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The Duke of Defiance (The Untouchables #5) by Darcy Burke

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Difficult and defiant as a child, Bran Crowther, Earl of Knighton left England as a young man to pursue independence and adventure. He never expected to inherit the title and when duty calls him home, he still finds Society’s codes constricting and others’ expectations oppressive. Nevertheless, he needs a wife to be a mother to his young daughter, preferably a woman of intelligence and warmth who is, above all, immune to his idiosyncrasies—and to falling in love.

Widow Joanna Shaw isn’t interested in a second marriage, not after the loveless, passionless union she endured. She’d much rather dote on her young niece and nephew since they will likely be the only children in her life…until she meets a precocious girl, in desperate need of a mother. But her father, the so-called Duke of Defiance, is as peculiar as he is handsome, and Jo won’t take another risk with her heart. Their rules, however, are made to be broken, even when the consequences could destroy them both.

Publisher and Release Date: Darcy Burke, June 2017


Time and Setting: London, 1817
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars

Review by Caz

I haven’t read all the books in Darcy Burke’s The Untouchables series, but I’ve enjoyed those I have read and can confidently say that each book works as a standalone.  The Duke of Defiance features a new central couple and briefly re-introduces readers to the “Untouchables”, gentlemen so named by their heroines because their lofty positions in society meant they were well beyond their touch.  Although as things have turned out, they obviously weren’t 😉

Mrs. Joanna Shaw is the widowed sister of Nora, the Duchess of Kendal, who was the heroine of book one, The Forbidden Duke.  Joanna – Jo – was unhappily married to a country clergyman for around eight years, and is now living with Nora while she decides what she wants to do with the rest of her life.  At thirty-one, she is still lovely and her position as the sister of a duchess gives her a certain cachet in society – but she is not sure if she wants to remarry.  Her late husband’s emotional cruelty has naturally soured her view of the institution, and her inability to conceive a child during eight years of marriage makes her a less attractive prospect as a wife.

Bran Crowther, the Earl of Knighton was a third son who never expected to inherit his father’s title.  But the recent deaths of his two elder brothers necessitates his return to England from the successful life he had built for himself in Barbados, and he and his five-year-old daughter, Evie, are finding it difficult to adjust.  Fortunately, however, Evie has found a good friend in Becky, the daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Kendal, and when Bran arrives to collect Evie from a play date, he meets Mrs. Shaw and is immediately struck by her wit and good sense, as well as by her beauty.

Bran and Jo are attracted to each other, and their interactions are nicely judged and generally very honest.  They are initially brought together when Nora offers to help Bran to find a new nurse for Evie and then has to send Jo in her stead.  Bran is pleased to discover that Jo’s views fit with his own, and also finds her comments about the dos and don’ts of London society very helpful as he tries to settle into his new life.  When he – and Evie – practically beg Jo to become Evie’s governess, she finds she cannot refuse, even as she knows that being in close proximity to Bran day after day is not a good idea.  But she has come to love Evie as she is coming to love the girl’s father, and agrees to a trial period, trying not to think about what will happen when Bran eventually takes a wife who will be able to give him more children and, most importantly, an heir.

Jo’s concern about her lack of fertility is the main source of conflict in the romance, and it’s one I’m not particularly fond of.  The women in such stories always blame themselves without any reason to do so other than that they’re women and therefore the fault must lie with them!  Bran at least has the sense to suggest that it might not be Jo’s fault, but she is naturally very sensitive about it, and isn’t prepared to let him take the risk that she won’t be able to give him any more children.  Her belief is not helped by the insecurities about her womanliness fostered in her by her late husband, but it’s nonetheless a plot point that always makes me roll my eyes.

Bran is a no-nonsense sort of person, and his years of living away from the strictures of London society have made him careless of convention and proper behaviour.  He thinks nothing of allowing Evie to go without shoes when they are at home – to the intense disapproval of some of his starchier servants – or of divesting himself of cravat and coat in front of Jo, when it is certainly not the done thing to ‘disrobe’ in front of a lady.  (Not that Jo minds, of course😉)  When he describes how clothes make him “itchy” and then explains how, as a child, his mother regarded him as defiant because he refused to wear clothing or eat what he was given; how he could never sit still or remain in bed all night, I thought Ms. Burke may have been setting him up as someone with a condition such as ADHD or on the Autistic Spectrum, but this is never made clear.  Jo comes to recognise and accept Bran’s quirks, but other than having been brought up by an extremely harsh, unforgiving mother and a father who didn’t bother with his third son, we’re not really given much of an explanation for them, and for the most part they are just glossed over.  There’s an implication that Evie, too, has anxiety issues, but these are handled in more or less the same way.

And on the subject of Evie, much of the time she comes across as much older than the five years of age she is supposed to be.  At one point, she tells her father: “I was certain you might be falling in love” – which sounds more like a teenager, for instance, and she reads as more of a plot-moppet than a real child.  Children are hard to write well (Grace Burrowes is one of the very few romance authors who is able to get it right) and I’m afraid Ms. Burke has missed the mark. She’s also way off the mark when it comes to the master/servant relationship that should exist between Bran and Jo.  He pretty much treats her as the mistress of the house as soon as she sets foot in it, assigning her a bedchamber in the family wing, a maid of her own, and insisting upon her eating meals with him, to name just a few things no over governess would have been granted.  I get that Bran is supposed to be unfamiliar with society customs but Jo should know better and allows Bran to wave aside her very weak protests.

As I said at the beginning of this review, the book does work as a standalone, but information about previous characters and situations is given in obvious info-dumps, rather than evolving naturally; and while the good-natured teasing between the four heroes of the previous books is one of the best things about the this one, it felt like overkill for all four of them to just happen to be around in order to meet Bran.

While the writing is strong and the love scenes are sensual, The Duke of Defiance is, sadly one of the weaker entries in this series. I do plan to read more by Darcy Burke, but I’m going to chalk this one up as a misfire.

An Affair With a Notorious Heiress (Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James #4) by Lorraine Heath

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The son of a duke and an infamous mother, Alistair Mabry, Marquess of Rexton, fought his way to respectability. Now, the most eligible bachelor in London, marriage-shy Rexton will take only a wife with an impeccable reputation, good breeding, and a penchant for staying out of the gossip sheets. But when he strikes a deal to be seen “courting” a sweet young debutante whose notorious older sister has blemished her chances for marriage, Rexton is unexpectedly drawn to the highly inappropriate, calamitous Tillie, Lady Landsdowne herself.

After a scandalous incident that sent shockwaves throughout society and disgraced her, Tillie refuses to cower in the face of the ton. Instead, she will hold her head high as she serves as chaperone for her younger sister, but Tillie is convinced Rexton’s courtship is shrouded with secrets—ones she vows to uncover. However, doing so requires getting dangerously close to the devilishly handsome and forbidden marquess…

Publisher and Release Date: Avon, May 2017

Time and Setting: London, 1882
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars

Review by Wendy

I love Lorraine Heath’s books. They’re empathetic, sensitive and frequently deal with issues we come across in our modern day lives, but without the two hundred years or so of information and research available to us today, or the benefit of hindsight. But An Affair with a Notorious Heiress didn’t work as well for me as her previous books. In it, Ms. Heath tackles a scandalous divorce and its effects on the ex-wife of an earl. However, the distressing feelings that Mathilda (Tillie), Lady Landsdowne, must have experienced as a social outcast were lacking in the intense emotion that Lorraine Heath is so good at evoking and I kept waiting for the lump in my throat – but it didn’t happen.

Alistair Mabry, Marquess of Rexton, is the product of a loving, albeit, unconventional union. His mother began her early life thieving on the streets of London in order to survive, and eventually became a partner in a successful gaming hell where she met, fell in love with, and married The Duke of Greystone (Surrender to the Devil). Rexton adores his wise and worldly mother but even so, ran the gauntlet of cruel jibes and treatment from schoolmates until he learned to fight back and eventually gained the respect of his peers. Now a grown man he knows it’s time he was thinking of marriage, but in light of his own experiences he is determined that his wife will be the model of propriety.

One of Rexton’s passions is his race horses, so when an opportunity arises to secure the stud services of a much lauded stallion, he cannot resist the bargain he is offered. All he has to do is to bring American heiress, Miss Virginia (Gina) Hammersley, into fashion by allowing the ton to believe he may be interested in her as a potential bride. How difficult can it be? She’s very young, but she’s also pretty, personable and without guile – but and it is a big but, she is also the younger sister of the notorious Mathilda Paget, who brazenly fought through the courts for the right to keep her empty title and London residence following her divorce. Still, Rexton is prepared to do his best to ensure Gina’s acceptance by the ton, but he reckons without his immediate attraction to big sister Tillie, who is not in on the subterfuge and believes him to be earnestly courting Gina. She is determined that her sister will marry a man who cares for her and not her considerable fortune. Most importantly though, he must treat Gina with the respect she, Tillie, did not receive at the hands of her husband and his family. Tillie accompanies Rexton and Gina as chaperone whenever she is able, and soon sees that Rexton is not the husband for Gina, mainly because she feels his attraction to her. I found this difficult to fathom; Tillie is notorious and was caught kissing a footman whilst still married – although this is explained later in the story. Surely even she can see that her chaperonage could be the kiss-of-death to her sister’s aspirations?

As the story unfolds, Rexton and Tillie’s already strong attraction to each other becomes more and more apparent, but although the building of the romance is sweet and sexy, especially on Rexton’s part, Tillie is rather prickly and not as likeable as he is. I also didn’t feel the intense sensuality that Lorraine Heath is usually so adept at conveying and normally achieves with satisfying and swoon-worthy results.

There are no startling revelations, although because this is a Lorraine Heath book, I kept expecting something more to happen. She does, however, do a very good job of highlighting how unfair life was for a divorced woman of the time – shunned and cut by the very society that accepts her-ex husband as a ‘jolly-good-fellow’. Rexton is a lovely, honourable man and Tillie a beautiful, still young, but embittered woman who rarely smiles, but is chipped from her block of ice by the love of a good man; these two belonged together and I did want them to reach their HEA, but there is something of the substance normally prevalent in Ms. Heath’s writing missing.

An Affair with a Notorious Heiress might compare well to other historical romances, but it’s not not up to the standard I have come to expect from this author. With that said, her writing is no less eloquent and most of the characters are no less likeable and well developed as many of her others. Someone choosing to read a Lorraine Heath novel for the first time may enjoy this one, but I’m afraid her fans, like myself, may be slightly disappointed.

The Bad Luck Bride (Cavensham Heiresses #1) by Janna MacGregor

the bad luck bride

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IS MARRIAGE A BLESSING OR A CURSE?

A man of honor, Alexander Hallworth, Marquess of Pembrooke, will not rest until he exacts revenge on the man who destroyed his family. Just one more piece must fall into place for him to succeed he needs to convince his enemy s fiancee, the tragically beautiful Lady Claire Cavensham, to marry him instead.

Lady Claire s curse has always left her one misstep away from social ruin her past three engagements have gone awry, and now her fourth is headed in the same direction. . .until Alex, a man she barely even knows, shocks the ton and Claire by announcing their engagement. What begins as a sham turns into something deeper, and more passionate, than either Claire or Alex could have imagined. But when their secrets are revealed, will the truth behind their union scandalize them both or is their love strong enough to break the curse and lead them toward their happily ever after?

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Publisher and Release Date: St. Martin’s Paperbacks, May 2017

Time and Setting: London, 1812
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars

Review by Sara

The Bad Luck Bride is an uneven story about love and revenge and in which luck, whether good or bad doesn’t really come into play for the main characters’ issues. Their problems mainly stem from misunderstandings and an unwillingness to listen to the good advice of others. Fortunately, author Janna MacGregor brings a vulnerability to both the hero and the heroine that compelled me to finish their story.

Lady Claire Cavensham has waited what seems like an eternity to get married. With three prior engagements broken due to unusual circumstances, Claire is all but convinced that the gossip about her being cursed must be true. Accepting the suit of fiancé number four was motivated more out of friendship and little bit of desperation, but Claire is ready to make the best of her upcoming marriage. With the announcement of her engagement to Lord Paul Barstowe scheduled for later that evening, Claire is hoping that her unlucky streak is finally at an end. Unfortunately the whispers in the ballroom about Lord Paul’s absence at the event and the note she receives from her missing fiancé quashes that dream. Mortified that she’s been jilted again so publicly, Claire makes her way out of the ballroom and is met by the handsome and friendly Marquess of Pembrooke. He offers her a sympathetic ear and a warm embrace just when she needs it the most. Bolstered by his calming presence, Claire prepares herself to reenter the fray but things go sideways as she’s discovered in Pembrooke’s arms. Suddenly the engagement announcement she anticipated is made, but with an entirely different fiancé!

Alexander Hallworth, Lord Pembrooke, couldn’t have planned the evening’s events any better. Hours before the ball ever started Alex had put the wheels in motion to secure Lady Claire as his betrothed and to humiliate Lord Paul in the bargain. The announcement of their engagement is the final piece in his revenge against the man who had been one of his closest friends until he betrayed Alex’s trust and in turn destroyed the life of Alex’s youngest sister. Now, all Alex has to do is marry the delightful Lady Claire and watch Lord Paul’s ruin as he now has no way to pay his outstanding gambling debts. Believing that he has the moral high ground, Alex allays Claire’s fears that she’s cursed to remain unmarried by wooing her and agreeing to the settlement demands she makes. There’s no need to let Claire know that their marriage was a set-up from the beginning if she’s happy with the final result.

Alex’s perceptions about his marriage and Claire change after they leave London for his ancestral home. There Claire finds little ways to heal some of the pain he’s held onto from memories of his sister’s tragedy. She becomes more important to him because of who she is rather than what she represented in his revenge against Lord Paul. Claire herself struggles to believe that her marriage to Alex is real and will last through any curse she carries. Hoping to break any spell she might be under, Claire forces herself to confront her own past, with varying results. It’s only Alex’s strong presence that lets Claire imagine she will overcome her fears to find happiness in the arms of someone who loves her. Sadly, when the truth of Alex’s revenge plot is revealed it breaks Claire’s heart and she runs from him. With his own heart firmly in Claire’s hands Alex has find a way to regain Claire’s trust before he himself is cursed with a lonely future.

The Bad Luck Bride starts off fairly strongly with Alex’s almost Shakespearean revenge plot and Claire’s wistful dream of finding a love that’s stronger than the demons she carries with her. The storyline unfolds much more dramatically than I expected from the cover description and I was ready to take the plunge with both characters into the darker sides of their psyches. Unfortunately once they are married things never quite get as deep or angsty as I thought they should have given all the emotional suffering Claire and Alex have lived through. Alex refuses to hear the advice from his best friend that his anger at Lord Paul is misplaced – or at the very least misconstrued from the facts he had about his sister’s tragedy. He pushes forward to influence Claire’s life without ever considering her feelings on the matter. Towards the end as he tries to reconcile with her Alex adjusts things to suit himself, not seeing how badly Claire has been affected by all of his manipulations.

I had more compassion for Claire throughout the story, but she, too, acts in ways that made it hard for me to completely side with her way of seeing situations. Claire is written as an intelligent and resilient young woman, and yet she is quick to believe in a curse that will eventually destroy any happiness in her life. After marrying Alex she suddenly becomes stubborn to the point of petulance and it strips her of all the definition she’s gained by staying strong in the face of gossip and unkind words. When she realizes that Alex has been steering their marriage from the beginning she fails to fight back and instead runs away to lick her wounds and turn to her uncle to fix the situation. I missed the plucky woman from the beginning of the book who stood up for what she wanted in her marriage even if the circumstances were out of her control.

While I had problems with The Bad Luck Bride I feel that Ms. MacGregor has some good stories to tell. The Bad Luck Bride just needed a bit of tightening of the loose threads and a clearer path towards Claire and Alex’s happy ending. Hopefully the series will improve upon this shaky start and another good voice in historical romance will be heard.

I Dared the Duke (Wayward Wallflowers #2) by Anna Bennett

I dared the duke

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Alexander Savage, the Duke of Blackshire, is known throughout the ton for three things: the burn scars on his neck, his ornery disposition, and the trail of broken hearts behind him. None of which would concern Miss Elizabeth Lacey in the least—if she weren’t living under his roof. As his grandmother’s companion, Beth is all too concerned with the moody and compelling duke. Incensed by his plans to banish the sweet dowager duchess to the country, Beth refuses to do his bidding. If Alex wants her help, he’s going to have to take her dare…and grant her three wishes.

Alex adores his grandmother, which is precisely why she must leave. A string of unfortunate incidents has him worried for the safety of everyone around him—including the dowager’s loyal and lovely companion, Beth. But the notorious wallflower isn’t as meek as she appears, and as their battle of wills heats up, so does Alex’s desire. He’s dangerously close to falling in love with her…and revealing secrets he’d rather keep hidden. How can he convince her that his darkest days are behind him—and that, for the first time in forever, his heart is true?

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Publisher and Release Date: St. Martin’s Paperbacks, April 2017

Time and Setting: London, 1818
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 3 stars

Review by Sara

I Dared the Duke continues the story of the three Lacey sisters, known as The Wilted Wallflowers after they were cruelly teased during their first season in London. Middle sister Beth Lacey gets the spotlight here and her story is enjoyable enough and a marginal improvement from the series’ début My Brown-Eyed Earl.

Miss Elizabeth Lacey hasn’t quite found her footing since her family’s social change of fortune. For years she and her sisters were cruelly teased for their unfashionable appearance, lack of fortune and their uncle’s eccentricities. Her sister’s recent marriage to an earl has raised their standing within the ton, but even with their newfound wealth, Beth isn’t comfortable facing the same people who so easily scorned her, so she offers herself as a companion to the elderly Dowager Duchess of Blackshire. The arraignment makes Beth feel needed and the duchess benefits from Beth’s attention. Everything is comfortable for Beth until the duchess’ grandson, the current Duke of Blackshire arrives home. Alexander Savage is strikingly handsome, even with the scars on his neck, but his attitude towards Beth is anything but attractive. He’s curt, dismissive and seems put-out that his grandmother has hired a companion without his knowledge.

Alex has arrived back at his London town house with the singular task of moving his beloved grandmother away from possible threats to his person. Over the last few weeks, Alex has fallen victim to more than a few accidents under very suspicious circumstances. The idea that someone is targeting him has him fearful that the perpetrator will shift their attention to the only person left that he cares for. Coming home to find that his grandmother has brought in a companion is an inconvenience and Alex makes it very clear to the pretty, young Miss Lacey that her services are no longer required. He doesn’t count on Beth digging in her heels about not leaving the duchess’ side and instead accuses Alex of neglect towards the only family he has left. That couldn’t be farther from the truth, yet to reveal his fears or his plans about capturing the person threatening him to Beth isn’t something Alex can do.

Beth and Alex are at loggerheads until he changes tactics on her. Rather than seeing Beth as an impediment to his plans, he instead asks for her help to convince his grandmother that moving to the country would be beneficial. Beth, still believing Alex to be a rogue who cares little for the aging duchess, adds the condition that she’ll help him if he’ll grant the older woman three wishes to make her remaining time in London more memorable. The requests the dowager makes seem easy enough for Alex to facilitate; however in spending time with his grandmother he is also enjoying Beth’s company and soon a friendship of sorts develops between the pair. It isn’t long before their closeness gives way to the attraction that’s been simmering since their first meeting, yet they are each reluctant to pursue a relationship for differing reasons. Alex still fears that anyone close to him could be in mortal danger, while Beth doesn’t want to give herself over to a man reputed to be a bed-hopping libertine.

I Dared the Duke is more light and fluffy than it is deep and character driven. Beth and Alex are easy to read about but they’re not very substantial past their interactions with each other. The gossip has painted Alex as a promiscuous rake; however he’s anything but. It’s never made 100% clear why Alex would want to have that kind of reputation follow him around London and it really only serves as a motivation for the accidents that have been following him. Otherwise, Alex is a fairly well adjusted individual and it makes him a little boring. There isn’t much of an edge to him or anything underneath the role he’s adopted as London’s greatest lover. A small secret about his awareness of Beth before meeting her is folded into his backstory but it only becomes a conflict for about a page. Then it’s dismissed in the name of love.

Beth’s misperceptions of Alex’s character are there so she doesn’t immediately swoon for him. She’s unwilling to be just another notch on his bedpost so she keeps him at arm’s length in order to protect her heart. When Beth discovers why Alex is so keen to have the duchess out of London she quickly drops her prejudices and wants to be a part of his investigation into who’s been threatening him. It’s a nice way to further the relationship building but once again it falls on the airy side of storytelling. Beth’s need to be needed is a character flaw; however everyone around her seems to think it’s her singular strength. Instead of being comfortable in her own skin, Beth needs the constant reassurance that she’s made a difference for someone else. It’s difficult to get behind a character who defines herself by how others see her.

Readers looking for an easy, light read will find that I Dared the Duke fits the bill nicely. The story has its charms and the emotions expressed towards the end of the book are heartwarming. I’m not compelled to continue The Wayward Wallflowers series past this story but it was a nice diversion between the more dramatic and weighty romances.

You May Kiss the Bride (Penhallow Dynasty #1) by Lisa Berne

you may kiss the bride

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Wealthy and arrogant, Gabriel Penhallow knows it’s time to fulfill his dynastic duty. All he must do is follow the ‘Penhallow way’: find a biddable bride, produce an heir and a spare, and then live separate lives. It’s worked so well for generations, certainly one kiss with the delectable Livia Stuart isn’t going to change things. Society dictates he marry her, and one chit is as good as another as long as she’s from a decent family.

But Livia’s transformation from an original to a mundane diamond of the first water makes Gabriel realize he desperately wants the woman who somehow provoked him into that kiss. And for all the ladies who’ve thrown themselves at him, it’s the one who wants to flee whom he now wants. But how will he keep this independent miss from flying away?

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Publisher and Release Date: Avon, April 2017

Time and Setting: England, 1811
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 3 stars

Review by Sara

Author Lisa Berne had a great idea creating a series revolving around a wealthy and influential family without a peer in the mix. Her début ,You May Kiss the Bride is a throwback to the classics where characters like Mr. Darcy were a catch without a title in front of their names. Unfortunately the author’s inexperience shines through more than her unique ideas, with poorly rendered characters and a rather juvenile storyline.

Livia Stuart is constantly making the best of the circumstances she’s been dealt in life. When her parents died in India she was shuffled off to her aunt and uncle’s home in Wiltshire but their care has been anything but attentive. Their neighbor Lady Glanville’s daughter Cecily is a constant thorn in her side, parading her wealth and beauty in front of Livia at any social gathering and gifting Livia with her old dresses in the name of Christian charity. Livia has tried to remain above Cecily’s pettiness but it’s becoming harder to swallow her envy when the girl and her mother are always visiting her home to share news of their good fortune.

Their latest visit brings news that the esteemed Mrs. Penhallow has chosen Cecily as the perfect bride for her grandson, Gabriel. The Penhallow family is one of the wealthiest in England and an association with them will bring prestige to any young woman lucky enough to marry the heir. Lady Glanville brags that Mrs. Penhallow and her grandson are visiting their estate so that Cecily can be presented to Gabriel and their betrothal made official. Livia finds herself a little jealous of Cecily’s betrothal but is happier that the neighborhood mean girl will be off to marry and will leave Wiltshire behind.

Gabriel Penhallow isn’t thrilled at the idea of marrying a woman hand-picked by his grandmother but the time has come for him to continue the family’s legacy. It’s expected that all the Penhallow men will marry, sire an heir and use their wealth and connections to influence noblemen around England. Gabriel escaped the pressures of his name for a time by working abroad as a diplomat, but his grandmother has started reminding him that it’s his duty to continue the Penhallow tradition. Arriving at the Glanville estate, Gabriel is unimpressed by his potential bride but figures that one debutante is much like another and their marriage will be comfortably convenient. When he leaves the house for a walk, Gabriel gets lost in the unfamiliar lands where he meets a beautiful woman walking through a wooded area and he’s immediately attracted to her. From her dress and her manner of speaking Gabriel sees that she’s a servant and isn’t be the sort of woman he could dally with.

Livia is furious when the handsome man she meets in the forest arrogantly assumes she’s an uneducated servant. From his fashionable clothes and haughty manner Livia is certain this is Mr. Penhallow, but rather than correcting his presumption, Livia acts up the role of a servant and gives Gabriel confusing directions back to Cecily’s home. Later than evening when her aunt is discussing their invitation to Lady Glanville’s ball, Livia sees a chance to get one-up her neighbor and throw Gabriel’s arrogance back in his face. She creates a stunning gown from Cecily’s cast-offs and makes a dramatic entrance at the ball. Gabriel notices her right away, and is angry at her deception as well as aroused by her beauty. When he catches Livia leaving the ballroom with their host’s son it bothers Gabriel more than it should, but he follows her out onto the terrace where he interrupts her conversation and then rashly allows his temper and attraction to get the better of him. He kisses her in full view of the ballroom and soon he and Livia have an audience of his almost-betrothed, her mother and his grandmother. The last witness is Livia’s uncle who insists his niece is now ruined and must marry Gabriel.

What should follow this episode is the standard romantic storyline of a marriage of convenience between two enemies, soon to be lovers. It doesn’t quite work out that way and most of that can be attributed to Livia and Gabriel’s childish behavior. Livia doesn’t want to be married to an arrogant ass like Gabriel so she runs away. His pride gets in the way of managing Livia’s own anger and fear at their situation so he makes a rash declaration that they will marry but in name only. Within a matter of chapters Gabriel has taken sex off the table when that was the only motivation he had for getting married in the first place. These two knuckleheads have a very hard time talking without taking petty jabs and exploiting the insecurities they can see in their partner. As they are forced into each other’s company, lust seems to take over all the decision making. Gabriel’s no-sex policy is quickly thrown out the window, but they still don’t seem to see eye-to-eye on anything important between them.

The story picks up a bit when Gabriel and his grandmother are faced with evidence that the Penhallow legacy is rather hollow. Livia then becomes the strongest character because of her experience having to take control and reshape her life in unfortunate circumstances. Both Gabriel and Mrs. Penhallow come to appreciate Livia for the kind and loving woman she really is underneath all the emotional walls she’s had in place since her parents death years before. She holds the family together through the crisis and Gabriel discovers that giving his heart over to his wife is a long buried tradition within the Penhallow family that should be revived.

While there are some problems in You May Kiss the Bride I feel like the story should be graded on a bit of a curve as this is the author’s first published work. The characters could have used just a tad more common sense; however there was still a romantic side of the story that I liked. I will reserve my judgement on Ms. Berne and the entire Penhallow Dynasty series until the next book is released.

Waltzing With the Earl by Catherine Tinley

waltzing with the earl

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The Earl of Shalford needs to marry into money to save his estate. Wealthy and beautiful Henrietta Buxted should be the perfect candidate. So why does his eye keep wandering to her quiet cousin, Charlotte Wyncroft?

Charlotte watches Henrietta’s games of courtship with wry amusement. That is until a stolen dance reveals a hidden side to the earl. Penniless Charlotte knows that she’s far from a suitable match, yet, in Adam’s arms she can dream of the happily-ever-after she’s always wanted!

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Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin Historical, March 2017

Time and Setting: London, 1814
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars

Review by Wendy

Kindly but henpecked Mr. Frederick Buxted is placed in the rather uncomfortable position of having to explain to his overbearing wife why he has agreed to the temporary guardianship of his deceased cousin’s attractive young daughter, Charlotte. Her father, Colonel Sir Edward Wyncroft, has some loose ends to tie up across the channel before he resigns his commission and finally settles down. Until now, and following the early death of her mother, his beloved Lottie has followed the drum with him; but now, although father and daughter are normally inseparable, the Colonel needs to know she is safe and cared for while he gives his full attention to his last duties. Mrs. Louisa Buxted is less than impressed by the arrival of her husband’s young and attractive relative; especially as she has two daughters of her own and sees all other young women as competition in her aspirations for them.

Charlotte arrives at the Buxted household amid a bustle of excitement at the thought of meeting and spending time with her female cousins and also at finally seeing and experiencing the delights of London. Her natural exuberance and unaffected beauty is refreshing and attractive – too attractive for Henrietta, the eldest Buxted daughter, her mother’s favourite child and generally the centre of attention. The contrast between Charlotte and Henrietta is vast; whereas Charlotte’s beauty is quiet and understated and her nature kind and conciliatory, Henrietta is stunningly beautiful and she turns heads wherever she goes – but she’s shallow and selfish with a penchant for cruel jibes. She and her social climbing mother are on the hunt for an advantageous match.

Adam Fanton, Earl of Salford is the chosen target for Mrs. Buxted’s machinations. He has a beautiful country estate and the title to go with it but is unfortunately not wealthy, meaning his priority is to find a well dowered wife. He is thus the ideal target for a conniving mama and a superficial, spoilt young lady. No fool, Adam realises what the two of them are up to, so he decides to open the field, so to speak, and hold a house party. Along with a few unattached men, Adam invites the Buxted family, including their unwelcome houseguest, Charlotte, and, much to Henrietta’s disgust, another rich family with a mama on the lookout for a titled husband for her daughter. Adam, however, is in a dilemma because the more he is in Charlotte’s company the more he realises how very much he likes and admires her. In an understated manner she shows herself to be kind, capable and helpful – especially in her dealings with his elderly great aunt who becomes easily flustered at her added responsibilities in being Adam’s hostess for the duration of the party. Charlotte’s lack of dowry is a deciding factor, however, and Adam is a man who knows his duty, a fact which is laboured throughout and quickly becomes annoying. Charlotte finds Adam rather aloof and arrogant to start with, but her opinion of him changes as she spends time in his company and realises that he is a rather serious young man. As her feelings develop she sees the futility of falling for him.

Up until this point the premise – although a well-worn one – is reasonably well-handled and the dialogue is nicely written, with some witty repartée. Unfortunately, however, the book goes downhill when plausibility is stretched to its limits after Henrietta, on discovering that she is not the only young lady to be considered as a suitable match for the earl – lies on the floor like a two year old having a tantrum – wailing and drumming her heels! Things further descend into the realm of the farcical as the storyline becomes more and more outrageous with so much packed in that the author’s only success is overcomplication. At about 4O% into the story, events begin to switch back and forth between France and the house party – all very confusing – and I actually back-tracked to check to see if I’d missed something. It all feels contrived – maybe the author wanted to inject some real drama into her story but it only succeeded in taking me out of it. There is a twist at the end which I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting but even then (and I know this is Romancelandia) everything is just a little too neatly tied off. Adam and Charlotte share a few close interactions, although this is a very gentle romance with nothing more than kissing and smouldering looks; but frustratingly, after each occasion one or the other of them misunderstands the situation and I wished that they would just talk to each other!

I ruminated over the grading for Waltzing with the Earl and finally decided on three stars because although I had some niggles, the characterisation is good, it’s nicely written and it does contain some genuinely amusing and witty moments, especially between Charlotte and Adam. The book held my interest for at least the first half before running away with itself, so while I can’t give it a ringing endorsement, there are at least some things about it to enjoy.

The Wallflower Duchess by Liz Tyner

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No other woman will do for the determined duke…

To Lily Hightower, Edge is still the adventurous boy she grew up with, even though he’s now become the formidable Duke of Edgeworth. So when he doesn’t propose to her sister as everyone expects, shy Lily marches right up to him to ask why…

Wallflower Lily is amazed to learn that she is the duke’s true choice. She’s hiding a secret that, if he found out, could threaten everything. But Lily is the duchess of his dreams–and Edge is determined to make her his!

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Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin Historical, March 2017

Time and Setting: Regency England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars

Review by Caz

Being a fan of friends-to-lovers stories, The Wallflower Duchess sounded as though it would be right up my alley; a fairly simple story about two long-time friends and neighbours starting to see each other in a new light and falling in love. That is, in essence, exactly what it is, but I was less than enthralled by the execution; the writing is quite disjointed in places and the central characters are barely two-dimensional. Neither of them made much of an impression on me, making it impossible for me to really get invested in their rather lukewarm romance.

Ever since he was old enough to understand, Lord Lionel, heir to the Duke of Edgeworth, knew what it meant to be a duke. He has been raised to be mindful of his responsibilities for those who depend on him; to display impeccable manners and good breeding at all times – in short, to be perfect. But after he became the duke, he began to realise that perhaps his father’s insistence on perfection had removed him too far from the people in his charge. Unfortunately, however, an accident when he ventured to move among his tenants to see what their lives were like led to Edgeworth – Edge to his intimates, of which there are not many – being so badly burned (on his legs) that at one point, his life was in jeopardy.

Upon his recovery, he discovers that the accident – and another recent life-threatening incident in which he was thrown from his horse – has somewhat altered his perspective on life. He knows that his father had always intended him to marry Miss Abigail Hightower, the younger daughter of their life-long neighbours, but secretly had always preferred the elder daughter, Lily, with whom he had sometimes played when they were children. Two brushes with death mean that Edge isn’t going to put off asking for her hand any longer, and he does so, in full confidence of his being accepted.

But Lily isn’t going to fall into his arms so readily. First of all, she had no idea that Edge had any interest in her, given that she believed he was destined for her sister, and second of all, she doesn’t want to be married to as high profile a figure as a duke. Lily has her own reasons for wanting to blend into the background and live a quiet life, not least of which is her belief that she is illegitimate; and her parents’ disastrous marriage, which often led to scenes of high drama and histrionics on the part of her highly strung mother, has most definitely given her a distaste for the institution, which she insists, is not for her.

Edge is not particularly upset by her refusal, and calmly goes about the business of changing her mind, his first step being to prove that the man she calls father really IS her father, and that her illegitimacy was a cruel taunt made by her mother when her parents were in the midst of a particularly vitriolic row. Lily finds it difficult to believe the truth, and is, naturally, hurt at the discovery that even her own father hadn’t bothered to disabuse her of her belief that she was the daughter of the local blacksmith.

With this barrier to her acceptance of Edge removed, Lily does start to soften her attitude towards him, and to allow herself to acknowledge the truth, which is that she is deeply attracted to him and always has been. His gentle persuasion gradually erodes her resistance to his suit and she agrees to marry him, even though she is still keeping one rather large and important secret from him. Unfortunately, the uncovering of one secret leads to the uncovering of others, one of which is like a slap in the face for Edge, who had never envisaged that the woman he has loved for so long could effect such a betrayal.

What should have been a fairly simple “hero-in-pursuit” story of two childhood friends realising they belong together is, sadly, marred by the fact that the book is overly busy. Lily comes from a difficult family – her parents were forever arguing and when her mother eventually left, it was relief Lily felt, rather than pain. Believing, herself to be “outside” the family (because she thought she was not her father’s child), Lily assumed the role of guardian to her younger sister and tried to protect her from the emotional fallout and the gossip, while she decided that becoming emotionally involved with anyone would only lead to misery. And while Edge’s early life was more settled than Lily’s he also had to adjust to the fact that his family wasn’t as perfect as he had believed it to be, and now has to face up to what he now regards as a serious mistake in the way he dealt with the effect of the revelations that split his family apart.

The biggest problem with the book, however, is that the two central characters are very poorly defined, in spite of all their emotional baggage. Lily is a mass of insecurities who just seems to want to hide away all the time, and Edge, while clearly the product of enormous privilege is fairly bland. There is almost zero chemistry between them; in fact the first sex scene (of two – and they’re both little more than a paragraph, really) happens pretty much out of the blue in the sense that there is no emotional build up to it at all, and no discussion of possible consequences or even why they are going to bed together.

I also didn’t find the writing style to be especially engaging; at the beginning of the book in particular, it’s choppy in the way the author jumps from scene to scene without really telling me what was happening, so I felt rather adrift for the first few chapters. Things are hinted at and alluded to, but not in a way that enabled me to get a firm grasp on either events or characters. The second half works better, and for all that Edge’s character is underdeveloped, I discovered him to be quite sweet in an awkward kind of way, while Lily’s insistence on believing she was like her mother was patently ridiculous and got very annoying very quickly.

Lily and Edge both had the potential to be interesting and attractive, but lacked depth and were instead pretty much one-note characters I didn’t really warm to. The number of plot elements introduced made the book perhaps a little too busy, and this, together with the lack of romantic chemistry and weak characterisation made The Wallflower Duchess a bit of a disappointment overall.

Sinful Scottish Laird (Highland Grooms #2) by Julia London

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Widowed and forced to remarry in three years’ time or forfeit her son’s inheritance, Daisy Bristol, Lady Chatwick, has plenty of suitors vying for her hand…and her fortune. But a letter from a long-lost love sends Daisy and her young son to her Scottish Highland estate to buy time for his return. Along the way she encounters the powerful Cailean Mackenzie, laird of Arrandale and a notorious smuggler, and she is utterly—though unwillingly—bewitched.

Cailean has no use for any Sassenach in his glen. But Daisy’s brazen, flirtatious nature and alluring beauty intrigue him. When her first love appears unexpectedly at her estate, Cailean knows that a passionate woman like Daisy cannot marry this man. And to prevent the union, Cailean must put his own life at risk to win her heart.

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Publisher and Release Date: HQN, February 2017
Time and setting: Scottish Highlands, 1742
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Rating: 3 stars

Review by Vikki

Sinful Scottish Laird is an entertaining read, although it is a little slow to start.

Daisy Bristol, Lady Chatwick packs up her household and young son and flees the unwanted advances of her many suitors while she awaits the return of her lost love. Although she must remarry or lose her son’s fortune, she wants love if possible. What she does not count on is the overwhelming attraction she feels for Cailean MacKenzie, the Laird of Arrandale, her closest neighbor.

Cailean is determined to remain a bachelor, and while the lassie on his neighboring estate is bonny, he has no use for her – after all, she’s English – but the attraction between them is too strong to ignore. Her suitor turns out to be a captain in the Royal Navy bent on bringing Cailean’s smuggling days to an end. He cannot stand the thought of the man touching Daisy, or any man for that matter, but he could never consider marrying a Sassenach.

Can Daisy convince him to change his mind, or will he remain a stubborn Scot to the end and deny them the chance of ever-lasting happiness?

I struggled with Daisy’s character for much of the book and never really connected with her, other than on those occasions when she was involved with her son, Ellis. Her love for him comes through loud and clear. She comes across as somewhat of a flake in her dealings with others, and she seems indecisive as well, vacillating between her feelings for Cailean and Robert, the man she thinks she wants to marry.

Cailean is a hero I could love. His tender care for Ellis won me over and his relationship with his family speaks well of his character. However, I did not feel the chemistry between him and Daisy, nor could I understand why he wanted her, which is probably my main problem with the book – the chemistry between Daisy and Cailean just wasn’t strong enough for my taste. One thing I love in a romance is the slow build of sexual tension between the hero and the heroine, and it was lacking here.

Nonetheless, I am glad I had the opportunity to read Sinful Scottish Laird. The pacing overall was a little slow, but it does have an excellent ending. I also quite enjoyed Ellis, who had surprisingly good character development, and there are several enjoyable secondary characters who help move the story along.

Married for His Convenience by Eleanor Webster

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A plain countess…

Tainted by illegitimacy, plain Sarah Martin has no illusions of a grand marriage. So when the Earl of Langford makes her a proposal which 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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Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin Historical December 2016

Time and Setting: England, 1794
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars

Review by Wendy

The title of this book attracted me as I’m rather fond of the ‘marriage of convenience’ trope. There are a number of  potentially interesting plot lines in this story, but there are far too many of them going on at the same time to be plausible and none are particularly well developed, making it an easy book to put down.  What saved it – enabling me to give it 3 stars – is that it is nicely written with likeable characters.

Sarah Martin has led a rather sad life which luckily, has barely touched her – she has been blessed with a sunny disposition and mostly sees life through rose-coloured spectacles. Sarah lived the first years of her life with her older sister, Charlotte, and their glamorous mother in London, only rarely seeing her rather austere, much older father. After her mother’s death she discovers that she is illegitimate and that Charlotte is her half-sister; and unless I missed something in this tumult of happenings, I couldn’t quite work out at what point Charlotte disappeared into the depths of London. Perhaps it was when Sarah’s father made it clear that he was prepared to care only for Sarah… but in any case, he takes her home her to his wife. I bet that went down well! His wife is mentally unstable but is also a religious zealot and I’m sure her condition couldn’t have been helped by having her husband’s bastard dropped onto her when she herself is childless. Eventually he ups and dies leaving kind and caring Sarah to the not so tender mercies of her guardian.

Sebastian, Earl of Langford, needs a mother and carer for his severely traumatised daughter, who is part of just one of the too many plotlines running through this story. Suffice it to say that the child has withdrawn into herself and refuses to speak. Both his son and daughter were taken to France by his adulterous wife when she ran off with her lover, and he is now desperate to rescue his son.  His wife is now dead at the hands of Madame Guillotine and although Sebastian’s little girl has been returned to him, she has been so badly affected that she is unable to cast any light on what has happened to her brother. Understandably, Sebastian is not in a romantic state of mind and in his desperation to do the right thing, seeks for help with his little girl which in turn will free him to continue his search for his son.

Sebastian has witnessed Sarah rescuing and caring for a rabbit that had been caught in a trap. He sees this kind, soft-hearted girl in action whom he sees has a calming effect on damaged creatures and so it occurs to him that despite her dubious birth, she’ll do fine. He no longer wants love and finds it difficult to trust, so the fact that she has a caring and nurturing manner is good enough for his purposes. He eventually persuades Sarah to marry him, although not without difficulty, as she is aware that her lack of beauty, social skills and bastardy make her a poor match for an earl.  But once Sebastian mentions that they will go to London, she immediately agrees. Again another plot line that I will not go into.

Honestly, my head was buzzing by this time and I kept losing track of what was happening. I liked the main characters and there are some amusing moments, such as when Sarah is drunk on her wedding night, but on the whole the entire story is full of implausible plot lines, animals and children popping up all over the place. For instance, there’s a boy called Fred who listens at doors and immediately understands and acts upon complicated instructions. And there’s Sarah racing across the country on a horse when she can barely ride and with no clue as to where she’s going but miraculously ending up in the place she needs to be! There’s a mysterious character called The Lion – I’m still confused about him! And then there’s the authors unfortunate proclivity with the ‘word’ um… I started noticing this about one third of the way through the book and it was very irritating.

This was a difficult book to grade, because as I said the writing is good and the characters are likeable but it seems to me that the author has an overactive imagination and could have shared these plots amongst three books and developed them further to greater effect. So yes, Married for his Convenience did live up to its title, because the hero and heroine did marry for his convenience but there was just too much going on for plausibility.

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.