a couple of words of caution. While very enjoyable, this is an anthology best dipped in and out of rather than read all at once; and these are short stories, so some of the romances are fairly perfunctory and in many cases, rely on insta-love. I’m not a fan, but in this case, it’s mostly forgivable due to the short length and the fact that the stories are beautifully written and enjoyable for so many other things besides the romances, so full are they of Heyer’s trademark laser-sharp social observation, sparkling dialogue and clever characterisations.

And so to the cherry picking. Pistols for Two is a rather unusual story in that it turns a frequently used trope on its head. Two lifelong friends discover that they are in love with the same young woman – another childhood friend who has grown into a beauty – and through misunderstanding and mischance, end up facing each other on the field of honour. Told through both their points of view, the young lady in question is a peripheral character and the author does a terrific job of describing the prickly, adolescent pride of the two young gents.

In A Clandestine Affair, we have an older hero and heroine who clearly share some sort of romantic history. Elinor Tresilian’s niece, Lucy, wants badly to marry the man she loves, Mr. Arthur Roseby, who happens to be the cousin of Lord Iver – who is vehemently opposed to the match. As it happens, Miss Tresilian is not overly in favour either, but headstrong Lucy is determined to have her way. When the couple elopes, Elinor and Lord Iver set off in pursuit, bickering and sniping along the Great North Road until… they aren’t.

A Husband for Fanny sees the young widow, Honoria Wingham, shepherding her lovely daughter, Fanny through the Season and hoping to secure the best and wealthiest husband for her. The Marquis of Harleston is certainly most attentive and would be an excellent match… so why does Honoria feel just the tiniest pang of jealousy when she sees how well the marquis and her daughter get along? You can see the twist in this one coming a mile off, but it’s an engaging story nonetheless.

To Have the Honour. Newly returned from war, young Lord Allerton discovers he has inherited a mountain of debt along with his title. His mother, however, is still spending money at the old rate, because Allerton has been betrothed to his cousin Hetty since the cradle; as she is a great heiress, once they are married their money woes will be over. But Allerton dislikes the idea of marrying for money and, not realising that Hetty has been in love with him for years,  tells her that he will not hold her to the arrangement between their families and she is free to choose for herself. Some timely scheming behind the scenes means that all ends well.

Hazard is one of my favourites; in it a young woman is staked in a game of chance by her weaselly half-brother, and is ‘won’ by the very drunk Marquis of Carlington. Foxed though he is, Carlington admires Helen’s spirit and insists they leave for Gretna Green right away. Helen is remarkably matter-of-fact about the whole thing, and I loved the way she issued a little payback to her not-swain the next day. Their dash to Scotland is fortuitously interrupted – by Carlington’s fiancée, no less…

Of the three new stories, Pursuit, Runaway Match and Incident on the Bath Road, the first is my favourite, being another elopement story in which an older couple once again takes centre stage. Mary Fairfax and the Earl of Shane are pursuing his ward (and her charge) Lucilla, who has eloped with the man she loves, Mr. Monksley, who will shortly be shipping out to the Peninsula with his regiment. In Runaway Match, the lovely Miss Paradise convinces her friend, Rupert, to elope with her so she can foil her father’s plans to marry her to the old, odious Sir Roland. She has never met her intended, but is horrified to realise he has followed them all the way to Stamford. Or has he? And in Incident on the Bath Road, the handsome, wealthy but ennui-laden Lord Reveley (always courted, never caught) is on his way to Bath when he encounters a chaise accident and takes up the young Mr. Brown who explains that he has urgent business in the city. This urgent business turns out to be going to the aid of the lovely Miss X, who is going to be forced into a distasteful marriage… and Reveley’s life turns out not to be quite so boring after all.

While Georgette Heyer’s full-length novel allow her strengths – tightly-written plots, characterisation and witty banter – to shine fully, there are enough glimpses of all those things in these short stories to make them well worth reading, whether you’re a long-time fan (as I am) or a newcomer to her work. Snowdrift and Other Stories is just the book to have on hand when you don’t have time to settle into a full-length novel and want a quick romance fix.

A Daring Arrangement (The Four Hundred #1) by Joanna Shupe


Purchase Now from Amazon

Lady Honora Parker must get engaged as soon as possible, and only a particular type of man will do. Nora seeks a mate so abhorrent, so completely unacceptable, that her father will reject the match–leaving her free to marry the artist she loves. Who then is the most appalling man in Manhattan? The wealthy, devilishly handsome financier, Julius Hatcher, of course….

Julius is intrigued by Nora’s ruse and decides to play along. But to Nora’s horror, Julius transforms himself into the perfect fiancé, charming the very people she hoped he would offend. It seems Julius has a secret plan all his own–one that will solve a dark mystery from his past, and perhaps turn him into the kind of man Nora could truly love.


Publisher and Release Date: Avon, October 2017

Time and Setting: New York, 1890
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Sara

Readers are always clamoring for something different when it comes to historical romance. Joanna Shupe has answered the call with her new book A Daring Arrangement; set during New York’s Gilded Age and using the extravagance and elegance of the time to create a sense that anything is possible, including a jaded heart finding true love.

For most young women the chance to mix and mingle with New York City’s upper class would be an incredible adventure, but for Lady Honora Parker it’s penance. When her father, the Earl of Stratton, caught Nora in the arms of artist Robert Landon he immediately shipped her off to America to spend time with her aunt and uncle. Having an ocean between them does nothing to cool Nora’s love for Robert and no soirée can distract her from her determination to find a way to return to England and his arms. Knowing that her father will not summon her back home without good reason, Nora concocts a plan to attach herself to the most scandalous man in New York, causing enough gossip that her father will have to take notice. To Nora’s mind the idea is foolproof. All she needs is the right kind of man, one who’ll get her name in the papers but won’t press for anything more than a business arrangement with her.

While out to dinner with her aunt and uncle, Nora is distracted by a loud ruckus in the ballroom above the dining rooms. A quick inquiry reveals that the party upstairs is being held for Mr. Julius Hatcher, an infamous financier on the stock market and an upstart in the eyes of the elite. The dining room begins to swirl with gossip about the man and for Nora it makes him the perfect candidate for her scheme. Excusing herself from the table Nora finds the ballroom and is shocked to see it filled with men attempting to hold a cocktail party while on horseback! Nora’s introduction to Mr. Hatcher goes poorly when he mistakes her as a woman hired as the entertainment; however his drunkenness makes him quite agreeable to her plans. With a shocking kiss to seal the deal, Nora secures the hand of a fake fiancé who’ll create a stir big enough to be felt across the Atlantic.

Waking up with a dreadful hangover, Julius’s headache only gets worse with the arrival of a proper English lady on his doorstep. The nonsense coming out of her mouth about fake betrothals makes Julius question his recollections of his birthday party the night before and a fuzzy memory of kissing a beautiful woman. Lady Honora’s plan to use the gossip surrounding his name for her benefit just reeks of foolishness, but her offer to use her connections within the Knickerbocker set to bring Julius into their fold is something he can’t ignore. He’s spent years trying to gain entrance into their exclusive clubs and gatherings in the hopes of finding the men responsible for his father’s ruin years before. Despite his wealth, Julius hasn’t managed to get his foot past the door, but an engagement to a society lady  like Nora will open those doors wide enough to see all the secrets hidden behind them.

A Daring Arrangement is the kind of romance where the main characters start off so at odds that you’re drawn in just to know how they’ll end up together. Nora is a romantic, seeing her love for her suitor Robert as pure and uncompromising, born from his ability to see her as an individual. Julius is practical, seeing things through a businessman’s eyes and having little care for attachments or sentiment. Their feelings stem from how they were raised; Nora being starved for love by a remote father and Julius poisoned by his parent’s damaged relationship. Neither one begins the arrangement with hopes that a connection will blossom; however in spending time with each other they each begin to see the flaws in their previous viewpoints.

Julius is a swoon-worthy hero who embodies some of the best (and worst) qualities of the American success story. He’s built himself from the ground up and his pride at his achievements borders on arrogance when he flaunts his scandals with no apologies. Meeting Nora and being her fake fiancé in public makes Julius reevaluate the importance of a man’s reputation when it spills over to those closest to him. He cleans up his act, at first to keep the society men eager to know him but then to prove to Nora that he’s more than just a walking target for gossip.

Nora’s journey from naïve, slightly impulsive girl to a courageous and responsible young woman is the heart of the story. Despite her feelings that only Robert understands her there are many signs that Nora doesn’t quite know herself yet. She manipulates situations to get what she wants, not understanding that a scandal large enough to get her father’s attention will also ruin her future. Julius confronts her about her behavior as well as Robert’s lackluster efforts in their relationship, explaining that words mean nothing if they’re not followed up by actions. Nora’s eyes are opened to what a real relationship feels like and what true love means as she sees her own value through Julius’ respect and attention towards her.

A Daring Arrangement is the first book I’ve read from Ms. Shupe and I’m already eager for more. Her world of Knickerbocracy and the glamor of 1890’s New York is easily my new favorite setting for historical romance and I’ll be checking out her backlist while I wait for what’s next in The Four Hundred series.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Heart and Dagger by Holland Rae

Purchase Now from Amazon

Armand never expected the captain of the most notorious mercenary crew in the Spanish Main to look so familiar…

Lady Charlotte Talbot hasn’t seen Armand Rajaram de Bourbon, her oldest childhood friend and once betrothed, since his family returned to India when she was fifteen. Since then, she has left a groom at the altar, changed her name to Catalina Sol, opened a house for unwed mothers and orphans, and captained a ship, the Liberté, crewed by the best fighters in the Spanish Main. She’s no longer the lady he left behind, not that she’d admit to wishing he’d return.

When Armand’s brother is kidnapped, he breaks his rule of never engaging with pirates. But desperation drives him to the Liberté and a life he thought he’d left far behind. He’d do anything to save Henri, but Armand never expected to find Charlotte here, and now that’s he’s found her, he doesn’t have a clue what to do about it.

Together, they must face kidnapping, pirate captains, blackmail, and themselves. The Liberté may sail thousands of miles from the shores of England, but that might not be far enough to escape the past.

add-to-goodreads-button

EXCERPT

Catalina had faced down more swords in her life than half the British Navy. She had fired pistols, fired cannon, swung by unraveling rope onto burning ships. She had dueled, fenced, boxed, and seen more than her fair share of shocking, violent, maddening events in her relatively short life. But nothing short of the literal end of days could have been cause for more surprise than what awaited her under the hood. For sheer lack of other response, she let out a scream that could far more easily have belonged to Charlotte Talbot than the mercenary captain of the Liberté.

“Armand!” Her voice—was that her own voice?—burned with shock and excitement and confusion and all manner of emotions she had long since left behind when earning her own ship and setting for the horizon.

His shock seemed as true as her own, and she surmised that he really hadn’t been able to see much behind the veil of his cloak.

“Charlotte.”

She wanted to nod. She wanted to do something, but she was frozen to the spot, her feet sinking into the floor and her body paralyzed.

“What the devil are you doing?” he asked. “And where the hell is Catalina Sol?”

She shook her head, finally able to get some movement into her frozen limbs.

“Armand,” she whispered his name in shock. “I am Catalina Sol.”

For a moment, the two of them simply stood, facing each other. Catalina took a deep breath, but it did little to steady the racing of her mind and the pounding of her heart against her ribs. It was as if she had seen a ghost, standing just before her in the flesh, as if her dear mama had risen from the grave and sung her a nighttime lullaby. For all she had heard, before taking to the seas, Armand and his family had perished in a fire set by pirates. She had never believed it, not really, but neither had she set about disproving it, either. Armand was a memory, a part of her past best left to the nurseries and schoolrooms of a London townhouse, to the fields and pastures of a countryside estate.

But the Armand who stood before her now—magistrate, she supposed—was not the boy she had waved goodbye to at the docks. With a bite of laughter that she nearly choked on, Catalina knew that her information had been shockingly accurate. This man did have far too many titles to his name. Good lot it seemed to be doing him now. No, this Armand was not a boy at all. He was a man, in the truest sense of the word. His skin was darker than she remembered, likely turned that golden brown by the brush of the sun, and his hair was longer with a silky thickness to it. He even had a small beard growing in, though Catalina got the distinct impression that he was not in the best of states at the moment, and that it was far more likely he was always clean shaven.

And by God, he was tall. His shoulders were wide, stretching that drab cloak, and he towered over her as if she were the size of a sea mite. For a fleeting second, Catalina considered what could have been her husband all those years ago and allowed herself to feel the aching twinge of regret that came with the truth. But then she rallied, pulling herself together and staring him directly in the eye.

“What the devil are you doing here?” she asked him, her voice far calmer than she felt. Her insides were crashing like a great ocean storm against a weak hull, and Catalina knew if she didn’t remove herself from his presence soon, she risked ruining everything she had worked so very hard for.

“I could ask you the same question,” he growled. Ah, of course she had recognized his voice. There was no mistaking the hybrid of accents now, the French lilt to his gentleman’s English, and the way he rolled his letters in imitation of his mother’s native Indian tongue. Yes, it was a distinct combination, and it almost relieved Catalina to know that she had not fabricated it from her mind, when she had first heard him speak from under the hood.

“I’m working,” she replied stiffly, desperately wanting for another mug of ale. Dirty dishrag or not, she could use the liquid courage right now.

“As a pirate.” His words were seething, no less dangerous than a snake spitting poison. Catalina had heard that tone before, and she would hear it many times again, no doubt.

“Did you have a job for a nun, then?” she asked, deciding not to worry over the point of piracy. He would make the assumptions and waste both of their time, or they could simply move on with the business of the day, mainly, her leaving.

“I wish you had become a nun.” He nearly growled it, and a pang of guilt and sadness crashed over her. Truly, they had both faced many trials in the years since they had seen each other last. What was there to be fighting over now, in this impromptu reunion?

“I’m terribly sorry for having disappointed you, then,” she replied. “The church was full.”

GIVEAWAY

ENTER TO WIN Heart and Dagger! THE GIVEAWAY IS OPEN FOR SEVEN DAYS AND THE WINNER WILL BE NOTIFIED SHORTLY AFTER THE CLOSING DATE.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Holland Rae was born in Manhattan, and considers herself a New Yorker, even though she spent most of her life in New Jersey. She recently moved home from Boston, Mass., where she finished her education in journalism and magazine writing, with a focus on the automotive industry.

She is an avid writer, and has been for years, studying at Emerson College, with writer’s retreats at Kenyon College, Duke University and Simon’s Rock. She loves to travel, and spent her semester abroad living in a 14th century castle in the Netherlands. In her free time she enjoys dreaming up stories, eating spicy food, driving fast cars and talking to strangers.

Visit Holland Rae at https://hollandrae.com/

BOOK BLAST: The Painter’s Apprentice by Laura Morelli

Purchase Links: Amazon * ~ * Barnes & Noble * ~ * iBooks * ~ * Kobo * ~ * Scribd

Star-crossed lovers with a costly secret. As the plague grips Venice, more than a quarantine divides them…

Venice, 1510. Maria Bartolini wants nothing more than to carry on her father’s legacy as a master gilder. Instead, her father has sent her away from the only home she’s ever known to train as an apprentice to Master Trevisan, a renowned painter.

Maria arranges to leave the painter’s workshop to return to her family workshop and to a secret lover waiting for her back home. But the encroaching Black Death foils her plans…

When the painter’s servants uncover the real reason why Maria has been sent away to train with Master Trevisan, they threaten to reveal a secret that could tear down her family and the future of their trade. She is forced to buy the servants’ silence, but as their greed steadily grows, Maria resorts to more desperate measures. She questions whether her heart’s desire is worth risking her family, her trade, and her future, but Maria’s sacrifices may amount to nothing if the plague arrives on her father’s doorstep and steals away everything she’s ever loved…

From the author of the award-winning The Gondola Maker comes a rich tale of Renaissance Venice, a heroine with a lust for life, and love against all odds.

Pre-Order Promotion

Author Laura Morelli is offering a set of great bonuses exclusively to her readers! If you like to delve deeper into the “story behind the story,” you’ll want to take advantage of Laura’s pre-order package, which takes readers behind the scenes of The Painter’s Apprentice with videos, pictures, commentary about Renaissance Venice, and other exclusive content.

Learn more HERE.

Praise for The Gondola Maker

“I’m a big fan of Venice, so I appreciate Laura Morelli’s spe

cial knowledge of the city, the period, and the process of gondola-making. An especially compelling story.” -Frances Mayes, author, Under the Tuscan Sun

“Laura Morelli has done her research, or perhaps she was an Italian carpenter in another life. One can literally smell and feel the grain of finely turned wood in her hands.” -Pamela Sheldon Johns, author, Italian Food Artisans

“Sixteenth-century Venice is the star of Morelli’s well-crafted historical novel about Luca Vianello, the eldest son of the city’s most renowned gondola builder.” -Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review

“The heir to a gondola empire rejects his birthright but comes full circle in this fascinating glimpse into late-Renaissance Venice by art-historian-turned-novelist Morelli (Made in Italy).” -Kirkus Indie Book of the Month

“The Gondola Maker is historical fiction at its best.” -Midwest Book Review

About the Author

Laura Morelli holds a Ph.D. in art history from Yale University, where she was a Bass Writing Fellow and Mellon Doctoral Fellow. She authored a column for National Geographic Traveler called “The Genuine Article” and contributes pieces about authentic travel to national magazines and newspapers. Laura has been featured on CNN Radio, Travel Today with Peter Greenberg, The Frommers Travel Show, and in USA TODAY, Departures, House & Garden Magazine, Traditional Home, the Denver Post, Miami Herald, The Chicago Tribune, and other media. Recently her art history lesson, “What’s the difference between art and craft?” was produced and distributed by TED-Ed.

Laura has taught college-level art history at Trinity College in Rome, as well as at Northeastern University, Merrimack College, St. Joseph College, and the College of Coastal Georgia. Laura has lived in five countries, including four years in Italy and four years in France.

Laura Morelli is the author of the guidebook series that includes Made in Italy, Made in France, and Made in the Southwest, all published by Rizzoli / Universe. The Gondola Maker, a historical coming-of-age story about the heir to a gondola boatyard in 16th-century Venice, is her first work of fiction.

For more information, please visit Laura Morelli’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

 

 

No Other Duke Will Do (Windham Brides #3) by Grace Burrowes

Purchase Now from Amazon

Julian St. David, Duke of Haverford, is barely keeping his head above water in a sea of inherited debts. Though he has a long-term plan to restore the family finances, his sister has a much faster solution: host a house party for London’s single young ladies and find Julian a wealthy bride.

Elizabeth Windham has no interest in marriage, but a recent scandal has forced her hand. As much as she’d rather be reading Shakespeare than husband-hunting, she has to admit she’s impressed by Julian’s protective instincts, broad shoulders, and, of course, his vast library.

As the two spend more time together, their attraction is overwhelming, unexpected… and absolutely impossible. With meddling siblings, the threat of financial ruin, and gossips lurking behind every potted palm, will they find true love or true disaster?

Publisher and Release Date: Forever, November 2017

Time and Setting: Haverford Castle, Wales, 1820s
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Lady Wesley

If you grow weary of reading about rakes and villains and the seamier sides of 19th century Great Britain, turn to a Grace Burrowes book for a change of pace. I suggest No Other Duke Will Do (ignore the silly title) for the story of two good and honorable people who find their way to a happy ending despite bumps in the road. They come from warm, loving families whose members appear as engaging secondary characters. There are no deep dark secrets. No Big Misunderstandings. No kidnappings. Just two adults who talk to one another like adults and who listen to one another and who fall in love. Nobody tells these stories of romantic and familial love better than Grace Burrowes.

Elizabeth Windham is the eldest daughter of Lord Anthony Windham, the younger brother of Percival Windham, Duke of Moreland. Burrowes’ Windham Series told the stories of the Duke and his beloved Duchess and their five daughters and three sons, with the duke constantly attempting to interfere in their romantic pursuits. Now that Percival has gotten his own children married off, he and the duchess have turned their attention to their four nieces. In two previous Windham Brides series, the two youngest girls have married a Scottish duke and the duke’s heir apparent, respectively.

As the book opens, the London season has ended, prompting Elizabeth and spitfire sister Charlotte to agree, somewhat reluctantly, to take part in a house party at Haverford Castle in Wales, the country seat of Julian St. David, Duke of Haverford. The party has been organized by Julian’s sister Glenys in hopes of turning up a suitable duchess for her brother. For his part, Julian has no intention of marrying any time soon, but he hopes the party will produce a husband for his sister.

Julian’s marriage plans are on hold because he is virtually penniless. For decades, both his father and grandfather had spent lavishly to acquire rare books and manuscripts, depleting the estate’s assets to do so. Now, Haverford Castle is home to some 30,000 volumes, but the carpets are threadbare and the furniture is worn. Julian has calculated that it will take him eight years to pay off his debts, so until then he will remain single, weighed down with a burden that he did not deserve. That is unless he marries an heiress. But Julian is an honorable, loving man, and the notion of marrying for money is distasteful to him.

Elizabeth is a lover of books, so her motive for visiting Haverford Castle is not to get married but to explore the fabulous library. She feels no burning desire to be married but neither does the role of “spinster aunt” appeal. Elizabeth is strong, level-headed, competent, and kind, and she immediately likes both Julian and Glenys. They quickly take to her as well, but Julian realizes that even though Elizabeth has a generous dowry she would not bring enough money to save his estate. Besides, he shies at the idea of spending all of his wife’s dowry and leaving her no provision after his death.

Most of Julian’s debt is in the hands of his vulgar, social-climbing, immensely wealthy neighbor Lucas Sherbourne, who is as close as we get to a villain in this story. Sherbourne would like to marry Glenys, but if he can’t he is determined to call in Julian’s debts and ruin him. He would also like to establish coal mines in the area, but Julian has managed to block his plans. When Sherbourne crashes the house party, Julian is too much of a gentleman to send him packing, and before the book ends, there are hints of a tendre between him and Charlotte. (We shall have to wait for the next book to see what happens there.)

One of the things that I enjoy about house party romances is how the main couple is able to come together slowly and naturally, and in this book, it is not just Julian and Elizabeth who are headed toward a happy ending. Glenys has an admirer in the form of the Marquess of Radnor, Julian’s closest friend and owner of the neighboring estate. Despite his wealth and attractive presence, Radnor is reluctant to offer for Glenys because he believes that she views him merely as a friend. He is right about that, but then Glenys doesn’t think of love and marriage for herself, only for her brother. Then there is Julian’s cousin Hugh St. David, whose wife Delphine is a comet streaking across the firmament of willing young men. Elizabeth observes that if the fossil-hunting Hugh didn’t totally ignore his wife she might behave differently.

The story of Julian’s younger brother Griffin is the most moving of the secondary characters. Griffin is mentally challenged; today we might call him autistic, but I won’t attempt a diagnosis. Once Griffin reached adulthood Julian set him up in a cottage on the estate, with elderly Abner Jones and his young niece Biddy to look after him. Griffin is a lovely, gentle man, and a gentleman despite his limitations. He loves to walk the estate with his faithful dog King Henry, and he knows every plant and animal. The love between him and Julian is deep, and Julian worries because Griffin is his heir yet he is completely unsuited to taking on the responsibilities of a dukedom. Griffin wants to marry Biddy, but of course, the situation is complicated by Griffin’s condition and the chasm between their positions in a class-bound society.

Finally, we get a glimpse of Elizabeth’s and Charlotte’s elderly Aunt Arabella, the Marchioness of Pembroke, who is their chaperone at the house party. Those who have read the Windham books know that Percival was a younger son, sent off to Canada as a soldier. Peter Windham was the eldest son, married to Arabella, but he died very young. There is a touching scene where she confronts Julian about his intentions toward Elizabeth, only to be given the standard speech that Julian is not in a position to marry. Aunt Arabella then recounts the story of her short marriage, and I must admit that it brought tears to my eyes. “By the time he was your age, he could no longer sit a horse for even an hour, and we’d danced our last waltz. You are wasting time, Haverford.”

Now that I’ve mentioned all of these characters, it may seem like they overshadow the main couple, but that is not the case. This is primarily Julian’s and Elizabeth’s story, with concerns about Julian’s financial situation lurking behind all of their interactions. Their attraction is bound up in mutual respect, wit, and intellectual compatibility. Ironically, Julian, who has grown to hate the millstone created by his 30,000 books, falls for a woman who loves books above all else, and the fate of the books is key to their happily ever after.

If I have one criticism of the plotline, it is Julian’s refusal to raise funds by selling some of the books. In this regard, he has rather naively relied upon the advice of London solicitors rather than seeking out knowledgeable bibliophiles. Ultimately, it is a small niggle, as the financial barriers to the couple’s marriage are handled neatly and believably.

As I have said repeatedly, Grace Burrowes is a consummate storyteller, and her talents are evident on every page of this book. If like me, you have enjoyed excursions into Windhamworld, this book provides yet another view of the extended family. If you have never read a Burrowes novel, No Other Duke Will Do is an excellent place to begin.

AUDIO REVIEW: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee, narrated by Christian Coulson

Purchase Now from Audible via Amazon

Henry “Monty” Montague doesn’t care that his roguish passions are far from suitable for the gentleman he was born to be. But as Monty embarks on his grand tour of Europe, his quests for pleasure and vice are in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

So Monty vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

Witty, dazzling, and intriguing at every turn, The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is an irresistible romp that explores the undeniably fine lines between friendship and love.


Publisher and Release Date: Harper Audio, October 2017

Time and Setting: 18th Century England and Europe
Heat Level: 1
Genre: Young Adult/Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: Content: 5 stars / Narration: 5 stars

Review by Em

I loved Mackenzi Lee’s A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue when I read it earlier this year, and when I decided to listen to the audio version in order to review it here, I doubted I could like it any better. Reader, I DID.  A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue (in audio) is my favorite book of 2017.  This version, with Christian Coulson’s fabulous, spot-on narration elevates all the best parts of this marvelous book; I laughed, I cried, I grimaced and swooned my way through it.  It’s that good.  Read it – or listen to it (even better) and prepare to fall in love with its naughty, charming, and mischievous hero Henry Montague, his best friend Percy, and indomitable younger sister Felicity as they embark on a truly grand tour.

AGGTVAV is the (sometimes cautionary) tale of two lifelong friends making their Grand Tour told from the point of view of Henry ‘Monty’ Montague.  Monty is an unrepentant rake: handsome, flirtatious, charming, funny, lazy and largely oblivious to his many faults.  Though graced with good looks (and dimples), a winning personality and a wealthy family, life hasn’t been easy for Monty.   His father shows nothing but contempt for him, and his constant abuse – both physical and emotional – has led Monty to believe his life has no value or purpose.  He’s also utterly and completely in love with his best friend Percy, whom he’s convinced has no romantic feelings for him whatsoever. Emotionally adrift, fated to spend his life pining for the one man he can never have, and facing a bleak future at his father’s side, Monty is determined this Grand Tour will be memorable in all the best ways – drinking, debauchery, gambling and wild adventures.

Much to his dismay, Monty’s father has other ideas and informs Monty, moments before their departure, that they will be accompanied by Mr. Lockwood, who will ensure the group (Monty, Percy, and Monty’s younger sister Felicity – en route to a year of finishing school) behave appropriately, soak up the local culture, visit all the most significant and edifying sights. Most worryingly, he will report back and if Monty strays in any way he will be immediately cut-off and forced to make his own way in life.

The group sets off and the Grand Tour is everything Monty hoped it wouldn’t be.  Lockwood barely leaves them time to themselves, Felicity is buried in her books, Monty is rarely permitted a drink, and his heart aches with longing for Percy.  Finally, in a fortuitous turn of events, Monty and Percy manage a night out in Paris.  They drink, they gamble, they flirt… and then they passionately kiss.  Monty can’t believe his good fortune, but in typical Monty fashion mucks things up by hedging about his feelings. The evening ends in harsh words and a distance between them – quite the opposite of how Monty hoped it would unfold.

After their evening out  an awkward tension springs up between the pair and Monty, in typical fashion, promptly makes it worse.  Days later, attending an afternoon garden party at Versailles, he observes Percy talking to another guest who’s clearly (to Monty’s eyes) flirting with his friend.  Assuming the worst, Monty proceeds in short order to tell off his host,  get drunk, engage in an inappropriate liaison, and then, when interrupted in flagrante, runs naked through a room full of party guests to escape.

Much as expected, Mr. Lockwood informs the trio the Grand Tour is over.  He makes plans to drop Felicity at school and Percy in Holland (where he will attend law school), but in a stroke of (good?) luck, their carriage is overtaken by highway robbers.  Forced out of the carriage and onto their knees, it quickly becomes clear these aren’t your typical highwayman, and that they’re looking for something.  After a brief scramble with their captors, Percy manages to knock the leader out with his ever present fiddle case, and the three take off into the woods leaving Mr. Lockwood to fend for himself.  When they finally pause to take stock of their situation, Monty belatedly realizes the men are likely after the small box he swiped as he made his his calamitous exit from Versailles.

Once Monty, Percy and Felicity are separated from Mr. Lockwood, AGGTVAV hits its stride, detailing their misadventures across the Continent as they seek to restore the box to its rightful owner.  There are plot twists, manhunts, guns, double crosses, swords, pirates, true love and more – and you’re never quite sure what (wonderful) thing the author has up her sleeve next.  But it all works, and Monty, our intrepid guide, transcends the busy narrative and steals the show.  Charming, naughty and desperately in love with Percy, Monty somehow begins to find himself as the story unfolds.  Though it would be easy to dismiss Monty as simply a selfish and (disastrously) impetuous teenager, Ms. Lee has crafted a truly delightful, funny and marvelously entertaining hero for the ages.  Monty is far, far from perfect – but his faults are part of his charm, and his adoring – pure – love for Percy, make him impossible to dislike.

Much of what makes AGGTVAV such a great story are the supremely well-written principal and secondary characters.  Percy patiently endures Monty’s frequent and recurring missteps, stoically supporting him through thick and thin.  But despite a relatively privileged life, he’s still the biracial son of a West Indies landowner, and he’s spent a lifetime dealing with the thinly veiled racism and condescension of his peers – and Monty’s ignorance of the same.  For the past few years he’s also been keeping a significant and life changing secret from Monty;  when it comes to light, it threatens the future of their relationship.  When I initially read AGGTVAV, I thought Felicity made a nice contrast to her brother and Percy, but she didn’t particularly stand out to me.  I felt very different listening to the audio version.  A bluestocking in training, Felicity more than holds her own against Monty – she’s smart, wickedly funny, wise and wonderful, and without her, the story just wouldn’t be the same.  She’s a terrific contrast to the sweetness of Percy and naughtiness of her brother and the three of them together are a wonderful combination.

Although Ms. Lee’s writing is fantastic, Christian Coulson’s amazing narration truly brings this story to life.  He perfectly captures Monty’s voice – his charm, his confusion over his feelings for Percy, his sad acceptance of his father’s brutality, his wicked humor, his uncertainty about his life and it’s meaning and I loved his interpretation of the character.  He does a similarly excellent job with Percy’s voice – somber, amused and bemused; and he nails Felicity’s dry sense of humor and no nonsense approach to life.  I wasn’t as fond of his Spanish accent – but that’s a very minor quibble and it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the audio at all.  Mr. Coulson is a revelation and his reading of AGGTVAV is nothing short of masterful.  Bravo.

Funny, romantic, and special, A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is this year’s best YA novel; with Christian Coulson’s narration, it’s simply the best – full stop.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Surrendering the Past (The Granville Legacy Series Book 1) by Pamela Lynne

Purchase Now from Amazon

In a world of honor and obligation, falling in love can be a dangerous game. Captain Richard Granville has returned to London after serving the Crown in perilous missions fighting Napoleon’s army. Bone weary and distrustful of all around him, the captivating Jane Dawson awakens his long dormant desire for more than a solitary existence. When he learns she is betrothed to his father, the conniving and dangerous Earl of Litchfield, shadows of the past descend upon Richard, bringing along memories of a tortuous childhood and his failure to protect the person he had loved most.

Jane Dawson would pay any price to renew her family’s happiness, but is the cost of marrying Lord Litchfield too high? A woman of virtue and honor, she cannot break a promise once given, especially when doing so would ruin those she seeks to protect. But can she ignore the connection she feels to the wild soldier who understands both her duty and her heart?

Follow the men of the Granville family in this suspenseful Regency romance series as they discover that their family legacy is much darker than they realized, and that the future holds treasures they can only grasp by surrendering the past.

add-to-goodreads-button

EXCERPT

The short walk to Litchfield House served to be enough to numb the gentlemen in both body and spirit. The cold wind whipped around and through them, preparing them for the chill they were likely to find inside that evening. The convivial spirit the two enjoyed earlier was gone as each prepared to thwart whatever Lord Litchfield’s machinations would be. Though Richard was sure the evening would bring news of his brother’s betrothal, his father would never miss the chance to manipulate all those around him, even if only for his own amusement.

As they entered, a shrill, cackling laugh descended upon them, greeting them in much the same way the wind had earlier. The butler did not react to the sound as he took their outwear and handed them to a footman.

Richard raised his eyebrows and turned to Julian as they descended the steps into the grand hall. “It seems my father brought a harpy back with him from his last trip to hell.”

Julian barely smiled as they stepped toward the closed doors of the drawing room, where the butler was leading them. When the doors opened and they were announced, Richard scanned the room in his usual eagle-like fashion. His father’s men dotted the perimeter of the room. These were burley men who guarded the earl at all times. Richard did not recognize the faces, but he did not need to. He knew who they were and what their job was. He wondered briefly how his father always managed to find these men, always with the same look about them—mean, solid, yet short in stature. The earl would never have a subordinate looking down on him, not even one meant to intimidate.

Richard’s eyes next landed on his brother, Wesley, standing in the middle of the room surrounded by beautiful women whom Richard did not immediately recognize. He made a step toward the group when his father intercepted him.

“Ah, my son and my nephew. You have finally joined us.” The earl’s voice held a sickening sweetness that made Richard want to run. It was the voice Litchfield always gave when he was up to something vile—the performance before the mask was removed to reveal the evil underneath. Richard began to question his belief that the purpose of the evening was simply to celebrate Wesley’s betrothal, but rather something far more sinister.

Neither man responded but stood as the earl’s icy gaze trailed over his son. “It is good of you to make an appearance, Richard. I did not know if you were alive or dead these last two years.”

Richard’s outward appearance did not change as his father spoke. He retained the cold, emotionless expression he held when he walked through the door. Inside, he was reminding himself that he was no longer a child, and that voice need not send a bolt of fear straight through him. “You seemed to know enough to find me last week.”

“Yes, well, London is my town, is it not? I have many acquaintances here who like to fill me in on all the goings on. I am not fortunate enough to have friends in France or wherever it was you were all this time.” He paused once more to search Richard’s expression. Knowing full well what he was doing, Richard kept his gaze hard and unyielding. “Well, it is of no matter now. Your brother will be happy to see you.”

As the earl’s attention turned to Julian, Richard’s eyes once again wandered to his brother. Wesley seemed to stand straighter than the last time he saw him. As the eldest and heir to the considerable Litchfield estate, Wesley, Viscount Ashly, certainly had reason to be proud. However, it was not pride Richard read in his eyes as Wesley stared into his own, though, but curiosity mixed with something Richard could not name.

He father’s voice resonated beside him, but Richard barely heard him as the women in Wesley’s company came into focus. He recognized Rachel by the way she smiled sweetly in his direction. The years had been good to her. He remembered her as a slightly mousey, and mouthy, young lady, but the woman standing there was beautiful. He assumed the lack of a husband had kept her young and strong.

He nodded to her and turned his eyes to a smaller woman with many of the same features standing between Rachel and Wesley. She had a grip on his brother’s arm that left no doubt who she was. Kathleen. My future sister. The possessiveness in her expression hardened her otherwise lovely features, and Richard wondered at the cause of the protective stance. A slight look to the left of Wesley gave him his answer.

Captain Richard Granville was not often in the company of women. He had no sisters or any living female relations. He had often thought this was because the Granville men were so large and consuming that there was no room for delicacy, and the women just could not survive among them. There were, of course, the whores who followed the encampments along the battlefields and the occasional female spy who could never be trusted. But having so little experience with ladies in polite society, he was at first surprised and then gratified as a blush crept up this woman’s features as he held her eyes in his own. He heard the cackling laugh once more and watched as her blush intensified and turned into one of shame. She turned away, and Richard immediately missed having her eyes upon him. What was this angel doing in the den of the devil?

GIVEAWAY

ENTER TO WIN Surrendering the Past! THE GIVEAWAY IS OPEN FOR SEVEN DAYS AND THE WINNER WILL BE NOTIFIED SHORTLY AFTER THE CLOSING DATE.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Pamela Lynne grew up in the American South, surrounded by Southern Gothic works by Faulkner, O’Connor and the like. These authors helped shape her evolving mind and continue to influence everything she produces as an adult. It was a Regency-era wit from across the Atlantic, however, who lit a life-long interest in 19th Century England.

Pamela cites Jane Austen as her primary literary influence and she delves into the darker aspects of Regency life in all her novels, most particularly in The Granville Legacy Series, where she explores the bonds of family and what it costs to break them.

Dearest Friends: A Jane Austen Inspired Novel, Pamela’s debut work, won the Independent Publishers 2016 IPPY Awards Bronze Medal for Romance.
Pamela currently lives in the rolling hills of Tennessee with her husband of more than a decade, three kids, two cats, and one very blond dog. She is still a Marianne hoping to grow into Elinor, or Clairee from Steel Magnolias.

Twitter: @pamelalynne1
vanityandpridepress.com
pamelalynnewrites.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Pamela-Lynne-226234447711114/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel