Tag Archive | Regency England

VIRTUAL TOUR: It Takes Two to Tumble (Seducing the Sedgwicks #1) by Cat Sebastian

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Some of Ben Sedgwick’s favorite things:

Helping his poor parishioners

Baby animals

Shamelessly flirting with the handsome Captain Phillip Dacre

After an unconventional upbringing, Ben is perfectly content with the quiet, predictable life of a country vicar, free of strife or turmoil. When he’s asked to look after an absent naval captain’s three wild children, he reluctantly agrees, but instantly falls for the hellions. And when their stern but gloriously handsome father arrives, Ben is tempted in ways that make him doubt everything.

Some of Phillip Dacre’s favorite things:

His ship

People doing precisely as they’re told

Touching the irresistible vicar at every opportunity

Phillip can’t wait to leave England’s shores and be back on his ship, away from the grief that haunts him. But his children have driven off a succession of governesses and tutors and he must set things right. The unexpected presence of the cheerful, adorable vicar sets his world on its head and now he can’t seem to live without Ben’s winning smiles or devastating kisses.

In the midst of runaway children, a plot to blackmail Ben’s family, and torturous nights of pleasure, Ben and Phillip must decide if a safe life is worth losing the one thing that makes them come alive.

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Avon Impulse, December 2017
Time and Setting: Regency England
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Em

A few of my favorite things:

Cat Sebastian

Queer historical romance

But not, I’m sad to say, It Takes Two to Tumble.  In this first book of Cat Sebastian’s new series, Seducing the Sedgwicks, a stern, widowed naval captain returns home to find his three wild and wayward children under the care of the local vicar.  A relationship that begins in animosity quickly transitions into a love affair…which somehow makes everything wrong in life, right.  Though I found much to like here, I struggled with the pacing of the central plot and with the development of the secondary storylines.

Ben Sedgwick is happy.  After an unconventional childhood as one of five children raised by eccentric, bohemian (and neglectful) parents, he finds fulfillment in his quiet, predictable life as country vicar in the bucolic village where he was raised.  Though he’s frustrated by the recent suffering of his flock at the hands of their landlord Martin Easterbrook, his faith is less dogmatic than pragmatic, and he offers what comfort he can. Betrothed to his closest friend, Alice Crawford, he’s surprised when her father asks a favor. Could he possibly step in and check the wayward behavior of absent naval captain Phillip Dacre’s children?  Since the death of their mother two years ago, the children have driven off a succession of governesses and tutors, and their wild behavior grows worse every day.  With future familial harmony in mind – and the expected arrival of Captain Dacre in the next two weeks –  Ben reluctantly agrees to the request.  He decamps for Barton Hall, to see what can be done.

Phillip Dacre has made a life for himself at sea. Although he knows it’s long past time he visited his children, and his sister’s last letter has left him deeply concerned about their well-being, the thought of being away from his ship fills him with dread.  Only a promised visit from the ship’s surgeon – his closest friend since the death of his beloved lieutenant, McCarthy, provides any relief from the bleakness of his thoughts.

Sending word of his arrival ahead, he hopes to be greeted by his children, but instead finds an empty house.  When a servant informs him they’re in the orchard with the vicar, he expects to find them in prayer or singing hymns; instead, they’re up in the cherry trees – as is the vicar.  When the handsome clergyman drops to the ground with a curse and introduces himself, Phillip struggles to control his temper.  The meeting goes from bad to worse as Ben informs him just why he’s been watching the children -.and then has the temerity to suggest how Phillip might approach them moving forward.

After this less than auspicious beginning, Ms. Sebastian positions Ben and Phillip as quasi-adversaries who unfortunately, also suffer an inconvenient attraction to each other.  The novel unfolds in their alternating PoVs as each tries to do what he feels is right. Phillip, who still mourns the loss of McCarthy, and regrets he never confessed the truth of his feelings to him, is adrift without his late wife who managed the children and the estate.  He loves his children, but he doesn’t know how to be a father to them.

Ben has always known and suppressed his attraction to men – but something about Phillip staggers him.  He doesn’t castigate himself for his lustful thoughts about the other man, but he’s overwhelmed by his feelings, which put his previously orderly, predictable world in turmoil.  Phillip is in his thoughts, his dreams, his heart… and everything he wants from Phillip feels like a betrayal of his commitment to Alice.  He suffers that too.

Both Phillip and Ben struggle with their lustful feelings for each other, but they go from wanting to having in the blink of an eye.  Days after their first meeting, the sexual tension between them – characterized by heated/longing glances, angry conversations about the children and Ben’s faith, and brief and (not so) inadvertent touches – gives way to passionate kisses and frantic, furtive couplings whenever and wherever they can sneak away.  Phillip leads and Ben exuberantly follows, and the lead-up to their love affair is nicely fraught with tension and angst.  They’re both flawed, likeable – loveable – men, but too much of their story is wrapped in their sexual relationship, and it’s difficult to see when they actually get to know the person they’re falling for.

Meanwhile, there are several additional narratives that Ms. Sebastian fails to adequately develop. Philip’s children suddenly become lovable and better behaved, Alice conveniently falls in love with a visiting friend, and a beloved brother shrugs off a painful sacrifice he made years ago for the good of the family.   Now reader, you and I both know there are MANY successful romance novels wherein the principal couple fall in love quickly, the romance evolves in a brief span of time and love conquers all somehow rings true.  But not this time.  I have no quibble with the short length of time it takes for Phillip and Ben to fall in love; unfortunately, it’s everything else – the resolution of so many complex secondary plotlines – that felt rushed and contrived.  That said, though I disliked the plot deus ex machina that simultaneously resolves Ben’s professional future and Easterbrook’s storyline, I liked how the author dovetailed Phillip’s inability to read (which his son Jamie has inherited) with Ben’s future plans.  It’s a sympathetic and brilliant merging of the two storylines.

It’s been a struggle to grade It Takes Two to Tumble.  The writing is strong, the setting is beautifully realized and the principals are appealing.  But in this awkward mash-up?  Homage? to The Sound of Music and Seven Summer Nights by Harper Fox, the author can’t seem to decide whether she’s writing a disney-esque fairy tale, a story of forbidden love or both.  It’s a seductive premise, but I didn’t find this happily ever after believable – or plausible.  Really, it was all much too much, and despite the authors typical lovely writing, It Takes Two to Tumble is overstuffed and underdeveloped.

EXCERPT

After the fact, Phillip thought he might have handled the situation a bit more gracefully if the children hadn’t been in a tree. But he was not at his best, having walked the distance from the coaching inn to the house, with each step growing more disoriented by the sheer familiarity of the terrain. Surely the place ought to have changed. But every rock and tree aligned precisely with memories Phillip hadn’t even realized he still had.

Despite having sent a messenger ahead with the approximate time of his arrival, the children were not waiting in the hall to greet him. Of course they wouldn’t be, he told himself. That had been Caroline’s doing, and she was gone. Their failure to appear was just further proof of how badly Phillip’s intervention was needed. He needed to get to work turning them into well-behaved, competent midshipmen. Children, he corrected himself. Yes, children.

The servant who opened the door told Phillip he’d find the children in the orchard with the vicar. Phillip found this surprising, as nothing in Ernestine’s final letter had indicated religiosity as part of the children’s reign of terror. But instead of discovering the children at work in prayer or singing hymns, he found them high up in a cherry tree.

The plain fact of the matter was that children did not belong in trees, at least not when they ought to be in the hall awaiting their father’s return. Nor did vicars belong in trees at any time whatsoever. He might not have much experience with either, and thank God for it, but he knew trees were not the natural habitat of either class of person. He had expected to see his children for the first time in two years in a setting that was slightly less arboreal. Somewhere he could properly see them and they could properly see him and they could all say whatever the hell they were supposed to say in this situation without Caroline to manage things. Instead all he got was a glimpse of booted feet vanishing higher into the branches accompanied by the sound of stifled laughter.

The vicar spotted him first, and promptly swung down from the tree to land at Phillip’s feet. At least, Phillip assumed it was the vicar, and not some stray stable hand who had taken to capering about the orchard. But didn’t vicars wear uniforms of some sort? Special hats or black coats? The chaplain on the ship always had. This fellow was in his shirtsleeves, and if that weren’t bad enough, his sleeves were rolled up. The chaplain had never done that. The chaplain had been about sixty. And bald. This fellow had wheat-colored hair that needed a cut and freckles all over his face. He was nothing like the chaplain. Unacceptable.

“Oh damn,” the vicar said. Phillip gritted his teeth. Swearing was another thing the chaplain had never done. “I mean drat,” the man said, his freckled face going pink. “Bother. You must be Mr. Dacre.”

“Captain Dacre,” Phillip said frostily. This fellow had to go. No discipline. No sense of decorum. No wonder the children ran amok if they spent time in this man’s company. “You have the advantage of me,” he said, not bothering to conceal his frown. He never did.

“Ben Sedgwick,” the vicar said, smiling in a lopsided, bashful way. He stuck his hand out, and Phillip had no choice but to take it. The vicar’s hand was warm and his grip was firm, and Phillip’s gaze automatically drifted down to the man’s exposed forearm, sun-burnished and dusted with light hair.

“Thank you, Mr. Sedgwick,” Phillip said. “You may take yourself off.” His effort to dismiss this careless young vicar was interrupted by a rustle of leaves and the thud of a child landing at his feet.

The child was tall, lanky, and excessively rumpled. “Edward,” Phillip said, briefly startled by the changes a lapse of two years wrought in children. Phillip had last seen his older son as a coltish child of eleven. Now Phillip could discern two things—one, that he looked very much like Caroline, and two, that he was not best pleased to see his father. For an instant, Phillip could hardly blame him. Phillip had never much enjoyed seeing his own father either. When the navy had taken his own father away for years at a time, Phillip had rather thought they had all been the better for it.
He held out his hand and noticed the barest hesitation before his son took it. “You look so much like—”

“I know I look like Mama,” Edward said coolly, dropping his father’s hand. “I have a looking glass.” His scowl was so intent that Phillip opened his mouth to scold the boy. “Mr. Sedgwick,” Edward said, turning to the vicar, “I’m going to finish my history lesson.” Without waiting for a response from Sedgwick or so much as a by-your-leave from Phillip himself, the child dashed off towards the house.

While Phillip had always striven to keep order on his ship in less brutal ways, some captains wouldn’t have hesitated to have boys flogged for even less blatant insubordination. Phillip swallowed his anger and turned his attention to the tree, where he could see two pairs of dangling feet.

“Margaret,” Phillip called up into the tree. “James.”

“Oh, they won’t come down,” Sedgwick said cheerfully. “Not a chance.”

“Excuse me?”

“I wouldn’t even bother calling them. They’ll stay up there until the sun sets or until the spirit moves them otherwise.” He seemed utterly undisturbed by this. His eyes were actually sparkling, for God’s sake.

“And you permit this?”

Sedgwick’s brow furrowed. This was the first lapse in the blithe and idiotic good cheer he had displayed since Phillip’s arrival. “Well, I don’t know what you expect me to do about it. Rope them like a couple of stray sheep? They’re safer up there than they are getting into whatever devilry they might seek out elsewhere. Really,” he said, lowering his voice and leaning close in a way that made Phillip instinctively mirror the pose until he realized what he was doing and straightened up. Proximity was the last thing he needed with this man. “The tree’s been a godsend.

They haven’t been capering about the rooftops even once since they discovered how climbable the cherry trees are.”
Phillip blinked. “What I meant,” he said slowly, “was that perhaps you would like to tell them to come down.”

“Tell them?” the vicar repeated, as if Phillip had suggested a satanic ritual. “Won’t do a blessed thing other than inspire them to more mischief, I’m afraid. No, no, leave them safely up there, and when they’re hungry they’ll come inside.”

“Thank you for everything you’ve done,” Phillip said in precisely the tone he’d use towards a sailor about to be assigned morning watch for the foreseeable future. “But now that I’ve returned I’ll see to engaging a proper tutor.”

The man had the nerve to look hurt. Really, what had he expected? If Phillip had wanted his children to run about like South Sea pirates, he could have stayed on his ship where he belonged, thank you very much. But instead he would hire a tutor for the boys and a governess for Margaret. And when they were ready, he’d send them off to school, where they belonged.

“About that,” the vicar said slowly. “I’m not sure you’ll find a tutor. They’ve run through a good half dozen and I fear that well has run quite dry.”

“A half dozen!” Ernestine hadn’t mentioned that in her last letter. Or at least he was fairly certain she hadn’t. He knew there had been some trouble engaging suitable help, but quite possibly she had obscured the details. Well, it was a good thing he was here, then. He would see to it that his household was as it ought to be, that his children were on a safe course, and then he’d go back to sea. Two months. He had turned far more insalubrious characters into perfectly disciplined first-rate sailors in less time than that, hadn’t he? He was used to commanding dozens of men in clockwork precision. Surely he could make a couple of children—his own children, at that—fall in line.

“Never mind that,” he said. “I have everything in hand. Good day,” he added when the vicar didn’t seem inclined to take the hint and leave.

“Good luck,” the vicar said, gathering his discarded outer garments and carelessly dropping his hat onto his head.

Phillip thought he heard the man laugh as he made his way towards the house.

Ben gave it fifteen minutes before Captain Dacre came begging for help. Half an hour at the outside.

Likely as not, the captain would be tied to a burning post before Ben had his valise packed.

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GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of The Ruin of a Rake by Cat Sebastian.  This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 12/15/2017 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address.  Duplicates will be deleted.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Cat Sebastian lives in a swampy part of the South with her husband, three kids, and two dogs. Before her kids were born, she practiced law and taught high school and college writing. When she isn’t reading or writing, she’s doing crossword puzzles, bird watching, and wondering where she put her coffee cup.

You can connect with Cat at: her website * ~ * Facebook * ~ * Twitter * ~ * Goodreads * ~ * Amazon * ~ * Newsletter

Discovering Miss Dalrymple (Baleful Godmother #6) by Emily Larkin


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Who is he?

At the age of four Alexander St. Clare was stolen by gypsies and sold to a chimney sweep. At the age of five he was reunited with his father. His history is no secret—everyone in the ton knows of his miraculous rescue.

But when Alexander finds his father’s diaries, he discovers that there may be a secret buried in his past…

Georgiana Dalrymple knows all about secrets. She has several herself—and one of those secrets is her ability to find missing people.

When Alexander turns to her for help, Georgiana sets out to discover just who he actually is…

Publisher and Release Date: Emily Larkin, October 2017

Time and Setting: England, 1814
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Sara

Emily Larkin’s Baleful Godmother series has fun playing with the idea of a woman’s power. Each story focuses on how an intelligent, capable woman can handle the obstacles in her path towards happiness, but with a twist; sometimes overcoming those challenges means using incredible magical abilities, gifted to her by a Fairy Godmother. In Discovering Miss Dalrymple the heroine’s magic is the ability to locate anything in the world, including the truth about the man she loves.

Miss Georgiana Dalrymple has lost many things in her young life. Six years earlier, she lost her heart to Hubert Cathcart; however she soon lost her fiancé when Hubert traveled to Scotland and never returned. Suffering such devastating loss without knowing why colored Georgiana’s decisions on the night she turned twenty-three and was visited by Baletounge, her Fairy Godmother. Rather than just asking for knowledge of her fiancé’s whereabouts Georgiana asked for the ability to find something that was lost. Learning the truth about Hubert’s disappearance was painful but allowed Georgiana some peace and the chance to move on. Over time and with the help of her family Georgiana realized that her gift could answer many questions for her as long as they were prefaced with “Where.”

Alexander St. Clare, Duke of Vickery, is in need of some answers after discovering his late father’s journals. As the only child of his parents, Alexander was prepared from an early age to handle the responsibilities of his title and it was an honor to follow in his father’s footsteps. Having settled in his responsibilities Alexander is on the cusp of taking his own step towards happiness by proposing to the love of his life, Georgiana Dalrymple. His simple life is far from the excitement Alexander lived through when he was four years old and was carried away by gypsies. Fortunately, his father found him months later working as a chimney sweep and Alexander tried to put the memories of that time far behind him. Sadly, the words in the journal show that the duke never forgot and in his later years began to question if Alexander was truly his son.

Fearful that he’s been living a lie for years and that the true Duke of Vickery was lost somewhere in the world, Alexander turns to Georgiana for help. He knows it’s a long shot but Georgiana had once dreamed of Hubert’s final resting place and Alexander hopes that somehow she can dream again to learn if he’s truly his father’s son. Georgiana is surprised when Alexander tells her about his father’s journals and his fears about his true parentage. In the years since learning of Hubert’s fate, her relationship with Alexander has become stronger and she has fallen in love with him. Georgiana doesn’t think twice about asking herself where the former duke’s son is since she’s certain he’s standing right in front of her; however the answer she receives is devastating. Believing that honesty is best in the situation Georgiana puts her trust in Alexander by revealing not only her magical ability but the truth about who he really is.

Discovering Miss Dalrymple is a layered, emotional story tightly packed within a novella’s page count. Alexander goes on a journey of self-discovery, learning who he is when all of the trappings of his wealth and title are removed from the equation. Georgiana is with him each step of the way, showing herself to be supportive, patient and even a little forceful when necessary. While retracing Alexander’s past, the pair have a chance to really learn about each other on a deeper level than their friendship had ever shown. Georgiana takes the risk of sharing the truth of her ability with Alexander and he doesn’t run the other way when faced with something magical or unfamiliar in his normal life. He reluctantly exposes the anxieties and fears that arose as a result of his childhood experiences as a chimney sweep and Georgiana becomes a calming influence for him. Their love is a known quantity in the beginning but seeing them learn to trust unconditionally during their journey gives the reader a much better sense that their relationship will endure anything life can throw at them.

While I would normally point a new reader to the very first story so they can enjoy the different heroines and their abilities, I think that Discovering Miss Dalrymple is a story that will appeal to everyone. Each book in the Baleful Godmother series has an almost seamless blending of magical and historical elements that are a pleasure to read.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: The Dressmaker’s Duke by Jess Russell


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Rhys Merrick, Duke of Roydan, is determined to be the antitheses of his depraved father, repressing his desires so severely he is dubbed “the Monk” by Society. But when Olivia Weston turns up demanding payment for gowns ordered by his former mistress, Rhys is totally flummoxed and inexplicably smitten. He pays her to remove her from his house, and mind. But logic be damned, he must have this fiercely independent woman.

Olivia’s greatest fear is becoming a kept woman. She has escaped the role of mistress once and vows never to be owned by any man. Rather than make money in the boudoir, she chooses to clothe the women who do. But when a fire nearly kills her friend and business partner, Olivia’s world goes up in smoke and she is forced to barter with the lofty duke.

As their lives weave together, Olivia unravels the man underneath the Monk, while Rhys desires to expose the lady hiding behind the dressmaker. Will his raw passion fan a long-buried ember of hope within her? Can this mismatched pair be the perfect fit?

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EXCERPT

What did he expect? Yards of ribbons, ruffles and bows? The demimonde was her niche. And rather than sell herself on her back she chose instead to clothe the women who did.

She raised her chin. “As you see, Your Grace, there is nothing inferior here. I am quite proud of my workmanship, and this design in particular is a favorite of the gentlemen.

“The gentlemen?” The gape collapsed into a scowl.

“Yes. And the ladies as well—my patronesses. In Paris I was quite sought after. I’m sure I will have the same following here in London, as soon as I can properly circulate.”

“Circulate?”

Was he addlepated? He seemed capable of only one-word rejoinders.

“Yes.” She tried speaking to him as if he were a small child incapable of comprehension. “Mrs. Battersby was a great coup for our shop. But now she has lost your protection, Mrs. Wiggins and I will simply have to begin anew. Now, Your Grace, will you take the gown?”

Reason told her only a few seconds could have passed as they stood, his gaze locked to hers in a stalemate, but it seemed interminable.

Finally his jaw twitched.

“Could you move, please?” Was it her imagination, or was his voice higher than usual? Then what he actually said registered.

“Move?”

“Yes. Could you move across the room? I find to judge a garment, or anything properly, one must see it in motion.” Her face must have reflected horror, for he hastened on, “You would not expect me to buy a horse simply by looking at its lines would you, Mrs. Weston? I would wish to see it run as well. I’m sure you understand.”

Blast him and his bloody horses. She strode forward, happy to vent some of her anger in movement; however, she realized a split second too late there was nowhere to move. The receiving room was not large and was mostly taken up with the cutting table. The only area with any appreciable room was at the far end of the shop where the huge paneled mirrors stood. He was standing directly in the path that would be her best direction. Consequently, she found herself almost flush up against him.

She knew he was tall. Any fool could see the man was at least two or more inches over six feet, but from this vantage point—directly beneath him—he was so very tall. She could smell the starch of his shirt mixed with a faint whiff of smoke and possibly brandy. She slid her gaze over the shirt and waistcoat to his cravat—a conservatively tied Oriental—to the firm, slightly cleft chin, moving on to the lips, very swiftly past those, and finally resting on his eyes. Pure molten gold. Yes, exactly like those of the Burmese tiger she had seen at a menagerie in Paris. His bearing was just as predatory.

“It would appear, sir, in order for me to move, as you require, you will have to bestir yourself as well.”

She thought she saw one side of his mouth shift ever so slightly upward into what might be the merest twitch of a smile. She could not be one hundred percent sure because, to do so, she would have to look at his lips. The duke shifted his weight and made a small bow. Her shoulder brushed the superfine of his midnight blue jacket as she hurriedly squeezed past him.

She strode almost to the mirrors before wheeling around and giving him what she hoped was an accusatory look.

“Well, Your Grace. I hope you are satisfied.”

“Satisfied, Mrs. Weston?” He raised that infernal eyebrow. “Oh no, madam, I am very far from satisfied. However, I am hopeful I will be, in the not so distant future.” Again his gaze raked over her. “Yes, I do live in hope.” He turned and began to gather his things. “You may send this gown to me in the morning.”

“But won’t you want the young woman to come in for a fitting?”

The duke stopped in the middle of donning his left glove. He looked at her as if she was being deliberately obtuse or worse, coy, and once more raised that bloody eyebrow. She chose to ignore his rapier-like weapon.

“Your Grace, this gown is deceptive in its simplicity. It looks uncomplicated, but in fact it requires, at the very least, one fitting to assure it hangs properly. I will not send out a gown that does not fit perfectly. You must understand I have my reputation to think of.”

Hot brandy eyes seared hers. “Madam, believe me, I am very cognizant of your reputation. As a modiste you need not fear,” he said as he slowly drew on his left glove and flexed his fingers. “I assure you the gown will fit like this glove.”

With that, he turned and opened the door.

“I will be back for the next gown tomorrow. Shall we say at the same time?”

He clearly did not need or require an answer. Olivia’s mouth dropped open as the shop door closed, its jangle of bells mocking her frayed nerves.

Oh God, it was not over. Not nearly over. In fact, it seemed the Duke of Roydan had just begun.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Jess Russell now Multi-Award Winning and Best-selling author!

As a girl Jess escaped the world of rigorous ballet class and hideous math homework into the haven of toe wriggling romance novels. Now she writes them!

Jess lives in New York City with her husband and son and disappears to the Catskill Mountains whenever she can. She is a sometime actress, award winning batik artist, and accomplished seamstress. Along with her sewing machine, she loves power tools and, what’s more, she knows how to use them.

Jess is currently working on renovating a condo in uptown Manhattan (The Lipstick on a Pig Project) and writing two other stories for the Reluctant Hearts series, Captivated by the Countess and Daft for a Duke.

Jess Russell is a member of RWA, as well as the Beau Monde and the NY chapters of RWA.

http://jessrussellromance.com

THE DRESSMAKER’S DUKE was a double finalist in the National Readers Choice Awards for Best First Book and Best Historical. Also finaled in the Heart of Excellence Readers Choice Contest. The book came in first in the Fool for Love Contest, Golden Apple Awards’ Secret Craving Contest, the Indiana Golden Opportunity Contest and the Golden Rose Contest (also winning the best of the best). And finaled in the Great Beginnings, Emerald City Opener, and the Lone Star Contests.

Dashing all the Way by Celeste Bradley, Eva Devon, Elizabeth Essex and Heather Snow

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A Rake for Christmas by Eva Devon

Lady Evangeline Pennyworth is done with being a wallflower and turns to London’s most notorious rake, demanding he teach her how to be desirable. After witnessing the love of his parents devolve into pain and anger, Anthony Basingstoke has vowed never to be swept away by passion, even if he finds himself taken by this wallflower in a way he’s never been before. Only a Christmas miracle will make true love a gift that will last forever.

Up on the Rooftops by Elizabeth Essex

Mischievous widow Caledonia Bowmont longs for London’s Christmas cheer, but a string of jewel thefts has brought the festive season to a standstill—and Society accuses the Scottish Wraith, Tobias McTavish. Toby is determined to clear his name and reclaim the life he’s built, so with Cally’s help, he heads up on the rooftops to trap the thief. Will they stop the high-carat crime, or find the hidden gem of lasting love instead?

The Very Debonair Lady Claire by Heather Snow

When Claire Barton’s twin is murdered, she takes his place in the War Department to flush out his killer. Her ruse works perfectly—until the man who once broke her heart becomes her new spymaster. The worst mistake of Andrew Sedgewick’s life was walking away from Claire that Christmas six years ago. Now that he’s found her again, he doesn’t intend to let her go—if they both survive this holiday season.

A Liar Under the Mistletoe by Celeste Bradley

Fearless Amie Jackham doesn’t attend balls to dance, she’s there for the thrill of robbing the lockboxes of the unscrupulous. With the notorious Vixen still at large, Liar’s Club spy Lord Elliot Hughes is taking the opportunity to clean out a few lockboxes for the good of Crown and Country—and leaving the Vixen’s trademark lacy handkerchief behind. Thief and spy can’t resist each other in this sexy, catch-me-if-you-can Liar’s Club holiday novella.

Publisher and Release Date: ERB Publishing, October 2017

Time and Setting: Regency England
Heat Level: 1.5
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Jenny Q

I’m loving these Christmas anthologies because I get to try a bunch of new-to-me authors, and with my reading time growing scarcer, I can manage a novella at a time while getting in the holiday spirit!

Dashing All the Way features four extremely well written and satisfying Regency novellas. I will offer my thoughts on each story and then on the collection as a whole.

A Rake for Christmas: Two people feeling the lack of that “something more” in their lives find it in each other when they least expect it. The story could have spent more time exploring their backgrounds since their experiences have taken heavy tolls on them both, but they are both very likable leads, and this is a sweet and emotional love story that’s also and nice and Christmassy. (There are no sex scenes.)

Up on the Rooftops: Sparks fly between a bored widow and a reformed thief in this tale that features wonderful banter, a playful relationship, and possibly the hottest carriage sex I’ve ever read! It also features a dangerous mystery with lots of action and excitement. Though the climactic scene takes place during a masquerade ball, Christmas is only mentioned in passing with no depiction of traditions or holiday ambiance.

The Very Debonair Lady Claire: A grieving sister impersonates her twin brother and goes undercover in the Crown’s code-breaking office in an effort to discover who murdered him and why, but her plans threaten to blow up in her face when the new head of the intelligence department turns out to be none other than the man who broke her heart six years earlier. This is a smart and suspenseful espionage story featuring a sweet and sexy second-chance romance, and in a nice twist, the masquerade ball from the previous story serves as the backdrop for the climactic scenes. My favorite of the bunch for the characters and the love story, but again, very little by way of Christmas ambiance.

A Liar Under the Mistletoe: A thief desperately trying to support her family and a young spy for the notorious Liars Club target the same mark and realize they are a great danger to each other in spite of the sizzling attraction between them. This ended up being my least favorite of the bunch. There’s too much time spent on acquainting or re-aquainting the reader with numerous characters from previous books in the Liars Club series, and the hero and heroine hardly spend any time together as they are playing a game of cat-and-mouse, so their connection certainly seems more like lust at first sight rather than something more meaningful. But this one does feature a bit more Christmas than the previous two.

All four of these authors were new to me, and I was very impressed with the quality of the writing and their ability to spin a satisfying romantic tale in such a short space. A little more Christmas in a couple of them would have made the collection even better, but so far this is my favorite of this year’s Christmas romance collections.

 

At the Christmas Wedding by Caroline Linden, Maya Rodale and Katharine Ashe

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Snowed in at a castle full of handsome lords, three young ladies are about to have the holiday of their lives…

Map of a Lady’s Heart by Caroline Linden

The road to happily-ever-after… With Kingstag Castle full of guests and the snow falling, Viola Cavendish has her hands full making sure the Christmas house party runs smoothly. The unexpected arrival of the Earl of Winterton and his nephew Lord Newton upends everything. Not only is Lord Newton flirting with the young ladies Viola is supposed to chaperone, Lord Winterton himself makes her pulse race.
Always takes some twists and turns Wesley Morane, Earl of Winterton, has come to Kingstag Castle in search of a valuable atlas, and he refuses to be deterred by the snow, the house party, his nephew, or even the most ridiculous play ever staged. But before long the only map he wants is one that shows him the way to Viola’s heart…

Hot Rogue on a Cold Night by Maya Rodale

Jilted by a duke: Lady Serena Cavendish was born and bred to be a duchess. Too bad, then, that the Duke of Frye mysteriously and suddenly ended their betrothal.
Seduced by a Rogue: Greyson Jones, an agent of the crown, is the only one who thinks being jilted has made Serena more alluring. When he lucks into an invitation to a Christmas house party at Kingstag Castle to cheer her up—and perhaps find her a husband—he seizes the opportunity to win her heart before they might be parted forever.
On the way to the altar: Their journey to happily ever after involves a ridiculous play, a lovesick swan, a mysterious gift and, of course, a kiss.

Snowy Night with a Duke by Katharine Ashe

The last time Lady Charlotte Ascot bumped into the Duke of Frye, she climbed a tree to avoid him. Sometimes it’s simply easier to run away than to face her feelings for him — overwhelmingly passionate feelings that no modest lady should have! Now, on her way to Kingstag Castle to celebrate the holidays with friends, Charlotte is trapped by a snowstorm at a tiny country inn with the duke of her steamiest dreams.
But Frye has a secret of his own, and Christmas is the ideal time to finally tell the woman he’s always wanted the whole unvarnished truth. Better yet, he’ll show her…

Publisher and Release Date: The Lady Authors, October 2017

Time and Setting: Regency England
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance anthology
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars overall (4, 3 and 5 for the individual novellas)

Review by Em

I’ve enjoyed quite a few holiday themed stories in the latter half of 2017, so I picked up At the Christmas Wedding with high expectations. In this latest collaboration from Caroline Linden, Maya Rodale and Katharine Ashe, a group of friends and strangers find themselves snowbound at Kingstag Castle for a holiday house party. Thus, a group of handsome lords and lovely ladies are afforded ample opportunity to make mischief whilst spending their free time staging an elaborate (ridiculous) play. The novellas comprising At the Christmas Wedding take place concurrently, and feature the same cast of characters – but that’s where their similarities end. Each romance is delightfully charming in its own way – but only one stole my heart. Romantic, festive, short and sweet… this is the perfect pick-up during a lazy holiday afternoon.

Map of a Lady’s Heart by Caroline Linden (4 stars)

When the Duke and Duchess of Wessex are unexpectedly called away shortly before the start of their Christmas house party, responsibility falls to Viola Cavendish, the duchess’s secretary. Calm, unflappable Viola tries not to worry over the group of young people descending on the household, but with the duke and duchess away, the dowager duchess ill and unable to chaperone her three daughters and their guests, and an aunt who delights in all things naughty and wicked… well, Viola has doubts about her own abilities to manage the situation. She’s giving herself a mental pep talk when a pair of unexpected guests arrive. Wesley Morane, Earl of Winterton, accompanied by his nephew Lord Newton, has come to speak to the duke about a rare atlas he might have in his collection.

Wesley Morane is desperate to locate an atlas that formerly belonged to his father, and is convinced the duke is the new owner. He’s dismayed to learn the duke is away, but arriving in the midst of a house party – with guests of similar age to occupy the attentions of his bored, spoiled nephew – and an opportunity to peruse the duke’s library at his leisure, he’s not unhappy with the situation. He pays little heed to the ridiculous play being staged by the duke’s youngest sister, but nonetheless finds his search unexpectedly distracted by Viola.

Viola is irritated by the surprise arrival of the Earl of Winterton and his nephew, but unhesitatingly folds them into the assembled party. Unfortunately, however, Winterton is a handsome and distracting guest. She finds herself seeking him out when the group is assembled and caught out when he seems to return her interest. Following an early misunderstanding when Viola realizes Winterton inveigled an invitation to the house party under false pretenses, the two form a friendship of sorts. Viola is sympathetic to Winterton’s interest in the atlas, but unconvinced the duke will part with it.

As the house party continues apace, Viola and Wesley find reasons to be together. Viola, resistant to an affair with Wesley, inexorably finds herself drawn to him, and Wesley is similarly unable to resist her. Their longing for each other is intense and wonderful, and the passionate, clandestine love affair that follows is superbly done; I enjoyed every bit of it. Map of a Lady’s Heart is a sophisticated second chance love story, though I found the secondary plot – the bizarre and unfunny play (no matter how hard Ms. Linden tried to sell it) written by the duke’s youngest sister – distracting and unnecessary.

Hot Rogue on a Cold Night by Maya Rodale (3 stars)

Much like other novels by Ms. Rodale, I loved the idea of Hot Rogue on a Cold Night much more than the actual story. Greyson Jones, a close friend of the Duke of Frye, has long loved Lady Serena Cavendish, but her longstanding engagement to his friend meant he could never pursue her. When Frye inexplicably jilts Serena, Greyson adds further insult by insinuating, in public, that being jilted has finally made her interesting. When Mr. Jones shows up at Kingstag – without Frye -Serena tries hard to hide her dismay (and hurt), slighting Greyson and focusing her attentions on another, more eligible, gentleman in attendance.

Greyson – who is due to leave for India in a week’s time – regrets the words that hurt Serena and knows he will have to work fast to win her over. But he believes his life – as a diplomat destined to travel the world for Crown and country – will appeal to the much sheltered Serena. Clearly out of her depth as a house party hostess, curious about the world around her, Greyson sets out to show her all the amazing adventures she might miss in settling. The play, which was so irksome in the first novella, fortuitously places him in close proximity to Serena and chances to show her what a partnership between them might mean.

I liked all the elements that made up this story – including the ridiculous play – and Greyson, charming, suave, and supremely dry, is pure romance catnip. Unrequited love is a favorite trope of mine and he wears it well. Unfortunately, I wasn’t as fond of the seemingly fickle Serena. She’s insecure, slightly silly and only starting to learn what kind of woman she wants to be. I never could see what (beyond her beauty) Greyson saw in her, but since I’m not marrying her, I wish him all the best.

Snowy Night with a Duke by Katharine Ashe (5 stars)

Snowy Night With a Duke is the best and most romantic of the three novellas that comprise At the Christmas Wedding. I swooned, sighed and melted over this much too brief love story; if had to pick a favorite short story of 2017, this would be a frontrunner.

Charlotte Ascot, after a prolonged absence from England, is en route to Kingstag when her carriage gets trapped by a snowstorm and she’s forced to bide her time at a tiny country inn with other similarly stranded travelers. Charlotte has been (hiding) in America ever since a last painful encounter with the Duke of Frye wherein she climbed a tree in order to avoid him. The pain of her unrequited love and sadness over his betrothal – to her closest friend – was too much to bear. She’s determined to overcome her feelings for Frye… when, much to her surprise, she spots him in a battle of fisticuffs in the courtyard of the inn.

The Duke of Frye, masquerading as Mr. Horace Church, is enjoying a staged fight with good friend Lord Fortier when he spots Charlotte Ascot (whom he’s loved since childhood) standing on the threshold of the inn. Distracted, he misses his cue and takes a hard shot to the chin. Frye can’t believe his eyes; he thought Charlotte was still in America… but she’s here. When she approaches him in the stables (where he’s been tossed for fighting) to clean his wounds, and begins berating him for fighting, Frye isn’t quite sure how to handle her. Under the nomme de guerre Horace Church, he and Lord Fortier – who do the odd job on behalf of the Crown – are on the hunt for a con-man who takes advantage of elderly travelers. They think they have their man… but Frye can’t risk Charlotte revealing his identity and putting the investigation at risk.

Charlotte is undaunted by Frye’s vague responses to her questions, while he, thrilled that she is finally back in England, matches her quick wit and tough questions with his own delicious interrogation about where she’s been and why she hid from him. The conversation marks the start of a new slightly adversarial relationship between these star-crossed lovers.

The chemistry sparkles and snaps between Frye and Charlotte and fortunately for us, so does the passion. They finally stop fighting it and finally give in to the fantasy of loving each other that they’ve both nurtured in their secret hearts for years. But Frye is keeping one last secret from Charlotte and he’s determined to push her away.

Well folks, Frye is romantic, awesome, and sexy and Ms. Ashe gives him some of the best dialogue I’ve read this year. Charlotte, his similarly marvelous match, hears him out and then tells him how things are actually going to go. Yep, she sets him straight. It’s brilliant, they’re brilliant and if I have a complaint about Snowy Night With a Duke, it’s that I wish it were longer.

Scandal at the Christmas Ball by Marguerite Kaye and Bronwyn Scott

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One Christmas house party leads to two Regency love affairs! 

A Governess for Christmas by Marguerite Kaye 

At the glittering Brockmore house party, former army major Drummond MacIntosh meets governess in disgrace Joanna Forsythe, who’s desperate to clear her name. Both are eager to put their pasts behind them, but their scandalous affair will make for a very different future…

Dancing with the Duke’s Heir by Bronwyn Scott 

As heir to a dukedom, Vale Penrith does not want a wife, and certainly not one like Lady Viola Hawthorne. So why does London’s Shocking Beauty tempt him beyond reason? Dare he try and tame her, or is a Christmas seduction the best way to bring her to surrender?

Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin Historical, December 2017

Time and Setting: England, Christmas 1818
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars (4.5 and 3)

Review by Caz

Scandal at the Christmas Ball is the second collaboration between historical romance authors Marguerite Kaye and Bronwyn Scott, and, like their previous work, Scandal at the Midsummer Ball, takes place at the country estate of the Duke and Duchess of Brockmore, a widely liked, respected and highly influential couple who are regarded as powerbrokers within the ton and whose invitations are much sought after.

Among their guests this Yuletide are the duke’s nephew and heir, Vale Penrith, Lady Viola Hawthorne, a shockingly fast young woman who goes out of her way to do and say outrageous things, and a former officer of the Scots Guards, Drummond MacIntosh, whose army career ended somewhat ignominiously three years earlier, just after the Battle of Waterloo.


A Governess for Christmas by Marguerite Kaye (4.5 stars)

Ms. Kaye is one of the few authors of historical romance who regularly writes about untitled, non-aristocratic progatonists, and she continues that trend in this poignant, tender and sometimes heart-wrenching story about an ex-army officer and an ill-treated, down-on-her-luck governess who find each other one Christmas but who will face some difficult choices if they are ever to make a life together.

Drummond MacIntosh has lived a somewhat reclusive existence for the past three-and-a-half years owing to the huge scandal that attended his catastrophic fall from grace.  With his reputation in tatters, he has finally accepted that he needs help if he is ever going to claw his way back from ruin and carve out a new and useful existence.  No less a personage than the Duke of Wellington himself arranged Drummond’s invitation to the Brockmores’ Christmas house party, but as Drummond wryly notes, the Duke wouldn’t have done such a thing if it hadn’t been ultimately useful to himself; he needs a man of Drummond’s good sense, practicality and ability to lead men at his back and is presenting Drummond to Brockmore “for inspection” as it were.  The whole thing leaves a bitter taste in Drummond’s mouth; he doesn’t want to be beholden to Wellington (or to anyone) and certainly not on terms which attempt to brush years of exile under the carpet and blame Drummond for acting as his conscience dictated.

Drummond’s situation is mirrored by that of Miss Joanna Forsythe, a governess who has been invited to the party so she can meet a prospective employer.  Joanna had a comfortable position in the household of Lady Christina Robertson, but has been reduced to teaching at a ramshackle school in return for her bed and board, after she was wrongly accused of theft and dismissed without a character. Like Drummond, she has been invited to the Brockmores with a view to improving her situation, but also like him, the hoped for “improvement” falls short.  Joanna had hoped for an apology after her innocence was discovered and the real culprit owned up. But instead, her former employer wants to buy her off by the offer of an excellent new position and a sum of money.

Even before they know of the similarities of their respective situations, Drummond and Joanna are strongly drawn to each other and very soon find themselves exchanging confidences… and increasingly heated kisses.  I admit that the pair progresses to this stage rather quickly but Ms. Kaye creates such a strong emotional connection between them, and imbues their burgeoning relationship with such depth and longing that it’s possible to overlook its somewhat speedy beginning.  This story really brings home just how important it was for people who had to earn their living to maintain a spotless reputation – for without one there was little to no chance of their ever securing decent employment. And with Drummond on the verge of a prestigious appointment and a return from the cold, how can Joanna – and her tarnished reputation – stand in his way?

This is a beautifully wrought, heartfelt romance between two people in difficult circumstances.  I was completely gripped by Drummond’s story and applaud Ms. Kaye for the introduction of a character motivated by compassion whose actions were so misunderstood and reviled.  He’s not a character-type I’ve read in historical romance before, and I could be singing the author’s praises for that alone.  But added to a very well-crafted romance and a strong, determined heroine in the form of Joanna, A Governess for Christmas  makes my list of favourite seasonal reads.


Dancing with the Duke’s Heir by Bronwyn Scott (3 stars)

In this story, a rather proper gentleman finds himself reluctantly fascinated by the most unsuitable sort of woman he could ever have imagined would attract him.  Vale Penrith, heir to the Duke of Brockmore, has still not recovered from the deaths of his father and older brother some years ago, and continues to find his role as a ducal heir somewhat ill-fitting.  He really would prefer to be left to his own devices in the library, but knows he will have to do his bit and take part in the various activities planned for the duration of the party.  He is also aware that while the Brockmores’ Christmas parties don’t have the same match-making reputation as their summer affairs, his uncle has a prospective bride lined up for him – something else he doesn’t want anything to do with.

Lady Viola Hawthorne, daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Calton, is a determined, high-spirited woman whose deepest desire is to go to Vienna to study music.  “The Shocking Beauty” as she is known, has quite the scandalous reputation, all of it designed to put off any suitors so she can remain unwed and pursue her dreams of Vienna and a musical career.  She reckons that one final, massive scandal at the Brockmores’ party should do the trick once and for all and cause her parents to give up on their attempts to marry her off.  Hence her decision to climb a ladder to hang mistletoe from a chandelier in the hall while wearing no underwear; perched at the top, affording the crowd of young men below a glimpse of her ankles (and possibly other things besides) she manages to achieve her end just before the ladder wobbles and she falls – literally – into the arms of Vale Penrith, who is appalled and annoyed at such reckless, outrageous behaviour.

Viola likes what she sees, but Penrith, while gorgeous, is a stuffed shirt and not at all the sort of man she’d be interested in.  But when her friend, Lady Anne, tells Viola that her parents are trying to arrange a match with Penrith while she – Anne – is in love with someone else, Viola agrees to help her out by providing a distraction.  The problem is that she finds herself being distracted by Vale – who is not at all the cold fish she had first imagined – as much as he is distracted by her, and the more time they spend together, the more they discover about what lies behind their social masks and the more they are drawn together.

I have to say straight off that I really didn’t care for Viola in this story.  I admired her desire to forge her own path in her life, but her methods – which are, basically, to shock as many people as often as possible – are childish, and she behaves more like a mistress or courtesan than a duke’s daughter, drinking spirits, smoking and playing billiards with the men.  I’m sure not all young ladies at this time were as pure and virginal as fiction would have us believe, but Viola goes a little too far in the opposite direction for my taste.  Vale is much more likeable, but because I disliked the heroine, it was difficult to understand what he saw in her beyond the physical and I found it difficult to believe that two people possessed of such opposing personality types could forge a lasting relationship.

If you’re more tolerant of the spoiled and outrageous type of heroine than I am, this story might work better for you than it did for me.


Ultimately, Scandal at the Christmas Ball is something of an uneven read, but is worth it for the Kaye story alone.

Lord Hunter’s Cinderella Heiress (Wild Lords and Innocent Ladies #1) by Lara Temple

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Betrothed…to the wrong man!

Building a life away from her bullying family, schoolmistress Helen Tilney now needs to convince her childhood sweetheart she’s a worthy bride. Standing in her way is Lord Hunter–the man Nell has just discovered she’s betrothed to!

Hunter’s offer of marriage to Nell came out of guilt, and now seems less than appealing! So when she asks for his help to win another man, he agrees. Until their lessons in flirtation inspire a raging desire that has Hunter longing to keep Nell for himself…


Publisher and Release Date: Harlequin Historical, October 2017

Time and Setting: Regency England
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Em

I enjoyed Lord Hunter’s Cinderella Heiress, but it was nothing like I expected based on its long- winded misnomer of a title, and has very little in common with the Disney fairytale – and that’s a good thing!  Instead, in this sophisticated and sexy twist, our ‘Cinders’ lives with a spiteful aunt, and an overbearing, meddlesome father, finding joy and happiness in a love of horses and friends at school.  When first they meet, her “prince” is a mere blip in the fabric her life, but fate (and the delightful machinations of this talented author) bring them together years later.  It’s not quite a happy reunion – well, it’s actually the farthest thing from it – but Ms. Temple deftly steers her fated couple to a fairy tale ending anyway.

Helen “Nell” Tilney, returned to her family for the summer, is counting the days until her return to school.  Time spent at home is torturous; her evil aunt delights in tormenting and bullying her at every opportunity, and her seemingly oblivious father only notices her in order to criticize her or when he needs or wants something .  Happiness – and a reprieve from their machinations – comes from spending time with the horses her father raises on their estate or away at school.  Nell has spent the morning riding when she’s summoned to show off her favorite horse, Petra, to a potential buyer.

Gabriel, Lord Hunter, who lives on a neighboring estate, is surprised by the slight girl who emerges from the stable, horse in tow.  But he’s frankly astonished by her talent putting the horse through its paces.  Fierce and commanding, Nell is a revelation on horseback.  When she finally, reluctantly, hands off Petra to him, he demonstrates his own finesse as a horse rider.  Years spent in the saddle as a soldier have taught him to appreciate a horse of Petra’s quality, and he’s relieved by the sense of approval he sees in Nell’s eyes.  Nell is impressed with Gabriel’s skill – and intrigued by her handsome, though clearly weary, neighbor.  After spending an amicable afternoon together, they part – curious about each other – but with little expectation of meeting again.

Fate – and a spiteful aunt – have other plans.  That evening, Nell is summoned to dinner with her family and the handsome Lord Hunter. But the Nell that enters the drawing room is nothing like the fierce horsewoman Gabriel met earlier in the day.  Obviously reluctant to join their group, cowed and timid in the face of her aunt’s nastiness and her father’s obliviousness, Nell is a pale imitation of the girl Gabriel so admired earlier in the day.  The evening ends in disaster after Nell, who’s finally had enough, turns on her aunt.  Passionate, angry and fierce, Nell delivers a set down that Gabriel can’t help but admire.

Nell departs for school early the next morning, before Gabriel can congratulate her for standing up to her aunt.  But after a night spent reminiscing on Nell’s magnificent self-defense, and with thoughts of advantageously joining his estate to the Tilney’s, he approaches Sir Henry to ask for her hand.  Tilney agrees and promises to inform Nell of the agreement.  Lord Hunter departs.

Four years pass wherein Nell spends time away from home working as a schoolmistress – waiting to come of age and take ownership of the horse farm left to her by her beloved mother; by contrast, Gabriel enjoys the life of a notorious libertine and rake.  Privately, Gabriel still mourns the suicide of his younger brother, whose funeral he attended shortly before meeting Nell.  With the help of two close friends and former officers, he’s established safe havens for returning war veterans.  But Nell knows nothing of Gabriel’s secret benevolence, so when she discovers she’s betrothed to him – via a notice placed in the Morning Post by her father – she arrives in a fury on Gabriel’s doorstep demanding an explanation and a retraction.

Gabriel has no intention of ending their engagement in such a public manner.  After convincing Nell of the same, they agree to travel to the races at Wilton and speak to her father – together – about breaking off the longstanding engagement.  Gabriel enjoys his rakish lifestyle, the pleasure of his mistress, and his solitude.  Nell wants nothing more than to take ownership of the horse farm and possibly attract the attentions of a neighbour for whom she’s nurtured a tendre since childhood.  But reader, you (and I) already know it’s too late.  Once Gabriel meets this new incarnation of Nell – spirited, headstrong and beautiful – he’s smitten, though he fights hard to resist his attraction to her.  Nell, who’s secretly tracked Gabriel’s antics via the gossip pages, is similarly intrigued by her betrothed but determined to pursue a relationship with another man.  Fortunately for us, both the journey and the destination provide ample opportunity for our star crossed lovers to find and fall for each other.

As Gabriel and Nell spend time together, their chemistry is palpable.  Gabriel, knowledgeable about the physical aspect of loving, struggles to deal with the emotional intimacy Nell sparks deep within.  He suffered under the abuse of his father, and even after finally freeing his brother and mother, can’t help but feel he’s failed them after his brother commits suicide.  He blames himself for his brother’s death (I won’t say why here, but it is heartbreaking and understandable).  Despair and a feeling of unworthiness plague him in all his relationships, and in particular, keep him closed off from Nell’s kind spirit and instinctive desire to help.  He hides his vulnerability behind a suave veneer – but Nell sees glimpses of it and can’t resist attempting to draw Gabriel out.  Nell, physically naive, but emotionally strong, offers a compelling contrast to her betrothed.  She’s learned to believe in herself and her own power and strength, and wants Gabriel to lean on her.  Naïve about physical passion and intimacy, Nell is bewildered by her attraction to Gabriel – who isn’t the man she’s yearned for since girlhood.  Gabriel is similarly flustered by the emotional closeness he feels to Nell… together, they make a terrific pair, complimenting each other in every way, and Ms. Temple deftly plots their transition from strangers to foes to friends… and finally lovers.  I enjoyed every bit of their evolving relationship, though my major complaint about this novel is the author’s heavy handed hints at Gabriel’s prowess in bed.  We get it.  He’s good in the sack.  Enough.

Looking for a mature, sexy and modern twist on the classic knight in shining armor fairytale?  Well look no further – romantic, passionate, and sexy Lord Hunter’s Cinderella Heiress is the one you’ve been waiting for.

Someone to Wed (Westcott #3) by Mary Balogh

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When Alexander Westcott becomes the new Earl of Riverdale, he inherits a title he never wanted and a failing country estate he can’t afford. But he fully intends to do everything in his power to undo years of neglect and give the people who depend on him a better life . . .

A recluse for more than twenty years, Wren Heyden wants one thing out of life: marriage. With her vast fortune, she sets her sights on buying a husband. But when she makes the desperate-and oh-so-dashing-earl a startlingly unexpected proposal, Alex will only agree to a proper courtship, hoping for at least friendship and respect to develop between them. He is totally unprepared for the desire that overwhelms him when Wren finally lifts the veils that hide the secrets of her past . . .

Publisher and Release Date:  Berkley, November 2017

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

Review by Sara

Someone to Wed is the third in Mary Balogh’s charming Westcott series, showing readers more of the dramatic changes brought to the family by the late Earl of Riverdale’s bigamy.  This time the focus is on Alexander Westcott, the reluctant heir to the title who finds that his elevation in status comes with its own set of challenges.

Alexander had been quite happy with the direction his life was taking him.  Through years of hard work he had turned his family estates around and was ready for the next chapter of his life as a landed gentleman.  Sadly, through the misdeeds of his second cousin, that path was changed and at thirty Alexander has to restart his life as the Earl of Riverdale.  The title is flush with property, including the family seat of Brambeldean Court, and tenants dependent on the lands; however all of the money to run the estates was inherited by the late earl’s legitimate daughter.  Alex has little money of his own and Brambledean Court has been mismanaged for too long to refill the family’s coffers.  It upsets the young man’s pride to even consider that the fastest way to gain a fortune is to marry a woman with a large dowry but the reality is he may have to sacrifice his own plans for the good of his title.

Having grown up as a neighbor to the virtually abandoned Brambeldean Court, Miss Wren Heyden knows about Alexander’s new financial problems.  Alone after the death of her aunt and uncle, Wren has decided to use the large fortune she inherited from them to buy the one thing she has never had, the attention of a man.  Inviting the impoverished new Earl to tea, Wren hopes to entice Alexander with the promise of wealth if he’ll marry her and show her the physical pleasures of a courtship.  Their first meeting does not go as smoothly as Wren hoped, as she’s flustered by Alexander’s attractiveness as well as his hostility when she makes her offer of marriage.

For his part, Alex is shocked by the impropriety of meeting Wren virtually alone and it puts him on his guard.  It doesn’t help matters when the woman is completely hidden from view by the veil over her face.  Her cool offer of a convenient marriage comes across like a business transaction where he’s the commodity being traded.  Wanting to throw the woman off her game Alex asks to see her face before he will commit to anything.  Reluctantly Wren agrees and shows Alex the disfigurement – a large, purple birthmark – that has made her a recluse for almost twenty years.  Sensing that Alexander has already made up his mind about her offer Wren dismisses him but she’s surprised when instead he challenges her to meet him again at his estate.

When Wren arrives at Brambledean Court a week later it’s the start of a very strained courtship between the two.  For as much as Alexander comes to admire Wren’s independence, there is something about her demeanor that keeps him on guard.  Wren herself is uncomfortable in Alex’s company and despite his assurances that her marked face is something easily overlooked she still uses it to convince herself that Alex is the wrong person for her.  As Easter approaches and Alex discusses his plans to leave the country for London, Wren decides to withdraw her proposal and release Alex from any obligation he feels towards her.  It’s a painful choice, as Wren has come to admire Alex, but she knows it’s the best for them both.

Alexander arrives back in London resigned to the idea that marrying a woman with money is still the only way to save his estates; however each young lady he meets pales in comparison to Wren.  Feeling that he may have made the wrong decision to leave her behind, Alex is surprised when he sees her familiar figure walking along the Serpentine.  Wren had sworn she would never visit London – it had been one point of contention between them – yet there she is, running away from him.  Alex chases her down and, unwilling to let her disappear ,he invites her to stay with his family in town while allowing him to escort her during her visit.  Wren is reluctant to accept but when his family opens their arms to her in friendship it makes the decision easier.  Seeing Wren accepted by his mother and sister reinforces Alex’s own changed feelings for Wren.  He makes it his goal to show Wren that she can trust him and that there might be a future for them after all.

Someone to Wed is a slow-burning romance that is a pleasant change of pace from other stories with a similar storyline.  Alex and Wren aren’t driven by lust or their physical attraction into hasty choices;  instead they truly get to know each other before leaping into marriage.  Their relationship builds over time, with the uncomfortable getting-to-know-you phase happening in the safe and private confines of Brambledean Court or Wren’s home in the country.  When they separate it forces both Alex and Wren to think about those moments and what they meant.  As things pick up in London, there is more ease to their interactions and Alex becomes that safe place for Wren to expose herself and her self-doubts without fear of rejection.  Having that foundation makes their emotions true when they can admit just how much they feel for each other.

The dramas of the extended Westcott family come into play during Wren and Alex’s courtship and I liked how Wren inherently understands how important that dynamic is to Alex.  Her love for him shines through when she can put aside her discomfort around people to help his cousin or to invite the former countess and her daughter to return to the Westcott fold.  Alex isn’t blind to Wren’s sacrifices for his family and he protects her with everything he is when her own family secrets are exposed.  It’s very easy to love both main characters for their strength but they are also to be admired for their frailties and how they each overcome those problems.

I enjoy Mary Balogh’s stories for all of the emotion she conveys while still keeping her characters grounded in the societal norms of the times.  In Someone to Wed there are no grand and over the top declarations of love between Alex and Wren, yet the feelings they share come across so strongly, I was reluctant to put the book down.  Knowing that the former Countess of Riverdale’s story is next I’m eager to see how this incredible family will continue to strengthen their bonds around their most frayed connection.

 

 

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Surrendering the Past (The Granville Legacy Series Book 1) by Pamela Lynne

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In a world of honor and obligation, falling in love can be a dangerous game. Captain Richard Granville has returned to London after serving the Crown in perilous missions fighting Napoleon’s army. Bone weary and distrustful of all around him, the captivating Jane Dawson awakens his long dormant desire for more than a solitary existence. When he learns she is betrothed to his father, the conniving and dangerous Earl of Litchfield, shadows of the past descend upon Richard, bringing along memories of a tortuous childhood and his failure to protect the person he had loved most.

Jane Dawson would pay any price to renew her family’s happiness, but is the cost of marrying Lord Litchfield too high? A woman of virtue and honor, she cannot break a promise once given, especially when doing so would ruin those she seeks to protect. But can she ignore the connection she feels to the wild soldier who understands both her duty and her heart?

Follow the men of the Granville family in this suspenseful Regency romance series as they discover that their family legacy is much darker than they realized, and that the future holds treasures they can only grasp by surrendering the past.

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EXCERPT

The short walk to Litchfield House served to be enough to numb the gentlemen in both body and spirit. The cold wind whipped around and through them, preparing them for the chill they were likely to find inside that evening. The convivial spirit the two enjoyed earlier was gone as each prepared to thwart whatever Lord Litchfield’s machinations would be. Though Richard was sure the evening would bring news of his brother’s betrothal, his father would never miss the chance to manipulate all those around him, even if only for his own amusement.

As they entered, a shrill, cackling laugh descended upon them, greeting them in much the same way the wind had earlier. The butler did not react to the sound as he took their outwear and handed them to a footman.

Richard raised his eyebrows and turned to Julian as they descended the steps into the grand hall. “It seems my father brought a harpy back with him from his last trip to hell.”

Julian barely smiled as they stepped toward the closed doors of the drawing room, where the butler was leading them. When the doors opened and they were announced, Richard scanned the room in his usual eagle-like fashion. His father’s men dotted the perimeter of the room. These were burley men who guarded the earl at all times. Richard did not recognize the faces, but he did not need to. He knew who they were and what their job was. He wondered briefly how his father always managed to find these men, always with the same look about them—mean, solid, yet short in stature. The earl would never have a subordinate looking down on him, not even one meant to intimidate.

Richard’s eyes next landed on his brother, Wesley, standing in the middle of the room surrounded by beautiful women whom Richard did not immediately recognize. He made a step toward the group when his father intercepted him.

“Ah, my son and my nephew. You have finally joined us.” The earl’s voice held a sickening sweetness that made Richard want to run. It was the voice Litchfield always gave when he was up to something vile—the performance before the mask was removed to reveal the evil underneath. Richard began to question his belief that the purpose of the evening was simply to celebrate Wesley’s betrothal, but rather something far more sinister.

Neither man responded but stood as the earl’s icy gaze trailed over his son. “It is good of you to make an appearance, Richard. I did not know if you were alive or dead these last two years.”

Richard’s outward appearance did not change as his father spoke. He retained the cold, emotionless expression he held when he walked through the door. Inside, he was reminding himself that he was no longer a child, and that voice need not send a bolt of fear straight through him. “You seemed to know enough to find me last week.”

“Yes, well, London is my town, is it not? I have many acquaintances here who like to fill me in on all the goings on. I am not fortunate enough to have friends in France or wherever it was you were all this time.” He paused once more to search Richard’s expression. Knowing full well what he was doing, Richard kept his gaze hard and unyielding. “Well, it is of no matter now. Your brother will be happy to see you.”

As the earl’s attention turned to Julian, Richard’s eyes once again wandered to his brother. Wesley seemed to stand straighter than the last time he saw him. As the eldest and heir to the considerable Litchfield estate, Wesley, Viscount Ashly, certainly had reason to be proud. However, it was not pride Richard read in his eyes as Wesley stared into his own, though, but curiosity mixed with something Richard could not name.

He father’s voice resonated beside him, but Richard barely heard him as the women in Wesley’s company came into focus. He recognized Rachel by the way she smiled sweetly in his direction. The years had been good to her. He remembered her as a slightly mousey, and mouthy, young lady, but the woman standing there was beautiful. He assumed the lack of a husband had kept her young and strong.

He nodded to her and turned his eyes to a smaller woman with many of the same features standing between Rachel and Wesley. She had a grip on his brother’s arm that left no doubt who she was. Kathleen. My future sister. The possessiveness in her expression hardened her otherwise lovely features, and Richard wondered at the cause of the protective stance. A slight look to the left of Wesley gave him his answer.

Captain Richard Granville was not often in the company of women. He had no sisters or any living female relations. He had often thought this was because the Granville men were so large and consuming that there was no room for delicacy, and the women just could not survive among them. There were, of course, the whores who followed the encampments along the battlefields and the occasional female spy who could never be trusted. But having so little experience with ladies in polite society, he was at first surprised and then gratified as a blush crept up this woman’s features as he held her eyes in his own. He heard the cackling laugh once more and watched as her blush intensified and turned into one of shame. She turned away, and Richard immediately missed having her eyes upon him. What was this angel doing in the den of the devil?

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Pamela Lynne grew up in the American South, surrounded by Southern Gothic works by Faulkner, O’Connor and the like. These authors helped shape her evolving mind and continue to influence everything she produces as an adult. It was a Regency-era wit from across the Atlantic, however, who lit a life-long interest in 19th Century England.

Pamela cites Jane Austen as her primary literary influence and she delves into the darker aspects of Regency life in all her novels, most particularly in The Granville Legacy Series, where she explores the bonds of family and what it costs to break them.

Dearest Friends: A Jane Austen Inspired Novel, Pamela’s debut work, won the Independent Publishers 2016 IPPY Awards Bronze Medal for Romance.
Pamela currently lives in the rolling hills of Tennessee with her husband of more than a decade, three kids, two cats, and one very blond dog. She is still a Marianne hoping to grow into Elinor, or Clairee from Steel Magnolias.

Twitter: @pamelalynne1
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Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Pamela-Lynne-226234447711114/?ref=aymt_homepage_panel

With This Christmas Ring by Manda Collins

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Miss Merry Parks makes a deathbed promise to a schoolfriend that her infant daughter will be taken to her absent father. There’s only one problem—to find the baby’s father, she’ll have to consult his cousin, Viscount Wrotham, the man she jilted five years ago. The man she couldn’t forget.

Alex Ponsonby, Viscount Wrotham, is stunned to find Merry Parks—looking more lovely than ever–on his doorstep with an infant in her arms. His shock soon turns to dismay when he learns his own cousin William is the man who abandoned his wife and child. As head of the family he’s duty bound to see right is done. But he can’t let this opportunity pass. He’ll take Merry and the baby to his cousin, but he’ll woo her back in the process.

Merry agrees to travel with Alex and the baby to Wrotham Castle, where the entire Ponsonby family has gathered for Christmas, but her plans to see the baby settled then leave are ruined by a snowstorm. After five years apart, Alex and Merry will spend the week getting reacquainted. Perhaps it’s the spirit of the holiday, or the magic of the season, but there could be something else in the air this Yuletide…A Christmas Reunion.

Publisher and Release Date: Swerve, October 2017

Time and Setting: Regency England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Sara

With This Christmas Ring is a delightful holiday story full of second chances. A couple has the chance to clear up the misunderstandings that pulled them apart years before and in true Christmas fashion, a child’s birth brings everyone joy, love and the miracle of a happy ending.

Five years ago Miss Merry Parks and Alexander Ponsonby, Viscount Wrotham were engaged to marry. Their courtship had been a whirlwind affair but for each of them it was a perfect match. Merry saw Alex as a man who would love and appreciate his family before all others; Alex appreciated Merry’s intelligence and her kind heart. The only formalities left before they posted the bans were for Merry to meet the rest of the Ponsonby family, including Alex’s grandmother the dowager Viscountess. That fateful meeting between the young, insecure Merry and the formidable family matriarch changed everything and suddenly the engagement was off. Merry returned to her father’s home to serve as his secretary and try to heal her wounded heart. Her love for Alex never waned but her life soon became a routine of academic studies and supporting her friends whenever they needed her.

That need brings everything full circle when Merry’s best friend Charlotte dies giving birth to a baby girl. Before she passes, Charlotte reveals that she had been married in secret to Mr. William Ponsonby, cousin of Merry’s former betrothed. Merry swears to her friend that she will care for the baby and reunite the child with her father but Charlotte can’t tell her where William might be. Merry understands that to fulfil Charlotte’s dying wish she will have to reunite with Alex and hope that he will help her despite their uncomfortable parting years before.

Alexander Ponsonby has recently returned to England after spending a year in France in order to reconnect with his mother. The former Viscountess Wrotham had abandoned Alex when he was a young child to escape the abuse of his father; however in learning the truth, Alex also learns that his grandmother had played a part in pushing the young Viscountess to leave. Knowing that his grandmother is not above manipulating things to her liking, Alex has started considering the circumstances of his broken betrothal to Merry Parks. He never forgot the beautiful, smart young woman and has every intention of finding her and perhaps working out a way for them to be together again. His quest to reunite with Merry is over before it begins when she arrives at his town house with a baby in her arms and a story about his cousin’s secret marriage.

It seems too farfetched to believe his cousin William would marry and then never tell anyone but Merry has never been the type to lie. The Ponsonby family is gathered to celebrate Christmas at their home in Kent and Alex knows where he can find William to get the truth of the matter. Merry takes her role of the baby’s protector seriously and seems hesitant to leave her in anyone else’s care so Alex convinces her to travel with him to Kent to confront William and see that the baby is safe with her father. He also hopes that the journey will provide a chance for him to talk to Merry about her decision years before. If she’d reveal her reasons about why she left perhaps Alex can show her that their future will be happier if she can give their love a second chance.

Merry and Alex’s romance is the kind that is both simple and complex at once. Their love for each other is very clear but when they first were together there were challenges that neither one wanted to see. Merry was very sheltered in her father’s household and was perhaps not mature enough to see what it would take to be married to a peer like Alex. She needed to discover herself and find the inner confidence that could protect her from outside influences like the dowager Viscountess. Alex had lived through the pain of his mother’s abandonment but it had left a hole in his heart that Merry’s love might not have been enough to fill. In the five years of their separation he finds the courage to confront his mother about her choice and is mature enough to understand that a relationship is as much about giving as it is taking. Every moment he spends with Merry during the Christmas celebration he gives her his heart again in little ways; trusting her, protecting her and letting her take what she needs to feel safe enough to open her own heart again.

I enjoyed With this Christmas Ring, not only for Merry and Alex’s romance but also for another smaller second chance story that happens in the background. It’s a little different from Manda Collins’ usual style of romance with a hint of mystery, but it’s still very sweet and satisfying. For those who want to start their Christmas reading a little early or just love a story of people finding another chance to be together, this is a novella that I definitely recommend.