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Adored in Autumn (Seasons #4) by Jess Michaels

adored in autumn

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Viscountess Felicity Barbridge escaped a violent marriage with her life because she was willing to make desperate choices. Now those choices are back to haunt her, as is the object of her girlhood obsession, Asher Seyton.

Asher was never anything more than a servant’s son, but he’s elevated himself through an education and is now a respected solicitor. He only returns to his childhood home to help with a financial issue, but when he realizes Felicity is being threatened, he’s driven to stay and help. Even if he must now face all the feelings for her he tried to repress over the years.

Will Felicity be able to trust Asher enough to share more than passion? And will Asher’s own secrets unravel all they’ve built?

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Publisher and Release Date: The Passionate Pen January, 2017
Time and Setting: London, 1811
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 4 stars

Review by Sara

Jess Michaels brings her Seasons series to a satisfying close in her latest release Adored in Autumn. Threats that have been hanging over various members of the Danford family are all tied together in an investigation that gives a deserving woman a second chance at love.

At the close of the previous book, One Summer of Surrender, it was revealed that the late Duke of Kirkford had collected the scandalous secrets of the ton into a journal he frequently used for blackmail. His knowledge helped him keep many influential families in his pocket, and his threat to expose Viscountess Felicity Barbridge’s deepest secret allowed him to destroy her brother’s betrothal through clever manipulation. When he died the journal passed to his heir, who is just as unscrupulous as his cousin, leaving Lady Felicity fearful that everything in her past will be exposed, creating a scandal for her family. Fortunately, blackmail will often leave some kind of a money trail that a trained financier can follow. Felicity’s brother summons Asher Seyton – a friend of the family who has elevated himself from a former servant into a respected solicitor – and asks him to help them track down the new Lord Kirkford, who has gone into hiding.

Asher and Felicity were once desperately in love with each other; however his status as a footman in her household kept them from ever acting on their emotions other than one stolen kiss on the eve of her début. Soon after that night Felicity’s marriage to Lord Barbridge went from a dream courtship to a living nightmare as his violent temper became abusive and left her a shell of the vibrant girl she used to be. When he died Felicity thought she could somehow put her life back together but the scars her husband left on her were hidden deep in her heart. Seeing Asher again reminds Felicity of everything she lost when he supposedly ran away from her and their budding romance.

Asher’s return reawakens all of the love he still holds for Felicity but there is still a deep divide between her noble family line and his background in the servant class. He left her side years ago to protect her and give her a chance at an unencumbered life but is shocked to learn of the horrors she lived through with her husband. Helping her brothers track down the missing Kirkford serves as a kind of penance for leaving her to deal with a horrible man; however he’s not ready to answer Felicity’s pointed questions about why he abandoned her after their perfect moment together. The closer they come to finding the journal and saving Felicity’s reputation the harder it becomes for Asher to think about leaving her a second time.

Adored in Autumn is mostly a light historical romance that touches on the heavier subject of abuse and the difficult position women and their families were put in when a husband was abusive. Felicity could not leave her marriage, because in the eyes of the law she belonged to her husband and it was his right to discipline her if he saw fit. Her brothers saw the evidence of the abuse but were powerless to remove her from her husband’s house for exactly the same reasons. That she had no one to help her forces Felicity to make a terrible decision to protect herself but the fear and inability to trust anyone again doesn’t go away. It’s only Asher’s presence that unlocks Felicity’s emotions; however she has to deal with not only the good feelings of love and friendship he brings but also anger and sadness at what was lost between them.

The rekindled relationship between Asher and Felicity presents its own problems and circles back to a theme that has been important in two of the previous books in the Seasons series: the class divide within English society and the scandalous nature of marrying outside of the circle into which you are born. Ms. Michaels doesn’t ignore the stigmas Felicity could face by being with Asher; she has both characters consider the reality of a life together. I liked that Felicity sees her chance at happiness with Asher and doesn’t allow him to push her away because of his own fears that he isn’t good enough for a Lady.

I’ve enjoyed the Seasons series immensely and Adored in Autumn serves as a great send off for readers who have been there from the beginning. Unanswered questions find happy resolutions and each couple is showcased just enough to give that perfect sense of ”And They All Lived Happily Ever After…”

Lord of the Privateers (The Adventurer’s Quartet #4) by Stephanie Laurens

lord of the privateers

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The eldest of the Frobisher brothers and widely known as the lord of the privateers, Royd Frobisher expects to execute the final leg of the rescue mission his brothers have been pursuing. What he does not expect is to be pressured into taking his emotional nemesis, childhood sweetheart, ex-handfasted bride, and current business partner, Isobel Carmichael, with him. But is it Isobel doing the pressuring, or his own restless unfulfilled psyche?

Resolute, determined, and an all but unstoppable force of nature, Isobel has a mission of her own—find her cousin Katherine and bring her safely home. And if, along the way, she can rid herself of the lingering dreams of a life with Royd that still haunt her, well and good.

Neither expects the shock that awaits them as they set sail aboard Royd’s ship, much less the new horizons that open before them as they call into London, then, armed with the necessary orders and all arrangements in place, embark on a full-scale rescue-assault on the mining compound buried in the jungle.

Yet even with the support of his brothers and their ladies and, once rescued, all the ex-captives, Royd and Isobel discover that freeing the captives is only half the battle. In order to identify and convict the backers behind the illicit enterprise—and protect the government from catastrophic destabilization—they must return to the ballrooms of the haut ton, and with the help of a small army of supporters, hunt the villains on their home ground.

But having found each other again, having glimpsed the heaven that could be theirs again, how much are they willing to risk in the name of duty?

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Publisher and Release Date: MIRA, December 2016

Time and Setting: Regency England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Lady Cicely

Misunderstandings can break a love apart. Can time and personal growth mend the love?

After eight long years Royd Frobisher and Isobel Carmichael will journey to this discovery; a journey full of surprises and fraught with peril.

Royd Frobisher, privateer and Captain of Frobisher Shipping, anxiously awaits the news that will send him to West Africa to do what is necessary to protect the King and his country. What he doesn’t expect is the intrusion of the one woman he would prefer to not have any personal dealings with; the woman who broke his heart eight years ago. The woman who will turn his trip into anything but routine and possibly break his heart all over again.

Isobel Carmichael hates relying on the man who broke her heart eight years ago; the man she still loves; the man from whom she has kept a life changing secret. But rely on him she must if she is to find her cousin who seems to have disappeared into the wilds of West Africa and bring her home, all while guarding her heart and her secret.

I loved Isobel’s strength and determination in finding and protecting her family. Her acceptance of what was in her heart added, not subtracted, from that strength.

Lord of the Privateers is the fourth in Stephanie Laurens’ series The Adventurers Quartet, although it can be read as a standalone. Ms. Laurens does a wonderful job incorporating the Frobisher siblings and their spouses into this final story without taking anything away from Royd and Isobel.

I enjoyed the book and would recommend to fans of the author, new readers and lovers of historical romance in general.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: To Tempt an Heiress (Runaway Desires #2) by Susanna Craig

to tempt an heiress
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After her beloved father dies, Tempest Holderin wants nothing more than to fulfill his wish to free the slaves on their Antiguan sugar plantation. But the now wealthy woman finds herself pursued by a pack of unsavory suitors with other plans for her inheritance. To keep her from danger, her dearest friend arranges a most unconventional solution: have Tempest kidnapped and taken to safety.

Captain Andrew Corrvan has a reputation as a ruthless, money-hungry blackguard—but those on his ship know differently. He is driven by only one thing: the quest to avenge his father’s death on the high seas. Until he agrees to abduct a headstrong heiress…

If traveling for weeks—without a chaperone—isn’t enough to ruin Tempest, the desire she feels for her dark and dangerously attractive captor will do the rest. The storm brewing between them will only gather strength when they reach England, where past and present perils threaten to tear them apart—even more so than their own stubborn hearts…

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EXCERPT

Near English Harbour, Antigua
October 1796

Captain Andrew Corrvan would never claim to have always acted on the right side of the law, but there were crimes even he would not stoop to commit.

Kidnapping was one of them.

This conversation ought to have been taking place in some dark dockside alley, not in the sun-dappled sitting room of the little stone house occupied by the plantation manager at Harper’s Hill. Andrew had never met the man before today, although he knew him by reputation. Throughout Antigua, Edward Cary was talked of by those who knew him, and by many more who didn’t, as a fool. As best Andrew had been able to work out, he had earned the epithet for being sober, honest, and humane—a string of adjectives rarely, if ever, applied to overseers on West Indian sugar plantations.

As the afternoon’s exchange suggested, however, even a paragon of virtue could be corrupted by a villainous place. Why else would Cary be attempting to arrange the abduction of a wealthy young woman?

“So, the talk of valuable cargo was just a ruse to lure me here?” Andrew asked.

“Not at all,” Cary insisted with a shake of his head. “Between her father’s private fortune, which she has already inherited, and Harper’s Hill”—he swept his arm in a gesture that took in the plantation around them—“which she will inherit on her grandfather’s death, Miss Holderin is worth in excess of one hundred thousand pounds.”

Despite himself, Andrew let a low whistle escape between his teeth. The chit would be valuable cargo indeed. “And how do you benefit from sending her four thousand miles away?”

“I don’t,” Cary said, and behind that rough-voiced admission and the mournful expression that accompanied it, lay a wealth of meaning. So the man had taken a fancy to his employer’s granddaughter, had he? “She has always been like a younger sister to me,” he insisted; somehow Andrew managed to contain his scoff. “When Thomas Holderin was on his deathbed, I gave him my solemn oath I would do all in my power to look after his daughter.”

“And now you wish to be rid of the obligation.”

“I wish—” he began heatedly. But apparently deciding his own wishes were beside the point, he changed course and said instead, “I believe she will be safer in England.”

“Then book her passage on the next packet to London.” Andrew thumped his battered tricorn against his palm, preparatory to placing it on his head and taking his leave. At his feet, his shaggy gray dog rose and gave an eager wag of his tail, bored with all the talk and ready to be on his way.

“If I could, I would. I have tried many times to reason with her. But Miss Holderin is…reluctant to leave Antigua. She believes she is more than a match for the dangers the island presents.” Cary turned toward the window. “She is wrong.”

Andrew followed the other man’s gaze. Fertile fields, lush forest, and just a glimpse of the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea where they touched a cerulean sky. It would have been difficult to imagine a less threatening landscape, but Andrew knew well that appearances could deceive. The dangers here were legion.

“Why me?” Andrew asked after a moment, folding his arms across his chest and fixing the other man with a hard stare. “Do you know the sort of man I am?”

Unexpectedly, Cary met Andrew’s gaze with an adamant one of his own. “I do. You are said to be a ruthless, money-hungry blackguard.”

Andrew tipped his chin in satisfied agreement. He had spent ten years cultivating that reputation.

“But of course, the sort of man you are said to be might not be entirely accurate, I suppose,” Cary continued, steepling his fingers and tilting his head to the side. “Your crew tells a slightly different story, Captain.”

Despite himself, Andrew shifted slightly. The movement might have gone unobserved if not for the dog, whose ears pricked up, as if awaiting some command.

One corner of Cary’s mouth curled upward as he glanced at the mongrel. “Most of the sailors on your ship were admirably tight-lipped, rest assured,” he said. “But then I happened to make the acquaintance of a fellow called Madcombe. New to your crew, I believe.”

Andrew jerked his chin in affirmation. There was no denying Timmy Madcombe was a talker. He might have told Cary anything, and probably had.

“He seemed most grateful to find himself aboard a ship captained by what he called a ‘r’al gent,’ you will be pleased to know. ‘Good grub, a fair share, an’ no lashin’s, neither,’” Cary added, mimicking Timmy’s voice—right down to the boyish crack. “If that proves true, such a style of shipboard management would make you rather unusual among your set.” This time, Andrew was careful not to move, offering neither acknowledgment nor denial. Still, Cary seemed to read something in him. He nodded knowingly. “Yes. Madcombe’s story, and the vehemence with which the rest of your crew attempted to keep him from telling it, made me wonder whether you are quite as ruthless as you wish to seem.”

“If you are willing to take the word of that green boy, you must be desperate, indeed,” Andrew said, pushing back against Cary’s probing.

“I am.” Cary flicked his gaze up and down, taking in every detail of Andrew’s appearance. “Desperate enough to hope that in some ways at least, you are as ruthless as you look—despite any assurances I may have received to the contrary. For it will take a ruthless man to succeed.”

“I take it Miss Holderin’s is not the only resistance I can expect to encounter if I take her away.”

“Hers will be formidable,” Cary warned. “Do not underestimate it. You may be required to use some rather creative measures to get her aboard your ship.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

susanna craigA love affair with historical romances led Susanna Craig to a degree (okay, three degrees) in literature and a career as an English professor. When she’s not teaching or writing academic essays about Jane Austen and her contemporaries, she enjoys putting her fascination with words and knowledge of the period to better use: writing Regency-era romances she hopes readers will find both smart and sexy. She makes her home among the rolling hills of Kentucky horse country, along with her historian husband, their unstoppable little girl, and a genuinely grumpy cat.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/susannacraigauthor
Twitter: https://twitter.com/SusannaMCraig
Web: www.susannacraig.com

Trusting Miss Trentham (Baleful Godmother #3) by Emily Larkin

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Letitia Trentham is noteworthy for three reasons. One, she’s extremely wealthy. Two, she can distinguish truth from lies. Three, she’s refused every man who’s ever proposed to her.
Until Letty receives a proposal she can’t turn down.

Icarus Reid barely survived the Battle of Vimeiro. He lives for one thing-to find the man who betrayed him to the French. He doesn’t want to marry Miss Trentham; he wants to use her talent for uncovering lies.

Suddenly, Letty finds herself breaking the rules, pretending to be someone she’s not, and doing things a lady would never do. But her hunt for the truth may uncover more than one secret-including the secret that haunts Icarus day and night. The secret he intends to take to his grave…

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Publisher and Release Date: Emily Larkin, January 2016
Time and Setting: England, 1808
Genre: Historical/Paranormal Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Sara

Emily Larkin is an author I’ve quickly come to admire. The men and women who populate her Baleful Godmother series are allowed to be plain in looks or sometimes broken in spirt but their stories are layered and compelling. In Trusting Miss Trentham the journey for the main characters to find love and redemption is difficult yet the payoff was considerable.

Miss Letitia Trentham knows when someone is lying. It’s an ability she chose on her twenty-first birthday from a fairy required to grant one wish to the female members of her family. Ever since that night Letitia has used her gift to weed out unwanted suitors and for six seasons it’s revealed the bitter truth that all of the men asking for her hand are more interested in her fortune than her heart. After declining yet another proposal Letitia’s night is off to a poor start when she’s approached by a soldier who seems to know about her truth-telling ability and has an unusual request for her: help him find justice for his men who were betrayed by one of their own. Torn between doing the proper thing of dismissing him or helping a man clearly in distress, Letitia takes the chance to use her ability to do something important.

Icarus Reid, recently retired from the King’s army, has one last mission to carry out and he’s willing to use whatever means necessary to discover who betrayed him and his men to the French. When a friend mentions Miss Trentham’s unique ability to sense lies he approaches her, desperate to use that skill while questioning the two most likely suspects. He’s surprised when she agrees to his plan despite the risks it poses to her reputation but Reid won’t allow this chance to find justice for his men slip away. Their first interview with a former soldier clears the man but their second interrogation reveals more suspects but no clearer a picture of who sold out his countrymen.

Dismayed that Reid’s quest could meet a dead end without her assistance Letitia arranges for them to travel together without anyone knowing she’s gone. The man that Reid once was would have immediately baulked at the idea of taking Letitia anywhere unchaperoned; however that person was lost forever on the banks of a river in Portugal. Now, he’s haunted nightly by memories of their senseless deaths and the torture he faced at the hands of French soldiers. Those nightmares make him cry out, alerting Letitia to his suffering. Unwilling to let her companion face another sleepless night Letitia finds a way to care for him that would scandalize her family but is necessary to give Reid some peace.

Their nightly routine allows Reid to rest but each morning after he senses just how much his presence jeopardizes Letitia’s good name. His mind tries to keep her at arm’s length but his heart needs her by his side as he faces the demons that have possessed him for months. Little by little their relationship moves from just a partnership to one that is completely new for Letitia. She loves Reid despite his wounded soul; but how can she plan a future with a man who has given up on living?

Trusting Miss Trentham has some dark undercurrents and can be quite heart-wrenching as readers are pulled deeper into Reid’s despondency. For a man driven by ideals such as duty and honor, his anguish at believing those have been stripped from him is palpable. It takes Letitia’s forceful approach of confronting that pain and looking at it from another angle for him to even begin to crawl out of the darkness. Reid is an interesting mix-up of hero types in a romantic story; he’s alpha-like in his relentless drive and his refusal to confront his feelings but those emotions lie so close to the surface that at other times he’s a beta-like man overwhelmed by how much he does care. His healing process over the course of the story feels realistic for what Reid endured and one can see that there is still a long way to go; however that he trusts Letitia and lets her help him are the most important steps.

I love Letitia for her indomitable spirt and her innocence. Her truth-sense may have protected her but it also put her into a gilded cage that not much could penetrate. Letitia could only let her guard down around people like her cousins who don’t seek to use her for their benefit. Once she agrees to work with Reid it puts her on a path of discovery, where sometimes white lies are necessary and some people have to lie to themselves to protect important personal secrets. A strong facet of Letitia’s character is her unselfishness and drive to help Reid no matter the cost to herself. She makes some mistakes while on that path but her need to see him heal is a mission more important to her than finding Reid’s traitor. Each little concession Reid makes is a major victory in Letitia’s eyes and she comes to love the man uncovered as he lets go of the past.

The magical aspects of Trusting Miss Trentham are kept very low-key so everything hinges on the journey Reid and Letitia take together both in body and mind. Just like the first book of the Baleful Godmother series there are two secondary characters who I am eager to see get their own story told and perhaps get another glimpse of Reid and Letitia’s continuing road towards a happy ending.

Wanted, A Gentleman by K.J Charles

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By the good offices of Riptide Publishing
KJ Charles’s new Entertainment

WANTED, A GENTLEMAN
Or, Virtue Over-Rated

the grand romance of

Mr. Martin St. Vincent . . . a Merchant with a Mission, also a Problem
Mr. Theodore Swann . . . a humble Scribbler and Advertiser for Love

Act the First:

the offices of the Matrimonial Advertiser, London
where Lonely Hearts may seek one another for the cost of a shilling

Act the Second:

a Pursuit to Gretna Green (or thereabouts)

featuring

a speedy Carriage
sundry rustic Inns
a private Bed-chamber
***
In the course of which are presented

Romance, Revenge, and Redemption
Deceptions, Discoveries, and Desires

the particulars of which are too numerous to impart

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How Many Miles?! – A Guest Post by K.J. Charles

My new book Wanted, A Gentleman, is a Georgian road-trip story. If that gives you visions of galloping freely through the great open roads, like Thelma and Louise with cravats, forget it. We’re in 1805 Britain. You might as well walk.

I’m hardly joking. One of the great irritants in historical or fantasy fiction for the literal-minded pedant such as myself is how easily some journeys fly by. The duke whisks the heroine into his well-sprung carriage on Pall Mall and the next thing you know they’re alone in his gothic estate on the Yorkshire Moors, listening to the mysterious howling of a spectral hound. This is very easily done for modern authors used to getting into a car, sticking on the radio, letting our minds wander and then finding ourselves where we want to be. And, let’s be honest, we’d rather be in the gothic estate, getting our fix of brooding, sexual tension, and running around in a nightie.

Nevertheless, even if you’re going to elide a Regency road trip with a sentence, that sentence probably has to begin, “After several days of an uncomfortable and tiresome journey…” because it was.

In Wanted, a Gentleman, our heroes Martin (reluctant pursuer of an eloping heiress) and Theo (his even more reluctant temporary sidekick) find themselves obliged to embark on a breakneck dash up north to catch the heiress before she and her swain cross the border to Scotland and get married. Martin has access, as they start their journey, to a state-of-the-art travelling chaise (what you might call a “high-speed chaise”, ahahaha) drawn by four horses. They are taking the Great North Road from London, one of the major roads in the country. You know how fast Martin and Theo are going to go, with all the resources wealth can throw at the journey in 1805?

About fourteen miles an hour.

Fourteen.

And 14mph is good. 14mph is what you can do on a good road with four horses, only not for long, because horses are not the same as internal combustion engines. To quote the great Diana Wynne Jones on horses in fantasy:

Horses are … capable of galloping full-tilt all day without a rest. Sometimes they do not require food or water. They never cast shoes, go lame or put their hooves down holes, except when the Management deems it necessary, as when the forces of the Dark Lord are only half an hour behind.  … Horses can be used just like bicycles, and usually are.

Quite. Your actual horses had to be changed every 10-12 miles (that was a ‘stage’, and the stagecoach would stop at each staging post). This meant a stop, a wait for the ostler’s attention, hiring new horses which might well not be particularly good or energetic animals, getting them harnessed, and setting off again, only to repeat the whole procedure 10-12 miles later.

And this would not be comfortable. Coaches used springs and straps as a sort of suspension system but the roads were dreadful, full of ruts and potholes and rocks. Even 10mph would be dangerous, hard to achieve and hellaciously uncomfortable on many stretches of road.

It’s about 320 miles from London to Scotland. If you were on the road for twelve hours a day, in a good chaise and throwing money at the journey in order to go as fast as possible, that would still be a three-day journey of spine-jarring discomfort. Could be worse: in the stagecoach you’d be more likely to average 6mph in no more comfort at all.

On the plus side, this did mean that travellers had to spend an awful lot of time together, crammed onto a small seat, stuck in remote inns where they knew nobody, forced to share rooms in busy posthouses. Obviously that wasn’t much of a plus side for them, but it’s a boon for the historical romance writer. And who knows, Martin and Theo might even end up seeing the advantages…

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Riptide Publishing, January 2017

Time and Setting: England, 1805
Genre: Historical Romance novella
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Caz

wanted-a-gentleman
This new novella from the pen of K.J. Charles is a Regency Era road-trip undertaken in order to foil the elopement of an heiress and her unsuitable beau.

The couple has been corresponding secretly by placing messages in the pages of the Matrimonial Advertiser, a news-sheet dedicated to publishing what we would today call Lonely Hearts advertisements, and run by Mr. Theodore Swann, a jobbing writer who owns and runs the paper as well as scribbling romantic novels on the side.

Into his dingy City office one day, bursts Mr. Martin St. Vincent, a well-built, well-dressed and obviously well to-do black man, who is trying to discover the identity of the man who has been corresponding with the seventeen year-old daughter of his former owner.  He’s blunt and not in the mood for humour, small-talk or any of Theo’s sales patter – and quickly cuts to the chase by asking Theo to put a price on his assistance.

Before he can discover the man’s identity however, the young lady elopes with her swain, and the family turns to Martin for help.  A former slave, his relationship to the Conroys – who, by the standards of the day treated him well – is a difficult one, but he used to play with the young woman when she was a child and read her stories… and it’s for her sake that he agrees to try to find her and bring her home safely.

Realising he’ll need help – and having been reluctantly impressed with Theo’s quick wits and sharp tongue (among other things) – Martin asks Theo to go with him – and after they have agreed on a large fee, Theo agrees.

This is a novella of some 150 pages, but K.J Charles does such a superb job with the characterisation of her two principals and adds such depth to their personalities and stories that I came away from the novella feeing – almost – as though I’d read a full-length novel.  There’s a spark of attraction between the two men from the start, and this builds gradually as they travel and get to know each other better, but what is so wonderful is the way the relationship between them grows alongside it.  Martin is a former slave, and while he doesn’t feel he owes anything to his former master, he can’t help resenting the fact that he has been very lucky when compared to so many others:

“I was kept in the household, and freed on such generous terms that I have been able to prosper ever since, and how can I resent that?”

“That sounds to me the kind of generosity that could kill a man.”

“It is. It sticks in my throat like thistles, it chokes me.”

And Theo gets it.  He sees Martin as a person, he believes he’s entitled to be angry:

“I, uh, feel strongly about gratitude.  Forced gratitude, I mean, the kind piled on your debt as added interest.  To be ground underfoot and then told to be thankful the foot was not heavier – I hate it.”

Their conversations are insightful and often humorous, showcasing many of the things I enjoy so much about this author’s work. Her research is impeccable and I always like the way she doesn’t just gloss over the social issues of the day.  Slavery had been abolished in England at this time, but there were still many people making money out of it; there was serious social inequality and no safety net for those who couldn’t afford even the most basic of life’s necessities; yet all these issues are addressed in a way that is not preachy or dry history lesson.  Instead they arise naturally out of the direction taken by the story, the lives of the characters and the situations in which they live.

Both protagonists are attractive, likeable characters, although Theo is probably the more well-developed of the two, with a bit more light and shade to his persona.  He’s quick witted, devious and sarcastic; and I really liked that his lady novelist alter-ego, Dorothea Swann, gives Ms. Charles the opportunity to make a few tongue-in-cheek observations about romantic fiction but also allows Theo to save the day.

Wanted, A Gentleman is beautifully written, the dialogue sparkles and Theo and Martin simply charmed me.

My only complaint is that the book ended too quickly.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

kj-magpieKJ Charles is a writer of mostly m/m historical romance, sometimes with fantasy. She has won several Rainbow Awards for her work and twice been voted Best LGBT+ Romance in the All About Romance annual poll. She is published by Loveswept and Samhain.

KJ is also a RITA-winning editor with twenty years’ publishing experience as a commissioning and line editor. She worked primarily in romance and children’s fiction, and is now freelance.

She lives in London with her husband, two kids, a wildly overgrown garden, and a cat with murder-management issues.

Connect with KJ at: www.kjcharleswriter.com * ~ * Facebook * ~ * Twitter * ~ * Tumblr.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Married for His Convenience by Eleanor Webster

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Tainted by illegitimacy, plain Sarah Martin has no illusions of a grand marriage. So when the Earl of Langford makes her a proposal that will take her one step closer to finding her half sister, she can’t refuse!

Sebastian’s dreams of romance died with his late wife’s affair, so now he needs a convenient wife to act as governess for his silent daughter. Yet Sarah continues to surprise and challenge him, and soon Sebastian can’t deny the joy his new bride could bring to his life—and into his bed!

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EXCERPT

But even as the thought passed through her mind, a hand clamped across her mouth and she was pulled against a hard, muscular figure.

She tasted cloth. Her heart beat a wild tattoo. Her body stiffened, paralysed not only by fear but an almost ludicrous disbelief as she allowed her valise to slip from her hand.

Dramatic events never happened to her. Ever.

‘If I remove my hand, do you promise not to scream?’ The voice was male. Warm breath touched her ear.

Sarah nodded. The man loosened his hold. She turned.

Her eyes widened as she took in his size, the breadth of his shoulders and the midnight-black of his clothes.

‘Good God, you’re a woman,’ he said.

‘You’re…you’re a gentleman.’ For the cloth he wore was fine and not the roughened garb of a common thief.

She grabbed on to these details as though, through their analysis, she would make sense of the situation.

‘What was your purpose for spying on me?’ His gaze narrowed, his voice calm and without emotion.

‘Spying? I don’t even know you.’ The rabbit squirmed and she clutched it more tightly.

‘Then why are you hiding?’

‘I’m not. Even if I were, you have no reason to accost me.’ Her cheeks flushed with indignation as her fear lessened.

He dropped his hand, stepping back. ‘I apologise. I thought you were a burglar.’

‘We tend not to get many burglars in these parts. Who are you anyway?’

‘Sebastian Hastings, Earl of Langford, at your service.’

He made his bow. ‘And a guest at Eavensham.’

‘A guest? Then why are you in the kitchen garden?’

‘Taking the air,’ he said.

‘That usually doesn’t involve accosting one’s fellow man.

You are lucky I am not of a hysterical disposition.’

‘Indeed.’

Briefly, she wondered if wry humour laced his voice,

but his lips were straight and no twinkle softened his expression. In the fading light, the strong chin and cheekbones looked more akin to a statue than anything having the softness of flesh.

At this moment, the rabbit thrust its head free of the shawl.

‘Dinner is running late, I presume.’ Lord Langford’s eyes widened, but he spoke with an unnerving lack of any natural surprise.

‘The creature is hurt and I need to bandage him, except Mr. Hudson, the butler, is not fond of animals and I wanted to ensure his absence.’

‘The butler has my sympathies.’

Sarah opened her mouth to respond but the rabbit, suddenly spooked, kicked at her stomach as it clawed against the shawl. Sarah gasped, doubling over, instinctively whispering the reassurances offered by her mother after childhood nightmares.

‘You speak French?’

‘What?’

‘French? You are fluent?’

‘What? Yes, my mother spoke it—could we discuss my linguistic skills later?’ she gasped, so intent on holding the rabbit that she lost her footing and stumbled against the man. His hand shot out. She felt his touch and the strangely tingling pressure of his strong fingers splayed against her back.

‘Are you all right?’

‘Yes—um—I was momentarily thrown off balance.’

She straightened. They stood so close she heard the intake of his breath and felt its whisper.

‘Perhaps,’ she added, ‘you could see if the butler is in the kitchen? I do not know how long I can keep hold of this fellow.’

‘Of course.’ Lord Langford stepped towards the window as though spying on the servants were an everyday occurrence. ‘I can see the cook and several girls, scullery maids, I assume. I believe the butler is absent.’

‘Thank you. I am obliged.’

Tightening her hold on the rabbit, Sarah paused, briefly reluctant to curtail the surreal interlude. Then, with a nod of thanks, she stooped to pick up the valise.

‘Allow me,’ Lord Langford said, opening the door. ‘You seem to have your hands full.’

‘Er—thank you.’ She glanced up. The hallway’s flickering oil lamp cast interesting shadows across his face, emphasising the harsh line of his cheek and chin and the blackness of his hair.

She stepped inside and exhaled as the door swung shut, conscious of relief, regret and an unpleasant wobbliness in both her stomach and knees.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Eleanor Webster has a passion for many things, the most ardent likely being shoes. But she’s also passionate about a story well told. With the help of some debutantes and viscounts and a twist of the unknown, Eleanor’s stories weave a tale of enchantment, hope, and most importantly, love.

When not writing, you’ll find Eleanor dreaming of being a world traveler, reading, running, reading, hiking in the wilds of British Columbia, where she makes her home with her husband and two daughters, and – did we mention reading?

Connect with Eleanor:

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VIRTUAL TOUR: Lord Sebastian’s Secret (The Duke’s Sons #3) by Jane Ashford

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Proud. Cunning. Battle-hardened. Lord Sebastian Gresham is the epitome of military might and excellence. He’s wealthy. The son of a Duke. There’s just one problem: he can’t read. It’s those damned words. He doesn’t see them in the same way everyone else does. It’s a secret he’ll never tell, certainly not to his new bride-to-be.

Brilliant. Witty. Beautiful. Lady Georgina Stane has always known she’d make the perfect bride, that is, if her eccentric family didn’t scare off every potential suitor from London to Bath. After carefully orchestrating a London season with her parents out of the picture, she secured an engagement to an impeccable gentleman. And when Lord Sebastian arrives at her family’s estate to meet her parents, she’s not about to let their antics ruin her perfect marriage.

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Publisher and Release Date: Sourcebooks Casablanca, January 2017

Time and Setting: Regency England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Lady Cicely

Can love survive secrets? Lord Sebastian Gresham is madly in love with Lady Georgina Stane and she with him; however, they both harbor secrets.

Georgina’s secret comes to light the moment Sebastian steps foot in her family home. Georgina fears it will affect Sebastian enough for him to call off the wedding, and it soon appears her fears may be well founded.

Sebastian is terribly ashamed of his secret. So ashamed his family isn’t aware of it, and it’s something only his trusted valet knows. It’s a secret he prays his beloved will never uncover, for if she does he worries she will no longer love him. When Sebastian’s secret comes to light will it cement the love between them or break them apart?

A pack of pugs, an eccentric family (and that’s putting it mildly), mischievous sisters, and a loon governess provide added stress to the lovebirds while entertaining the reader.

Lord Sebastian’s Secret is the third in Jane Ashford’s series The Duke’s Sons. Ms. Ashford writes a sweet tale of love no matter the circumstances, and her writing style pulled me into feeling each character’s fears. She had me laughing at the antics of Georgina’s family, holding my breath in anticipation of Georgina’s reaction when she learns Sebastian’s secret and weeping when Georgina learns what it is and the way she handles it.

This is the first book I have read of Ms. Ashford’s, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Her mention of Sebastian’s family, their suspicions of his difficulty and the way they handle it has me wanting to go back and read the rest of the series.

EXCERPT

Sebastian closed his eyes and gritted his teeth. He could all too easily picture the astonishing news that he had eloped running through his family—the letters flying back and forth, the disbelief and consternation. The surreptitious brotherly smirking. An image of his mother’s astonished face made him wince.

“Some people think I don’t care about convention,” muttered the marquess. “Not true. And this was too much. An elopement!”

“Except that it wasn’t, Papa,” Georgina pointed out. “It was an unfortunate accident. I think you might have had more faith in my character.”

Frowning at the floor, the older man said something too softly to be heard. Sebastian thought it might have been,

“It wasn’t you I was worried about.”

“The duchess is sending your brother,” said Georgina’s mother. She tried to speak blandly, but Sebastian got a clear sense of a woman getting the better of an argument at last.

The marquess glared at the group with a mixture of defiance and contrition.

“Which brother?” Sebastian asked.

“Randolph,” supplied his hostess.

Sebastian groaned softly. If anything could have killed his appetite at this point, the news that a brother had been dispatched to sort him out would have done it. He supposed this was his mother’s idea of just retribution for what she probably characterized as “antics.” She would have known that he would never elope.

If she’d had to send a brother, she could’ve drafted Robert. He’d have made a joke of the whole matter and charmed everyone so thoroughly that they saw it the same way. Alan or James might have refused to be embroiled in such a tangle at all. Nathaniel was still on his honeymoon. Mama couldn’t order him and Violet about quite so easily, anyway.

Randolph, though. Sebastian nearly groaned again. Randolph was usually glad for an excuse to take a few days’ leave from his far-northern parish. And he positively delighted in helping. Sebastian supposed that was why he’d become a parson. Part of the reason. He’d also been asking “why” since he could speak. According to family legend, that had been the first word Randolph learned. Sebastian certainly remembered being followed about by a relentlessly inquisitive toddler.

Nathaniel, a responsible six-year-old, had become so tired of saying he didn’t know that he’d taken to making things up. Sebastian still sometimes had to remind himself that discarded snakeskins were products of reptilian growth rather than intense surprise. Sebastian smiled. Randolph had spent several months trying to startle snakes out of their skin after that tale.

Then Sebastian’s smile died, and he put down his last sandwich. Randolph would revel in Mr. Mitra and the marquess’s lectures on reincarnation. There would be no end to his questions, or to the incomprehensible discussions after the ladies had left the dinner table. Sebastian only just resisted putting his head in his hands.

Georgina was looking at him, though, her expression anxious. He tried a reassuring smile. From her response, he judged that it was only marginally effective. He bolstered it, vowing to deal with Randolph. He would face anything to save her distress.

Georgina stood, holding her still half-full plate to her chest. “I believe I’ll go to my room now,” she said. “I’m quite tired.”

Her father looked guilty, her mother approving. Sebastian wondered at the determination on her face. It seemed excessive for a walk up a few steps. Was her leg hurting? One look at her father told him he would not be allowed to assist her to a bed.

Night had deepened by the time Georgina managed to hunt down Hilda and corner her in a little-used reception room, where she’d apparently been holed up for a good while, judging from the cake crumbs. Georgina stationed herself between her youngest sister and the door and confronted her with hands on hips. “Have you lost your mind?” she demanded.

For a moment, it seemed that Hilda might deny everything, but then she slumped back on the sofa and let out a long sigh. “I only meant to leave you overnight, but everything went wrong from the very first. Whitefoot didn’t like being led. He jerked the rein right out of my hand and ran away. I had to take your Sylph to the Evans farm before I could chase after him. It took hours before I got him there as well.” She paused and looked indignant. “Emma abandoned me! She turned tail and rode home. And she’s been practically hiding in her bedchamber ever since.”

“Perhaps she feels a sense of remorse for having done something absolutely outrageous,” Georgina suggested.

Hilda wrinkled her nose. “Well, we came back first thing the next morning to get you.”

“That does not excuse…”

“And you were gone!” Hilda actually dared to look reproachful. “As if you’d vanished into thin air.”

“Thick mud, more like,” said Georgina.

“If you had just waited, or only walked a little way along the trail, we would have found you. And there wouldn’t have been such a very great fuss. Why didn’t you? How could you be so clumsy as to fall into a gully?” Hilda cocked her head. “I never even knew it was there.”

“Don’t even dream of blaming this on me!” Georgina gazed at her sister. They were alike in coloring and frame, but apparently their minds ran on entirely different paths.

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There are TEN (10) copies of the first book in The Duke’s Sons series – Heir to the Duke up for grabs – enter the giveaway at Rafflecopter!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

jane-ashford_-author-photoJANE ASHFORD, a beloved author of historical romances, has been published in Sweden, Italy, England, Denmark, France, Russia, Latvia, and Spain, as well as the United States. Jane has been nominated for a Career Achievement Award by RT Book Reviews.

You can connect with Jane at www.janeashford.com * ~ * Facebook * ~ * Goodreads

Looking Back at 2016 – Our Favourite Books of the Year

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Amazingly, another year has passed, and it’s time for us all to look back at the books we most enjoyed reading in 2016. Here are some of the books chosen by the RHR team as their favourites of the year; if you’ve read any of them do you agree with our assessment? What are your own personal favourites of 2016? Please stop by and tell us what you read this year that you loved!

 


Caz

I’ve had a pretty good year in terms of books; I’ve read and listened to more than 250 titles this year and have rated the majority of them at 4 stars or higher, which is a pretty good strike rate! That said, choosing favourites is always difficult and they change from day to day. So bearing that in mind, here goes…

 

 

A Gentleman’s Position by K.J Charles is the third book in her excellent Society of Gentlemen series, set in the final days of the Regency.  This story takes an in-depth look at the problems inherent in falling in love outside one’s class – as the two protagonists, Lord Richard Vane and his extremely capable valet, David Cyprian struggle to reconcile their feelings for one another with their relative social positions.  The story is compelling, the romance is beautifully written and developed and the sexual chemistry between the principals is absolutely smoking.  This series has without question been one of the best historical romance collections in recent years, and is well worth a few hours of anyone’s time.

Forevermore is the seventh and last book in Kristen Callihan;s wonderful Darkest London series of historical paranormals, and it brings this incredibly inventive series to an action packed and very fitting close.  The author skilfully draws together a number of plotlines sewn in earlier books, a real treat for those of us who have followed the series from the beginning; there’s plenty of action, steamy love scenes, a complex, fast-moving plot, heartbreak, angst … in short, Forevermore delivers all the things that have made all the books in this series such compelling reads.  I’m sorry the series has ended, but it ends on a real high, and I fervently hope that Ms. Callihan might one day return to this fantastical twilight world of shifters, angels, GIMs and demons.

Duke of Sin by Elizabeth Hoyt.  I do love a bad-boy hero, and there’s no denying that Elizabeth Hoyt set herself quite the task when she decided to turn the gorgeous, manipulative, devious and dangerous Valentine Napier, Duke of Montgomery into a romantic hero.  But she does it with aplomb, and without turning Val into a different character in order to effect his redemption.  The sexy game of cat-and-mouse played between the completely outrageous duke who thinks nothing of wandering around naked (well, he’s gorgeous, so why should he deprive people of the sight of him?!) and having the most inappropriate conversations with his housekeeper; and said housekeeper who is by no means insensible to Val’s charms, but who is sensible enough to know that he’s trying deliberately to rile her and not to take the bait – is wonderfully developed, and the relationship that emerges is one of surprising equality.  Duke of Sin is a thoroughly enjoyable novel and the eponymous duke is one of the most charismatic characters ever to grace the pages of an historical romance.

A Splendid Defiance by Stella Riley has been one of my favourite historical romances for the past thirty years, so I was delighted when the audiobook version, narrated by the massively talented Alex Wyndham became available just before Christmas.  Set during the English Civil War, the book tells the true story of the small garrison of just over three hundred men who held the Royalist stronghold of Banbury castle in Oxfordshire against an opposing Parliamentary force of almost ten times their number.  Against this superbly presented historical background, Ms. Riley develops an unforgettable romance between cynical, Royalist captain, Justin Ambrose and Abigail Radford, the sister of  a die-hard Puritan.  This is a real treat for anyone who enjoys their historical romance with an emphasis on the historical; the characterisation is superb, the romance is beautifully developed, and the audiobook is performed by one of the best narrators around.  Seriously – don’t miss it.

Jane Steele by Lindsay Faye, narrated by Susie Riddell.  With the tagline – Reader, I murdered him – there’s no question that Jane Steele – the book AND the character – is inspired by Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, and there are a number of key moments and events during this book that relate directly back to the classic novel. But this is ultimately a refreshing and somewhat unusual tale that very quickly takes on a life of its own. Jane is a remarkable and compelling character; a quick-witted survivor who doesn’t take crap from anyone but who nonetheless feels like a woman of her time, and what keeps her the right side of the listeners’ sympathies is that she’s motivated by love and loyalty.  We follow her through her time at school, her subsequent life in London and thence to a position as governess to the ward of Mr. Charles Thornfield, a British, Indian-born ex-army doctor with whom she eventually falls in love.  The writing is fresh and witty and the story is a terrific mixture of gothic romance and detective story featuring a unique protagonist, and I highly recommend the audiobook, as the narration by Susie Riddell is very good indeed.


Heather C.

The Duke of Deception by Darcy Burke – I loved the secrets being kept between the hero and heroine and how that pushed the story forward.  They weren’t simply a complication to tangle over.

The Daredevil Snared by Stephanie Laurens- This is the third book in the series and the best so far in my opinion. It isn’t often I say that!  There is less mystery than in the previous books and more action/adventure – with dire consequences.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Scandal by Kathleen Kimmel. The best romance I have read this year.  The romance felt so real and hot, the characters were infuriating (in the best way), and the story forced the heroine WAY out of her comfort zone! Made me immediately pick up the other books in the series.


Jenny Q

Forevermore by Kristen Callihan

I have been a big fan of the Darkest London series from the very beginning, and while I am sad to see it come to an end, Forevermore is one heck of a satisfying conclusion. If you’re a fan of historical paranormals, or if you’ve never read one and want to give the genre a shot, this series, (along with Bec McMaster’s London Steampunk series), is a great place to start. It’s a complicated world of elementals, werewolves, demons, spirits, and fae, and revolves around the Society for the Suppression of Supernaturals, tasked with managing them all. Forevermore gives readers pretty much everything we want in a series finale. I love how this story brought some threads back together from previous books and showed how everything that has happened to our favorite characters was set in motion and why. It was really cool how Kristen Callihan sort of brought everything full circle, not just for the story world but for some of the characters. The ending made me cry, and the epilogue made me smile. Forevermore is a riveting tale from beginning to end, and a worthy, powerful, and emotional conclusion to an outstanding series.

Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie

Sally Christie’s debut novel, The Sisters of Versailles, about a family of five sisters, four of whom became mistresses of Louis XV, made my list of best books of 2015, and so I was anxiously awaiting my chance to read the sequel, The Rivals of Versailles. It picks up right where we left off, only now the story is being told by Jeanne Poisson, the young and beautiful commoner who will become known to history as the unparalleled Madame de Pompadour. Quickly rising from humble roots, she immerses herself in lessons and becomes the most elegant and cultured woman at Versailles, a patron of the arts and architecture, and a politically savvy negotiator, guiding Louis through two decades of wars and diplomatic relations. I highly recommend this series for lovers of French history and readers who love to read about real women who make their mark on the world against all odds. This book is so complex in its many layers and in its lush depictions of court life in all its beautiful ugliness that I don’t feel my review can do it justice. I can’t wait to see how Sally Christie will bring this chapter in French history and the glory days of Versailles to an end in the final book, The Enemies of Versailles.

Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War by Heather Webb, Hazel Gaynor, Beatriz Williams, Jennifer Robson, Jessica Brockmole, Kate Kerrigan, Evangeline Holland, and Lauren Willig

This is an excellent collection of short stories by nine talented historical fiction authors. While the stories are not interconnected, they do all share a common theme, the Armistice that ended World War I, and these stories really capture the conflicting emotions that the end of the war brings. Of course, there is joy and celebration but also a sense of uncertainty. Is it really over? What comes next? What do we do now? What was it all for? How do we go on as before when none of us will ever be the same? The stories are wonderfully varied, giving the reader a glimpse into different aspects of the war and life on the home front in Britain, Belgium, and France. All nine stories are good. There’s not a weak offering among them, though some did resonate with me more than others. All for the Love of You by Jennifer Robson, Something Worth Landing For by Jessica Brockmole, and Hush by Hazel Gaynor stand out as my favorites. These stories of love and war are beautifully written, encompassing the entire range of emotions and shades of humanity, and will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading them.


Lady Cicely

Wicked Highland Wishes by Julie Johnstone

Julie Johnstone has written a riveting tale of love, the desire to do what’s right and throws in some curve balls I didn’t see coming all to great effect.  Bridgette is a strong heroine who goes through ordeals that would truly break a lesser woman.  I bawled at what she goes through then bawled some more as she comes out even stronger.  And Lachlan?  I wasn’t prepared to fall hopelessly in love with this hero!  His adoration, love and patience is what true heroes are made of.

This is one of those rare stories that will sit with you long after you have read it.

Rebel Warrior by Regan Walker

Ms. Walker hits the ground running with this tale of love among war, politics, and betrayal. Her ability to infuse history into her tales without overwhelming the reader is a wonderful talent to have.  Rebel Warrior is an engaging tale that will have the reader thinking they have it figured out only to have the hero and heroine be given a story hiccup and the reader thinking “now I’m not sure” which only fuels the reader’s desire to find out what happens next.

Rescued by a Lady’s Love by Christi Caldwell

Christi Caldwell takes a slight departure from her usual writing style by going a little over to the dark side.  This little trip is a heart wrenching tale of two people who have every right to hate the world and the circumstances that have forced them into that world.  While keeping with the description of the Duke of Blackthorne from previous stories Ms. Caldwell slowly peels the layers back revealing how and why he is the way he is.  She makes the reader feel every ounce of pain and self-loathing both characters suffer and at the same time giving hope that there may be light at the end of the tunnel.

Blythe: Schemes Gone Amiss by Collette Cameron

Another hit by the extremely talented Collette Cameron that will have you laughing & crying all at the same time. Her wit combined with the strength of her characters will draw you in and not let you go.  Looking forward to her next installment to see which Culpepper Miss has me laughing out loud.

Lady Wesley

My favorite reads of 2016 include some old best-loved romance writers and a new-to-me author of mystery/romance stories.

After a fairly ‘meh’ first book in The Ravenels series, Lisa Kleypas got her groove back with Marrying Winterbourne. Rhys Winterbourne joins the ranks of Derek Craven (Dreaming of You) and Lord St. Vincent (Devil in Winter) as one of her most memorable and enticing heroes. I listened to the audio version narrated by Mary Jane Wells, who gets 10+ stars for her performance. Her Rhys Winterbourne is simply the sexiest, swoonworthiest hero I’ve ever heard from a female narrator, and I’m reliably informed that her Welsh accent is excellent. (It is – Ed.)

Once Upon a Dream was a triple delight for me. Two of my favorite authors: Mary Balogh and Grace Burrowes. One of my favorite settings: country house parties. My favorite duke – the Duke of All Dukes: Wulfric Bedwyn, Duke of Bewcastle. No way was I not going to like these two novellas. Balogh’s story takes us back Bedwyn World, a place that I came to love when reading her Slightly and Simply series. Our heroine, Miss Eleanor Thompson, played a secondary role in Slightly Dangerous, when her sister Christine married the top-lofty Duke. Eleanor appeared again in Simply Perfect, when Claudia Martin married the Marquess of Attingsborough, and Eleanor took over Claudia’s role as headmistress of a girls’ school in Bath. It was great fun to see this forty-year-old lady get her HEA. Burrowes gives us a widowed father of young boys who play matchmaker for their father and the daughter of an immensely wealthy cit. As usual, Burrowes excels at writing adorable yet realistically mischievous and exasperating children.

Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby series of four novels and one novella – each of them first-rate – features Keira Darby and Sebastian Gage. Now comes the fifth novel in the series, As Death Draws Near, and I believe it is the best yet. Keira and Gage interrupt their honeymoon to investigate the murder of a nun at a convent in Ireland. Although the mystery drives the plot, this book is also a strongly character-driven love story. It is absolutely lovely to watch Keira and Gage navigate through the early days of their marriage. Keira has grown since we met her in The Anatomist’s Wife, but she still harbors insecurities relating to her unhappy first marriage, the notoriety resulting from her work, and her rejection by society. As for Sebastian Gage, he remains handsome, stalwart, and devoted to Keira. His character is not as inclined to introspection as hers, but we do see him trying to navigate, not always successfully, between being Kiera’s husband and being her partner in investigation. Anna Lee Huber is a supremely talented author, and these books are complex, impeccably plotted, and clearly well-researched.


Sara

Duke of My Heart by Kelly Bowen

The idea of a Regency era “Fixer” who is both a peer and a woman shouldn’t have worked as well as it does. Kelly Bowen allows readers to quickly forget the implausibility of her storyline by engaging us with two highly intelligent characters who match wits, clash over control and somehow fall in love while searching for a kidnapped woman. It’s very easy to get wrapped up in the investigation underlying all of their interactions but the story works best in the small moments where the heroine Ivory is allowed to be both strong and independent but still have a woman’s heart to be lost to the right partner.

The Hunter by Kerrigan Byrne

I didn’t believe that Kerrigan Byrne could create a darker and more tortured hero than she did in last year’s The Highwayman but somehow she turned a sociopath into a man to fall in love with. The emotional walls Christopher Argent has erected to protect himself slowly crumble when he interacts with his target Millie LeCour and he begins to see the value of living through her eyes. Mille has her own problems to overcome but the brilliance of her character is that she meets her challenges with courage and never lets them damage her spirit. The mix of his dark soul to her inner light makes their relationship all the more intense. Twists in the story show a reader that sometimes true evil can hide behind the friendliest of faces while true love can heal over scars built from a lifetime of pain.

To Lure a Proper Lady by Ashlyn Macnamara

This book introduced me to one of my favorite characters of the year. Dysart starts off as a snarky Bow Street Runner full of contempt for the nobility but is slowly revealed to be a principled and honorable man. This story also had one of the best romantic partnerships with Dysart and his heroine Lizzie investigating the suspicious illness of her father along with other problems around the estate. I was reminded of the TV show Castle and the partnership of Castle/Beckett in how well Dysart and Lizzie work together but also tease and dance around their intense sexual chemistry. Dysart’s cleverness and dry wit alone make this book a keeper and the romance he finds with Lizzie made it all the more enjoyable.

Do You Want to Start a Scandal by Tessa Dare

In a year full of drama Tessa Dare delivers a romantic-comedy that merges two separate series into a satisfying conclusion for them both. It’s a meeting of opposites when a buttoned-up former spy tangles with a spirited woman to solve a whodunit and save their reputations. Seeing the long suffering Charlotte Highwood all grown up and finding her match was so much fun! The lighter tone of the storyline allows for outrageously humorous moments such as a regency sex-ed discussion full of modern iconography, a child detective on the trail of a “murderer” and a completely garbled declaration of love. There are serious moments too but they never detract from the pure entertainment value of the book.

Unmasking Miss Appleby by Emily Larkin

This was the surprise hit of 2016 for me. Emily Larkin mixes Historical and Paranormal elements into a book that never skimps on characters to sell the fantasy. Pushing the limits of the “woman in pants” storyline by adding the quirk of magic, the title character Charlotte Appleby experiences life for a few weeks as a woman embracing her sexuality and as a man understanding friendship and cameraderie. Charlotte’s physical transformation rather than just a disguise adds a subtext (perhaps inadvertently) about the nature of attraction and of gender being something intrinsic to the person rather than how they look on the outside. I loved seeing Charlotte discover that magic comes in many forms, from the supernatural kind to the type that sparks between people perfect for each other.


Wendy

There was never any doubt that a Stella Riley novel would feature in my ‘best of books published in 2016’ but which to choose? It was extremely difficult as she has had four audio books and one print published this year. In the end I settled on the long awaited Lords of Misrule, the fourth in her Civil War series. And my reason? It’s simply fabulous – a great feast of a book combining what I love best, terrifically researched historical content and a subtle but beautifully developed romance.

Lucinda Brant will always have a place on any ‘best of’ list of mine if she’s had something published within the year. This time she has brought together her fabulous Salt Hendon books in a boxed set in both a print version AND an audio version with the stupendously talented Alex Wyndham narrating it. With both being published within 2016 I’ve had the loveliest of times both reading and listening, and being transported back in time to Ms. Brant’s knowledgeably written and extensively researched, opulent and exciting Georgian world.

One of the queens of historical romance began a new series this year and in her usual understated, subtle manner, Mary Balogh has hooked me in. Someone to Love is an original and fascinating start to her new series and I was thrilled to not only read it but but also to have the pleasure of discussing the characters personally with Ms. Balogh at the Historical Romance Retreat. This author doesn’t need to rely on complicated plot lines to sell her books – her strengths lie in her years of writing and life experience which I feel always comes across, and I love everything she produces.

One of my greatest reading pleasures has always been historical fiction and in particular books about the Plantagenets. There are no historical fiction writers whom I enjoy more than Elizabeth Chadwick and The Autumn Throne, the third and final book in her fascinating Eleanor of Aquitaine series is quite simply superb. Ms.Chadwick’s knowledge of the period and scholarship is mind boggling. All of her books are eloquently written, with exceptional attention to detail, but this series in particular really struck a chord with me and I finished it with a thirst to learn as much as I could about this fascinating historical character.

My final choice is a bit of a departure for me. K.J Charles is a new-to-me author in 2016 and was recommended by a respected reviewer friend. M/M historical romance is not something I had ever considered trying, nor to be honest, even knew existed. But I’m so glad I gave this author a try because I loved her Society of Gentlemen series and in particular, A Gentleman’s Position. This is such a clever story, taking place at a time when gentlemen could be executed for their predilections. But this story is about so much more than that, and the way the author develops the plot and brings it all to a satisfactory and plausible conclusion is very skilful. The love between her characters is tender and believable and the historical content is in-depth, real and fascinating.


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My Rogue, My Ruin (Lords of Essex #1) by Amalie Howard and Angie Morgan

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The Marquess of Hawksfield’s lineage is impeccable and his title coveted, but Archer Croft is as far from his indulgent peers as he can get. His loathing for the beau monde has driven him to don a secret identity and risk everything in order to steal their riches and distribute them to the less fortunate.

Lady Briannon Findlay embraces her encounter with the Masked Marauder, a gentleman thief waylaying carriages from London to Essex. The marauder has stirred Brynn’s craving for adventure, and she discovers an attraction deeper than the charming thief’s mask.

Brynn is a revelation, matching Archer in intelligence, wit, and passion. Stubborn and sensuous in equal measure, she astonishes him at every turn, but when someone sinister impersonates Archer’s secret personality, and a murder is committed, Archer begins to think he doesn’t stand a fighting chance without her.

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Publisher and Release Date: Entangled Publishing, November 2016
Time and Setting: England, 1817
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 3 stars

Review by Sara

I appreciate that new voices are appearing in the world of Historical Romances when only a few years ago some claimed the genre was dead. Amalie Howard and Angie Morgan have some good ideas to bring to the table in their first release My Rogue, My Ruin but not everything in the story works within the constraints of its historical setting.

What drew me into the story was the promise of a Robin Hood type hero and Lord Hawksfield is certainly dedicated to his mission to rob from the rich to give back to the poor. Archer Croft sees the debauched behavior of his father, the Duke of Bradburne, as the worst example of the privileged few controlling the wealth while the masses struggle daily. His mother was the first to teach him charity and compassion towards others when she raised one of her husband’s bastard children as her own daughter. After the duchess died,  Archer took it upon himself to continue her charitable work but found that the family’s coffers were being drained constantly by his father’s dissolute lifestyle. Having no control over his the duke’s expenditures, Archer instead turns towards other peers by creating a highwayman persona of the Masked Marauder who robs the carriages of the elite. Their wealth is redistributed and Archer’s conscience is clear since no one is truly hurt in the exchange.

During one of his evening raids as the Marauder, Archer stops the carriage of his neighbor Lord Dinsmore and his family. The plan for this robbery was the same as all of the others until he sees the man’s daughter, Lady Briannon. He’s impressed with the young woman’s bravery in the face of danger and there’s just a hint of attraction sparking between them even as he takes her jewelry. When he meets her later that evening as himself, he’s almost angry that she cannot recognize him as the man who she stood toe-to-toe with only hours earlier.

Lady Briannon is more than a little shaken up by her encounter with the Masked Marauder, but she is also uneasy over her reunion with her neighbor Lord Hawksworth, who is aloof and distant and such a contrast to his congenial father. As Brynn enters society she and Archer keep meeting each other but he throws out such mixed signals she cannot get a read off the man. One moment he seems interested in pursuing their acquaintance and then minutes later he is pushing her away. Archer would be the last sort of man Brynn would want to marry as she is more comfortable embracing her passions while he seems closed up and distant from everyone.

Circumstances are working against Brynn’s wish when she manages to put the clues about the Marauder’s identify together with some of the things she’s come to notice about Archer. Before she can even wrap her head around that discovery, a tragedy hits the Croft household and she is the only person who can provide Archer with an alibi to keep an investigator from learning his secret. To protect Archer and the Marauder from prosecution Brynn makes the ultimate sacrifice to her future by claiming she and Archer are betrothed. Knowing she has just tied herself to a man unwilling to marry, Brynn’s only hope is to help him find the person framing the Marauder for murder and then to end their fake betrothal with her heart intact.

At its core, My Rogue, My Ruin is a character driven story about Brynn and Archer’s passionate natures and how it drives their lives. A chronic illness in Brynn’s childhood has made her embrace each day of her life as she tries to experience as much as possible. She wants to feel that same exuberance in whomever she marries but doesn’t believe that Archer has an unguarded side. Archer has hidden his truest self behind so many masks that it’s become difficult for him to define the lines between the man, the Marquess and the Marauder. Both characters believe they are best serving their passions by continuing on the same paths and not letting the other person know their innermost thoughts or feelings. As they seek out the person trying to destroy Archer’s reputation and accept their betrothal they each find a better path by sharing themselves.

Unfortunately the co-authors’ inexperience with the Historical genre rears its head more than once as everything unfolds and it can take a reader quickly out of the story. Little anachronisms can normally be ignored, but there is a fairly large one that happens just after the mid-point that is world-shaking to a reader like me, who looks for a degree of historical accuracy. There are also several unanswered questions about secondary characters that feel less like a set-up for a sequel and more like storylines that failed to develop or were added just for the sake of creating problems for Brynn or Archer. I did like how the true villain of the story was kept a secret right up until the end when usually I can sniff out the likely suspect within a few pages of the crime. Perhaps with a little more attention to the setting and important historical details both authors will have more success with any follow-up books to My Rogue, My Ruin.

Resisting Miss Merryweather (Baleful Godmother #2) by Emily Larkin

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She sees things no one else does…

Sir Barnaby Ware made a mistake two and a half years ago. A massive mistake. The sort of mistake that can never be atoned for.

He knows himself to be irredeemable, but the captivating and unconventional Miss Merryweather is determined to prove him wrong.

The daughter of a dancing master and a noblewoman, Miss Merryweather had an unusual upbringing. She sees things no one else sees—and she says things no one else says.

Sir Barnaby knows he’s the villain in this piece, but Miss Merryweather thinks he’s the hero—and she is damnably hard to resist…

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Publisher and Release Date: Emily Larkin, December 2016

Time and Setting: England, 1807
Genre: Historical Romance (novella)
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Lady Blue

With much trepidation, Sir Barnaby Ware is en route to visit his former lifelong best friend, Marcus Langford. A little over two years ago, Barnaby betrayed Marcus in the worst possible way, and immediately deeply regretted what he had done. His attempt at apologizing was angrily rebuffed by Marcus, who was still bitter and hurting from Barnaby’s actions and the resulting devastating effect on his life. Now that some time has passed, and Marcus has found happiness with his new wife and child, he’s ready to forgive and attempt to renew his friendship with the man who was once closer than a brother.

Anne Merryweather is cousin to Marcus’s wife, Charlotte, and she knows the history of the dissolution of Marcus and Barnaby’s friendship. She and Charlotte intend to do what they can to encourage a reconciliation. The problem is that Barnaby is now totally beaten down by the knowledge of what he’d done. When Marcus rebuffed him, he lost all sense of his own self-worth, and, in truth, doesn’t feel he deserves forgiveness, or even any good thing in his life, including love.

Anne possesses a keen intuition, and she can see that Barnaby only wants to leave and leave Marcus in peace . She tries to help Barnaby to accept Marcus’s overtures of friendship and forgiveness while also trying to help him see that he needs to forgive himself, and that one mistake needn’t define his whole life. It’s immediately obvious that Anne and Barnaby have a great rapport and are attracted to each other. Yet, Barnaby won’t take the relationship any further than friendship because he feels unworthy of Anne’s love.

Anne is a terrific heroine. I loved her attitude, her outlook, and her determination. She is also of Charlotte’s family line, and that means that on her upcoming twenty-fifth birthday, she will be gifted with a supernatural power, as dictated by the Fey tradition that has been handed down through the female line.  Barnaby’s remorse and pain are heartbreaking. While he certainly did commit a grievous transgression against his dearest friend, there were other contributing factors.

Although this novella can be read as a standalone, I definitely recommend reading Unmasking Miss Appleby, which is Marcus and Charlotte’s story, and shows the extent of hurt Marcus suffered. Resisting Miss Merryweather is a lovely story of redemption, forgiveness, love, and magic. Emily Larkin has a writing style that I adore, and I wholeheartedly recommend this novella, as well as the previous book.