Tag Archive | alison stuart

And Then Mine Enemy by Alison Stuart

and then mine enemy

Purchase Now from Amazon

A family ripped apart in a country divided by war . . .

England 1642: Hardened mercenary, Adam Coulter returns to England sickened by violence, seeking only peace, but he finds England on the brink of civil war. He has seen first hand what that will mean for every man, woman and child and wants no part of it.

King or Parliament? Neutrality is not an option and Adam can only be true to his conscience, not the dictates of his family.

Having escaped a violent marriage, Perdita Gray has found much needed sanctuary and the love of a good man, but her fragile world begins to crumble as Adam Coulter bursts into her life. This stranger brings not only the reality of war to her doorstep but reignites an old family feud, threatening everything and everyone she holds dear.

As the war and the family tensions collide around them, Adam and Perdita are torn between old loyalties and a growing attraction that must be resisted.

add-to-goodreads-button

Publisher and Release Date: Oportet Publishing, December 2016

Time and Setting: England, 1642
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Wendy

And Then Mine Enemy, the first book in Alison Stuart’s new series set during the years of the English Civil War, begins just as the people of England are readying themselves for war. After years of peace and prosperity, men from all walks of life are expected to take up arms and are preparing to march off to face friends and relatives across battlefields with differing loyalties and opinions to themselves. Half hearted, amateurish preparations are underway and Ms. Stuart takes us through the war from when the first fight takes place and moves her story through major skirmishes and battles, date by date. I found this to be a helpful way of explaining unfolding events.

Adam Coulter, a career soldier and mercenary, has returned from the continent after six years to find his country divided. He is immediately summoned to a meeting with his two half-brothers who assume that he will fight alongside them, on behalf of Charles I and is offered a commission in their regiment. From the outset, Adam, who has had enough of fighting over his years abroad, is determined not to get involved and travels on to view the small estate he hopes to purchase and settle down on. En route, he makes a detour to visit his aunt, the only person in his life to ever really care for or about him. The circumstances of his birth have always been swathed in mystery; suffice to say that he did not share the same mother as his legitimate brothers even though he was brought up in the same household, and has always been resented, especially by Denzil, the elder of his brothers. Adam left the country under a cloud after having been involved in an abortive affair with Denzil’s betrothed which ended in a tragedy. The animosity between the half brothers has not diminished, especially since Denzil is now married to the lady involved in Adam’s scandal. Adam’s refusal to fight for the King’s cause has only widened the rift with Denzil who had hoped to utilise Adam’s not inconsiderable soldiering skills. Adam is an extremely likeable and attractive character, tough and fair and I was drawn to him immediately. In fact the image on the cover on this book is very true to how   imagined him – and it’s nice to see a cover that reflects the story for once.

Perdita Gray suffered a degrading and abusive marriage to a much older man of her father’s choosing. Now widowed, she is living with distant kin, who happens to be Adam’s aunt, Joan. Perdita has just become engaged to Simon, Joan’s step-son, whom Perdita likes and respects but does not love. Adam’s arrival is a blessing for Simon, who as a farmer has had no experience of soldiering but is expected to lick a band of farm hands and labourers into shape in anticipation of them all marching off to serve their King. Adam agrees to help, although again declines an offer – this time from Simon – to join in the fight for the Royalist cause. Adam and Perdita are quietly attracted to one another although Perdita’s respect and affection for Simon keep this attraction very much under wraps. And Adam likes Simon too much to disrespect his hospitality. Having said that, this is an historical romance with the emphasis being very much on the history; readers looking for multiple passionate encounters might be disappointed, but I liked that the author places the history – serious as it is – above all else. Still, the attraction is there, though quietly simmering. At first, Perdita seems cool and unapproachable, and she did not endear herself to me in the way that Adam did, although perhaps that can be accounted for by the suffering she endured in the past.

As the story evolves and Adam becomes involves in the country’s civil war despite his misgivings, he bucks the trend of his family, and joins the Parliamentarians. I must say that Adam’s capitulation is rather unexpected; suddenly he is explaining that he always believed the King was in the wrong and that he has accepted a commission in the Parliamentarian forces. Yet not long before this, he was adamant he was not getting involved and was on his way to buy his small estate.

I am a very recent convert to this period of history, so cannot say with any real certainty whether Ms. Stuart has her facts right. But as far as I can tell she seems to know what she’s talking about and I found it easy to follow and understand the sequence of events as she relays them. One thing she does well is to highlight the horror of civil war;  she’s made no attempt to glamorise it and the fact that families often fought on opposing sides and met in battle was a terrifying reality. The way each side had to deal with the casualties within their own troops too was really quite horrifying and Ms. Stuart used Perdita on more than one occasion to show how dying and wounded soldiers (from both sides of the war and often lying side by side) had to be treated by civilians, dragged off battle fields with field hospitals set up in barns; it’s all brought home with rather horrifying clarity.

As the story proceeds and Perdita and Adam cross each other’s paths frequently, their attraction deepens into something more intense and more lasting and they have to learn to hide their feelings. However, I did not feel truly invested in that growing love and felt that something was missing, some spark or chemistry between the couple. I couldn’t help wondering if perhaps Alison Stuart was so intent on getting the historical facts straight and the sequence of events correct that she did not develop the romance as well as she could have. But in any case, it wasn’t enough to put me off and I shall certainly read the next in this series.  I’d love to see more of Adam and Perdita and how they cope as a couple who began their life together on opposing sides of this terrible conflict.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: And Then Mine Enemy (Feathers in the Wind #1) by Alison Stuart

and then mine enemy

Purchase Now from Amazon

A family ripped apart in a country divided by war . . .

England 1642: Hardened mercenary, Adam Coulter returns to England sickened by violence, seeking only peace, but he finds England on the brink of civil war. He has seen first-hand what that will mean for every man, woman and child and wants no part of it.

King or Parliament? Neutrality is not an option and Adam can only be true to his conscience, not the dictates of his family.
Having escaped a loveless marriage, Perdita Gray has found much needed sanctuary and the love of a good man, but her fragile world begins to crumble as Adam Coulter bursts into her life. This stranger brings not only the reality of war to her doorstep but reignites an old family feud, threatening everything and everyone she holds dear.

As the war and family tensions collide around them, Adam and Perdita are torn between old loyalties and a growing attraction that must be resisted.

add-to-goodreads-button

EXCERPT

July 1642

A shudder of rain slewed across the sodden countryside, sending its cold fingers cutting through Adam’s already saturated cloak. He huffed out a misty breath and straightened his aching shoulders. Not for the first time he cursed his brother for summoning him to a meeting Adam knew would inevitably end in grief and recrimination.

The remote inn loomed out of the gloaming and led on by the cheerful light spilling through the front windows, Adam urged his weary horse forward. The miserable beast, the mud dragging at its every step, plodded forward.

A young boy ran from the stable, a sack over his head and shoulders. Adam threw him the reins and, taking a deep breath, strode into the inn. He tossed his hat and gloves to the innkeeper, his numbed fingers fumbled at the ties of his cloak

‘His Lordship’s in the private parlour.’ The innkeeper scowled as he held the dripping garb at arm’s length.

Adam pushed open the door the man indicated. The two men seated beside a cheerful fire that burned in the wide hearth rose to their feet. His half-brothers schooled their faces to a neutrality that Adam knew would not last. As they faced him across the room, a growing sense of despondency gripped him as he stood before them. Once more the cuckoo in the nest, always the acknowledged baseborn son but not even given the protection of his father’s name.

Denzil Marchant, just as Adam remembered him, tall and powerful, with a mane of tawny hair like his father, and his younger brother Robin, as tall but of a slighter, elegant build, his hair more auburn and sleekly curling.

‘Denzil, Robin,’ Adam acknowledged them as he stepped into the room. ‘I wish I could say, well met, but I would be lying.’

‘Adam Coulter.’ The deliberate use of his full name jarred, as Denzil no doubt intended. ‘I would scarcely have recognized you. Hardly the darling of the court now, are you?’

‘I found lovelocks and pearl earrings something of a hindrance to the life of a soldier.’ Without waiting to be invited, Adam poured himself a full measure from the bottle of wine that stood on the table, hoping that they would not mark that his hand shook.

GIVEAWAY

ENTER TO WIN AN eCOPY OF AND THEN MINE ENEMY. THE GIVEAWAY IS OPEN FOR SEVEN DAYS AND THE WINNER WILL BE NOTIFIED SHORTLY AFTER THE CLOSING DATE.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alison Stuart picAward winning Australian author, Alison Stuart learned her passion for history from her father. She has been writing stories since her teenage years but it was not until 2007 that her first full length novel was published. Alison has now published seven full length historical romances and a collection of her short stories. Her disposition for writing about soldier heroes may come from her varied career as a lawyer in the military and fire services. These days when she is not writing she is travelling and routinely drags her long suffering husband around battlefields and castles.

Connect with Alison at her website, Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or subscribe to her newsletter for exclusive free reads, contests and more…

Links:
Website: http://www.alisonstuart.com
Blogs: http://www.alisonstuart.com/alison-stuart-blog-ms-stuart-requests
Facebook: www.facebook.com/AlisonStuartWriter
Twitter: @AlisonStuart14 https://twitter.com/AlisonStuart14
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4636079.Alison_Stuart
Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/alisonstuart14/
Newsletter: http://eepurl.com/brzg_z

Exile’s Return (Guardians of the Crown #3) by Alison Stuart

exiles return

Purchase Now from Amazon

England, 1659: Following the death of Cromwell, a new king is poised to ascend the throne of England. One by one, those once loyal to the crown begin to return …

Imprisoned, exiled and tortured, fugitive Daniel Lovell returns to England, determined to kill the man who murdered his father. But his plans for revenge must wait, as the King has one last mission for him.

Agnes Fletcher’s lover is dead, and when his two orphaned children are torn from her care by their scheming guardian, she finds herself alone and devastated by the loss. Unwilling to give up, Agnes desperately seeks anyone willing to accompany her on a perilous journey to save the children and return them to her care. She didn’t plan on meeting the infamous Daniel Lovell. She didn’t plan on falling in love.

Thrown together with separate quests – and competing obligations – Daniel and Agnes make their way from London to the English countryside, danger at every turn. When they are finally given the opportunity to seize everything they ever hoped for, will they find the peace they crave, or will their fledgling love be a final casualty of war?

add-to-goodreads-button

Publisher and Release Date: Escape Publishing, February 2016

RHR Classifications:
Place and Time: England 1659
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Wendy

In this, the final instalment of her Guardians of the Crown trilogy, Alison Stuart brings together the three guardians and their ladies. Jonathan and Kate from By the Sword, Kit and Thamsine from The King’s Man and now Daniel and Agnes. There is enough background information for all three books to be read as standalones, although I would recommend reading the series in order.

England is in turmoil following the death of Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector. The exiled, future Charles II is marking time in France, poised to regain his crown. Daniel Lovell has returned after eight years; embittered and cynical, he is very different to the green and enthusiastic eighteen-year old boy who went off eagerly to war only to be captured, imprisoned, tortured and exiled. Daniel is summoned to Charles’ court in France to be entrusted with one last important mission. On his arrival in England, Daniel is instructed to seek out Agnes Fletcher and to make the meeting appear to be coincidental. She had been caring for her dead sister’s children following their father’s execution for treason, but as a result of his conviction his estates, possessions – and children – have been seized. Daniel arrives when Agnes is at her lowest ebb; one of her charges is now the young earl and therefore an important pawn in the nefarious machinations of his father’s first cousin – the Roundhead responsible for his cousin’s betrayal and conviction. The boy stands in the way of Colonel Tobias Ashby’s aspirations to the earldom. Agnes had been the Earl’s mistress as well as his sister-in-law, and now, as well as losing her lover in such distressing circumstances, she has also lost her two young charges whom she dearly loves.

A woman alone, grieving and without funds, Agnes is therefore susceptible to kindness, and Daniel finds it relatively easy to persuade her that he is her friend and to put his plan into action. As it transpires, Daniel’s mission and Agnes’ determination to find a way to rescue her young niece and nephew coincide. Daniel has been tasked with retrieving a large sum of money which it is believed was hidden by the dead earl, on his estate. This money will help the King in his bid to regain the crown and, having lived on the estate, Agnes is the only feasible link to finding it. Daniel also has another agenda, one that has driven him in his quest for survival and vengeance over his long years in exile. Before his capture, he saw his father killed, mercilessly, on his own doorstep – the murderer is the man both he and Agnes have cause to hate – Colonel Tobias Ashby.

The two set off on their journey and as they do the attraction between them begins to grow. Having read The King’s Man and thoroughly enjoyed it, I was eagerly awaiting this novel, but I admit to feeling a little disappointed. I absolutely loved Kit Lovell, the hero of that book, and Daniel’s older brother – he was a bit of a good boy turned bad – for honourable reasons – and then redeemed, and I adored his colourful, swaggering, womanising, larger-than-life character. The relationship between him and his lady, Thamsine, is magic and expertly drawn; Alison Stuart certainly created a memorable pair of characters in those two. A hard act to follow then, and maybe that’s why I felt that there was little spark between the slightly wooden character of Daniel and the wishy-washy Agnes. Daniel is quite an angry man; it’s true that he suffered, but so did many people during the long years of the war and his exile hadn’t been all bad. An injection of his charismatic brother’s get-up-and-go wouldn’t have gone amiss. The romance between Daniel and Agnes feels contrived and there is very little passion or sensuality in it. I’m not talking about bedroom action here, because I actually like it when it’s more of a suggestion, more about sensuality than actual sex. When the pair do eventually decide they are right for each other, I still didn’t feel it; in fact, even when Kit reappears he doesn’t jump off the page as he had done previously.

Exile’s Return is a nicely written novel that is rich in historical detail, and maybe if I hadn’t read The King’s Man first, I would have enjoyed it more. With it, the trilogy is nicely finished with all of the main characters coming together again and all loose ends being neatly tied off.

A 2015 Retrospective – Our Favourite Books of the Year

Slide1

It’s that time of year when we start looking forward to another year of great reads, but also look back on the books we’ve read and enjoyed throughout the previous year. Members of RHR’s team of reviewers have chosen some of their favourite books and audiobooks from 2015; maybe they’re books you read and enjoyed, too, or they’re books you meant to read that got forgotten (so now’s the chance to catch up!).

If we’ve missed YOUR favourite books of last year, be sure to let us know yours in the comments!

Caz’s Favourites:

Stella Riley continues her Georgian-set Rockliffe Series with The Player , in which the hero, Adrian Devereux is forced to return from exile in France in order to assume the title and responsibilities of the Earl of Sarre. He left England under a cloud when he was wrongly suspected of the murder of his fiancée, and simply vanished, making his living as an actor – and an incredibly talented one, at that. But his return is fraught with difficulties, not least of which is that his decade of playing a part has left him unsure of who he is any more. Ms Riley has given us yet another swoonworthy hero in Adrian and her writing is a strong and intelligent as ever. The Player is a truly delightful read with a strong storyline, a well-written, tender romance and a cast of well-developed supporting characters.

It Started with a Scandal is the tenth in Julie Anne Long’s popular Pennyroyal Green series, and is a wonderfully romantic story with a bit of a “Jane Eyre-ish” vibe to it, about two people who don’t quite fit in finding that they fit perfectly with each other. Philippe and Elise are from different spheres of life – he French nobility, she a housekeeper – yet they are both fiercely protective towards those they love and desperate to do the right thing by them. Their romance is a delicious slow-burn, full of sexual tension and wonderfully witty banter, and the book is full of warmth and charm.

Lucinda Brant’s Deadly Peril is a popular choice, and deservedly so. It’s the third in her series of Georgian Historical Mysteries featuring the urbane and fiercely intelligent former diplomat, Alec Halsey, and it’s her best yet – which is saying something considering that the previous books are terrific reads. Here, Alec is made to confront some of the less pleasant aspects of his past as he travels to the German principality of Midanich, a place he had hoped never to see again. The plotting is superb – Ms Brant really does have a devious mind 😉 – and the fictional state of Midanich is so brilliantly evoked that I almost had to look it up on a map to see if it was real!  This book – actually, the whole series – is a must for fans of historical mysteries with a strong element of romance.

Alyssa Everett is one of my favourite authors, and her most recent book, The Marriage Act is a terrific, though not always easy, read.  It’s the story of an estranged couple who agree to reunite solely to assure the heroine’s father that they are happy together, and tells how they gradually begin to see that they have both been guilty of mistaken assumptions and of projecting their own hurts and insecurities onto the other. The characterisation and writing are both excellent, and even though there are times that both act in ways that are far from admirable, Ms Everett has written them in such a way as to ensure that even when the reader is thinking “ouch!”, their motivations are understandable.  The chemistry between John and Caroline is terrific and this is a story in which the messiness of the central relationship feels all the more realistic for not being  perfect.

While I’m a big fan of historical fiction, I was unsure about branching out into “alternate” historical fiction a couple of years back when I read Laura Andersen’s Boleyn Trilogy, which is set in a timeline in which Anne Boleyn had given Henry VIII a son who lived to inherit the throne. But I was utterly enthralled by the author’s ability to tell a great story while also incorporating a number of real historical events and figures. In The Virgin’s Daughter, Ms Andersen sets up yet another great “what if?” premise by having Elizabeth I married to Philip of Spain and having had a daughter by him. It’s a terrific read, the plot is enjoyably complex (although not confusing), the story is rich in background detail and intrigue and there’s an enjoyable romance running throughout the main story. I’m looking forward to reading more in this entertaining series.

Claudia’s Favourites


M is for Marquess by Grace Callaway

I discovered a new auto-buy author with this book … I’ve now read each of Grace Callaway’s books and loved them – which is exceptional. Gabriel and Thea from this book were two of the best characters I read this year. Both had their difficulties and it was charming to see how they overcame them together, even though it wasn’t always easy for them. This is my favourite book of 2015.

Falling Into Bed with a Duke by Lorraine Heath

This is the first book in a new series by this author, and I loved it. The way these two characters found their way to each other was delightful to read and I can’t wait for the next book.

Love in the Time of Scandal  by Caroline Linden

This is a great book and I really enjoyed how the two central characters worked out their troubles and found a way to each other. Benedict was a delightful hero, he was sweet, warm, charming but could also be wicked (in the nicest way!) and Penelope was the perfect heroine for him. I loved her more for the way she tried to make the best of things.

Lady Wesley’s Favourites:

This was the year that I became an audiobook addict, so for your listening enjoyment I’ve picked some audio titles published in 2015. By the way, I actually have read all of these books and can wholeheartedly recommend the print versions as well.

This year Loretta Chase continued treating her fans to audio versions of some of her classics. The Last Hellion, first published in 1998, pairs Lord Dain’s (Lord of Scoundrels) best friend, Vere Mallory, with crusading female journalist Lydia Grenville. Mallory, who never expected or wanted to be a duke, is probably a bigger reprobate than Dain, and carouses to forget his grief for the loved ones whose untimely deaths elevated him to the Ainsworth dukedom. Grenville, a fearless bluestocking, has no interest in men, and views Ainsworth with utter disdain. The plot is classic battle-of-the-sexes, with dangerous escapades and lots of Chase’s trademark banter. Lord and Lady Dain make cameo appearances, as does Lady Dain’s goofy brother, Bertie Trent, who gets his own HEA. Kate Reading, one of the best in the business, delivers another first-class performance.

Mary Balogh, another leading light in the historical romance genre, continued her Survivors’ Club series with Only a Promise) , narrated by the incomparable Rosalyn Landor. Waterloo survivor Ralph Stockwood, whose wounds are psychic and thus largely invisible to the world, is reluctant to take a wife even though he knows that he needs to. Enter Chloe Muirhead, who wants to marry and have a family but whose hopes have been dashed by scandal in her family. She proposes to Ralph, offering him a marriage of convenience free of pesky feelings of love and desire. Ah, but this is Romance, so it is inevitable that the two will indeed fall in love. Chloe and Ralph are mature adults, however, and thus it is the deliberate, realistic, and poignant manner in which this HEA comes about that distinguishes this story.

Last year, I recommended Grace Burrowes’ entire Captive Hearts trilogy, as I could not pick a favorite from among them, and this year I find myself in a similar quandary. Lucinda Brant, whose books are set in Georgian England, has published three series, but I think the very best is the Alec Halsey Mystery series. The first two volumes – Deadly Engagement and Deadly Affair – came out in audio format in 2015. The third, Deadly Peril, was published in print last month, and the audio version will be issued very soon. Alec Halsey is a career diplomat who was rather chagrined to find himself elevated to a marquessate for services to the crown. He is handsome, intelligent, somewhat enigmatic, intensely honorable, and decidedly his own man, and he gets involved with intrigues and mysteries, while trying to revive his relationship with his first love, a lady who is now a widow. With impressive research and first-class writing, Lucinda Brant vividly recreates 18th century England and deftly combines mystery and romance into one big delightful package that will please fans of both genres. She has found the perfect narrator in British actor Alex Wyndham, whose beautiful baritone perfectly captures the swoon-worthy Halsey, and who is equally adept at voicing females of all ages. Wyndham does not just narrate Brant’s stories, he virtually inhabits Brant’s characters. Listening to him is a joy beyond joy.

Natalie’s Favourites:

The Lure of the Moonflower by Lauren Willig

This book was the much awaited ending to Willig’s Pink Carnation series. In the final installment the Pink Carnation herself is finally paired with an intriguing turncoat spy and sparks fly. I adored the entire series, and was very happy with this final instalment that brought closure to several characters in Willig’s trademark style.

Death Comes To Kurland Hall by Catherine Lloyd

This is the third instalment in the Kurland St. Mary Mysteries and follows the curmudgeonly Major Robert Kurland and Spinster Lucy Harrington as they investigate yet another murder. I fell in love with the first two books in the series because our two main characters are both such anti-heroes but slowly they started coming around and in Death Comes to Kurland Hall they finally declare their feelings toward one another. This book falls more on the side of historical mystery but if you don’t mind a very chaste love story, pick up the first two books and then finish with this one.

Night of the Highland Dragon by Isabel Cooper

This third book in Isabel Cooper’s Highland Dragons series follows Judith MacAlasdair, the third shape-shifting MacAliasdair, and only female. Judith has been living in the ancestral home for 2 decades and is quickly coming on the moment when she will have to leave to hide her immortality from the townsfolk. But when a stranger turns up at the same time as several brutal murders are discovered, Judith realizes she must stay and protect her neighbors. I had read the first two books in this series a while back and when I started this one I was thrilled to have a female shape-shifter as the heroine of the final book in the series.

Sara’s Favourites:

The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne
This book had a bit of everything; a deeply tortured hero combined with a strong, supportive and caring heroine. A dark secret and the redeeming power of love. The story was gripping and immersive, giving a reader so much more than just the basic plot of two characters falling in love. It’s an incredible story that I was reluctant to finish, have already re-read, and has made me eager for more.

Diary of an Accidental Wallflower by Jennifer McQuinston
A romance that crosses classes and puts a working man into the spotlight as a hero. What makes the book special is that both main characters have dimension, developing and changing from their experiences throughout the story. The secondary characters are just as appealing and do their job of supporting the story and pushing the main characters in the right directions. This was an early release in the year but still remains a favorite.

I Loved a Rogue by Katharine Ashe
The conclusion to The Prince Catchers series, this story rewards a reader who has followed the breadcrumbs left by the author about her characters and their future. All the threads left hanging from the previous stories are tied up nicely, but the highlight is the romance between two souls kept apart by personal fears and social prejudices. A perfect mix of adventure and emotion in one amazing story.

Wendy’s Favourites:

Deadly Peril by Lucinda Brant: this Georgian mystery, the third in the Alec Halsey series, was just fascinating; it has so many twists and turns that the reader is kept guessing until the last paragraph. A fair indicator of an excellent read as far as I am concerned, is whether I can put it down easily – I couldn’t.

The King’s Man by Alison Stuart: this historical romance set during the English Civil war was my first by this author and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I particularly liked her characters, especially the hero, a bad boy (well only through circumstances) reformed by the love of a good woman. I look forward to more of this author’s work.

The Soldier’s Dark Secret by Marguerite Kaye is an historical romance by one of my favourites. Set in the aftermath of Waterloo, it features a compelling hero damaged by his experiences; as I’m fond of dark and angsty, this hit the spot.

The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne: again another first for me, I found this very unusual novel, set in Victorian England strangely compelling. Written in a very unusual style it nevertheless appealed to me with its darker side. Not to everyone’s taste, but definitely to mine.

Tall, Dark, and Wicked by Madeleine Hunter: yet another first for me and I loved it. I thought a barrister as a hero a very original and interesting concept; Ms. Hunter is most definitely on my radar now.

 

So these are some of our favourite books of 2015.  I’m sure we could all have picked more that we’ve enjoyed, but these have been the titles that have stuck in our memories and those books we’ve put onto our “keeper” shelves.

We’d love to hear from you about the books you enjoyed last year, so please do join in the discussion in the comments!

happy new year

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caz

The King’s Man by Alison Stuart

the king's man

Purchase Now from Amazon

London 1654: Kit Lovell is one of the King’s men, a disillusioned Royalist who passes his time cheating at cards, living off his wealthy and attractive mistress and plotting the death of Oliver Cromwell.

Penniless and friendless, Thamsine Granville has lost everything. Terrified, in pain and alone, she hurls a piece of brick at the coach of Oliver Cromwell and earns herself an immediate death sentence. Only the quick thinking of a stranger saves her.

Far from the bored, benevolent rescuer that he seems, Kit plunges Thamsine into his world of espionage and betrayal – a world that has no room for falling in love.

Torn between Thamsine and loyalty to his master and King, Kit’s carefully constructed web of lies begins to unravel. He must make one last desperate gamble – the cost of which might be his life.

add-to-goodreads-button

Publisher and Release Date: Escape Publishing Sept 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: London, 1654
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Wendy

The English Civil War is a period of history I have only recently become interested in, largely thanks to the superb novels set during that time by the British author Stella Riley, who is, in my opinion, one of the best historical fiction/historical romance writers out there. Alison Stuart wasn’t previously on my radar, but now I’ve read The King’s Man, I’m definitely going to seek out more of her books.

Christopher Lovell – Kit to his friends – is disenchanted, disillusioned and fed up with life and the seemingly endless war he is covertly fighting. He appears to his cohorts to be The King’s Man. However, he is playing a nefarious double game not of his making, which involves him risking his life on a daily basis. Captain Lovell fought bravely, heroically and loyally at the Battle of Worcester on the side of the crown; and when seriously wounded and at a very low ebb, he is coerced into spying against his comrades by John Thurloe, Cromwell’s spymaster and Secretary of the Council of State. Kit’s reasons for capitulating do not become apparent until fairly near the end of the story, but suffice to say that he turns traitor against Charles Stuart (later King Charles II) who is now living in exile in France. Kit is a charismatic, handsome, devil-may-care character and very attractive to the ladies. Alison Stuart has done an excellent job in her characterisation of this man who apparently lives without scruples, lives off his attractive young mistress, cheats at cards and betrays his fellow cavaliers; and yet I still found it easy to like and admire him and to hope for his triumph over adversity.

Thamsine Granville, a gently bred young lady and heiress is running away from the cruel, sadistic man that her dying Father was browbeaten into betrothing her to. Desperate to evade her pursuer, Thamasine is saved from a potentially fatal situation by Kit, after which they go their separate ways only to meet again later that day, apparently by accident. Thamsine really has hit rock bottom and is in the process of prostituting herself in her desperation to survive, when her knight in shining armour saves her again. Kit takes her to a friend’s inn where he arranges for her to work for bed and board. Thamsine is grateful, as Kit planned she would be, and is already a little in love with him; he however, is working under orders from John Thurloe and has been instructed to reel her in and set her up for use as another unwilling spy.

The ensuing story is rich in detail and intrigue as it also charts the growing of an unlikely love between the two main protagonists. Thamsine finds the barely visible, honourable side of Kit Lovell, hidden beneath his cynical, couldn’t-care-less, exterior. Her innocent goodness is his salvation and I liked how she helps him to care again and also to achieve redemption.

There are brutal scenes of attempted rape, downright wickedness, high drama, anguish and tender love. Alison Stuart paints a richly eloquent picture of the seedy backstreets of London, the Tower of London – where both Kit and Thamsine spend time as inmates – then across the channel to the court of the exiled Charles and back again, culminating in a shocking and dramatic conclusion that I did not see coming. As far as Kit and Thamsine are concerned, after their tumultuous roller coaster of a ride, they do at least get their HEA but the story is then left hanging and I can only suppose, without adding a spoiler, that this slightly unsatisfactory ending will be the subject of the next book in this series. I enjoyed The King’s Man on the whole although it is a story that leaves the reader feeling slightly emotionally exhausted. Nevertheless I’m looking forward to the next in the series and will read it as soon as it is available.

VIRTUAL TOUR: By the Sword by Alison Stuart

bytheswordbanner_edited-3

PURCHASE LINKS: Amazon * ~ * ~ * B&N * ~ * ~ * iTunes * ~ * ~ * Kobo

England 1650: In the aftermath of the execution of the King, England totters once more on the brink of civil war. The country will be divided and lives lost as Charles II makes a last bid to regain his throne.

Kate Ashley finds her loyalty to the Parliamentary cause tested when she inherits responsibility for the estate of the Royalist Thornton family. To protect the people she cares about, she will need all her wits to restore its fortunes and fend off the ever-present threat of greedy neighbours.

Jonathan Thornton, exiled and hunted for his loyalty to the King’s cause now returns to England to garner support for the cause of the young King. Haunted by the demons of his past, Jonathan risks death at every turn and brings danger to those who love him. Finding Kate in his family home, he sees in her the hope for his future, and a chance at a life he doesn’t deserve.

In the aftermath of the Battle of Worcester, Jonathan must face his nemesis, and in turn, learn the secret that will change his life forever. But love is fragile in the face of history, and their lives are manipulated by events out of their control. What hope can one soldier and one woman hold in times like these?

add-to-goodreads-button

EXCERPT

(Excerpt context: Kate and Jonathan are discussing Kate’s husband, the parliamentarian, Richard Ashley)

BY THE SWORDKate nodded, a faint colour rising in her cheeks. ‘I had a good dowry and Richard fair prospects.’ She looked up at him, holding his eyes with her clear gaze. ‘And we loved each other.’

Dear God, this bloody war, Jonathan thought.

‘And if it were not for the war, you would be living in wedded bliss in Barton Manor, surrounded by a brood of children,’ he said.

Kate looked away and he knew his observation had hit home. He reached for her hand and when she tried to pull away he tightened his grip, forcing her to look up at him.

‘I’m sorry, Kate, that was a thoughtless remark. I’m the last person who has any right to do that.’ He released her hand. ‘From what I knew of Richard, he did not have the heart of a soldier.’

He knew more about Richard Ashley than he was prepared to reveal. A scholar, not a soldier. Richard should be at home at Barton Manor with this woman and their children. Not dead in the ground at the age of twenty-two.

Kate looked up at him, her brow creased in puzzlement, and he cursed himself for revealing too much.

‘What could you possibly have known of him? The Thorntons have been estranged from the Ashleys for over thirty years.’ This time he bit his tongue and when he didn’t reply she continued. ‘To answer your question, Richard may not have gone willingly to the war but he fought bravely against the terrible odds in the North. He followed Sir Thomas Fairfax into hell during those early years.’

Jonathan nodded. ‘Fairfax’s men had it hard in those early years.’ He paused. ‘Was he with Fairfax that day at Marston Moor?’

‘Of course,’ Kate replied. ‘Were you there? Is it possible you faced Richard?’

Of course Jonathan had been there with Prince Rupert’s cavalry. It had been a bloodbath. Marston Moor had put in train a series of tragic events in his own life that had nothing to do with the battle.

He swallowed and gave a barely perceptible nod. ‘I was on the other flank with Rupert.’

‘What did it matter?’ A rare flash of anger rose in Kate. ‘You wouldn’t have known Richard if you had met on the battlefield.’

Yes I would, he thought.

‘That is the tragedy of a civil war, Kate.’

She didn’t seem to notice that he had used her given name. Her eyes blazed with anger and misery. ‘They brought him home to die. It was a horrible death.’ Her voice cracked.

She lowered her head and took several deep shuddering breaths that wracked her body.

Without thinking, Jonathan lifted his hand to her face, tilting her chin so she looked at him. Her eyes swam with unshed tears. Tears he had caused.

‘So many deaths. Too many, Kate. Believe me, it’s not always easy to be the survivor. I may not be dead but I have lost all that is important to me. It’s a hollow victory over death.’

So many deaths…Marston Moor and afterwards, Oxford. He had run at life, stumbled into the path of innocent people, and he had survived while they had died.

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Escape Publishing, March 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and setting: 1650s England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Reviewed by Vikki

I have always been a fan of books based on the English Civil War and when I read the book description, I looked forward to reading By the Sword with a great deal of anticipation.

The book opens with a prologue set in Devon in 1646 that pulled me immediately, and then shifts to Yorkshire in February 1650. Kate Ashley is a young widow with a seven-year-old son. She has been invited to visit Seven Ways in Worcestershire, the ancestral home of her late husband’s mother, a family her husband had been estranged from since his parent chose to marry against her family’s wishes.

After discussion with her son, she agrees to the visit. When they arrive, Kate finds that she likes Sir Francis and Lady Eleanor Longley much more than she expected. Her son, Tom, enjoys meeting them as well, along with Nell’s young daughter, Ann. When Kate learns Sir Francis wants to make Tom his heir, she is troubled, yet does not want to stand in the way of this inheritance.

Kate meets Jonathan Thornton, a Royalist Colonel when he makes a brief visit to Seven Ways. The author is clearly setting up an “across divides” romance between the Cavalier and Parliamentarian Kate, but I felt very little chemistry between the pair at that first meeting. Much of this lack of attraction is due to circumstances in the beginning. Kate loved her late husband and has no plans to ever marry again and Jonathan is an outlaw due to his Royalist connections. This is not a match made in heaven to say the least, but when they meet again later in the book, their connection is stronger.

The story unfolds very slowly and it took me the greater part of the first half before I became really engaged. There is very little action and quite a bit of back-story that slows the pacing down and I came close to not finishing the book. In fact, had I not been reading for review, I probably would have set it aside. Part of the problem is that the hero and heroine are apart for so much of the story.

Fortunately, things improve dramatically in the second half of the story, and I am glad I did not give up on the book. Once the stage was set, this became an action-packed read. I thoroughly enjoyed the vivid description of the Battle of Worcester, Jonathan’s escape from several close calls, and his ultimate capture.

The romance deepens and I finally realised why Jonathan and Kate were attracted to each other. They share several, emotionally-charged and tender moments. By the end of the story, I was fully vested in their love affair, although they are still separated for much of the story, and this, I suspect, is why I found it so difficult to connect with them.

There is no doubt Ms. Stuart loves this period of history, and I thoroughly enjoyed the historical details intermingled through the second part of this book. Due to the slow pacing of the first half of the book, I’m giving it a qualified recommendation. Once you move past that, you will find a fascinating tale of a love that can survive even when there are many obstacles in the way, and a story rich with details of this troubled time in English history.

GIVEAWAY

a Rafflecopter giveaway

FOLLOW THE TOUR HERE

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alison Stuart picAlison Stuart fell in love with the English Civil War when her father read her The King’s General by Daphne Du Maurier. She has been writing stories set in this period since her teenage years but it was not until 2007 that the first edition of By The Sword was published. It went on to win the 2008 EPIC Award for Best Historical Romance. Alison has now published 6 full length novels and a collection of her short stories. When she is not writing she is travelling and has dragged her family around the sites of every major battle of the English Civil War.

Alison lives in Melbourne, Australia. She is a lapsed lawyer who has worked in the military and fire service, with an obvious obsession for men in uniform, which may explain a predisposition to soldier heroes.

 

Author Links: Website * ~ * ~ *  Blog * ~ * ~ *  Facebook * ~ * ~ *  Twitter  * ~ * ~ *  Goodreads

Virtual Tour: Lord Somerton’s Heir by Alison Stuart

NBTMR_LordSomertonsHeir_Banner
Purchase Now from Amazon

Can the love of an honorable man save her from the memory of a desolate marriage?

From the battlefield of Waterloo to the drawing rooms of Brantstone Hall, Sebastian Alder’s elevation from penniless army captain to Viscount Somerton is the stuff of dreams. But the cold reality of an inherited estate in wretched condition, and the suspicious circumstances surrounding his cousin’s death, provide Sebastian with no time for dreams — only a mystery to solve and a murderer to bring to justice. Isabel, widow of the late Lord Somerton, is desperate to bury the memory of her unhappy marriage by founding the charity school she has always dreamed of. Except, her dreams are soon shattered from beyond the grave when she is not only left penniless, but once more bound to the whims of a Somerton.  But this Somerton is unlike any man she has met. Can the love of an honorable man heal her broken heart or will suspicion tear them apart?

Excerpt

Cover_Lord Somerton’s HeirSebastian plunged his arms into the trough with a sharp exclamation at the water’s temperature. He picked up the soap and began scrubbing vigorously. Standing to one side, holding his shirt and coat, Isabel found her eyes fixed on his broad shoulders. His muscles rippled beneath the brown skin and once again her heartbeat quickened. She took a deep steadying breath.

As the sky lightened she could see that there were other scars marring the brown skin.

‘You seem remarkably careless of your life, Lord Somerton.’

He glanced at a long, white scar that ran down his bicep. ‘I’ve been a soldier a long time, Isabel.’

A flush of pleasure rose to her cheeks at this invitation to familiarity. Being alone with a half-naked man in the early hours of the morning did not call for formality, neither did it reflect well on her reputation. She glanced around the stable yard but they were quite alone.

He straightened and began towelling off. The grey light of the early dawn flattened the planes of his face, leeching the colour from his skin and eyes, but she could see the lift of humour curling the corners of his mouth as he caught her watching him and the heat rose to her face as she thrust his shirt at him.

He pulled it over his head and took the coat from her, his eyes not leaving her face. As he buttoned the coat he tilted his head to one side.

‘I’ve been trying to work out what is different about you this morning. It’s your hair.’

He reached out and touched the loosely tied, heavy braid that hung over her shoulder. His finger brushed her cheek, leaving a burning trail across her cool skin.

‘What about my hair?’ Isabel stuttered.

‘I like the way you have bits of it around your face,’ he withdrew his hand and looked away. ‘Now I am being personal.’

Given his previous state of undress and the fact they were alone together, a personal remark seemed the least of her concerns.

‘I’ll forgive you this once.’ She took a step back from him. ‘I must be getting back to the house.’

Before someone sees us together like this.

Sebastian looked at the sky. ‘It’s going to be another lovely day. I think I’ll go for a walk.’

Isabel lingered in the gateway to the stable, watching him stride away from her into the early morning mist. He moved with purpose and strength and she felt sure, had she been a soldier, she would have willingly followed where he led.

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date:  Escape Publishing, May 2014
RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Regency England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Susan

NBTMR_LordSomertonsHeir_CoverBannerA sweet love story, Lord Somerton’s Heir takes its cues from Cinderella, but with a fairytale geared towards the hero’s perspective.  Audiences meet Sebastian Adler in the first chapter, a captain of the British Army who is recuperating from injuries after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo.  Ms Stuart sets up the scene efficiently.  Lord Somerton’s widow, Isabel. comes to Sebastian’s bedside to inform him that he is the heir to the Somerton estate, although Sebastian had no idea of the – rather remote – connection.  But it’s the dream of going from poverty-line to being given a comfortable lifestyle that interests the reader.

Sebastian’s relation to the late Anthony Somerton isn’t the only connection that is skewed.  At Brantstone Hall, the Somerton estate, there are distant cousins of Anthony’s who have made themselves permanent residents, Fred and Fannie Lynch.  Though amiable, Stuart puts doubts in the reader’s mind about the pair, feeding suspicions that they may have had something to do with the riding accident that broke Anthony’s neck and killed him.  The author keeps the story moving, providing background information about Sebastian and Isabel in digestible portions and incrementally supplying clues as to who was behind Anthony’s fall to his death.

Sebastian and Isabel are sympathetic characters who slip into the reader’s heart.  Their love story is sincere and their honor-bound nature inspires the same from audiences.  Lord Somerton’s Heir is a feel good story with the heroine offering the hero the opportunity to become independently wealthy.

Buy Links:

Escape Publishing
Author Website
Amazon
iTunes
Barnes & Noble

Alison will be awarding a $25 Amazon GC to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour, and a $15 Amazon GC to a randomly drawn host.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

You can find details of the other tour stops HERE

About the Author

Alison Stuart picAlison Stuart is an award winning Australian writer of cross genre historicals with heart. Whether duelling with dashing cavaliers or wayward ghosts, her books provide a reader with a meaty plot and characters who have to strive against adversity, always with the promise of happiness together. Alison is a lapsed lawyer who has worked in the military and fire service, which may explain a predisposition to soldier heroes. She lives with her own personal hero and two needy cats and likes nothing more than a stiff gin and tonic and a walk along the sea front of her home town. She loves to hear from her readers and can be found at her website, blog,Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads.

Virtual Tour and Giveaway – Claiming the Rebel’s Heart by Alison Stuart

NBtMR_ClaimingTheRebelsHeart_Banner

War divides families…love unites hearts…

As the English Civil War divides England and tears families apart, Kinton Lacey castle is one of the brave few loyal to the roundhead cause.

With her father away, Deliverance Felton will do whatever it takes to defend her family home against the royalist forces ranged against it. She can shoot and wield a sword as well as any man and anything she needs to know about siege warfare she has learned from a book…but no book can prepare her for what is to come.

Captain Luke Collyer, soldier of fortune and a man with his own reasons for loyalty to the parliamentary cause, is sent to relieve the castle. Everything he knows about siege warfare in general and women in particular he has learned from experience, but when it comes to Deliverance Felton has he met his match?

Deliverance will not give up her command lightly and Luke will have to face a challenge to his authority as fierce as the cavalier foe outside the walls. He will do whatever it takes to win Deliverance’s trust but will he run the risk of losing his own, well-guarded, heart?

Excerpt

Deliverance waved a hand in the direction of the west wall. “Oh, he’s over there, supervising the men on the earthworks. I suppose I should go and find him.”

The two women walked the length of the curtain wall, emerging from the Hawk Tower. As Deliverance looked along the battlements, she realised that quite an audience had gathered. In fact every maid in the castle seemed to be leaning over the stonework, laughing and jesting with the men below.

Penitence leaned over the ramparts. “Oh,” she said. “Oh my! I really do think he should put some clothes on.”

“What on earth do you mean?” Deliverance joined her. “Oh…I see.”

Last time she had seen him, Luke Collyer had been fully clothed, albeit with his jacket unbuttoned and his shirt unlaced at the neck. Now he swung a mattock like one of his men, naked to the waist. His back glowed with the healthy tan of a man used to working outdoors…without a shirt.

Her eyes widened. She had never thought of men as being particularly attractive creatures. There had been no opportunity in her life to spend her time thinking about men much at all. While young, handsome men had queued at the gate for Penitence’s favours, the only offers Deliverance had received were from three old, bald and foolish men of her father’s acquaintance. Mercifully her father had not sought to force her into accepting any of the offers.

Now, as she watched the smooth muscles across Luke Collyer’s back moving rhythmically to the swing of the mattock, she revised her opinion of men in general. She shifted her gaze to Ned Barrett, working a shovel not far away and similarly unclothed. Ned’s tan ended at his neck and his body was pale and freckly. Further along the line of straining men, Sergeant Hale, wielded a mallet, his great hairy, bear-like chest heaving under the effort of each stroke of the mallet.

She turned back to Luke Collyer. Compared to Hale, he seemed almost slender and graceful. Almost — she bit her lip ashamed even of the thought — beautiful.

Cover_CLAIMING THE REBEL'S HEARTPurchase Now from Amazon
Publisher and Release Date: Oportet Publishing, January 2014
RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Herefordshire, England 1643
Genre: Historical Romance.
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Persephone

It’s 1643 and Civil War is raging across England.

Whilst officers and men from both sides of the divide are dispatched to defend or besiege rival strongholds, Luke Collier has the unenviable task of defending the Parliamentarian household at Kinton Lacey Castle. Little does Luke know, Deliverance Felton, eldest daughter in residence, is a force to be reckoned with. That is, until she proves her marksmanship is as good as any soldier. Albeit she mistook Luke for the enemy, she’s reluctant to apologise or relinquish command in the first instance, and less so with ongoing vie for superiority.

Nonetheless, Luke’s greater experience of warfare and a little cunning soon has Deliverance keening a risk-laden adventure she may live to regret. To spy on enemy forces from a safe distance is one thing, to venture behind enemy lines is tempting fate and Deliverance will never admit she may indeed be the weaker sex.

Worse is to come, when a neighbouring fortified house falls foul to the wrath of a Royalist campaign to purge the area of supporters to the Parliamentarian cause. With full scale slaughter left in their wake, of the few who survive, Deliverance affords the beleaguered escapees shelter and sustenance. But, while the opposing forces are massed at the gates of Kinton Lacey, betrayal surfaces and threatens all that Deliverance holds dear to her heart.

Love it seems has betrayed them all, and how are they to uncover the spy and deadly force within their midst before it’s too late? Claiming the Rebel’s Heart is a fine novel depicting the era portrayed, and draws on the awful truth that families were oft torn apart with brother pitted against brother in the name of Parliament or King.

This is not only a well-written account of the hardships facing women throughout the period specified, the author brings to life the trials and tribulations of hardened soldiers forced to defend civilians when they would much rather be waging war in good old warrior tradition.

Alison is awarding a $50 Amazon Gift Card to one commenter drawn randomly from all the stops on the tour. For a chance to win, leave your email address in the comments, below.

About the Author

Alison Stuart pic

Alison Stuart is an award winning and Amazon best selling Australian writer of cross genre historicals with heart. Whether duelling with dashing cavaliers or waywards ghosts, her books provide a reader with a meaty plot and characters who have to strive against adversity, always with the promise of happiness together. Alison is a lapsed lawyer who has worked in the military and fire service, which may explain a predisposition to soldier heroes. She lives with her own personal hero and two needy cats and likes nothing more than a stiff gin and tonic and a walk along the sea front of her home town.

Website: http://www.alisonstuart.com

Blogs: www.alisonstuart.blogspot.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/AlisonStuartWriter

Twitter: @AlisonStuart14

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4636079.Alison_Stuart

Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/Alison-Stuart/e/B004CB59LI/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1372485971&sr=1-2-ent