Tag Archive | Victorian Historical Romance

The Highlander (Victorian Rebels #3) by Kerrigan Byrne

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They call him the Demon Highlander. The fearsome Lieutenant Colonel Liam MacKenzie is known for his superhuman strength, towering presence, and fiery passion in the heat of battle. As Laird to the MacKenzie clan, the undefeated Marquess has vanquished his foes with all rage and wrath of his barbaric Highland ancestors. But when an English governess arrives to care for his children, the master of war finds himself up against his greatest opponent. . . in the game of love.

Defying all expectations, Miss Philomena is no plain-faced spinster but a ravishing beauty with voluptuous curves and haughty full lips that rattle the Laird to his core. Unintimidated by her master’s raw masculinity and savage ways, the headstrong lass manages to tame not only his wild children but the beast in his soul. With each passing day, Liam grows fonder of Miss Mena—and more suspicious. What secret is she hiding behind those emerald eyes? What darkness brought her to his keep? And how can he conquer this magnificent woman’s heart . . . without surrendering his own?

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Publisher and Release Date: St. Martin’s Press, August 2016

Time and Setting: London and Scotland, 1878
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Wendy

Kerrigan Byrne’s Victorian Rebels series has been a breath of fresh air in this genre. It has everything that I love in an historical romance; darkness, angst, sparkling dialogue and most importantly, a bone deep, spine-tingling romance with characters I adore and care about. All three novels in the series are beautifully and eloquently written but my favourite by a whisker has been The Highlander; from the first page to the last, I was completely enthralled.

Laird Liam Mackenzie, Marquess of Ravencroft has a fearsome reputation which is well earned. He is a warrior in the true sense of the word and has recklessly risked his life on the battlefield for many years. Now he has returned home to tend to his lands, his people and more importantly, his motherless children who have been left to their own devices for too long.

As a girl, Lady Philomena St.Vincent, Viscountess Benchley had an idyllic lifestyle, with a father who doted on her indulged and educated her, but for the five years of her marriage she has suffered horribly at the hands of her sadistic, dissolute husband. Now – apparently barren, and her money spent – she has been consigned to Belle Glen asylum a sadly convenient way for men to get rid of unwanted women at this time. Mena (to her friends) has been dropped in the midst of a terrifying, living nightmare, one that even her dreadful marriage hasn’t prepared her for. Having been subjected to the most degrading atrocities, she is at her wits end – subjugated, violated and beaten. I take my hat off to Kerrigan Byrne; she has a unique ability to draw the reader into the world she describes, in this case, one of unbearable suffering and hopelessness. I read on in horrified fascination, unwilling to put my kindle down but willing Mena to beat her persecutors. It was with some relief then, when at her lowest ebb, Christopher Argent (The Hunter) and Dorian Blackwell (The Highwayman) arrive in the company of the Chief Inspector of police to spectacularly rescue her.

Blackwell and Argent are tied by their violent pasts. Each has found love and it is because of the friendship their ladies share with Mena and also because of a service she rendered to them at the expense of her own safety, that they facilitate her rescue. Now she must be hidden from her violent husband while these powerful men start proceedings to clear her name.

Liam Mackenzie is in need of a governess-come-social-instructor for his children, who have pretty much run wild in the absence of their father. Dorian’s wife, Farah, Countess Northwalk, decides that the depths of Scotland is the perfect hiding place for a runaway wife, so Mena becomes Miss Philomena Lockhart, spinster governess, and travels to Scotland to work for the man commonly known as The Demon Highlander – Lt. Col. William Grant Ruaridh Mackenzie, Marquess Ravencroft. I loved their first meeting – there is much hilarity amongst the Highlanders when Mena regally instructs them in the repairing of a broken wheel. I can see in my mind’s eye, this bevy of rough, tough men with their hair in muddy rats tails, staring slack jawed at the beautiful, curvaceous English lady telling them what to do!

The attraction between the large, gorgeous barbarian who believes himself to be unworthy of love, and the luscious but insecure red-head who is completely unaware of her own innate elegance and sensuality simply leaps off the page and never wanes; these two people are beautifully developed characters and I loved them both. There are some fantastic secondary characters too, not least Andrew and Rhianna, Liam’s children, and Jani, the Laird’s colourful, Hindu valet.

As the story reaches its climax, Kerrigan Byrne ratchets up the sexual tension but also the drama as Liam’s and finally, Mena’s secrets, are revealed in a shocking culmination of revenge and justice involving a host of characters. This has been a fantastic series, very different from others I’ve read recently, in its dark, eloquently written melodrama and I highly recommend it. Even the few Americanisms didn’t annoy me, so drawn into the story was I. The Highlander is a real winner, Ms. Byrne.

One Dangerous Desire (Accidental Heirs #3) by Christy Carlyle

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In a bet between two old flames . . .

Rex Leighton dominates the boardroom by day and prowls the ballroom at night. Searching for the perfect bride to usher him into the aristocracy, he abandoned the idea of love the last time he saw the delicious May Sedgwick. But when he’s roped into a bet, where the prize is the means to fund his greatest ambition and the stakes are a marriage he’s already planning for, Rex is willing to go all in. There’s just one problem—he’s competing against the only woman he’s ever loved.

Only love can take it all…

May Sedgwick could be the belle of the season . . . if she cared. She is more interested in the art studio than the marriage market and her craving to pursue her passion far outweighs her wish for a titled husband. Winning this bet will finally allow May to follow her true artistic desires. Rex losing is just a side benefit, as are his breathtaking kisses that she just can’t resist.

When May is forced to choose between the dream she never knew she wanted and the man she’s never been able to forget, Rex must convince her desire is worth a bit of danger.

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Publisher and Release Date: Avon Impulse, April 2016

Time and Setting: Victorian England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1.5
Rating: 3.5 Stars

Review by Jenny Q

I was drawn to One Dangerous Desire for several reasons: it takes place in the late Victorian period, it features Americans in London, and the hero and heroine are competing against each other to win a bet. May Sedgwick, daughter of an American department store baron, came to London for one purpose: to find a titled husband. But, raised in her father’s business world, she also has dreams of running her own business one day. A talented artist, May has a passion for interior design, but it’s unlikely any English husband would approve of his wife being in trade. However, opportunity comes her way in the form of her best friend’s father, the Duke of Ashworth, who is thinking about redecorating his Mayfair mansion and is willing to consider May for the job. But there’s someone else angling for his patronage, self-made tycoon Rex Leighton, who dreams of building the grandest hotel in London and needs Ashworth’s investment to make it a reality.

May is shocked to see her first love in London, the young clerk who abandoned her and broke her heart six years ago in New York. Rex knew May was in London, but he vowed to stay away from her, believing himself to be unworthy of her affection and not wanting to interfere with her future. But neither is prepared for the rush of feelings that accompany their re-acquaintance. The duke, being a bit of a romantic and a trickster, and sensing something between May and Rex, offers them a chance to compete for his patronage. Knowing that both are seeking titled spouses to further their positions in society, he challenges them to find their future mates, and the first one who does will win the bet. Both May and Rex have prospects in mind, but over the course of the next few weeks, seeing each other at every social function on the arms of others makes them realize that, after all these years, they still only have eyes for each other. May finally learns the reason Rex left her behind and comes to understand the demons from his childhood that drive his ambition, and Rex recognizes May’s talent and applauds her dreams for a career of her own. But before they can act on their feelings for one another, they have to re-evaluate the futures they’ve chosen for themselves and determine what’s most important to them. Do they stick with their sensible plans or take a chance on love?

This was my first time reading Christy Carlyle, and I was very impressed with the writing and the dimensional, intriguing characters, including several secondary ones whom I’m hoping will feature in future books. But the story itself fell a bit short for me. From the description, I was really looking forward to a battle of wills where Rex and May would try to out-do each other in a game of one-upmanship as they battled to win the bet. But since it turns out that to win the bet all one of them has to do is get engaged before the other, that intense competition doesn’t happen, especially since neither of them really wants to be with anyone else anyway. I also expected their reunion to take a bit longer. Six years apart is a long time, and while the author does a good job of letting us see glimpses of the past and the young love they shared, I expected May to put up more of a fight when the man who broke her heart suddenly reappears and wants another chance. There are a couple of subplots involving their fathers and their attempts to use their children for their own gain, but overall, I found the story to be a little plain and ho-hum. But I give it big props for its business-minded slant, for endearing characters, and for a sweet epilogue that left me with a big smile on my face.

VIRTUAL TOUR: A Common Scandal (Grantham Girls #2) by Amanda Weaver

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Finishing school taught Amelia Wheeler how to put on a well-mannered performance—when she’s not bored and looking for trouble. Lady Grantham’s is behind her and now it’s time for Amelia to keep her promise to her dying mother: marry a title and leave her wild days behind.

That promise would be much easier to keep if Nate Smythe hadn’t just reappeared in a London ballroom. The son of an impoverished sailor, Nate—Natty, as he used to be called—has grown up to become handsome, rich and polished. He claims to be looking for a proper bride who can advance his business interests, but that doesn’t stop him from seeking out Amelia every chance he gets. Challenging her. Kissing her.

Suddenly, struggling against her simmering passion is the least of Amelia’s problems—one of her titled suitors is hiding a desperate secret that could stop Amelia from pleasing her parents or finding happiness with Nate. As a weeklong house party threatens to derail her hard-won future, Amelia must decide: fight against disaster or act like the lady she’s promised to become?

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EXCERPT

Despite knowing the sort of marriage she was destined for, she’d resisted making a choice for so long because she’d hoped in time she might encounter a suitable man who sparked some kind of fire in her. But not once, in all her forays into Society, had she met a man who raised more than mild curiosity. She’d read about flaming passions and heated kisses in the lurid, forbidden novels she had traded with Vic and Grace, but her blood had never been stirred by a flesh-and-blood male. She’d begun to think those passions were the invention of novelists and no man could ever make her feel that way. And now one had, and he was hopelessly out of her reach. It was wretched, wanting something she couldn’t have.

“What’s the verdict? Does Cheadle love you madly or not?”

She didn’t trust herself to look at Natty, knowing her insides would plunge in an unwelcome, delicious way. When he came near her, it was as if her whole body stretched luxuriously and unfurled. Terribly unhelpful, when she was determined to send him packing and behave.

“I’m sure the answer will always be ‘not’, regardless of the state of the petals and irrespective of whatever he might proclaim. Isn’t Lady Julia waiting for her glass of punch or something?”

“Pardon?”

“The lovely Lady Julia Harrow. I saw you sitting with her. Surely she’s missed you by now.”

“Somehow I doubt it,” he muttered. “And what of Cheadle? Surely he’s climbing the walls pining after you.”

She sighed and turned to face him, tossing the last of the ruined flower to the ground and brushing her gloved fingers together. “You know he’s not, Natty. Men don’t pine after me, only my money. The only reason anyone at these things speaks to me is because of my fortune.”

“I’m speaking to you and I have my own fortune, thank you very much.”

“You only speak to me to tease me.”

“You used to like it when I teased you.”

“I’m not a child anymore.”

“Obviously.”

The word hung between them for a moment, rife with meaning. He might have only meant she was all grown-up and out in Society, except his eyes made a lightning- fast perusal of her body as he said it, so fast, he was likely unaware he’d done it. In a rush, it broke over her that Natty was aware of her in the same way she was aware of him. Not as an old playmate from his childhood. As a woman. He was as affected as she was, even if he was spending his evening paying court to Julia Harrow.

His eyes made their way back to hers and they both held the gaze. This newly discovered knowledge sizzled through her body. Her skin flushed and her breaths grew shallow. Natty’s eyes stared into hers. His lips parted slightly, as if he, too, was baffled by this sudden shift in the air. The atmosphere around them felt charged, the way it did when thunder began rattling the windows and lightning lit the night sky, but still the rain refused to fall. At any minute the clouds could collide and deluge the world, but until then, all the energy of the universe danced on the breeze.

She wanted to tease and flirt with him to see how far things would progress. She wanted to see the skies open up.

She wanted to be drenched by the rain.

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Carina Press, May 2016

Time and setting: England, 1896
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Lady Cicley

A Common Scandal_coverAmelia Wheeler, a wealthy tradesman’s daughter, is everything the simpering misses of London are not – bold, outspoken, and not afraid of taking care of herself. With her father threatening to choose her husband if she’s not married by the end of the season and her promise to her mother to marry soon, Amelia takes matters into her own hands. What she hasn’t counted on is the return of her childhood friend, Nate, or the feelings he arouses in her.

Invited to a house party, Amelia is sure the invitation was only offered so she will be the source of entertainment; after all. everyone expects her to cause a scandal. Determined to put her relationship with Nate behind her, Amelia sets in motion her plan to snare a quiet, unassuming Lord, someone who will bore her to tears but who will make her mother happy. All Amelia needs to do is avoid the smarmy Cheadle – and Nate. Both are easier said than done.

Nathaniel Smythe is a dock rat who has now made his way up in the world. Even though he is now a wealthy businessman Nate is not fully accepted into society, but he has a plan to rectify that – marry the daughter of a peer. He has the perfect woman picked out in the form of Lady Julia Harrow, daughter of the Earl of Hyde who owns the only shipping company that rivals his own. What he never expected was coming face to face with his childhood friend or the way she sets his blood on fire.

Attending a house party where Lady Julia and her father will be in attendance will afford Nate the perfect opportunity to woo Julia. His only problem is that Amelia is attending the same party and no matter how he tries he cannot seem to stay away from her.

I adored Amelia’s strength and her determination when she sets her mind on something and her ability to get into trouble without even trying had me laughing out loud. While I wanted to rail at Nathaniel for some of the things he did, I do admire his resolve is trying to obtain what he desires.

As Amanda Weaver is a new to me author, my plan was to read A Common Scandal over a couple of days so that I could process the storyline and her writing style. But I found myself so strongly drawn into Amelia’s turmoil and mishaps while falling in love with Nate that I finished it in one day!

A Common Scandal is the second book in Amanda Weaver’s The Grantham Girls series, although it works perfectly as a stand alone. The author’s writing style will draw you in and have you feeling each emotion the hero and heroine do. My only complaint – now I have another author to add to my “must read” list. Overall, it’s an excellent read and I highly recommend it.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

AmandaWeaverAmanda Weaver has loved romance since she read that very first Kathleen E. Woodiwiss novel at fifteen. After a long detour into a career as a costume designer in theatre, she’s found her way back to romance, this time as a writer.

A native Floridian, Amanda transplanted to New York City many years ago and now considers Brooklyn home, along with her husband, daughter, two cats, and nowhere near enough space.

 

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The Hunter (Victorian Rebels #2) by Kerrigan Byrne

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They’re rebels, scoundrels, and blackguards–dark, dashing men on the wrong side of the law. But for the women who love them, a hint of danger only makes the heart beat faster…

A scandalous proposal…

Christopher Argent lives in the shadows as the empire’s most elite assassin. Emotion is something he tossed away years ago, making him one of the most clear-eyed, cold-hearted, wealthiest, and therefore untouchable men in London. But when his latest target turns out to be London’s own darling, Millicent LeCour, Christopher’s whole world is turned upside down. Overwhelmed by her stunning combination of seduction and innocence, Christopher cannot complete the mission. She has made him feel again. Now, he will do anything to save her life, even if it means risking his own…

A perilous passion…

When Millie learns what Christopher was hired to do, she is torn between the fear in her heart and the fire in her soul. Putting herself in this notorious hunter’s arms may be her only path to safety–even if doing so could be the deadliest mistake she’s ever made. But how can she resist him? As the heat between her and Christopher burns out of control, danger lurks in the shadows. Is their desire worth the risk? Only the enemy knows what fate has in store…

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Publisher and Release Date: St. Martin’s Press, February 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: London, 1877
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 Stars

Review by Sara

Author Kerrigan Byrne unwittingly created a very big challenge for herself with The Hunter. Not only did the book have to follow The Highwayman, one of the most highly regarded releases of 2015 (on my “best of” list and those of many other reviewers) but the hero she introduced was a cold-blooded killer with little remorse for the job he does. How do you make an assassin into a man worthy of love?

Christopher Argent was briefly seen in The Highwayman as something of a lieutenant for crime boss Dorian Blackwell. When the men escaped Newgate prison and took control of the London underworld, Christopher used his skills as a master assassin to kill targets who threatened the group’s rise to power. With control of the city firmly in the hands of Blackwell, Argent takes contracts for anyone who can afford his services with no care about the target, save small children. His latest job, to kill actress Millicent LeCour, is nothing out of the ordinary and Christopher begins his work by observing his target to find the best way to kill without drawing attention. Watching her on stage and then seeing how she engages a room full of strangers triggers something within Christopher, making him risk interacting with his victim before taking her life.

For Millie LeCour, the best way to connect with her audience is to find one face in the crowd and perform her role as if only for them. Catching the focused gaze of a man with pale blue eyes, Millie finds herself drawn by his attention. Seeing him again at a theater party, giving her the same direct attention as before, is exhilarating enough for her to take a chance to know her silent admirer better. Millie finds herself giving into a passionate kiss in the shadows that leaves her breathless and wanting more, yet he leaves her before their encounter can go much further. Millie’s euphoria at a successful début and a romantic encounter is short-lived when her mysterious stranger appears in her apartments later that evening prepared to finish what he had started; not her seduction but her murder.

Needing to complete his job despite the strange awareness he has around Millie, it is her selfless concern for her son that stays Christopher’s hand at her throat. Unable to reconcile the image of a loving mother with the kind of woman who would warrant a contracted hit, and with his lust for her adding to his confusion, Christopher decides that there must be something more to Millicent LeCour. Believing that slaking his lust for the woman will clear his mind and refocus him, Christopher offers Millie a devil’s bargain to protect her from whoever wants her dead in exchange for one night in his bed. Without knowing who could want her murdered Millie has no choice to accept Christopher’s terms for protection. Unfortunately he cannot know how high a price he’s asked her to pay.

It is a difficult feat to make an assassin the hero of any kind of media and it is here that Ms. Byrne flexes her writing muscles. Many of Christopher’s behaviors would indicate that he’s a sociopath, detached wholly from his actions to the point where he describes himself as being outside of his body observing himself going through the motions of living; however there are small hints that Christopher does feel things in his own disconnected way. It begins when he sees Millie “die” on stage and it pricks at emotions long buried. The longer he keeps himself in Millie’s company the more he begins sensing her reactions or emotions, which causes his own untried feelings to manifest. Christopher transitions over the course of the story from wanting to possess Millie as an object of lust to needing her for their emotional connection and the life she brings back to him.

Just as The Highwayman used darkness and light to distinguish the traits of the main characters, in The Hunter it’s Life and Death that color Millie and Christopher. Using her talents on the stage, Millie breathes life into the characters she portrays, drawing in her audience to believe that those fictional struggles are important. As a mother she nurtures and protects her son Jakub, giving him every advantage in his life that she can provide. Millie’s soul is such that past tragedies or a real and present threat to her life are not enough to extinguish her love of the life she has built for herself. It is that spark and joy of being alive that calls to Christopher like a siren’s song, beating back all of the death and horrors he has lived and inured himself to.

I loved so much of The Hunter and it served as a wonderful follow-up in both tone and storytelling to the previous book. In the end however, there is a small part of me that couldn’t quite believe that one woman could turn a man like Christopher around so fully in only a matter of weeks. There are clues sprinkled within the text to show that he was changing even before knowing Millie; forming a brotherhood of sorts with Blackwell and having a code about the kinds of jobs he would take, but one can see there is still much more work to do in saving his soul. I can hope that as the series progresses we will revisit Christopher and Millie to see some of those developments in their life together.

A Duchess in Name (Grantham Girls #1) by Amanda Weaver

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After graduating from British finishing school, an American heiress fulfills her duty and weds a destitute earl. A lie brought them together, but will it also tear them apart? Find out in this can’t-miss Victorian marriage-of-convenience story from a compelling new voice in historical romance.

Victoria Carson never expected love. An American heiress and graduate of Lady Grantham’s finishing school, she’s been groomed since birth to marry an English title—the grander the better. So when the man chosen for her, the forbidding Earl of Dunnley, seems to hate her on sight, she understands that it can’t matter. Love can have no place in this arrangement.

Andrew Hargrave has little use for his title and even less for his cold, disinterested parents. Determined to make his own way, he’s devoted to his life in Italy working as an archaeologist. Until the collapse of his family’s fortune drags him back to England to a marriage he never wanted and a woman he doesn’t care to know.

Wild attraction is an unwanted complication for them both, though it forms the most fragile of bonds. Their marriage of convenience isn’t so intolerable after all—but it may not be enough when the deception that bound them is finally revealed.

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Publisher and Release Date: Carina Press, 18 January 2016

RHR Classifications:
Place and time: London, 1895
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Jill

“Her sole purpose on earth was to unite her large fortune to a title, the grander the better.”

Victoria Carson, daughter of an American manufacturing magnate has been schooled all her life for one thing: to marry an English title, and the higher the rank the better. When she is nineteen, an agreement is made between Victoria’s father and the current Duke of Waring for their children to wed.

At twenty-seven, Andrew Hargrave, Earl of Dunnley, and heir to the Duke of Waring, is of a marriageable age. When his older brother died, his accession to the position of heir landed with an unwelcome thud on his broad shoulders. Having never been tutored for the role, his real interests lie in archaeology. When he receives word at his dig in Italy to return home, he is greeted with the news that his family is destitute, his father having lost their wealth. It is now expected of Andrew to marry well to revive the family fortune and wealth.

Resentful but duty-bound, Andrew agrees to the marriage-of-convenience, if only for the sake of his sisters. After meeting the lovely and gracious Victoria, both she and Andrew hope that theirs could at least be a civil and perhaps happy union, if not a love match. But the hopefulness doesn’t last long, when Andrew becomes convinced that Victoria is as conniving and as ambitious to gain a title as are her parents. Feeling trapped and manipulated, any trust or hope for a successful union is quashed.

Rarely does a heroine overshadow the hero in a romance for me. But Victoria is a complete delight. After being abandoned straight after her wedding night and left with the servants on her husband’s derelict estate, Victoria proceeds to roll up her sleeves and get on with the restoration of his ancestral home and lands. Realising she’s not up to the task alone, she goes ahead and hires the proper help. She writes beautiful, engaging letters to Andrew overseas, detailing the work and her life. Which he doesn’t bother to answer.

Now, given that Andrew is misinformed about Victoria, and given that he felt cornered into an arranged marriage, as well as the dysfunction he saw in his own parents’ marriage and therefore hoped to avoid, it’s certainly possible to have some sympathy for him. But he simply assumes, without ever truly finding out for himself, that what he’s been told of Victoria is indeed true and returns to Italy and to his mistress. For those who dislike adultery in their romances, this may be another strike against our hero. Finally, when he does come to his senses and tries to do the right thing by Victoria, it’s almost too little, too late for her. She really is wary and I can’t blame her.

However, putting aside my issues with the hero, A Duchess in Name is a well-written and very enjoyable historical. Ms Weaver has written a lovely romance with a particularly wonderful heroine. This is the first in The Grantham Girls series, and I look forward to reading about Victoria’s friends, Amelia and Grace.

A Mackenzie Clan Gathering (MacKenzies & McBrides #8.5) by Jennifer Ashley

a mackenzie clan gathering

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Ian Mackenzie is awakened at Kilmorgan Castle one night to find robbers stealing the priceless art collection of his oldest brother, Hart. Since Ian and Beth are the only ones in resident at Kilmorgan at the moment, Ian decides he must find the art and the culprits before the family shows up for Hart’s birthday gathering. With Inspector Fellows and Beth, he investigates, though Ian is somewhat worried by Beth’s late husband’s brother, a retired missionary, who decides to visit. Does John Ackerley hold the “cure” to Ian’s madness? And can Ian discover what has happened to Hart’s treasures, and who is targeting the Mackenzies before the enemy strikes again?

Return to Kilmorgan Castle to visit the Victorian branch of the Mackenzie family, and catch up on the brothers and friends, their children, and their lives.

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Publisher and Release Date: Intermix, November 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Scotland, 1892
Genre: Victorian historical romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Lady Wesley

It is no secret that the MacKenzies are my favorite historical romance family, so naturally I quickly devoured this novella. Jennifer Ashley has written that she originally planned this book to be about the entire family – something like Mackenzie Family Christmas: The Perfect Gift – but Ian just took over things. He and Beth and Ian’s half-brother Inspector Fellows are the main characters. Given that the events take place ten years after Ian and Beth married, we also get glimpses of their three children – Jamie, 10, Belle, 9, and Megan,7. Not surprisingly, Ian is a hands-on, devoted father, and the scenes with the children are delightful.

All of the other MacKenzies make brief appearances, but the only new character is John Ackerly, the brother of Beth’s first husband, who pays a visit after retiring from years as a missionary. A dabbler in the emerging field of psychiatry, Ackerly thinks he can “cure” Ian’s supposed madness, and Ian’s willingness to try to be more “normal” is touching.

The plot revolves around the shocking theft of priceless artworks from Kilmorgan Castle. Since Ian and Beth were the only family members at home at the time, Ian feels responsible and puts on his sleuthing hat to help Scotland Yard’s Inspector Fellowes. The ultimate resolution is a bit strange, but let’s face it: we’re not reading A MacKenzie Clan Gathering for the plot. We’re reading it for the sheer joy of watching the odd, amazing, and loveable Ian MacKenzie do his thing. And a joy it is indeed.

VIRTUAL TOUR: A Talent for Trickery by Alissa Johnson

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Years ago, Owen Renderwell earned acclaim – and a title – for the dashing rescue of a kidnapped duchess. But only a select few knew that Scotland Yard’s most famous detective was working alongside London’s most infamous thief…and his criminally brilliant daughter, Charlotte Walker.

Lottie was like no other woman in Victorian England. She challenged him. She dazzled him. She questioned everything he believed and everything he was, and he has never wanted anyone more. And then he lost her.

Now a private detective on the trail of a murderer, Owen has stormed back into Lottie’s life. She knows that no matter what they may pretend, he will always be a man of the law and she a criminal. Yet whenever he’s near, Owen has a way of making things complicated…and long for a future that can never be theirs.

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Alissa Johnson Has A Talent For Trickery

Hello Readers!

I’m delighted to introduce A Talent for Trickery, the first book in my new Victorian-set Thief-takers series. Our hero, Private Investigator Owen Renderwell, is on the hunt for a thief and murderer. And he knows just how to catch his man. All he needs is a little help from our heroine, Miss Charlotte Walker-Bales. The daughter of an infamous confidence man, Lottie is in a unique position to offer insight into the mind and motives of a hardened criminal. There’s just one flaw in Owen’s otherwise excellent plan. Lottie hasn’t spoken to him in eight years. She has no interest in working alongside a man of the law, and certainly not the one who betrayed her trust, endangered her family, and broke her heart.

Lottie did agree, however, to deliver a brief message to those readers who claim no affiliation with The Thief-takers, Scotland Yard, or any other investigative or law enforcement agency.

To whomever it may be of interest,

I have received of late a fair number of requests for advice on how best to lie, cheat, steal, and swindle one’s way to fame and fortune.

Obviously, I have never personally engaged in such reprehensible behavior.

I will admit, however, to being the eldest daughter of the late Mr. William Walker, who was alleged (but never officially proven) to have been a successful thief and trickster. You will find below a page taken from one of his journals.*

William Walker’s Guide to Trickery and Deceit.

Lessons for my darling [name redacted]

1. Pick your mark carefully. Don’t toy with a tiger when a kitten will do.

2. Know your mark well. Learn his fears, his desires, his strengths and weaknesses. One cannot manipulate a man without first having a firm grasp of him.

3. Never take from a mark more than he can afford to lose. Steal a hundred pounds from a prince, and it’s unlikely he’ll report the crime. He would prefer to quietly suffer the inconvenience than admit to the shame of having been duped. Steal a shilling from a pauper, and he’ll hunt you down like a dog. Which is why you must always…

4. Use an alias, change it often, and never stay in one place for too long. Don’t make it easy for your enemies to find you.

5. Be careful of the lies you tell. But more importantly…

6. Be careful with the truth. Nothing will land a body in hot water quite so quick as too much honesty.

7. There is no honor amongst thieves. If you must work with accomplices, then make certain that, no matter how many parties are involved, you are the least trustworthy of the lot. In this way, you will always know from which direction betrayal is most likely to arise.

8. Disregard 7 if your accomplice is also your father.

9. Carry upon your person a set of lock picks at all times. One never knows when one might need entrance through a barred door, or exit from set of manacles.

10. Know when to give up on a scheme. No plan is fool-proof. You cannot possibly account for every conceivable obstacle and danger. When the odds of failure outpace the chances of success, walk away. No amount of coin is worth your freedom, or your life.

*This material is offered only as an example of my father’s creative musings on a theoretical life of crime. It is not an admittance of actual criminal activity undertaken by any member of my family.

However, were I the sort of woman inclined to take such instructions to heart, I believe I would pay particular attention to lesson number 6.

With Kindest Regards,

Miss Charlotte Walker-Bales

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 3 November 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: England, 1872
Heat Level: 1
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Jill

ATalentForTrickeryIt has been eight years since Owen Renderwell has seen Charlotte Walker – now Charlotte Bales – since he was Detective Inspector Renderwell of Scotland Yard, and she was the accomplice and daughter of one of London’s most infamous thieves. Now a private investigator, Viscount Renderwell arrives at Charlotte’s home in Norfolk, where she lives with her sister, Esther and brother, Peter. Accompanying him are his partners Sir Samuel Brass and Sir Gabriel Arkwright. Owen is in need of Lottie’s help. Investigating a series of burglaries and a murder where the culprit has left cryptic letters at the scene, he believes that her father’s old journals may hold the key to decoding them.

A renowned and infamous thief and conman, William Walker wrote everything down in his journals – his activities, his codes, his encryptions. When he was caught he chose to work with the police rather than face prosecution, and had worked with Owen before his death eight years previously. Due to her father’s death, Owen and Charlotte parted on unfriendly terms, and Owen knows that his arrival at her home will be neither warm nor welcome.

Set in Victorian England, A Talent for Trickery is Alissa Johnson’s first new novel in three years, and as a big fan of her previous historical romances, I’ve been keen to read this new series. This is yet another warm and delightful romance between the thirty year-old Charlotte, now living a respectable life in the country with her younger siblings, and the honest, down-to-earth Owen, who doesn’t particularly relish the status to which he’s been elevated.

Given that Owen is an investigator, unravelling the mystery is a large part of the plot. As usual with Ms Johnson’s writing, the characterisations of both protagonists and secondary characters are fleshed-out. The dialogue is realistic and imbued with touches of subtle humour. Owen is honorable and level-headed; Lottie is smart and independent. Their attraction is still there when they first meet again, yet Ms Johnson thankfully takes her time rebuilding their relationship.

I’m looking forward to the next title in this series which I should imagine will feature either of Owen’s partners, Gabriel or Samuel. With the same deft touch of her previous novels, A Talent for Trickery is another wonderful historical romance and an enjoyable opening to her new Thief-Takers series. Recommended for readers who enjoy superior writing, an engrossing mystery and a lovely romance.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

AlissaJohnsonAlissa Johnson is a RITA-nominated author of historical romance. She grew up on Air Force bases and attended St. Olaf College in Minnesota. She currently resides in the Arkansan Ozarks where she spends her free time keeping her Aussie dog busy, visiting with family, and dabbling in archery.

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Cold Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas

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A twist of fate…

Devon Ravenel, London’s most wickedly charming rake, has just inherited an earldom. But his powerful new rank in society comes with unwanted responsibilities . . . and more than a few surprises. His estate is saddled with debt, and the late earl’s three innocent sisters are still occupying the house . . . along with Kathleen, Lady Trenear, a beautiful young widow whose sharp wit and determination are a match for Devon’s own.

A clash of wills…

Kathleen knows better than to trust a ruthless scoundrel like Devon. But the fiery attraction between them is impossible to deny—and from the first moment Devon holds her in his arms, he vows to do whatever it takes to possess her. As Kathleen finds herself yielding to his skillfully erotic seduction, only one question remains:

Can she keep from surrendering her heart to the most dangerous man she’s ever known?

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Publisher and Release Date: Avon, November 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Hampshire and London, 1875
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Caz

Lisa Kleypas makes a very welcome return to the world of the historical romance with her latest book Cold Hearted Rake, the first in a new series set in the late Victorian era. It’s been around five years since Ms Kleypas last published an historical and I suppose what everyone is dying to know is – was it worth the wait? The answer has to be YES, absolutely – although the book isn’t without its faults and the central romance, while satisfyingly steamy, is a little inconsistent, and isn’t my favourite thing about the novel as a whole.

Devon Ravenel and his younger brother, Weston, are a pair of rather dissolute young men who have had nothing and nobody to look after but themselves for pretty much their entire lives, until, at twenty-eight, Devon is stunned – and furious – to learn that he has inherited an earldom owing to the sudden death of a distant relation. He doesn’t want the title, the estate, the responsibilities and, most importantly, the crushing debts, and is determined to sell everything off as soon as possible and return to his unencumbered bachelor existence.

Along with the aforementioned burdens, Devon is faced with the prospect of dealing with his predecessor’s widow of three days, and his three sisters – all of whom Devon wants out of the house quickly so that he can realise his capital and leave.

Kathleen, Lady Trenear, is not at all pleased on learning of Devon’s plans when it comes to the estate, but not for her own sake or that of her sisters-in-law. She had expected she would have to leave Eversby Priory and hopes to be able to support the four of them on her jointure; her concerns are mainly for the some two hundred tenants who live and work on the estate, many of whom have served the Ravenels for their whole lives and are unlikely to be able to find alternative employment.

Devon and Kathleen clash immediately and often, both of them finding themselves reluctantly attracted to the other. Their bickering is imbued with sexual attraction, and the friendship and respect which gradually develop between them are well-written, but I never quite bought into them as being in love. Devon is one of those types of heroes so often found in the pages of romance novels whose parents’ disastrous marriage put him firmly off the idea of love – yet he wavers back and forth between wanting Kathleen in his life permanently and then just for a transient affair. The physical relationship upon which they embark is a deliciously passionate one, but Devon’s attitude towards Kathleen is somewhat inconsistent and thus a little frustrating.

That said, all the other elements that make up this story are so thoroughly engaging as to make that issue a little less problematic. The characterisation is strong all-round, and there is a terrific cast of supporting characters, not least of which is Devon’s wastrel brother who manages to turn his life around and find himself in the process. Ms Kleypas also sets up the rest of the series brilliantly, and in fact, she sets up the next book – Marrying Mr Winterborne – so well, that I found myself rather more invested in the secondary characters of Lady Helen Ravenel and the self-made, hard-nosed businessman, Rhys Winterborne, than in Devon and Kathleen!

One of the things I liked most about the story is that Ms Kleypas has once again written a bad-boy hero who turns things around as much for himself as for the woman he is coming to love, and it’s the first part of that sentence that’s the most important. After all, making a change to please someone else is a change unlikely to last, while making it for oneself is an entirely different matter. Devon certainly does do that – he decides that it’s time for him to step up and face the challenge of the estate head-on, and considering the challenges he’s facing, it’s an incredibly brave – and maybe stupid – thing to do. But his intelligence, pragmatism and determination serve him well, and, in the same way as West, Devon finds his purpose in life. He’s an attractive hero; handsome, witty, clever, incredibly sexy and – deep down – a kind and compassionate man, not that he’d ever admit to it! And even though I wasn’t completely convinced by the romance, Kathleen’s equally strong personality makes her a good match for Devon.

Cold Hearted Rake may not be the best of Lisa Kleypas’ historical romances, but it’s certainly a very strong start to her new series and has much to recommend it. It’s beautifully written, well-plotted and makes excellent use of its historical setting; and whether you’re a fan of hers, or have never read her work before, I’m sure you will find much to enjoy.

VIRTUAL TOUR: Scotsman of My Dreams (McIain #2) by Karen Ranney

TVTScotsmanofMyDreams-KarenRanney

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Once the ton’s most notorious rake, Dalton MacIain has returned from his expedition to America during the Civil War-wounded and a changed man. Instead of attending soirees, he now spends his time as a recluse. But Dalton’s peace is disturbed when Minerva Todd barges into his London townhouse, insisting he help search for her missing brother Neville. Though Dalton would love to spend more time with the bewitching beauty, he has no interest in finding Neville-for he blames him for his injury.

Minerva has never met a more infuriating man than the Earl of Rathsmere yet she is intrigued by the torrid rumors she has heard about him…and the fierce attraction pulling her toward him.

Dalton does not count on Minerva’s persistence-or the desire she awakens in him, compelling him to discover her brother’s fate. But when danger surrounds them, Dalton fears he will lose the tantalizing, thoroughly unpredictable woman he has come to love.

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EXCERPT

Dalton MacIain, Earl of Rathsmere, stood in the doorway of his library, listening to Howington argue with a harridan. Were there peddlers in Tarkington Square now? He couldn’t hear their words, only the tone. Howington was maintaining his usual calm demeanor. The woman wasn’t, her voice growing louder, vying with the thunder growling overhead for dominance.

Turning back to the room, he dismissed the two of them. Howington would get rid of her, whoever she was.
He shouldn’t have sent his majordomo to Gledfield. If Samuels had remained here he would have opened the door, thereby sparing Howington the duty. Samuels would have also been a buffer between him and Howington.

Pity that he hadn’t considered that earlier. Now Howington was always present, forever hovering in that obsequious way of his.

He moved unerringly to the window, reached up and closed the drapes against the storm. He remembered their shade, an emerald color he favored. Everything else about the room was as he recalled it: two wing chairs upholstered in a dark green fabric sat before the fireplace with a small table between them; enough books in the shelves that he gave the appearance of being a well-read man. His onetime companions would have been genuinely shocked to know that he had read most of them, a good thing now.

Thunder rumbled, the windows shivering in response. The drumming of rain on the street outside sounded like muffled artillery.

He made his way to the sideboard on the opposite wall, a distance of exactly ten feet.

Removing the stopper from the cut glass decanter, he reached for a glass and tried to hold it steady.

Another roar of thunder, this one sounding too much like cannon fire, made him put down the decanter and the glass, hearing the chink as they landed on the tray.

He stood with his fingers braced against the sideboard, staring straight ahead and willing his hands to stop their trembling.

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Avon, September 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: London, 1862
Genre: Victorian Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Lady Wesley

Karen Ranney writes books that are a consummate blend of history and romance. In the first McIain book, In Your Wildest Scottish Dreams, Glynnis and Lennox’s second chance at love was set in Glasgobw, where River Clyde shipbuilders turned out thousands of blockade runners for the Confederates during the American Civil War. That war also serves as a distant backdrop for Scotsman of My Dreams, as our hero, Dalton MacIain, has returned from fighting in America a blinded, broken shell of his former self. Moreover, upon his return he learned that his beloved elder brother had been killed in a hunting accident, making Dalton the Earl of Rathmoor, a title he neither expected nor wanted. Dalton has become a virtual hermit, drinking to forget the horrors of his past and his present. His handsome face is horribly scarred – one eye is missing and the other is sightless; and his former friends in society have forgotten his existence. He doesn’t trust his secretary, who moves around stealthily and never announces himself, and he has no interest in running his estates. The only semblance of love or joy in his life is his faithful housekeeper, who coddles him with tasty meals and makes him a patch to cover his empty eye socket.

Truly, Dalton’s life is depressing, and the first quarter or so of this book is equally so, but that’s because Karen Ranney is such a good writer than a reader can’t help but feel what the characters are experiencing. So, don’t give up, because into Dalton’s hopeless life bursts Miss Minerva Todd, a most exceptional young lady. Minerva is twenty-nine, wealthy, outspoken, lacking in social graces, and much more interested in archaeology than marriage. She raised her younger brother Neville after their parents’ deaths, but upon his majority he began to carouse and move in Dalton’s hell-raising circle. Now, after accompanying Dalton and friends to America, Neville has gone missing, and Minerva is determined to make Dalton help her find her little brother.

When I said that Minerva “bursts” into Dalton’s life, I meant that literally. First, she breaks into his house but is summarily thrown out. Next, she climbs the garden wall and confronts him face-to-face, finding herself horror-struck by his injuries.

Eschewing the discretion that someone with better manners might have chosen, Minerva blurts out, “What happened to you?” When Dalton threatens to bodily remove her from his garden, she retorts, “You’d have to call for someone to help you.” Never one to back down from a challenge, Dalton strikes back, and the ensuing confrontation is hilarious in its rudeness.

“Are you ugly? I found that women without an iota of appeal often appear strident.”

“I have never measured myself by my appearance.”

“That’s a lie. Every woman has.”

“Should you care so much about the appearance of other people?” she asked. “Especially since your own appearance has been so grievouly altered by your stupidity.”

“I know why Neville came with me. To get away from you.”

These two really don’t like one another, especially after Dalton informs Minerva that it was Neville who shot him in the face. Dalton does not know why Neville wanted him dead, but he begins to wonder if perhaps Minerva could be part of her brother’s lethal plot. Now this is romance, so you know that this pair will fall in love, but at this point in the book it’s pretty difficult to imagine how that’s going to happen. A less-experienced author might have had love come quickly, but Karen Ranney has the confidence to allow it to come upon them slowly, as Dalton and Minerva reluctantly join forces to find Neville. Minerva becomes his eyes, and notwithstanding his blindness he becomes her protector. They form a grudging respect for one another, followed by trust, affection, physical passion, and only after all of that – love.

Ms Ranney excells in writing dialogue, and the couple’s progress is a joy to read, as they come to know one another by talking forthrightly. Both characters are fully realized, as are the several secondary characters such as their respective housekeepers, Dalton’s creepy secretary, his investigator friend and Dalton’s spoiled younger brother. The element of mystery is well done, but fairly easy to figure out. My one criticism is that Minerva is a bit too progressive for her time (she took her coachman as a lover, just to experience passion), but she is so darn much fun that I overlooked that. Dalton, however, is just about perfect. In creating a man who transforms from a surly, self-pitying drunken wreck into a man who finds himself thrilled by a woman who despises his wealth, his reputation, and his title, Ms Ranney doesn’t put a foot wrong. His blindness is always there, but it does not define him.

And may I just add that I loved Miranda’s elderly spinster neighbors, the Covington sisters. Read the book, and you’ll see what I mean.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

KarenKaren Ranney began writing when she was five. Her first published work was The Maple Leaf, read over the school intercom when she was in the first grade. In addition to wanting to be a violinist (her parents had a special violin crafted for her when she was seven), she wanted to be a lawyer, a teacher, and, most of all, a writer. Though the violin was discarded early, she still admits to a fascination with the law, and she volunteers as a teacher whenever needed. Writing, however, has remained the overwhelming love of her life.

You can find Karen at: : Website * ~ * ~ * Facebook * ~ * ~ * Twitter * ~ * ~ * Goodreads

Rescued by a Rake by Bess Greenfield

rescued by the rake
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A Lady in Disguise

Desperate to leave her past behind, Claudine Valencourt is less than thrilled to encounter the one man she could never forget. Not surprisingly, gorgeous self-made millionaire Leonardo Barnett doesn’t recognize her when he walks into a sleazy Paris cabaret in the middle of her performance. He never took much notice of her in the first place, and seven years have passed since her unfortunate infatuation. No longer naïve about men, she’s well aware of his womanizing reputation, but when he promises her exactly what she needs—escape, a means of independence, a new beginning in New York—she can’t resist.

Despite her best judgment, she can’t resist Leo either. When the allegedly self-absorbed entertainment magnate surprises her with compassion, tenderness, and wit, her dormant longings flame back to life stronger than ever. But dare she trust him with her secrets and her heart? With adventure and exquisite passion come disturbing revelations and inconceivable dangers for a lady pretending to be someone she’s not.

A Millionaire’s Prize

After one woman’s treachery destroyed his future, it took years for Leo to rebuild his life and succeed on his own terms. It only takes a few days for a vulnerable young beauty with a heartbreaking voice to pierce through his cynicism and defenses. Her warmth and guileless sensuality reveal a protective instinct he never knew he had and a desire that was there all along. His self-restraint battles with his yearning to keep his precious discovery for himself, and he soon realizes the folly of promises he could never keep.

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Publisher and Release Date: Mouette, April 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Nineteenth Century Paris and New York
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 1.5
Reviewer Rating: 3 stars

Review by Jenny Q

I loved Bess Greenfield’s historical romance debut, The Count’s Last Mistress, and so I couldn’t wait to read the follow-up. Rescued by the Rake takes place many years later and features Claudine, the daughter of the hero and heroine of the previous book, Jeanne and Olivier, and Leo, the son of Jeanne’s best friend, whom we also met in the The Count’s Last Mistress. It is not necessary to read that first, though I recommend it if you get the chance!

Our story begins with Claudine trying to escape a scandal and her parents’ disappointment by singing for a living in a seedy Paris cabaret. She never expects her childhood crush, whom no one has seen in years, to find her and offer her a new chance at life in America. Leo doesn’t recognize the little girl who used to follow him around like a puppy; he only sees a potential star for his new theater. Drawn by her combination of innocence and sexuality, he determines to conduct himself as a gentleman and take the inexperienced girl under his wing, protecting her from harm while helping her find her way to fame and fortune. But his determination doesn’t last long in the face of their mutual attraction and close quarters. As the lines between business and pleasure blur, love blossoms, but they are both keeping secrets. Leo still doesn’t know who Claudine really is or why she’s running away, nor does he know about her mission to find her stepbrother. And Claudine doesn’t know what forced Leo to run away himself, or if a man of his reputation can be trusted with her heart. But they’ll have to figure it out fast because those secrets are about to be exposed with deadly consequences.

Unfortunately, there were several issues that kept me from enjoying this story as much as I wanted to. Though she does have redeeming qualities, most notably her love for and determination to find her missing stepbrother, Claudine is a little more naïve than I like my heroines to be, and she makes some infuriating decisions. I also grew a little weary of her repeatedly placing herself in dangerous situations with lecherous men. Leo, on the other hand, is quite sharp and intriguing, and I found his backstory fascinating, though I did think his affection for Claudine came on too quickly to be believable given his history. And I also grew frustrated with the author’s habit of starting scenes by picking up after something happened and explaining it in hindsight rather than letting the reader experience it firsthand. This type of storytelling doesn’t make the best use of the dual point of view structure and didn’t allow me to experience the story as intimately as I’d have liked. And finally, I had really been looking forward to the setting of this story, New York City in the late nineteenth century, and I was surprised to discover that a large portion of the novel takes place on board ship during an Atlantic crossing. I really enjoyed the depiction of luxury traveling at sea, but we don’t get as much description of life in New York as I’d hoped, and after the rich, lushly depicted atmosphere of Paris in the first book, I missed that ambiance.

It’s entirely possible that my expectations for this novel were too high based on how much I enjoyed The Count’s Last Mistress, and if I hadn’t read that book first, I might not have felt as underwhelmed by this one. It’s still a good story with plenty of action and romance and a diverse cast of supporting characters, and the movement of the story from Paris to ocean liner to New York with time spent in entertainment halls should appeal to readers looking for a change of scenery. I still think Bess Greenfield is an historical romance author to watch, but I’ll be hoping for a little more “oomph” from her next novel.