Snowdrift and Other Stories by Georgette Heyer

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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


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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

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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.

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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.”

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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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?

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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
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Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Pamela-Lynne-226234447711114/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

Satyr’s Son (Roxton Family Saga #6) by Lucinda Brant

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London, 1786. Lord Henri-Antoine has returned from the Grand Tour to a life of privilege and excess. A vast inheritance allows him every indulgence, free from responsibility. Yet, Henri-Antoine maintains a well-ordered existence, going to great lengths to conceal an affliction few understand and many fear.

Miss Lisa Crisp is a penniless orphan who relies on the charity of relatives to keep her from the poorhouse. Intelligent and unflappable, Lisa will not allow poverty to define her. She leads a useful life working among the sick poor.

Under startling circumstances, Henri-Antoine and Lisa meet. There is instant attraction. When they find themselves attending the same wedding in the country, Henri-Antoine offers Lisa a scandalous proposition, one she should refuse but yearns to accept. Following her heart could ruin them both.

Publisher and Release Date: Sprigleaf Pty., October 2017

Time and Setting: London, 1786
Heat Level: 1
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Lady Wesley

In Satyr’s Son, Lucinda Brant has created a worthy conclusion to the Roxton Family Saga. This Cinderella-inspired love story features Henri-Antoine Hesham – the younger son of the late fifth Duke of Roxton and his beloved duchess Antonia – who meets his match in lowly but proud Lisa Crisp. Knowing this to be the last of the series, I joyfully savored this book, as I have its full-length predecessors, and although the earlier books are excellent, one need not have read them in order to enjoy this one. The dramatis personae are numerous, however, so I shall try to sketch them out in this review. The new reader may also choose to refer to the family tree appearing at the beginning of the book.

In Noble Satyr, Henri-Antoine’s parents meet and fall deeply in love, with the duke forsaking his debauched life to experience the unexpected joys of marriage and fatherhood with his much younger wife. Antonia and her “Monseigneur” have thirty wonderful years together, until he dies, and Antonia is inconsolable, almost to the point of madness. In Autumn Duchess however she finds love again with Jonathan Strang Leven, a nabob who inherits a Scottish dukedom from a distant relative. To her and everyone else’s surprise, she gives birth to a daughter, Elsie, now a precocious young miss at age eight.

In Midnight Marriage Julian, their eldest son, is forced by his father to marry the very young Deborah Cavendish and immediately sent on an eight-year grand tour with his tutor, Martin. Thanks to the gods of Romancelandia, Julian and Deb meet again as adults and fall in love. Now, Julian is the sixth Duke of Roxton, and he and his duchess have seven lively children who are the apple of their grandmother’s eye.

Dair Devil and Proud Mary focus on the Fitzstuart/Cavendish clan, Antonia’s cousins. Alasdair Cavendish returned from fighting in the American colonies to become a dashing, self-centered rogue, but he is brought to heel by his love for retiring spinster Rory Talbot. They are now the Earl and Countess of Strathsay. Dair’s sister, Lady Mary, is the heroine of Proud Mary. In the earlier books, Mary was unhappily married to Sir Gerald Cavendish, a self-centered social climber who tried to exploit his connections to the Roxtons. Upon his death, Lady Mary and their daughter Theodora were left virtually destitute, with the estate entailed upon the teenaged heir, Jack. Their neighbor, country squire Christopher Bryce, is Theodora’s guardian, and acting upon the wishes of Sir Gerald he refuses to allow “Teddy” (as she prefers to be called) to mingle with her Roxton relatives. True love wins out however when the socially inferior squire with the scandalous past finally declares his love for Lady Mary and is surprised to find himself welcomed into the extended Roxton tribe.

Whew. Got all that? As Satyr’s Son opens, all of these characters, and more, are planning to gather at Treat, the Roxton estate, for the wedding of Teddy Cavendish to her distant cousin Jack, now Sir John Cavendish, MP. As it happens, the groom has been Henri-Antoine’s closest friend since their schooldays. In the earlier books, Jack and Teddy seemed destined for one another, and now it is coming to pass.

But before the wedding festivities begin, we must become acquainted with Lisa Crisp, the orphaned nineteen-year-old woman who lives with Dr. and Mrs. Warner and assists in Dr. Warner’s dispensary. Although Lisa is Mrs. Warner’s cousin, she is treated as something less than a member of the family yet more than a lowly servant. Mrs. Warner is self-absorbed and indolent, while the doctor is kindly but engrossed by his medical practice. Neither of them gave much thought to Lisa.

Henri-Antoine is busy leading a dissolute life in London in the manner of his late father when a drinking bout at a friend’s home causes him to fall into a seizure. He has suffered from the “falling sickness” (epilepsy) since birth, but his condition is hidden from all except his close family and his pal Jack. By happenstance, Lisa is in the house when this incident occurs, and her medical knowledge allows her to discretely assist Henri-Antoine until the seizure passes. Afterward, he visits the dispensary to thank Lisa and is astonished to see that she toils among the poorest and sickest people in London. When he learns that Lisa helps the doctor’s illiterate patients by writing letters to their families, he buys Lisa a beautiful rosewood writing box with mother-of-pearl inlay. (A short visit to the author’s Pinterest page reveals a picture of such a box, along with other wonderful illustrations.)

Henri-Antoine is intrigued by Lisa, but the two never expect to see one another again. Imagine Lisa’s surprise and delight then when she receives a wedding invitation from her best schoolfriend Teddy. It turns out that Lisa’s aunt was Antonia’s personal maid and close friend for many years, and Antonia had arranged for Lisa to attend an exclusive girls’ school. After rumors of Lisa’s scandalous behavior got her expelled from school, she and Teddy lost touch with one another, but once again fairy-godmother Antonia finds Lisa, and insists that she be allowed to attend the wedding.

The romance between Henri-Antoine and Lisa blooms as they spend time together at Treat. To describe what happens there would be spoilerish, but suffice it to say that Henri-Antoine behaves badly at times, and he is a rather difficult hero to like. Some readers have disapproved of him so much that they graded the book downward, but overall I found his behavior understandable, if not especially admirable. And where Henri-Antoine is sometimes cynical and thoughtless, Lisa is kind and gentle and brings light into his life.

For this reader, the pleasure of catching up with all of the Roxton family nine years after the events in Proud Mary more than made up for some less pleasant parts. Because Lisa is the newcomer to this world, we see the extended Roxton family through Lisa’s eyes and hear their backstories through her ears.

Brant gives her readers her usual perfect mixture of history, romance, and family, setting much of the book in the glittering environs of Treat (think Bleheim Palace). So, time-travel back to 1786 and revel in the setting, the characters, and the story.

Wilde in Love (The Wildes of Lindow Castle #1) by Eloisa James

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Lord Alaric Wilde, son of the Duke of Lindow, is the most celebrated man in England, revered for his dangerous adventures and rakish good looks. Arriving home from years abroad, he has no idea of his own celebrity until his boat is met by mobs of screaming ladies. Alaric escapes to his father’s castle, but just as he grasps that he’s not only famous but notorious, he encounters the very private, very witty, Miss Willa Ffynche.

Willa presents the façade of a serene young lady to the world. Her love of books and bawdy jokes is purely for the delight of her intimate friends. She wants nothing to do with a man whose private life is splashed over every newspaper.

Alaric has never met a woman he wanted for his own . . . until he meets Willa. He’s never lost a battle.

But a spirited woman like Willa isn’t going to make it easy. . .

Publisher and Release Date: Avon, October 2017

Time and Setting: Cheshire, England, 1778
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars

Review by Sara

Eloisa James is an author who tends to be hit and miss for me.  Her stories are always well told and charming tales on the surface.  Unfortunately there’s often an undercurrent of cynicism that pulls me out of the story, coloring my feelings about the characters, their motivations and even the author’s intent.  Wilde in Love is a perfect example of the lighter story tone hiding some biting commentary on celebrity culture and those who cherish the superficial over substance.

Lord Alaric Wilde has traveled the world for ten years, publishing his journals telling of the exotic people and places he’s encountered along the way.  Unbeknownst to him, the Tales of Lord Wilde have become hugely popular back home in England and the female population has elevated the handsome adventurer into a celebrity on a par with Byron and the like.  Returning home from his latest trip, Alaric is surprised to see swarms of women waiting at the dock just to catch a glimpse of him leaving the ship.  That surprise turns into dismay when his brother informs him that his fame is based in part to a romantic play called Wilde in Love, an exaggerated tale of Alaric’s journey to Africa and a tragic love affair between him and the daughter of an English missionary.

While his family is amused by Alaric’s new fame, Alaric is angry at seeing his life becoming fodder for dramatic plays or his likeness used on prints sold across town.  Any chance of finding respite at his family’s home, Lindow Castle, is ruined by the house party being thrown to celebrate his brother’s engagement.  All the young women invited to attend seem to be obsessed fans of the romanticized Lord Wilde of the play.  Their constant questions about his fictitious encounters with cannibals or how he feels about losing his love in Africa begin to test his patience.  Only one woman seems unimpressed by Alaric’s notoriety, Miss Wilhelmina Ffynche.

Willa Ffynche has no interest in getting to know such a public figure as the famous Lord Wilde.  Her cousin Lavinia may be one of his ardent admirers but Willa is more interested in men who aren’t fame seekers.  Having finished her first season in London, Willa’s patience for posturing men has run thin and from everything she’s heard about Alaric Wilde he’s probably the worst of the worst. Willa gets her first glimpse of the man himself during an afternoon tea and it unsettles her perceptions.  Lord Alaric seems intelligent, well-spoken and isn’t happy with all of the women fawning over him.  Under different circumstances Willa could imagine herself even liking Alaric; however it goes against all of her proper rules of behavior to fall for a rogue who chases adventure across the world.

As the house party continues Willa has to keep reminding herself of those rules as Alaric seems intent on getting past her defenses.  For as much as Willa tries to dissuade him from focusing his attention on her it’s still flattering to be singled out from a room of women who hang on his every word.  To Alaric, Willa’s disinterest seems like a challenge that he must overcome, but as he begins to see the woman behind the cool demeanor it becomes a pleasure.  When a delusional young woman finds her way into Lindow Castle claiming to be Alaric’s wife, he turns to Willa in order to fake an engagement to convince the other woman he’s unavailable.  Willa’s willingness to help encourages Alaric to believe her feelings for him may have changed.  With his passion for Willa getting stronger every day, thoughts of a future with her in truth could be the greatest adventure of them all.

Wilde in Love is a character driven story stuck in first gear for most of its length.  I appreciate a strong, spirited heroine who knows her own mind, and Willa fits that description to a tee.  She’s also very stubborn, slightly arrogant about her own appeal and she’s too dismissive of things she doesn’t like. The book’s description of Willa having a love of books and bawdy jokes is misleading because those traits don’t come across as positives for her character.   She reads historical texts and demeans anyone – including her cousin – for enjoying popular novels or plays that are intended as entertainment.  Willa’s initial thoughts on Alaric are based on her prejudice against those who seek adventure and the extraordinary over normal, regular pursuits.  Her reasons for these feelings are understandable when we learn them, but it shows an immaturity that resurfaces many times as Alaric shows her he cares and she pushes him away.

It’s very hard to like Willa and to care about her enough to want to see her find happiness with Alaric.  Alaric is likeable hero, but you can only see him get rejected a couple of times before you start to question his choice of a lady love.  His single-minded pursuit of Willa is stale by the time the delusional young woman is introduced and he and Willa have to fake their engagement.  If I were creating the outline for the story this plotline would have come into play much sooner as it’s perhaps the strongest part.  Having a character who is obsessed to the point of being dangerous is intriguing.  It gives Alaric and Willa something to partner against and strengthens their relationship.

With all of that said, Wilde in Love does have enjoyable moments and there are several secondary characters who almost steal the show from Willa and Alaric.  It’s the slow pacing of the romance and the vague problems keeping them apart that prevent me from rating the book as much more than a merely decent read.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: The Queen of Paradise Valley by Cat Dubie

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Diana Rennie, daughter of a wealthy rancher, attempts to persuade mystery man Del Russell to leave his grievances behind and forgive her father for past mistakes. Her careful plan goes awry and results in a shotgun wedding and a prison sentence for Del.

Four years later, Del is back in her life with a vengeance—back for his rightful share of Diana’s ranch, back to prove he isn’t the criminal she thought he was, back to finish what the two of them started years ago in a passionate daze. And he isn’t going anywhere, no matter what beautiful, treacherous Diana does or says to try to get rid of him.

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EXCERPT

Proper ladies didn’t go calling on men alone, even in a safe town like Rennieville. She needed to douse his suspicion. If he saw her as a friend and ally, her chances of success would increase, wouldn’t they? Though she’d never tasted whiskey, she said, “Yes, I’ll have a drink.” A surprised frown notched his brow. She added, “If you put on a shirt.”

“Only business I’m interested in is bed business. Why would I get dressed just to undress again?” Eyes skeptical, he offered her the bottle.

Very well. She wouldn’t look at his chest, however tanned and hard-muscled, however taut and—oh, damn. She lifted the bottle to her lips and swallowed a big mouthful, then gagged and coughed as the whiskey boiled up in her throat.

He jerked the bottle away and held it to the light. “Take it easy.”

Eyes watering, she forced the liquor down and composed herself. A deep breath, a nervous swallow. Yes, better. Her face and body hot, she doffed her gloves and cape, dropped them on a chair, and swept a hand across her burning brow.

His gaze again moved from her feet to her head, pausing on her silky white shirt. “Did the old man send you, China Doll?” A silver flare beneath those thick lashes, a quick feral show of teeth. He took another, longer drink and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

She took a steadying breath. “My name is Diana. Miss Rennie to you.” Did that sound too challenging? “Um, my father doesn’t know I’m here.” She sensed his rising animosity and forced herself to meet his belligerent gaze. They must seem to be on the same side. “He hasn’t been himself since the day you came to our house.”

“Must be his conscience getting after him. He tell you how he caused my father’s death?”

“He told me nothing. Whatever Owen did—”

His black brows lifted. “Owen?”

“Owen. My father.” Defensiveness would only stir his hostility. Time for a little history, enough perhaps to gain some sympathy. She paced a slow circle. “I was born on the ranch. When I was three, my mother took me to New York. I returned nearly four months ago upon Mother’s passing.” Seeking his gaze, she added, a small throb in her voice, “I was lost all those years, lost in a big cold city until I found my home again and my beloved father.” She swallowed. “Yet—I couldn’t call him that, so we settled on his given name for now.”

Was there even a smidgen of empathy in his eyes? She couldn’t tell by his stony expression. He set the bottle down with a thump and leaned back against the table, arms out at the sides, hands resting palm down on the plank surface. The lantern dropped a beacon of light on him, capturing her attention despite her vow not to look at his body. There was insolence in his stance, an overt display of virility. She stared at his muscular thighs and the coarse hairs rising above his breeches.

“Yeah, it’s a sad story. I’ve got one too, because when I was ten I watched your old man send my father to his death. But you, miss well-bred, didn’t come here to chat about your past. What’s your real reason for this visit?” He picked up the bottle and took a deep swallow, eyes on her the entire time.

Controlled anger seemed to roll off him in waves. This wasn’t working as she had planned. She stepped to him. “May I have another drink?”
He passed her the bottle, then crossed his arms over his chest and watched her. Eyes squeezed shut, she took another mouthful and felt the same slow burn as before. She managed not to gag this time but couldn’t stop from grimacing.

“All right.” She spoke with careful precision. “Mr. Russell, um, Del, when you said you might kill Owen, I grew afraid. Terribly afraid. I came here to appeal to you to leave Rennieville, leave my father in peace. He—he’s very torn up about this business. He’s remorseful and sad and ashamed, and—oh—it breaks my heart to see him that way.” Was this working? One more mouthful of whiskey. God, it was awful. She shuddered and scrubbed her mouth with the heel of her hand.

He grabbed the bottle and set it away. “You’ll be on the floor if you keep drinking.”

She gazed at him with what she assumed was earnest trust, her hands clasped as if in prayer. “Will you leave town? What would your father want you to do?” Damn. Did that sound right? Her cheeks burned hotter. Would a tear be too much? Shouldn’t have had that last drink. She was losing direction, grasping for words. “Um, didn’t you say he forgave Owen? Can’t you do that too, for your father?”

Outside, the rising wind gusted around the eaves and skidded along the roof, flapping loose wooden shingles. He looked up and listened to the low thrum of the wind as if it were speaking to him.

“And,” she added, “you can look for his remains. Why, I’ll help you.”

He stared at her. “Hell, you must really want me gone.”

“I—I want peace for my father. Can you understand that?”

Another gust of wind scuffled the shingles and tossed some to the ground, while in the stove burning wood crackled and hissed. He rubbed a hand over his chin and up the side of his face. He was thinking, considering, weighing; his jaw tightened, then relaxed. “The hardest thing in the world is watching your father die. After all these years it’s damn hard to let it go—”

A chink had formed in his armor. Time to strike. Her voice soft, she said, “But you will, won’t you?” She thrust out her hand.

“You’ve had enough.”

“No. I want us to shake hands on our agreement that you’ll leave.”

One side of his mouth twitched into a half-smile. “If it’ll get rid of you so I can go back to bed…” He clasped her hand, his palm rough and calloused, and she felt a curious vibration in her fingers. Their gazes locked, and she was transfixed by his eyes of pebbled slate webbed with silver. Without another word he placed her palm flat on his chest and covered it with his hand.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Cat Dubie moved to Canada from Austria at the age of four, grew up on the wide-open prairies, and traveled extensively through cowboy country. An avid reader and writer since young, when she read her first historical romance she knew what she must write. After raising three children and working as a technical writer for the government, she moved with her family to the Pacific coast and follows her dream of sharing her stories.