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An Unseen Attraction (Sins of the Cities #1) by K.J Charles

an unseen attraction

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Lodging-house keeper Clem Talleyfer prefers a quiet life. He’s happy with his hobbies, his work—and especially with his lodger Rowley Green, who becomes a friend over their long fireside evenings together. If only neat, precise, irresistible Mr. Green were interested in more than friendship. . . .

Rowley just wants to be left alone—at least until he meets Clem, with his odd, charming ways and his glorious eyes. Two quiet men, lodging in the same house, coming to an understanding . . . it could be perfect. Then the brutally murdered corpse of another lodger is dumped on their doorstep and their peaceful life is shattered.

Now Clem and Rowley find themselves caught up in a mystery, threatened on all sides by violent men, with a deadly London fog closing in on them. If they’re to see their way through, the pair must learn to share their secrets—and their hearts.

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Publisher and Release Date:Loveswept, February 2017

Time and Setting: London, October 1873
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Wendy

I’m a recent convert to the talented writing skills of KJ Charles, my initiation being her magnificent Society of Gentleman series. I was therefore very pleased when given the opportunity to read and review An Unseen Attraction, the first in her new Sins of the City series. I admit that I approached it with a little trepidation, because not in my wildest dreams would I have believed that I could enjoy a story about a cockney Victorian taxidermist and an Anglo-Indian lodging-house keeper. I guess it’s testament to the author’s original and arresting style of writing that I was hooked from the first page and couldn’t put the book down. An Unseen Attraction is an engrossing and plausible story which only just touches on the aristocracy which in itself is a refreshing change in an historical romance. This story – and the two books we still have to look forward to in this trilogy – is about real people, with real personal problems and real jobs and I absolutely loved it.

Clem Talleyfer keeps a lodging house for skilled artisans, and prides himself on his standards. His lodgers like and respect him and that’s understandable because he is an extremely likeable young man; well spoken and with the darkly handsome good looks associated with his mixed race heritage – an Indian mother and an aristocratic English father. Rowley Green has taken the shop next door and has set himself up as a preserver – or, as we’d call him today, a taxidermist. Rowley is a quiet, unassuming and unexceptionable young man, whose dark past is reason enough for him to wish to blend in quietly and lead a non-confrontational lifestyle; another reason he prefers his rather solitary profession. He is neat and tidy, slight of stature, with a mop of tow-coloured hair and wire-rimmed spectacles – and Clem has been drawn to the quiet dignity of the man and more than a little attracted to him since he joined the lodgers at Talleyfer’s eight months previously. Unbeknownst to Clem, the attraction is mutual and their joint dilemma is how to discover if each feels the same about the other and how to make a move or declaration at a time when men such as they had to hide their sexual preferences for fear of prosecution. The two begin to explore their liking for each other in the simple domesticity of sharing a cup of tea by Clem’s parlour fireside of an evening in quiet companionship.

The author does a terrific job in developing these two characters and I found myself drawn to the very ‘unusual-ness’ of them. It was obvious to me from early on in the story – and the author confirmed it in her notes at the end – that Clem suffers from dyspraxia. KJ Charles’ explanations of his foibles; his difficulty concentrating on a subject, his clumsiness – which some mistake for stupidity, his dislike at being part of a jostling crowd, his inability to understand a double-entendre, sarcasm or to take a hint – are spot-on. I have a friend whose child suffers with this condition which is why I recognised it immediately and it underscored to me how very thorough the author’s research is and how interesting and touching to give her character this very real problem which often goes undiagnosed, even in this day and age. Clem’s vulnerability only heightens his appeal – who couldn’t love him? And the fact that Rowley loves Clem – understands his idiosyncrasies and helps him to cope without being judgemental or critical only serves to endear him to me more; and it wasn’t long before this quiet, plain little man had wiggled his way into my affections along with the gorgeous Clem – two adorable, out-of-the-ordinary characters who are quite clearly made for each other.

The only fly in Clem’s ointment is the elderly, drunken vicar, Lugtrout, who lives at Talleyfer’s under sufferance, his presence being a condition of the lease set up by Clem’s aristocratic half-brother who owns the lodging house and employs Clem as its manager. There is an excellent plot going on at the same time as Clem and Rowley are discovering each other and making tentative steps in their love affair. The drunken vicar is delivered – extremely dead – onto the lodging house doorstep; there are empty teeth sockets in the vicars gaping mouth and some finger tips missing too – so this is definitely no accidental death! As well as this mystery, Rowley’s shop is illegally entered and searched and then later on in another incident it is set on fire and Rowley attacked. It isn’t long before Clem and Rowley accept that the crimes are connected and the two become even closer as they put their heads together to solve the mystery that is scaring them both to death.

An Unseen Attraction is a most unusual and compelling story and extremely well researched too – I know an awful lot more regarding the recording of births deaths and marriages in England than I ever did before! Plus the amount of research the author must have undertaken in order to write with such authority on a subject like taxidermy is phenomenal – lets face it, it’s not a subject that would appeal to the average reader – and her extensive research served its purpose because I was intrigued by Rowley’s craft; the skill and talent involved, and shall now look at stuffed animals with new eyes and added interest when next I visit the Natural History Museum. The murder/mystery is gripping and plausible and the setting sinister and threatening with the tension ratcheting up as a deadly fog descends and cloaks Victorian London in a pea-souper which thickens and obliterates the daylight to hang in the atmosphere and render visibility to nigh on nil. And the terror and fear felt by our two unlikely detectives as they finally discover the identity of the murderer and the reasons surrounding all that has befallen them is palpable. An Unseen Attraction is a fascinating page turner of a story with never a dull moment, some genuinely amusing ones and a charmingly tender romance between two ordinary yet extraordinary characters. My guess is that K.J Charles has another winner under her belt and I shall wait in anticipation for the next in what promises to be an excellent trilogy.

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

claiming mr kemp

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

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

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

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

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Publisher and Release Date: Emily Larkin, February 2017

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

Review by Wendy

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

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

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

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

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

Someone to Hold (Westcott #2) by Mary Balogh

someone to hold

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Humphrey Wescott, Earl of Riverdale, has died, leaving behind a fortune and a scandalous secret that will forever alter the lives of his family—sending one daughter on a journey of self-discovery…

With her parents’ marriage declared bigamous, Camille Westcott is now illegitimate and without a title. Looking to eschew the trappings of her old life, she leaves London to teach at the Bath orphanage where her newly discovered half-sister lived. But even as she settles in, she must sit for a portrait commissioned by her grandmother and endure an artist who riles her every nerve.

An art teacher at the orphanage that was once his home, Joel Cunningham has been hired to paint the portrait of the haughty new teacher. But as Camille poses for Joel, their mutual contempt soon turns to desire. And it is only the bond between them that will allow them to weather the rough storm that lies ahead…

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Publisher and Release Date: Jove Books, February 2017

Time and Setting: Regency Bath, England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Wendy

I am a huge Mary Balogh fan and there’s one thing that never changes – as soon as she publishes a new book, I must have it – and I’m never disappointed; her imagination is endless and her storylines still original after decades of writing. In part, at least, some of her popularity and continuing success is in the subtlety and empathy always present in her story telling; in the unique way she has of presenting her out-of-the-ordinary characters as if she herself has walked in their shoes and experienced what they are feeling. Ms. Balogh has used this method to great effect in Someone to Hold, the second book in her Westcott series. And I could name at least two more of her books where I have felt this aspect of her writing very strongly.

In book one (Someone to Love) we met, Lady Camille Westcott, one of the disinherited daughters’ of the deceased Earl of Riverdale. At the will reading Camille and her family are left reeling by the shocking revelation that she and her two siblings are illegitimate because their parents’ marriage was – unbeknownst to anyone – a bigamous one. Camille reacts badly to these revelations and comes over as a thoroughly unlikeable character. But Ms. Balogh shows us that there’s a lot more to Camille than meets the eye.  I ended up liking her a lot and she earned my respect and sympathy, too.

After these life changing revelations Camille hides herself away at her grandmother’s house in Bath, refusing to go out unless heavily veiled. Then one day she wakes up, gives herself a good talking to and decides to take her life in hand – she has done nothing wrong, done nothing to feel ashamed of; she will live her life, such as it is, and hold her head high. She is drawn to the orphanage where her half-sister, Anastasia Westcott, or Anna Snow as she was known, had lived for most of her life and was later employed as a teacher. The orphanage is in need of a teacher once more, the one who had replaced Anna being unsuitable; impulsively Camille offers her services and is taken on on a trial basis. She cannot explain her need to do it, she has no experience with children or of teaching, but something impels her to walk in Anna’s shoes, even going so far as to remove from the luxury of her grandmother’s home and to take up residence in the tiny room Anna had occupied at the orphanage.

Camille meets the earthy, down-to-earth, Joel Cunningham, a man who is as far removed from the perfectly correct aristocrats of her former life as he could be. Joel is also a former inmate of the orphanage and now returns twice weekly to give art lessons to the children in his free time. To make matters worse, he always had a soft spot for Anna – although she never wanted anything from him other than friendship. Joel and Camille begin their acquaintance by irritating each other intensely, but still, they are inexplicably attracted to each other. He reluctantly admires her approach to teaching even though she appears clueless and retains her stiff-upper-lip, starchy persona and rarely smiles. Nevertheless, she has a natural ability and engages the children to such a degree that they look forward to and enjoy her lessons. This is something else I have always noticed about Ms. Balogh’s writing; in her younger life she was a school teacher and it is apparent in the way she understands and talks about children – particularly in this story.

Joel, like Anna Snow before him, has always been supported by an anonymous benefactor; more recently that benefactor has paid for Joel to attend professional art lessons to further develop his natural artistic talent. As a result he has earned himself a reputation in Bath as a superior portrait painter, and Camille’s grandmother has jumped on the bandwagon of the well-heeled inhabitants of Bath and commissioned portraits of her granddaughters. Camille is not best pleased by this plan as it means yet more time in his company whilst he makes preliminary sketches of her. Joel has an unorthodox approach when compared to other portraitists; he likes to get to know and spend time with his subjects, observing them as they chat and capturing an inner something he alone sees – he then pours this knowledge into his art with such great effect that it sets him above his peers. As a result of his observations, he begins to see the real Camille beneath the prim and proper walls she has erected against the pain she has suffered and learned to hide; for years craving her selfish father’s affection but failing to gain even a crumb of his attention. As a result of their interaction, the attraction between them deepens and soon becomes more intense. But there are many hurdles to jump before they can achieve their HEA. Camille can’t just change overnight, raised as she was as a very proper young lady. Joel, on the other hand was brought up in an orphanage – so even though at this point in their lives they are both relatively poor, both illegitimate and, therefore, on the face of it – equal – the chasm between them seems wide indeed.

I loved both these characters – they’re so vulnerable and real. Joel is adorable – if annoying occasionally in his indecisiveness – and Camille has to learn to love and trust him in spite of it while at the same time, attempting to change the habits of a lifetime.  She also needs to believe in the unconditional love of her family and to accept that just because her father failed her doesn’t mean that her extended family has followed suit. The love story between Camille and Joel is a voyage of discovery for both of them as their previously held ideals and prejudices crumble and they learn to accept and admit their love for each other and finally find Someone to Hold against all odds. I enjoyed meeting the family again, too, especially Avery whom I adored in Someone to Love. He is still his omniscient, wise self, still going to great lengths to project his seeming ennui to all around him, whilst barely managing to disguise the deeply caring side of his nature. I am very much looking forward to book three in which we see Alexander – the reluctant earl who inherited his title by default – find his Someone to Wed. This is a lovely series so far and one I highly recommend.

 

The Harlot and the Sheikh (Hot Arabian Nights #3) by Marguerite Kaye

the harlot and the sheikh

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A defiant woman… in a desert king’s world!

Inheriting a broken kingdom, Prince Rafiq made a vow – to restore its pride by winning a prestigious horse race. To ensure success he hires an English expert. But even notoriously controlled Rafiq is shocked when his new employee is introduced… as Miss Stephanie Darvill!

Stephanie is determined to leave her shameful past and broken dreams behind – she will prove to Rafiq she deserves his trust! But this hard-hearted desert sheikh calls to Stephanie in the most primal of ways…dare she give in to her wildest desires?

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Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin Historical, February 2017

Time and Setting: Arabia 1815
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Wendy

If there’s one thing readers can be sure of with a Marguerite Kaye novel it’s superb writing, in-depth and expert research and captivating storytelling. In The Harlot and the Sheikh the third in her Hot Arabian Nights series we meet another of Ms. Kaye’s capable, independently-minded heroines. And even though I’ve never been attracted to ‘sheikh’ stories in general – I adored this one with its delectable but flawed leading-man and a heroine ahead of her time with nothing left to lose but maybe everything to gain if she can only pull off her audacious ploy.

Miss Stephanie Darvill has left home under a cloud after a liaison with an officer in her father’s regiment left her reputation in tatters. Her father has a considerable reputation as a veterinary surgeon attached to the Seventh Hussars and Stephanie has worked alongside him most of her life and is now almost as knowledgeable as he. Prince Rafiq al-Antarah’s string of valuable blue-blooded race horses are in danger from a mysterious disease which has beset his stud and which thus threatens his bid to win the prestigious Sabr, the famous endurance race that is key to the prosperity and prestige of his people. Some years earlier, Rafiq’s father lost the race in a moment of madness which has had far-reaching consequences not only for Bharym, but for Rafiq personally. Forced to make a decision based on his father’s actions, the prince is now severely troubled and feels that winning the race is the only way to make amends for his own actions.

When Stephanie arrives and declares herself to be at the palace at his invitation Rafiq is astonished and not a little displeased, because he had expected her father to respond to his request for help.  Stephanie persuades him that she is up to the job and as time is short and there is no one else he can call on, Rafiq gives her a contract as his Royal Horse Surgeon. Besides which, he is not a little impressed by her temerity, determination and strength of character not to mention her attractiveness and an ability to speak his language like a native, a fact for which she can thank her Egyptian mother.

These are two of Marguerite Kate’s most compelling characters yet. Stephanie has been badly hurt but is strong and determined to gain her independence, a fact she thinks will help her to rise above her fall from grace and repay the faith her parents’ have placed in her. She is highly intelligent, determined and shows she is no pushover as she fronts up to the prejudices she faces in Rafiq’s stables where a woman’s presence is considered to be unlucky. Rafiq is immediately struck by her uncompromising honesty, not a quality he has experienced much in his dealings with others. Stephanie doesn’t promise to save his beloved horses but she promises to try. Rafiq is utterly honourable as well as being the most deliciously handsome man that she has ever encountered and it isn’t long before the two are exploring their physical attraction to each other, although after her previous experience, Stephanie is naturally wary and anxious not to make this relationship into something it is not.

I loved the way Ms. Kaye developed the romance between Rafiq and Stephanie; the attraction between them simmers from their first meeting and builds slowly and sensually. He winkles out her past – bit-by-bit – and shows her by word and deed that he is not remotely shocked, and gradually helps her to rebuild her sense of her self-esteem by his actions and attentions to her. In turn she teaches him a little about bending his long held views and rules and relaxing the strictures in his everyday life and in his palace. In short, Rafiq begins to see Stephanie as a breath of fresh air and she quickly becomes a necessity in his life.

Marguerite Kaye has a special ability to drop the reader into place and time, the sights, smells, soft sand beneath feet, even the tinkling of water from a fountain – all are an experience one can almost see, smell, feel and hear – it is one aspect of her writing that I have always admired.   The Harlot and the Sheikh boasts a beautifully crafted romance between two captivating characters and a clever, plausible plot which Marguerite Kaye has backed up in her author’s notes showing us her extensive research into many of the areas covered in this story. I highly recommend this novel and after meeting Christopher Fordyce towards the end of novel I am really looking forward to meeting him again when he gets his own story in the last of the series.

Wild, Wicked Scot (Highland Grooms #1) by Julia London

wild-wicked-scot

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Wicked intrigue unfolds as an unlikely marriage leads to a path of risky desire in the lush, green Scottish Highlands…

Born into riches and groomed in English luxury, Margot Armstrong didn’t belong in a Scottish chieftain’s devil-may-care world. Three years ago she fled their marriage of convenience and hasn’t looked back—except to relive the moments spent in wild, rugged Arran McKenzie’s passionate embrace. But as their respective countries’ fragile unity threatens to unravel, Margot must return to her husband to uncover his role in the treachery before her family can be accused of it.

Red-haired, green-eyed Margot was Arran’s beautiful bride. Her loss has haunted him, but her return threatens everything he has gained. As the Highland mists carry whispers of an English plot to seize McKenzie territory, he must outmanoeuvre her in games of espionage…and seduction. But even as their secrets tangle together, there’s nothing to prevent love from capturing them both and leading them straight into danger.

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Publisher and Release Date: HQN Books, December 2016

Time and Setting: England and Scotland, 1706-10
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Wendy

A marriage of convenience is a favourite trope of mine and in Wild Wicked Scot Margot Armstrong certainly hits it lucky in her father’s choice of husband, the deliciously rugged Scottish chieftain Arran McKenzie, Baron of Balhaire. However, these are dangerous times between England and Scotland and this marriage of convenience is built upon very shaky ground with Margot a pawn in the games of powerful men and the politics of the two countries.

The story opens with a prologue and a series of flashbacks. In the prologue Margot is an immature seventeen year old with very entrenched ideas as to what makes the perfect man; and unfortunately for her, Arran McKenzie doesn’t tick any of those boxes. But she has no choice in the matter, and in the interests of her powerful father and her Wild Wicked Scot, she is the sacrificial lamb in their machinations to help broker an uneasy alliance between Scotland and England – not to mention the added bonus of money and lands which such a union will bring. As the story gets underway Margot has already left her husband and is now returning to him after an absence of three years. Their marriage had floundered after only four months when she ran back to England.

Arran McKenzie is a lovely character, well developed and extremely likeable and my sympathy was with him all the way through. To begin with, Margot is quite irritating – although to be fair, she was very young, and she did her limited, childish best to fit into Arran’s world. But her attempt to transport her much loved tonnish lifestyle into the depths of the Scottish Highlands was, quite obviously, doomed to failure, especially as she only half-heartedly attempted to become the Laird’s lady in truth. Margot considered herself to be neglected outside of the bedchamber, but she failed to understand what a busy man Arran was with his many responsibilities – to his clan, his prosperous, time-consuming continental sea trading business and the personal training of his first rate soldiers. And so Margot runs away and returns to her frivolous lifestyle in England. Then, after three years during which she has no contact whatsoever with her husband, her autocratic father again pulls her strings and she is sent back to Balhaire, this time with the hidden agenda of spying on her husband. Quite understandably, she is subjected to a host of suspicious Scots; not least of whom is her husband who cannot believe that she has suffered a complete about-turn.

There are a number of inconsistencies about the relationship between Arran and Margot that niggled at me. They obviously enjoyed a very satisfactory love-life after their marriage, which I would have thought would have counted in Arran’s favour. But no, this isn’t enough for Margot to try to build a life with her gorgeous husband so she just ups and leaves without a word. That said, the problems don’t all fall on her side, because Arran just lets her go without even asking her why. Then, he meekly sends her enough money to live comfortably even though her desertion has humiliated him in front of his entire clan. None of this rings true. Nor does the fact that Arran is repeatedly described as being ‘wild and wicked’, when he’s nothing of the sort; he’s just a man with lusty appetites for all things, and is a loyal, honourable man with oodles of integrity right from the beginning – and he’s certainly no push-over. I also couldn’t believe that Margot’s father would have accepted her return to his house after only four months, especially given the trouble he went to to arrange the match. Margot is somewhat redeemed once she begins to see Arran as he really is and sets out determinedly to win his love and trust, but her character is definitely the least engaging of the two.

There is a reasonably well developed plot which deals with the question of Arran’s loyalties, but because of the inconsistencies in the romance, I was taken out of the story and found this fairly important point overshadowed. The author’s attempts to use the highland vernacular – in particular her overly frequent use of the word “aye” – were also very distracting.

Overall, Wild, Wicked Scot is an uneven read, and is raised to the slightly above average bracket by the character of Arran, who is simply gorgeous. The story is nicely written so I would be interested to see how the rest of the series plays out.

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

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

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

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

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

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EXCERPT

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

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

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

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

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

“Pardon?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He kissed her.

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

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Sourcebooks Casablanca, January 2017

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

Review by Wendy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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

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

Sweetest Regret (novella) by Meredith Duran

sweetest-regret
This title may be purchased from Amazon

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

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

Review by Wendy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

 

Married for His Convenience by Eleanor Webster

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A plain countess…

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

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

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Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin Historical December 2016

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

Review by Wendy

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Debt to the Enemy Lord by Nicole Locke

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“You have a debt to pay. You owe me your life.” 

Anwen, bastard of Brynmor, has fought hard to find her place in the world. But she’s forced to rethink everything when she’s saved from death by her enemy Teague, Lord of Gwalchdu. Instead of releasing her, he holds her captive…

Teague trusts no one. So, with ominous messages threatening his life, he must keep Anwen under his watch, no matter how much her presence drives him wild. And when passionate arguments turn to passionate encounters, Teague must believe that the strength of their bond will conquer all!

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Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin Historical, December 2016

Time and Setting: Wales, 1290
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Wendy

I have always been a fan of medieval historical fiction written by authors such as Elizabeth Chadwick, and was therefore attracted to In Debt to the Enemy Lord, which I found to be well written with nicely developed and intriguing characters. In fact it was the description of the characters which drew me to the book in the first place.

Teague, Lord of Gwalchdu, is the kind of dark, brooding, solitary character, that often appeals to me if done well – and in this I was not disappointed. His subordinates respect him, but also fear him, even going so far as to cross themselves as he passes them by. With no close friends, his only real confidant is his brother, Rhain. Teague’s innate loneliness is apparent from the beginning; he is in the unenviable position of having a foot in two camps with an English father and Welsh mother. And when these two nations went to war, Teague fought for the English, in the process earning himself the moniker of traitor by the Welsh. The war is now over and they are all living an uneasy peace under the reign of the victor, King Edward I, who defeated the armies of Llywelyn ap Gruffydd (the last ever King of Wales). Much has been lost, and he is fighting an uphill battle in order to win the trust of the defeated Welsh. This has only compounded Teague’s isolation and loneliness further; and even though there are mitigating factors – which are revealed later on in the story – he refuses to justify his actions in siding with the English. He has learned to fully trust only himself, and to a lesser degree, his younger brother.

On a ride around his holdings, a beautiful girl literally falls out of a tree, demanding as she does that he catch her. He does so and it doesn’t take Teague long to realise that his life will never be the same again. Alone and unloved he may have been up until now, but this girl, Anwen, from the neighbouring castle and who considers him her enemy, will shake his – until now – unshakable foundations. Anwen is the beautiful, illegitimate daughter of a Welsh prince and even though Teague manages to break her fall, she still hits her head, and from the description of her injuries and behaviour is suffering from severe concussion. She is nursed back to health by Teague’s servants and his aunt, a religious zealot. He is intrigued by the golden beauty and feels compelled to watch over her at night while she is still unconscious and helpless – holding her hand whilst she hovers between life and death.

Teague has been receiving mysterious threatening messages and is, quite understandably, unnerved by them. He mistrusts anyone and everyone, even the young woman who quite literally drops into his life; although the idea that she could fall into his arms at the exact moment he was underneath it in order to gain access to the inner sanctum of Gwalchdu is rather a stretch. For one thing, the letters appeared long before Anwen comes on the scene and for another, the fact that Teague would even consider such a scenario goes against the picture the author has drawn of him as a master strategist and nobody’s fool.

Once Anwen is reasonably recovered she is anxious to return to her own people, but she comes across as fickle and rather shrewish, quickly forgetting the kindnesses and care she has been shown and constantly throwing the word “Traitor” at Teague. Anwen, it seems, will never forgive what she perceives as the wrong he did to her people by fighting for the English. The spark between them that ignites after Anwen’s fall grows into a full blown attraction once she is conscious and aware of him, but I grew a little fed up with her constant carping and nagging. It is very obvious as the story progresses and we learn more about Teague that he is a good and honourable man. Nevertheless, Anwen continues to berate him to such an extent that when she finally accepts that he is rather a decent chap – I wanted to cheer.

The relationship between Teague and Anwen continues to grow and the author does this very well. In fact I loved her approach in the more intimate scenes between them, which, although reasonably explicit, are subtle and tasteful, with none of the sensuality being lost with the lack of vivid description. But each time I thought that they had finally reached an understanding, she doubts him again –  or when he is more forceful in his authority than she likes – we are back to square one. Misunderstandings per se are not a problem with me generally, but I do get irritated when there are too many or they go on for too long as is the case here.

On the whole, most of the characters are rather dark and complex and I found this novel to be no light, comfortable read; which is not necessarily a bad thing as I like some angst, but I found I was forever looking for hidden meanings and depths which I felt I could be missing. Although this is a medieval romance, the story is rather intense with little light relief which is fine in historical fiction where we are dealing with historical facts but is not what I look for in a romance. Plus on two occasions I was taken completely out of the story when the author used the word ‘centimetre’! The identity of the villain is obvious from the start, although there’s a twist at the end that I admit I hadn’t seen coming. On the whole, In Debt to the Enemy Lord is a nicely written story and I wouldn’t mind reading more by Nicole Locke, but perhaps not stories set in this era – my preference is definitely for medieval-era historical fiction. However, my prejudices are my own and I can recommend the book to readers who enjoy medieval romances.