Tag Archive | novella

Stealing the Rogue’s Heart (Rookery Rogues #4) by Erica Monroe

stealing the rogue's heart

WHEN AN UNDERWORLD PRINCESS…

Beautiful, innocent Mina Mason has led a sheltered life as the sister to the most notorious crime lord in England. Her family’s wealth and expectations keep her in a gilded cage, never able to act on her true desires. Like kissing — and engaging in far more scandalous behavior with–Charlie Thatcher, her childhood best friend. As a member of a rival gang, Charlie is distinctly off-limits.

FALLS FOR THE WRONG MAN…

Charlie Thatcher has known since he was a boy where his loyalties should lie: with the Chapman Street Thieves, who saved him from a brutal death in the dark alleys of the Ratcliffe rookery. As a bartender for the Three Boars public house, he protects his fellow brothers with his mind and his fists. But when one of those members threatens Mina’s safety, Charlie’s primal, protective instincts are triggered–and his defense of her puts them both in danger.

PASSION MAY BE THEIR DOWNFALL.

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Publisher and Release Date: Quillfire Publishing, January 2017
Time and Setting: London, 1833
Genre: Historical Romance novella
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 4 stars

Review by Sara

Two street gangs, both alike in villainy,
In filthy London where we lay our scene.
From old rivalries to a fragile peace,
Torn asunder fighting for a girl’s esteem.

There is nothing like a romance between star-crossed lovers. The conflicts seem insurmountable but the emotions are almost as large to keep characters fighting for their relationship. In Stealing the Rogue’s Heart, Erica Monroe borrows a little from Romeo and Juliet to set the stage for her tale of love ripped apart by the brutality of the London slums.

In the Rookeries, loyalty to your gang is more important than blood or family. Control of the East End between three equally powerful street gangs: the Kings, the Chapman Street Gang and the Tanners, has kept the area in a state of relative peace for many years. Unfortunately the death of the Tanners’ leader has created a power vacuum that the other two gangs are ready to fill. Tensions are high but Mina Mason has always found a safe refuge from the danger in the company of her good friend Charlie Thatcher. Mina’s position as the younger sister of the Kings’ leader has kept her insulated from threats and Charlie’s ties to the Chapman Street Gang have also shielded her from unwanted attention. Little does Mina realize that her feelings of safety and protection are an illusion easily shattered.

Charlie has loved Mina for almost as long as he’s known her but his allegiance to the Chapman Street Gang doesn’t exactly put him in a position to court her. The Mason family is viewed as near royalty within the Rookeries and Mina has grown up with every convenience the Kings’ money can buy her. Charlie has had to content himself with being Mina’s friend and companion when she leaves her virtual palace to sit in his bar while he works. What Charlie doesn’t realize is that Mina’s reasons for being at his workplace have everything to do with her own deep feelings for him. She has long known that her love for Charlie goes well beyond the friendship he offers. One word from him and Mina would give up all of the luxuries her name affords her to live a simple life with a man who appreciates her for herself and not what her connections would bring.

Mina’s fear that her brother is planning to marry her off to someone loyal to the Kings has her hiding where she is the most comfortable – in Charlie’s pub. Unaware that hostilities between the gangs has reached its boiling point Mina makes the mistake of lingering too long within Chapman Street Gang territory and catches the eye of the wrong man. When he tries to assault her, Mina finds protection in Charlie’s arms; however the fight that ensues in the bar lights a fuse within both groups and Mina’s brother feels the time is right to make his power play andMina becomes a bargaining chip in his plans for more money and influence. Charlie’s actions to defend Mina put a target on his back by his own people and the murder of his opponent in the bar fight forces them to make an example of his perceived disloyalty. With an all-out war on the horizon Mina and Charlie must decide if their devotion to each other is stronger than any influence the gangs have on their lives.

The Rookery Rogues series is like a unicorn within the genre of Historical Romance. The setting and all of the characters are far, far away from the nobility or lavish country estates normally found in such stories . Mina, for as much as she is a rich girl within the sphere that she and Charlie come from, is still living off money gained through criminal activities. Charlie comes from almost nothing and his position in the Chapman Street Gang has forced him to fight or steal just to keep his place as a trusted lieutenant in the organization. The odds are against their ever escaping the rookeries but they both cling to the small bit of happiness they find in each other. Both characters are exceedingly likeable even if the circumstances they live in are dreary or perhaps more on the morally grey spectrum.

I haven’t read the other stories within this series; however Stealing the Rogue’s Heart seems to be a tipping point for serious changes within the Rookeries and both gangs. Watching Charlie and Mina come together while the worlds of the Kings and Chapman Street Gang are poised to fall apart makes this simple love story even more complex. Erica Monroe has just gained herself a new fan and I’ll be interested to see if the events here will be mentioned in future stories.

Wanted, A Gentleman by K.J Charles

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By the good offices of Riptide Publishing
KJ Charles’s new Entertainment

WANTED, A GENTLEMAN
Or, Virtue Over-Rated

the grand romance of

Mr. Martin St. Vincent . . . a Merchant with a Mission, also a Problem
Mr. Theodore Swann . . . a humble Scribbler and Advertiser for Love

Act the First:

the offices of the Matrimonial Advertiser, London
where Lonely Hearts may seek one another for the cost of a shilling

Act the Second:

a Pursuit to Gretna Green (or thereabouts)

featuring

a speedy Carriage
sundry rustic Inns
a private Bed-chamber
***
In the course of which are presented

Romance, Revenge, and Redemption
Deceptions, Discoveries, and Desires

the particulars of which are too numerous to impart

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How Many Miles?! – A Guest Post by K.J. Charles

My new book Wanted, A Gentleman, is a Georgian road-trip story. If that gives you visions of galloping freely through the great open roads, like Thelma and Louise with cravats, forget it. We’re in 1805 Britain. You might as well walk.

I’m hardly joking. One of the great irritants in historical or fantasy fiction for the literal-minded pedant such as myself is how easily some journeys fly by. The duke whisks the heroine into his well-sprung carriage on Pall Mall and the next thing you know they’re alone in his gothic estate on the Yorkshire Moors, listening to the mysterious howling of a spectral hound. This is very easily done for modern authors used to getting into a car, sticking on the radio, letting our minds wander and then finding ourselves where we want to be. And, let’s be honest, we’d rather be in the gothic estate, getting our fix of brooding, sexual tension, and running around in a nightie.

Nevertheless, even if you’re going to elide a Regency road trip with a sentence, that sentence probably has to begin, “After several days of an uncomfortable and tiresome journey…” because it was.

In Wanted, a Gentleman, our heroes Martin (reluctant pursuer of an eloping heiress) and Theo (his even more reluctant temporary sidekick) find themselves obliged to embark on a breakneck dash up north to catch the heiress before she and her swain cross the border to Scotland and get married. Martin has access, as they start their journey, to a state-of-the-art travelling chaise (what you might call a “high-speed chaise”, ahahaha) drawn by four horses. They are taking the Great North Road from London, one of the major roads in the country. You know how fast Martin and Theo are going to go, with all the resources wealth can throw at the journey in 1805?

About fourteen miles an hour.

Fourteen.

And 14mph is good. 14mph is what you can do on a good road with four horses, only not for long, because horses are not the same as internal combustion engines. To quote the great Diana Wynne Jones on horses in fantasy:

Horses are … capable of galloping full-tilt all day without a rest. Sometimes they do not require food or water. They never cast shoes, go lame or put their hooves down holes, except when the Management deems it necessary, as when the forces of the Dark Lord are only half an hour behind.  … Horses can be used just like bicycles, and usually are.

Quite. Your actual horses had to be changed every 10-12 miles (that was a ‘stage’, and the stagecoach would stop at each staging post). This meant a stop, a wait for the ostler’s attention, hiring new horses which might well not be particularly good or energetic animals, getting them harnessed, and setting off again, only to repeat the whole procedure 10-12 miles later.

And this would not be comfortable. Coaches used springs and straps as a sort of suspension system but the roads were dreadful, full of ruts and potholes and rocks. Even 10mph would be dangerous, hard to achieve and hellaciously uncomfortable on many stretches of road.

It’s about 320 miles from London to Scotland. If you were on the road for twelve hours a day, in a good chaise and throwing money at the journey in order to go as fast as possible, that would still be a three-day journey of spine-jarring discomfort. Could be worse: in the stagecoach you’d be more likely to average 6mph in no more comfort at all.

On the plus side, this did mean that travellers had to spend an awful lot of time together, crammed onto a small seat, stuck in remote inns where they knew nobody, forced to share rooms in busy posthouses. Obviously that wasn’t much of a plus side for them, but it’s a boon for the historical romance writer. And who knows, Martin and Theo might even end up seeing the advantages…

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Riptide Publishing, January 2017

Time and Setting: England, 1805
Genre: Historical Romance novella
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Caz

wanted-a-gentleman
This new novella from the pen of K.J. Charles is a Regency Era road-trip undertaken in order to foil the elopement of an heiress and her unsuitable beau.

The couple has been corresponding secretly by placing messages in the pages of the Matrimonial Advertiser, a news-sheet dedicated to publishing what we would today call Lonely Hearts advertisements, and run by Mr. Theodore Swann, a jobbing writer who owns and runs the paper as well as scribbling romantic novels on the side.

Into his dingy City office one day, bursts Mr. Martin St. Vincent, a well-built, well-dressed and obviously well to-do black man, who is trying to discover the identity of the man who has been corresponding with the seventeen year-old daughter of his former owner.  He’s blunt and not in the mood for humour, small-talk or any of Theo’s sales patter – and quickly cuts to the chase by asking Theo to put a price on his assistance.

Before he can discover the man’s identity however, the young lady elopes with her swain, and the family turns to Martin for help.  A former slave, his relationship to the Conroys – who, by the standards of the day treated him well – is a difficult one, but he used to play with the young woman when she was a child and read her stories… and it’s for her sake that he agrees to try to find her and bring her home safely.

Realising he’ll need help – and having been reluctantly impressed with Theo’s quick wits and sharp tongue (among other things) – Martin asks Theo to go with him – and after they have agreed on a large fee, Theo agrees.

This is a novella of some 150 pages, but K.J Charles does such a superb job with the characterisation of her two principals and adds such depth to their personalities and stories that I came away from the novella feeing – almost – as though I’d read a full-length novel.  There’s a spark of attraction between the two men from the start, and this builds gradually as they travel and get to know each other better, but what is so wonderful is the way the relationship between them grows alongside it.  Martin is a former slave, and while he doesn’t feel he owes anything to his former master, he can’t help resenting the fact that he has been very lucky when compared to so many others:

“I was kept in the household, and freed on such generous terms that I have been able to prosper ever since, and how can I resent that?”

“That sounds to me the kind of generosity that could kill a man.”

“It is. It sticks in my throat like thistles, it chokes me.”

And Theo gets it.  He sees Martin as a person, he believes he’s entitled to be angry:

“I, uh, feel strongly about gratitude.  Forced gratitude, I mean, the kind piled on your debt as added interest.  To be ground underfoot and then told to be thankful the foot was not heavier – I hate it.”

Their conversations are insightful and often humorous, showcasing many of the things I enjoy so much about this author’s work. Her research is impeccable and I always like the way she doesn’t just gloss over the social issues of the day.  Slavery had been abolished in England at this time, but there were still many people making money out of it; there was serious social inequality and no safety net for those who couldn’t afford even the most basic of life’s necessities; yet all these issues are addressed in a way that is not preachy or dry history lesson.  Instead they arise naturally out of the direction taken by the story, the lives of the characters and the situations in which they live.

Both protagonists are attractive, likeable characters, although Theo is probably the more well-developed of the two, with a bit more light and shade to his persona.  He’s quick witted, devious and sarcastic; and I really liked that his lady novelist alter-ego, Dorothea Swann, gives Ms. Charles the opportunity to make a few tongue-in-cheek observations about romantic fiction but also allows Theo to save the day.

Wanted, A Gentleman is beautifully written, the dialogue sparkles and Theo and Martin simply charmed me.

My only complaint is that the book ended too quickly.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

kj-magpieKJ Charles is a writer of mostly m/m historical romance, sometimes with fantasy. She has won several Rainbow Awards for her work and twice been voted Best LGBT+ Romance in the All About Romance annual poll. She is published by Loveswept and Samhain.

KJ is also a RITA-winning editor with twenty years’ publishing experience as a commissioning and line editor. She worked primarily in romance and children’s fiction, and is now freelance.

She lives in London with her husband, two kids, a wildly overgrown garden, and a cat with murder-management issues.

Connect with KJ at: www.kjcharleswriter.com * ~ * Facebook * ~ * Twitter * ~ * Tumblr.

Sweetest Regret (novella) by Meredith Duran

sweetest-regret
This title may be purchased from Amazon

At a house party in the countryside, the joyful spirit of the Christmas season threatens to sweep Georgiana Trent under the mistletoe—and back into the arms of the dashing rogue who broke her heart two years ago. Little does she know that Lucas Godwin has no intention of leaving until he has reclaimed her as his own.

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Publisher and Release Date: Pocket Star, November 2016 – published originally in the Christmas themed anthology, What Happens Under the Mistletoe in 2015.
Time and Setting: England, 1885
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Wendy

Sweetest Regret has had mixed reviews but personally I was rather pleased with my first foray into this author’s work. Not normally a fan of novellas, I was pleasantly surprised with both the quality of Meredith Duran’s writing and the content.

Georgiana Trent has been left high and dry by her father and instructed to host a Christmas house party for his diplomatic colleagues while he travels to Constantinople. She has always been her father’s ‘right hand man’ so this poses no real problem for her although she is less than impressed to be abandoned by him – yet again – and with his normal high handed manner.

Georgiana had met her father’s subordinate, Lucas Godwin two years earlier in Munich and had harboured secret hopes of a romantic alliance between them. Even though she has always believed herself to be unattractive to the opposite sex – he had, to her delight, singled her out and shown a public and marked preference for her company during the month of their acquaintance. The budding romance had never went further than shared confidences and dances, but still it seemed as though he was as attracted to her as she was to him. Then, quite abruptly and without even a note of explanation – he was gone. Georgiana was left broken-hearted and quite naturally thought he had been toying with her affections.

Two years later he is summoned to the house party by Georgina’s father with instructions to help her find a missing, potentially sensitive letter which has apparently been stolen by one of the house guests. Georgiana is not at all pleased at being pushed back into Lucas’ orbit, and the two continue their renewed acquaintance with veiled animosity, neither initially wishing to broach the subject of their past history.

Still the pull of attraction between them is tangible and as they are thrown together in their quest to find the missing letter the facts of what happened two years earlier are revealed, bit by bit, and here, the author uses flashbacks to their time in Munich really well. This enables Ms. Duran to avoid the pitfall of trying to pack too much into a short word-count; by giving her thwarted lovers a past together – albeit a brief one – creates a framework for a far more believable scenario which flows fluidly so that we don’t get a rushed 0-60 insta-lust. These two people had been in love and as it turns out, still are.

There are a couple of glaring errors in the story. At one point we’re told that a couple of characters are out at 5.45am looking for a Christmas tree, but we have the longest of nights during December so they’d have been stumbling around in the dark for over two hours until sunrise! Also, Sir Phillip is incorrectly referred to as ‘Sir Trent’, which is a silly mistake for a writer of historical romance to make. Those criticisms aside, though, Ms Duran achieves a sweet and plausible love story, with well developed, likeable characters, and a believable plot. All in all I really enjoyed Sweetest Regret and will definitely read more of this author’s work.

Miss Goodhue Lives for a Night (Winner Takes All #2.5) by Kate Noble

miss-goodhue

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Cecilia Goodhue is a schoolteacher with a past, living with her sister and her husband in a tiny English village. Resigned to a quiet life, Cecilia is surprised when she finds out that her young cousin has run off with a man of no means.

Cecilia had once been a teenaged girl who also fell for a young man’s charms—only to be devastated by his betrayal. Determined to not let her cousin meet the same fate, she heads off to London to but is shocked when her investigation leads her right to the front door of the very man who broke her heart: Theo Hudson.

Together, they reluctantly embark on finding her cousin and returning her to her family. During their searching in London, it soon becomes clear that they both remember their short-lived romance differently and perhaps now, years later, they have a fresh chance at love.

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Publisher and Release Date: Pocket Star, September 2016
Time and Setting: Regency London
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Review Rating: 3 stars

Review by Sara

Short stories can be difficult to review. An author only has so much page space to have her main characters believably fall in love, so most of the time the plot will move quickly and rely heavily on reuniting former friends, lovers or other close characters. Miss Goodhue Lives for a Night falls into this category and from the description I was hoping the leads would be older and a bit more mature about rediscovering love together. It doesn’t quite work out that way.

Cecilia Goodhue used to be a romantic young woman. When she was sixteen, she followed her heart and ran off with the ward of a neighboring baronet, but unfortunately her father and his caught up with them and their elopement ended before they could say their vows. Her fiancé abandoned her at the inn where they had stopped and left her ruined in the eyes of her family and their small community. Ten years later and Cecilia is still paying the price for her youthful mistake. She has found a home with her sister and vicar brother-in-law but Cecilia is constantly under suspicion that she could act out again and shame their household. Her life now revolves around the community school where she works and living as quietly as possible to avoid any scandals.

When a letter arrives informing Cecilia and her sister that their young cousin has eloped with an officer it seems to them that history is repeating itself. Hoping for a better outcome than her own sad story Cecilia decides to chase after her cousin and either bring her home or make sure that she’s happily married to the young man. Cecilia has her friend Leticia Turner provide her with a contact in London where she can stay and get help in tracking down her wayward cousin. Cecilia knows that time is of the essence to catch up with the pair so she rides overnight on the mail coach to arrive on the doorstep of the Earl of Ashby. Knocking on the front door she is unprepared to come face to face with her past in the form of Mr. Theo Hudson, the man who broke her heart all those years ago.

Theo is just as shocked to see Cecilia standing on the doorstep of his employer’s townhouse. He had only just arrived himself at Lord Ashby’s home having received a summons that the peer had an important task for Theo’s law firm. As it turns out, that task is assisting Cecilia in finding her lost relation but Theo is convinced that his former betrothed is on a wild goose chase. He is annoyed at being stuck with the woman who a decade before destroyed his belief in love when she broke their engagement to find a man of better means. Theo found success practicing law in the intervening years but never let himself get close to another woman for fear they’d hurt him as deeply as Cecilia did.

With only a few clues to go on Cecilia and Theo try to retrace her cousin’s steps or find someone in town who recognizes the vague description they have of the suitor. Their partnership begins awkwardly as neither one has ever really made peace with the past; however the more they work together or discuss the chances of the young runaways having found true love it puts all of the events from that infamous night under the microscope. The spark of attraction Cecilia and Theo shared before is quickly rekindled but it might not be enough to forgive a decade’s worth of regrets.

Miss Goodhue Lives for a Night stems from one of my least favorite romantic tropes of a big misunderstanding pulling two lovers away from each other. Cecilia and Theo were lied to by their respective fathers and believed that they were betrayed by the person they had trusted with their affection. What bothered me about the story is that after these events neither character manages to get over that hurt and it changes how they see themselves or how they live for ten years. Theo throws himself into working and pushes personal relationships aside to protect himself. Cecilia becomes a shell of the exuberant woman she used to be for fear of being shunned by her community or having no place to live. In fact, both characters are very much arrested in their development and it shows in how petty Theo treats Cecilia initially or in how she cannot stand up to the local village women who take advantage of her. It’s only towards the end that Cecilia realizes that she is unhappy with her life but then cannot see a way out of the rut she’s created.

The timeframe of a single day also stretches the believability of the story considering all the baggage each character has to unload. To have them restart a relationship without thinking of the consequences this time shows just how immature these supposedly mature people are.

I know that I’m splitting hairs over what is intended to be a light and enjoyable story of lovers reunited but I couldn’t get behind Cecilia and Theo’s relationship. All the steps in between where they really talk with each other and truly forgive the past are missing or are abbreviated due to the small page count. Miss Goodhue Lives for a Night is a quick read which fits nicely into the Winner Takes All series or as a standalone short story but it shouldn’t be an indication of what to regularly expect from this author.

Lady Grace’s Husband Hunt (Regency Seasons #10) by Ava Stone

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Hiding behind her quick wit and biting tongue, the last thing in the world Lady Grace Post wants is a husband. After all, if she can’t have the love of her life, why would she want some other man? Unfortunately, her Machiavellian matchmaking great-uncle, the Duke of Danby, has other plans for Grace and has decided it is past time for her to be wed. To keep the duke from selecting a fellow she doesn’t want, Grace begins her great husband hunt, very aware that her time is ticking away.

Oliver Ashbee, Earl of Prestwood, has never gotten over Grace. Watching her from afar, as she dances and flirts with other men, is enough to drive him to an early grave. Things would be different if he could court her, if he could hold her, if he could kiss her again. If things had been different she’d have been his wife long ago. But things aren’t different…

… Or are they?

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Publisher and Release Date: Night Shift Publishing, August 2016
Time and Setting: London, 1817
Genre: Historical Romance novella
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Sara

The description for Lady Grace’s Husband Hunt is what attracted me to the story but I was caught unaware when the conflict between Lady Grace Post and Lord Prestwood was revealed. The premise for the story is usually one I try to avoid and if this were untried author I would have given up. Fortunately I trust Ava Stone to deliver a solid story and have a clear path for her characters to find their happy ever after.

Four years ago, Lady Grace Post was on the cusp of her perfect future. The love of her life, Oliver Ashbee, had declared himself to her and all that was left was for him to approach her elder brother with a request for her hand. Sadly, on the day Oliver was expected to call, he instead had to explain to Grace that he was already betrothed without his knowledge. The agreement signed by his father was completely binding and Oliver had no recourse but to break Grace’s heart.

Flash forward, and Grace is doing her best to attract a suitable husband during the current season. A recent visit to the estate of her great-uncle the Duke of Danby revealed that the wheels were already in motion to select a husband for Grace without her having any say in the matter. Unwilling to let someone else decide her future, Grace is hoping she can flirt, dance and perhaps kiss someone who can fill the void still left in her heart after Oliver. Things become rather difficult when Oliver, now Lord Prestwood, seems to be attending all of the same ton functions and his presence keeps reminding her of what could have been.

Oliver never got over his love for Grace and has been in a sort of limbo waiting for his betrothed to make her début in London. Watching Grace as she shines at all the balls they attend has been a torture since he can do nothing to prevent her from marrying someone else. When he is called away from town to help his pregnant sister, Oliver loses track of Grace’s husband hunt until he returns to his estate in the country to learn that she is now betrothed. Knowing that very soon Grace will be completely unattainable hurts more than losing her the first time around, but what chance can they possibly have when they are each bound to someone else?

Lady Grace’s Husband Hunt is just a small part of a larger Post family saga that has been building through several anthologies. I’ve missed quite a few of the previous stories; however I never felt I was missing anything from Grace’s background. She is an emotional young woman who has had to rebuild her life after suffering such a cruel blow from someone she trusted above all others. When she learns that her future is being managed by the interfering Duke of Danby, it forces Grace to take a more introspective look at herself. She slowly comes to realize that the only person who control her destiny is her and that the choices made by her parents or distant relations shouldn’t influence her decisions.

Oliver was perhaps a little too spineless when faced with the same dilemma – that an outside party has charted the course for his future. I normally love a hero who pines for a heroine, yet I don’t feel that Oliver does enough to fight for his happiness. He just accepts his lot in life and seems confused when Grace’s demeanor towards him changes abruptly. Fortunately for him, higher powers (and peers) were hard at work to put everything right again in his and Grace’s lives.

Ava Stone always packs a whole lot of character and emotion into novella size stories. I enjoyed Grace and Oliver’s romance when all the pieces started falling into place. Now having seen the final Post sibling find love I plan on going back and reading the books where the rest of the family gets their happy ending.

Scandal at the Midsummer Ball by Marguerite Kaye and Bronwyn Scott

scandal at the midsummer ball

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Two forbidden relationships…one house party to remember!

THE OFFICER’S TEMPTATION by Marguerite Kaye

Colonel Fergus Kennedy must make a suitable match at the Midsummer Ball. But when this officer encounters sultry acrobat Katerina Vengarov, he finds himself torn between duty…and heart-stopping, irresistible passion!

THE DEBUTANTE’S AWAKENING by Bronwyn Scott

Kael Gage is the last person at the Midsummer Ball Miss Zara Titus should speak to—and anything more is definitely off-limits! But the notorious rake seems determined to awaken this innocent debutante’s every desire…

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Publisher and Release Date: Mills & Boon / Harlequin Historical, May 2016

Time and Setting: England, June 1817
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Wendy

These two stories, running concurrently, take place at a house party being hosted by the powerful Duke and Duchess of Brockmore. Marriages, political alliances and business deals are brokered at this annual event; the attendees know why they are privileged enough to gain a coveted invitation and play the game…..almost. I loved this concept and it was interesting to see how these two authors approached it. And also to see the protagonists from each story occasionally appearing in the other. Given that these authors live thousands of miles apart and have never met, it must have been a difficult feat to perform especially as it is seamlessly well done. I am a fan of Marguerite Kaye’s work but this was my first time reading Bronwyn Scott.

The Officer’s Temptation by Marguerite Kaye. 4 stars

Colonel Fergus Kennedy has been invited to the house-party at the behest of the Duke of Wellington. Fergus who has fought his way to the top under his own steam, is a highly thought of man of honour and integrity, and also one of the Iron Duke’s brightest protégés. After a couple of peace-time years vegetating behind a desk, he is eager for a more challenging role, which comes in the form of a possible posting to Egypt. There is only one fly in the ointment; the posting is for a married man and his wife must be capable of becoming a diplomatic hostess. Desperate to return to active service, Fergus is resigned to his fate. If he must marry, then he will and he is prepared to make the pre-ordained match if the lady and he like each other. The lady happens to be the niece of The Duke of Brockmore and she is NOT prepared to be matched with Fergus.

Lady Verity Fairholme has other ideas and gives Fergus no encouragement at all, and he quickly comes to realise that he actually doesn’t like being treated as though he were the dirt on the bottom of someone’s shoe. An encounter with the captivating and talented Russian gymnast, Katerina Vengarov who has been employed, with her brother, to provide the entertainment for this year’s Russian themed party, also shows him that making such a cold-blooded match is not within his power. The attraction between this unlikely pair is instant: they recognise it but it seems an impossible scenario – how can the situation possibly be resolved?

I loved Fergus’s and Katerina’s characters, Ms. Kaye crafts strong, independent women and gorgeous, likeable men, and these two are no exception. How the situation is resolved is interesting, as with Katerina’s help, Fergus has a light-bulb moment. This author is exceptionally good at showing us the different sides of a situation. The much lauded Wellington WAS a brilliant soldier and he DID inspire his officers and men to follow him – but he was also an egotistical man who manipulated his followers, mostly for his own good. The author has done a great job within the confines of a novella without compromising either the romance or the deeper moral issues she has raised. I’d really like to see the outcome of the enterprise that Katerina and Fergus embark upon – perhaps as another story with Alexandr, Katerina’s brother, as the hero.

The Debutante’s Awakening by Bronwyn Scott. 3.5 stars

Miss Zara Titus is a last minute addition to the guest-list. Her long standing betrothal has been broken and her mother is anxious to plaster over the broken engagement and find a replacement husband for her daughter without delay. Zara is quite enjoying her new found freedom and has no intentions of going along with her mother’s machinations – but the Viscountess doesn’t know that. As the Duke is introducing her to other guests she is aware of the eyes of a handsome, bold young man on her, and feels immediately drawn to him. It is quickly made clear to her by the duke that he is not for her – which of course only makes her more interested.

Kael Gage has only managed to gain entry to the party with the help of a friend; and I must add here that I’m not sure if I missed something important but I can’t quite see how he did it. If the Duke of Brockmore’s invitations are so coveted I can’t see that a man such as he could have obtained one, even with the help of a friend. Kael lives on the fringe of polite society; the impoverished grandson of an earl, he has only a small estate which he uses as the stud-farm that provides his income. He is not considered to be a good match; this only serves to make him a more exciting prospect to Zara. The pair embark on a flirtation and Kael begins to teach Zara how to rebel in style. They are physically attracted to each other and although Zara is fairly ripe for seduction, Kael behaves honourably and stops short of ruining her completely even though the rebellious Zara is ready for more.

I liked both of Bronwyn Scott’s characters but particularly Kael Gage who, although boldly handsome and rakish, also has a vulnerable streak. He’s been deeply hurt in the past and has developed his outer roguish persona as a coping mechanism. A charming stud if you like, and useful for only one thing as far as women of the ton are concerned. As a result of this hidden vulnerability he can’t help feeling unworthy of the beautiful, wealthy and eminently marriagable, Zara. As the pair begin to feel more than just a physical attraction the story takes a deeper and more serious turn, I liked the way the author developed the sensitive and far more important issues underpinning this apparently light and flirtatious story.

All in all, Scandal at the Midsummer Ball is a good, solid read by these two authors. I particularly liked the way they handled the characters of the Duke and Duchess of Brockmore, a couple in their fifties, married for three decades and still very much in love. The fact that they are childless is mentioned more than once and I thought it a nice touch to point out that although this fact has been a great sadness to them it hasn’t been the most important issue in their long and happy marriage.

The Duke of Olympia Meets His Match by Juliana Gray

the duke of olympia meets his matc

From Juliana Gray comes an all-new historical romance novella featuring the famous—and often infamous—Duke of Olympia.

Aboard the luxuriously appointed SS Majestic, the duke is on a mission to retrieve a most important portfolio of papers and thwart a known anarchist. As the ship steams across the Atlantic, the duke’s search for the notorious master of disguise forces him into close quarters with an American heiress and her widowed governess, Mrs. Penelope Schuyler.

While Olympia has known his fair share of intriguing women, Mrs. Schuyler seems to have a way of challenging his expectations at every turn. But as their clandestine meetings lead them down an unexpected path, the duke must determine if Penelope is a woman to be trusted…

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Publisher and Release Date: Intermix, May 2016

Time and Setting: 1893, crossing from New York to England
Genre: Historical fiction novella with a mystery
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

Juliana Gray burst on to the historical romance scene a few years ago with her enchanting Victorian-era Affairs by Moonlight series and then continued her success with the passionate Princess in Hiding series. Throughout both of those series, however, there was one enigmatic figure who was a constant; an older gentleman behind the scenes, organizing – well, manipulating really – but also protecting and matchmaking the heroes and heroines of those novels: the Duke of Olympia.

In the previous stories, Olympia is the grandfather and uncle to the protagonists but, in this historical romance novella with a mystery, he is the romantic hero.

Admittedly, he’s not your usual hero: for one, he is seventy four years-old, but in this day of age awareness and consideration, why should that matter? He is tall, strong, and dashing and debonair. He turns many a head and, naturally, one American mama has her eye on him for her American heiress daughter. Her twenty year-old daughter wants nothing to do with Olympia romantically but is content to put on a flirtatious show for her mother even as she secretly meets with her true love.

The entire novella takes place on an ocean voyage on the S.S. Majestic in March, 1893, and each day represents a chapter in the story. Olympia, who has long been in government espionage for the Crown, is in hot pursuit of a mysterious woman carrying important papers. Ms. Gray creates a nice setting of a bygone era of travel on board ship.

Olympia meets Mrs. Penelope Schuyler, an attractive and vivacious fifty-something widow who serves as a companion to Miss Ruby Morrison, the American heiress. Mrs. Schuyler was left destitute and at the beck and call of the Morrison family for a roof over her head and food to eat but she also possesses a strong sense of dignity and self-respect. She is also carrying the significant papers that Olympia seeks.

This elegant novella has the breezy, self-assured style that Ms. Gray displayed so well in her first six novels. It’s more of a short story mystery with a romance than an historical romance, and it’s charming and fun to read.

The mystery element is handled in a satisfactory way and I really enjoyed the twists and turns as well as the unexpected results at the story’s end. The implications of Olympia falling for Mrs. Schuyler instead of Miss Morrison are well depicted and the reader really gets a sense of the precarious financial and domestic situation in which Penelope finds herself.

It looks like, with this prequel, Ms. Gray is creating a Victorian-era mystery with a romance series, a very different sort of story than her other novels. It seems like it will be more history and mystery than romance and, with Ms. Gray’s beautiful writing and colorful characters, I’m sure it will also be original and fresh.

If you like shipboard romances, intrigue, and an intelligent and amusing story, you will enjoy The Duke of Olympia Meets His Match.

The Stepsister’s Triumph (Regency Makeover #2) by Darcie Wilde

The Stepsister's Triumph

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Madelene Valmeyer has never felt welcome in her father’s house. The daughter of his first wife, she will be one of the richest heiresses in England when she turns twenty-five. But for now, Madelene is just a miserably shy girl, tormented mercilessly by her stepmother and three half-siblings. Nearly unable to function socially, Madelene certainly can’t see that Benedict Pelham, the artistic son of a marquis, is falling in love with her.

Benedict Pelham hates London society, blaming its endless seductions for the death of his brilliant first wife. But in quiet, beautiful Madelene, Benedict believes he’s finally found his chance to begin life again.

Madelene, though, is done being quiet. With the help of her friends and fellow wallflowers, she is preparing to transform from shy mouse to brilliant Miss. But social success has a high price—is Madelene prepared to pay with her heart?

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Publisher and Release Date: Intermix, April 19, 2016

RHR Classifications:

Time and Setting: Regency London
Genre: Historical Romance (novella)
Heat Level: 1.5
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

Madelene Valmeyer is an heiress living with ungrateful and selfish relatives who constantly guilt-trip her into giving them more money to pay off their trivial debts, much to the irritation of her long-suffering trustee. She’s a very reserved and shy young woman whose meekness sometimes borders on the pathetic. I found myself constantly wanting her to toughen up and be a big girl and stand up to her good-for-nothing family, like her good friend, the strong-willed bluestocking, Hélène. Madelene is more like a kicked puppy.

And I have to wonder about Benedict Pelham’s own motivation when he only seems to want to protect and save Madelene from her parasitic family. He somehow sees the attractive woman hiding inside the meek façade but honestly, I don’t really see how he could, given the extremely humble way that she presents herself. Perhaps their one enlightening conversation about the painting he creates of her in the first chapter at the gallery provides a tiny clue but before that, he only saw her spying on him when he was commissioned to paint another work at a mutual acquaintance’s house party. So how he made the leap from the timidity he sees to guessing at the genuine woman inside is sort of a mystery to me. But after the drama of Benedict’s tragic first marriage, Madelene’s submissiveness is exactly what attracts him in the first place.

Benedict is an artist and widower, whose first wife’s death causes great speculation and gossip in the ton. He is drawn to Madelene but fears he isn’t good enough for her because, well, he’s an artist, something that wasn’t exactly an acceptable occupation in Regency England.

Madelene and Benedict are a very quiet and understated couple so their passion isn’t very passionate. Their weaknesses – her lack of self confidence, his past demons – aren’t absorbing enough to merit the great conflict of why they cannot be together.

As in the previous novella, Madelene’s best friends Adele (The Bride Behind the Curtain) and Hélène (the next novella) support her and one another in their common quest to conquer London society by dressing well and entertaining the most important names in the aristocracy. Their unconventional chaperone, Deborah Sewell, a novelist (gasp!), continues to intrigue this reader with her secretive and colorful life as she guides and advises her young protégées. I hope Ms. Wilde writes her story in this Regency Makeover series, as she’s a fascinating character.

However, Ms. Wilde does write well – I very much enjoyed her provocative début, Lord of the Rakes – and her pacing is good, keeping the story moving along at a steady clip. This series reads like a serial in that it is presented in installments without a true resolved ending for each of the stories so far. That’s not a complaint, merely an observation. Ultimately, The Stepsister’s Triumph is disappointing, and I just didn’t find Madelene or Benedict very exciting. Likeable – yes. But also a trifle boring.

Mad for Love (Highland Brides #0.5) by Elizabeth Essex

mad for love

Set a thief…

Rory Cathcart’s appreciation of the exquisite makes him the perfect man to expose forgeries and root out fraud in London’s tempestuous art world. But when his latest investigation into forged paintings puts him squarely in Mignon du Blois’ shaky sights, he finds himself deep in trouble, and captured by something more powerful than mere beauty.

To catch a thief…

The moment Mignon stops a rakish thief from making off with one of her father’s brilliant forgeries, she knows she’s found the perfect man to help her steal back a priceless statue, and save her family from unspeakable scandal. She has no intention of falling for Rory’s Caledonian charms, nor his seductive Scottish persuasions. From the drawing rooms of the ton to the auction rooms of the art world, the pair embarks on a madcap adventure to save them both from ruin. But will the love they uncover be most priceless treasure of all?

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Publisher and Release Date: ERB Publishing, March 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and setting: London, 1790
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1.5
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Jill

Marie (Mignon) du Blois and her father, Charles have fled Paris and the upheavals of the French Revolution to settle in London. In order to support themselves, her father, a forger of fine art, fobs replicas off on to unsuspecting and clueless English buyers. Mignon, afraid he will be caught and jailed, continually tries to talk him into giving it up, but her pleas fall on deaf ears.

Rory Cathcart works for Christie’s auction house and is a specialist in spotting art forgeries. When he hears of Charles du Blois’ latest forgery, he sets out to expose him and in so doing hopes to further his own career. While Mignon and her father are out one evening, Rory breaks in to their house, but unbeknown to him, Mignon has stayed at home. When she catches Rory in the act of stealing one of her father’s forgeries, he introduces himself to Mignon as Rory Andrews.

When Charles is caught in a difficult situation of having one of his forged sculptures authenticated for insurance purposes by none other than Rory Cathcart, Mignon hires Rory Andrews, her gentleman thief, to steal the sculpture where it’s on public display in the gallery at Somerset House.

Set in 1790, Mad for Love is a prequel novella to Elizabeth Essex’s new Highland Brides series. This is certainly different to anything I’ve read previously by Ms Essex, and in fact, I wasn’t prepared for the fun, light tone of the story. She writes that it was a homage to one of her favourite caper movies, and a more apt description would be hard to find for this delightful novella.

The first full novel in this series, Mad about the Marquess is due out in April 2016. Rory has a number of friends who I’m guessing will feature in the upcoming novels.

Mad for Love is a very enjoyable start to this new series by Elizabeth Essex, and would suit readers who enjoy romantic comedies and lighter historical romance.

Tempting Mr. Townsend (Dashing Widows #2) by Anna Campbell

tempting mr townsend

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Beauty – and the Beast?

When rough diamond Anthony Townsend, who also happens to be one of the richest men in England, bursts into Lady Fenella’s house and demands she hand over his runaway nephew, this dashing widow embarks on a breathtaking adventure that might just end in exciting new love.

Beauty…

Fenella, Lady Deerham, has rejoined society after five years of mourning her beloved husband’s death at Waterloo. Now she’s fêted as a diamond of the first water and London’s perfect lady. But beneath her exquisite exterior, this delicate blond beauty conceals depths of courage and passion nobody has ever suspected. When her son and his school friend go missing, she vows to find them whatever it takes. Including setting off alone in the middle of the night with high-handed bear of a man, Anthony Townsend. Will this tumultuous journey end in more tragedy? Or will the impetuous quest astonish this dashing widow with a breathtaking new love, and life with the last man she ever imagined?

And the Beast?

When Anthony Townsend bursts into Lady Deerham’s fashionable Mayfair mansion demanding the return of his orphaned nephew, the lovely widow’s beauty and spirit turn his world upside down. But surely such a refined and aristocratic creature will scorn a rough, self-made man’s courtship, even if that man is now one of the richest magnates in England. Especially after he’s made such a woeful first impression by barging into her house and accusing her of conniving with the runaways. But when Fenella insists on sharing the desperate search for the boys, fate offers Anthony a chance to play the hero and change her mind about him. Will reluctant proximity convince Fenella that perhaps Mr. Townsend isn’t so beastly after all? Or now that their charges are safe, will Anthony and Fenella remain forever opposites fighting their attraction?

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Publisher and Release Date: Anna Campbell, February 2016

RHR Classifications:
Place and time: England, 1820
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Wendy

I’m not generally a lover of novellas as they normally feel insubstantial to me. However, I was pleasantly surprised at the content and quality of Tempting Mr. Townsend, the second in Ms. Campbell’s Dashing Widows series, about three widows who befriend each other and who, for various reasons, have decided to live a little.

This is described as a ‘Beauty and the Beast’ story and although the character of Lady Fenella Deerham is certainly clearly delineated as a beauty, my vision of Anthony Townsend is rather different to a beast. He actually comes across as an attractive man, large yes and maybe a bit rough round the edges but certainly no beast – I liked the honourable, clever man that Anna Campbell has created. In fact I really liked both characters; Fenella, feisty, determined, protective of her child and Anthony, a tough but gentle giant, doing the best he can for his orphaned and grieving young nephew.

The two are thrown together when the two boys run away from Eton and Anthony tears up to London, expecting to find his nephew being sheltered in Fenella’s home. After their traumatic, explosive meeting, where Anthony unfairly accuses Fenella’s son of being the leader of the escapade, they settle into an uneasy partnership, united in their wish to find the boys and bring them to safety. And as they travel together, the attraction between them begins to grow.

The first few days of their relationship move fairly quickly, which is understandable given this is a novella, although the need to pack in a lot to a short page-count is one of my complaints in a book of this length. Nevertheless, Anna Campbell handles the burgeoning physical attraction between this unlikely pair really well. At this point I could well understand Fenella’s attraction to the charms of this lovely man, although she is also wracked with guilt, feeling torn between her desires and loyalty to her dead husband’s memory.

So, as beautifully and sensitively written as Tempting Mr. Townsend is, I still found the culmination a little too rushed. I have no doubt that Fenella would have capitulated, but I can’t quite see her doing it quite so quickly.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed this lovely feel-good novella, and aside from the speed at which the relationship moved, I have no real complaints. On a personal note, I do feel that Ms.Campbell missed an opportunity to expand the premise and further develop the rather excellent character of Anthony Townsend. One of my favourite tropes is a rags-to-riches story and I would love to have seen the hunky Mr.Townsend’s rise documented; from his humbler beginnings as a mine managers son to the powerful, clever business mogul who captured the heart of a highborn lady.