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The Saxon Outlaw’s Revenge by Elisabeth Hobbes

the saxon outlaw's revenge

At the mercy of her enemy!

Abducted by Saxon outlaws, Constance Arnaud comes face-to-face with Aelric, a Saxon boy she once loved. He’s now her enemy, but Constance must reach out to this rebel and persuade him to save her life as she once saved his

Aelric is determined to seek vengeance on the Normans who destroyed his family. Believing Constance deserted him, he can never trust her again. Yet, as they are thrown together and their longing for each other reignites, will Aelric discover that love is stronger than revenge?

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Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin Historical, December 2016

Time and Setting: England, 1068
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Heather C.

The Normans have recently defeated the Saxons and the bad blood is still brewing between those in charge and those who are subjugated. Aelric, a Saxon, lost his whole family when they were hung as traitors by the local baron, who just happens to be the brother-in-law of Constance, the girl with whom he is in love. Aelric subsequently goes on the run and his relationship with Constance abruptly ends, but years later when they have a chance encounter they have to work through their feelings to determine what – if anything – still remains between them.

There is not nearly enough historical fiction, romantic or otherwise, set around the time of the Norman invasion of England, a time full of so much upheaval and change that it is ripe for storytelling. Hobbes takes advantage of this upheaval and uses it to create the conflict between the main couple in this story. They are from two very different worlds and the place they live in is still very volatile and they must tread carefully.

Aelric and Constance have not seen or heard of each other for eight years.  While they remember the youthful love they shared, so much has changed in the time they have been apart; they have grown up and lived through many life experiences.  Can they get past all of the hurt and the secrets that have built up over time? Constance and Aelric are well-crafted characters; they are multidimensional and one can feel their emotions, the hurt and anger most keenly, and it’s easy to understand how difficult it will be for them to put the past behind them. For what they went through it would be very difficult to put the past behind them. I can’t say that I could identify with either of them exactly, but I found them realistic and interesting. The author has chosen to give Constance a physical disability, but while that makes the character unique,  I would have liked it to maybe have had more of an importance given that it was pointed out extensively early on. The peripheral characters are not as well fleshed-out as the two princials, but there are enough details to give the reader a sense of who they are, which was enough to enable me to keep track of who’s who.

The romance is primarily an emotional one as the Constance and Aelric rebuild their relationship and determine what they mean to each other. Although there are a couple of sex scenes – which have vastly different tones from each other – sex definitely takes a backseat in this novel. Beyond the romance, this story is chock full of drama right from the first scene. There is an ambush, a hostage situation, a mass execution, some spying, and a foiled plot that unfolds in an awesome way. The best part is that none of this felt out of place; the characters still acted very much the way I would expect them to for the time in which they live.

If you are looking for a book that is more of the action packed variety and lighter on the romance, or if you are looking for something set in an oft overlooked setting, The Saxon Outlaw’s Revenge this might be one to consider. It kept my attention all the way through and I thoroughly enjoyed the story.

Stealing the Rogue’s Heart (Rookery Rogues #4) by Erica Monroe

stealing the rogue's heart

WHEN AN UNDERWORLD PRINCESS…

Beautiful, innocent Mina Mason has led a sheltered life as the sister to the most notorious crime lord in England. Her family’s wealth and expectations keep her in a gilded cage, never able to act on her true desires. Like kissing — and engaging in far more scandalous behavior with–Charlie Thatcher, her childhood best friend. As a member of a rival gang, Charlie is distinctly off-limits.

FALLS FOR THE WRONG MAN…

Charlie Thatcher has known since he was a boy where his loyalties should lie: with the Chapman Street Thieves, who saved him from a brutal death in the dark alleys of the Ratcliffe rookery. As a bartender for the Three Boars public house, he protects his fellow brothers with his mind and his fists. But when one of those members threatens Mina’s safety, Charlie’s primal, protective instincts are triggered–and his defense of her puts them both in danger.

PASSION MAY BE THEIR DOWNFALL.

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Publisher and Release Date: Quillfire Publishing, January 2017
Time and Setting: London, 1833
Genre: Historical Romance novella
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 4 stars

Review by Sara

Two street gangs, both alike in villainy,
In filthy London where we lay our scene.
From old rivalries to a fragile peace,
Torn asunder fighting for a girl’s esteem.

There is nothing like a romance between star-crossed lovers. The conflicts seem insurmountable but the emotions are almost as large to keep characters fighting for their relationship. In Stealing the Rogue’s Heart, Erica Monroe borrows a little from Romeo and Juliet to set the stage for her tale of love ripped apart by the brutality of the London slums.

In the Rookeries, loyalty to your gang is more important than blood or family. Control of the East End between three equally powerful street gangs: the Kings, the Chapman Street Gang and the Tanners, has kept the area in a state of relative peace for many years. Unfortunately the death of the Tanners’ leader has created a power vacuum that the other two gangs are ready to fill. Tensions are high but Mina Mason has always found a safe refuge from the danger in the company of her good friend Charlie Thatcher. Mina’s position as the younger sister of the Kings’ leader has kept her insulated from threats and Charlie’s ties to the Chapman Street Gang have also shielded her from unwanted attention. Little does Mina realize that her feelings of safety and protection are an illusion easily shattered.

Charlie has loved Mina for almost as long as he’s known her but his allegiance to the Chapman Street Gang doesn’t exactly put him in a position to court her. The Mason family is viewed as near royalty within the Rookeries and Mina has grown up with every convenience the Kings’ money can buy her. Charlie has had to content himself with being Mina’s friend and companion when she leaves her virtual palace to sit in his bar while he works. What Charlie doesn’t realize is that Mina’s reasons for being at his workplace have everything to do with her own deep feelings for him. She has long known that her love for Charlie goes well beyond the friendship he offers. One word from him and Mina would give up all of the luxuries her name affords her to live a simple life with a man who appreciates her for herself and not what her connections would bring.

Mina’s fear that her brother is planning to marry her off to someone loyal to the Kings has her hiding where she is the most comfortable – in Charlie’s pub. Unaware that hostilities between the gangs has reached its boiling point Mina makes the mistake of lingering too long within Chapman Street Gang territory and catches the eye of the wrong man. When he tries to assault her, Mina finds protection in Charlie’s arms; however the fight that ensues in the bar lights a fuse within both groups and Mina’s brother feels the time is right to make his power play andMina becomes a bargaining chip in his plans for more money and influence. Charlie’s actions to defend Mina put a target on his back by his own people and the murder of his opponent in the bar fight forces them to make an example of his perceived disloyalty. With an all-out war on the horizon Mina and Charlie must decide if their devotion to each other is stronger than any influence the gangs have on their lives.

The Rookery Rogues series is like a unicorn within the genre of Historical Romance. The setting and all of the characters are far, far away from the nobility or lavish country estates normally found in such stories . Mina, for as much as she is a rich girl within the sphere that she and Charlie come from, is still living off money gained through criminal activities. Charlie comes from almost nothing and his position in the Chapman Street Gang has forced him to fight or steal just to keep his place as a trusted lieutenant in the organization. The odds are against their ever escaping the rookeries but they both cling to the small bit of happiness they find in each other. Both characters are exceedingly likeable even if the circumstances they live in are dreary or perhaps more on the morally grey spectrum.

I haven’t read the other stories within this series; however Stealing the Rogue’s Heart seems to be a tipping point for serious changes within the Rookeries and both gangs. Watching Charlie and Mina come together while the worlds of the Kings and Chapman Street Gang are poised to fall apart makes this simple love story even more complex. Erica Monroe has just gained herself a new fan and I’ll be interested to see if the events here will be mentioned in future stories.

Claiming Mister Kemp (Baleful Godmother #4) by Emily Larkin

claiming mr kemp

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Lucas Kemp’s twin sister died last year. He’s put aside his mourning clothes, but not his heartache. If Lucas ever needed a friend, it’s now—and who should walk in his door but Lieutenant Thomas Matlock…

Lucas and Tom are more than just best friends; they’ve been in love with each other for years. In love with each other—and pretending not to know it.

But this time, Tom’s not going to ignore the attraction between them. This time, he’s going to push the issue.

He’s going to teach Lucas how to laugh again—and he’s going to take Lucas as his lover…

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Publisher and Release Date: Emily Larkin, February 2017

Time and Setting: England, 1808
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Wendy

I have heard such great things about Emily Larkin recently and read some excellent reviews from respected reviewers and friends. When I was offered the opportunity to read and review Claiming Mister Kemp I jumped at the opportunity and was not disappointed. From the first page to the last, I was invested in this delicious love story, the fourth in the author’s Baleful Godmothers series and shall definitely read the first three books on the strength of it. Having said that, it can be read as a standalone, especially as I believe it is the only m/m romance of the series.

Lieutenant Thomas Matlock has arrived back from Portugal in time to celebrate the birthday of his long-time friend, Lucas Kemp, only to find him completely inebriated and wallowing in solitude and tears as he remembers his twin sister, Julia. who died tragically, sixteen months earlier. Tom knows he loves Lucas as more than a friend, and following a recent brush with death he is determined that he will not not hide it from Lucas any longer. Tom is aware that he risks their long and close friendship but has decided that the time has come to acknowledge his desire and love and to make Lucas face up to it at the same time. Living in an era when they could be hanged for their sexual proclivities, Tom is risking a lot more than simple rejection.

Very much the worse for drink, and with his defences down, Lucas shares a passionate encounter with Tom. The next day he is ashamed but nevertheless having had a taste of what a relationship with Tom can bring him he can’t help secretly craving more. The next few fragile weeks pass and their tentative steps towards a relationship and maybe love seems possible, and for the first time in the dreadful months since the death of his beloved twin, it seems likely that Tom’s love and support may help Lucas to retreat from the edge of the black abyss on which he has been teetering.

These are two very compelling characters. Tom, the devil-may-care, army officer who has little material wealth and needs to work for a living is a happy, upbeat chap whom I couldn’t help liking. And then there’s the utterly gorgeous, privileged Lucas, rich, handsome and hopelessly innocent to boot. He has tried to be ‘normal’ but despite his best attempts has had no success with the opposite sex and is deeply ashamed of that fact and the fact that he is so strongly attracted to his best friend.

I loved this voyage of discovery for these two lovely men who have nursed their secret love for one another since their youth and Tom’s determination to make Lucas accept and acknowledge his love and desire without shame. Claiming Mister Kemp has quite a small word count and yet the author has managed to convey sensuality, love and passion whilst still acknowledging and highlighting Lucas’s reluctant love and overwhelming guilt. The story doesn’t feel rushed, which is no doubt helped by the fact that the lovers have a shared past – albeit as friends. Ms. Larkin certainly carried me along on this ride and she had me rooting for these two young men every step of the way; I wanted Lucas to overcome his guilt and for him and Tom to arrive at their well-deserved happy ending.  This is a compelling, heart-warming story and now that I have experienced an Emily Larkin gem I shall certainly put her on my reading list for the future.

Between the Devil and the Duke (Season for Scandal #3) by Kelly Bowen

between the devil and the duke

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Their love was always in the cards.

He should have thrown her out. But when club owner Alexander Lavoie catches a mysterious blonde counting cards at his vingt-et-un table, he’s more intrigued than angry. He has to see more of this beauty-in his club, in his office, in his bed. But first he’ll have to devise a proposition she can’t turn down.

Gossip said he was an assassin. Common sense told her to stay away. But Angelique Archer was desperate, and Lavoie’s club offered a surefire way to make quick money-until she got caught. Instead of throwing her out though, the devil offers her a deal: come work for him. Refusing him means facing starvation, but with a man so sinfully handsome and fiercely protective, keeping things professional might prove impossible . . .

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Publisher and Release Date: Forever, January 2017

Time and Setting: London, 1820
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Sara

Kelly Bowen’s Season for Scandal series has introduced several intelligent and resourceful female characters but the third book Between the Devil and the Duke takes things one step further. Lady Angelique Archer is a true genius whose gift with mathematics may be the only salvation for her family. Her strength and composure in the face of overwhelming odds are bound to get noticed by a man who makes probability his living.

The mysterious woman had caught Alexander Lavoie’s eye from the first night she entered his gaming hell and made her way to his vingt-et-un tables to challenge the high rollers. Her skill at dominating against seasoned players marked her as someone to pay attention to; however her demeanor in the club and her quick exits at the end of play communicated to Alex this woman did not want anyone’s eyes on her. Alex is intrigued enough to personally come to her aid when another player tries to get too close to the masked beauty. His regard for her rises even more as she manages to outflank his every attempt to learn her identity. Impressed with her abilities at the table as well as her unflappable demeanor at his questioning Alex does the only thing he can to keep her within his sights just a little longer. He offers her a job.

Lady Angelique knows she shouldn’t even consider Alex Lavoie’s proposition but the need to keep her family’s dire straits hidden from the rest of London society makes the decision for her. Angelique’s father quietly sold off everything of value before he died and her brother, the new Marquess of Hutton, isn’t smart enough to realize that their family’s good name is hanging by a thread. The chance to earn money to keep her younger brothers in school and perhaps rebuild the finances of the marquessate is enticement enough; however Angelique’s attraction to Lavoie could become too much of a distraction. Alex assures her that their arrangement will be business only and Angelique accepts his conditions to run the vingt-et-un tables for the club. Their partnership immediately shows returns as the players all flock to her parlor to play against the enigmatic dealer, all while her identity is safely disguised with a stunning gown and a simple mask.

Angelique’s hope that her employment will save her family’s name is destroyed when her brother is accused of a heinous crime and the evidence points to his guilt. With no friends or family to turn to, Angelique finds herself in the offices of Chegarre and Associates, an organization known throughout the ton for its skill in fixing impossible problems with the utmost discretion. The discovery that Alex is a partner in the firm doesn’t surprise Angelique, considering his reputation as a former assassin and spy. What does surprise her is his unwavering support for her while trying to discover who has framed her brother. As secrets from her family’s past are uncovered, Angelique and Alex’s partnership is reclassified from just a business arrangement into something that goes much deeper for the both of them.

Between the Devil and the Duke may not have a lofty peer as a main character, but Alex Lavoie proves that nobility isn’t just a matter of bloodlines. His awareness of Angelique starts with her physical appearance but he is quick to change gears when he learns of her brilliance and treats her as an intellectual equal. Not once does he try to manage Angelique or disrespect her opinions as they search for clues to her brother’s supposed crime. It’s quite easy to fall a little in love with Alex just for the care he takes to protect Angelique at every turn while refusing to hide truths that could impact her life dramatically. From almost the start Alex is smitten with Angelique but he allows her to come to him and pace their budding relationship at a speed she is comfortable with.

I love that Angelique is the whole package – brains and beauty – yet she still has insecurities that keep her humble. She’s a little unnerved by her strong attraction to Alex but is equally dazed by his regard for her. Angelique knows that she is smart but was always told that she had to hide that part of herself from a man for fear they couldn’t accept a female who knows more than they do. Alex not only encourages Angelique to use her brain but her talent with numbers comes in handy to impress some very tough characters to help them. Their relationship is seductive for how honest Angelique can be around Alex. With him she feels safe enough to reveal who she is underneath all of the social polish required by her station.

Each story in the Season for Scandal series has given readers a hero/heroine pairing that feels like so much more than just a simple romantic relationship. These men and women truly complement each other and the stories, like Between the Devil and the Duke are immersive and enjoyable reads.

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.

VIRTUAL TOUR: My Highland Rebel (Highland Trouble #2) by Amanda Forester

cvr-my-highland-rebel_-amanda-forester-copy

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A conquering hero
Cormac Maclean would rather read than rampage, but his fearsome warlord father demands that he prove himself in war. Cormac chooses what he thinks is an easy target, only to encounter a fiery Highland lass leading a doomed rebellion and swearing revenge on him.

Meets an unconquerable heroine
Jyne Cambell is not about to give up her castle without a fight, even though her forces are far outnumbered. She’s proud, hot-blooded and hot-tempered, and Cormac falls for her hard.

It’s going to take all of Cormac’s ingenuity to get Jyne to surrender gracefully—both to his sword and to his heart…

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EXCERPT

They sat at an old oak table and broke bread together. Cormac found goblets of wine for both of them and some food for a meal. It had been long since he had filled his belly, so he ate hungrily of the bread and the hearty stew before him. Jyne must have been reassured by his confidence, for the little crease on her forehead disappeared, and she began to eat and drink with him.

He liked this, sharing a meal with her. He could almost block out the sound of his men carousing in the great room next to them. She was a beautiful lass. She must have been thinking of other things when she’d gotten herself dressed this morn, for her veil was not securely fastened, causing her long, straight blond hair to fall out before her. The color of those errant strands was like gold. He longed to reach out and touch it. She absently brushed a lock of hair behind her ear with a careless finger, causing him to pause in his eating. Her blue eyes sparkled at him, and he noticed those blue eyes had flecks of hazel green.

A disturbance erupted in the dining hall, and one of the elderly matrons ran back into the kitchen.

“What is the matter?” cried Jyne, rising to her feet. “Are they no’ getting tired?”

The woman placed a hand over her bosom, her eyes wide. “Nay, they’re getting randy!”

“Pardon?”

“I had two o’ the men say they thought I was a vision o’ loveliness. Three done laughed so hard, they fell from their benches, and four others started a brawl o’er the right way to eat stew. They’ve gone mad, they have!” The matron threw her hands up in the air.

Before Core could make any sense of this, another elderly clanswoman, with thinning gray hair and a large goiter, shrieked as she scrambled back into the kitchen.

“What happened to ye?” asked Jyne. She ran to the elderly woman and helped her to sit on the bench she had just vacated.

“I dinna ken they’re about. One man dropped to his knees and began to recite poetry, or at least some¬thing like it. A few others started dancing, wi’ no music—wi’ each other! Another one demanded my hand in marriage. To me! What sort o’ mean-spirited shenanigans are these hooligans up to?”

Jyne’s face was one of complete loss. “Is this some sort o’ game?” she asked Core.

“If it is, ’tis unknown to me.” Cormac had seen quite a bit of rough play from his father’s men, but he had never heard of anything like that.

Core and Jyne peeked inside the great hall and were astounded at what they saw. Several of the men were having a heated argument as to which of the elderly servers was more beautiful. Some were dancing to no music. Some were running around the room, batting at the air, as if trying to catch invisible fairies. Others were fighting while laughing hysterically. Jyne and Core stared at each other.

“Why are they acting this way?” Jyne met his eye. He realized they were standing very close as they peeked into the hall. Her beautiful blue eyes widened, and she flushed, her cheeks a rosy hue. Her lips were the color of pale pink rose petals and appeared so soft and inviting, he wished to lean in for just one taste. She was beautiful. Truly beautiful.

“I dinna ken.” He had to remind himself to answer her question. It was the truth. He had never seen the men act in such a manner.

“Oh!” Jyne suddenly gasped. “The potion. It must have made them mad.”

Core couldn’t help but laugh. “Ye made them all act like fools? Och, I wish my father was here to see it!”

“Who is yer father?” she asked, turning her innocent blue eyes to him.

He realized in a flash he had made a slip. “No one. Just he would think it amusing, is all,” he said hastily. “Will the potion make them tired or just mad as imps?”

Jyne slapped a hand to her forehead. “Och, I’m a dunderhead, I am. Too much ale wi’ it can make a man lose his senses.”

“Ye gave my men something to make them witless?”

“Well I… It wasn’t what I intended… Wait, yer men?” She raised an eyebrow at him, and he knew he was in trouble.

“My men? I…I have no men.” He attempted nonchalance. It was not a natural state.

The little furrow between her brows reappeared. “But I thought I heard ye say—”

He kissed her.

It was the only thing he could think to do. The only thing he wanted to do. He was drawn to her by a power he could not deny. He embraced her and allowed his lips to melt onto hers. Nothing he had ever experienced before compared, but he pulled her closer and deepened the kiss, waiting for the inevitable slap. Instead, she wrapped her arms around his neck, press¬ing herself against him and returning his ardor with a passion that lit an explosion within him. He did not care that his men were making fools of themselves next door. He did not care if the entire kitchen staff could see them. He had to kiss her.

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Sourcebooks Casablanca, January 2017

Time and Setting: Highlands 1362
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Wendy

When I first began reading My Highland Rebel, I had my doubts. It appeared rather flippant and also, having just had a run of Highland adventures, I wasn’t really in the mood for another. However, I persevered and I’m glad I did, because I wasn’t far into it before I realised that the light, witty style isn’t really flippant at all but is the author’s quite unique style which is easy to read and an enjoyable departure from my normal reading choices.

When Cormac Maclean happens across a beautiful damsel in distress one damp, foggy morning, literally up to her waist in a smelly bog, he little realises that he has met his destiny. Lady Jyne Campbell had always wanted adventure; as the second youngest of the large Campbell clan she was always considered the runt of the litter being tiny and more fragile than her hale, hearty and statuesque siblings – and consequently had been over-protected and smothered. Therefore she is very excited when her eldest brother, David, the Laird of the powerful Campbell clan decides to allow her to visit her dower lands at Kinoch Abbey which he has purchased from the monks who had inhabited it. Wandering off from their camp to carry out her early morning ablutions she had become lost in the thick fog. Cormac arrives in the nick of time and saves her from almost certain death and as is the way when a beautiful young woman and an attractive, personable young man meet – especially in such circumstances – each is smitten.

Cormac has been raised by monks after being abandoned by his father. Red Rex is a notorious war lord and in the absence of another, more acceptable heir, has decided that he wants to own his connection to his son after all and sets out to mould him into a mirror image of himself. Cormac is more like his deceased mother in countenance and manner than his tyrannical father; he is an educated dreamer and scholar with a love of books which his father only sees as a weakness.

Cormac sets out to extricate himself from the tangle of lies he tells after stealing two scrolls from a nearby monastery. He only succeeds in tying himself up in knots as he tries to protect not only himself but also the monk who had doggedly followed him back to Red Rex’s lair, and there follows a farcical comedy of errors, after which, and much to Cormac’s consternation, they end up on their way to Lady Jyne’s Abbey in search of a mystical – and mythical – Templar Knight’s treasure.

And so Cormac and Jyne are destined to meet again, but in less than auspicious circumstances. Jyne has travelled to her Abbey and dower lands with a small contingent of men whilst her brother, David, has gone off in search of Red Rex whom he has heard is on the rampage somewhere on his lands. On Jyne’s arrival she finds she has a collection of rag-bag squatters, a party of elderly and young folk abandoned by their own people who have set up home in the keep. Being the tender hearted girl that she is, Jyne embraces them in return for them swearing fealty to the Campbell clan; and then relishes her chance to finally become chatelaine of her own keep. When Red Rex’s son arrives with his father’s men in tow, she is determined to protect her people and property with a fierceness that her clan will be proud of. Cormac – or The Fire Lord – as he has named himself, dons a large helm with demonic horns to make him appear tough and strong but also to hide his identity from the Lady Jyne. Jyne is eventually forced to tolerate Red Rex’s son and men in her keep, meanwhile hoping that the man she sent off secretly to her brother will return with help. Cormac manages to keep his identity a secret with the help of the horned helmet but keeps popping up as himself, allowing Jyne to believe that he is living in the shadows somewhere and has arrived to help her. His double identity has hilarious results as he keeps forgetting who he is and nearly trips himself up upon numerous occasions.

This is quite a busy book with a lot going on. Cormac uses his education in the sciences to cause several explosions (hence his name of The Fire Lord). Along with the search for the treasure, Jyne managing to drug Red Rex’s men, the burgeoning romance between Jyne and Cormac and his forever switching between characters etc etc – I felt there was just a little too much going on. There is also a rather modern feel to the story in language and tone; and certainly little or no historic content even though it’s set in 1362. In spite of that however, My Highland Rebel is a light, witty read, with many genuinely funny moments and extremely likeable characters. I liked this author’s style and shall certainly look for more of her work.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

amanda-foresterAmanda Forester holds a PhD in psychology and worked many years in academia before discovering that writing historical romance was way more fun. A Publishers Weekly Top Ten author, her books have been given starred reviews from Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and a Top Pick from RT Book Reviews. Whether in the rugged Highlands of medieval Scotland or the decadent ballrooms of Regency England, her novels offer fast-paced adventures filled with wit, intrigue, and romance. She lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest outside Tacoma, Washington.

You can connect with Amanda at her website * ~ * Facebook * ~ * Twitter * ~ * Goodreads.

Sweetest Regret (novella) by Meredith Duran

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At a house party in the countryside, the joyful spirit of the Christmas season threatens to sweep Georgiana Trent under the mistletoe—and back into the arms of the dashing rogue who broke her heart two years ago. Little does she know that Lucas Godwin has no intention of leaving until he has reclaimed her as his own.

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Publisher and Release Date: Pocket Star, November 2016 – published originally in the Christmas themed anthology, What Happens Under the Mistletoe in 2015.
Time and Setting: England, 1885
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Wendy

Sweetest Regret has had mixed reviews but personally I was rather pleased with my first foray into this author’s work. Not normally a fan of novellas, I was pleasantly surprised with both the quality of Meredith Duran’s writing and the content.

Georgiana Trent has been left high and dry by her father and instructed to host a Christmas house party for his diplomatic colleagues while he travels to Constantinople. She has always been her father’s ‘right hand man’ so this poses no real problem for her although she is less than impressed to be abandoned by him – yet again – and with his normal high handed manner.

Georgiana had met her father’s subordinate, Lucas Godwin two years earlier in Munich and had harboured secret hopes of a romantic alliance between them. Even though she has always believed herself to be unattractive to the opposite sex – he had, to her delight, singled her out and shown a public and marked preference for her company during the month of their acquaintance. The budding romance had never went further than shared confidences and dances, but still it seemed as though he was as attracted to her as she was to him. Then, quite abruptly and without even a note of explanation – he was gone. Georgiana was left broken-hearted and quite naturally thought he had been toying with her affections.

Two years later he is summoned to the house party by Georgina’s father with instructions to help her find a missing, potentially sensitive letter which has apparently been stolen by one of the house guests. Georgiana is not at all pleased at being pushed back into Lucas’ orbit, and the two continue their renewed acquaintance with veiled animosity, neither initially wishing to broach the subject of their past history.

Still the pull of attraction between them is tangible and as they are thrown together in their quest to find the missing letter the facts of what happened two years earlier are revealed, bit by bit, and here, the author uses flashbacks to their time in Munich really well. This enables Ms. Duran to avoid the pitfall of trying to pack too much into a short word-count; by giving her thwarted lovers a past together – albeit a brief one – creates a framework for a far more believable scenario which flows fluidly so that we don’t get a rushed 0-60 insta-lust. These two people had been in love and as it turns out, still are.

There are a couple of glaring errors in the story. At one point we’re told that a couple of characters are out at 5.45am looking for a Christmas tree, but we have the longest of nights during December so they’d have been stumbling around in the dark for over two hours until sunrise! Also, Sir Phillip is incorrectly referred to as ‘Sir Trent’, which is a silly mistake for a writer of historical romance to make. Those criticisms aside, though, Ms Duran achieves a sweet and plausible love story, with well developed, likeable characters, and a believable plot. All in all I really enjoyed Sweetest Regret and will definitely read more of this author’s work.

Mistletoe, Mischief, and the Marquis by Amelia Grey

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The Marquis of Wythebury, is expecting an ordinary Christmastide at Hurst—until he is set upon by a beautiful miss who takes him to task for not allowing his young nephews to play outside. In his mind, a five and seven year old needn’t get chilled in the snow; better to plop them in front of the fire with a book. Few people have ever been brave enough to challenge him over anything, much less the rearing of his wards. The cheeky Miss Prim has no such compunction. No matter how fetching he finds her, he can’t give in to his attraction…for she is the sister of his best friend.

Growing up the middle child of five rambunctious girls, Lillian Prim doesn’t understand why two young boys visiting Hurst don’t know how to play until she meets their dashing guardian. The Marquis of Wythebury is commanding and intensely serious-minded. To her surprise, she’s captivated by him. It’s all she can do not to give into her feminine fantasies about her kissing him. Lillian has no intention of falling in love with the Marquis, but she will create Christmastide mischief and teach the boys and the handsome Marquis how to play.

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Publisher and Release Date: St. Martin’s/Swerve, November 2016
Time and setting: Regency England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Vikki

Seth Wythebury, Marquis of Wythebury is looking forward to a relaxing time away from his responsibilities. While attending a house party at his friend’s estate with his two young nephews, he encounters Miss Lillian Prim, the sister-in-law of his host when she takes his nephews outside and is engaging in a snowball fight after he had left them quietly reading.

Miss Prim is determined to get the two little boys’ guardian to realize they are only five and seven years old and need to have outside pursuits. What she does not count on is developing feelings for the man.

Who will win in this tug of war? The free-spirited miss, or the serious-minded marquis? Will they find out that opposites really do attract?

Mistletoe, Mischief and the Marquis is a delightful seasonal tale of a man trying to do the best for those in his charge, and perhaps being just a bit over-protective. Ms. Grey has spun an enchanting romance with engaging characters. The novella is fast-paced and engaged my interest from the start and held it until the end.

Lillian Prim is an endearing character. She speaks her mind – even to the austere Marquis of Wythbury – when others would hold their tongue. I loved how she was constantly putting him in his place. Throughout much of this lovely story, Lillian is trying to show the marquis that little boys need to have fun. I loved how she goes about it.

Seth is very serious-minded. He does not know how to have fun and has no desire to learn, yet the annoying Miss Prim is determined to teach his nephews. I loved watching him war with himself over the feelings he has for her. Once he makes up his mind to win her heart, he does it in a big way. I absolutely loved the ending of this book!

Ms. Grey is a talented author, and she has penned an enchanting Christmas story that will warm your heart and put a smile on your face. The two little boys will steal your heart. I always love heartwarming tales involving children, and especially around the holidays. If you enjoy regency romances with a good sense of the time-period with delightful characters, then you will love Mistletoe, Mischief, and the Marquis.

Secrets in the Mist (Gothic Myths #1) by Anna Lee Huber

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England 1812. Since the death of her mother and brother, Ella Winterton’s life has been consumed by keeping her drunkard father out of trouble and the roof of their crumbling cottage over their heads. But even isolated deep in the Norfolk broads, Ella has never been afraid of the marshes surrounding her home, despite their being riddled with treacherous bogs and local smugglers. Until one night a man masquerading as a Lantern Man—a frightening figure of local legend—waylays her in the marshes near her home, and her world suddenly begins to spiral out of control.

Ella can tell her friends and the local villagers are all hiding something terrible, something they refuse to share, and she can’t help but wonder if it has to do with the Lantern Man and his secret activities in the shadows of the seemingly quiet broads. But when Ella’s father is caught with smuggled brandy by the authorities and levied a crippling fine, she is forced to turn to the stranger for help, despite her distrust and his alarming ability to kiss her senseless.

Now she must unravel a twisted trail of deception and secrets, and uncover once and for all whether the Lantern Man is friend or foe. Or else risk being dragged down into the marshes, like the victims from the myth, and buried in a watery grave.

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Publisher and Release Date: Brightstone Media, October 2016
Time and Setting: Regency England
Genre: Gothic Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 4 Stars

Review by Jenny Q

So many of my friends are fans of Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby mystery series, which I’ve not yet had a chance to read, so I jumped at the chance to review the first book in her brand new romantic suspense series centered around Gothic myths and folklore, Secrets in the Mist.

On a dark, foggy night, the kind of night where most people wouldn’t dare cross the East Anglian marshes on foot, Ella Winterton ventures out to take much-needed medicine to her sick friend, skeptical of her old housekeeper’s tales of Lantern Men until she spots their floating lights in the mist and comes face-to-face with one. Only he’s no specter but a flesh-and-blood man, dark and menacing and delivering a warning to stay out of the marshes. But that’s hard for Ella to do, living on the edge of them as she does, and spending so much time traveling back and forth between her humble home and her friend Kate’s house, Greenlaws. Kate recovers from her illness, but it soon becomes apparent that she and her brother, Robert, with whom Ella has a complicated past, are keeping secrets, and Ella’s refuge from her drunken father and dwindling prospects no longer seems so inviting. After several more run-ins with the handsome Lantern Man and a lecherous revenue man who levies an exorbitant fine for her father’s smuggled brandy, Ella has no choice but to take her family’s future into her own hands. But rather than turn to Robert for help, she forces the Lantern Man, aka Jack, to help her and stumbles onto an enterprise far more dangerous than she’d imagined. Now, caught in a trap of her own making, Ella must decide how far she’s willing to go to protect her father, her friends, and her very life, and whether Jack can be trusted or if he’s leading her into danger for his own nefarious purposes.

Secrets in the Mist is a very well-written and incredibly atmospheric romance. The author skilfully conjures up the images of marshy estuaries, hidden waterways tucked among the tall reeds and grasses, a treacherous path between a run-down cottage and a grand manor, a forlorn dock that becomes a clandestine meeting place, and the ever-present mist that can hide lovers in a romantic cocoon, hide smugglers from the eyes of the law, or hide things of a far darker nature from unsuspecting travelers. It’s also rich in historical detail. In a note on the author’s website, she reveals that many aspects of this story were inspired right from the pages of history. Coastal England must have been a very interesting place to live during the war with France.

While I really enjoyed the story, I did find sections of it to be slow-moving and repetitive, and I thought the plot fairly predictable. I had hoped the Lantern Men mystery would play out a bit longer so it could have been a tad spookier; as it is, the cause of the marsh lights Ella sees is revealed early on, so the suspense of the unknown doesn’t really reach its fullest potential, although a whole other type of danger presents itself. However, I still couldn’t put the book down. I had to keep reading to see if my assumptions were correct and to see how everything would come together in the end. I particularly enjoyed the romance. I really felt for Ella and her circumstances, and Jack is sexy and sweet under his gruff façade. The romantic tension between them is very well done.

Secrets in the Mist stands out to me as something unique and memorable in historical romance. It does stay pretty close to the classic Gothic romance formula, but it is set against a rich historical backdrop and incorporates many of the elements that make for a great read – dimensional and intriguing characters, an evocative setting, action, suspense, betrayal, danger, and of course, true love. I am very much looking forward to the next book in the series and will be adding Anna Lee Huber’s other series to my reading list.