Tag Archive | American Historical Romance

Honor Before Heart (Emerald Belles #1) by Heather McCorkle

honor before heart

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Risking it all for love and valor . . .

When Corporal Sean MacBranian awakens after being injured in battle, he is sure the luck o’ the Irish has run out on him. Or that he’s died and gone to Heaven. There can be no other explanation for the blond-haired, blue-eyed angel standing before him. But his “angel” is a truehearted lass named Ashlinn, and she wears a nurse’s uniform. Her tender ministrations have brought him back from the brink of death—and have given him a new reason for living.

Ashlinn knows their parting is inevitable; her handsome hero must return to the 69th infantry of the Union army, and there are no guarantees of his safe return. With most of her family already destroyed by the war ravaging America, she is sure she cannot survive another loss. Yet she feels powerless against the draw of Sean’s strong and steady heart. Neither time nor distance nor the danger of battle seems to lessen their bond. But when their secret letters are intercepted, the devoted nurse’s love will face the ultimate test . . .

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Publisher and Release Date: Lyrical Press, March 2017

Time and Setting: Virginia, 1862
Genre: American Historical Romance (Civil War period)
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Sara

Honor Before Heart is a sweetly romantic story set against the horrors of the American Civil War. McCorkle has definitely done her homework to show the brutality and personal cost faced by those who fought or lost someone in the war, although I wish that a bit more had been done to develop the characters past their basic outlines and turn them into a man and woman I could fully connect with.

Ashlinn O’Brian’s life has been changed forever by the war. Her three brothers heard the call to arms and enlisted in the Northern army. After two of them died from poorly treated wounds Ashlinn has been desperately searching the battlefields to find her youngest brother to hopefully save him from dying too. Ashlinn learned everything she could from her parents, a progressive doctor and a midwife, and her skills at keeping patients alive has made her more than a few enemies in the army camp hospital she works in. The latest battle on the shores of the James River has littered the ground with the bodies of dead Union and Confederate soldiers but Ashlinn’s prayers are answered that none of the men she finds are her brother. Before returning to the safety of the army camp Ashlinn’s attention is drawn to her faithful dog Cliste dragging something by the river bank. Getting closer to the water Ashlinn sees that the dog is trying to help a Union soldier who is unconscious but bleeding heavily from a gut wound. Knowing she’s the man’s only hope for survival, Ashlinn gets him into a makeshift shelter and treats his injuries using the supplies she always carries with her.

Corporal Sean MacBranian had escaped injury during the battle only to be caught by a Rebel soldier he found abusing a dog. He managed to kill the Southerner but not before the man got a few good hits on Sean’s person. The pain of his injuries knocks him out and for a moment Sean is certain he’s died when he wakes up to the beautiful face of a guardian angel leaning over him. Fortunately for Sean, his angel is a nurse who knows better ways to heal severe injuries than slicing and dicing up a patient. Ashlinn’s skills at suturing his wounds and keeping them clear of infection allow him to regain some of his strength so they can move out of enemy territory. As they travel Sean finds that Ashlinn is a well-spoken young woman but every so often he can hear a bit of a brogue seeping into her words. As an immigrant from Ireland, Sean is drawn to that little hint of Ashlinn’s own background as it’s something special they share.

Upon arriving safely at the army’s encampment Sean and Ashlinn try to keep their relationship on a cordial level since the war could separate them at any moment. Ashlinn has already learned the difficult lesson that caring for someone makes it agonizing to watch them march into an uncertain future on the battlefield. Sean, too, has seen many good men die and fears that his growing feelings for Ashlinn might become a distraction when his focus should be on the soldiers who serve under him. What neither of them counted on was how strong their bond had already become after Ashlinn saved his life and Sean protected her from the unwanted advances of the camp’s brutal doctor. They become inseparable after Sean is deployed into another battle and Ashlinn knows she would be lost if he were killed in action. Their new relationship is tested when Ashlinn discovers proof that her brother is alive but the circumstances of his disappearance may make her choose between her family and a future with Sean.

Honor Before Heart is tonally perfect for the period –  I could almost see everything happening to Ashlinn and Sean through a sepia-colored lens. One would think that the importance of social status would be something easily ignored while living in an army camp; however Ashlinn’s background as a wealthy Northerner is something that matters to Sean. He is aware that his own status as an Irish immigrant puts him much lower in class than her family even thought they, too, had immigrated generations earlier. There is also a black mark on his family’s name that Sean is hesitant to reveal since it was part of the reason he came to America to start a new life. Once he decides to pursue Ashlinn he adjusts their situation within the camp to always provide a chaperone or keep their meetings within the bounds of propriety. It makes their romance very sweet for most of their courting.

Unfortunately those sepia-colored lenses cannot hide the fact that Sean and Ashlinn never seem to grow or change much throughout the course of the story. Sean is a noble man who fights for the Union to bring freedom to the Southern slaves. Ashlinn is an intelligent and enlightened woman far ahead of her times when it comes to the care of the sick and injured in the field. Those two ideas are discussed between characters many times and serve as the major points of conflict when Ashlinn’s methods are challenged by the male doctors or Sean is captured by a Southern plantation owner. Long passages of the story paint vivid pictures of the brutal conditions Ashlinn is fighting against in the field hospitals, yet that’s all she seems to be fighting for. We don’t really know why her family joined the fight or what her thoughts are about the political side of things.

With that said, I enjoyed enough of Honor Before Heart to recommend it. The calm pace of the story creates the perfect conditions for a romance to thrive but the darkness of war is always present. It’s nice to believe that something as beautiful as love will survive past all of the hate.

The Star in the Meadow (Spanish Brand #4) by Carla Kelly

the star in the meadow

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Marco Mondragón and his wife Paloma are living hectic but happy lives at the Double Cross, on the edge of Comanchería. Five years after the death of Comanche leader Cuerno Verde, cautious diplomacy between the tribe and the colonists is underway to end Comanche raids into New Mexico. Paloma’s time has been fully consumed by her two toddlers and newborn son and Marco’s by spring planting.

The Seven Year Audit of 1784 arrives and with it comes auditor Fernando Ygnacio. After years of incarceration for a crime he did not commit, Señor Ygnacio is a broken man. Although his daughter Catalina is bitter about his mistreatment by his superiors, her storytelling abilities captivate the household, including a frequent visitor from the nearby presidio, El Teniente Joaquim Gasca, who has been undergoing his own reformation from rascal to leader. Unknown to him, Marco has peculiar enemies plotting his downfall.

When Paloma and Catalina set out on a visit to Marco’s sister, meant to give Paloma relief from her busy life, the women are kidnapped. Devastated, Marco is torn between love and duty. He yearns to search for his wife, but feels bound by colonial duties to accompany his friend Toshua to Río Napestle, where Comanches have gathered to debate the region’s fragile peace. In his absence from the Double Cross, will Joaquim Gasca and Toshua’s wife Eckapeta be able to find the missing women?

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Publisher and Release Date: Camel Press, February 2017

Time and Setting: New Mexico, 1785
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Lady Blue

With this fourth book of the Spanish Brand Series, Carla Kelly concludes the ongoing saga of Marco Mondragon, an Spanish official in 1780’s New Mexico.  When we first met him, he was heartbroken over the deaths of his beloved wife and twin sons.  After a time, he found happiness with a new love, Paloma, and they began to build a future together.  They now have two children, and Paloma has just given birth to their second son.  Although she is overjoyed at having been delivered of a healthy child, Paloma doesn’t bounce back.  She is restless, overwhelmed, tired, and confused.  She tries to put on a brave front, but Marco realizes something is wrong.  After learning that this condition happens occasionally to a woman after giving birth, Marco decides to send Paloma away to his sister’s home for a couple of weeks, where she can just relax and have no responsibilities.

Disaster strikes when Paloma and her companion are kidnapped while travelling.  The kidnappers originally targeted someone else, but upon learning that Paloma is Marco’s wife, they decide to keep her, as they have a grudge against him.  To make matters worse, Marco is scheduled to attend a very important meeting with the Comanche to discuss peace.  Marco has earned their respect, and there will be no talks without him there.  While he desperately wants to search for his missing wife, he is forced to let others search while he attends the gathering.

While the previous books in this series have been fraught with conflict and danger, I found The Star in the Meadow to be the most heartbreaking.  Marco and Paloma are apart for most of the book, and both have to make hard and distressing decisions, including one about their newborn child.  Throughout all this darkness, Carla Kelly manages to inject moments of light humor, and when the lovers are finally reunited, each unsure of their reception from the other, their love and passion burns brighter than ever.  This couple has a genuine goodness about them, which seems to enfold their family and friends, and makes them all the better for it.  The Star in the Meadow is beautifully written, and a satisfying conclusion to the series, though I hate to see it end.  I was left with a great feeling of warmth and optimism for their future, and I recommend this series highly.

Beauty: An Everland Ever After Tale by Caroline Lee

beauty

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A faded matron and a blinded musician… but which is the Beauty and which is the Beast?

Twice-widowed Arabella Mayor has made a place for herself and her son in Everland, selling and lending her beloved books to other bibliophiles in the sweet town. But she’s running out of money, and ten-year-old Eddie is giving her fits, and their future is uncertain. Re-marriage might have once been an option, but Arabella knows she’s past her prime, and isn’t the Beauty she used to be. And as her beauty faded, so did her worth. What does she have left?

World-renown violinist Vincenzo Bellini is at ease with his carefully cultivated reputation of a beastly recluse. After all, the fewer people looking at his hideous scars, the better. Ready to retire, he’s trying to hide in Everland, but doesn’t count on the townsfolk being so curious… especially a particular bookseller who reminds him of the life he abandoned long ago. Can he teach her that worth isn’t tied to their appearances, or will he have to abandon his plans for a future here in Everland?

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Publisher and Release Date: Caroline Lee, May 2016

Time and Setting: Wyoming Territory, 1876
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1
Review Rating: 3 stars

Review by Sara

There is something special about the boom town of Everland. Author Caroline Lee has populated the community with characters straight out of the fairy tale books but given them a distinctly American spin. You won’t find cursed princes or magical talking housewares in this story, but if you look closely you may see a little magic at work in Beauty: An Everland Ever After Tale.

The gossips of Everland are all clamoring to discover more about the mysterious stranger who has settled there. The large home on the outskirts of town shows that their new neighbor is a man of means but he’s been quite reticent to welcome anyone who has tried to meet him. The only thing they know about Signore Bellini is of his fame as a concert violinist and rumors of his beastly appearance.

Unfortunately Arabella Mayor has no time to discuss the curiosities of the newest townsperson. She is barely making ends meet after her second husband’s death left her alone to raise her son and work the bookshop in town. As Arabella’s resources have dwindled she’s had to make many sacrifices and is now at the point of renting out her own apartments above the store to bring in more money. Of course none of her friends are aware of her circumstances as it would break the rules of decorum her late husband all but drilled into her head. The appearance of success and a beautiful family was all that he desired from her, and to survive her marriage for her son’s benefit Arabella adopted those desires as her own.

Arabella is quite shocked when Bellini’s manservant appears in her store requesting her services to bring books and read them out loud to him. Upon arriving at the man’s home it becomes clear to Arabella why Signore Bellini has hidden himself. The musician is terribly scarred across his face and head, with the worst wounds having destroyed his eyes. Arabella is horrified by Bellini’s appearance and can only think about what her former husband would say about the worth of a man who cannot function in regular society. Her attitude towards Bellini begins to change when she catches him in a private moment playing his violin and the man’s true talent moves her to tears.

Vincenzo Bellini has survived for years by allowing people to know him only for his appearance or by the music he loves to play. His plan upon moving to Everland was to quietly retire from the public eye and settle in a community that might let him keep to himself. He didn’t count on inviting the local bookstore owner into his home and finding her company so entertaining. Talking with Mrs. Mayor about books or sharing his music with her and her son awakens emotions that Vincenzo had thought lost forever, just like his sight. Mrs. Mayor becomes special to Vincenzo within a very short period of time and his heart slowly opens to a hope that their relationship could change from friendship to something more; however a shocking revelation about her past puts that hope to the ultimate test.

Beauty: An Everland Tale spins the standard Beauty and the Beast story by asking the reader what a true beast is made of. Is it a visual thing or can it be something soul deep? Arabella may be a beautiful woman on the outside but her husband’s “rules” about appearance and behavior have turned her ugly on the inside. Vincenzo may have been forced to live with an unfortunate disfigurement but he creates beautiful music and opens his heart to the widow and her son when they need him. Arabella that has closed herself off from feeling true emotions or letting someone know the real person underneath all the ugliness. In being with Vincenzo, trusting him with her secrets and letting him know her son, she begins to understand what is truly important in life. Beauty can fade, but true love can endure.

I enjoy the clever ways Ms. Lee makes old fairy tales unique in the unusual town of Everland. There are fairy godmothers but they act in more mundane ways than transforming people or things. The people have characteristics of their literary namesakes, yet they feel like real small town neighbors all coming together to form a community on the frontier. Curses don’t change people but the aftermath of the Civil War does hang heavy on those it affected. There is a lot of charm in the Everland Ever After series and each book has been quite fun to read.

Her Safe Harbor (Crawford Family #3) by Holly Bush

her safe harbor

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1893. Jennifer Crawford, the peacekeeper in a well-to-do Boston family rife with anger, deceit, and even treachery, was born to solve mathematical mysteries at a time when women are only beginning to venture from home and into the world of commerce and politics. Beautiful and shy, she struggles to find the courage to face a scheming mother and guide a father denying their familial dysfunction, hesitant to traverse the volatile economics banks are facing at the turn of the twentieth century. But danger threatens when she discovers the crimes of an abusive man determined to make Jennifer his own.

Zebidiah Moran, chief of staff for a new senator in Washington, is determined to uncover the lovely Jennifer’s secrets and guard her from danger. But will his sacrifices be enough to keep her safe? Will he be Her Safe Harbor?

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Publisher and Release Date: Holly Bush Books, March 2016
Time and setting: Boston, 1893
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Rating: 4 Stars

Review by Vikki

I have been a fan of Holly Bush and her novels ever since I read The Train Station Bride. Her Safe Harbor is the final book in her Crawford Family series, which I have enjoyed immensely. While this is not my favorite of the series, I did enjoy it a great deal.

Jennifer Crawford is in a difficult position. She began a friendship with an attractive man, and now he is a vice-president at her father’s bank, but she learns too late that he is abusive and controlling. While she desperately wants to break it off, Jeffrey refuses to listen and her mother is so enamored of the man, she also refuses to listen to Jennifer’s protests.

After Jeffrey attacks her a second time, leaving her with bruised ribs, Jennifer leaves town in order to visit her sister, Jolene in Washington D.C. While there, she again meets Zebidiah Moran, a man she nursed through influenza when she visited her sister in Texas in Contract to Wed. She feels safe when she is near him and is relieved when Jolene’s husband sends Zeb to protect his wife while she visits her mother in Boston.

When Zeb discovers the truth about Jennifer’s injuries, he knows he must proceed with caution because of the relationship between her Jennifer’s mother and Jeffrey, and the fact that he works at her father’s bank; but Zeb will protect Jennifer no matter what. Will his protection keep her safe from this vile man, or will he lose her before he ever has a chance to tell her he loves her?

Her Safe Harbor is a fast-paced novel with elements of suspense, along with an emotionally-charged romance. This book has a few dark moments since the plot deals with physical abuse. While there are a couple of violent scenes, they are not gratuitous and are in no way offensive, but I do recognize that they could make some readers a bit uncomfortable.

Ms. Bush does an excellent job with the emotions experienced by an abused woman. Jennifer is an intriguing character with two sides to her personality. On the one hand, she is intelligent, independent, and a confident businesswoman, but in spite of her strength, she allows her abuser to make her question her abilities. While she is determined to stand up to him, in reality, her fear of what he will do to her and her loved ones keeps her from following through.

Zeb Moran is a great hero. He is an honorable man, determined to protect Jennifer from the egomaniac who is hurting her. He shows a great deal of patience with Jennifer, even when she is determined to keep him away. I fell in love with his character from the start.

Some of the writing is a little awkward, and I felt that the book could have used some decent editing to smooth it out. I found myself being pulled from the story at those moments.

If you enjoy an absorbing story with a bit of mystery woven in, then you will like Her Safe Harbor. It is a nice conclusion to this series.