The Irresistible Miss Peppiwell by Stacy Reid

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With a longing for adventure, the last thing Phillipa Pippiwell wants is to marry. After a painful betrayal by a man she trusted, she is wary when she unwittingly catches the attention of roguishly handsome – and sinfully tempting – Lord Anthony Thornton. Forbidden desires she secretly yearns for threaten to crumble her icy facade and reveal a past scandal best kept buried.

Dissatisfied with his empty life, Lord Anthony seeks a deep and lasting connection… and finds himself intrigued by the Ice Maiden of the haute monde. Undaunted by Phillipa’s aloof nature and her distaste for the idea of matrimony, he sets out to thaw the bewitching beauty by enticing her with adventures of the most sensual type. But he, too, hides a scandalous secret… and if it’s discovered it could rip them apart

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Publisher and Release Date: Entangled Scandalous, August 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: 1880s England
Genre: Historical romance
Heat Level: 2.5
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

Miss Philippa Peppiwell is fleeing a scandal. An American heiress from Boston living in Victorian England, her family’s money is “new money” and, thus, snubbed and belittled by London high society. But her family has high hopes for their daughters to make titled matches and thus advance their station.

But Philippa does not ever wish to marry and distrusts the intentions of all men after her one great disappointment. Her cold reserve and austere beauty – despite her red hair – have earned her the moniker of “ice maiden,” but she is merely protecting her vulnerability behind a wall. This works with most of her eligible suitors but does not, however, deter the determined Anthony Thornton, brother to the reluctant Duke of Calydon.

At first, Philippa is merely another woman he must have and they embark on a passionate affair, but Anthony soon changes his mind. She is “irresistible” and, when she refuses his hand in marriage, he single-mindedly pursues her, despite the scandalous secrets they both hold dear. The sex is graphic but tastefully done as it portrays their deep attraction, both physically and emotionally.

Though the burning sexual tension that Ms Reid creates really simmers throughout this short romance, the ending seems a little abrupt with its uneasy and unrealistic resolution. Most of the story proceeds at a lovely pace, but then it seems to rush through the ending, somewhat disrupting the easy flow of the book.

Nevertheless, this does not detract from the book and I very much enjoyed the writing, the storyline, and the depiction of Victorian London society and fashion in the 1880s. The romance is both erotic and sweet and Philippa and Anthony are likeable characters.

Anthony is a sensual man with very strong sexual passions that have turned off many women and mistresses in his past. This confused me because many men took mistresses at this time in order to indulge in the rougher bed play they felt uncomfortable engaging in with their wives, so why did it shock his mistresses, who are usually considered bolder women by society’s standards? There is no bondage and only some minor spanking in this book, but nothing overtly unorthodox in my opinion.

But Philippa is an adventurous woman who wants to explore life (and sex) and she finds such a match with Anthony. He protects her and cares for her when she is in danger, he is thoughtful and loving to his brother, his younger sister, mother and, eventually, his father. He is everything a gentleman should be, including honorable and protective. He just happens to enjoy adventurous sex (and so does she). Wink.

There is a nasty villain in Lord Orwell with a rather loose thread by the end of the book. The writing is strong and suspenseful – especially in a very frightening scene involving Lord Orwell and Philippa.

This is the second book in a series called The House of Calydon, but the events of book one take place after book two, so this reads as a standalone.

The Irresistible Miss Peppiwell is a wonderfully readable and sexy romance. Fans of Sabrina Darby and Monica Burns as well as those who like their romance on the spicier side may enjoy Stacy Reid.

The Other Girl (novella) by Pam Jenoff

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One woman’s determination to protect a child from the dangers of war will force her to face those lurking closer to home…

Life in rural Poland during WWII brings a new set of challenges to Maria, estranged from her own family and left alone with her in-laws after her husband is sent to the front. For a young, newly pregnant wife, the days are especially cold, the nights unexpectedly lonely. The discovery of a girl hiding in the barn changes everything—Hannah is fleeing the German police who are taking Jews like her to special camps. Ignoring the risk to her own life and that of her unborn child, Maria is compelled to help. But in these dark days, no one can be trusted, and soon Maria finds her courage tested in ways she never expected and herself facing truths about her own family that the quiet village has kept buried for years…

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Publisher and Release Date: MIRA 1st September 2014
RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Poland, World War II
Genre: Historical Fiction
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Maggi

Pam Jenoff is a favorite author of mine. Her latest release, The Other Girl is a short novella, a companion piece to the full-length novel, The Winter Guest. Although I have yet to read the novel, I found this an enthralling and thought-provoking look at villagers riven by war.

Maria is a character who engenders sympathy. She has left the family home disapproving of her father’s actions and married in haste. Now, a husband she barely knows has gone away to war, leaving her with her unaffectionate in-laws. Now living in a small Polish village, she is quite isolated and struggles to understand the undercurrent of fear and uncertainty wrought by the German occupation. There are secrets concerning Maria’s family which she must uncover. With only a touch of the brush in this short story, Jenoff brings her characters to life. Hannah, the young girl Maria discovers hiding in the barn is fleeing the German police who are taking Jews like her away to special camps. I found Hannah’s acceptance of her situation, and how she deals with it, quite moving.

If you like to read World War II fiction, I would certainly suggest this one, but to appreciate this companion piece even more, I would suggest reading The Winter Guest.

SPOTLIGHT: The Red Wolf’s Prize by Regan Walker

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HE WOULD NOT BE DENIED HIS PRIZE…

Sir Renaud de Pierrepont, the Norman knight known as the Red Wolf for the beast he slayed with his bare hands, hoped to gain lands with his sword. A year after the Conquest, King William rewards his favored knight with Talisand, the lands of an English thegn slain at Hastings, and orders him to wed Lady Serena, the heiress that goes with them.

SHE WOULD LOVE HIM AGAINST HER WILL…

Serena wants nothing to do with the fierce warrior to whom she has been unwillingly given, the knight who may have killed her father. When she learns the Red Wolf is coming to claim her, she dyes her flaxen hair brown and flees, disguised as a servant, determined to one day regain her lands. But her escape goes awry and she is brought back to live among her people, though not unnoticed by the new Norman lord.

Deprived of his promised bride, the Red Wolf turns his attention to the comely servant girl hoping to woo her to his bed. But the wench resists, claiming she hates all Normans.

As the passion between them rises, Serena wonders, can she deny the Norman her body? Or her heart?

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EXCERPT


02_The Red Wolf's PrizeRenaud lingered at the high table in the hall until he glimpsed the servant girl with the brown plait carry a pile of linen through the entry heading toward the stairs to the bedchambers. Slowly rising, he nodded to Geoff and followed after her.

Quietly, he stepped through the open door of his chamber. The girl had her back to him as she freshened the bed, the stack of clean linen resting on a nearby chest. He did not acknowledge her but went directly to the trestle table, poured a goblet of wine and sat, pretending to examine a drawing of the lands surrounding the manor.
She turned. “I can come back later, my lord.” She spoke meekly, barely looking at him as she hurriedly finished with the bed and began a hasty retreat to the door.

He replied in the English tongue, as he did to all save his men. “Nay, you may stay. Your work will not disturb me.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her back stiffen. Slowly, she retraced her steps and resumed her work. Her movements were rushed as if she were trying to complete her assigned tasks in haste. Was she nervous at being alone with him? Even with that, Renaud thought she was graceful as she walked to the shelves near where he sat. She held her head high, unusual for a servant in the presence of her lord. Though her long plait was the dull color of country earth, her profile was refined and her features delicate. He rose and silently moved to stand behind her where she dusted a carved box.

She must have sensed his approach.

“My lord?” she said, turning to face him.

Blue-violet eyes held his gaze only a moment before looking down at the floor. Set in her ivory face they reminded him of violets in the snow. So mesmerized was he that, for a moment, he forgot his question.

“Your name is Sarah?”

Keeping her eyes focused on the floor, she said, “Yea, my lord.”

“How long have you been at Talisand?”

“All my life, my lord.” Her voice was soft, a low purr, and with her words a flowery scent drifted to his nose. He was captivated and wanted to touch her. How long had it been since he’d had a woman? And this one was causing his manhood to stir.

Turing back to the shelf, she resumed dusting the carved box, as if to put an end to the conversation. His gaze shifted to her hand as she set down the box. Delicate fingers and ivory skin. It was not the hand of a kitchen wench.

“Let me see your hand.” She started at his request, and though he could see she wanted to resist, she did not fight him when he reached for her hand and brought it close to his body turning her palm upward.
It told him much.

“These blisters are new. You have not always worked in the kitchens nor done the wet work of the laundry, have you?”
She shook her head in silent agreement.

“What were your tasks before I came to Talisand?”

Looking down at her feet, she said, “I was with the Lady Serena, my lord.”

“Ah, a lady’s handmaiden then.” So that is where the girl learned to speak so well, for her speech was not that of an ordinary servant nor her manner that of a scullery maid.

He waited for her to say more but when she did not, he said, “Tell me about her.”

She looked up. “What would you know, my lord?” Blue violet eyes held his. He could get lost in those eyes.

“How does she look?”

“She is tall and her hair is the color of summer wheat, my lord.”

“And her character?”

Turning her gaze again to the floor, she hesitated before speaking. “She loves her people and her family, my lord. She is very loyal. Had she been a man, she would have fought with her father at Hastings. Most of all, she loves Talisand and would die for its people.”

Her voice, nearly breaking at the end, told him her words were spoken with deep emotion. She was close to the Lady of Talisand and to the old thegn.

“I’m told her brother took the lord’s place for a time,” he said, hoping she would continue to talk.
She raised her eyes to his. “Yea, Steinar did lead Talisand for a time, but then he was drawn away by other battles.” When she spoke the young man’s name, a tender look came into her eyes. Did she love the old lord’s son? Mayhap she was his leman. The possibility was not to his liking.

Still holding her hand, he looked down at her palm seeing other signs. “These are the calluses of an archer. How is it a lady’s handmaiden comes to use a bow?”

The girl’s eyes shifted to her hand where Renaud had begun moving his thumb across her palm in slow sensual circles. He was not unaffected and, he suspected, neither was she.

“Rhodri taught me, my…my lord.” She spoke in a halting whisper, confirming his touch was disrupting her thoughts. Then she added hastily, “I was not the only one. It was the old lord’s desire that Rhodri should teach all at Talisand who cared to learn.”

Renaud remembered that when the young servant women had been returned to the demesne, Sir Niel had taken several bows from them.

He stopped stroking her palm. She tried to pull back her hand but he had no intention of releasing her. “Who is this Rhodri?”

“He is a Welsh bard, my lord, who is also skilled with a bow. The thegn met him on his travels and invited him here. He lived among us for several years.”

“Where is the Welshman now?”

“I know not, my lord. Peradventure he is in Wales, though his music and his skill with a bow are much in demand. He may yet be in England.”

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About the Author

03_Regan WalkerAs a child Regan Walker loved to write stories, particularly about adventure-loving girls, but by the time she got to college more serious pursuits took priority. One of her professors encouraged her to pursue the profession of law, which she did. Years of serving clients in private practice and several stints in high levels of government gave her a love of international travel and a feel for the demands of the “Crown” on its subjects. Hence her romance novels often involve a demanding sovereign who thinks of his subjects as his private talent pool. Regan lives in San Diego with her golden retriever, Link, whom she says inspires her every day to relax and smell the roses. For more information please visit Regan Walker’s website and blog. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

The King’s Falcon (Cavaliers and Roundheads #3) by Stella Riley

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A tale of plots and playhouses … war and witchcraft … love and loyalty.

Following his coronation in Scotland, Charles ll leads an army south to reclaim his throne but the dream ends in a crushing defeat at Worcester, leaving no alternative but flight. With little more than the clothes on their backs, Ashley Peverell and Francis Langley manage to reach Paris where Ashley, known to some as The Falcon, resumes his under-cover and unpaid work for the King.

Beautiful, stubborn and street-wise, Athenais de Galzain has risen from the slums of Paris to become the Marais Theatre’s leading actress. Unfortunately, this brings her to the attention of the Marquis d’Auxerre – an influential nobleman of unsavoury reputation who is accustomed to taking what he wants.

While the Prince’s Fronde flares up anew and turns the city into a battle-ground, Francis is bullied into helping his sister, Celia, obtain a divorce from Eden Maxwell. Currently working as a cryptographer in the Commonwealth’s intelligence service, Eden watches Cromwell creating a king-sized space for himself and begins to question the cause to which he has devoted a decade of his life.

From the first, Ashley and Athenais are drawn together with the unstoppable force of two stars colliding; a force which Ashley, lacking both money and prospects and aware of the frequency with which he’s required to risk his life, cannot deny but resolves to conceal. He has only two priorities; his work for Charles ll and his determination to protect Athenais from the Marquis. Both are to test him to the limits.

‘The King’s Falcon’ follows the Cavalier’s last crusade and the bitter, poverty-stricken exile that followed it, whilst also taking us behind the scenes at the Theatre du Marais. There is danger, intrigue and romance in this sequel to The Black Madonna and Garland of Straw.

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Publisher and Release Date: Stella Riley, 3 October 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: England, Scotland and France, 1650-1652
Genre: Romantic Historical Fiction
Heat Level: 1.5
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Caz

The King’s Falcon is the long-awaited third instalment of Ms Riley’s projected quartet of novels set during the tumultuous period of the English Civil War. The two earlier books – The Black Madonna and Garland of Straw – were originally published in the 1990s and revised and republished digitally in 2013, so this is Ms Riley’s first new book in around twenty years. And yes – it was definitely worth the wait.

Like both the books that precede, it, The King’s Falcon is a very well-researched piece of historical fiction which has, at its heart, a strongly characterised and well-developed romance.

The eponymous Falcon was seen briefly in Garland of Straw, and is otherwise known as Ashley Peverell, a Colonel in the Royalist army. His stunning good looks and outward appearance of relaxed amiability hide a sharp intellect and a ruthlessness he has often put to use in the service of King and Country in his work as an intelligence gatherer and spy. Arriving in Scotland to witness the coronation of King Charles II, Ashley meets and strikes up a friendship with Francis Langley (also featured in the previous books), whose sister married Eden Maxwell, now a Colonel in the New Model Army. The story follows Ashley and Francis through the final and disastrous Worcester campaign of 1651, which was the last-ditch effort by the Royalists to re-instate the monarchy, and which ultimately led to Charles’ fleeing to safety in France.

With the king in exile and the Royalist cause seemingly defeated, the story after Worcester focuses more on the personal stories of Ashley and Francis, with both men becoming romantically involved and Ashley undertaking more covert and dangerous work on behalf of the king. Life for a couple of down-on-their-luck soldiers isn’t easy and the two are living practically hand-to-mouth in a dingy Parisian garret. Neither is rich – Ashley is a second son whose older brother switched sides at the last minute and Francis’ estates were sequestered by the Parliamentarians, so returning to England isn’t an option, and paid employment is almost impossible to come by.

On a previous trip to the city, Ashley had briefly caught a glimpse of a strikingly beautiful young actress at the Théâtre du Marais. She’d been playing a bit-part, but her looks and stage presence drew the eye of every man in the place – and Ashley hasn’t quite been able to put her out of his mind. Returning to Paris, he discovers the enchanting Mademoiselle Athenais de Galzain has now become a leading actress at the Marais, and he and Francis venture backstage one evening to meet her.

Athenais may be the toast of the Parisian theatrical world, but she’s a girl from the streets who does what she must to survive and make her way in life. Her father is an ex-soldier who spends most of his time in his cups, and her new found fame has brought her to the attention of the dissolute Marquis d’Auxerre, who intends to make her his mistress. Ever practical, Athenais has always known the time would come when she may have to consider taking such a step simply to safeguard the career she’s worked so hard to build.

But meeting Ashley Peverell changes everything, and Athenais finds herself drowning in an infatuation the like of which she’s never experienced. Ashley, too, is deeply smitten, and with circumstances conspiring to bring the pair into almost daily contact with each other, he finds it increasingly difficult to keep his hands off the lovely Athenais. He’s practically destitute, and his work for the king often sees him in life-threatening situations, so feeling he has nothing to offer her he determines to keep her safe while keeping his distance.

The stage is set for a heartbreakingly sweet romance, but as Ashley and Athenais tiptoe around each other, Ms Riley never loses sight of the bigger picture, reminding the reader of the tumultuous times in which her characters are living. In France, the power struggle between the royal houses of France (some of them backed by forces from Spain and the Netherlands) erupts into violence on the Streets of Paris, leading to the temporary closure of the Marais. And in England, Eden Maxwell, now working as a cryptographer for Cromwell’s intelligence service, uncovers a plot which could have far-reaching consequences.

The King’s Falcon is a well-paced, beautifully-written story in which the author’s extensive research and breadth of knowledge of the period really shine through. Ms Riley’s prose is as crisp and incisive as it ever was, her eye for historical detail is flawless, and she weaves her multiple plot strands together seamlessly and with great skill. The principal romance is by turns sweet and sensual, and is filled with tenderness, humour and a real sense of deep trust and affection that enables Ashley and Athenais to support each other through some terrible times. Each of the principals is strongly characterised and the author has once again presented readers with a hero to swoon over in the form of the dashing Colonel Peverell. Ashley is fiercely intelligent, witty and deeply honourable, a military man with no desire to be a “hero”, but whose covert actions on behalf of his king surely give him the right to that particular epithet.

Athenais is similarly well fleshed-out and given a most intriguing backstory. She’s a young heroine (just twenty) but she’s an old head on young shoulders; pragmatic and quick-witted, she’s nobody’s fool, although she’d be the first to admit that her wits tend to go flying out the window when confronted with a certain handsome English officer.

I’ve had rather a soft-spot for Francis Langley since we first met him in The Black Madonna. In that book, he was a rather self-absorbed, pleasure-loving young man without many serious thoughts in his head. But he’s grown up, his experiences of warfare surely enough to change any man, and over the course of three novels, Francis has become more considered and aware of his situation and his own strengths and shortcomings. It’s wonderful to see him coming into his own here, as he finds his niche and the perfect outlet for his talents in his work for the Marais – and to see him meet his match at last.

This is the third book in a series, but I wouldn’t say that it’s absolutely necessary to have read the other two – although they’re so good, I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want to read them! But because there are a few characters from them who either appear in this one, or are mentioned, I would definitely recommend doing so.

The King’s Falcon is a superb read, and I was completely captivated from first page to last. On a purely personal level, I’m thrilled that one of my favourite authors has resumed her writing career after such a long break, and following such a strong return, make no apologies for saying that I’m going to be very impatiently waiting for the next book in the series.

Warning: There is one (not graphic) scene of sexual assault in the book.

AUDIO REVIEW: Faro’s Daughter by Georgette Heyer, narrated by Laura Paton

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Fiery, strong-willed Deb Grantham, who presides over a gaming house with her aunt, is hardly the perfect wife for the young and naive Lord Mablethorpe. His lordship’s family is scandalized that he proposes to marry one of “faro’s daughters”, and his cousin the proud, wealthy Max Ravenscar – decides to take the matter in hand. Ravenscar always gets his way, but as he and Miss Grantham lock horns, they become increasingly drawn to each other. Amidst all the misunderstandings and entanglements, has Ravenscar finally met his match?

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Publisher and Release Date: Naxos AudioBooks, July 25, 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Regency England
Genre: Historical romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

This is one of the most antagonistic historical romances I’ve ever read, but it is very enjoyable. The hero and heroine spend more time arguing than anything else, and this reminded me a little of Darcy and Elizabeth from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Is antagonism a sign of deep sexual attraction? Hmm…

Max Ravenscar, a powerful and intelligent man, will never allow Miss Deb Grantham to marry his green and vulnerable cousin, Adrian, a rich young gentleman, even though Adrian is completely besotted with her. Deb works in her aunt’s gaming hell, an endeavor borne out of financial straits rather than by thoughtful choice. She’s crafty, intelligent, and devastatingly beautiful, and she has no intention of marrying an infatuated young boy like Adrian Mablethorpe.

So she is outraged when Ravenscar threatens her. The nerve of the man to think her so cheap and conniving as to entrap an unsophisticated youth. He tries bribing her and that’s when she snaps. She’ll teach him a lesson he’ll never forget.

Deb decides to lead Adrian on and during the course of the story, Deb and Adrian encounter a victimized young heiress fleeing from an older man her family insists she marry. This constitutes the secondary love story in the book and it’s more of a convenience than anything else.

There is humor here but it is often biting and edgy. It often teeters toward the cold and malicious but never quite gets there. Which is a good thing, otherwise we would almost miss the hidden attraction between these two intelligent, stubborn, and proud individuals.

The secondary characters are quite colorful and add some much needed lightness to this romance: Lady Mablethorpe, Adrian’s mother and Max’s aunt who is horrified at Adrian’s crush; Arabella, Max’s delightfully coquettish half sister; and Lucius Kennet, Deb’s well-meaning but vengeful friend.

Laura Paton reads with a perfect drollness that matches the moods of the characters. The voices are distinguished and I especially enjoy her reading of the high-strung and nervous Aunt Bellingham. There is appropriately read emotion and antagonism between Deb and Max but sometimes it did make me cringe in its harshness. The innocence and naïveté of Miss Laxton is captured well as are the voices of the lackeys of the gaming hell.

Though scathing, the dialogue is a wonderfully large and engaging part of this battle of wits. We see both Deb and Max’s vulnerabilities and how each owns up to their mistakes and remedies them. The ending is especially lovely and makes up for all the hardship to get there.

But there is never any doubt that this is an exceptionally well written and enjoyable story, especially when listened to read aloud.

On The Mountain by Peggy Ann Craig

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On a cold and still night, a frightened woman makes a frenzied escape down a wooded mountainside. Fear is her only companion. Silence is her only salvation.

Anna Nicholson had lived all her life under the shadow of prejudice in the remote village high on Mount Louis whose reclusive people were considered as wild and primitive as the wilderness from which they lived. So when she awakes one morning to find herself in a stranger’s barn with a rifle to her face and no memory of how she got there, she is overcome with a gripping fear. Yet, instinctively knew it did not arise from the big and burly cowboy standing directly behind the Winchester rifle or the other nine fierce cowboys who called the ranch home, but instead from a memory she could not recall. One, she feared, in which she was the source. Mistaken for a mute teenage boy, Anna is able to hide unseen and unheard from an evil she could not recall.

Wade Haddock is the rough and tough but lonely cowboy who finds a frightened Anna in his barn. Convinced the isolated wilderness was no place for a woman, he allows Anna to hide away on his sprawling Rocky Mountain ranch believing her to be a mute teenage boy. While gradually succumbing to the bond growing between them, the wall around his guarded heart begins to slowly crumble. Only to discover Anna’s deception. And a memory that could destroy their love.

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Publisher and Release Date: Peggy Ann Craig, June 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and setting: British Colombia 1889
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer rating: 4.5 Stars

Reviewed by Vikki

What a remarkable and compelling story! The intensity of the first scene took my breath away and had me sitting on the edge of my seat, feverishly reading to see what happened next. I had no idea what to expect with this book, and after the opening scene, it became a real page turner for me. The location of this history is unique, set somewhere on Mount Louis in British Colombia, and it’s refreshing to read a book set in a different area of the world than the usual fare. A deep shadow of mystery hangs over the tale, which keeps the pacing fast, and I had a really hard time putting the book down.

The story begins with Anna running away, trying to escape from something that has her terrified. She makes it to a barn and hides, only to be found by the rancher. He thinks she is a mute, teenaged boy and she lets him continue to do so, believing it will keep her safe.

Wade Haddock takes her under his wing, allowing her to live and work on his ranch. When he eventually finds out she’s a young woman, he is shocked, but it explains his attraction to her. He allows her to continue hiding out on the Circle H as a house servant instead of a cowhand, still keeping her secret from the other cowboys. Now that Wade knows Anna is a woman, will he give into the growing attraction between them, or will he deny it?

Ms. Craig describes the scenes and surroundings in great detail without going too far. At times, I felt as if I were right there in the scene experiencing what the heroine is seeing. There is deep emotion in her writing and I always love that. When the mystery unravels and reveals Anna’s torment, I sat in shock. Ms. Craig wrote of a horrific situation in such detail it immobilized me. I had to put my Kindle down and take some deep breaths because it was quite painful and truly heart-wrenching to read.

The main reason I haven’t given this book a 5 star rating is because of the disparity in the ages of the hero and heroine – he is forty-four and she is twenty-four. I did not see the need for there to be such a large age difference between the pair, and found it a bit distasteful to have him old enough to be her father. Wade could have been ten or twelve years older than Anna and it would not have affected the premise of the story in any way.

Despite this misgiving, I enjoyed the book. If you are looking for a suspenseful, yet amazing love story then this is a book you will not want to miss. If you choose to read it, you will not be disappointed.

Murder at Rudhall Manor by Anya Wylde

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A murder and a theft have been committed at Rudhall Manor. A box of jewels has vanished and Lord Sedley, a lusty old aristocrat, has been stabbed six times in the chest. It is all very mysterious, and the Sedley family and the servants have decided that Miss Lucy Anne Trotter, a recently employed governess, is to blame for the unfortunate events.

The legendary and wickedly handsome Marquis, Lord William Adair, learns of the matter and decides to uncover the truth. Lucy, however, has little faith in blue blooded creatures—even if they possess dashing good looks— and, accompanied by two naughty pugs and a moody raven, decides to investigate and unmask the killer herself.  But the hunt for the killer turns out to be far more complicated than she anticipates—what with snooty servants, warts in odd places, mixed up love affairs, agitated chickens and dreadful disguises ruining her plans.

Soon she begins to wonder if, for once, she is in over her head

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Publisher and Release Date:  Anna Wylde, June 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Regency England
Genre:  Historical Comedy
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Susan

Adventurous, intelligent, and well-mannered, Lord William Adair is the star of Anya Wylde’s Regency thriller Murder at Rudhall Manor. Though the main character is Lucy Anne Trotter, the governess to the children of Lord Sedley’s youngest son, it is the agile and fearless Lord Adair, Marquis of Lockwood, to whom audiences gravitate. From the beginning, Adair manages to engage the reader as he arrives at the sleepy town of Blackwell in a hot air balloon. Talk about making a grand entrance! Adair is instantly likeable and the character that the audience trusts and looks to to solve an old-fashioned murder mystery.

Adair is a type of Sherlock Holmes character, able to make intelligent deductions after it is learned that Lord Sedley has been stabbed and a box of family jewels is missing from Rudhall Manor. The marquis decides to investigate the murder and the burglary on behalf of Sedley’s son who is his friend. When the townsfolk suspect Lucy Trotter is the murderer and thief, Adair turns into her champion, convinced of her innocence.

While enjoyable, the narrative sometimes has a lackluster tone, as when describing humdrum activities told from Lucy’s perspective, which provide trivial information and little substantial enlightenment regarding the plot. The reader is unable to glean anything about the situation from her observations such as “The journey was short” or “It was decidedly odd.” The author describes scenes seen in Lucy’s head, but the reader may not share the character’s thoughts and thereby is lost in the monologues. The writing becomes a one-sided conversation where Lucy is talking to herself, bouncing off ideas with herself but never letting the reader inside her mind. Though Lucy is a transparent character, meaning the reader follows her thoughts and analyses throughout the novel, it is logic that eludes her as she misses clues which Lord Adair picks up.

The author treads off the beaten path with the relationship between the marquis and the governess. Instead of honing a romantic liaison between the two, Adair and Lucy develop a friendship without romantic entanglements. There are efforts to inject comedy into the situation as Lucy fumbles the investigation and Adair rescues her from tripping over her own two feet. They make a complimentary pair while maintaining a platonic relationship. Lucy’s clumsiness is relatable to audiences as she proves to be an amateurish detective. Adair becomes her knight, her Professor Henry Higgins (á la My Fair Lady) without acting haughtily or flaunting his superiority. He treats her as an equal though he is far more logical.

An amusing story, Murder at Rudhall Manor has its exciting moments interspersed with flat periods as Lucy’s conversations with herself are inadequately translated for readers to follow. The murderer isn’t obvious but the plot comes together once the identity of the killer/thief is revealed. Witty scenes are strategically placed to hold the reader’s attention as the rapport between the lowly governess and the logical marquis express a natural compatibility, giving them credibility as a likeable pair.

A Notorious Ruin by Carolyn Jewel

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All the widowed Lucy Sinclair Wilcott wants is to save enough money to move to a cottage of her own and keep her younger sister safe from the consequences of their father’s poor judgment. No one is more aware than she how thoroughly her first marriage ruined her. She could not remarry if she wanted to. Then the Marquess of Thrale comes to visit and long-absent feelings of desire surge back.

Everything Lord Thrale believes about the beautiful Mrs. Wilcott is wrong. The very last woman he thought he was interested in proves to be a brilliant, amusing, arousing woman of deep honor who is everything he wants in a lover, for the rest of his life. If only he can convince her of that.

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Publisher and Release Date: cJewel Books, September 2014

RHL Classifications:
Time and Setting: Regency England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 3
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 Stars

Review by Lady Wesley

This is the first full-length Carolyn Jewel title that I have read, and I am very impressed by her writing style. She has a lovely way with the English language.

I have not read the first title in this series, Lord Ruin, which involves the “forced” marriage of the eldest Sullivan sister, Anne, to the Duke of Cynssyr. Our heroine, Lucy, was in London at the time and apparently met our hero, Lord Thrale, and I think that neither one was impressed by the other.

Years earlier, Lucy had married Jack “Devil” Walcott, a man far beneath her, who had earned fame and fortune as a professional boxer. He wanted her for her beauty, and Lucy’s spendthrift father wanted the £50,000 Devil offered him. Two unexpected things happened: Lucy became an expert on boxing, and she grew to love her husband.

After Devil died and Lucy returned to her father’s home, she was shunned by village ladies of Bartley Green. Anne had been the sister who managed her father, his estate, and her younger sisters. Now, the widowed Lucy is trying to fulfill that role, but she is struggling. Her sister Mary is happily married to a baron, and Lucy is determined to protect her youngest sister, Emily, from their father’s machinations. She plans to send Emily to live with their sister and remove herself to a cottage in the country, dreaming of contentment in her poetry, her flowers, and her elderly wolfhound mongrel, Roger.

As the book opens, Lord Thrale and Captain Niall arrive to spend a few weeks hunting, fishing, and perhaps attending a few “mills” (Regency slang for boxing matches). Boxing plays a central role throughout the plot, as Bartley Green is home to the renowned Johnson’s Academy of Pugilistic Arts, where both high-born gentlemen and the “flash” come to practice and watch. In fact, using the expertise she learned from Devil, Lucy is funding her escape plan by saving up money that she wins from secretly betting on local boxing matches.

Thrale and Lucy are polite but distant with one another. (Major hint: Roger the hound is immediately in love with Thrale.) Thrale sees Lucy as cool and empty-headed, which is exactly the façade she has adopted to conceal her deeper emotions and hurts. Ms Jewel is very good at showing, not telling, us the two different sides of Lucy’s personality. For her part, Lucy sees Thrale as just another spoiled, selfish gentleman with no purpose in life beyond his own amusement. She finds herself attracted to him, but she doesn’t really like him, and indeed, he is not terribly likable at the outset.

I’ve always enjoyed romances set at a country house party; there are so many opportunities for a couple to become better acquainted, meet accidentally in romantic locations, and be tempted into misbehavior. Carolyn Jewel puts this setting to good use in that regard, and after an initial, rather shocking, naughty encounter, the romance between Lucy and Thrale builds slowly, with unexpected twists and some rather exciting sexytimes along the way.

There were some things, however, that kept me from enjoying this book as much as I had hoped to. There is a great deal more discussion of boxing than I care to read. I did not enjoy the rough sex nearly as much as Lucy and Thrale did. There were some scenes that ended abruptly without the expected follow-up, and there were loose ends that I felt should have been tied up. For example, Lucy’s father commits an utterly unforgiveable act toward her near the end of the book, but neither she nor Thrale confronts him. In fact, he is so completely horrible that I was disappointed he never got what he really deserved.

As mentioned at the beginning, Carolyn Jewel has a lovely style of writing, so let me just close with an example, where Lucy ventures to a local soireé filled with hostile ladies and lusting gentlemen:

A hush fell like snow across a field when Mrs. Wilcott walked into the Glynn’s parlor. Thrale schooled himself against any visible reaction. Niall was less circumspect. Like most of the men in the room, Thrale watched her. Breathtaking. Heartbreaking. Skin pale as cream contrasted with the inky black of her hair. A spray of tiny yellow rosebuds was affixed in her hair.

This could not be the woman with whom he had sparred. Eyes bright, focused, intent. Astonishingly fast. This remote beauty was not the sort of woman who would adore her late husband’s mongrel dog nor demonstrate, convincingly, the weaknesses in his pugilistic technique.

It ought to be impossible for a woman to be that beautiful.

* * *

His glimpse beneath that veneer of thoughtless perfection laid waste to his indifference to her. No longer could he see her and think, yes, beautiful, and be so little moved by that beauty.

Mrs. Wilcott moved easily through the crowd, or, rather, the crowd parted for her. He watched her with new eyes, and it occurred to him that at moments like this, there was never any sign of the clumsiness in evidence when she was among intimates. She was another woman altogether. She smiled at everyone and at nothing, and as Thrale watched, he saw a woman who’d turned her beauty into a fortress.

He studied her. Constructed and reconstructed everything he knew about her until his head swam, until his chest clenched with the enormity of the truth about Mrs. Jack Wilcott. She was among the enemy here, and she had come in the only armor she possessed.

SPOTLIGHT: Honor Among Thieves by Elizabeth Boyce

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To pay off her recently deceased brother’s debts, however, Lorna Robbins must take drastic measures. When she happens upon a resurrectionist gang stealing his corpse, she does the unthinkable and joins the criminal outfit to save her family estate and her younger sibling. For the first time in her lonely, duty-driven life, Lorna finds herself leading a treacherous and exciting double existence. By day, she becomes a popular lady of the ton, relying on society gossip to help her body-snatching gang. By night, she becomes the grave robber known only as the Blackbird.

Surgeon and anatomy teacher Brandon Dewhurst relies on resurrectionists to bring him the specimens he needs to further his research on pregnancy. When his usual suppliers become unreliable, and then downright sinister, he’s reluctantly drawn further into the black market. As Lorna and Brandon both target the same body—a pregnant woman who is still very much alive—they find themselves powerfully drawn together time and again while trying to maintain their own respectable facades. But this daring duo is courting danger, and romance is a complication neither can afford.

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EXCERPT

1816, Middlesex

Of late, her meals had been gulped down without tasting the food. Almost every waking moment had been spent at Thomas’s bedside, watching the restraints. Twice he’d escaped. The first time, he kicked through a window, shredded his leg, and nearly bled to death before they wrestled him back into bed. The second time … Lorna winced at the memory of the maid’s ruined face.

After that, Thomas was kept under constant supervision. Lorna hadn’t thought it fair to leave the last remaining footman, Oscar, and the old butler, Humphrey, entirely in charge of tending him—especially since the servants worked out of loyalty now, rather than for a decent wage.

Lorna swept a few crumbs from the skirt of her black dress. The garment began its life a pale rose, but the necessity for mourning weeds had seen it dunked into a stinking vat of vinegar and dye just yesterday. Mrs. Lynch, the housekeeper, had smoothed an old sheet over Lorna’s chair before she sat, lest dye bleed onto the faded upholstery.

A knock sounded at the front door. Lorna set down her teacup and folded her hands in her lap a few seconds before Humphrey’s stooped form appeared in the parlor door. “A Mr. Wiggins is here, Miss Robbins,” he said, presenting the caller’s card.

“Show him in,” she said.

The name sparked no recognition, but Lorna did not know most of Thomas’s acquaintance. Fifteen years her senior, her half-brother had been mostly absent from Lorna’s life. She’d made rare, brief visits to London, and he came home with even less frequency, despite the family seat being only a handful of miles outside of Town. They’d spent no length of time together until six months ago, when one of his London companions unceremoniously dumped him, soaking wet and raving, on the portico. From what Lorna had been able to piece together, Thomas had no friends, only people to whom he was indebted. If this Mr. Wiggins had come from Town to pay his respects, though, perhaps he’d been a true friend to her brother.

Humphrey returned with her guest. The man was not much taller than she, several inches over five feet. Stringy gray hair inadequately covered a balding pate, and the man’s middle paunch had a sadly deflated quality to it, like an empty wineskin. His apparel looked fine at a distance, but when he took her hand in greeting, Lorna noted frayed cuffs and thin places at the seams. Not that I’ve room to judge, she thought, glancing at her own tatty furnishings.

“Miss Robbins,” he said, “please accept my condolences for your loss.” His accent carried the remnants of a working class upbringing.

“Thank you, Mr. Wiggins.” Lorna took her seat and gestured him to a chair. “May I offer you some tea?”

“With my gratitude.” As Lorna handed him a cup, he said, “I was hoping I might see Lord Chorley.”

“Oh.” Lorna faltered, grasping for delicate words. “I’m afraid that won’t be possible. The viewing has ended. My brother has been moved to the church for burial. Unless …”

She twisted her fingers together, uncertain about the protocol of graveside services. “If you hurry to the churchyard, you might be able to see him before … But I really don’t know.”

Wiggins gulped his beverage and smacked his lips. “I’ll wait,” he announced. “I’ve got no pressing engagements.”

Lorna frowned. “I’m sorry, sir. Do you mean you wish to see the new Lord Chorley, not the deceased?”

“Just so,” Wiggins replied. “I’ve no wish to peep at a soul case.” His eyes narrowed on Lorna in suspicion. “Unless this is another ruse to get out of paying his notes. Has he skipped to Calais?”

Lorna suppressed a groan. So Mr. Wiggins wasn’t a friend, after all. “If it’s money you’re after, sir, I’m afraid I cannot help you.”

The man nodded. “Then we’re all right, miss. I wouldn’t dream of treating with a lady, so if you don’t mind passing me one of those cakes, I’ll just await his lordship’s return.”

One of her cakes, indeed. Lorna raised her chin a notch. “You mistake me, Mr. Wiggins. I run this household, not his lordship. Any understanding between you and my late brother is none of my affair, and I refuse to be drawn into his financial mishaps.” She stood, calling upon every ounce of her girlhood comportment training to maintain a polite tone. “I do thank you for your condolences, Mr. Wiggins, but I’m afraid I must bid you a good day.”

Wiggins wagged a knobby finger. “Now, now, missy, that dodge will never hold up in a court of law.” From a pocket he produced a stack of notes, which he handed to Lorna.

A cursory examination showed amounts to make her stomach clench. A hundred pounds. Fifty. Five hundred twenty. All carried her worthless brother’s signature, all dated within the last eighteen months. “Thomas was … sick,” she said, her throat catching around the allusion to his insanity, “when he borrowed from you.”

Wiggins sneered, all pretense of politeness dropped. “He’s not the first taken by the French disease, and he won’t be the last, but I’m out the coin anyway. My business is with Chorley. If the baron I knew has escaped to hell, then I’ll speak to the new man in charge. He’ll make good on these notes, all right, or I’ll have the law on him.”

The threat against Daniel turned Lorna’s despair to rage in an instant. “The new man in charge,” she said, venom dripping from her words, “is a boy of seven. You cannot hold him responsible for another’s debts.” She threw the stack of notes right back in Wiggins’s face, where they exploded like confetti.

A shadow darkened the moneylender’s features an instant before he chuckled. He reclined in the chair, more at his ease than when she’d offered him tea and pleasantries.

“Oh, but I can. Lord Chorley is responsible, and it doesn’t matter a whit to me if he’s a babe in arms. I’ll bring suit against the estate. It’ll cost you dear to have a barrister speak for you, and you’ll still have to pay up in the end.”

She closed her eyes and scratched at her head with both hands, an anxious habit she’d abandoned years ago—until Thomas came home. Now thin weals crisscrossed her scalp.

She winced as her nails dragged across them; the pain brought clarity. Lorna rounded on him. A faint smell of vinegar wafted from her skirts as they swished around her legs. “All right, Wiggins, look.” If he could drop the social façade, so could she. “I have perhaps twenty pounds to my name. Take it or leave it.” She looked down her nose, raising a brow in challenge. He guffawed.

“Twenty pounds, the chit says!” He wheezed through a laugh, his face going puce with the force of his amusement. “If that’s not the best demmed jape I’ve heard this age and more.” He wiped tears from his cheeks with the ratty cuff of his coat. Then he gathered up the promissory notes and tucked them into his pocket. “I’ll leave your twenty and take the fifteen hun’ret I’m owed, miss.”

He smiled as he rose to his feet, but the malice gleaming in his eyes sent ice to Lorna’s toes. Wiggins stepped toward her. Lorna instinctively retreated. “I will have my due. Need be, I’ll take this house and everything in it; I happen to know it ain’t entailed. Better for you to sell on your terms, than give it to me on mine. You have two months, then it’s pay up or else.”

Sell Elmwood? Everything inside of Lorna rebelled at the notion. For years, she had worked to keep the estate’s ledgers balanced. She had scrimped and cut back and done without, all to provide Daniel a safe, happy home. Thomas never did anything for his half-siblings. He couldn’t be bothered to visit the small property more than once every few years. No, it had been Lorna’s duty to keep everything running. And now Thomas was threatening to ruin her carefully ordered world from beyond the grave. She wouldn’t allow it.

“Absolutely not,” she declared. “I won’t give up my home.”

“Then you’ll have to cough up the blunt some other way.” Wiggins gave her an appraising look. “Might be you’ve something else to sell.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

ElizabethBoyceWhen she isn’t devising new ways to antagonize her characters, Elizabeth Boyce likes to spend her time devising new ways to embarrass her children. She lives in South Carolina.
Elizabeth loves connecting with readers, so stay in touch! Find her at her website, Facebook, and on Twitter

Rogue in Red Velvet by Lynne Connolly

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When respectable country widow Constance Rattigan finds herself in a notorious London brothel instead of at the altar, only one person can save her from the auction block.

Alex Vernon, Lord Ripley, walked away from Connie once before, when he discovered she was engaged. Now that her fiancé has betrayed her, he doesn’t intend to leave her again.

Once he has made love to her, Alex feels the situation is resolved. He’ll marry her. But Connie has other ideas.

Only three problems to solve—Connie signed a marriage contract as binding as the marriage ceremony with someone else, she’s disgraced in the eyes of society, and she won’t marry him until her name is cleared.

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Publisher and Release Date: eKensington, September 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: England, 1754
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by: Claudia

This is the first book in the new Emperors of London series by Lynne Connolly. The ‘Emperors’ are a wealthy group of men, who are some of the most important persons in Society.

One of them is Alex Vernon, Lord Ripley, who – because he is wealthy, young, handsome and titled – is chased by most of the match-making Mamas and their daughters. During a house party, when he tries to escape one very determined young lady who is after him, he meets Constance Rattigan and is smitten with her.

Connie, who is a widow on the verge of marrying again, has noticed Alex before but tried to steer clear of him because of that attraction. When he offers to help her with the research she is doing for her godfather, she accepts his offer and learns that he is a very kind, caring and funny man. During this time spent together, they develop a bond but then Alex has to leave after which Connie’s fiancé arrives. So both of them think their relationship is over.

Connie signs her wedding contract with her fiancé, Japser Dankworth, who is not really what she thinks he is. Two weeks after signing the contract, Connie travels to London to meet her fiancé and prepare for the wedding. But when she arrives, she is abducted, drugged and placed in a Covent Garden brothel to be sold publicly at an auction. Alex rescues her and promises her to help her to get through this scandal.

This conflict had me wondering how Connie could ever get back her good name and I totally understood her reservations in regards to her relationship with Alex. But the way the situation was handled was perfectly done and I bought every second of it.

I loved the beginning of this book, when we first meet Connie and Alex and it is obvious they are attracted to each other. Both are very warm and intelligent people and you can feel the chemistry between them. They are not only sexually attracted to each other, which is also explored, but the attraction is also an emotional one, which gives them a special connection. This connection flows through the whole book and gives it a stability which it needs because the pacing of the story and how it is told is slightly off – at least it was for me. Connie is a strong person and how she carries herself through her ordeal shows that quite clearly. Alex adores her and is very devoted to her. He wants to stand at her side and is not really allowed to do it.

As much as I loved the beginning of the book, it is very lengthy and takes some needed time from the second half, which was much better paced. The ending was a bit too hasty – I would have loved to see more of Alex and Connie as a real couple. Furthermore, some scenes were too short to really get into them and some were a bit too long – for example there is a scene which takes place in a coffee shop, which is very interesting as regards historical background, but the content of this scene was not really necessary in that length. There are also some issues which are not properly resolved or explained, such as why there is such a big feud between the ‘Emperors’ and the Dankworths.

But while I had issues with the pacing of the story, I loved the characters – all of them – and their connections to each other. Not only Alex and Connie, but also with their friends. I loved the way how they stood together and how every single one of them was shown as an intelligent and grown-up person.

If you are a lover of the Georgian period, I think this book will grow even more on you, as it is very detailed about the clothes and the way society worked.

All in all, this was a good read with a very intelligent and warm romance and some hot scenes in-between. Rogue in Red Velvet is a very good start to a new series and I am sure I will read future books as well.

AT TIME OF WRITING, THIS TITLE IS AVAILABLE FROM AMAZON FOR $1.82