Tag Archive | Carla Kelly

Regency Christmas Gifts (anthology) by Carla Kelly

regency christmas gifts
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In the first of these stories set in Regency England, an impoverished war widow returns a misdelivered parcel and attracts the interest of a well-to-do retired sailing master and his sister. In story two, a self-made man returns to Scotland to marry the woman he has corresponded with ever since he left as a boy, little knowing the letters were written by another. In story three, a man visits the estate of his relatives to comfort his lovely second cousin, who is unhappy that Christmas has been usurped by her sister’s nuptials.

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Publisher and Release Date: Camel Press, September 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Regency Era, England and Scotland
Genre: Historical Romance Anthology
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Lady Blue

Carla Kelly has penned three heartwarming short stories which have the Christmas holiday as a backdrop to the romance. The title of the book is significant, as each story focuses heavily on giving and generosity. The romances are sweet (kisses only – definitely no Christmas spice here) yet effective.

The Lasting Gift
Mary Anne Poole has been widowed for seven years, having lost her soldier husband right after their marriage. Since then, she and her daughter have been barely scraping by, and now, she is about to lose her secretarial job on Christmas Eve. A package is delivered to her home in error, and she decides to return it to the sender who happens to be Thomas Jenkins, a sailing master. Thomas is itching to get back to the sea, as between journeys he is bored and restless. He is happy to entertain his unexpected visitor, and he soon is aware of the dire straits she’s in. Thomas has accumulated quite a bit of wealth over his career, and he is more than happy to help Mary Anne, who has caught his fancy. Rather than let false pride keep her from accepting aid, Mary Anne is grateful for Thomas’ help, and soon she finds herself falling for this kind and generous man. It’s tragic that he has signed up for another voyage that will take him away for at least a year. Or, will there be some Christmas magic?

Faithfully Yours
This exceptionally short story was a delight to read. When impoverished, eighteen-year-old John McPherson was about to leave for America to try to make his fortune, Margaret Patterson played a cruel jest by saying she would write to him. Margaret had no intention of corresponding, so she coerced Sally Wilson (who is a genuine friend of John’s) to respond to his letters, signing Margaret’s name. Much correspondence and many years later, John has made his fortune and is returning home, throwing Margaret into a panic, until she learns he’s now a wealthy man. This story takes an unexpected and delightful turn, when we find that John is no one’s fool, and has suspected who his real correspondent has been all these years.

Lucy’s Bang-Up Christmas
Lucy’s life is in an uproar – she recently lost her beloved mother, her sister is getting married on Christmas Eve, the household is a shambles, and she is going to have to make her début in a few short months. Enter Miles Bledsoe – Lucy’s second cousin and lifelong friend – to lend his support. Miles’ humor and good sense help calm Lucy, and start her thinking about the real meaning of Christmas. Truth be told, over the last year, Miles has come to see Lucy in a new light, and hopes to court her. While Lucy is a little slower in coming to realize that she loves Miles in a whole new way, she grows up quite a bit as she learns to care and give and listen. This friends to lovers romance is slow building and satisfying while being interwoven with the true spirit of Christmas.

I enjoyed reading all three of these stories. They are unashamedly sentimental and romantic, and even occasionally tear inducing. Regency Christmas Gifts is full of holiday cheer, warmth and love.

Paloma and the Horse Traders (Spanish Brand #3) by Carla Kelly

paloma and the horse traders

As the eighteenth century draws to a close, the Kwahadi Comanches seem to be making their peace with the settlers of the Spanish Colony of New Mexico. No one is as relieved as Marco Mondragón and his adored wife Paloma Vega, whose ranch, the Double Cross, sits on the edge of Comanchería. Their tranquility is short-lived, however, for other Comanches are terrorizing the plains, led by the ruthless renegade, Great Owl.

At the annual fair in Taos, Marco and his Comanche friend Toshua arrange to buy a team of bays from horse traders who sometimes wink at the law. Marco can’t complete the purchase because he spends all his money to buy a slave from Great Owl, thus saving her life. Graciela accompanies them back to the Double Cross, along with Diego Diaz, one of those traders Marco still owes for the team.

Great Owl’s threat to tentative peace between the Kwahadi and the Spanish must be squelched. Marco and Toshua bolster their small army of two with an unexpected ally in Joaquim Gasca, a disgraced former lieutenant with the Royal Engineers. They are joined by Diego Diaz, who turns out to be a key figure from Paloma’s past. Adding two shady horse traders and the secretive Graciela, Marco leads his small but determined army north to land contested by both Utes and Comanches. Though woefully outnumbered, they must defeat Great Owl or die trying.

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Publisher and Release Date: Camel Press, September 2015
RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Late 1700’s, New Mexico
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1.5
Reviewer Rating: 5 Stars

Review by Lady Blue

Paloma and the Horse Traders the third book in Carla Kelly’s Spanish Brand series, continues the story of Marco and Paloma Mondragon, who are forging a life together in New Mexico in the late 1700’s when times are hard and dangerous, and life uncertain. In the previous two books we witnessed their overcoming tragedy, grief, and abuse to find each other, fall in love and begin married life. Then came infertility, smallpox, and facing – up close and personal- the dreaded Comanches.

Now there is a fragile peace, and Marco and Paloma have been blessed with a son, as well as an adopted daughter. They have fallen deeply in love and are enjoying their life and their children. Everything changes in a moment when Marco makes a routine trip to the annual fair to purchase a pair of horses from the horse traders. Great Owl, a fierce Comanche who wants no part of peace, comes to the fair with a band of his warriors, looking to sell three slaves. Marco’s soft heart breaks, and he uses the money he had set aside for the horses to buy the young woman slave, who Marco knows would have suffered the greatest at the hands of Great Owl and his men. Marco then manages to convince one of the horse traders to follow him back home with the horses he wanted, where he’ll be able to pay him. On the way home, they are followed by Great Owl and his men, and eventually an arrow is shot, targeting the slave, Graciela, but hitting the horse trader instead. The group manages to make it back to Marco’s ranch without further incident or injury.

Thus the short lived peace is broken, and Marco realizes that if Great Owl isn’t stopped now, things will only escalate. Marco has no army, and he won’t take any of his men away from his ranch, because he wants to be sure Paloma and the children are protected. So he sets off with his friend Toshua and one disgraced soldier, to end Great Owl’s threat, knowing very well that he’s placing all their lives in jeopardy.

Once again, Carla Kelly has kept me up late, reading into the wee hours to finish this book. This is not usually a time and place that I like to read about, but I am totally captivated by this series. Marco and Paloma have formed such a strong love, that it’s breathtaking. The descriptions of the characters and places are vivid. The plot is riveting and the action is exciting. I am totally invested in this couple, and I’m thrilled to hear that there is at least one more book coming in the series. I would recommend reading the first two books of this series to get the maximum enjoyment. Paloma and the Horse Traders is pure artistry and a sheer delight. I give it my highest recommendation.

RETRO REVIEW: Reforming Lord Ragsdale by Carla Kelly

ragsdale

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Emma Costello owed a debt of honor to one of the most dishonorable lords in the realm. The infamous Lord Ragsdale was as rich as sin, as sinful as he was rich, and as heartless as he was handsome. But he had saved Emma from a fate worse than death when he stopped a lecherous brute from buying her as an indentured servant.

It was Emma’s turn now to save Lord Ragsdale from his wicked ways. She had to find a way to stop his drinking, his gaming, his wild revelry. She had to make him break with his mistress, the superbly sensual Fae Moulle. She had to make him a suitable suitor for the ideal wife that the prim and proper Lady Clarissa Partridge would be. And above all, she had to keep his lustful eye from lingering too long on herself–even as she struggled to keep her own growing desire from undoing all her hard work in the unmaking of this irresistible rake.

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Publisher and Release Date: Signet, October 1995

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Regency England
Genre: Regency Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 Stars

Review by Lady Wesley

I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of romance novels that have brought me to tears. To that list I must add Reforming Lord Ragsdale.

John Staples, Marquess of Ragsdale, is an unrepentant rake. Not the handsome, charming, amiable kind of rake frequently found in romance novels. He’s a drunkard who neglects his duties (although he is good to his mother). He’s too lazy to hire a valet or to replace the secretary he fired for stealing. He’s even too indolent to rid himself of his stupid mistress, whom he doesn’t even like. His behavior is not like that of other romance heroes either. In one early scene, we find him waking up drunk, fully clothed, and filthy from his own vomit. It’s just another typical morning. Later, he visits his mistress and “attempting exercise far beyond his capacity,” he leaves embarrassed and sulky.

He was disfigured by the loss of an eye while fighting in Ireland, which is also where he witnessed a mob murdering his father. He’s wracked with guilt because he was unable to save him, and he hates the Irish with a passionate vengeance. When his American cousins, Robert and Sally Claridge, arrive for a visit, he immediately dislikes Sally’s indentured Irish servant Emma Costello, although he finds himself intrigued to learn that she has knowledge of Greek mythology and Shakespeare. When cousin Robert tries to put up Emma’s indenture as stakes in a card game, however, even Lord Ragsdale is horrified at the inhumanity of it. He rescues Emma by offering his two excellent horses in her place. Suddenly, he owns Emma’s indenture, and she indignantly pledges to repay him the two thousand pounds that the horses cost.

I said earlier that Lord Ragsdale was unrepentant, but in fact there is a part of him that knows he’s wasting his life. He wants to be better, but his lassitude is too consuming. One night, in a drunken haze, he begs Emma to reform him, and she immediately sees her chance. She will reform this worthless man, and in so doing earn her release.

It turns out that Emma is an educated, talented, and ruthlessly strong woman whose life was ruined in the battle between England and Irish rebels. She dislikes the English no less than Lord Ragsdale abhors the Irish. Between them, however, a reluctant friendship develops, as she sets about organizing his finances, getting rid of the mistress, and stopping his out of control drinking. Emma encourages Lord Ragsdale to find a wife, and indeed he becomes the ideal fiancé for Miss Clarissa Partridge, a perfect little society chit of the sort he always expected to marry.

Eventually, Emma comes to trust Lord Ragsdale enough to share her past with him, and he goes out of his way to help her find out the fate of her lost family. Their friendship slowly turns to love, but they both know, without discussing it, that there is no future for them together. As the story enters its final pages, Lord Ragsdale is set to marry Clarissa, and Emma is leaving England, and the reader despairs of a happy ending. But fear not . . . .

I cannot recommend this book highly enough. The plot is engaging, with plenty of humor as well as angst; the language sparkles. There’s no sex – just a couple of kisses – but there’s something better: real, unselfish love between two people who never expected to find it.

RETRO REVIEW: In Love and War: A Collection of Love Stories by Carla Kelly

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Beloved romance writer Carla Kelly shares a treasured collection of stories starring dashing war heroes and the sassy heroines who can’t help but fall for them. From daring sea captains to genteel lords, there’s a little something for every heart’s fancy. Readers everywhere will adore these four regency romances—now available together for the first time in one can’t-miss ebook!

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Publisher and Release Date: Cedar Fort, Inc., February 2012
RHR Classifications:
Location and Setting: Regency England
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 Stars

Review by Lady Wesley

Carla Kelly writes some of the best, most thoroughly researched Regency-set historical romances on the market today. If you haven’t read her, this book is an excellent introduction to her work.

This ebook is a reissue of four utterly charming short stories about the men who fought for England in the early 19th century and the women who came to love them. These are not a lot of lords and ladies but rather real people living real lives. As might be expected from a short story, each couple falls in love rather rapidly, but in a quite believable manner.

* The Light Within – A Quaker widow from America is helped by the younger brother of a spendthrift marquess who has returned from Waterloo believing he has no future.

* A Hasty Marriage – While visiting a friend in Portsmouth, an upper class spinster finds herself attracted to an American sea captain from Boston, but war is breaking out and he must flee before his ship is confiscated.

* Something New – A Scots artillery major returns to England with a four-year-old French orphan, and “decent” people seem to think he should turn her over to an orphanage. The widow of a Navy captain, however, sees things differently

* The Background Man – Although he was only a clerk for the East India Company, a mild-mannered young man fought beside Wellington in India. Now he runs a high-class hotel and is content with the hum-drum nature of his life until an unusual guest arrives and shakes him up.

I would give this more than five stars if possible. It was my first Carla Kelly book, and I have gone on to read almost all of her Regencies. She also writes books set in the American West, so if that appeals to you, give one a try.

Marco and the Devil’s Bargain by Carla Kelly

marco 2

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The year is 1782. Marco Mondragón, brand inspector in Spanish New Mexico, and his wife Paloma Vega have settled happily into married life on the Double Cross. And yet Paloma is convinced their joy will not be complete until she has a child. She longs to give her husband a baby to soothe his grief over the death from cholera of his first wife and twin sons. Marco’s land grant stands at the edge of the most dangerous region in the Southwest: Comanchería.

Both Paloma and Marco have suffered at the hands of the fierce Comanche, losing beloved family members in raids. Despite their fear and mistrust of the Comanche, one lives among them. Paloma rescued Toshua from slavery and near death. As much as she respects the man now, Paloma wishes he would return to the Staked Plains, Comanche stronghold to the east in Texas. No one knows why Toshua remains at the Double Cross. Is it because his own tribe shunned him, or is he genuinely attached to its owners? Now a new enemy threatens the Mondragóns’ domestic bliss: the Dark Wind—la viruela, smallpox—barreling down on the defenseless royal colony from Comanchería. A mysterious and arrogant English physician named Anthony Gill offers their one hope at salvation … but only if Marco agrees to his Devil’s Bargain. Book Two in the Spanish Brand series, which began with The Double Cross.

Publisher and Release Date: Camel Press, August 2014

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: New Mexico, 1782
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1.5
Reviewer Rating: 5 Stars

Review by Lady Blue

In her previous book, The Double Cross, Carla Kelly introduced us to Marco and Paloma Mondragon, and what I thought was their happy ever after. It turns out that wasn’t the case, as their story continues in this, Book Two of The Spanish Brand Series. The couple has now been married over a year, and are very happy, except for the fact that they’ve been unable to conceive a child. A new threat is now on the horizon – it appears that smallpox is heading their way. Marco has been inoculated, but Paloma has not. A stranger, Anthony Gill, arrives in town, seeking out Marco. He claims to be a doctor, and is willing to give the vaccine to Paloma, but at a price. He wants Marco to escort him to a valley controlled by the Comanche, where no white man has gone, to find his kidnapped daughter. As Marco is terrified of losing Paloma to disease, as he lost his first wife and sons to cholera, he reluctantly agrees to this Devil’s Bargain.

There is a risk with the vaccine – it can be fatal in some cases – but Paloma is willing to take her chances. She becomes ill, but recovers after several days. She has no intention of letting Marco travel to the valley without her. He adamantly refuses to take her with him, but she is adamant that she would rather die with him than live without him. Marco knows that she would only follow on her own, so he reluctantly agrees, and they begin their journey along with Anthony Gill and Toshua, the Comanche who has become Paloma’s unofficial guardian since she saved his life.

The journey is arduous. They battle cold, hunger, wild animals, and hostile natives, not to mention the rugged terrain. Eventually they encounter some members of Toshua’s former tribe, including his “first” wife, who travel along with them. Their aid is invaluable, as once they arrive at their destination, if, indeed, they make it, they have to somehow persuade the very same Comanches who killed Gill’s wife and kidnapped his daughter to give her back. Provided, that is, they are able to leave with their own lives.

What a wonderful adventure this book is! Marco’s and Paloma’s love for each other has grown, and they express it enthusiastically and regularly, though not too explicitly. Paloma has also grown enough that she’s able to overcome her fear of Toshua and trust him. We get to see the Comanche people painted as human beings, not just killing savages. (The name the Comanche women give Marco when they see him naked is priceless!)

Carla Kelly has written another masterpiece about a time and place you don’t typically read about in a historical romance. Her descriptions are vivid, and she doesn’t shy away from the unpleasant aspects of how hard life was then. Her characters are well rounded, and interesting. The plot is exciting, and has a couple twists at the end that I didn’t see coming. This amazing story truly satisfies a love of both romance and history and I recommend it most highly.

RETRO REVIEW: Marrying the Royal Marine by Carla Kelly

mrmarine

Illegitimate Polly Brandon has never felt like more than an ugly duckling. So she’s amazed when Hugh Philippe Junot pays her such close attention as they sail for Portugal.

Under ordinary circumstances she knows this distinguished lieutenant colonel of marines would never have looked at her, but having his protection for the journey is comforting–and something more that she’s afraid to give a name to. Should she trust what she sees in Hugh’s eyes–has she turned from an ugly duckling into a beautiful, desirable swan?

Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin Historical/Mills and Boon Historical, June 2010

Time and Setting: Portugal and England, 1812
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Rating: 1.5
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Caz

Polly Brandon, the youngest of three sisters, is eighteen (going on nineteen), and has always felt herself to be the ugly duckling of the family. At the beginning of the story, she has obtained passage on a British ship bound for Portugal, intending to work alongside her sister, Laura, and her husband, who is chief surgeon at a military hospital in Oporto.

Recently promoted Lieutenant Colonel Hugh Philippe d’Anvers Junot – a Scot, despite his French-sounding name – is wondering whether taking that promotion had been such a good idea after all, as it has left him landlocked. He is, he admits, dissatisfied both professionally and personally; in the case of the former, he misses life at sea, and in the case of the latter, he is lonely, and thinks that perhaps, at thirty-seven, he may have left it too late to find himself a wife and start a family.

Travelling to Portugal on a fact-finding mission, he is at somewhat of a loose end, until he realises that the ship’s other passenger, Polly, has not been seen for two days. He discovers her in the grips of a terrible bout of sea-sickness and, not being part of the crew and having no other urgent duties takes responsibility for her care – cleaning her up, moving her to his cabin and generally looking after her until they arrive at Oporto, where Polly is headed in order to work with her sister and her surgeon husband at the military hospital there.

During their time on board, Hugh realises that Polly – whom he nicknames Brandon – is no milk-and-water miss. She is independent of mind and spirit with a great deal of backbone, and he finds himself falling for her, hard and fast. But he is almost twenty years her senior, and, convinced he is too old for her, determines to leave her in Oporto and journey onward to Lisbon, believing that once out of sight he will be able to put her out of his mind.

For her part, Polly is embarrassed by the Colonel’s care of her, knowing he’s seen her at her worst and believing it impossible that such a handsome, distinguished and commanding man could ever be interested in an a woman like her; plain and poor as she is, and illegitimate, to boot. But when they arrive at the convent-turned-hospital, Polly’s sister sees immediately that Hugh is more than a little interested in Polly, and warns him off. Hugh does not take exception to her warning – she says nothing that he hasn’t already told himself.

Hugh takes his leave, and Polly begins her work at the hospital, working alongside Sister Maria, who has asked her to teach English to the women and their children who have taken refuge at the convent. The women have been raped and brutalised by soldiers of the French army, and many of them still have nightmares about their experiences. One of the things Sister Maria does is to help soothe them at night so they can sleep, and she also asks for Polly’s help in this. Polly finds it difficult and draining – but knows she is doing good, and ends up writing pages and pages about her experiences and her own emotions in a long letter to Hugh, which she knows he will never see.

Hugh misses Polly more than he could ever have imagined he would miss anyone, and admits to himself that he has finally found the woman with whom he could spend the rest of his life – while also telling himself he can’t have her because she’s too young for him and has her life to live.

When his ship returns to Oporto, he fully intends to sail back to England without seeing Polly again, not wanting to put himself through the pain of seeing her and having to leave her again. Fate, however, decrees otherwise, and very soon, the pair of them are thrust into an unwelcome and dangerous situation from which it seems unlikely they will escape with their lives.

Carla Kelly is one of those writers who can always be depended upon to come up with a well-written and entertaining story, but this book really is something special. The Napoleonic Wars are often referenced in historical romances set in and around this period, but are little more than a backdrop, whereas here, the reader is plunged into the midst of the uncertainty and horrors of war as experienced in this particular corner of Europe. There are a few upsetting scenes, especially when Hugh, Polly and Sister Maria are captured by a small group of French dragoons and their lives are hanging in the balance. Hugh and Polly claim to be married – hoping to prevent Polly’s violation at the hands of the soldiers – a fiction they maintain throughout their journey, which it becomes clear isn’t all that much of a fiction after all. The feelings which have already sprouted between them take root and grow, their affectionate gestures and verbal endearments a natural consequence of the attraction that already exists between them. It’s a beautifully written and heart-felt romance in which the connection between the protagonists is deep and real, and not just something which happens as the result of their terrible situation.

Hugh and Polly come across as ordinary people who find themselves having to deal with extraordinary circumstances. Hugh is a wonderful hero – strong and honourable, while being caring, protective and possessed of a wry sense of humour. And Polly is resilient and courageous, even though she is scared to death and isn’t afraid to admit it. Together, they help each other through weeks spent as the captives of a group of French dragoons as they travel across Portugal to join up with their captor’s regiment. The journey is hazardous, they are often starving and always uncomfortable, yet through it all they remain Hugh and Polly, two people doing what they must to survive who never lose their humanity amidst the terrible inhumanity of war.

Ms Kelly’s grasp of the history of the period is masterly, and I am in awe of her ability to have written such an emotionally intense and satisfying story in under three hundred pages. I freely admit to having teared up on at least two occasions while I was reading, and to finding my heart in my throat during times of peril. Ms Kelly doesn’t sugar coat the horror, desperation and degradation of war and I was truly impressed at the manner in which she humanised the opposing forces, showing them as men doing their jobs rather than demonising them.

Marrying the Royal Marine is a truly wonderful book, from start to finish. The romance is just beautiful, with Hugh and Polly showing each other over and over how much they care for each other in ways both big and small. They are partners in every sense of the word – looking out for each other, saving each other, and even managing to laugh together despite the gravity of the situation into which they are thrust. I know there are some readers who don’t care for such large age-gaps, but honestly, that doesn’t matter here. Polly isn’t some brattish teenaged air-head; she’s mature for her years and has a sensible head on her shoulders, and she and Hugh make a couple I can envisage as being happy together long after the last page has been turned.

The Double Cross by Carla Kelly

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Blurb:

The year is 1780, and Marco Mondragon is a brand inspector in the royal Spanish colony of New Mexico. A widower and rancher, Marco lives on the edge of Comancheria, the domain of the fierce Comanche. Each autumn, he takes cattle and wool, and his district’s records of livestock transactions to the governor in Santa Fe. he is dedicated, conscientious and lonely. This year, he is looking for a little dog to keep his feet warm through cold winter nights. He finds a yellow dog but also meets a young, blue-eyed beauty named Paloma Vega. Paloma is under the thumb of relatives who might have stolen a brand belonging to Paloma’s parents, dead in a Comanche raid. As a brand inspector, Marco has every right to be suspicious of brand thieves. If Marco has anything to do with it, Paloma’s fortunes are about to change. Meanwhile, Marco has other challenges to contend with. An elderly ranchero named Joaquin Munoz has set in motion events that involve the ever-dangerous Comanches and threaten the uneasy peace of Marco’s jurisdiction. Set against the mountains and high plains of northeastern New Mexico during the decline of Spanish power in the New World, The Double Cross is a story of loss and love regained, at a time when honor went hand in glove with bravery, and danger was never far away.

Publisher and release date: Camel Press 1 August 2013
Time and Setting: New Mexico, 1780
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1.5
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Reviewed by Lady Blue

If I were to choose a time and place to read about, it would not be New Mexico in 1780. I prefer my locations and society to be settled and civilized. Why then, would I choose this book? Two words – Carla Kelly. I have yet to be disappointed by anything she has written, and this is no exception. She weaves historical facts so tightly and so interestingly into her stories, you don’t even realize how much information you’re absorbing.

Marco is thirty one years old. His wife and twin sons died of an illness when he was only twenty-three, and was on his annual trip. He has lived a solitary life since then. This year, his trip includes an extra stop to meet the betrothed of his friend and neighbor. Said betrothed appears to be a shrew, with a horrible family, with the exception of her cousin. Paloma (the cousin) is living with her relatives because she is orphaned. Her family was brutally killed by Comanches during a raid on her home. Her mother managed to hide her so she would be safe. Her relatives treat her as a servant, and barely feed her. We later learn that they may have done even worse.

Marco and Paloma meet. He thinks of her as the girl with the beautiful blue eyes, and she thinks of him as the handsome man with the light brown eyes. Although Marco has no initial plans to further their acquaintance, a small yellow dog, and a couple of unusual priests set events in motion to bring them together. The plan works. The couple marry, and we get to share their burgeoning romance. The bedroom door is basically closed to us, but the implication is that much time is spent behind those doors, and it’s quality time.

Along with the good, comes the bad. Marco has to deal with his fear of ever being away from Paloma, worrying that she may become ill, as his first wife did. Paloma, of course, is going to come face to face with a Comanche, and have to make a life or death decision. Life at this time was hard and unpredictable, and this beautiful love story interwoven with history makes for an outstanding read.

Miss Chartley’s Guided Tour by Carla Kelly

Miss Chartley

To all appearances, Miss Omega Chartley is a schoolteacher on holiday. In fact she is a gentlewoman fallen on hard times, left at the altar eight years earlier and forced to make her own way in the world after the loss of her family fortune.

Omega’s modest tour of England is cut short when she comes to the aid of a runaway. Jamie Clevenden has fled the clutches of a brutal uncle, and Omega is determined to help him escape the law, as represented by Bow Street Runner, Mr. Timothy Platter.

Aided by a kindly war veteran and his adopted daughter, the two fugitives arrive at the home of Jamie’s other uncle, the Viscount of Byford — none other than Miss Chartley’s disgraced fiancé, Matthew Bering. There Miss Chartley will finally learn the secret that Lord Byford has hidden from her all these years, the story of a dark chapter in his past that stands in the way of not only their happiness but that of his nephew. Now they must face the truth together, no matter how dire the consequences.

RHL Classifications:

Regency Romance
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Caz

While I enjoyed Miss Chartley’s Guided Tour, and there were certainly elements in it that readers of Carla Kelly’s regency romances will probably recognise, I can’t help thinking that it isn’t one of her best.

The story is a good one. Miss Omega Chartley, having been abandoned at the altar at the age of eighteen has very shortly afterwards to come to terms with the suicide of her father, which leaves her and her brother in straightened circumstances. She obtains a position as a teacher at a girls’ school in Plymouth, where she works for eight years, and is taking a holiday before taking up a new post in Durham.

Along the way, she befriends a young runaway by the name of Jamie who for some reason, seems rather familiar to her. He is running away from his uncle and guardian, Lord Rotherford who beats him regularly and who, we discover later on, will stop at nothing in order to obtain the boy’s considerable fortune.

Jamie is intent on finding his other uncle – his late mother’s brother – Viscount Byford, in the hope that he will rescue him from Rotherford.

Pursued by a Bow Street Runner, and joining forces with a maimed ex-soldier(Hugh Owen) and his half-Spanish charge (Angela), the rag-taggle band eventually makes its way to Byford to confront the viscount and ask for his help.

Viscount Byford turns out to be none other than Matthew Bering, the man who had jilted Omega eight years ago.

Omega has never really stopped loving him, even through her embarrassment and anger at his treatment of her. The question of why he did what he did has haunted her – and when she finally discovers his reasons, they’re not pretty. The rest of the story involves Matthew’s quest to find out what really happened on the eve of his wedding and to secure Jamie’s future.
As is often the case in her books, Ms Kelly doesn’t shy away from dealing with some unpleasant subject matter – the plight of ex-soldiers, the poverty of the lower classes, children orphaned by war, prostitution, greed and murder to name but a few.

There were, however, a few weaknesses that prevented me from giving the book a higher rating. For one thing, while the clues are followed and the loose ends tied up – one of them a twist I didn’t see coming – it all happens incredibly quickly. Then there’s the fact that Matthew left the girl he loved standing at the altar and just disappeared – and did nothing for eight years. I suspect that had Omega and Jamie not stumbled across him, he would likely have continued to do nothing. The point, I suppose, is that Omega’s reappearance in his life and his desire to protect his nephew have spurred him on to find out the truth once and for all, but it’s rather a stretch of credibility to suppose that he would have waited eight years to act. His guilt and shame have driven him to a solitary life, but he also allowed Omega to suffer the censure of being jilted and the agony of not knowing why for eight years without an explanation.

There’s also the issue of Matthew’s difficulties in the bedroom department. I confess, it makes a change to find a hero who isn’t a stud who suffers from a permanent erection when in the vicinity of his lady-love, but for Matthew to be able to go from zero to hero for the first time in eight years simply because he’s with the “right woman” was, I felt, implausible.

Those reservations aside however, this was an enjoyable read, with humour and affection radiating from almost every page. Matthew’s concern for Omega is touching, as is the way he comes to love Jamie and Angela as his own. Given the issues between them, he and Omega are surprisingly comfortable with each other, and the way their relationship re-kindles is charmingly done.

With thanks to Camel Press for the review copy.

About me

I’m a musician, teacher and mother of two girls and have always been an avid reader. I was introduced to the novels of Jean Plaidy at the age of eleven and have never looked back! I love good, meaty, well-researched historical fiction – whether it’s about real figures (Sharon Penman) or fictional ones (Dorothy Dunnett), but I’m a sucker for a well-written historical romance, too. I post all my reviews at Caz’s Reading Room and at my Goodreads page, so please come and say hello!

The Lady’s Companion by Carla Kelly

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Available digitally for the first time.
Miss Susan Hampton never imagined she would have to make her own way in the world. But when her reckless father gambles away the family estate, and she becomes an unpaid servant of her aunt, she flees in search of a better life.

Taking the position of companion to a temperamental dowager, she finds herself in dangerously close contact with the dowager’s handsome bailiff, David Wiggins, who is everything a man should be—except a gentleman. Though she tells herself he is a thoroughly unsuitable suitor, his irresistible charms could make her forget she was ever a lady…

RHL Classifications:

Heat Level: 1 (kisses and sexual references)
1820’s – post Napoleonic
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Originally published in 1996, this is a review of the new ebook edition published by Intermix, 2012.

Review by Caz

The words that immediately spring to mind when writing about this book are “charming”, “warm” and “honest”.

The story opens on the twenty-fifth birthday of Susan Hampton, only daughter of inveterate gambler Sir Rodney Hampton. He has lost almost everything of value that they own, and Kelly very skilfully draws a picture of the Hamptons’ impoverished circumstances. Susan’s relationship with her father at the outset reminded me somewhat of that of Amy Dorrit and her father; loving but by no means blind to his faults – yet she is finding it increasingly hard to contain her exasperation with his persistent, misplaced optimism that his next hand of cards or turn of the roulette wheel will restore their fortunes.

When he loses their home, Sir Rodney and Susan are forced to turn to her Aunt Louisa for help. She takes them in, but it is quickly clear to Susan that if she does not act, she will become little more than an unpaid companion and drudge to her aunt.

Despite having no money, Sir Rodney is bent on maintaining appearances and is therefore horrified when Susan announces she will seek employment. By a stroke of luck, she finds her way to Joel Steinman’s employment agency. He immediately takes her to see Lady Bushnell, a widow about to remarry and who is looking for a companion for her mother-in-law. Susan is engaged, although with the knowledge that Lady Bushnell the elder does not want a companion and has quickly turned off all those who have gone before her.

It’s not hard to guess how things for out for Susan – but the real delight of the book is seeing the way the characters interact and how their relationships develop. Susan is a delightfully refreshing heroine – straightforward and honest with a wry sense of humour, and no tendency towards missishness when Lady B or others make what in tonnish circles, may have been regarded as a risqué remark.

While the estate’s baliff, David Wiggins, is sceptical about Susan’s suitability for the post of companion, the way she refuses to be intimidated by the lady’s initial coldness and the way she stands up to him and gives back as good as she gets draws his admiration. David has a chequered past, but his devotion to Lady Bushnell is clear and he begins to help Susan to find ways to overcome the lady’s reluctance to have anything to do with her. He is not your usual romantic hero; he’s a soldier-turned-farmer, has no family and has to work – and work hard – for his living. Kelly paints an accurate picture of the seasonal nature of farm life and pulls no punches about how hard it is. David works all the hours under the sun and then some – and is clearly well-liked and respected. He may not be a gentleman, but he is a gentle man – unfailingly honest (for the most part), forthright and kind; and it’s not long before Susan finds herself falling for him.

Their relationship is a delight and I especially liked Susan’s growing awareness of her own sexuality and the nature of desire for a man. Perhaps it’s something that comes from life on and around a farming community, where the cycle of birth, life, death is ever present – but there was an earthiness about the attitude to sex in the book that was a real breath of fresh air. Jokes abound about plowing and Susan decides that the last thing she needs to tell her sheep-farmer-baliff is that the smell of lanolin makes her feel randy! That said, the actual sex scenes are pretty tame by today’s standards, but it’s clear that both partners are enthusiastic and delighted with each other.

This is a story about friendship and love found in the most unlikely places; and about honour and rebirth. Through Lady Bushnell’s letters and some of David’s recounting, Carla Kelly gives the reader a set of snapshots of army life around the time of Waterloo; how it was hard and messy and brutal and not-at-all glorious. David has devised his own, eminently practical yet quite beautiful way of dealing with the horrors he experienced, yet he insists on keeping one, last secret from Lady B, because he can’t bear to break her heart.

There is so much to enjoy in this story. Susan and David are perfect for each other, despite the social gap between them (and the scenes which show the reaction of Susan’s father and aunt to the news that she is to marry so far beneath her are gut-wrenching), and their love and care of Lady B is truly touching.

A really beautiful book – highly recommended.

About me

I’m a musician, teacher and mother of two girls and have always been an avid reader. I was introduced to the novels of Jean Plaidy at the age of eleven and have never looked back! I love good, meaty, well-researched historical fiction – whether it’s about real figures (Sharon Penman) or fictional ones (Dorothy Dunnett), but I’m a sucker for a well-written historical romance, too. I post all my reviews at my Goodreads page so please come and say hello!

MY LOVING VIGIL KEEPING by Carla Kelly

Cedar Fort, Inc; August 14, 2012

PUBLISHER’S BLURB:

 Della’s giving up all the comforts of bustling Salt Lake City to teach school in a rural coal mining camp. Little does she know, she may soon be giving up her heart as well. But when tragedy strikes in the Scofield Mine, Della’s life will be changed forever. Based on true events, this thrilling new romance from award-winning and bestselling author Carla Kelly is a must-read!

RHFL Classification:

Romantic Historical Fiction

19th Century/1900

Heat Rating:  1

REVIEW RATING:   3.5 stars

REVIEWER:  Helena

My Loving Vigil Keeping is the story of Della Anders, who has been raised in Salt Lake City by her aunt and uncle after losing her father at a young age to a tragic mining accident. Growing up with her aunt and uncle had not been easy for Della. They taught her to be ashamed of who she was: a miner’s daughter whose mother ran away, leaving Della in care of her father. Her aunt and uncle are considerably wealthy compared to the poor mining roots from which Della came, and that also plays a role in the shame with which she was raised.

When Della decides to take a job teaching at a rural mining camp, she is forced to face her demons. Slowly, she begins to learn to no longer be ashamed of who she is and where she comes from. Here she finds friends, and learns to love again.  This love is tested when she recalls how it felt to lose her father. As someone with a fear of loss, she struggles with those feelings, until a tragic event opens her eyes to what it truly means to love.

Over all, I really enjoyed this book. I especially appreciated that this wasn’t a fast-paced, Woman Meets Man And Falls Head-Over-Heels In Love Instantly kind of story. It felt much more realistic and true-to-life. Carla Kelly takes her time with the characters, letting them grow and change at a realistic pace.

The realism is no doubt based in fact, as the story is based on the very real life Scofield Mine Disaster in 1900. Carla’s research into both the disaster and the time period is impeccable, which clearly shows on every page of this book. She also does a fantastic job with the conflict her characters – and especially Della – face.

My Loving Vigil Keeping is a novel I would not normally read, as many of the themes around which it centers were either foreign to me or outside my normal range of interest.  That being said, it is a book I am glad that I had the opportunity to read.  It held my interest throughout, and while I probably won’t read it again, I am glad that I did at least once.  I recommend you give it a read as well!

REVIEWER BIO:

I am a thirty something year old who often feels like she was born in the wrong era. By day I am the office manager of a small accounting firm, and a full time student working towards becoming a CPA. By night, I enjoy losing myself in the past by watching classic movies and reading historical fiction. I am also an avid knitter who loves spinning her own yarn. I enjoy reading books set in all different eras, but my personal favorite era is the early 1900′s through the first World War.