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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.

Looking Back at 2016 – Our Favourite Books of the Year

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

 


Caz

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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


Heather C.

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

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

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


Jenny Q

Forevermore by Kristen Callihan

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

Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie

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

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

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


Lady Cicely

Wicked Highland Wishes by Julie Johnstone

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

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

Rebel Warrior by Regan Walker

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

Rescued by a Lady’s Love by Christi Caldwell

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

Blythe: Schemes Gone Amiss by Collette Cameron

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

Lady Wesley

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

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

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

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


Sara

Duke of My Heart by Kelly Bowen

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

The Hunter by Kerrigan Byrne

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

To Lure a Proper Lady by Ashlyn Macnamara

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

Do You Want to Start a Scandal by Tessa Dare

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

Unmasking Miss Appleby by Emily Larkin

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


Wendy

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

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

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

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

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


All books in this list are linked to Amazon, so click to find out more!

 

VIRTUAL TOUR: Rules for a Rogue (Romancing the Rules #1) by Christy Carlyle

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Kit Ruthven’s Rules (for Rogues)
#1 Love freely but guard your heart, no matter how tempting the invader.
#2 Embrace temptation, indulge your sensual impulses, and never apologize.
#3 Scorn rules and do as you please. You are a rogue, after all.

Following the rules never brought anything but misery for Christopher “Kit” Ruthven. After rebelling against his controlling father and leaving the family’s Ruthven Rules etiquette book empire behind, Kit has been breaking every one imaginable for the past six years. He’s enjoyed London’s sensual pleasures and secured his reputation as a Rogue, but he’s failed to achieve success. When he inherits his father’s publishing business, Kit is forced back into the life he never wanted. Worse, he must face Ophelia Marsden, the woman he jilted but never forgot.

After losing her father and refusing a loveless marriage proposal, Ophelia has learned to rely on herself. To maintain the family home and support her younger brother, she tutors young girls in deportment and decorum. But her pupils would be scandalized if they knew their imminently proper teacher was also the author of a guidebook encouraging ladies to embrace their independence and overthrow outdated notions of etiquette like the Ruthven Rules.

As Kit rediscovers the life, and the woman, he left behind, Ophelia must choose between the practicalities she never truly believed in, or the love she’s never been able to extinguish.

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EXCERPT

Before Ophelia could gather her sister and head back to the kitchen, a knock sounded at the front door. Juliet clutched her notebook to her chest and bolted back into the library.

Slipping Guidelines behind her back with one hand, Ophelia grasped the doorknob with the other. She schooled her features into a pleasant expression in case it was Mrs. Raybourn or, heaven forbid, Mr. Raybourn, in need of more reassurance their girls weren’t on the high road to ruin because of the book no one knew she’d written.

When she pulled the door open, all the breath whooshed from her body.

Their visitor wasn’t any member of the Raybourn family.

“Kit Ruthven.”

“You remember me, then?” He grinned as he loomed on the threshold, his shoulders nearly as wide as the frame. Eyes bright and intense, he took her in from head to toe, and then let his gaze settle on her mouth. When he finally looked into her eyes, the cocksure tilt of his grin had softened. She read a wariness in his gaze that matched her own.

She’d spent years trying to forget those dark, deep-set eyes.

“I remember you.” Her book slipped, skidding across her backside and clattering to the floor as her throat tightened on sentiments she’d been waiting years to express. None of them would come. Not a single word. Instead, in outright rebellion, her whole body did its best to melt into a boneless puddle. Gritting her teeth, Phee fought the urge to swoon or, worse, rush into his long, muscled arms.

“I’m relieved to hear it.” He had the audacity to kick his grin into a smile, a rakish slash that cut deep divots into his clean-shaven cheeks. Then he took a step through her door. “I worried that—”

“No.” She lifted a hand to stop him. Looking at the man was difficult enough. Hearing his voice—deeper now but achingly familiar—was too much. If he came closer, she might give in to some rogue impulse. And that wouldn’t do.

That wouldn’t do at all.

Ophelia swallowed hard. She needed a moment to gather her wits. To rebuild her walls.

“You dropped something.” He moved toward her, so close his sleeve brushed hers.

She lowered her hand to avoid touching him and jerked back when he bent to retrieve her book, watching as he turned the volume to read its title.

Miss Gilroy’s Guidelines for Young Ladies. How intriguing. Looks as though Ruthven Publishing has some competition.”

Seeing him again was worse than she’d imagined. And she had imagined this moment aplenty. Far too many times. Not just on her infrequent jaunts to London but most days since they’d parted. The man had lingered in her thoughts, despite every effort to expel him.

Taking a shaky breath, she braced herself and faced him.

He’d always been tall. When they were children, she’d looked up to him. Literally. But he’d never used his size to bully others. More often he’d born teasing about his physique. Ungainly, his father had called him, and Kit repeated the word when referring to himself.

Now he offered no apologetic hunch in his stance. He didn’t cross his arms to narrow his body. More than embracing his size, he wielded his generous dimensions with a virile grace that made Phee’s mouth water. He stood with his long legs planted wide, shoulders thrown back. His chest was so broad that she itched to touch it.

Stop being a ninny, she chided herself. The most essential observation was that he did not look like a man who’d pined for her. Not a hint of guilt shadowed his gaze.

He thrust his hands behind his back, and the buttons above his waistcoat strained against the fabric on either side, as if the muscles beneath were too sizable to contain. Phee’s gaze riveted to the spot, waiting to see which would win—the pearly buttons or the dove gray fabric. When sense finally wound its way into her boggled mind, she glanced up into gilded brown eyes. He was the winner, judging by the satisfied smirk cresting his mouth.

Kit stood too near, close enough for her to smell his scent. A familiar green, like fresh-cut grass, but mingled now with an aromatic spice. Each breath held his spice scent heightened by the warmth of his body. The heat of him radiated against her chest.

His eyes were too intense, too hungry. He perused her brazenly, studying the hem of her outdated gown before his gaze roved up her legs, paused at her waist, lingered on her bosom, and caught for a moment on her lips. Finally, he met her eyes, and his mouth flicked up in a shameless grin.

She looked anywhere but at his eyes. On his neck, she noted the scar from a childhood adventure in the blackberry briar. Then she got stuck admiring his hair. Apparently his scandalous London lifestyle—if the rumors she’d heard were true—called for allowing his jet black hair to grow long and ripple in careless waves. Strands licked at his neck, curled up near his shoulders.

Time had been truly unfair. The years hadn’t weathered Kit at all. If anything, his features were sharper and more appealing. His Roman nose contrasted with the sensual fullness of his lips and those high Ruthven cheekbones. And his eyes. Gold and amber and chocolate hues chased each other around a pinwheel, all shadowed by enviably thick ebony lashes. One theater reviewer had written of the “power of his penetrating gaze.”

Ophelia only knew he’d once been able to see straight to her heart.

Retreating from his magnetic pull, she dipped her head and stared at his polished black boots, the neatly tailored cuffs of his trousers. Black as pitch, his clothing reminded her why he was here. He’d come to the village to bury his father. He was no doubt as eager to return to London as she was to close her eyes and make the too tempting sight of him disappear. But why had he come to her home?

“My condolences to you and your sisters,” she offered, and almost added Mr. Ruthven. That’s what everyone in the village would call him now, and they would expect him to live up to the name. Just as his father had.

“You didn’t attend the funeral.”

“Would your father have wished me to?” They both knew Kit’s father had never welcomed her presence in his life. She didn’t bother mentioning that Ruthven’s rule book explicitly instructed ladies to avoid funerals.

He shrugged. “I only know what I wished.”

There it was. The heart of all that had passed between them spelled out in six words. Kit had never doubted what he wanted—freedom, fame as a playwright, financial success on his own terms. Unfortunately, she’d never made it high enough on his list.

“Forgive me for missing your father’s funeral. I promise to call on your sisters soon.” Ophelia slid the door toward him, forcing him to retreat as she eased it closed. “Thank you for your visit.”

Pushing his sizable booted foot forward, he wedged it between the door and its frame. “I don’t think we can count this as a visit until you invite me in.”

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: AVON Impulse, November 2016

Time and Setting: England, 1894
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by: Heather C.

Kit and Phee were close friends and very nearly lovers before he left the country life for the siren call of London and the thrilling life of a playwright. During the next four years apart, Kit and Phee both tried to convince themselves that they were not hurt by the decision and could move on, but when the death of Kit’s father brings him back home to settle the estate, the past doesn’t seem so much in the past between these two. Can they get their feelings sorted out and make a go of it again or are they destined to remain apart?

I very much enjoyed Rules for a Rogue and I credit most of that to the fact that the situations that unfolded within the story do not feel contrived, but are instead natural and believable. I wasn’t required to suspend reality for one moment. Kit leaves for the city because he doesn’t fit with his father’s strict regime at home and he wants the thrill of the stage in London, yet he leaves behind his heart. His father’s death is due to a long-standing illness, not some sudden onset, and Kit returns home with the plan to just put his family back together then return to the place he has made his home… that is, until he runs into Phee again. Meanwhile, Phee has a secret; she has penned a guidebook for young ladies that pushes the envelope toward modernity and she doesn’t want her close-minded community to find out that she is the author. Her secret and Kit’s family’s business dealings come together in a way that could bring them closer or set them farther apart and I liked how both Kit and Phee vacillated between the possible outcomes. The author strikes the right balance between the light, comedic moments and the more serious elements that contribute to the believability of the story.

I really enjoyed the characters in this novel. Ms. Carlyle makes each one into a full figure – even the peripheral characters like Kit’s sisters, Phee’s sister and aunt, and their friends. Very quickly each is given a distinct personality that is anything but cookie-cutter. While they might seem to represent tropes (the hard-headed heroine, the rogue, the spinster friend, etc.) there are so many layers here that are peeled back as the story goes on to discover more complexities than previously thought. Even the villainous character isn’t a representation of evil; in Christy Carlyle’s hands he is more of a persistent prig that causes our couple hardship by getting in the way rather than intentionally wreaking havoc. Additionally, I believed in the character’s motives. Both Phee and Kit have been hurt and are trying to protect their hearts, but also make the hard decisions to do what is right by their families, and each other. We also have just enough back-story to fill in the details of their relationship before Kit goes to London to make the reader understand just what they gave up by making that decision.

The romantic element here is spot on. The author did not need to spend lots of time on the build up as these two had been nearly lovers in the past, but did need to give readers something to connect with first. It’s sweet, but necessary and doesn’t feel all that scandalous despite how it would have been perceived by society.

I don’t often pay much attention to quotes that authors sometimes use at the start of each chapter, because they are too oblique for me to pick up on the reference while reading, but that isn’t the case here. The majority of the chapters begin with either an excerpt from one of Ruthven’s Rules or alternatively, Miss Gilroy’s Guidebook for Young Ladies. These two books do play a significant role in the greater story arc and each rule or guideline directly connects to an action taken by either Kit or Phee in that chapter. There is a clear purpose here and I appreciated it.

Overall, I was very satisfied with this story as I just ate up the pages and was left wanting more.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

christyFueled by Pacific Northwest coffee and inspired by multiple viewings of every British costume drama she can get her hands on, Christy Carlyle writes sensual historical romance set in the Victorian era. She loves heroes who struggle against all odds and heroines who are ahead of their time. A former teacher with a degree in history, she finds there’s nothing better than being able to combine her love of the past with a die-hard belief in happy endings.

You can connect with Christy at: website * ~ * Facebook * ~ * Twitter * ~ * Goodreads.

VIRTUAL TOUR: My Brown Eyed Earl (Wayward Wallflowers #1) by Anna Bennett

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Miss Margaret Lacey is brainy and beautiful, but she’s also penniless, and at the ripe old age of twenty-three society has declared her a spinster. For her part, Meg is less concerned with her empty dance card than with her empty bank account. She resolves to make her own way as a governess but discovers her new employer is the Earl of Castleton—the vexingly handsome man she rejected one fateful day, eight years ago.

William Ryder has never forgotten Meg, the elusive girl next door who claimed she’d rather shave her head than marry him. Now she’s the governess, but Will plans to teach her a few lessons of his own. As stolen kisses lead to passionate nights, Will and Meg just might find true love where they least expect it…

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EXCERPT

Will leaned forward on his elbows and pinched the bridge of his nose. Somehow, in the space of a week, his highly ordered, luxurious life had fallen apart.

First, Marina, the beautiful widow he’d been seeing, hinted that she wanted more than the mutually pleasurable arrangement they’d agreed to, forcing Will to break things off with her.

Next, his recently deceased cousin’s mistress showed up on Will’s doorstep with the twin girls, threatening to leave them at an orphanage unless he took them in.

And then last night, he attended a dinner party in honor of his mother’s birthday. In front of a dozen guests, she announced her sole wish: that her son marry before she turned fifty—in exactly one year. After choking on his wine, Will promised to give the matter some thought.

Then he had gone directly to his club and drunk him- self into oblivion.

Jesus. He stood, ran his hands through his hair, and checked his reflection in a mirror between a pair of book- cases. Gibson was right—he looked like hell.

Bad enough to scare off a potential governess.

He swiped the cravat off his chair, slung it around his neck, hastily tied it in some semblance of a knot, and but- toned his jacket. There was nothing to be done about the stubble on his chin or the faint imprint the desk blotter had left on his cheek, so he threw back the rest of his coffee and congratulated himself. Within the hour he’d have a governess to manage the twins, and at least one aspect of his life would be set to rights.

Gibson was already shuffling down the corridor. “My lord,” he intoned from the doorway, “may I present Miss Lacey.”

Will blinked. Lacey . . . it was a common name. Surely the potential governess couldn’t be—

She glided into the study and cast a wary look his way.

“Good afternoon, Lord Castleton. It’s a pleasure to see you again.”

Dear God. It was her. The vicar’s daughter who thought she was too damned good for him. Standing in his study, cloaked in a drab dress that might have been lilac once but now more closely resembled gray. No ribbons adorned her brown hair. No ringlets framed her face. In fact, the only decoration she wore was the light smattering of freckles across her nose.

The butler raised his bushy brows. “I was not aware that you were already acquainted.”

“Thank you, Gibson. That will be all.”

The butler left reluctantly, closing the door behind him. Miss Lacey pressed her lips together as though she longed to say something and silence herself at the same time. From what he recalled of her tongue, it was best kept under lock and key.

“What on earth are you doing here?” Will demanded.

“Applying for the governess position. I assumed you knew.”

“No,” he said curtly.

“I see.” She glanced over her shoulder at the door. “Per- haps it would be better if I—”

“Be seated, Miss Lacey.” He inclined his head toward the armchair in front of his desk.

She hesitated, and for a moment he thought she’d refuse. But then she walked toward the chair, looked at the seat, and froze. Just as stubborn as he remembered, unbiddable as ever.

He bristled. “Perhaps you’d prefer to remain standing for the entire interview?”

“No. It’s only . . .”

“You object to meeting in my study?”

She narrowed eyes that were not quite green, but not quite brown either. “No, but I hoped to avoid sitting on this.” In one, fluid motion she leaned over the chair, picked up a pink, lace-edged scrap of satin between her thumb and index finger, and dangled it in front of his face.

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: St. Martin’s Paperbacks, October 2016

Time and Setting: London 1817
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by: Heather C.

Following the loss of her parents, Margaret (called Meg by friends) and her sisters go to live with a slightly eccentric but well-meaning, uncle who exists on the fringes of the ton. She should be moving within society, but instead she finds herself applying for the job of governess and the position just happens to be for a man whose proposal she spurned several years ago. How will she fare, educating two little girls and interacting with the man she almost married?

The story told here, of a governess and the lord of the house falling for each other, isn’t anything new; it’s a frequent trope in historical fiction and romance, but it felt rather fresh in the hands of Anna Bennett. Meg and Will are not newly acquainted with each other, in fact they have known each other since childhood, but that is an element that they have to try and navigate in their new relationship of employer and employee. However, Bennett makes this story about more than just the budding romance; there is also the chaos that two six-year-old girls bring the equation too, and they are quite the whirlwind that both brings Meg and Will together and pushes them apart.

I found Will to be a more engaging character than Meg. While he might be a playboy (at least at the beginning) he is genuinely likeable, earnest, and evolves the most during the course of the novel. Meg, on the other hand, is rather static throughout; she fears falling for Will and becoming even more maligned by the ton. She is the sister who is willing to take one for the team and is resigned to her destiny to remain a spinster. She pushes against any chance that she could be happy and carries a lot of guilt that she lets get in the way of her happiness. It became slightly frustrating to deal with this same character trait over and over and I wanted to scream at her to just get over herself!

Bennett (who has already published a number of historical romances under the name Anne Barton) does a great job of fleshing out her characters, even the secondary ones, which I appreciated as sometimes this doesn’t happen in romance novels. The children are a handful, but each of the twins has her own distinct identity. We get to know Meg’s sisters, Julie and Beth, who I’m thinking will star in their own novels as the Wayward Wallflowers series continues.

There is a little thread of mystery here and the identity of the “mystery man” was not something I saw coming. That it wasn’t obvious was great, but I do like it when there are some clues if you read it right, which wasn’t the case here. It made sense, but I would have appreciated the opportunity to attempt to get there myself.

The romance is sweet and spicy and there are many complex emotions that occur to bring the pair together and also push them apart. As is often the case in romance novels, the experienced man is teaching the novice woman the ways of the romantic world, which was sweet and their sexual relations escalate from there.

I look forward to reading more of this series and spending more time with the Lacey sisters.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

annabennett_credanneardizzoneAnna Bennett started swiping romances from her mom’s bookshelf as a teenager and decided that books with balls, dukes, and gowns were the best. So, when she had the chance to spend a semester in London she packed her bags—and promptly fell in love with the city, its history, and its pubs. She dreamed of writing romance, but somehow ended up a software analyst instead.

Fortunately, a few years and a few careers later, Anna found her way back to writing the stories she loves and won the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart®. She lives in Maryland with her husband and three children, who try valiantly not to roll their eyes whenever she quotes Jane Austen. Other weaknesses include reality TV, cute shoes, and coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.

You can connect with Anna at: her website * ~ * Facebook * ~ * Twitter.

To Kiss a Thief (Runaway Desires #1) by Susanna Craig

to kiss a thief'
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In this captivating new series set in Georgian England, a disgraced woman hides from her marriage – for better or worse…

Sarah Pevensey had hoped her arranged marriage to St. John Sutliffe, Viscount Fairfax, could become something more. But almost before it began, it ended in a scandal that shocked London society. Accused of being a jewel thief, Sarah fled to a small fishing village to rebuild her life.

The last time St. John saw his new wife, she was nestled in the lap of a soldier, disheveled, and no longer in possession of his family’s heirloom sapphire necklace. Now, three years later, he has located Sarah and is determined she pay for her crimes. But the woman he finds is far from what he expected. Humble and hardworking, Sarah has nothing to hide from her husband-or so it appears. Yet as he attempts to woo her to uncover her secrets, St. John soon realizes that if he’s not careful, she’ll steal his heart…

Publisher and Release Date: Lyrical Press, August 2016

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

Review by: Heather C.

Sarah thought that her marriage to St. John would make her the happiest of women, but little did she realize that it would all quickly be snatched away from her, and she would have no idea how or why! Within a day of their nuptial ball she is accused of theft and is whisked away to a small seaside village where she is left to survive on her own. Several years later, St. John finds his wife and is determined to prove she stole from his family, but what he finds makes him question his views on Sarah and everything he has known.

The bulk of To Kiss a Thief takes place once St. John has found his wife again on the shores of a poor fishing village. There is a very short introduction which details the events that transpired on the night of the ball, and the reader will be left just as confused as Sarah about what exactly transpired. While this is sometimes confusing, it keeps the reader on the same level as Sarah, who doesn’t know what happened either, partly she was in an inebriated state, and St. John, who knows what he saw but which clearly wasn’t all it seemed at the time.

The relationship between Sarah and St. John is rocky throughout the novel. They did not know each other very well prior to their marriage and the accusations against Sarah have further pushed them apart. They don’t trust each other, they question the other’s motives and vacillate back and forth as to whether they are going to be able to have a real chance at a relationship. I loved the back and forth that occurred between these two, which was funny and real. Right up until the end I wasn’t sure if they were going to be able resolve their issues or not – and I think I would have been happy regardless of which way the book ended as it was well crafted.

The question as to whether Sarah took the expensive family necklace lingered throughout the novel and we don’t get the answer to the question until the very end of the book. I didn’t exactly predict the outcome – although I was on the right track – so it’s not entirely predictable and made sense given the events which took place during the story without being obvious. While this was the main point of conflict within the story, it wasn’t the main plotline; that would go to the romance between Sarah and St. John.

The main characters could sometimes be infuriating. Sarah was a tad too naïve at the beginning of the novel – and in some ways throughout – although she does grow and adapt to her new way of life and I really liked her by the end. St. John is a little bit all over the place. He was very willing to accept that his wife was a thief and stole the jewels, but continually questions that conviction while still holding on to it like a lifeline. He alternately wants her to be guilty and innocent, and struggles against those conflicting ideas. With that said, his conflict kept him an interesting character.

I was very satisfied with this novel as there was an excellent mix of romance, a little intrigue, action, and character development. To Kiss a Thief was a well-written and evenly balanced read and I am excited to see what comes next from this author.

VIRTUAL TOUR: Only an Earl Will Do (To Marry a Rogue #1) by Tamara Gill

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The reigning queen of London society, Lady Elizabeth Worthingham, has her future set out for her. Marry well, and marry without love. An easy promise to make and one she owed her family after her near ruinous past that threatened them all. And the rakish scoundrel Henry Andrews, Earl of Muir whose inability to act a gentleman when she needed one most would one day pay for his treachery.

Returning to England after three years abroad, Henry is determined to make the only woman who captured his heart his wife. But the icy reception he receives from Elizabeth is colder than his home in the Scottish highlands. As past hurts surface and deception runs as thick as blood, so too does a love that will overcome all obstacles, unless a nameless foe, determined with his own path, gets his way and their love never sees the light of day…

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EXCERPT

Elizabeth hid a repulsed shudder over Lord Riddledale, who stood pompous and proud across the floor, the ever-present scowl on his face no surprise. No doubt her stepping out with another gentleman other than himself had put him out of countenance. She turned back to her sister. “I cannot summon any remorse for annoying Riddledale. As for Lord Dean, I’ll be sorry to hurt him, but no, I will not marry him no matter how much his heart breaks over my decision.”

“Could your feelings change in time, do you believe?” Victoria asked.

“No.”

“No?”

Elizabeth shook her head. “No.”

“Why?”

She swallowed the familiar lump which formed in her throat every time she thought of him, the man she refused to name, even in her own thoughts. “I’m not the loving kind. I don’t believe it’s healthy to rely on such feeble unstable emotions when someone is entering the marriage state. Men and their need to be adored, looked up to in awe, can go hang. Lord Newland’s name protects me now. I have no need to marry again.”

Victoria threw her a dubious look. “I believe there is nothing purer and good than love, especially if you are fortunate enough to have it in a marriage.” Her sister sighed, the sound tinged with sadness. “You promised Papa you would try.”

“I am well aware of what I promised Papa, but he did not stipulate marriage is what I should try. I’m friendly and affable. That is enough.”

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Entangled Publishing LLC, July 25, 2016

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

Review by: Heather C.

OnlyAnEarlWillDoCoverElizabeth Worthingham and Henry Andrews were wildly in love and she promised to wait for him to return from his quest in America to bring back a fortune to secure his family home. However, things did not go quite as they planned while Henry was gone and when he returns two years later he finds her a widow and he a not-so-welcome visitor. But Henry has no idea what he did to cause Elizabeth to break her promise, or what happened while he waw away, and Elizabeth isn’t telling. Henry is intent on finding out and winning her back, so what will it take and how will he react when he finds out what Elizabeth is hiding? Will their love survive?

There are a lot of elements to this story that make it more complex than many romance stories I typically read. There is the rekindling of the relationship between Henry and Elizabeth, there is the Elizabeth trying to keep Henry from finding out her secret, and then there is a blackmail plot. Each of these layers on top of the others and together builds depth to this story. I enjoyed the relationship between Henry and Elizabeth through all of its twists and turns, deceptions, and whirlwind romantic moments. While readers can surmise from the beginning how the end will turn out, there are certainly moments throughout that make you question that notion. The blackmail storyline is good, if a little contrived, and the way it is eventually foiled seems a touch too easy and a little bit of a letdown; I wanted a little more drama here and this was one of the factors that brought my review down by 1 star.

I liked Henry better of the two main characters. He is loyal and his confusion over his lack of welcome from Elizabeth is entirely understandable. He loves her and does everything he can to win her back. Elizabeth is her own worst enemy and her lies (never mind that she’s a terrible liar) have her constantly running in circles. I understand why she made the choices she did, but once the couple is able to determine what has led them to their situation, she just kept making it worse instead of coming clean much earlier in the novel. I wanted to yell at her so many times. Elizabeth has several family members that have a certain amount of influence in the story, but only her brother is sufficiently stongly characterised as to enable to him to stand out. One of her sisters makes a big move during the height of the drama and I think we are supposed to see her as a sort of “modern woman” given that she has taken to wearing men’s pants and all, but I would have liked her character to have been more well-defined. The two main characters and the blackmailer were well drawn, but the peripheral characters could have used a bit of a boost.

I am not sure if the subsequent books will follow the same characters, if they will become peripheral characters in another couple’s storyline, or if it will be entirely unrelated. Overall, I enjoyed Only an Earl Will Do and I will be interested in reading additional entries in this series.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

tamara gillTamara Gill is an Australian author who grew up in an old mining town in country South Australia, where her love of history was founded. So much so, she made her darling husband travel to the UK for their honeymoon, where she dragged him from one historical monument and castle to another. A mother of three, her two little gentleman’s in the making, a future lady (she hopes) and a part-time job keep her busy in the real world, but whenever she gets a moment’s peace she loves to write romance novels in an array of genres, including regency, medieval and time travel. Tamara loves hearing from readers and writers alike. You can contact her through her website, and sign up to follow her blog or newsletter.

Connect with Tamara: Website * ~ * Facebook * ~ * Twitter * ~ * GoodReads

A Buccaneer at Heart (The Adventurers Quartet #2) by Stephanie Laurens

a buccaneer at heart

After a decade of captaining diplomatic voyages for Frobisher Shipping, alongside covert missions for the Crown, Captain Robert Frobisher decides that establishing a home—with hearth and wife—should be his next challenge. But an unexpected mission intervenes. Although Robert sees himself as a conservative businessman-cum-diplomat and this mission is far from his usual sphere, it nevertheless falls within the scope of his abilities. As matters are urgent, he agrees to depart for West Africa forthwith.

To Robert, his way forward is clear: Get to Freetown, determine the location of a slavers’ camp, return to London with the information, and then proceed to find himself a wife.

Already in Freetown, Miss Aileen Hopkins is set on finding her younger brother Will, a naval lieutenant who has mysteriously disappeared. Find Will and rescue him; determined and resolute, Aileen is not about to allow anyone to turn her from her path.

But all too quickly, that path grows dark and dangerous. And then Robert Frobisher appears and attempts to divert her in more ways than one.

Accustomed to managing diplomats and bureaucrats, Robert discovers that manipulating a twenty-seven-year-old spinster lies outside his area of expertise. Prodded by an insistent need to protect Aileen, he realizes that joining forces with her is the surest path to meeting all the challenges before him—completing his mission, keeping her safe, and securing the woman he wants as his wife.

But the villains strike and disrupt their careful plans—leaving Robert and Aileen no choice but to attempt a last throw of the dice to complete his mission and further her brother’s rescue.
Compelled to protect those weaker than themselves and bring retribution to a heartless enemy, they plunge into the jungle with only their talents and inner strengths to aid them—and with the courage of their hearts as their guide.
The first voyage is one of exploration, the second one of discovery. The third journey brings maturity, while the fourth is a voyage of second chances. Continue the journey and follow the adventure, the mystery, and the romances to the cataclysmic end.

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Publisher and Release Date: MIRA, April 26, 2016

Time and Setting: England & Africa, 1820’s
Genre: Historical Romance and Adventure
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by: Heather C.

A Buccaneer at Heart picks up immediately after the ending of The Lady’s Command, so I would highly recommend that you read these books in series order. Edwina and Declan Frobisher have returned from the first leg of the reconnaissance mission to Freetown, Africa to learn why people were going missing there. Having returned with some eye-opening information, it is time for the next part of the mission to begin, and who better for that mission than another of the Frobisher brothers – this time Robert. Robert sets sail to take the mission deeper into the heart of the slums and the jungle to find out where these people are being taken and why. He doesn’t expect to encounter a beautiful but driven young woman, Aileen Hopkins, already in Freetown searching for her missing brother. She is at times both a help and a hindrance, but at all times a lovely woman he starts to fall for. What will they uncover in Africa, both about themselves and the mission?

One thing that sets this book apart from the first in the series is how the romance plays out. In The Lady’s Command you have a married couple right from the first few pages of the book and that plays out distinctly differently than Robert setting out on this mission as a single man with some thoughts towards seeking a bride upon his return home. As a matter of fact, Robert and Aileen exist in separate storylines through the first third or so of the book – they are relatively aware of the other’s presence, but do not encounter one another. Even once they meet, the main thrust of the story is the mission – for Aileen it is to find her brother who went missing in Freetown and for Robert it is to locate the camp of the kidnappers. At times, this sets them at odds with each other as their missions sometimes do not support the other. I did find their early interactions to be sort of funny and their relationship flourishes at an expedited pace because of the nature of close proximity during their shared mission. By the end of the novel there are a couple of sexy scenes between the two, but you will wait quite a while as the novel is centered more on the adventure than the romance for most of the book.

I liked the characters of Aileen and Robert more than I liked Edwina from the first book for sure. Aileen is a woman who can take care of herself; she even comes packing her own weapons AND knows how to use them! While she does have a damsel-in-distress moment and needs rescuing, she returns the favor with Robert by the end of the book. We also return to a few characters that we met before, Declan and Edwina book-end the novel, but also some of the locals in Freetown make a second appearance here and are quite entertaining.

There is action aplenty here, even beyond the bedroom! Spying, kidnapping, escaping, shootouts, sword-fights, encounters by boat, subterfuge and more, it’s all here. The adventure is well plotted and feels like a natural progression of the greater story arc across what will be a four book series. While the necessity for the brothers to each complete one part of the mission and then return all the way back to London to report seems a little drawn out to be ultimately believable, I can suspend that disbelief and enjoy the sense of adventure here as it does draw you in.

There is one set of scenes which came across awkwardly, and while I understand why they are written the way they are, they were still difficult to read. Sprinkled throughout the novel there are a couple scenes where the kidnappers are the central focus and they are discussing their nefarious plans. Obviously the author doesn’t want to reveal their identities yet, as some of them will be revealed later in this book and others likely in the forthcoming stories. So instead of unique names, we have generalities that read very much like, “the first man said to the third man”. This repeated usage began to drive me crazy and I couldn’t wait for those scenes to end because I was even more confused than when I began that section. It made for awkward reading.

Overall, I found A Buccaneer at Heart more enjoyable than the previous book and I can’t wait to dive into the third, which follows the youngest and more spontaneous brother, Caleb.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Scandal (Birch Hall Romance #2) by Kathleen Kimmel

A Gentleman's Guide to Scandal
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Even men of great certainty can be completely clueless when it comes to matters of the heart.

Colin Spenser, Marquess of Farleigh, is shocked when his feelings towards his best friend’s sister take a turn into the realm of helpless adoration. Unfortunately, Elinor is more inclined to ignore him than express her undying devotion, so Colin resolves to forget his troublesome feelings by entering a loveless marriage…

Elinor Hargrove has absolutely no interest in the infuriating and arrogant Marquess of Farleigh. That is, until he kisses her—twice—inspiring unexpected and inconvenient passions. Then Elinor finds out he’s engaged, and her desires are quickly surpassed by her outrage…

But when a ghost from their shared pasts resurfaces, Colin and Elinor must work together to puzzle out a complicated intrigue by attending an extremely exclusive party where secrets and lies flourish—and scandal is only a kiss away.

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Publisher and Release Date: Berkley, June 2016

Time and Setting: Regency England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 Stars

Review by: Heather C.

Colin Spenser has always had an interest in Elinor Hargrove, his best friend’s sister, but seeing as she isn’t interested in him, he resolves instead to make a marriage of convenience for the sake of his title. Elinor would never know that Colin has an interest in her, as he has always been stand-offish, and has resigned herself to being an old maid and content with escorting Colin’s younger sister through her first Season. They would have been comfortable to continue on this way had not some earth shattering information about the death of a Spenser family member forced Colin and Elinor into an awkward situation that means their having to work together to solve the puzzle. Will they come out of this quest the same way they went into it?

I loved both Colin and Elinor! They are both infuriating in their inability to share how they feel about each other and their obliviousness to how the other truly feels. They are not very good at judging character either, which makes for lots of confusion between them and in their attempts to solve the pseudo-mystery. Despite Colin coming off as cold and aloof, when reading the chapters from his perspective the reader sees that he uses it as a way of trying to protect himself from being hurt and that he isn’t the jerk he outwardly appears to be. Elinor is driven to help find out what happened to her friend and isn’t afraid to take a leap into a world that is shrouded in mystery to women of her station. It’s entertaining to watch her try to walk the walk on the other side of the tracks and I could admire her passion to right a wrong, even if there is no way I would have done what she did!

This is as much an adventure story as it is a romance novel. Elinor and Colin are both (separately and then together) trying to discover what happened to a Spenser family member once startling evidence of possible foul play is brought forward. This gets them into some quite dangerous situations as they try to work out who might have caused harm to this person, why, and how they will bring those involved to justice. I have read a few romance/adventure novels that lose traction in their ability to keep the sense of adventure going while introducing the romantic elements, and I’m happy to say that A Gentleman’s Guide to Scandal does not fall into that trap. Ms. Kimmel is able to balance the needs of the plot pacing of the mystery, constantly moving it forward, while introducing a whole new complication for the characters in the form of a romantic tryst. The evolution of the romance feels appropriate and in line with the motivations of the characters and the romantic elements (when we finally get to them) are hot, more so than in A Debutante’s Guide to Rebellion, but it feels right for the characters.

This is the second book in the Birch Hall series. It can certainly be read as a stand-alone; I have not yet read the first book and was able to pick right up with the story without missing a beat. It takes place a little bit after the events of book one, but is focused on a different set of characters. Elinor’s brother and his new wife are peripheral characters here, but they are the stars of A Lady’s Guide to Ruin, book 1. After reading this book, I was also able to place the novella, A Debutante’s Guide to Rebellion, into the cannon as well. Each book compliments the others, but is crafted well enough to tell the whole story on its own. I honestly did not want to put this book down at the end of the night, it was that compelling.

To Wed a Rebel by Sophie Dash

to wed a rebel

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“It was done, they were bound, all was finished…”

A fighter, a drinker and a notorious seducer, Isaac Roscoe was the last man that innocent Ruth Osbourne would ever consider as a husband – but that was before Roscoe ruined her prospects and reputation!

Now destitute and disinherited Ruth is faced with an impossible choice, a life on the streets or exchanging vows with the man who put her there. Yet, knowing that marriage was Roscoe’s last wish, Ruth knew her revenge would be best served by saddling him with a reluctant wife.

Determined to punish Isaac for his actions Ruth will stop at nothing to destroy him, body and spirit. Until it becomes clear that nothing she can do will hurt her disloyal husband more than he can hurt himself…

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Publisher and Release Date: Carina Press, May 2016

Time and Setting: England, 18th century
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1.5
Reviewer Rating:
4 Stars

Review by: Heather C.

Ruth has what any young woman would want: a betrothal to a most eligible bachelor. Unfortunately, he is dull and not at all her type, but she is happy to have her future secure and hopes that everything will work out. Someone else has other plans for her though, and they don’t involve her marrying her intended, and that is where Isaac comes in. Isaac has been hired to ruin Ruth so that she is no long fit to marry -and he’s good at his job, but the surprise result of his plan gone awry is that Isaac and Ruth wind up wed and have to navigate their mutual hatred for their circumstances.

I love reading stories where there is not an instant romance, but the couple has to work for it. That is the case in To Wed a Rebel and man are there obstacles to be overcome! Ruth had her life all mapped out and would be soon marrying one of the richest, eligible bachelors, but she doesn’t really like him. She is practical and is just trying to fulfill her mother’s request that she never be a burden to her family – but in her heart she is settling.

Isaac Roscoe is a rogue – and I kept thinking of him in that way through the whole book, to the point where I thought a better title would have been To Wed a Rogue because I didn’t find him much of a rebel. In an effort to avoid family obligations he has made a job of taking contracts to ruin women to get them out of various marriage arrangements; dirty and deceitful work, but he rather enjoys it and typically has no qualms about doing it. But his contract to ruin Ruth bothers him in a way that the others have not; he finds her charming and sweet, and an all-around nice person. So when his mission ends in a success (sort of) he’s sorry things had to work out the way they do – until he is forced to marry Ruth. The two battle it out throughout the novel as they try to wrangle their feelings about what happened early in their relationship with new feelings that grow as they get to know each other. Their relationship develops slowly, which makes sense given their background, but at times their blindness to each other’s intentions was frustrating beyond measure!

Beyond the events of the early part of the novel which revolve around the ruination of Ruth, there is plenty of action in the story. There is a plot to save a friend, having to navigate Isaac’s family, as well as the all-around trouble Isaac tends to find himself in through his less-than-legal activities. All of these events and adventures serve to help Ruth and Isaac get over their animosity toward each other and come together.

There are only a couple of sex scenes in the book and while they are not graphic the bedroom door is definitely open. But the scenes are relevant to the development of the romance and even set up yet another roadblock down the road in their love/hate relationship, and they are well done.

Overall, To Wed a Rebel worked for me. Even though there are many problems between Isaac and Ruth, the reader is rooting for them at the end and I look forward to reading other books by Sophie Dash.

A Debutante’s Guide to Rebellion (Birch Hall #1.5) by Kathleen Kimmel

A debutante's guide to rebellion

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London, 1815: Lady Mildred Weller (Eddie to her friends) has few prospects for marriage. If she can’t attract the available—though considerably older—Lord Averdale, she may be doomed to spinsterhood. She’s even willing to enter into that loveless union, if only to escape her mother’s stifling and increasingly desperate dominance. And she may have found the perfect person to help her achieve that goal.

Ezekiel Blackwood is a botanist as well as Lord Averdale’s nephew and heir. He is also a social disaster. Cross-pollination he understands; the fairer sex not at all. But in Lady Eddie, he discovers a kindred spirit. When she asks for his assistance in assessing Lord Averdale’s interest in her, Ezekiel is crushed. But naturally, he thinks, she could never fall in love with someone like him. Ezekiel’s matchmaking cousin is only too happy to arrange a discreet rendezvous for their conspiracy—a greenhouse. Of course in such a setting, it’s only natural that feelings might begin to bloom…

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Publisher and Release Date: InterMix, April 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: England, 1815
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by: Heather C.

A lot happens in the eighty pages of this novella so that it felt much longer than it actually was. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought this was just a slightly shorter-than-normal length novel. Novellas can sometimes fall into a trap where the pacing feels too fast or characters are left underdeveloped, but not here! Kathleen Kimmel carefully utilizes each word to move the plot forward or flesh out her characters.

Lady Eddie is not your classic beauty and her overbearing mother tells her so every day. Her mother, despairing that Eddie will never be married, sets her sights on Lord Averdale, a much older prospective husband. Ezekiel Blackwell, Lord Averdale’s nephew, notices a beautiful woman one night across the ballroom, but with his deplorable social skills, he ends up talking to her about strawberries. When these two social misfits are thrown into a friendship to help Lady Eddie achieve her mission, what could possibly go wrong?

Within just a few short pages I felt very sure of my feelings for Lady Eddie and Co. Lady Eddie and Ezekiel are not your beautiful, elegant, stars of the ball, but rather studious and even strange to the ton. Their fish-out-of-water nature at these grand Season events made for some comical scenes. Thinking back on it, these would be two people I would probably fit right in with if I’d lived back in that time! Lady Eddie’s mother is certainly not someone to mess with, and that makes it all the more exciting when her daughter does exactly that; even the best laid and devious plans often go awry! Although she might seem a little over-the-top, I’m sure people like her mother certainly existed then as they do now.

The romance element here is sweet and very unexpected for the couple involved; by that I mean that as the reader you see it coming, but the characters not so much. Ezekiel is not interested in looking for love, but eventually decides that a wife could be useful in some ways, while Eddie’s marriage prospects has been laid out by her mother and she is given no say in the matter. It’s refreshing to see these two novices to the Season, which seems filled with those who are playing the game; and that naiveté played into some funny moments that endeared the characters to me.

A Débutante’s Guide to Rebellion is a novella where I felt my time was well-spent. It’s an enjoyable, light-hearted romp and I was impressed with how much I came to care for these characters over just the short amount of time I had to spend with them. I would love to see them appear in another piece of this series, and even though this is part of one, I never felt I was missing something by not having read the previous book. Based on my enjoyment of Kimmel’s writing style, I will definitely be exploring her other titles.