Tag Archive | 18th c.

The Highland Duke (Lords of the Highlands #1) by Amy Jarecki

the highland duke

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She’ll put her life on the line for him . . .

When Akira Ayres finds the brawny Scot with a musket ball in his thigh, the healer has no qualms about doing whatever it takes to save his life. Even if it means fleeing with him across the Highlands to tend to his wounds while English redcoats are closing in. Though Akira is as fierce and brave as any of her clansmen, even she’s intimidated by the fearsome, brutally handsome Highlander who refuses to reveal his name.

Yet she can never learn his true identity.

Geordie knows if Akira ever discovers he’s the Duke of Gordon, both her life and his will be forfeit in a heartbeat. The only way to keep the lass safe is to ensure she’s by his side day and night. But the longer he’s with her, the harder it becomes to think of letting her go. Despite all their differences, despite the danger-he will face death itself to make her his . . .

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Publisher and Release Date: Forever, March 2017
Time and Setting: Scottish Highlands, 1703
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 5 stars

Review by Sara

I was drawn to The Highland Duke for its promise of a hidden identity story. Once I began reading I discovered it was so much more and was quickly caught up in the adventure, danger and romance all set against the Jacobite uprisings of the early 1700’s.

The battle had been fierce but Akira Ayres had no concern over the political war being fought near her home in Dunkeld. All she knew was that there would be many wounded still left on the field who needed her help as a healer. Searching the grounds of Hoord Moor for survivors, Akira is drawn to a nearby clump of trees by the sound of someone in distress. Following the moaning she finds a man dressed much better than any of the dead or wounded men she’s seen on the field. Before she can question who he is, Akira sees that he’s been shot in the leg and realizes that her skills may not be enough to treat that kind of injury. Her patient seems more concerned about leaving the field of battle than his injury and he commands her to do what she can to remove the musket ball and get him mobile.

George, Duke of Gordon, came to Hoord Moor to support his cousin and the Jacobites who were rising up against the royalist Marquis of Atholl. His wounded leg is nothing compared to the death sentence he will likely face if the Marquis’ guardsmen find him on the field with the other surviving clansmen. His only chance is to retreat from Dunkeld and travel back into his own territory or at least to lands controlled by a clan allied with his own. The beautiful healer might be his only chance at escape but without knowing where her loyalties lie there is no way he can tell her who he really is. Calling himself Geordie, he sends her off to purchase a horse while he continues to hide. Upon her return, Geordie fully intends to leave her behind and make his way alone to a neighboring clan; however the Captain of the guard gets there before he can leave and his wounded leg makes riding almost impossible. Understanding in an instant that he still needs the woman’s healing touch, Geordie pulls her onto the horse and together they ride farther into the Highlands and away from danger.

Akira has never been more than a few miles away from her home but her dedication to her patient keeps her with Geordie during his flight. Their slow progress through the dense forests of the Highlands keeps the pair in close company even while Akira forces herself to remain detached from the handsome man she knows is keeping secrets from her. With Geordie’s health getting worse the longer they ride away from danger, the more important it is for Akira to remain by his side despite the jeopardy he’s put her in. Their journey reveals Geordie to be verydifferent from the overbearing man she first cared for on the battlefield. He is considerate of her comfort, he protects her even at a great cost to himself, and he seems to find her attractive despite her Gypsy heritage.

Taking a risk that his feelings for her are sincere, Akira succumbs to her own attraction to Geordie in an incredible moment of sexual release. Unfortunately, however, once she discovers the truth of his identity any future she might have hoped to have with her Highlander are dashed. His position as a duke and her own background as an uneducated “tinker” puts them leagues apart in social class and in expectations. Added to that problem is the fear that the soldiers are still chasing after Geordie to prove he was supporting the Jacobites and her presence on Gordon land is all the evidence they’d need. It is only Geordie’s constant reassurances that his feelings are true that keeps Akira by his side; however the more she tries to be comfortable in the lavish world of the Duke of Gordon the less sure Akira is that her Geordie – the man underneath it all – will remain faithful to her.

The Highland Duke is a rich, romantic story from start to finish. Both Geordie and Akira are fully developed characters who each take a very personal journey of discovery. The labels each of them carry in society mean nothing while they are on the run. Akira is used to fighting against the inherent mistrust people have for her because she is a Gypsy. While traveling with Geordie she is treated as a true Scotswoman and appreciated for her skills and kindness rather than suspected due to her heritage. For Geordie, hiding his title from Akira is initially a way to keep himself safe but an unintentional side effect is that Akira treats him as she would any other man. Her concern for him never comes from what she hopes the exalted Duke of Gordon can do for her but is a heartfelt sentiment he has never felt from a woman before. That sense that he could be himself is freeing and gives Geordie the chance to strip himself of behaviors that were more associated with his title than who he really is.

Ms. Jarecki does an incredible job of weighing everything Geordie does with the politics of the time. The danger constantly nipping at his and Akira’s heels keeps the story from ever slowing down, even when the two have to take a moment to think about their relationship. His position as Duke of Gordon is only by the grace of Her Majesty, Queen Anne, and if it’s learned he is a Jacobite sympathizer it will cost his family everything. Still, when Akira is put at risk because of her association with him, Geordie is willing to sacrifice himself to prove that his loyalty to her is stronger than towards any sitting or deposed monarch.

I loved reading The Highland Duke. The book’s pace moves quickly but I never felt the characters or their emotions were left behind just to keep the plot going. I am eager to read the next book in the Lord of the Highlands series but may find myself revisiting Geordie and Akira’s story a second time just to revel in their perfect romance.

When a Laird Finds a Lass (Highland Fairy Tales #2) by Lecia Cornwall

laird-lass

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She is his greatest enemy and his only salvation.

Malcolm MacDonald, a lawyer in Edinburgh, unexpectedly inherits his father’s title of Laird of Dunbronach, forcing him to return to a place he hasn’t seen since he was a small child. To gain the trust of a wary clan, Malcolm must act upon their insistence that he cast aside his English betrothed and marry a Highlander.

However, they have one condition—no lasses of the barbaric clan MacLeod.

When he finds an unconscious woman in the sea, he brings her back to his clan but not before doing the one thing that could save her life—hiding her all too telling MacLeod plaid. When she wakes with no memory of who she is, Malcolm vows to keep the little he knows about her identity a secret. As new dangers threaten his clan, the mysterious lass teaches Malcolm some very important lessons about how to be a Highlander and a laird.

But secrets never stay secret for long, and when she finds her plaid, her memory returns and she flees. Malcolm is forced to make a difficult choice to win her back, facing his darkest fears and his worst enemy for a chance at true love.

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Publisher and Release Date: Swerve/St. Martin’s Press, November 2016
Time and Setting: Scotland, 1707
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Sara

Lecia Cornwall has set her stories in the Scottish Highlands but the characters and their struggles to find love ever after are very familiar. In When a Laird Finds a Lass there are some parallels to the story of The Little Mermaid; however the spin here is that the young heroine finds her true voice rather than sacrificing it to find her hero.

Marcail MacLeod’s heart is broken when she discovers the man she hoped would marry her having sex with another woman. With her pride just as bruised as her heart, she makes the mistake of accepting another man’s offer of marriage just to escape humiliation and take back control of her future. On the way to his lands Marcail learns that her new betrothed has no intention of being faithful to her either. She risks everything by jumping into the sea to escape an unhappy marriage.

On the shores of Dunbronach the new laird, Malcom MacDonald, discovers an unconscious young woman wrapped in the plaid of his clan’s enemy, the MacLeods. Malcom was raised as a lowlander in Edinburgh and has only recently assumed the leadership of the impoverished clan after the death of his estranged father, who insisted that Malcom become laird. The elders of the clan want Malcom to continue the old ways and feel that the next step is for him to marry but they warn him away from any woman from the MacLeod clan. Fearing that his people will reject helping the unconscious woman strictly because of her clan association, Malcom hides her plaid before taking her to the healer.

Awakening in a strange place, the woman has trouble remembering her name or the circumstances that brought her to Dunbronach. Some of the people believe she could be a selkie and give her the name Ronat which means “seal.” Others believe she could be a spy and are wary of trusting her. Only Malcom knows the truth of her affiliation and protects her as much as he can by keeping her close. He is attracted to her and enjoys their conversations as she recovers physically but he is aware that her lost memories could hide more than just her name. She could be married or may not wish to associate with a MacDonald because of the enmity between their clans.

As Ronat finds her place within the MacDonald clan she sees the struggles Malcom faces almost daily to lead his people. He wants to do what is right for the community and the land but is untried as a leader and is seen as an outsider from the Highland way of life. Ronat’s memories may have gaps but in her heart she knows how to approach the situation from a highlander’s perspective. She shows Malcom that he can make important changes by listening to his people and showing them that his ideas will gain them exactly what they need. Together they become a team but there is still that uncertainty of who Ronat truly is. Malcom wants her in his life but still fears his people could refuse to have a MacLeod as the laird’s wife.

When a Laird Finds a Lass takes its time developing the relationship between Malcom and Marcail (Ronat) to allow a reader to get a true sense of their growing partnership. The challenges Malcom faces with his clan keep him on shaky footing until Ronat is there to keep him secure his position. As he finds his strength as a leader she is right there, finding her voice as a woman. The community accepts her, Malcom listens to her and she is allowed to flourish because she has no memory of her previous life as daughter of the MacLeod leader. Marcail comes to love Malcom while watching him embrace his inner highlander and trust in the traditions of his clan while still folding in his knowledge of the modern way of doing things. He tries to fight his feelings for Marcail because there of the question mark about her identity, yet Malcom is at his best when he lets her get past those defenses.

I appreciate that the obstacles in front of Malcom and Marcail being together aren’t artificially put in their way. Clan politics and loyalties mean something to both characters and cannot be ignored just because of their attraction. I also liked that the fairy tale undercurrent of the story is brought forth through the Dunbronach peoples’ belief that the laird will be granted a wish for his people by a princess of the sea. When a Laird Finds a Lass shares a setting with the previous book in the Highland Fairy Tale series but stands alone with its storyline and resolution. I enjoyed the subtle sense of magic that brings Malcom and Marcail together and hope there will be more to come in the next book.

The Sisters of Versailles by Sally Christie

01_The Sisters of Versailles

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Goodness, but sisters are a thing to fear.

Set against the lavish backdrop of the French Court in the early years of the 18th century, The Sisters of Versailles is the extraordinary tale of the five Nesle sisters: Louise, Pauline, Diane, Hortense, and Marie-Anne, four of whom became mistresses to King Louis XV. Their scandalous story is stranger than fiction but true in every shocking, amusing, and heartbreaking detail.

Court intriguers are beginning to sense that young King Louis XV, after seven years of marriage, is tiring of his Polish wife. The race is on to find a mistress for the royal bed as various factions put their best foot – and women – forward. The King’s scheming ministers push Louise, the eldest of the aristocratic Nesle sisters, into the arms of the King. Over the following decade, the four sisters:sweet, naive Louise; ambitious Pauline; complacent Diane, and cunning Marie Anne, will conspire, betray, suffer, and triumph in a desperate fight for both love and power.

In the tradition of The Other Boleyn Girl, The Sisters of Versailles is a clever, intelligent, and absorbing novel that historical fiction fans will devour. Based on meticulous research on a group of women never before written about in English, Sally Christie’s stunning debut is a complex exploration of power and sisterhood; of the admiration, competition, and even hatred that can coexist within a family when the stakes are high enough.

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Publisher and Release Date: Atria Books, September 1, 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Versailles, France, and the French countryside, 1730-1799
Genre: Historical fiction
Heat Level:1
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

In a time before the French revolution and the Reign of Terror, Sally Christie writes a sweeping saga of the five real-life de Nesle sisters, four of whom served as mistress to King Louis XV.

The dramatic and romantic lives of five women in early eighteenth-century France comes alive in this melancholy story. Louise, Pauline, Hortense, Diane, and Marie-Anne, though convent raised and educated, are truly cruel to one another. Born to a life of privilege and wealth, they play out their fears, the struggles for power and survival, and their pleasures at the palace of Versailles in the court of King Louis XV.

Everyone’s manners are impeccable but no one talks straight: their words are sinewy and slippy like eels. The courtiers play word games with double and sometimes triple entendres; compliments are not compliments yet they are; meaning depends not on the words but on who is speaking, and about what. Everyone is extremely assiduous in telling other unpleasant truths.

Ms. Christie loosely bases her fictional account on real people and events. She tells her tale in alternating letters between all the sisters as well as chapters told in the third person giving the reader each sister’s point of view. We feel Louise’s fears and sadness, are appalled by Pauline and Marie-Anne’s dissatisfaction and stratagems, smile at Diane’s consistent good humor and silliness, and admire Hortense’s calm and orderly life.

Hortense, the middle and only sister to not become the king’s mistress, opens and closes the book in 1799. She is an old woman reflecting on her life and her complex relationships with all her sisters. Hortense is the most traditional, marrying for love, having children, and remaining pious and respectable throughout her long life.

The eldest sister, Louise, is the first to go to Versailles when she becomes lady-in-waiting to the queen, Louis’ Polish wife. At first, the married relationship between king and queen is faithful but when Louis eventually becomes bored, the political machinations of court persuade Louise to become his mistress.

Everyone here is most astonishingly free and very few people remain faithful to or even cordial with their spouses. Most have lovers, sometimes even multiple lovers at once.

But when one is surrounded by vice, that which shocks quickly becomes normal.

For Louise, unfortunately, it becomes a lifelong love for a powerful, fickle, and ultimately weak man. But when Louis eventually tires of Louise, he replaces her with her sister, Pauline, who seduces and maneuvers her way from the convent to Versailles and power.

Louise is the kindest hearted of the de Nesle sisters and has dreams of happiness in love and marriage. Her disappointments in her romantic relationships and with her sisters are a far cry from the life she hoped for herself.

Pauline and Marie-Anne are the manipulative and spiteful sisters in their power struggles to become mistress to a king. The way they plot and lure the king away from their rivals is distasteful and unpleasant. I was reminded of another sly and scheming Pauline, the woman who aggressively drew Ernest Hemingway away from his first wife, Hadley.

Diane (who was actually Louis’ first mistress in real life but is his fourth mistress here), is a lighthearted and loving soul, a plump woman who adores eating and who gets along with all her sisters.

Though this novel is riveting and the history rich, I couldn’t help but feel sad as I read this story of greed and superficiality. Ms. Christie writes of each sister’s inner thoughts, of their plans and schemes, and conquests. If one cannot count one’s sisters as allies, who can one trust? Each of the sisters learn the secrets of men and the power of their own seductive wiles. In short, they learn how to please men to get what they want.

The power that comes from being desired.

And what of King Louis XV? He struggles with his religion even as he beds one sister after another. We get nothing from his point of view but, then again, this is not his story. The lives of kings and their mistresses–indeed, of men and their mistresses–is nothing new. Ms. Christie gives us the feelings of women in a specific time in history and their complicated relationship dynamic.

History is as much a character in the novel as the sisters. The elaborate and beautiful fashions, the custom of wearing powder and beauty marks (or not), the rules and etiquette, promiscuity, and power-plays of court life at Versailles are all on display in rich and descriptive detail. The arts and politics of the age too, are well represented: the music of Francois Couperin, the king’s adviser, Cardinal de Fleury, exerts his influence, the protagonists are entertained Moliere’s naughty play, Tartuffe, and there is talk of having Voltaire for a visit.

The reader also gets a great sense of the revolution to come. The poor and the peasants pass through the sisters’ lives, but are mostly ridiculed and not taken too seriously. Only Louise, with her sensitive feelings, manages to show compassion and sympathy.

In her Author’s Note, Ms. Christie reveals she first planned on writing a collective nonfiction biography. But then the voices of the sisters inspired her to embellish and enrich their story in a more colorful and emotional fictional account.

I recommend this book for readers who enjoy historical fiction sagas, court life in eighteenth-century France, and the delicate relationships between sisters.

My Mozart by Juliet Waldron

Books We Love Ltd.  (June 5, 2012)

BLURB:

My Mozart, a new release from Juliet Waldron, author of the highly acclaimed Mozart’s Wife (available in ebook exclusively on Kindle)

Mozart was her teacher, her mentor, her rescuer–and, finally, fatally, her lover. .. At dawn, in the marble palace of a Prince, a nine-year-old sings for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, then at the peak of his career. Always delighted by musical children, he accepts Nanina as a pupil. Gifted, intense and imaginative, she sees the great “Kapellmeister Mozart” as an avatar of Orpheus and her own, personal divinity. His lessons are irregular and playful, but the teacher/pupil bond grows strong. Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro premieres, and Nanina, now twelve, is given a solo part. For her, this is the beginning of a long stage career. For Mozart, it marks the start of his ruin. His greatest works will be composed in poverty and obscurity. During the composer’s last summer, his wife has left him. Chronically in debt and suffering the emotional isolation of genius, he takes refuge with his disreputable Volksoper friends, who want him to write a “peasant opera” for their audience. Nanina, now grown, and still in love with Mozart, is among their number. As he seeks solace among the women of the Volksoper, the charms of his young fan become increasingly alluring. No one, least of all the composer, understands the depth of her obsession or how a brief affair will permanently alter her life.

RHFL Classifications:

18th c. Vienna, Historical Fiction

Heat Rating: 3

REVIEW RATING: 3.5 stars

Reviewed by: Lucy Bertoldi, EBJ-Salon

Young Ann Gottlieb first met Mozart when she was nine years old- it was from that very moment that she fell in love with the great genius.

Left to the care of her father after her flimsy starlet mother deserted them, Nan was trained in the art of singing and was often given private lessons by the grand master Mozart himself.  As well, Nan became his protégé after her father passed away.  This was a real blessing in a way, since more than once would she have fallen prey to the wrong crowd whose plan would have been to prostitute her under the guise of lowly showgirl dancing.

Throughout, Mozart intended to ‘preserve’ the young Nan’s virginal state while helping her find work in the singing and performing arts- she would also become his Muse. For Nan though, Mozart was the center of her life, and finally both succumb to ravishing passion.  Nan loved and remained faithful only to him. Throughout, we feel her innocence, devotion,  genuine youth and eagerness which renders this novel magically romantic.

Beautifully written and fascinating in the way Mozart’s life was determined by his bouts of musical genius and dismay, this could be all that the book was about.  However, what was elaborately described was the erotic tension ever-so present to consume their passion.  And although we can empathize with Nan and her great love for this man- there was just way too much racy and explicit sexual content.  That I could have done without. In a story that in itself could have stood out as a truly romantic historical love all that crudeness was totally unnecessary.

If you’re okay with elaborate sexual content and can surpass that, underneath lies a beautifully detailed story of a young girl who loved one of the greatest geniuses of all times.

Kindle: $2.99