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Spectred Isle (Green Men #1) by K.J. Charles

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Archaeologist Saul Lazenby has been all but unemployable since his disgrace during the War. Now he scrapes a living working for a rich eccentric who believes in magic. Saul knows it’s a lot of nonsense…except that he begins to find himself in increasingly strange and frightening situations. And at every turn he runs into the sardonic, mysterious Randolph Glyde.

Randolph is the last of an ancient line of arcanists, commanding deep secrets and extraordinary powers as he struggles to fulfil his family duties in a war-torn world. He knows there’s something odd going on with the haunted-looking man who keeps turning up in all the wrong places. The only question for Randolph is whether Saul is victim or villain.

Saul hasn’t trusted anyone in a long time. But as the supernatural threat grows, along with the desire between them, he’ll need to believe in evasive, enraging, devastatingly attractive Randolph. Because he may be the only man who can save Saul’s life—or his soul.

Publisher and Release Date: KJC Books, August 2017

Time and Setting: England, 1923
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Paranormal Romance
Reviewer Rating: 5 STAR TOP PICK

Review by Caz

K.J. Charles gets her new Green Men series of paranormal historical romances off to a terrific start with Spectred Isle, an utterly captivating mix of adventure, mystery and romance all bound up in old English folklore, myth and magic.

Randolph Glyde is the last member of an old English family whose lineage goes back centuries.  Throughout the ages, the Glydes have been charged by successive monarchs with the protection of England from supernatural entities. Known as the Green Men, theirs is an ancient duty and an ancient magic that borrows powers from the land, but now their numbers are severely depleted and England is vulnerable to attack from mystical forces.  The First World War and the concurrent occult War Beneath devastated many families and the Glydes were no exception, as the government, not content with conventional weapons – tanks, guns and bombs –  recruited as many occultists and arcanists as they could and set them to unleashing their very specialised form of warfare on the enemy.  Of course, the other side had the same idea, and the resulting war irrevocably damaged the veil between the world of the supernatural and the human world; it now lies in shreds and Randolph – whose entire family was wiped out in one devastating engagement – is one of the few left alive who is able to track down and repel the various creatures and malignant entities that are passing through the veil with increasing frequency.

Saul Lazenby is an Oxford educated archaeologist who was stationed in Mesapotamia (modern Iraq) during the war, but who was dishonourably discharged and has struggled in the years since to find employment owing to his deeply tarnished record and reputation.  He is grateful for his position as assistant to Major Peabody, an eccentric who believes London to be a hotbed of magical powers, and whom Saul privately thinks is a harmless crackpot. Still, working for him is better than starving in the streets, and Saul obediently sets out to investigate the Major’s latest theory concerning an ancient burial stone located in Oak Hill Park just north of London.  Before he can locate it, however, an old oak tree bursts into flame for no apparent reason – and Saul finds himself being abruptly interrogated by a rude, disdainful and obviously aristocratic man who – just as abruptly – disappears when a few more people arrive on the scene.

This is only the first of several seemingly accidental meetings between the two men, in which they view each other with hostility and suspicion.  Saul thinks Randolph is following him; Randolph wonders if Saul’s appearances at the sites of exploding trees, ghostly manifestations and other strange happenings means he is somehow connected to or even responsible for them.

But soon, Randolph has to admit that perhaps there is a method in this madness and that Saul has some, as yet unknown, part to play in England’s defence against attack from beyond the veil. Through Saul’s PoV, the reader is initiated into Randolph’s magical world as the pair are drawn into the investigation of supernatural occurrences that appear to be somehow related to the life – and death – of Geoffrey de Mandeville, a villainous, twelfth century nobleman.

K.J. Charles does a wonderful job of building a sense of expectation, menace and urgency throughout the early parts of the novel and beyond, gradually broadening out her focus into an intricately plotted story that weaves a magical spell of its own on the reader.  The world-building is absolutely fantastic and the characterisation – of secondary characters as well as the two principals – is superbly rich and detailed.  The magic in this story is brilliantly conceived and it’s obvious that a considerable amount of research has gone into creating the specifics of this pagan-Earth magic. It’s not simple and it’s not at all benign; it’s dangerous and malevolent and devious, and those who fight it have to experience pain and sacrifice in order to become worthy of that task.

The romance between Saul and Randolph is beautifully developed as these two men, both of them lonely and haunted, draw closer and fall in love.  Moving from suspicion and scepticism to a tentative truce, friendship and more, the relationship develops very naturally and never feels rushed or forced.  I really felt for Saul and what he’d been through; his desire for love and affection cost him very dear, but he carries doggedly on, bearing his scars quietly and refusing to let his past define him.  And while Randolph seems, at first to be an overbearing, arrogant git, it soon becomes clear he’s nothing of the sort.  Well, he’s arrogant, yes, but he’s also rather charming underneath the bluster, possessed of a very dry wit and completely dedicated to the tasks with which he’s been invested.  I loved watching them as they readjusted their opinions of each other and recognised that here, at last, was someone with whom they could let down their guards and be themselves.  The chemistry between them is scorching and the love scenes are extremely sexy, but there’s no doubt that they also possess a strong emotional connection and are deeply attached to one another.

While the storyline featuring Randolph and Saul is wrapped up by the end of the book, I’m hoping we’ll see more of them as the series progresses and they continue the fight to keep England safe from whatever is trying to get through from the other side.  Sceptred Isle is funny, clever, sexy and spooky (seriously – the bit where our heroes are stuck on the road gave me the willies!) and I couldn’t put it down.  It’s an out-and-out corker of a tale and is very highly recommended.

The Mech Who Loved Me (London Steampunk: The Blue Blood Conspiracy #2) by Bec McMaster

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Ava McLaren is tired of being both a virgin, and a mere laboratory assistant for the Company of Rogues. When a baffling mystery rears its head, it presents her with the opportunity to work a real case… and perhaps get a taste of the passion that eludes her.

Blue bloods are dying from a mysterious disease, which should be impossible. Ava suspects there’s more to the case than meets the eye and wants a chance to prove herself. There’s just one catch—she’s ordered to partner with the sexy mech, Kincaid, who’s a constant thorn in her side. Kincaid thinks the only good blue blood is a dead one. He’s also the very last man she would ever give her heart to… which makes him the perfect candidate for an affair.

The only rule? It ends when the case does.

But when an attempt on her life proves that Ava might be onto something, the only one who can protect her is Kincaid. Suddenly the greatest risk is not to their hearts, but whether they can survive a diabolical plot that threatens to destroy every blue blood in London—including Ava.

Publisher and Release Date: Lochlaber Press, June 2017

Time and Setting:
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Paranormal Historical Romance
Rating: 4 Stars

Review by Jenny Q

I’ve grown a bit tired of the same old, same old in historical romance. Regencies and Highland stories just aren’t doing it for me any more, so I’m finding myself drawn to more unique settings and a little something extra, like a mystery or books with paranormal/supernatural elements. Bec McMaster’s London Steampunk world is one of my favorites because it features all of the above, and this latest installment, second in the Blue Blood Conspiracy spinoff series, does not disappoint.

What I love about this series is that there is a well-developed and complex plot running throughout, and though the love story is central to each book, the overall series arc and each couple’s role in it is a fantastic backdrop. With each book, more puzzle pieces fall into place while tantalizing possibilities for future stories and the series conclusion pop up. But that also makes it hard to recap plots for these books without giving away spoilers from previous books, so forgive me if I seem a little vague.

The Mech Who Loved Me picks up right where Mission Improper left off. The Company of Rogues solved one case only to discover it’s but a piece of a much larger conspiracy, one that endangers everyone in London. Three years after the revolution that toppled the Echelon that ruled the lower classes of humans, mechs, and verwulfen with an iron hand, someone is fomenting rebellion again, and the fragile peace that thousands lived and died for is in danger of shattering. Add to that the discovery of a deadly new virus that kills the unkillable – blue bloods – a virus that could wipe out an entire species if it falls into the wrong hands, and the stakes have never been higher for the Rogues. Anxious to prove herself, Ava McLaren is thrilled when she is assigned to study the virus and track down its origins, but in order to do so she has to put up with bodyguard Liam Kincaid, the gruff mech who has never disguised his dislike of Ava’s kind. But as the two work together and stumble upon one deadly discovery after another, the attraction that simmers between them boils over. And besides, what’s a little fun on the side going to hurt? But as their investigation grows more dangerous, they suddenly find themselves in danger of losing much more than their hearts.

The Mech Who Loved Me has everything I’ve come to expect from McMaster: compelling characters, sizzling sexual tension, mystery, danger, and of course, true love. But it also explores deeper themes of race, equality, self-worth, and sacrifice, which makes it so much richer. This one differs a bit from the previous books in this series in that it is a good bit naughtier. Kincaid likes to use the F-, P-, and C-words a lot, so be forewarned if that’s not your thing. But though he can be gruff and crude, he is also sweet and romantic; his unwavering support and encouragement in the face of Ava’s insecurities is swoon-worthy. Among the brash personalities in the Company of Rogues, Ava often feels overlooked or less worthy, but Kincaid sees her for what she is: brilliant and beautiful. Ava’s sleuthing skills and powers of deduction are in full force, not only on the case but in detecting the heart of the man behind the facade and the secrets he’s been keeping. They are complete opposites, but they complement each other, and together they make a perfect whole.

I’m knocking off  a star for the predictability of some plot points, but overall this is another solidly good story from McMaster. She has already revealed who the last three books will be about, and I can’t wait to watch those couples come together and see how the blue blood conspiracy plays out. If you’re looking for something different in romance and you’re open to a little fantasy, check out the London Steampunk series. But I recommend starting at the beginning with Kiss of Steel. Smart, sexy, inventive romances with dimensional and memorable characters in a rich and fascinating story world… What more could a girl want?

VIRTUAL TOUR: Loveweaver by Tracy Ann Miller

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The year is 895. Slayde’s job as an top military leader of Kent is to rid England of the last of the Viking raiders. But Llyrica is no ordinary Viking. She’s a beauty with a mysterious past … and a talent for weaving song spells. Even as Slayde saves her from drowning, he knows Llyrica will be a dangerous distraction.

Llyrica is now a stranger in a strange land on a mission to fulfill a deathbed promise. But she must also find her missing brother. This man, Slayde, known as The StoneHeart in his country, seems determined to block her at every turn. And yet she can’t help but be drawn to the affectionate, loving side of him that awakens when he sleeps – The sleepwalker.

Unknown to both Llyrica and Slayde, each will use the other to accomplish their quests. Both will also fall under the song spell that she wove into the braid of his tunic.

Will her Lovespell ensure a happily ever after for them? Or condemn them to a love that was never meant to be?

EXCERPT


“I have learned that a woman will use her soft curves, tender touches and sweet voice to drive a man to do her bidding. Just as you think to do now.” Slayde flung her linen shroud aside, and caught her up in his arms to pull her against him. A black lock of his hair fell unto his brow. “And these silks you wear. Know it will not work on me, vixen.”

She drew a deep breath when he indicated no knowledge of her crimes. But her awareness that the sleepwalker dwelt beneath StoneHeart’s clothes and weapons quickened her pulse in the most tantalizing places. “A mishap brought me here for sure. But I have no notion to what you now refer. I merely sit here, in my everyday garments, in your house and weave. If I have insulted you again by teaching Elfric something other than what you and your father deem proper for a man to know, I pray your pardon.”

“I may grant it if the other boys do not bloody his nose when they find he has been at a female craft.” He crushed her closer until impulse dictated she slip her arms around his waist. The thick muscles of his back tightened under her splayed fingers.

“That is an odd fear of yours, I think, that you will appear as less than a man. But it is an unfounded fear given the size of your … when I see evidence of your …” Her face heated. “Your height and large hands and shadowed jaw and chin.”

His mouth twitched almost imperceptibly in one corner. “I was taught to be a man and so should Elfric. Our father is gone, so I am in his stead. Every boy needs a father to raise him thus, or a man to take the father’s place.”

On her brother’s behalf, Llyrica felt keenly this lack of father. If Haesten had been a different man, she would not be cast alone on foreign turf in search of him, or under an obligation to avenge her mother’s beatings at his hand. A rare tear glazed each eye.

“You will neither change our arrangement, nor try and be rid of me. I have Father Byrnstan’s vow and the asylum of his church.” In a short time, she would also have a braid imbued with a lovesong.

“You give a fine example of how a woman works. You say one thing, but by the soft molding of your body, the pout on your lips and tears in your eyes, you plead for another.”

“I sat at the loom with no intention of pleading anything from you. Until you came, hauled me against you, and said you would throw me out. You then reminded me that my brother and I have been without a father. If this is an example of how a man works, then I may not praise the job that Ceolmund did in raising you.”

He straightened with new intensity, his arms muscles flexed around her, his chest, abdomen and thighs turned to stone. His manpart pressed so hard against her that Llyrica felt it throb. “This is how a man works, vixen. This is how I work.”

About the Author

Although Tracy Ann Miller is primarily a graphic designer, (see her work at tracymillerdesigns.com) she has been writing novels for over 20 years.

She was an active member of the National Romance Writers of America with her local chapter, The Virginia Romance Writers. It was there she honed her craft by attending workshops, conferences, and by coordinating The VRW’s Fool for Love Contest.

Before being published, she entered and won numerous writing contests, including The Fool for Love Contest for Loveweaver, and the Between the Sheets best love scene contest for The Maiden Seer.

She writes to keep the hero and heroine interacting in story as much as possible (no long separations) and of course they get a spectacular happily ever after.

For more information, please visit Tracy Ann Miller’s blog. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: A Hundred Kisses by Jean M. Grant

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1296

Two wedding nights. Two dead husbands.

Deirdre MacCoinneach wishes to understand her unusual ability to sense others’ lifeblood energies…and vows to discover if her gift killed the men she married. Her father’s search for a new and unsuspecting suitor for Deirdre becomes complicated when rumors of witchcraft abound.

Under the façade of a trader, Alasdair Montgomerie travels to Uist with pivotal information for a Claimant seeking the Scottish throne. A ruthless baron hunts him and a dark past haunts him, leaving little room for alliances with a Highland laird or his tempting daughter.

Awestruck when she realizes that her unlikely travel companion is the man from her visions, a man whose thickly veiled emotions are buried beneath his burning lifeblood, Deirdre wonders if he, too, will die in her bed if she follows her father’s orders. Amidst magic, superstition, and ghosts of the past, Alasdair and Deirdre find themselves falling together in a web of secrets and the curse of a hundred kisses…

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EXCERPT

Deirdre’s cold, weekly baths were her refuge from the chaos of the village. The loch’s iciness was a thousand fingers prickling her skin, but she submerged farther as she entered in from the shore. The world’s humming and warm colors faded as the water consumed her. She let out a loud sigh, then inhaled and dunked her full body in, holding her breath.

For that brief moment, as air filled and expanded her chest and the world of the dark, shallow water swathed her, she felt free from her powers.

Dusk’s nip was a welcome from the heat that radiated off all the living during the day. It was as though the life force of every living being ceased during the hours when the sun set. Most importantly, she could no longer see him, and her vision of him—the man from the wood. The trees didn’t appear ablaze before her while the man cried out for help, his dark blue eyes filled with fear, his black hair catching aflame, and his vibrant red lifeblood draining.

She massaged her scalp, hoping to erase the image. It would never cease. It never did. The more she fought it, the more her powers gripped her. Oh, Mother, why couldn’t you be here to teach me how to control it? She trembled with grief as the chill sank into her bones. Her lungs grew empty, and she struggled to remain under. She didn’t want to face the world. Her ears rang, and with open eyes, a welcome blackness crept over her sight. Maybe she could stay under and let it take her.

Her only refuge from obligations as laird’s daughter danced around her with a chilling caress. Although she had escaped the village unnoticed, she knew by morning that somebody, most likely Crystoll, sent by her father, would be knocking on her door. Or Moreen would need her to taste a new recipe in the kitchen. Or Caite would want to whine about something. Nay, but not now. Now, she was alone. Her father had been too distracted with the news the sentry brought about Dunbar. This wet, numbing escape was not accompanied by one of her father’s soldiers for once. By God, she succumbed to it.

She sensed no colors in the murky, lifeless water, and it was freeing. All breath escaped her. Muted visions passed before her eyes—her mother, her father, Gordon, and Cortland. Just a moment longer, she thought…

Suddenly, a burst of warm light invaded her thoughts as air filled her lungs. Red-hot hands burned her shoulders and ripped her from her icy grave. She breathed life into her body. She coughed, gagging on the change.

Muffled words yelled at her.

Oh, God, so hot. His fingers were like hot pokers. Her head pounded as she slowly returned to the present. Heat radiated from her rescuer. Somebody had pulled her from the water.

“Wh—?”

“Hush, lass. You nearly drowned.”

His voice was as soothing as a warm cup of goat’s milk on a winter’s day. A red-hot glow emanated from his body. Never before had she felt such a strong lifeblood, and it nearly burned her. She struggled in his arms to get free. She blinked, only seeing a blurry form before her. “Release me!”

She splashed and wriggled, and he did as told. She clambered to the shoreline. Numb and shaken, she began to dress. It wasn’t easy as she fumbled with slick fingers to put dry clothes over wet skin. She instantly regretted her naked swim. She pulled on her long-sleeved white chemise first.

She faced the forest, away from her rescuer. He quietly splashed to shore. His lifeblood burned into her back. He wasn’t far behind, but he stopped. She refused to look at him until she was fully clothed, not out of embarrassment of her nudity, but for what had just happened. He released a groan and mumbled under his breath about wet boots. His voice was not one of her father’s soldiers.

When she put the last garment on, her brown wool work kirtle, she squeezed out her sopping hair and swept her hands through the knotty mess. She fastened her belt and tied the lacings up the front of the kirtle. Blood returned to her fingertips, and she regained her composure. Belated awareness struck her, and she leaned down and searched through her bag for her dagger. She spun around.

She gasped as she saw the man sitting on the stone-covered shoreline, his wet boots off. Confusion and the hint of a scowl filled his strong-featured face. She staggered back, caught her heel on a stone, and fell, dropping the dagger. Dirt and pebbles stuck to her wet hands and feet, and she instinctively scrambled away from him.

His glower, iridescent dark blue eyes, and disheveled black hair were not unfamiliar. Staring at her was the man she had seen in her dream—it was the man from the wood.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jean GrantJean is a scientist, part-time education director, and a mom to two active sons. She currently resides in Massachusetts and draws from her interests in history, science, the outdoors, and her family for inspiration. She enjoys writing non-fiction articles for family-oriented and travel magazines, and aspires to write children’s books while continuing to write novels. In 2008, she visited the land of her daydreams, Scotland, and it was nothing short of breathtaking. Jean enjoys tending to her flower gardens, tackling the biggest mountains in New England with her husband, and playing with her sons, while daydreaming about the next hero to write about…

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/jeanmgrantauthor/
Twitter: @JeanGrant05
Website: http://www.jeanmgrant.com/

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

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She sees things no one else does…

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

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

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

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

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Publisher and Release Date: Emily Larkin, December 2016

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

Review by Lady Blue

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

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

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

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

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

Unmasking Miss Appleby (Baleful Godmother #1) by Emily Larkin

unmasking-miss-appleby
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She’s not who she seems…

On her 25th birthday, Charlotte Appleby receives a most unusual gift from the Faerie godmother she never knew she had: the ability to change shape.

Penniless and orphaned, she sets off for London to make her fortune as a man. But a position as secretary to Lord Cosgrove proves unexpectedly challenging. Someone is trying to destroy Cosgrove and his life is increasingly in jeopardy.

As Charlotte plunges into London’s backstreets and brothels at Cosgrove’s side, hunting his persecutor, she finds herself fighting for her life—and falling in love…

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Publisher and Release Date: Emily Larkin, November 2016
Time & Setting: London, 1805
Genre: Historical Romance with Fantasy elements
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 5 stars

Review by Sara

I love when authors successfully merge two romantic subgenres without losing the tone a reader expects from each. Emily Larkin carefully folds supernatural elements into her Baleful Godmothers series so that the world building doesn’t get lost in the historical setting. The first book Unmasking Miss Appleby balances the magic and the romance perfectly into a story that I highly recommend.

Charlotte Appleby’s life has not turned out exactly as she had hoped. While she is grateful to her father’s sister for providing her a home after his death, she is far from a welcome member of the household. Suffering the family’s constant disrespect wears on Charlotte to the point that she dreams of finding a way to be independent but is unhappy with the options afforded an unmarried woman. Working as a governess or school teacher has no appeal and positions that offer the most income are only open to men. On her twenty-fifth birthday Charlotte is mulling over her future when a dark fairy arrives in her room claiming to owe her one wish as part of a centuries-old pact with the female members of Charlotte’s mother’s family. Wary of the woman and the magic she offers, Charlotte is careful to learn about the gifts the fairy can bestow. With the fairy quickly losing patience Charlotte chooses the power of metamorphosis. Charlotte can now become anyone or anything she wishes.

Charlotte seeks her independence in London by changing her appearance to a young man. Her new form includes all of the physical attributes of the opposite sex, but her mind remains that of a woman, and she can now experience life without the restrictions society places on a female. Charlotte – now Christopher Albin – applies for employment as secretary to the influential Earl of Cosgrove using a forged set of references but an eagerness the earl appreciates. She is hired on the spot and is quickly thrust into the earl’s investigation of who might be vandalizing his house and arranging attacks on him at night.

Marcus Langford knows he has both personal and political enemies but never thought they would stoop to petty crimes or assault to get the better of him. The last few years of his life have been marred by the scandal of his wife’s suicide and the rumors of her affairs in the gossip sheets. These recent attacks just add insult to injury; however Marcus will not let them dissuade him from fighting to outlaw slavery in England and the colonies. During the last attack his secretary was gravely injured and the new applicants for the position seem scared at the prospect of working for a moving target. Christopher Albin is the first applicant to seem cautious of the danger but still ready to jump into the position. Marcus is quickly impressed with Christopher’s analytical nature as they start searching for possible perpetrators of the crimes. ALbin’s enthusiasm for the job is only surpassed by his naiveté about the less savory aspects of London society and Marcus cannot help but like the young man.

The close working relationship Charlotte and Marcus develop causes Charlotte to feel sexual attraction for the first time. The physical responses to her interest could be disastrous if Marcus were to see them in her male form but Charlotte cannot help falling even deeper for her employer the more they uncover during their investigations. Taking some advice Marcus innocently gives to Albin about a man’s need to slake his lust, Charlotte creates a way for her to seduce Marcus in her true form, offering him clues about his attackers if he’ll sleep with her. Their liaisons become more intimate on a personal level as Marcus reveals another side of himself to Charlotte the woman while still being friendly and open to Albin the man. As the threat to Marcus escalates it becomes harder for Charlotte to keep the two sides of herself from being exposed to the man with whom she has fallen in love.

The paranormal elements of Unmasking Miss Appleby are easily integrated into Charlotte’s story as she learns about her family’s legacy along with the reader. She is unsure about her new abilities so we experience her fear and excitement at the same time as she does. Magic is an unknown force in the regular world so when things are revealed to Marcus his responses are just as genuine as my own might be. It’s very easy to be caught up in the romantic tension between Charlotte and Marcus and forget that she is wearing another face entirely for the closeness they share. In the beginning I wondered if Ms. Larkin was trying to send a very subdued message about the nature of attraction being a mental thing rather than a gender question, but things return to the status quo when Charlotte begins her seduction as a female.

I’ve read many romances with a woman disguised as a man but Ms. Larkin takes that idea to the extreme with Charlotte’s complete physical transformation. All of the little quirks an author normally folds into the heroine’s masquerade are explored and yet they feel fresh since Charlotte isn’t just wearing pants, she is anatomically a man with all of the responses that go with it. Along with all of her newfound knowledge about being a male Charlotte also comes to appreciate what it means to be female and to embrace her own sexuality. She offers herself to Marcus believing the encounter will strictly be a physical response to her attraction; however she finds that sharing herself with Marcus gives her power and a freedom that she never had before.

I could go on forever about how enjoyable reading Unmasking Miss Appleby was. From the clever twist in a standard romantic device to a story of female empowerment in a restrictive time there are many magical things for a reader to discover.

Mission Improper (London Steampunk: The Blue Blood Conspiracy #1) by Bec McMaster

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Three years ago, London society changed forever, with a revolution placing the widowed Queen firmly on the throne her blue blood husband tried to take from her. Humans, verwulfen and mechs are no longer considered the lesser classes, but not everybody is happy with the new order…

Entire families have gone missing in the East End. When Caleb Byrnes receives an invitation to join the Company of Rogues as an undercover agent pledged to protect the crown, he jumps at the chance to find out who, or what, is behind the disappearances. Hunting criminals is what the darkly driven blue blood does best, and though he prefers to work alone, the opportunity is too good to resist.

The problem? He’s partnered with Ingrid Miller, the fiery and passionate verwulfen woman who won a private bet against him a year ago. Byrnes has a score to settle, but one stolen kiss and suddenly the killer is not the only thing Byrnes is interested in hunting.

Soon they’re chasing whispered rumours of a secret project gone wrong, and a monster that just might be more dangerous than either of them combined. The only way to find out more is to go undercover among the blue blood elite… But when their hunt uncovers a mysterious conspiracy, Byrnes and Ingrid must set aside their age-old rivalry if they have any chance at surviving a treacherous plot.

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Publisher and Release Date: Lochlaber Press, August 2016

Time and Setting: Alternate Victorian England
Genre: Historical Paranormal Romance/Steampunk
Heat Level: 1.5 Stars
Reviewer Rating: 4 Stars

Review by Jenny Q

As a huge fan of Bec McMaster’s London Steampunk series, I was sorry to see it come to an end, especially since I felt a certain pair of characters had not yet had their story told (I’m looking at you, Charlie and Lark), and the story world was so rich with opportunities for more novels. My prayers were answered when Mission: Improper was announced, the first book in a spin-off series set in the same world with new leading characters and featuring appearances from some of our favorite characters from the previous series!

Mission: Improper begins with Nighthawk Caleb Byrnes – a member of the supernatural police force – receiving a summons to a mysterious meeting. He arrives to find that himself, three other blue bloods (including Charlie Todd, yay!), a mech, and the only woman to truly ever get under his skin, Ingrid Miller, a verwulfen, have been carefully selected by the Duke of Malloryn to investigate a series of murders and disappearances that seem to be designed to incite a riot. It’s been three years since the revolution that took down the blue blood elite and placed all supernaturals on equal footing, but a shadowy group has emerged that is bent on bringing down the new order and returning to the old ways. If that wasn’t already enough, there are vampires on the loose, controlled by a new and deadly creature the likes of which none of them have encountered before. Begrudgingly partnered together, Caleb and Ingrid will have to use all of their skills to unearth the players in this new game, uncovering a conspiracy far more ambitious and deep-rooted than first suspected, while fighting an intense attraction to each other as they race the clock to stop a group of madmen from destroying the world as they know it.

I so loved being back in this story world! And I love the characters. As usual, McMaster has created a deep and multi-dimensional hero and heroine; both are brave, smart, and tough, yet at times vulnerable, and both have overcome heartbreaking childhood trauma, building up protective walls while still allowing their hearts to be generous and hopeful. Watching them work together on this case was a joy. My only real complaint here is that the romance takes a little bit of a backseat in this story, and that’s mainly because a lot of things have to be set up to form the foundation of the entire series. which, like its predecessor, will feature an overarching plot throughout all of the books. And while I found it refreshing that Caleb and Ingrid actually talked to each other about what they were thinking and feeling rather than keeping it to themselves, I got to a point where I just wanted them to shut up and do it already! And after they finally did, I wanted more of them together before the story raced along to its conclusion.

The epilogue, which takes place in the future and was satisfying in and of itself, made me wish I’d gotten to see what happened between the end of the story and that point. But since these two should feature in future books, I’m hoping I will get a chance to do that.

I’m sure Mission: Improper is intended to serve as a stand-alone for those who haven’t read the previous series, and some backstory is included, but you just won’t be able to grasp the full meaning of who the different species are, how they relate to each other, and what’s at stake if you haven’t read the other books. (And they’re so good that you really should go and read them first!) Mission: Improper is an action-packed start to a new series in a beloved story world, introducing some new characters on both sides of the conspiracy that I am looking forward to getting to know better in future books. I am anxiously awaiting book two, The Mech Who Loved Me.

A Most Extraordinary Pursuit by Juliana Gray

a-most-extraordinary-pursuit

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February, 1906. As the personal secretary of the recently departed Duke of Olympia—and a woman of scrupulous character—Miss Emmeline Rose Truelove never expected her duties to involve steaming through the Mediterranean on a private yacht, under the prodigal eye of one Lord Silverton, the most charmingly corrupt bachelor in London. But here they are, improperly bound on a quest to find the duke’s enigmatic heir, current whereabouts unknown.

An expert on anachronisms, Maximilian Haywood was last seen at an archaeological dig on the island of Crete. And from the moment Truelove and Silverton disembark, they are met with incidents of a suspicious nature: a ransacked flat, a murdered government employee, an assassination attempt. As they travel from port to port on Max’s trail, piecing together the strange events of the days before his disappearance, Truelove will discover the folly of her misconceptions—about the whims of the heart, the motives of men, and the nature of time itself…

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Publisher and Release Date: Berkley, October 2016

Time and Setting: 1906, England and various locales in the Mediterranean
Genre: Historical mystery with paranormal elements
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Lady Blue

The beloved Duke of Olympia is dead, and his great-nephew and heir is nowhere to be found. The duke’s grieving duchess calls upon Emmeline Truelove, the late duke’s secretary, to travel to the Mediterranean, find the heir, and bring him home to his new dukedom. The duchess has also arranged for the Marquess of Silverton to accompany Emmeline, which does not make her happy, as her first impression of him is that he’s a shallow wastrel. The marquess (Freddie) is, in fact, a rakish, witty man, but he’s also an excellent fighter and a trained agent. Emmeline, who is called by her last name “Truelove” for most of this story, is not at all delighted with this situation, but agrees to travel with Freddie to find the missing Mr. Haywood, now the new duke. Truelove’s agreeing to go on this quest is also against the advice (demand) of the deceased Queen Victoria, who regularly appears to have conversations with her. Yes, Truelove communicates regularly with the former monarch, as well as with her own deceased father.

During the course of their travels, the prickly Truelove fends off any flirtatious attempts by Freddie with biting remarks, which he happily volleys. It soon becomes apparent that Haywood has not just gone off on his own – there is some nefarious plot afoot. The current events happening are directly related to a mythological tale (or is it?) from the past – and even involves the future.

This adventurous story is certainly a departure from previous books by Juliana Gray, and I give her credit for this intricate and detailed plot. A Most Extraordinary Pursuit undoubtedly held my attention and entertained me, but I did not become invested in the protagonists and their almost-sort of-romance. When I don’t find myself rooting for the characters to be together, or truly care for their future, the book doesn’t touch my emotions, and isn’t my preferred type of read. There are many unanswered questions, which I’m sure will be addressed in future books featuring Emmeline Truelove. If you enjoy a rollicking adventure with a bit of time-travel, some paranormal elements and plenty of witty banter, I believe this might well hit the spot.

Forevermore (Darkest London #7) by Kristen Callihan

forevermore

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Isolated and alone, Sin Evernight is one of the most powerful supernatural creatures in heaven and on earth. As an angel of vengeance, he hunts down the darkest evil, but when his long-lost friend, Layla Starling, needs him, he vows to become her protector. Even though she will be horrified by the man he has become.

Now a famous singer and the toast of London, Layla believes that Sin is only here to guard her from rabid fans and ardent suitors. However, the truth is far more sinister. Desperate to avoid losing Layla a second time, Sin will face a test of all his powers to defeat an unstoppable foe – and win an eternity with the woman he loves.

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Publisher and Release Date: Forever, July 2016

Place and time: London 1890
Genre: Paranormal/Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Wendy

It’s sad to say goodbye to Kristen Callihan’sDarkest Londonseries. This was my first foray into the paranormal genre and I found it to be compelling and addictive. Forevermore brings together many of my favourite characters of the series, not least the Ellis sisters – Miranda, Poppy and Daisy and their lovely husbands, Benjamin, Lord Archer, Winston Lane and Ian Ranulf. Their baby brother St.John, known as Sin, is the star of this final book and is the protégé of the oldest and most powerful Angel of Judgement, Augustus. Next to Augustus’, Sin’s powers are the most astounding and impressive of all of the paranormals living their weird and strange lives in Darkest London. But Sin has a dark secret, one that fills him with self loathing and which has separated him from his family.

Sin has known Layla Starling since their childhood in Ireland, where she lived under the protection of her guardian, Augustus. Now Augustus’s own powers are fading, he needs Sin to not only take on the mantle of Judgement Angel – which will make him very powerful indeed when coupled with the skills he already owns – but he also charges him with protecting his beloved Layla, who is herself only just coming into her own powers. Layla’s mother, Lena, whom we met in an earlier book in the series, is Damnation – a demon in direct opposition to Judgement. This means that Layla is in danger; as her mother’s daughter, she is sought after as a mate for THE Damnation – not an Angel but a son of the first fallen. Child of the devil… a means of breeding pure-blooded and strong Damnation demons and therefore carrying this dying line on. Layla must be protected at all costs.

I loved Sin’s character; beautiful, good and not at all unworthy as he believes himself to be. His dark secret is in no way his own fault and I did wonder why his powerful and intelligent sisters failed to realise that. There is also one quite noticeable inconsistency – in the beginning Sin is not able to bear human touch: … as if he’d sooner flay his skin off rather than endure another moment of contact… and then, quite suddenly and without further explanation, he is able to tolerate it quite readily!

There are some pretty impressive, catastrophic battles between the various forces for good and evil; gory and very descriptive. All I can say, is that I shall be looking up into the sky at night when next I visit London – St. Paul’s and Trafalgar Square will never seem the same again.

Whilst on the subject of St.Paul’s, there are a number of inconsistencies in the author’s description of it that had me scratching my head; she gives the impression of great age with her descriptions of the stone sarcophagi of England’s long-dead royalty, Knights, and heroes, which don’t exist – only the far more recent tombs of Wellington and Nelson who, although great and famous servicemen, are not royalty. At one point she refers to it as “the Abbey” – but it’s a Cathedral.

Apart from those inconsistencies, my overall enjoyment of the story was not spoilt. It was lovely to see this great series so neatly finished off with all threads brought together and good triumphing over evil. Recommended.

Lost Among the Living by Simone St. James

Lost Among the Living
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England, 1921. Three years after her husband, Alex, disappeared, shot down over Germany, Jo Manders still mourns his loss. Working as a paid companion to Alex’s wealthy, condescending aunt, Dottie Forsyth, Jo travels to the family’s estate in the Sussex countryside. But there is much she never knew about her husband’s origins…and the revelation of a mysterious death in the Forsyths’ past is just the beginning…

All is not well at Wych Elm House. Dottie’s husband is distant, and her son was grievously injured in the war. Footsteps follow Jo down empty halls, and items in her bedroom are eerily rearranged. The locals say the family is cursed, and that a ghost in the woods has never rested. And when Jo discovers her husband’s darkest secrets, she wonders if she ever really knew him. Isolated in a place of deception and grief, she must find the truth or lose herself forever.

And then a familiar stranger arrives at Wych Elm House…

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Publisher and Release Date: NAL, April 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: England, 1921
Genre: Gothic Mystery with romantic elements
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Caz

Simone St. James may only have five published novels to her name (so far) but I was so taken with her very first book – The Haunting of Maddy Clare – that she pretty much immediately became an auto-buy author. In recent years, she has brilliantly revitalised the historical/gothic mystery, producing superbly-written, well-crafted and spine-tingling stories that have often kept me reading until well past my bedtime!

Lost Among the Living is set in 1921 and as the book opens, we meet Jo Manders, a young widow whose husband, Alex, was a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps. His plane was shot down in 1918, but his body was never found, meaning that Jo is not officially a widow and is therefore unable to claim a widow’s pension. With no other means of supporting herself and her mother – who is mentally ill and lives in an asylum – Jo has found employment as companion to Alex’s wealthy, aristocratic aunt, Dottie Forsyth. Dottie is opinionated, demanding and often rude, so working for her is no picnic, but she is also Jo’s one last link to Alex, so Jo sticks it out.

Jo’s assignment with Dottie was only supposed to last for the few months Dottie spent touring the Continent buying art from people and families driven to financial ruin by the war, so she is surprised when Dottie asks her to accompany her back to England. On arriving at Wych Elm House, however, Jo begins to question her decision. The house is a desolate place that is permeated by an atmosphere of grief and loss; the local villagers whisper about mysterious deaths that happened before the war and vicious ghosts roaming the woods; Dottie’s husband is a coldly calculating, raffish womaniser, their son, Martin, has returned from the war an invalid who seems headed for an early demise, and their daughter, Frances, died in mysterious circumstances. But the more Jo learns about that past tragedy, the more determined she is to discover the truth behind it, refusing to be intimidated by the footsteps that follow her or by the stories that circulate about a mysterious beast roaming the woods.

And on top of all this comes Jo’s dawning realisation about how little she knew about the man she married; she hadn’t known that Wych Elm House had been Alex’s home or that he had grown up with Dottie’s children… and certainly hadn’t known he visited the house on his last leave before he was shot down.

Lost Among the Living is a great blend of ghost story, mystery and romance, and the writing is superb. Ms St. James is a master at creating an atmosphere of menace and uncertainty, and her descriptive prose is often beautiful:

To my right and left, the roof of Wych Elm House fell away, as if I were the mermaid on the prow of a ship, sailing into the woods. Before me spread the tops of the trees, the closest ones visibly rippling and shimmering in the wind, the father ones mere ribbons of black and pewter and dusky silver, blending into a mass that spread for miles.

But while I enjoyed the book overall, there are a couple of things about it that didn’t work for me, and which prevented my rating it more highly. First of all, there is a massive spoiler in the publisher’s blurb which kind of skewed my reading of it. It’s difficult to describe without giving too much away, but the blurb says this: And then a familiar stranger arrives at Wych Elm House. I was 99.9% certain I knew who this person was going to be, and as a consequence, I got frustrated when he failed to appear until around the final third of the book. Would I have read the book differently had I not read that spoiler? It’s difficult to say, but there are enough pointers towards this event in the book itself to have made it likely that I wouldn’t. My other big issue with the story was the rapidity with which Jo accepted the presence of the ghost and knew immediately who it was. To me, it felt as though the author was taking a bit of a short-cut; readers know what to expect from her books, they will be quick to accept the presence of a ghost and so Jo accepts it quickly, too.

But even with those reservations, Lost Among the Living is an intriguing and beautifully-written story in which the tension leaps off the page and the characters are complex and interesting. It isn’t my favourite of Ms. St. James’ books (that would be The Other Side of Midnight), but it’s certainly well worth reading if you enjoy mysteries and ghost stories with a touch of romance.