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VIRTUAL TOUR: Traitor’s Knot by Cryssa Bazos

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England 1650: Civil War has given way to an uneasy peace in the year since Parliament executed King Charles I.

Royalist officer James Hart refuses to accept the tyranny of the new government, and to raise funds for the restoration of the king’s son, he takes to the road as a highwayman.

Elizabeth Seton has long been shunned for being a traitor’s daughter. In the midst of the new order, she risks her life by sheltering fugitives from Parliament in a garrison town. But her attempts to rebuild her life are threatened, first by her own sense of injustice, then by falling in love with the dashing Hart.

The lovers’ loyalty is tested through war, defeat and separation. James must fight his way back to the woman he loves, while Elizabeth will do anything to save him, even if it means sacrificing herself.

Traitor’s Knot is a sweeping tale of love and conflicted loyalties set against the turmoil of the English Civil War.

Publisher and Release Date: Endeavour Press, May 2017

Time and Setting: England, 1650
Heat Level: 1.5
Genre: Romantic Historical Fiction
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Caz

Cryssa Bazos’ début novel, Traitor’s Knot, is a strongly written and very readable story set during the years immediately following the execution of King Charles I at the end of the Second English Civil War in 1649.  Ms. Bazos has clearly researched extensively, and has a very approachable style which draws the reader into the story and the uncertain world of seventeenth century England, a country torn apart by religious and political divides which have yet to be healed.

The story is told through the points of view of James Hart, a former captain in the Royalist army and Elizabeth Seton, whose father was branded a traitor for his involvement in the Crabchurch conspiracy of 1645, in which groups of royalist supporters in Weymouth and other towns along the Dorset coast attempted to deliver the ports back into royalist hands.  Things have been tough for Elizabeth and her mother since her father’s death, and when her mother dies, Elizabeth has little alternative but to move in with her older sister and her husband, a member of the town’s parliamentarian garrison.  The prospect fills Elizabeth with dread – but then she recalls that her mother had a sister, Isabel, who lives near Warwick.  Desperate, Elizabeth writes to her aunt begging her to take her in, and is relieved when Isabel agrees.

On the journey to Warwick, the carriage transporting Elizabeth and other passengers – including Sir Richard Crawford-Bowes, the local justice of the peace – is held up by a highwayman who, rather strangely, robs Sir Richard and no-one else.  Arriving at Ellendale, she finds Aunt Isabel is somewhat stiff and aloof, but she nonetheless welcomes Elizabeth to her home.  Like her deceased sister, Isabel is well-versed in the art of healing and Elizabeth watches, frustrated, as Isabel supplies the wants and needs of the community but does not permit her to become involved.  Elizabeth was taught the healing arts by her mother and longs to help, but it takes a while before Isabel is prepared to allow her the use of her still-room and supplies.  When she does, however, Elizabeth soon proves her skill and begins working alongside her aunt – but it’s not long before an incident late one night confirms her suspicions that there is something risky going on at Ellendale.

James Hart has worked as an Ostler at the Chequer and Crowne Inn since the decisive defeat of the royalist cause at Naseby, but hasn’t given up on the Stuarts and wants nothing more than to see the King – Charles II – restored to the throne.  For the past few years, he has been ‘collecting’ funds from unsuspecting travellers making their way to and from Warwick, with the intention of raising a small force of men and eventually fighting at the king’s side when he is ready to make his bid to recapture the throne.

Cryssa Bazos has crafted a complex, entertaining and multi-faceted story in which secrets and intrigue abound and in which the stakes are continually raised – especially after Elizabeth becomes part of the secret society run by her aunt which is dedicated to sheltering fugitives from Parliament and helping them on their way.  She and James Hart fall in love, but with the new constable, Ezekiel Hammond, intent on capturing the elusive Highwayman of Moot Hill and his persistent attention towards Elizabeth, things become increasingly complicated and dangerous for James, Elizabeth and those around them.

When it becomes impossible for James to remain in Warwick any longer, there is only one option open to him; he has long since been determined to join the exiled King Charles II, and with Charles now in Scotland, that’s where James and his hastily collected band of former comrades are headed.  The story now splits into two threads, one that follows James into Scotland and remains with him as he fights for king and country and then moves south to Worcester and crushing defeat at the hands of Cromwell; and the other which remains with Elizabeth in Warwick and details her persecution by Hammond, whose twisted, thwarted desire for her has made him a dangerous enemy.

I admit that I was more invested in Elizabeth’s storyline in the latter part of the book, which is small-scale and personal, whereas James’ consists of lots of details of battles and troop movements which I found much harder to engage with than Elizabeth’s more human interest plotline.  That said, the author’s decision to separate them throws up some interesting questions; a man is called to fight because of his sense of honour, but what does that mean for those left behind without his protection?  She also illustrates very well the effect that the royalist/parliamentarian divide had on families and communities; both James’ and Elizabeth’s families had a wedge driven down the middle by differing loyalties and clearly, there are still people prepared to work against the new regime in whatever way they can.

The principal are well-drawn, engaging, three dimensional characters who act and sound like people of the time, and there is also a very strong secondary cast to add interest and colour to the various plots and sub-plots.  The romantic storyline is nicely done, although it’s fairly low-key which is why I’d describe this book as historical fiction with romantic elements rather than an historical romance; if you prefer your romance to be more front and centre, this might not be what you’re looking for.  Overall, however, I’d recommend Traitor’s Knot to anyone looking for a well-researched, well-written piece of historical fiction sent in one of the most turbulent – and fascinating – periods of English history.


Excerpt

James made his way down Jury Street through the livestock market and pens of bleating lambs. Someone had forgotten to latch a crate properly, and a pair of fluttering chickens escaped from their coop. The butcher tossed a scrap of offal over his shoulder, and stray dogs darted in before they were beaten away.

Turning on Market Square, James paused to survey the haberdashers. Surely he would find her here, amongst the stalls of linens, laces and ribbons. Hats and coifs intermingled, and for a moment all he could see was a blur of white and grey. About to turn away, his eyes at last fell upon the one he sought.

Elizabeth Seton browsed the household stalls, strolling at her leisure. James walked towards her, his eyes fixed firmly on the prize. She hovered over a collection of linens, and her fingers brushed over the cloths, but she did not linger beyond a curious moment. James kept a discreet distance, ever narrowing the gap. One slim hand held her skirts, raising them slightly to avoid a muddy puddle before she continued on her way.

He halted his progress when she became rooted at the bookseller’s. While fancy ribbons and laces had not attracted her interest, a stack of pamphlets and chapbooks made the difference. She struck up a conversation with the bookseller, laughing at something he said. James rubbed his chin, engrossed. An unusual maid, he thought, and drew closer.

Leaning over the small collection, her head tilted to peer at the titles. Hair secured in a sedate knot, a wayward tendril escaped its constraint. The wind lifted and teased the stray lock, contrasting to the paleness of her nape. James fought the urge to reach out and twist the strand in his fingers.

He bent forward and addressed her in a low tone, “Are you looking to improve your mind, or to seek instruction?”

Elizabeth started in surprise. Her eyes widened, and for the first time, he realised how blue they were. Almost immediately they narrowed, as though she wasn’t sure how to respond to his boldness. He knew he was being forward, but he had never won a thing without pressing his advantage.

“I am looking for a book on good manners, sir. I would not expect you to recommend one.”

James grinned. Without looking away, he addressed the bookseller, who watched them. “Master Ward, would you be so kind as to introduce us?”

“I would,” the man said. “Only I haven’t made the maid’s acquaintance myself.”

Amusement flitted across her lips. “Elizabeth Seton,” she announced.

“Mistress Seton, may I present James Hart, ostler at the Chequer and Crowne,” the bookseller said, fulfilling his duty.

James swept his hat from his head. “Pleased to make your acquaintance, Mistress Seton.” He rather liked saying her name.

“Master Hart.” Elizabeth canted her head and hesitated for a fraction. She looked at him openly and did not avert her eyes in modesty when he returned her gaze.

“You’re new to Warwick,” he said.

“How would you know this?”

“I know everyone here.”

“Not so,” she said. One brow arched ever so slightly. “You did not know me until this moment.”

James found her bewitching. “I stand corrected, Mistress Seton. Still, you are new to Warwick.”

Elizabeth’s head dipped.

“If I were to guess, I’d say you were Mistress Stanborowe’s niece. I’ve heard that Ellendale has a new resident.”

“Indeed, your information is correct.”

“Pray, allow me the privilege of calling on you.” James leaned against the stall and nearly sent a stack of books tumbling.

“My aunt values courtesy, and you, sir, are quite forward. I can only assume she would object.”

“I assure you, mistress, I am not an objectionable fellow,” he said. “Is that not right, Master Ward?”

“Quite true.” The man’s voice shook with laughter.

“There you have it,” James said. “If you can’t trust the word of a bookseller, all is lost.”

A small smile flitted at the corner of her mouth. James found the resulting dimple intriguing. “I must be leaving.” She picked up her purchase and prepared to depart. “God save you, sir, and good day.” She reached over to pay the bookseller, but Master Ward caught James’s warning frown and casually turned away.

“Are women from the south always so aloof?” James blurted, then cringed. Lagging wityou can do better.

She halted in surprise. “How did you know I came from the south?”

“Far south, I would guess,” he said, grasping the first thing that came to mind.

“How do you suppose?” Her eyes narrowed.

“Naturally, by your speech.”

“Indeed? I could be from London,” Elizabeth replied.

“You are as likely from London as I from Scotland.”

Elizabeth gave up trying to attract the bookseller’s attention and laid her coin atop a pile of chapbooks. She clutched her purchase to her chest in preparation for her escape.

“I will make you a wager,” he said. “If I can guess where you came from, you’ll allow me to call on you.”

“And if you’re wrong?”

“I’ll wish you good day and trouble you no more.” James offered his hand, but she ignored it. “Do we have an agreement?”

Elizabeth held his gaze for a moment. She pursed her lips, and a hint of a dimple lurked at the corners. “Agreed.”

James smiled. He hadn’t forgotten what she had told the highwayman. “Let’s see—I’ll need one word from you.”

“Which one?” Elizabeth asked.

“Owl.”

“Owl?”

“Aye, the very one. Say it again.” He crossed his arms and waited. When she repeated it, he nodded. “’Tis perfectly clear. Your speech has a Dorset flavour.” For truth, she did have a lovely, soft way of speaking.

Elizabeth’s brow arched slightly. “Are you certain I am not from Hampshire?”

“Aye. Admit it, I’m correct.”

“Fine, then, but Dorset is quite large, and that does not prove your wit.”

“An exacting maid. No doubt you’ll want me to do better,” he said with a slow smile. “I’ll need another word from you, then. Two, if you please.”

“Truly? Which ones?” The breeze strengthened, and she brushed a tangled strand from her face. James caught the haunting scent of lavender.

“Welcome home.”

With a smile, she repeated the words. The rosy bow of her mouth fascinated him.

“Unmistakable.” He grinned.

“The verdict?”

“I would lay my life upon it. ’Tis a Weymouth cast.”

“Truly impressive.” Elizabeth’s blue eyes narrowed. “Such a clever fellow to know this only by my speech. Would you not agree, Master Ward?”

This time the bookseller laughed out loud. “Quite so, Mistress Seton.”

“Thank you for your stimulating instruction, Master Hart. I find my time has grown short. Good day.” She nodded farewell to the bookseller and started to walk away.

“What of our wager?” James called out to her.

Elizabeth stopped to face him. “I’ll honour our wager at the time of my choosing. You didn’t stipulate otherwise.”

James chuckled. Damned captivating woman. He crossed his arms across his chest and watched as she walked away. With a last swish of her blue skirts, she melted into the crowd.

“Aren’t you going after her, James?” Master Ward leaned forward.

“Nay, not yet,” he smiled, savouring the anticipation. He dearly loved a challenge.

 

Giveaway

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Traitor’s Knot

About the Author

Cryssa Bazos is a historical fiction writer and 17th Century enthusiast, with a particular interest in the English Civil War (ECW). She blogs about English history and storytelling at her blog, the 17th Century Enthusiast, and is an editor of the English Historical Fiction Authors blog site.

Cryssa’s debut novel, Traitor’s Knot, a romantic tale of adventure set during the English Civil War. Traitor’s Knot is the first in a series of adventures spanning from the ECW to the Restoration and is now available from Endeavour Press.

For more information visit Cryssa’s website. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

AUDIO REVIEW AND GIVEAWAY: A Splendid Defiance by Stella Riley, narrated by Alex Wyhdham

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This title may be downloaded from Audible via Amazon.

For two years, England has been in the grip of Civil War. In Banbury, Oxfordshire, the Cavaliers hold the castle, the Roundheads want it back and the town is full of zealous Puritans. Consequently, the gulf between Captain Justin Ambrose and Abigail Radford, the sister of a fanatically religious shopkeeper, ought to be unbridgeable. The key to both the fate of the castle and that of Justin and Abigail lies in defiance… but will it be enough?

A Splendid Defiance is a dramatic and enchanting story of forbidden love, set against the turmoil and anguish of the first English Civil War.

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Published and Release Date: Stella Riley, December 2016

Time and Setting: Banbury, Oxfordshire, England 1642-4
Genre: Romantic Historical Fiction/ Audiobook
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars content, 5 stars narration

Review by Wendy

If you are a fan of historical fiction or historical romance, then you must, must, must, read or listen to Stella Riley’s work, and a good place to start is A Splendid Defiance. (Our review of the book is HERE.) It was this story and another of the author’s books – The Marigold Chain – that initially piqued my interest in this turbulent period in England’s history. Both are superbly researched standalone stories and each is eminently enjoyable. I wouldn’t have imagined it possible to improve upon my enjoyment of the print version of A Splendid Defiance but by employing the superbly talented Alex Wyndham to narrate her powerful story, Ms. Riley has done just that, because Mr. Wyndham brings her exciting, wonderfully romantic feast of a book to multi-dimensional life.

Captain Justin Ambrose is moodily kicking his heels at the Royalist controlled garrison of Banbury Castle in Oxfordshire owing to having made an ill-judged remark about one of the King’s favourites. A career soldier of considerable experience, he has earned a formidable reputation and naturally he feels resentful at being stuck in such a backwater. His generally acerbic and sarcastic tongue is even more prominent as the prolonged inactivity begins to take its toll on his temper.

Abigail Radford is a young, sweet, and innocent seventeen year old when this story begins. She lives and works in the home and drapery shop owned by her older brother, Jonas, but this is no happy household, for Jonas is an autocratic, over-bearing bully of a man whose hatred of the Cavaliers at the castle is topped only by his religious fanaticism.

Justin is a man of integrity, honesty and honour and a Royalist to his bones – completely and unwaveringly dedicated to his King and cause; and a man who has sworn off love and marriage. At his first encounter with Abby – during which he saves her from being ravished by a couple of his subordinates – he doesn’t really see her as anything more than a terrified girl. It takes time and several more unplanned meetings before he notices that beneath the extremely plain clothing and white puritanical cap, there is a rather attractive young woman. Any possible furtherance of their acquaintance is delayed by the arrival in Banbury of a large Roundhead contingent, the senior officers of which take up residence at the Radford home. And the first siege of the castle begins. I admire the way Stella Riley grows her love stories in all of her novels but particularly in this one; understated and plausible, it is entirely in keeping with unfolding events. After the first siege is over, the Roundheads ousted and on the run after Royalist re-enforcements arrive, the garrison can breathe again and life returns to some semblance of normality. Ms. Riley then continues to develop the growing attraction between Justin and Abby, throwing them together in various situations which further advance their apparently ill-fated friendship. For how can two people on opposing sides of a civil war ever have a chance at happiness?

Justin is a multi-layered character with many deep dark secrets; even his closest friends know little about him other than he has a well-deserved reputation with the ladies. His is such a believable character, especially when one finds oneself getting cross with him because he’s given Abby an undeserved tongue lashing, upsetting her to the point that it feels as though he’s kicked a puppy. But then, conversely, one finds oneself going all gooey over him when he’s being particularly charming – and by God he certainly can turn it on when he chooses! Abby’s character grows over the course of the story from the timid girl we meet at the outset to an attractive young woman with a lot more oomph than she had to begin with. Justin sets out initially – not entirely altruistically – to help her stand up to, and defy his nemesis, the odious Jonas. But in the end, he’s hoist by his own petard, finding himself drawn more and more to her quiet, unassuming and undemanding presence. Eventually Justin realises that she is the only person in his life who has ever cared for him or gives a damn what happens to him, and their eventual acceptance of the love between them is heartwarming, tender and all the better for the waiting. And as is the norm with Stella Riley, she doesn’t need to resort to explicit love scenes – instead sensuality and tenderness is the order of the day and I was left with a warm glow as she eventually brought these two lovely characters together against all of the odds.

Alex Wyndham’s performance is stupendous. There are few performers who could have tackled such a varied and wide cast of characters and fool the listener into feeling as though they are listening to a rather superior radio play with numerous actors rather than one man’s narrative of a story. As this is a story set in time of war, it features a large number of male characters, but this poses no difficulty as Mr. Wyndham switches effortlessly between a variety of accent, tone and timbre to give each of them a distinct interpretation. I cannot recommend this audiobook highly enough because it has everything that I look for in an historical romance. Filled with atmospheric, superbly researched historical content and a spine tingling romance, A Splendid Defiance has to be awarded a straight 5 star rating for both content and narration, although quite honestly that doesn’t seem high enough. But whatever the star rating, this is another winner for this phenomenal writer/narrator team.

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

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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…

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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

HRtyburn (1)
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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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