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SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: And Then Mine Enemy (Feathers in the Wind #1) by Alison Stuart

and then mine enemy

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A family ripped apart in a country divided by war . . .

England 1642: Hardened mercenary, Adam Coulter returns to England sickened by violence, seeking only peace, but he finds England on the brink of civil war. He has seen first-hand what that will mean for every man, woman and child and wants no part of it.

King or Parliament? Neutrality is not an option and Adam can only be true to his conscience, not the dictates of his family.
Having escaped a loveless marriage, Perdita Gray has found much needed sanctuary and the love of a good man, but her fragile world begins to crumble as Adam Coulter bursts into her life. This stranger brings not only the reality of war to her doorstep but reignites an old family feud, threatening everything and everyone she holds dear.

As the war and family tensions collide around them, Adam and Perdita are torn between old loyalties and a growing attraction that must be resisted.

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EXCERPT

July 1642

A shudder of rain slewed across the sodden countryside, sending its cold fingers cutting through Adam’s already saturated cloak. He huffed out a misty breath and straightened his aching shoulders. Not for the first time he cursed his brother for summoning him to a meeting Adam knew would inevitably end in grief and recrimination.

The remote inn loomed out of the gloaming and led on by the cheerful light spilling through the front windows, Adam urged his weary horse forward. The miserable beast, the mud dragging at its every step, plodded forward.

A young boy ran from the stable, a sack over his head and shoulders. Adam threw him the reins and, taking a deep breath, strode into the inn. He tossed his hat and gloves to the innkeeper, his numbed fingers fumbled at the ties of his cloak

‘His Lordship’s in the private parlour.’ The innkeeper scowled as he held the dripping garb at arm’s length.

Adam pushed open the door the man indicated. The two men seated beside a cheerful fire that burned in the wide hearth rose to their feet. His half-brothers schooled their faces to a neutrality that Adam knew would not last. As they faced him across the room, a growing sense of despondency gripped him as he stood before them. Once more the cuckoo in the nest, always the acknowledged baseborn son but not even given the protection of his father’s name.

Denzil Marchant, just as Adam remembered him, tall and powerful, with a mane of tawny hair like his father, and his younger brother Robin, as tall but of a slighter, elegant build, his hair more auburn and sleekly curling.

‘Denzil, Robin,’ Adam acknowledged them as he stepped into the room. ‘I wish I could say, well met, but I would be lying.’

‘Adam Coulter.’ The deliberate use of his full name jarred, as Denzil no doubt intended. ‘I would scarcely have recognized you. Hardly the darling of the court now, are you?’

‘I found lovelocks and pearl earrings something of a hindrance to the life of a soldier.’ Without waiting to be invited, Adam poured himself a full measure from the bottle of wine that stood on the table, hoping that they would not mark that his hand shook.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alison Stuart picAward winning Australian author, Alison Stuart learned her passion for history from her father. She has been writing stories since her teenage years but it was not until 2007 that her first full length novel was published. Alison has now published seven full length historical romances and a collection of her short stories. Her disposition for writing about soldier heroes may come from her varied career as a lawyer in the military and fire services. These days when she is not writing she is travelling and routinely drags her long suffering husband around battlefields and castles.

Connect with Alison at her website, Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or subscribe to her newsletter for exclusive free reads, contests and more…

Links:
Website: http://www.alisonstuart.com
Blogs: http://www.alisonstuart.com/alison-stuart-blog-ms-stuart-requests
Facebook: www.facebook.com/AlisonStuartWriter
Twitter: @AlisonStuart14 https://twitter.com/AlisonStuart14
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4636079.Alison_Stuart
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/alisonstuart14/
Newsletter: http://eepurl.com/brzg_z

Lords of Misrule (Roundheads and Cavaliers #4) by Stella Riley

Lords of Misrule March 2016Purchase now from Amazon

Still tied to his desk in the Intelligence Office, Colonel Eden Maxwell has become increasingly disenchanted with both Oliver Cromwell and his own daily existence; and with the advent of new Royalist conspiracies, he despairs of ever getting away.

Then a brick hurled through the window of a small workshop sets in motion a new and unexpected chain of events. After all, who would want to hurt Lydia Neville – a young widow, giving work and self-respect to maimed war veterans considered unemployable elsewhere? But when the assaults in Duck Lane escalate, threatening the life and remaining limbs of some of Eden’s former troopers, finding the culprit becomes a personal crusade.

At their first meeting, Lydia finds Colonel Maxwell annoying; by their second, having discovered that he had arrested and questioned her brother in connection with the Ship Tavern Plot, she mistrusts his motives. On the other hand, it swiftly becomes plain that she needs his help … and has difficulty resisting his smile.

Solving the increasingly hazardous mystery surrounding Lydia is not Eden’s only task. Between plots to assassinate the Lord Protector and a rising in Scotland, he must also mend the fences within his own family and get to know his son. Life suddenly goes from mind-numbing boredom to frenetic complexity.

With reckless Cavaliers lurking around every corner and a government still struggling to find its way, Lords of Misrule is set against a time of national discontent and general failure. But readers of the previous books in the series can look forward to catching up with old friends as well as meeting new ones … while, against all the odds, Eden and Lydia find danger and reward in equal measure.

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Publisher and Release Date: Stella Riley, May 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: England 1653 – 1655
Genre: Romantic Historical Fiction
Heat Level: 1.5
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Wendy

It’s always difficult to come to a series of books part-way through, so when I knew that I was going to review Lords of Misrule, I decided to quickly acquaint myself with some of the background information to the series and about the English Civil War, my knowledge of which was sketchy to say the least. I was advised to read The Black Madonna (first in the Roundheads and Cavaliers series) and was very glad I did, as it’s here that we first meet Eden Maxwell, who is the hero of Lords of Misrule. Married young to a woman who was completely wrong for him, his early experience of love and marriage has left Eden deeply mistrustful, embittered and unable to show love to his son and resentful of the little girl he realises he did not father. He rarely returns home even though his wife disappears with her lover soon after discovery and his continuing absence drives a wedge between himself and his family even while it is not what he wishes. A decade later, and older and wiser, he has vowed never to trust love and absolutely never to marry again. By now a confident and battle-scarred soldier, Eden is also a man who does not suffer fools or trust easily; and I adored the tetchy, vulnerable, overprotective, charismatic character that Eden has become – and then there’s that devastating smile!

These are serious times. England has been in the grip of civil war for well over a decade; families are split, the Country is short of money and the anointed King has been executed. Oliver Cromwell has been named Lord Protector – king in all but name – and parliament is attempting to bring some order to a divided country. Eden Maxwell has become a discontented and disenchanted man, and, owing to his inborn integrity and sense of justice is finding himself frequently in sympathy with both sides. Employed as an Intelligence officer and code breaker at the Tower of London, Eden reports directly to Cromwell’s Secretary of State, John Thurloe. He is first and foremost a soldier, and having fought in and survived three civil wars, is not happy with his current role as paper pusher and glorified errand boy.

When a brick is hurled through a window of recently widowed Lydia Neville’s workshop in a seemingly random attack, she is thrown into the orbit of Colonel Eden Maxwell. He instantly becomes interested – Lydia, an entrepreneur and philanthropist, has continued on with the work she began with her now deceased husband. They had intuitively recognised a need, and then provided the opportunity for honest employment for wounded and disabled soldiers, casualties of both sides of the war; and then too, for the widows of soldiers left with families to care for. At first Lydia and Eden strike sparks off of each other, he overbearing, cynical and dismissive; she independent, feisty and not about to allow any man to control her or her actions. Worthy adversaries both, it isn’t long before their antipathy turns to reluctant attraction, as they are drawn to each other firstly by their joint empathy for Lydia’s workforce and then by the threats and intimidation levelled at Lydia herself.

The challenge presented by the ever increasing threats to Lydia and her workforce is something that Eden relishes and embraces with enthusiasm, as well as bringing out his inborn desire to protect. The romance, which develops slowly over the entire story, sends shivers down the spine, but in Stella Riley’s inimitable style is never allowed to take-over, this being very much a historical romance with the emphasis on ‘historical’. Ms. Riley’s characters are superbly well drawn and they quickly become our friends; we love them; admire them; feel for them; worry for them. It’s something the author does incredibly well, we meet actual people, who lived and contributed to the past, but so well developed are her fictitious personalities that it’s easy to forget which are historical and which are figments of her very fertile imagination.

Stella Riley’s story has encompassed everything; fantastically well researched and richly described historic detail, characters to love and swoon over and an incredibly well devised plot that had me guessing until the end. It’s intricate, plausible and intelligent, displaying her unique talent for ratcheting up the drama until we’re left gasping from the sheer ingenuity and thrill of it all. As is always the case with any story written by this author, the relationships between her characters, especially the men, are sensitively and tenderly grown, their camaraderie beautiful, moving and at other times extremely funny. Ms. Riley has a very dry wit and some of the scenes between Eden and his brother, Tobias, are especially touching and amusing in turns.

What a fascinating period the seventeenth century was, and since embarking on my Stella Riley binge, I am continuously asking myself how I could have failed to be interested in this vital period in English history. Ms. Riley’s scholarship is incredible; this is such a complicated period to get to grips with and her descriptions, knowledge and quite obvious love for it shines throughout. How can we, the reader, fail to be infected by this author’s hard work, enthusiasm, knowledge and outstanding writing skill? I can’t recommend the Roundheads and Cavaliers series highly enough and fully intend to go back and read Garland of Straw and The King’s Falcon because it is not to be missed.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Lords of Misrule (Roundheads & Cavaliers #4) by Stella Riley

Lords of Misrule March 2016

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Still tied to his desk in the Intelligence Office, Colonel Eden Maxwell has become increasingly disenchanted with both Oliver Cromwell and his own daily existence; and with the advent of new Royalist conspiracies, he despairs of ever getting away.

Then a brick hurled through the window of a small workshop sets in motion a new and unexpected chain of events. After all, who would want to hurt Lydia Neville – a young widow, giving work and self-respect to maimed war veterans considered unemployable elsewhere? But when the assaults in Duck Lane escalate, threatening the life and remaining limbs of some of Eden’s former troopers, finding the culprit becomes personal.

At their first meeting, Lydia finds Colonel Maxwell annoying; by their second, having discovered that he had arrested and questioned her brother in connection with the Ship Tavern Plot, she mistrusts his motives. On the other hand, it swiftly becomes plain that she needs his help … and has difficulty resisting his smile.

Solving the increasingly hazardous mystery surrounding Lydia is not Eden’s only task. Between plots to assassinate the Lord Protector and a rising in Scotland, he must also mend the fences within his own family and get to know his son. Life suddenly goes from mind-numbing tedium to frenetic complexity.

With reckless Cavaliers lurking around every corner and a government still struggling to find its way, Lords of Misrule is set against a time of national discontent and general failure. But readers of the previous books in the series can look forward to catching up with old friends as well as meeting new ones … while, against all the odds, Eden and Lydia find danger and reward in equal measure.

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We’re pleased to welcome Stella Riley back to Romantic Historical Reviews to talk about the latest instalment in her Roundheads and Cavaliers series – LORDS OF MISRULE.

So here, finally, is the book I’ve been asked for more times than I can count since I started re-issuing the Roundheads & Cavaliers series. Affectionately known as “The Eden Project”, the story starts about eight months after the end of The King’s Falcon on the day Oliver Cromwell becomes Lord Protector… and our hero is in a very bad mood.

I didn’t find Lords of Misrule an easy book to write. Eden’s age (he’d have been thirty-five in 1654) defined the period in which the story had to be set if he wasn’t to be well on the way to his fortieth birthday before finding his happy ending! So here we are in the period between the start of the Protectorate in December ’53 and the Rule of the Major Generals in the summer of ’55…and national affairs aren’t going any better than Eden’s private life.

The Lord Protector’s reign didn’t exactly begin in a blaze of glory, and by the time Cromwell finally called Parliament, his popularity was registering at several points below zero. And the Cavaliers weren’t doing any better. They hatched endless failed plots to seize London or Scotland or to assassinate Cromwell – while, in Paris, Charles II and Ned Hyde created the Sealed Knot to coordinate Royalist conspiracies…but it never actually did anything.

As a consequence of all this, much of Misrule revolves around Eden’s developing relationship with Lydia Neville and the seemingly inexplicable dangers surrounding her. The workshop in Duck Lane is a lorinery – a place where bridles, bits, stirrups, and other pieces of harness are made – and where Lydia employs disabled ex-soldiers. She’s twenty-seven years old, nobody’s fool and, as Eden soon discovers, has a spine of pure steel.

Fans of Gabriel Brandon will enjoy meeting him again as, with the utmost reluctance and a good deal of irritation, he takes his seat in Cromwell’s first Parliament. Toby Maxwell plays a much larger role than previously – attracting women like flies and rarely inclined to brush them off. And there are numerous other guest appearances; Dorothy Maxwell, Luciano del Santi, Ashley Peverell, and Sir William Compton – to name but a few.

Through the latter stages of Lords of Misrule I’ve also had my first taste of audiobook creation with the Rockliffe series. This has been a roller-coaster ride; exhilarating, sometimes scary, and quite intense. It has also been an immense pleasure working with Alex Wyndham. All three audios were released within a three-month period – Alex having chosen to work on them back-to-back in order to “stay in the zone.” No one who has listened to anything he’s done will need to be told how supremely talented he is. His performances throughout are outstanding – with The Player, thanks to the numerous subtleties and narrator-traps woven into the text, being particularly impressive. I’m looking forward to collaborating with him again later this year when we’ll be getting to grips with A Splendid Defiance. Meanwhile, I’m contemplating a fourth (and probably final) book in the Rockliffe series.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

stella riley

Stella Riley trained as a teacher in London and after living in numerous UK locations has now settled in Kent.

She enjoys Amateur Dramatics, dancing, reading and travel.

After a long break in her writing career, she has published her back-catalogue as e-books. A Splendid Defiance, The Black MadonnaGarland of Straw and The King’s Falcon will shortly be joined by Lords of Misrule, Book 4 of the Roundheads & Cavaliers series. When not writing, she enjoys travel, the theatre, dancing and reading.

For all the latest information or merely to drop in for a chat, join her at https://stellariley.wordpress.com

A 2015 Retrospective – Our Favourite Books of the Year

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It’s that time of year when we start looking forward to another year of great reads, but also look back on the books we’ve read and enjoyed throughout the previous year. Members of RHR’s team of reviewers have chosen some of their favourite books and audiobooks from 2015; maybe they’re books you read and enjoyed, too, or they’re books you meant to read that got forgotten (so now’s the chance to catch up!).

If we’ve missed YOUR favourite books of last year, be sure to let us know yours in the comments!

Caz’s Favourites:

Stella Riley continues her Georgian-set Rockliffe Series with The Player , in which the hero, Adrian Devereux is forced to return from exile in France in order to assume the title and responsibilities of the Earl of Sarre. He left England under a cloud when he was wrongly suspected of the murder of his fiancée, and simply vanished, making his living as an actor – and an incredibly talented one, at that. But his return is fraught with difficulties, not least of which is that his decade of playing a part has left him unsure of who he is any more. Ms Riley has given us yet another swoonworthy hero in Adrian and her writing is a strong and intelligent as ever. The Player is a truly delightful read with a strong storyline, a well-written, tender romance and a cast of well-developed supporting characters.

It Started with a Scandal is the tenth in Julie Anne Long’s popular Pennyroyal Green series, and is a wonderfully romantic story with a bit of a “Jane Eyre-ish” vibe to it, about two people who don’t quite fit in finding that they fit perfectly with each other. Philippe and Elise are from different spheres of life – he French nobility, she a housekeeper – yet they are both fiercely protective towards those they love and desperate to do the right thing by them. Their romance is a delicious slow-burn, full of sexual tension and wonderfully witty banter, and the book is full of warmth and charm.

Lucinda Brant’s Deadly Peril is a popular choice, and deservedly so. It’s the third in her series of Georgian Historical Mysteries featuring the urbane and fiercely intelligent former diplomat, Alec Halsey, and it’s her best yet – which is saying something considering that the previous books are terrific reads. Here, Alec is made to confront some of the less pleasant aspects of his past as he travels to the German principality of Midanich, a place he had hoped never to see again. The plotting is superb – Ms Brant really does have a devious mind 😉 – and the fictional state of Midanich is so brilliantly evoked that I almost had to look it up on a map to see if it was real!  This book – actually, the whole series – is a must for fans of historical mysteries with a strong element of romance.

Alyssa Everett is one of my favourite authors, and her most recent book, The Marriage Act is a terrific, though not always easy, read.  It’s the story of an estranged couple who agree to reunite solely to assure the heroine’s father that they are happy together, and tells how they gradually begin to see that they have both been guilty of mistaken assumptions and of projecting their own hurts and insecurities onto the other. The characterisation and writing are both excellent, and even though there are times that both act in ways that are far from admirable, Ms Everett has written them in such a way as to ensure that even when the reader is thinking “ouch!”, their motivations are understandable.  The chemistry between John and Caroline is terrific and this is a story in which the messiness of the central relationship feels all the more realistic for not being  perfect.

While I’m a big fan of historical fiction, I was unsure about branching out into “alternate” historical fiction a couple of years back when I read Laura Andersen’s Boleyn Trilogy, which is set in a timeline in which Anne Boleyn had given Henry VIII a son who lived to inherit the throne. But I was utterly enthralled by the author’s ability to tell a great story while also incorporating a number of real historical events and figures. In The Virgin’s Daughter, Ms Andersen sets up yet another great “what if?” premise by having Elizabeth I married to Philip of Spain and having had a daughter by him. It’s a terrific read, the plot is enjoyably complex (although not confusing), the story is rich in background detail and intrigue and there’s an enjoyable romance running throughout the main story. I’m looking forward to reading more in this entertaining series.

Claudia’s Favourites


M is for Marquess by Grace Callaway

I discovered a new auto-buy author with this book … I’ve now read each of Grace Callaway’s books and loved them – which is exceptional. Gabriel and Thea from this book were two of the best characters I read this year. Both had their difficulties and it was charming to see how they overcame them together, even though it wasn’t always easy for them. This is my favourite book of 2015.

Falling Into Bed with a Duke by Lorraine Heath

This is the first book in a new series by this author, and I loved it. The way these two characters found their way to each other was delightful to read and I can’t wait for the next book.

Love in the Time of Scandal  by Caroline Linden

This is a great book and I really enjoyed how the two central characters worked out their troubles and found a way to each other. Benedict was a delightful hero, he was sweet, warm, charming but could also be wicked (in the nicest way!) and Penelope was the perfect heroine for him. I loved her more for the way she tried to make the best of things.

Lady Wesley’s Favourites:

This was the year that I became an audiobook addict, so for your listening enjoyment I’ve picked some audio titles published in 2015. By the way, I actually have read all of these books and can wholeheartedly recommend the print versions as well.

This year Loretta Chase continued treating her fans to audio versions of some of her classics. The Last Hellion, first published in 1998, pairs Lord Dain’s (Lord of Scoundrels) best friend, Vere Mallory, with crusading female journalist Lydia Grenville. Mallory, who never expected or wanted to be a duke, is probably a bigger reprobate than Dain, and carouses to forget his grief for the loved ones whose untimely deaths elevated him to the Ainsworth dukedom. Grenville, a fearless bluestocking, has no interest in men, and views Ainsworth with utter disdain. The plot is classic battle-of-the-sexes, with dangerous escapades and lots of Chase’s trademark banter. Lord and Lady Dain make cameo appearances, as does Lady Dain’s goofy brother, Bertie Trent, who gets his own HEA. Kate Reading, one of the best in the business, delivers another first-class performance.

Mary Balogh, another leading light in the historical romance genre, continued her Survivors’ Club series with Only a Promise) , narrated by the incomparable Rosalyn Landor. Waterloo survivor Ralph Stockwood, whose wounds are psychic and thus largely invisible to the world, is reluctant to take a wife even though he knows that he needs to. Enter Chloe Muirhead, who wants to marry and have a family but whose hopes have been dashed by scandal in her family. She proposes to Ralph, offering him a marriage of convenience free of pesky feelings of love and desire. Ah, but this is Romance, so it is inevitable that the two will indeed fall in love. Chloe and Ralph are mature adults, however, and thus it is the deliberate, realistic, and poignant manner in which this HEA comes about that distinguishes this story.

Last year, I recommended Grace Burrowes’ entire Captive Hearts trilogy, as I could not pick a favorite from among them, and this year I find myself in a similar quandary. Lucinda Brant, whose books are set in Georgian England, has published three series, but I think the very best is the Alec Halsey Mystery series. The first two volumes – Deadly Engagement and Deadly Affair – came out in audio format in 2015. The third, Deadly Peril, was published in print last month, and the audio version will be issued very soon. Alec Halsey is a career diplomat who was rather chagrined to find himself elevated to a marquessate for services to the crown. He is handsome, intelligent, somewhat enigmatic, intensely honorable, and decidedly his own man, and he gets involved with intrigues and mysteries, while trying to revive his relationship with his first love, a lady who is now a widow. With impressive research and first-class writing, Lucinda Brant vividly recreates 18th century England and deftly combines mystery and romance into one big delightful package that will please fans of both genres. She has found the perfect narrator in British actor Alex Wyndham, whose beautiful baritone perfectly captures the swoon-worthy Halsey, and who is equally adept at voicing females of all ages. Wyndham does not just narrate Brant’s stories, he virtually inhabits Brant’s characters. Listening to him is a joy beyond joy.

Natalie’s Favourites:

The Lure of the Moonflower by Lauren Willig

This book was the much awaited ending to Willig’s Pink Carnation series. In the final installment the Pink Carnation herself is finally paired with an intriguing turncoat spy and sparks fly. I adored the entire series, and was very happy with this final instalment that brought closure to several characters in Willig’s trademark style.

Death Comes To Kurland Hall by Catherine Lloyd

This is the third instalment in the Kurland St. Mary Mysteries and follows the curmudgeonly Major Robert Kurland and Spinster Lucy Harrington as they investigate yet another murder. I fell in love with the first two books in the series because our two main characters are both such anti-heroes but slowly they started coming around and in Death Comes to Kurland Hall they finally declare their feelings toward one another. This book falls more on the side of historical mystery but if you don’t mind a very chaste love story, pick up the first two books and then finish with this one.

Night of the Highland Dragon by Isabel Cooper

This third book in Isabel Cooper’s Highland Dragons series follows Judith MacAlasdair, the third shape-shifting MacAliasdair, and only female. Judith has been living in the ancestral home for 2 decades and is quickly coming on the moment when she will have to leave to hide her immortality from the townsfolk. But when a stranger turns up at the same time as several brutal murders are discovered, Judith realizes she must stay and protect her neighbors. I had read the first two books in this series a while back and when I started this one I was thrilled to have a female shape-shifter as the heroine of the final book in the series.

Sara’s Favourites:

The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne
This book had a bit of everything; a deeply tortured hero combined with a strong, supportive and caring heroine. A dark secret and the redeeming power of love. The story was gripping and immersive, giving a reader so much more than just the basic plot of two characters falling in love. It’s an incredible story that I was reluctant to finish, have already re-read, and has made me eager for more.

Diary of an Accidental Wallflower by Jennifer McQuinston
A romance that crosses classes and puts a working man into the spotlight as a hero. What makes the book special is that both main characters have dimension, developing and changing from their experiences throughout the story. The secondary characters are just as appealing and do their job of supporting the story and pushing the main characters in the right directions. This was an early release in the year but still remains a favorite.

I Loved a Rogue by Katharine Ashe
The conclusion to The Prince Catchers series, this story rewards a reader who has followed the breadcrumbs left by the author about her characters and their future. All the threads left hanging from the previous stories are tied up nicely, but the highlight is the romance between two souls kept apart by personal fears and social prejudices. A perfect mix of adventure and emotion in one amazing story.

Wendy’s Favourites:

Deadly Peril by Lucinda Brant: this Georgian mystery, the third in the Alec Halsey series, was just fascinating; it has so many twists and turns that the reader is kept guessing until the last paragraph. A fair indicator of an excellent read as far as I am concerned, is whether I can put it down easily – I couldn’t.

The King’s Man by Alison Stuart: this historical romance set during the English Civil war was my first by this author and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I particularly liked her characters, especially the hero, a bad boy (well only through circumstances) reformed by the love of a good woman. I look forward to more of this author’s work.

The Soldier’s Dark Secret by Marguerite Kaye is an historical romance by one of my favourites. Set in the aftermath of Waterloo, it features a compelling hero damaged by his experiences; as I’m fond of dark and angsty, this hit the spot.

The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne: again another first for me, I found this very unusual novel, set in Victorian England strangely compelling. Written in a very unusual style it nevertheless appealed to me with its darker side. Not to everyone’s taste, but definitely to mine.

Tall, Dark, and Wicked by Madeleine Hunter: yet another first for me and I loved it. I thought a barrister as a hero a very original and interesting concept; Ms. Hunter is most definitely on my radar now.

 

So these are some of our favourite books of 2015.  I’m sure we could all have picked more that we’ve enjoyed, but these have been the titles that have stuck in our memories and those books we’ve put onto our “keeper” shelves.

We’d love to hear from you about the books you enjoyed last year, so please do join in the discussion in the comments!

happy new year

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caz

The King’s Man by Alison Stuart

the king's man

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London 1654: Kit Lovell is one of the King’s men, a disillusioned Royalist who passes his time cheating at cards, living off his wealthy and attractive mistress and plotting the death of Oliver Cromwell.

Penniless and friendless, Thamsine Granville has lost everything. Terrified, in pain and alone, she hurls a piece of brick at the coach of Oliver Cromwell and earns herself an immediate death sentence. Only the quick thinking of a stranger saves her.

Far from the bored, benevolent rescuer that he seems, Kit plunges Thamsine into his world of espionage and betrayal – a world that has no room for falling in love.

Torn between Thamsine and loyalty to his master and King, Kit’s carefully constructed web of lies begins to unravel. He must make one last desperate gamble – the cost of which might be his life.

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Publisher and Release Date: Escape Publishing Sept 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: London, 1654
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Wendy

The English Civil War is a period of history I have only recently become interested in, largely thanks to the superb novels set during that time by the British author Stella Riley, who is, in my opinion, one of the best historical fiction/historical romance writers out there. Alison Stuart wasn’t previously on my radar, but now I’ve read The King’s Man, I’m definitely going to seek out more of her books.

Christopher Lovell – Kit to his friends – is disenchanted, disillusioned and fed up with life and the seemingly endless war he is covertly fighting. He appears to his cohorts to be The King’s Man. However, he is playing a nefarious double game not of his making, which involves him risking his life on a daily basis. Captain Lovell fought bravely, heroically and loyally at the Battle of Worcester on the side of the crown; and when seriously wounded and at a very low ebb, he is coerced into spying against his comrades by John Thurloe, Cromwell’s spymaster and Secretary of the Council of State. Kit’s reasons for capitulating do not become apparent until fairly near the end of the story, but suffice to say that he turns traitor against Charles Stuart (later King Charles II) who is now living in exile in France. Kit is a charismatic, handsome, devil-may-care character and very attractive to the ladies. Alison Stuart has done an excellent job in her characterisation of this man who apparently lives without scruples, lives off his attractive young mistress, cheats at cards and betrays his fellow cavaliers; and yet I still found it easy to like and admire him and to hope for his triumph over adversity.

Thamsine Granville, a gently bred young lady and heiress is running away from the cruel, sadistic man that her dying Father was browbeaten into betrothing her to. Desperate to evade her pursuer, Thamasine is saved from a potentially fatal situation by Kit, after which they go their separate ways only to meet again later that day, apparently by accident. Thamsine really has hit rock bottom and is in the process of prostituting herself in her desperation to survive, when her knight in shining armour saves her again. Kit takes her to a friend’s inn where he arranges for her to work for bed and board. Thamsine is grateful, as Kit planned she would be, and is already a little in love with him; he however, is working under orders from John Thurloe and has been instructed to reel her in and set her up for use as another unwilling spy.

The ensuing story is rich in detail and intrigue as it also charts the growing of an unlikely love between the two main protagonists. Thamsine finds the barely visible, honourable side of Kit Lovell, hidden beneath his cynical, couldn’t-care-less, exterior. Her innocent goodness is his salvation and I liked how she helps him to care again and also to achieve redemption.

There are brutal scenes of attempted rape, downright wickedness, high drama, anguish and tender love. Alison Stuart paints a richly eloquent picture of the seedy backstreets of London, the Tower of London – where both Kit and Thamsine spend time as inmates – then across the channel to the court of the exiled Charles and back again, culminating in a shocking and dramatic conclusion that I did not see coming. As far as Kit and Thamsine are concerned, after their tumultuous roller coaster of a ride, they do at least get their HEA but the story is then left hanging and I can only suppose, without adding a spoiler, that this slightly unsatisfactory ending will be the subject of the next book in this series. I enjoyed The King’s Man on the whole although it is a story that leaves the reader feeling slightly emotionally exhausted. Nevertheless I’m looking forward to the next in the series and will read it as soon as it is available.

Tyburn (Southwark Saga #1) by Jessica Cale

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Sally Green is about to die.

She sees Death in the streets. She can taste it in her gin. She can feel it in the very walls of the ramshackle brothel where she is kept to satisfy the perversions of the wealthy. She had come to London as a runaway in search of her Cavalier father. Instead, she found Wrath, a sadistic nobleman determined to use her to fulfill a sinister ambition. As the last of her friends are murdered one by one, survival hinges on escape.

Nick Virtue is a tutor with a secret. By night he operates as a highwayman, relieving nobles of their riches to further his brother’s criminal enterprise. It’s a difficult balance at the best of times, and any day that doesn’t end in a noose is a good one. Saving Sally means risking his reputation, and may end up costing him his life.

As a brutal attack throws them together, Sally finds she has been given a second chance. She is torn between the tutor and the highwayman, but she knows she can have neither. Love is an unwanted complication while Wrath haunts the streets. Nick holds the key to Wrath’s identity, and Sally will risk everything to bring him to justice.

Unless the gallows take her first.

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Publisher and Release Date: Liquid Silver Books, December 2014

Time and Setting: London, 1671
Heat Level: 1.5
Genre: Romantic Historical Fiction
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Caz

Set in the poorest areas of post-Restoration London, Jessica Cale’s Tyburn is a dark, gritty story that’s well written and very readable, but which unfortunately loses its edge around the half-way point.

Sally Green is a whore, one of many owned by the brutal and mysterious Wrath, a pimp to the higher classes. Passed from lord to lord, Sally longs to escape, but her few attempts to do so have resulted in re-capture and brutal beatings. Even so, such treatment has not quelled her spirit, but now she turns more and more frequently to the gin bottle for solace, her friendship with the “molly” (male prostitute), Bettie being the true constant in her life.

Nick Virtue was well educated and had hoped to become a physician, but was forced to truncate his studies when his patron died. He now tries to eke out a living as a tutor to the two sons of Lord Hereford, but when his employer neglects to pay him, he is forced to resort to highway robbery in order to feed himself. He meets Sally late one night after he holds up Hereford’s coach, and the two of them fall into easy conversation. There is an undeniable attraction between them which blossoms when Nick tends to Sally following an attack which left her for dead.

For almost half the story, I felt I was reading a strong 4-star book. The tale, while grim, is compelling, and Ms Cale confidently sets out the groundwork for the mystery elements of the story, which will ultimately reveal Nick’s true identity and lead to Wrath’s downfall. Her descriptions of the dark underbelly of the city and its denizens – both rich and poor – are vivid and really put the reader in their midst; whether it be with Sally and Bettie or the roistering, debauched young aristocrats on weeks-long binges of whoring and drinking. I admit, though, that Ms Cale’s ability to so thoroughly bring her characters and situations to life sometimes makes for uncomfortable reading, and there are a few scenes which are not for the faint-hearted.

But while the story being told is fascinating, for a book that is described as an historical romance, there is not much romance in it until almost half-way through, which I found rather frustrating. Equally as frustrating is the fact that at around the time the romance finally kicks in, the story loses its edge and strays into more conventional historical romance territory. The attraction between Nick and Sally takes centre stage and they both start treading warily around each other when she believes he is courting another woman and he wonders if Sally is attracted to his handsome rogue of a brother, Mark. I didn’t mind that so much – the tonal shift from dark to light (or at least, lighter) is necessary given what has gone before, but the contrast is so large that I started to feel as though I was reading a completely different book. And while I was relieved when Nick and Sally finally started to interact more, the romance isn’t all that well developed. Nick has been sweet on Sally since first seeing her and she’s certainly attracted to his handsome face and body, but I never felt a strong emotional connection or sensual spark between them.

And once the story became less absorbing, I started to notice modernisms in the dialogue and other inconsistencies. For instance, Nick’s brother refers to him as a good-looking “guy” and later talks about something not being “a total bust”. While I wouldn’t expect the characters to speak as though they have stepped from the pages of a Restoration Comedy, I certainly don’t expect them to speak as though they are from the 21st century. Then there’s the fact that Nick, Mark and their friends have been living hand to mouth for ages, and yet are suddenly able to afford expensive foodstuffs like spices, sugar and almonds for Sally to use in her baking.

Tyburn, then, is a book of two halves that don’t quite mesh together. The first part is a dark, gritty story that doesn’t sugar-coat the conditions under which Sally and her ilk are forced to work, and in which the author’s descriptive prose is very evocative without being overly detailed: the book is worth reading for that part alone. Unfortunately, however, the second part doesn’t live up to the promise of the first, which leads to the book ultimately feeling unbalanced. Based on a 4 star rating for the first half and 3 stars for the second, I’m going to give Tyburn a qualified recommendation to anyone looking for something different in an historical romance.

Devil in Duke’s Clothing by Nina Mason

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Maggie York, a convent-raised foundling, knows the Duke of Dunwoody’s sexual tastes are a shade or two darker than normal, but marries him anyway—partly because she has no other prospects and partly because, try as she might, she can’t seem to stop fantasizing about her dashing guardian.

Two years ago, a voyeuristic experience involving him lured her from the garden of innocence into the orchard of forbidden fruit and she’s been hungry for more ever since.

Robert Armstrong, the duke, is a Roman Catholic whose extreme devotions as a child colored his desires as a man. He’s also a slave to the times in which he lives–and to his king. Everything he is, everything he holds dear, depends on staying in Charles II’s good graces.

Unfortunately, Maggie isn’t the king’s choice of brides for the young Duke of Dunwoody. Now, to make amends, Robert must choose between the lesser of two evils: whore his wife or be reduced to a penniless commoner.

Whose interests will Robert choose to serve, his own, the king’s, or the woman he loves?

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Publisher and Release Date: Nina Mason. January 2015

RHR Classifications:

Time and Setting: 1680, Scotland
Genre: Historical Erotic Romance novella
Heat Level: 3
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

John Cleland’s Fanny Hill or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure was published in 1749 and promptly banned. Describing the life and (gasp!) carnal pleasures of a prostitute, it is a titillating, uninhibited, descriptive work and its blatant narrative leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination. Perhaps its greatest controversy isn’t its graphic nature but rather, its assertion that women derive pleasure from sexual intercourse. Indeed, women who enjoy sex have always been viewed as cheap and immoral while men are lauded for their virility and prowess.

In this very well-written and lustful erotic historical novella, Nina Mason tells the story of a young woman’s sexual awakening in clear but historic period language in all its crassness, bawdiness and, given its historical emphasis on the politics of Catholicism during the reign of Charles II, counter to religious teaching.

Maggie York is the young ward of Robert, the naughty Duke of Dunwoody. She has long known that the young and handsome duke enjoys a vigorous and unorthodox sex life, but she is surprised to learn that he desires her for his bride. As an unprotected female with no prospects, she marries Robert for security but, unbeknownst to her, he has long admired and loved her, the girl his father intended for his bride when his family took her in under questionable circumstances.

Maggie has had a complicated crush on the young duke ever since she secretly watched him have sex with her maid two years earlier. Maggie, a devout Catholic raised and educated by nuns until the age of ten, is shocked but is just as shocked to find that she actually enjoys watching and also becomes aroused by what she sees. She reasons she must be a sinner if she likes what she observes but can’t quite find it in herself to be ashamed. After all, why should men be the only ones who enjoy sex?

“Yes, ‘twas a sin, but surely God would forgive her if she said a rosary or two. She was, after all, only witnessing the sinful act, not taking part.”

and

“She’d been abandoned by her parents, treated badly by the sisters, ignored by the saints, and told by the religion she embraced she was lesser in God’s eyes because she lacked a penis.”

Robert is an attentive and loving husband, eager to initiate his bride to the pleasures of lovemaking. Maggie is cautiously willing to indulge her husband if it will keep him from straying but, in exchange for allowing him to introduce her to his proclivities, she asks him to educate her in the classics, philosophy, and the sciences, as well as in pleasures of the flesh.

The bold and direct conversations between Robert and Maggie are enlightening and eye-opening, not just about sex but also about the views of men and women in the Catholic faith. Maggie learns that Robert is reading Paradise Lost by John Milton, but he prefers the views of Margaret Cavendish, a duchess who was also a writer and scientist. Such thoughts and belief explorations are dangerous in the current political climate and to Robert’s precarious position in the court. Maggie is intelligent, well read, and self-educated and is eager to learn more. Science meets religion in radical tomes mentioned in the text, including On the Use of Flogging in Venereal Affairs and in the Office of the Loins and Reins, published in 1629 by a German physician.

But Robert’s past in the debauched royal court of Charles II soon comes to haunt their newlywed happiness in the Scottish countryside. It seems that Robert married without royal permission and the ramifications of that disobedience impact the last few chapters of this tight and gripping novella. When they are summoned to Edinburgh, Maggie discovers just what depravity Robert and the court intends.

The licentiousness of the royal court is shocking to read but is based on rigorous historical research on which the author prides herself. That a supposedly Catholic regime would partake in wife swapping, whoring wives to placate a king, and orgies and ménages is not for the faint of heart. I am impressed and astounded by Mason’s presentation, her rich and colorful use of language and vocabulary, and the relaxed sexual mores rampant in the royal court.

“I’m a Catholic, Maggie. Do I need a reason to feel guilty?”

I found myself looking up certain words used for sex and body parts and they are all historically accurate according to the king of dictionaries, The Oxford English Dictionary. But some of the prose and sentence structure are humorous and border, at times, on the purple:

After several more thrusts, her cork burst, spraying orgasmic effervescence through her body.

or

She’d be royally screwed in more ways than one.

But I am disappointed (and shocked) by Robert’s actions as well as his reasoning in the final chapter. However, I suppose it suits the actions and plot of the story. I’m still not quite sure of his devotion to and love for Maggie but, given the lax morals of the court, I suppose he’s better than most.

Warning: if explicit sexual descriptions and adventures alongside Catholic scripture make you uncomfortable, this is not a book for you. But if you enjoy well-written, saucy, and ribald historical fiction, you will really enjoy this book.

VIRTUAL TOUR: By the Sword by Alison Stuart

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England 1650: In the aftermath of the execution of the King, England totters once more on the brink of civil war. The country will be divided and lives lost as Charles II makes a last bid to regain his throne.

Kate Ashley finds her loyalty to the Parliamentary cause tested when she inherits responsibility for the estate of the Royalist Thornton family. To protect the people she cares about, she will need all her wits to restore its fortunes and fend off the ever-present threat of greedy neighbours.

Jonathan Thornton, exiled and hunted for his loyalty to the King’s cause now returns to England to garner support for the cause of the young King. Haunted by the demons of his past, Jonathan risks death at every turn and brings danger to those who love him. Finding Kate in his family home, he sees in her the hope for his future, and a chance at a life he doesn’t deserve.

In the aftermath of the Battle of Worcester, Jonathan must face his nemesis, and in turn, learn the secret that will change his life forever. But love is fragile in the face of history, and their lives are manipulated by events out of their control. What hope can one soldier and one woman hold in times like these?

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EXCERPT

(Excerpt context: Kate and Jonathan are discussing Kate’s husband, the parliamentarian, Richard Ashley)

BY THE SWORDKate nodded, a faint colour rising in her cheeks. ‘I had a good dowry and Richard fair prospects.’ She looked up at him, holding his eyes with her clear gaze. ‘And we loved each other.’

Dear God, this bloody war, Jonathan thought.

‘And if it were not for the war, you would be living in wedded bliss in Barton Manor, surrounded by a brood of children,’ he said.

Kate looked away and he knew his observation had hit home. He reached for her hand and when she tried to pull away he tightened his grip, forcing her to look up at him.

‘I’m sorry, Kate, that was a thoughtless remark. I’m the last person who has any right to do that.’ He released her hand. ‘From what I knew of Richard, he did not have the heart of a soldier.’

He knew more about Richard Ashley than he was prepared to reveal. A scholar, not a soldier. Richard should be at home at Barton Manor with this woman and their children. Not dead in the ground at the age of twenty-two.

Kate looked up at him, her brow creased in puzzlement, and he cursed himself for revealing too much.

‘What could you possibly have known of him? The Thorntons have been estranged from the Ashleys for over thirty years.’ This time he bit his tongue and when he didn’t reply she continued. ‘To answer your question, Richard may not have gone willingly to the war but he fought bravely against the terrible odds in the North. He followed Sir Thomas Fairfax into hell during those early years.’

Jonathan nodded. ‘Fairfax’s men had it hard in those early years.’ He paused. ‘Was he with Fairfax that day at Marston Moor?’

‘Of course,’ Kate replied. ‘Were you there? Is it possible you faced Richard?’

Of course Jonathan had been there with Prince Rupert’s cavalry. It had been a bloodbath. Marston Moor had put in train a series of tragic events in his own life that had nothing to do with the battle.

He swallowed and gave a barely perceptible nod. ‘I was on the other flank with Rupert.’

‘What did it matter?’ A rare flash of anger rose in Kate. ‘You wouldn’t have known Richard if you had met on the battlefield.’

Yes I would, he thought.

‘That is the tragedy of a civil war, Kate.’

She didn’t seem to notice that he had used her given name. Her eyes blazed with anger and misery. ‘They brought him home to die. It was a horrible death.’ Her voice cracked.

She lowered her head and took several deep shuddering breaths that wracked her body.

Without thinking, Jonathan lifted his hand to her face, tilting her chin so she looked at him. Her eyes swam with unshed tears. Tears he had caused.

‘So many deaths. Too many, Kate. Believe me, it’s not always easy to be the survivor. I may not be dead but I have lost all that is important to me. It’s a hollow victory over death.’

So many deaths…Marston Moor and afterwards, Oxford. He had run at life, stumbled into the path of innocent people, and he had survived while they had died.

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Escape Publishing, March 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and setting: 1650s England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Reviewed by Vikki

I have always been a fan of books based on the English Civil War and when I read the book description, I looked forward to reading By the Sword with a great deal of anticipation.

The book opens with a prologue set in Devon in 1646 that pulled me immediately, and then shifts to Yorkshire in February 1650. Kate Ashley is a young widow with a seven-year-old son. She has been invited to visit Seven Ways in Worcestershire, the ancestral home of her late husband’s mother, a family her husband had been estranged from since his parent chose to marry against her family’s wishes.

After discussion with her son, she agrees to the visit. When they arrive, Kate finds that she likes Sir Francis and Lady Eleanor Longley much more than she expected. Her son, Tom, enjoys meeting them as well, along with Nell’s young daughter, Ann. When Kate learns Sir Francis wants to make Tom his heir, she is troubled, yet does not want to stand in the way of this inheritance.

Kate meets Jonathan Thornton, a Royalist Colonel when he makes a brief visit to Seven Ways. The author is clearly setting up an “across divides” romance between the Cavalier and Parliamentarian Kate, but I felt very little chemistry between the pair at that first meeting. Much of this lack of attraction is due to circumstances in the beginning. Kate loved her late husband and has no plans to ever marry again and Jonathan is an outlaw due to his Royalist connections. This is not a match made in heaven to say the least, but when they meet again later in the book, their connection is stronger.

The story unfolds very slowly and it took me the greater part of the first half before I became really engaged. There is very little action and quite a bit of back-story that slows the pacing down and I came close to not finishing the book. In fact, had I not been reading for review, I probably would have set it aside. Part of the problem is that the hero and heroine are apart for so much of the story.

Fortunately, things improve dramatically in the second half of the story, and I am glad I did not give up on the book. Once the stage was set, this became an action-packed read. I thoroughly enjoyed the vivid description of the Battle of Worcester, Jonathan’s escape from several close calls, and his ultimate capture.

The romance deepens and I finally realised why Jonathan and Kate were attracted to each other. They share several, emotionally-charged and tender moments. By the end of the story, I was fully vested in their love affair, although they are still separated for much of the story, and this, I suspect, is why I found it so difficult to connect with them.

There is no doubt Ms. Stuart loves this period of history, and I thoroughly enjoyed the historical details intermingled through the second part of this book. Due to the slow pacing of the first half of the book, I’m giving it a qualified recommendation. Once you move past that, you will find a fascinating tale of a love that can survive even when there are many obstacles in the way, and a story rich with details of this troubled time in English history.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alison Stuart picAlison Stuart fell in love with the English Civil War when her father read her The King’s General by Daphne Du Maurier. She has been writing stories set in this period since her teenage years but it was not until 2007 that the first edition of By The Sword was published. It went on to win the 2008 EPIC Award for Best Historical Romance. Alison has now published 6 full length novels and a collection of her short stories. When she is not writing she is travelling and has dragged her family around the sites of every major battle of the English Civil War.

Alison lives in Melbourne, Australia. She is a lapsed lawyer who has worked in the military and fire service, with an obvious obsession for men in uniform, which may explain a predisposition to soldier heroes.

 

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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.

Virtual Tour and Giveaway – Claiming the Rebel’s Heart by Alison Stuart

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War divides families…love unites hearts…

As the English Civil War divides England and tears families apart, Kinton Lacey castle is one of the brave few loyal to the roundhead cause.

With her father away, Deliverance Felton will do whatever it takes to defend her family home against the royalist forces ranged against it. She can shoot and wield a sword as well as any man and anything she needs to know about siege warfare she has learned from a book…but no book can prepare her for what is to come.

Captain Luke Collyer, soldier of fortune and a man with his own reasons for loyalty to the parliamentary cause, is sent to relieve the castle. Everything he knows about siege warfare in general and women in particular he has learned from experience, but when it comes to Deliverance Felton has he met his match?

Deliverance will not give up her command lightly and Luke will have to face a challenge to his authority as fierce as the cavalier foe outside the walls. He will do whatever it takes to win Deliverance’s trust but will he run the risk of losing his own, well-guarded, heart?

Excerpt

Deliverance waved a hand in the direction of the west wall. “Oh, he’s over there, supervising the men on the earthworks. I suppose I should go and find him.”

The two women walked the length of the curtain wall, emerging from the Hawk Tower. As Deliverance looked along the battlements, she realised that quite an audience had gathered. In fact every maid in the castle seemed to be leaning over the stonework, laughing and jesting with the men below.

Penitence leaned over the ramparts. “Oh,” she said. “Oh my! I really do think he should put some clothes on.”

“What on earth do you mean?” Deliverance joined her. “Oh…I see.”

Last time she had seen him, Luke Collyer had been fully clothed, albeit with his jacket unbuttoned and his shirt unlaced at the neck. Now he swung a mattock like one of his men, naked to the waist. His back glowed with the healthy tan of a man used to working outdoors…without a shirt.

Her eyes widened. She had never thought of men as being particularly attractive creatures. There had been no opportunity in her life to spend her time thinking about men much at all. While young, handsome men had queued at the gate for Penitence’s favours, the only offers Deliverance had received were from three old, bald and foolish men of her father’s acquaintance. Mercifully her father had not sought to force her into accepting any of the offers.

Now, as she watched the smooth muscles across Luke Collyer’s back moving rhythmically to the swing of the mattock, she revised her opinion of men in general. She shifted her gaze to Ned Barrett, working a shovel not far away and similarly unclothed. Ned’s tan ended at his neck and his body was pale and freckly. Further along the line of straining men, Sergeant Hale, wielded a mallet, his great hairy, bear-like chest heaving under the effort of each stroke of the mallet.

She turned back to Luke Collyer. Compared to Hale, he seemed almost slender and graceful. Almost — she bit her lip ashamed even of the thought — beautiful.

Cover_CLAIMING THE REBEL'S HEARTPurchase Now from Amazon
Publisher and Release Date: Oportet Publishing, January 2014
RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Herefordshire, England 1643
Genre: Historical Romance.
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Persephone

It’s 1643 and Civil War is raging across England.

Whilst officers and men from both sides of the divide are dispatched to defend or besiege rival strongholds, Luke Collier has the unenviable task of defending the Parliamentarian household at Kinton Lacey Castle. Little does Luke know, Deliverance Felton, eldest daughter in residence, is a force to be reckoned with. That is, until she proves her marksmanship is as good as any soldier. Albeit she mistook Luke for the enemy, she’s reluctant to apologise or relinquish command in the first instance, and less so with ongoing vie for superiority.

Nonetheless, Luke’s greater experience of warfare and a little cunning soon has Deliverance keening a risk-laden adventure she may live to regret. To spy on enemy forces from a safe distance is one thing, to venture behind enemy lines is tempting fate and Deliverance will never admit she may indeed be the weaker sex.

Worse is to come, when a neighbouring fortified house falls foul to the wrath of a Royalist campaign to purge the area of supporters to the Parliamentarian cause. With full scale slaughter left in their wake, of the few who survive, Deliverance affords the beleaguered escapees shelter and sustenance. But, while the opposing forces are massed at the gates of Kinton Lacey, betrayal surfaces and threatens all that Deliverance holds dear to her heart.

Love it seems has betrayed them all, and how are they to uncover the spy and deadly force within their midst before it’s too late? Claiming the Rebel’s Heart is a fine novel depicting the era portrayed, and draws on the awful truth that families were oft torn apart with brother pitted against brother in the name of Parliament or King.

This is not only a well-written account of the hardships facing women throughout the period specified, the author brings to life the trials and tribulations of hardened soldiers forced to defend civilians when they would much rather be waging war in good old warrior tradition.

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About the Author

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Alison Stuart is an award winning and Amazon best selling Australian writer of cross genre historicals with heart. Whether duelling with dashing cavaliers or waywards ghosts, her books provide a reader with a meaty plot and characters who have to strive against adversity, always with the promise of happiness together. Alison is a lapsed lawyer who has worked in the military and fire service, which may explain a predisposition to soldier heroes. She lives with her own personal hero and two needy cats and likes nothing more than a stiff gin and tonic and a walk along the sea front of her home town.

Website: http://www.alisonstuart.com

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