Tag Archive | début author

You May Kiss the Bride (Penhallow Dynasty #1) by Lisa Berne

you may kiss the bride

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Wealthy and arrogant, Gabriel Penhallow knows it’s time to fulfill his dynastic duty. All he must do is follow the ‘Penhallow way’: find a biddable bride, produce an heir and a spare, and then live separate lives. It’s worked so well for generations, certainly one kiss with the delectable Livia Stuart isn’t going to change things. Society dictates he marry her, and one chit is as good as another as long as she’s from a decent family.

But Livia’s transformation from an original to a mundane diamond of the first water makes Gabriel realize he desperately wants the woman who somehow provoked him into that kiss. And for all the ladies who’ve thrown themselves at him, it’s the one who wants to flee whom he now wants. But how will he keep this independent miss from flying away?

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Publisher and Release Date: Avon, April 2017

Time and Setting: England, 1811
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 3 stars

Review by Sara

Author Lisa Berne had a great idea creating a series revolving around a wealthy and influential family without a peer in the mix. Her début ,You May Kiss the Bride is a throwback to the classics where characters like Mr. Darcy were a catch without a title in front of their names. Unfortunately the author’s inexperience shines through more than her unique ideas, with poorly rendered characters and a rather juvenile storyline.

Livia Stuart is constantly making the best of the circumstances she’s been dealt in life. When her parents died in India she was shuffled off to her aunt and uncle’s home in Wiltshire but their care has been anything but attentive. Their neighbor Lady Glanville’s daughter Cecily is a constant thorn in her side, parading her wealth and beauty in front of Livia at any social gathering and gifting Livia with her old dresses in the name of Christian charity. Livia has tried to remain above Cecily’s pettiness but it’s becoming harder to swallow her envy when the girl and her mother are always visiting her home to share news of their good fortune.

Their latest visit brings news that the esteemed Mrs. Penhallow has chosen Cecily as the perfect bride for her grandson, Gabriel. The Penhallow family is one of the wealthiest in England and an association with them will bring prestige to any young woman lucky enough to marry the heir. Lady Glanville brags that Mrs. Penhallow and her grandson are visiting their estate so that Cecily can be presented to Gabriel and their betrothal made official. Livia finds herself a little jealous of Cecily’s betrothal but is happier that the neighborhood mean girl will be off to marry and will leave Wiltshire behind.

Gabriel Penhallow isn’t thrilled at the idea of marrying a woman hand-picked by his grandmother but the time has come for him to continue the family’s legacy. It’s expected that all the Penhallow men will marry, sire an heir and use their wealth and connections to influence noblemen around England. Gabriel escaped the pressures of his name for a time by working abroad as a diplomat, but his grandmother has started reminding him that it’s his duty to continue the Penhallow tradition. Arriving at the Glanville estate, Gabriel is unimpressed by his potential bride but figures that one debutante is much like another and their marriage will be comfortably convenient. When he leaves the house for a walk, Gabriel gets lost in the unfamiliar lands where he meets a beautiful woman walking through a wooded area and he’s immediately attracted to her. From her dress and her manner of speaking Gabriel sees that she’s a servant and isn’t be the sort of woman he could dally with.

Livia is furious when the handsome man she meets in the forest arrogantly assumes she’s an uneducated servant. From his fashionable clothes and haughty manner Livia is certain this is Mr. Penhallow, but rather than correcting his presumption, Livia acts up the role of a servant and gives Gabriel confusing directions back to Cecily’s home. Later than evening when her aunt is discussing their invitation to Lady Glanville’s ball, Livia sees a chance to get one-up her neighbor and throw Gabriel’s arrogance back in his face. She creates a stunning gown from Cecily’s cast-offs and makes a dramatic entrance at the ball. Gabriel notices her right away, and is angry at her deception as well as aroused by her beauty. When he catches Livia leaving the ballroom with their host’s son it bothers Gabriel more than it should, but he follows her out onto the terrace where he interrupts her conversation and then rashly allows his temper and attraction to get the better of him. He kisses her in full view of the ballroom and soon he and Livia have an audience of his almost-betrothed, her mother and his grandmother. The last witness is Livia’s uncle who insists his niece is now ruined and must marry Gabriel.

What should follow this episode is the standard romantic storyline of a marriage of convenience between two enemies, soon to be lovers. It doesn’t quite work out that way and most of that can be attributed to Livia and Gabriel’s childish behavior. Livia doesn’t want to be married to an arrogant ass like Gabriel so she runs away. His pride gets in the way of managing Livia’s own anger and fear at their situation so he makes a rash declaration that they will marry but in name only. Within a matter of chapters Gabriel has taken sex off the table when that was the only motivation he had for getting married in the first place. These two knuckleheads have a very hard time talking without taking petty jabs and exploiting the insecurities they can see in their partner. As they are forced into each other’s company, lust seems to take over all the decision making. Gabriel’s no-sex policy is quickly thrown out the window, but they still don’t seem to see eye-to-eye on anything important between them.

The story picks up a bit when Gabriel and his grandmother are faced with evidence that the Penhallow legacy is rather hollow. Livia then becomes the strongest character because of her experience having to take control and reshape her life in unfortunate circumstances. Both Gabriel and Mrs. Penhallow come to appreciate Livia for the kind and loving woman she really is underneath all the emotional walls she’s had in place since her parents death years before. She holds the family together through the crisis and Gabriel discovers that giving his heart over to his wife is a long buried tradition within the Penhallow family that should be revived.

While there are some problems in You May Kiss the Bride I feel like the story should be graded on a bit of a curve as this is the author’s first published work. The characters could have used just a tad more common sense; however there was still a romantic side of the story that I liked. I will reserve my judgement on Ms. Berne and the entire Penhallow Dynasty series until the next book is released.

My Rogue, My Ruin (Lords of Essex #1) by Amalie Howard and Angie Morgan

my-rogue-my-ruin

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The Marquess of Hawksfield’s lineage is impeccable and his title coveted, but Archer Croft is as far from his indulgent peers as he can get. His loathing for the beau monde has driven him to don a secret identity and risk everything in order to steal their riches and distribute them to the less fortunate.

Lady Briannon Findlay embraces her encounter with the Masked Marauder, a gentleman thief waylaying carriages from London to Essex. The marauder has stirred Brynn’s craving for adventure, and she discovers an attraction deeper than the charming thief’s mask.

Brynn is a revelation, matching Archer in intelligence, wit, and passion. Stubborn and sensuous in equal measure, she astonishes him at every turn, but when someone sinister impersonates Archer’s secret personality, and a murder is committed, Archer begins to think he doesn’t stand a fighting chance without her.

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Publisher and Release Date: Entangled Publishing, November 2016
Time and Setting: England, 1817
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 3 stars

Review by Sara

I appreciate that new voices are appearing in the world of Historical Romances when only a few years ago some claimed the genre was dead. Amalie Howard and Angie Morgan have some good ideas to bring to the table in their first release My Rogue, My Ruin but not everything in the story works within the constraints of its historical setting.

What drew me into the story was the promise of a Robin Hood type hero and Lord Hawksfield is certainly dedicated to his mission to rob from the rich to give back to the poor. Archer Croft sees the debauched behavior of his father, the Duke of Bradburne, as the worst example of the privileged few controlling the wealth while the masses struggle daily. His mother was the first to teach him charity and compassion towards others when she raised one of her husband’s bastard children as her own daughter. After the duchess died,  Archer took it upon himself to continue her charitable work but found that the family’s coffers were being drained constantly by his father’s dissolute lifestyle. Having no control over his the duke’s expenditures, Archer instead turns towards other peers by creating a highwayman persona of the Masked Marauder who robs the carriages of the elite. Their wealth is redistributed and Archer’s conscience is clear since no one is truly hurt in the exchange.

During one of his evening raids as the Marauder, Archer stops the carriage of his neighbor Lord Dinsmore and his family. The plan for this robbery was the same as all of the others until he sees the man’s daughter, Lady Briannon. He’s impressed with the young woman’s bravery in the face of danger and there’s just a hint of attraction sparking between them even as he takes her jewelry. When he meets her later that evening as himself, he’s almost angry that she cannot recognize him as the man who she stood toe-to-toe with only hours earlier.

Lady Briannon is more than a little shaken up by her encounter with the Masked Marauder, but she is also uneasy over her reunion with her neighbor Lord Hawksworth, who is aloof and distant and such a contrast to his congenial father. As Brynn enters society she and Archer keep meeting each other but he throws out such mixed signals she cannot get a read off the man. One moment he seems interested in pursuing their acquaintance and then minutes later he is pushing her away. Archer would be the last sort of man Brynn would want to marry as she is more comfortable embracing her passions while he seems closed up and distant from everyone.

Circumstances are working against Brynn’s wish when she manages to put the clues about the Marauder’s identify together with some of the things she’s come to notice about Archer. Before she can even wrap her head around that discovery, a tragedy hits the Croft household and she is the only person who can provide Archer with an alibi to keep an investigator from learning his secret. To protect Archer and the Marauder from prosecution Brynn makes the ultimate sacrifice to her future by claiming she and Archer are betrothed. Knowing she has just tied herself to a man unwilling to marry, Brynn’s only hope is to help him find the person framing the Marauder for murder and then to end their fake betrothal with her heart intact.

At its core, My Rogue, My Ruin is a character driven story about Brynn and Archer’s passionate natures and how it drives their lives. A chronic illness in Brynn’s childhood has made her embrace each day of her life as she tries to experience as much as possible. She wants to feel that same exuberance in whomever she marries but doesn’t believe that Archer has an unguarded side. Archer has hidden his truest self behind so many masks that it’s become difficult for him to define the lines between the man, the Marquess and the Marauder. Both characters believe they are best serving their passions by continuing on the same paths and not letting the other person know their innermost thoughts or feelings. As they seek out the person trying to destroy Archer’s reputation and accept their betrothal they each find a better path by sharing themselves.

Unfortunately the co-authors’ inexperience with the Historical genre rears its head more than once as everything unfolds and it can take a reader quickly out of the story. Little anachronisms can normally be ignored, but there is a fairly large one that happens just after the mid-point that is world-shaking to a reader like me, who looks for a degree of historical accuracy. There are also several unanswered questions about secondary characters that feel less like a set-up for a sequel and more like storylines that failed to develop or were added just for the sake of creating problems for Brynn or Archer. I did like how the true villain of the story was kept a secret right up until the end when usually I can sniff out the likely suspect within a few pages of the crime. Perhaps with a little more attention to the setting and important historical details both authors will have more success with any follow-up books to My Rogue, My Ruin.

One Step Behind by Brianna Labuskes

one-step-behind

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London, 1812. When the unconventional Gemma Lancaster embarked on a mission to infiltrate high society and avenge her beloved cousin’s murder she never would have guessed she’d end up in the arms of a thief. At least, that’s what she assumes when she discovers Lucas Stone breaking into a private safe.

Lucas Stone, the Earl of Winchester, has a reputation for arrogance and a soft-spot for his sister, which is how he ends up in the predicament of hiding behind a curtain at midnight with the dreadfully dull Miss Gemma Lancaster. But he soon discovers appearances can be deceiving when the country mouse turns into a spitfire in front of his eyes and she makes it clear she wants nothing to do with him.

Though one is chasing a blackmailer and the other a murderer, they quickly realize they are on the hunt for the same villain. Now they must work together, which would be fine, if they could decide if they’d rather fall in love or kill one another.

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Publisher and Release Date: Entangled, September 2016

Time and Setting: London, 1812
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Sara

I’m going to put Brianna Labuskes in the rare category of a romance author who gets most of it right in her début work. One Step Behind is a great example of a complete romance from strangers, to friends, to lovers and making it believable. Mixed in with all the relationship hurdles is a mystery that kept me guessing right up to the end. Together it makes for a book that I highly recommend.

Gemma Lancaster is banking on the fact that the ton spares no notice for an unassuming wallflower. Behind a quiet demeanor and a fake pair of spectacles she has managed to stay hidden while in plain sight when attending several of the high-profile gatherings of the season with her aunt. Gemma’s self-appointed mission during these events is to track down her cousin’s murderer. Using the guest list from the house party where he was killed, Gemma has narrowed down her suspects to a few prominent members of society. All she needs is evidence in the form of his antique pocket watch that was stolen from the crime scene, but so far she’s found nothing. While searching the study of her latest suspect, Gemma is interrupted when another person sneaks into the room. She instantly recognizes the Earl of Winchester but is confused by his covert behavior. Caught alone and without a ready excuse for her actions, Gemma takes a risk and tells the earl exactly what she’s looking for.

Lucas Stone knew there was something different about Miss Lancaster after spotting her trying to keep to the shadows around her more vivacious family member. He didn’t expect to run into the woman while he was trying to sneak into their host’s study. Lucas has been the victim of a blackmailer’s plot to ruin his sister and rather than keep paying the scoundrel, he wants to catch the man and expose him. Once Lucas learns that Gemma is on a similar crusade – to uncover a criminal among the elite – he makes a decision that may assist both of their investigations. Arriving the next day at Gemma’s home Lucas proposes a partnership that will be hidden under the guise of a betrothal. Attending the same functions and sharing whatever evidence they can uncover could lead them to their blackmailer or murderer much faster than working alone. Lucas calms Gemma’s fears about the partnership with the stipulation that the betrothal can be called off at the end of the season.

As they begin their search for clues it becomes clear that Gemma and Lucas have been looking for the same person who is out to ruin very specific members of the peerage. Gemma’s cousin was in the wrong place at the wrong time; however his death may have forced the villain to accelerate his timetable, making mistakes along the way that are easier to track. Each foray into a forbidden area or conversation about what they’re looking for solidifies the bond of trust and companionship growing between them but both Gemma and Lucas are unprepared when their hearts get involved as well.

I mentioned above that Ms. Labuskes gets a lot right in One Step Behind and it shows best in how Gemma and Lucas’s relationship feels realistic, even given the unusual circumstances that bring them together. The story includes the usual Historical Romance devices of a young woman who doesn’t want to get married or the eligible earl who won’t settle down, but those feelings come from relatable fears or insecurities rather than just outright stubbornness. The way that Lucas and Gemma speak to each other shows their mutual respect but it’s also a great way to showcase how much they actually like each other. I could easily believe that even if their paths hadn’t crossed because of the investigation, they still would have been perfectly matched together. Scenes between them can switch easily from flirting to serious, and there isn’t a misstep in the conversation. They understand how important the case is personally so they are a team from the beginning right up until it is all resolved.

The blackmailing/murder case is well thought out and plays an important part in moving the plot as well as advancing the relationship. One Step Behind doesn’t suffer a lull in the middle of the story where the mystery is forgotten to make room for character expositions or needless drama. Any tension for Gemma and Lucas comes straight from the revelations they uncover while seeking her cousin’s murderer or from learning why the blackmailer had chosen his victims so carefully. Each interview or clue that’s uncovered pushes them even harder to solve the case to find justice for one and to save the reputation of another. I was surprised by the reveal of the villain but that added to my enjoyment as I was piecing things together right along with the characters.

One Step Behind is a standalone story for now but I hope that the author will expand out into a series to revisit these characters and introduce new ones. I’d be eager to read it and see if she can capture the same magic as this wonderful début.

In Search of Scandal (London Explorers #1) by Susanne Lord

in search of scandal
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A DARING EXPLORER
All of London is abuzz with the tale of Will Repton. The lone survivor of a massacre in Tibet has returned to England a hero, but the traumatized explorer has no time for glory. Another dangerous expedition awaits. Nothing will deter him from his quest, and no one will unearth his secret-until Will meets Charlotte Baker.

IS NO MATCH FOR AN ADVENTUROUS HEART
Vivacious Charlotte Baker also has a mission-to find a man whose bold spirit matches her own. When she meets Will Repton, she immediately recognizes him as her soul mate, and she’s naively willing to turn her back on the rules of propriety to ensnare him. Will is torn between his fascination with Charlotte and his vow to finish his quest. He knows what it is to risk life and limb-but what if his most perilous adventure doesn’t lie across an ocean, but within his own lost heart?

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Publisher and Release Date: Sourcebooks Casablanca, December 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: London, 1850
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 Stars

Review by Sara

My thoughts about In Search of Scandal are somewhat difficult to put into words. I enjoyed the book. There was definitely a romance that developed between the main characters William Repton and Charlotte Baker and I do feel that love became a foundation for Will to begin rebuilding his life after tragedy. Where I run into problems is that for a large portion of the story the actions of both Will and Charlotte towards one another are anything but loving.

It is 1850 and the English public is fascinated by the reports their countrymen send back about the mysterious Far East. Working for the East India Company, plant hunter William Repton has become a semi-celebrity back home and earns the nickname “Chinese Will” for his exploits while in this foreign land. Unfortunately for Will, what the public has read of his time in country is far different from the realities he faced. Tortured by the memories of his expedition’s grizzly demise at the hands of a hostile Tibetan tribe, Will returns to England a broken man with a desperate need to return to Tibet and finish one final task.

To Charlotte Baker, the adventures of Chinese Will have proved utterly enthralling. She has become infatuated with the man behind the stories and without ever meeting him, she feels that he would be the perfect husband for her. With her elder brother and sister currently out of the ton’s good graces, she is certain marriage to Will and his popularity could elevate them all back into society. Their chance meeting at her brother-in-law’s home seems like kismet to Charlotte who believes that William will fall madly at her feet just as so many other men in London have done since her debut. She is quickly thrown out of her fantasy when the William Repton she meets is reserved, uncomfortable about his experiences and definitely not interested in a relationship with her.

The attraction that Will feels for Charlotte is substantial; however he knows that at the moment he is in no position to offer her anything. Even the idea of a friendship with the beautiful and vivacious young woman would serve as a distraction to his goal of securing funds to return to Asia. Charlotte tries to give up her ideas of becoming Mrs. Repton, even encouraging the attentions of viscount, but the shadow Will casts in her mind is too big for any man to escape. She is also heartened by the little bit of attention Will pays her when he visits her brother-in-law. Their companionship leads to a forced marriage that requires both Will and Charlotte to sort through the murkiness of their feelings and expectations verses their realities.

The tone of the story is much darker than the pretty cover or description would have you believe. Will’s tortured memories of his friends’ deaths and the survivor’s guilt he feels trap him within his thoughts of returning to Tibet. His heart was so wounded by a single choice he made that it has closed him off from feeling anything but remorse and shame at being recognized for his accomplishments. Will’s pain distorts the fondness he begins to feel for Charlotte, making him feel it’s an anchor holding him back from accomplishing his mission. In truth, their relationship begins to heal his emotional wounds and allow him to move on with his life. As he slowly finds some peace while getting to know Charlotte his fears move past what has happened before and he focuses on where he needs to be for his future.

Charlotte is a harder character to empathize with. She has created such an expectation in her mind about Will that for a good portion of the story I didn’t feel like I could trust her whenever she said she was “in love.” Charlotte seemingly has blinders on when looking at Will, only seeing the man of reputation and not the true individual struggling to redefine himself after surviving tragedy. There are many instances where I feel Charlotte was manipulating the brittle friendship that she and Will had; creating castles in the air that she would be the social savior of her family, get the most sought after man in England, and be happy, with no compromise. It was only in the final beats of the story where I truly felt that Charlotte understood what true love was.

In Search of Scandal sometimes feels incomplete or in need of a prequel story to better flesh out Charlotte’s family dynamic and why she was so obsessed with Will. I was drawn into the struggles Will and Charlotte face in getting past their clouded perceptions and forming a real bond. Their story becomes an emotional roller-coaster with a few drops that made me ache for both of them. Being such a character driven story, I perhaps needed a bit more from both protagonists to convince me that their love was enduring. Overall however, In Search of Scandal is a good story and certainly enjoyable enough for me to keep my eye out for the next book of the series.

For the Love of a Soldier by Victoria Morgan

soldier

Captain Garrett Sinclair, the Earl of Kendall, has returned to England a changed man. As a survivor of the legendary Charge of the Light Brigade, he has spent months as a remorseless rake and dissolute inebriate in order to forget it. But Garrett has also made powerful enemies who want him dead…

Desperate and down to her last pound, Lady Alexandra Langdon has disguised herself as a man for a place at the gaming tables. But when a hard-eyed, handsome man wins the pot, he surprises her by refusing her money. Indebted, she divulges an overheard plot against his life, and promises to help him find his foes—for a price.

But even as Alexandra fights her growing desire to reveal herself—and her heart—to the determined Garrett, she cannot shed the fear that the cost of her alliance with the earl may be a price too dear: her own secret betrayal.

RHL Classifications:

Historical Romance, England, 1850s (after the Crimean War)
Heat rating: 2
Reviewer rating: 5 stars

Review by Caz

For the Love of a Soldier is that rare thing; a début novel that reads as though the author has a stable of books to her name already.

The plot is a fairly simple one. Lady Alexandra Langton, a young woman, on the verge of destitution decides to risk everything she has left (the sum of one hundred pounds) at the gaming tables in a desperate attempt to increase her funds. But of course, ladies were not allowed to indulge in “deep” play, and so she has to disguise herself as a man in order to gain entry to the sorts of events at which she will be able to gamble large sums of money. I have to say that I dislike stories in which the heroine dresses as a man and manages to pass as one without suspicion, but to the author’s credit, she made it work here, by indicating that Alex has done more than simply cut her hair or wear a suit.

Predictably however, her risk doesn’t pay off, and she loses at cards, to Captain Garrett Sinclair, Earl of Kendall, a man with a less than savoury reputation. But Garrett, sensing her desperation and believing her to be little more than a boy returns her money to her, telling her that while he will comfortably take money from a man, he will not ruin a boy.
Simultaneously annoyed and relieved, Alex later inadvertently overhears two men plotting to murder the Earl of Kendall, and seeing a way to repay him for his earlier gesture, Alex warns him of the danger.

Believing her to be his only lead – and still thinking she is a boy – Garrett insists that Alex accompany him home, but they are set upon along the way. During the fray, Alex is knocked unconscious, her disguise is dislodged and Garrett discovers that she’s not what she seems.

The assassination plot drives the story forward, but this is no adventure romp, because the real heart of the novel is the growing friendship and romance between Garrett and Alex.

Victoria Morgan has chosen to set her story in the 1850s, in the aftermath of the Crimean War, which is not often referenced in historical romance, so it’s a refreshing change. Through the eyes of Captain Garrett Sinclair, we get a glimpse of the true horror of war. He’s a war hero, a survivor of the infamous Charge of the Light Brigade, that act of glorious, against-all-odds bravery that was immortalised by Tennyson in his famous poem. But glory and honour is not what we are shown. Garrett has been traumatised by his war-time experiences and is suffering from what we would today recognise as PTSD, and he also carries around a huge chunk of survivor’s guilt.

Like many veterans – then and now – he does not talk about the war; he wants to bury everything deep inside so that he never has to go through it and re-live it. All he wants to do is to forget, and we learn that in a vain attempt to do so, he spent much of his time after leaving the army gaming, wenching and drinking, rattling around Europe in aimless depravity. Fortunately for him, however, he realised that wasn’t helping, he needed to be in control; and so he sobered up and eschewed the wenching, concentrating instead on the gambling.

He’s wealthy, has many estates and a good eye for business; he’s also utterly gorgeous with a quick wit, a gift for innuendo and a strong sense of honour. Alex is the perfect foil for him. She gives as good as she gets in their verbal sparring, she’s loyal and strong (without being stubborn for the sake of it!) and, sensing the darkness buried deep down, wants to help Garrett any way she can.

She’s had some experience of working with soldiers and veterans, having spent time working at the Chelsea Hospital, and although she knows she can do little more than listen, she also knows that ‘just’ listening seemed to have helped many of the men she knew. I’m pleased to say that the author hasn’t chosen to present Alex as Garrett’s “cure”, because as anyone who knows anything about PTSD will know, that just doesn’t happen. Rather, she presents Alex as someone who works out when to push and when to leave him alone; she knows he needs to talk, but that he needs to do it in his own time, and the scene where he finally unburdens himself packs a real emotional punch.

Amid all this talk of war and horror however, the reader will also find some of the funniest dialogue it’s ever been my privilege to read in a romantic novel. The exchanges between Garrett, his sister and brother-in-law are frequently hilarious as they tease each other constantly – and it’s clear that there’s an incredibly deep affection between them. Garrett enjoys getting a rise out of Alexandra, too, and comes to realise that for the first time in years, he’s starting to feel something like happiness and attraction.

If I have one quibble with the story, it’s that Alex’s backstory is rather flimsy, as are her reasons for rejecting Garrett towards the end of the book. On the positive side, I suppose it means that the solution is simple, and Garrett does indeed get things sorted out quite quickly.

I really can’t recommend this book highly enough. The writing is intelligent, the characterisation is excellent and the dialogue just sparkles. Garrett is one of the best flawed heroes I’ve come across in the genre, and the romance between him and Alex is warm and tender as well as being enough to get any reader a bit hot under the collar – the scene where they finally make love is one of the sexiest and most sensual I’ve ever read.

Coming from an established writer, For the Love of a Soldier would have been quite something. As a début, it’s an incredible achievement, and I’m eagerly waiting Victoria Morgan’s next project, which I believe is scheduled for this Autumn.

A Most Scandalous Proposal by Ashlyn Macnamara

most

At the age of two and twenty, Julia St. Claire is headed firmly and happily for the shelf. For years, she has watched her older sister pine for a man who barely acknowledges her. Determined to guard her heart against that sort of pain, Julia seeks nothing more than a civilized, sensible union. Then just such an arrangement is offered-by the man of her sister’s dreams- and Julia must choose: betray her sister or turn to her childhood friend, Benedict at the risk of opening her heart. Benedict Revelstoke has resigned his commission and returned to the social whirl of the ton, expecting to pick up his life where he left it: attending his club, gambling, and secretly loving Julia St. Claire. When he learns a rake has made her betrothal and reputation the object of a wager, he seeks to warn her. But when he betrays his feelings before the reticent Julia, he fears he has lost their longtime friendship-until she turns up at his townhouse with a scandalous proposal.

RHL CLassifications:

Regency Romance – début

Heat rating 2.5

Reviewer rating 4 stars

Review by Caz

This is a very promising début from Ashlyn Macnamara. The writing and pacing were both good and there were none of those credulity-stretching moments that seem to have marred so many of the newer historical romances I’ve read recently.

I was pleased to discover that this book features not just one, but two of my favourite tropes in romantic fiction – forced marriage and ‘friends-become-lovers’. I should say at this point though that the ‘blurb’ is rather misleading in that one could be forgiven for thinking the story is about Julia St. Clare and her childhood friend Benedict Revelstoke. In fact, the book features two parallel stories – one featuring Julia and Benedict and the other, her older sister Sophia and Rufus, Earl of Highgate, and I would venture to say that this fact marks the book out as something a little bit different.
Both stories are given equal prominence which, on the plus side, means that the pace never slackens. The negative side however is that it doesn’t allow for a great deal of character and relationship development, and I know that some reviewers have said that they found the four different points-of-view to be distracting.

For me, the latter wasn’t a problem, but I did have some issues with the lack of depth in terms of the characterisation. I would have liked, for example, for Benedict’s awareness of his true feelings for Julia to have happened more slowly, over time, so that the reader could share in his gradual awakening. I also thought that the reason for Julia’s reluctance to love was somewhat flimsy and, in fact, unnecessary, given what she was seeing every day in her parents’ marriage.

I felt that Highgate was probably the most rounded character, even though we probably see less of him than of the other three protagonists. But there’s something about a wounded man with a bit of a murky past, isn’t there? I also found his romance with Sophia to be the more satisfying one in the end, although that’s not to say I didn’t like Julia and Benedict’s story as well.

Overall then, this is an engaging read with likeable characters (and a few not-so-likeable ones!) and a couple of well-executed storylines. The love scenes were romantic and sexy and the author did a good job in building the sexual tension between the ladies and their beaus.

If you’re looking for a new voice in historical romance, I would definitely recommend giving this book a try, and on the strength of this, I will certainly be on the lookout for future titles from this author.

With thanks to Ballantine Books and Edelweiss for the review copy.

TAINTED INNOCENCE by Joss Alexander

Published by Carina Press, September 2012

Blurb

In Cambridge, the College of the Young Princes brings together all manner of people-with all manner of secrets. Among them is Bryony, an illiterate laundress and a stranger to the town, who lives in constant fear that her unusual upbringing and lack of friends will leave her vulnerable to accusations of witchcraft.

When Matthew Hobson, a scholar at the college, is found murdered and wrapped in linen that Bryony lost, she immediately becomes a suspect. But she is not the only one. Luke Hobson, a taciturn local tradesman who has sacrificed much for his charismatic but selfish brother, also has a motive for the murder.

With the university authorities eager to solve the crime, outsiders Bryony and Luke are forced into a wary alliance, knowing they have to track down the killer if they are to escape hanging. But can they trust in each other’s innocence in order to uncover the truth?

RHL Classifications:

Heat Level 1 Historical Mystery

Tudor

REVIEW RATING: 3.5 STARS

Review by Caz

This is a strong début from Joss Alexander, a murder-mystery set in sixteenth-century Cambridge. The writing style is good, and the author has a good eye for historical detail, but the story did take rather a long time to get going. The first few chapters jump between characters and locations without really establishing exactly how these people relate to the story and there are a couple of points at which the author goes off at rather a large tangent. I could have forgiven that perhaps, had that turned out to have some bearing on the outcome of the story, but that wasn’t the case and I think that the book would have benefitted from a stronger editorial hand. in fact, had I not received a review copy, I might have given up and moved on to something which was more immediately engaging.

But that said, once the story does get going, it’s a good one. The author’s descriptions of the city are very evocative, and the principal characters are generally well-drawn. The story centres around the murder of Matthew Hobson, one-time scholar, ladies’ man and general ne’er-do-well, his dour and hard-working half-brother, Luke and the college laundress, Bryony.

Bryony is somewhat of an outcast, being of gypsy blood, and as such, a likely suspect for murder and witchcraft; and Luke and his brother were known not to be on good terms. Both are suspects in the murder, so they decide to work together to find the true culprit, thereby establishing their own innocence. There are hints throughout of a potential romance between Luke and Bryony, but they are both wary – he because of the way his mother deceived his father, and she because she doesn’t really fit in and is circumspect about giving her trust. In fact there are a couple of occasions in the story where Luke and Bryony are drawn into mistrusting each other, and are quick to jump to the wrong conclusion. But by the end of the book, they have reached an understanding and are cautiously feeling their way towards each other.

There are a number of well-drawn secondary characters, many of whom could easily be the guilty party, although I have to say that the final reveal did come rather out of the blue – but that could well be because I’m not a great reader of mysteries and I missed some of the clues along the way. In short then – an enjoyable, well written mystery overall, but which needed a bit of direction in the opening chapters.

With thanks to Carina Press and NetGalley 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. Current favourite authors include Meredith Duran, Sherry Thomas and Cecilia Grant.