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VIRTUAL TOUR: The Untouchable Earl (Fallen Ladies #2) by Amy Sandas

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Lily Chadwick has spent her life playing by society’s rules. But when an unscrupulous moneylender snatches her off the street and puts her up for auction at a pleasure house, she finds herself in the possession of a man who makes her breathless with terror and impossible yearning…

Though the reclusive Earl of Harte claimed Lily with the highest bid, he hides a painful secret-one that has kept him from knowing the pleasure of a lover’s touch. Even the barest brush of skin brings him physical pain, and he’s spent his life keeping the world at arms’ length. But there’s something about Lily that maddens him, bewitches him, compels him…and drives him toward the one woman brave and kind enough to seek to heal his troubled heart.

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EXCERPT

“Are you going to try the champagne?” she asked.

He looked at the elegant glass in his hand. The act had become such an ingrained habit that he never even thought about it anymore. But then, no one else seemed to notice when he did not actually raise his glass to drink.

“I prefer not to have my judgment clouded.”

In truth, he never consumed anything that might promote a loss of control while among society. He had to be ever diligent if he was to successfully maintain his composure.

Perhaps tonight more than ever.

“Then why pour yourself a glass?”

“It has become habit, I suppose. A way to blend with my peers and avoid drawing attention.

She tilted her head. A smile played about the cor¬ners of her mouth. “You do what you can to blend in, whereas I’ve always secretly wished I possessed some quality that might help me to stand out. We make an odd pair, my lord.”

Avenell’s lips curved upward involuntarily. “We do indeed, Miss Chadwick.”

He hadn’t intended the intimate tone that had crept into his words, but in seeing her eyes widen with that barely perceptible reaction she had to him, he was glad for it. Knowing he could cause the involuntary response made him feel as though they were on a bit more equal ground.

“Will you call me Lily?” she asked with a modest dip of her chin. “It feels odd to be so formal, considering our…association,” she added hesitantly.

It took him a moment to gather himself enough to respond. “Would you like me to call you Lily?”

“Yes. I think so.”

He nodded.

“Shall I call you Avenell?”

Hearing his name on her lips created a fine point of pressure in his chest. He instinctively squared his shoulders in defense. Although he was pleased she would allow him the intimacy of using her given name—in fact, he intended for her to share far more intimacies with him—he could not do the same in return.

“I prefer you address me as Lord Harte.” He knew his words sounded cold, but there was no help for it. “Or my lord.”

A shadow slid across her expression at this response. Her mouth curved softly downward in a way he found intensely alluring. A tiny line formed above her brow, then quickly disappeared. He could see his refusal bothered her. For a moment it appeared she might dispute him, but she held her tongue.

While she remained silent, Avenell felt an unusual desire to provide some sort of explanation. Not all of the truth, perhaps, but something to help her under¬stand that the denial was not a personal rejection.

“I have never kept a mistress,” he began, carefully easing into what he needed to say.

“I recall you telling me as much,” she replied. “And of course, you know I have never been one before.”

Her tone was gentle, and her features were set in a perfect expression of serenity, but he could have sworn he detected a note of dry humor in her tone. Her composure despite the subject matter astounded him. She was so unlike the typical modest young lady.

Something in the steadiness of her gaze urged him to glance away, to look anywhere but at her. He resisted the temptation and began again. “I never entered into such an arrangement because I knew there would be an expectation of certain liberties that I cannot allow.”

There was a long pause, during which the point of pressure in his chest spread outward. Then she tilted her head in a subtle gesture.

“What sort of liberties?” she asked softly.

Her voice had changed. It was difficult to identify exactly what it was, but it warmed him. Made him feel a burst of impatience, a wave of deeper desire. He took a moment before he replied.

“You will understand more fully soon enough. But I promise, I will not allow my limitations to lessen the pleasure you experience during our association.”

A blush pinked her cheeks. But she did not look away.

“And what of your pleasure, my lord?” Her voice was soft and low. Smoky, like her eyes.

It weaved through Avenell’s senses and hit him hard in the gut. Heat scored through his insides on a direct path to his loins. He had suspected from the start that her gentle manner had lured him so strongly. But the unexpected boldness in her query had an intense effect on him.

His arousal roughened his tone as he answered, “My pleasure is assured. Do not doubt that.”

The pink in her cheeks spread down across her chest and the upper swells of her breasts, but still she held his gaze. He wondered what she might be thinking. Her stillness was disconcerting when he sensed so much going on inside her.

After a few moments, her lashes swept low as she looked down at the glass of champagne held lightly in her hands.

Avenell set his own glass on the mantel over the fireplace and turned to face her more fully. It was time to begin.

“Come here, Lily.”

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Sourcebooks Casablanca, November 2016

Time and Setting: 1812-1817, London
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

Avenell Slade – an unfortunately purple name, to say the least – the impenetrable Earl of Harte, cannot bear to be touched. Much like Christian Gray, the troubled hero of E.L. James’ bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey, Avenell is so touch averse that he seeks assistance from Madame Pendragon and the skilled ladies at her pleasure house. As a child, Avenell was traumatized by a medical condition and so he recoils from any human contact. Of course, as a result, he has never bedded a woman and is that rarest of specimens, a male virgin. There is no detail about how the brothel’s women help Slade as this takes place entirely in the novel’s Prologue, but I am curious as to how they attempted to help him. Because he is still afraid of touch when he meets the heroine.

Lily Chadwick is the plain and retiring middle sister of the Chadwick family, struggling to make a good match after their mother’s death and their father’s gambling left them indebted to a persistent and threatening man, Mason Hale, who is eager to collect his money.

In a desperate move Hale, for his own personal reasons, kidnaps Lily and whisks her off to Madame Pendragon’s brothel, who auctions off Lily’s virginity to the highest bidder. In a great coincidence, Avenell just happens to be there that night and buys Lily in order to protect and save her. Of course, things don’t quite work out that way.

While Ms. Sandas writes well, I find the story a bit farfetched and melodramatic. The hero’s gothic-style name, the reasons for his touch aversion, and the determination of Lily to shed her purity don’t ring quite true.

Avenell is a rather cold and odd character; I don’t understand what Lily sees in him except a dark and damaged man who sets her on fire every time she looks at or touches him (accidentally, of course). Then again, Lily figures she is already ruined and has nothing to lose by living out the erotic fantasies she reads about in her favorite steamy novels.

This is the second book in Ms. Sandas’ Fallen Ladies series, a dark story that is nothing at all like her sparkling and delightful novella, Relentless Lord, that I loved. The plot of the first book in this series (Luck is No Lady runs concurrent to this one so it may be helpful to read that one first though it isn’t necessary. The premise of three close and very different sisters (Emma, the eldest and headstrong sister from book one and Portia, the youngest) who find love in an unorthodox way with improper gentlemen – an oxymoron to be sure – is interesting but not very exciting. Indeed, after the brothel auction, the story seems to drag by trying to create unbearable sexual tension between Lily and Avenell in the delay of their inevitable mutual seduction.

Lily is an unremarkable heroine who, once she decides to make herself available to Avenell, seems determined to make their relationship work no matter what; in this case, at great risk to her reputation as well as that of her sisters. She is the staid, quiet sister who has self-educated herself on sex and wants the freedom to experience the sensual side of life.

Avenell’s reasons for his problems with touch are eventually revealed but by then it seems anticlimactic. Their relationship is based solely on sex because they seem to spontaneously combust when they are together. And they talk a lot about how difficult it is for him to accept her touch. However, he has no problem with touching her. Odd, that.

However, the secondary characters (especially Portia, the independent and outspoken youngest sister, and Angelique, the sisters’ free-spirited and fun chaperone) are well depicted and the close family relationship dynamic is heartwarming to read. In fact, I wonder if it would almost be better for them to remain a household of independent women rather than seek marriage as its inevitable end. But then it wouldn’t be a romance, would it?

Read this for the solid writing but be ready to suspend a lot of disbelief.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR


amy-sandasAmy Sandas’ love of romance began one summer when she stumbled across one of her mother’s Barbara Cartland books. Her affinity for writing began with sappy pre-teen poems and led to a Bachelor’s degree with an emphasis on Creative Writing from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. She lives with her husband and children in Wisconsin.

You can connect with Amy at: website * ~ * Goodreads * ~ * Facebook * ~ * Twitter

Hero in the Highlands (No Ordinary Hero #1) by Suzanne Enoch

hero-in-the-highlands

WILD AT HEART

Scotland, 1812: He’s ferocious and rugged to the bone, an English soldier more at home on the battlefield than in any Society drawing room. And when Major Gabriel Forrester learns that he’s inherited the massive Scottish Highlands title and estate of a distant relation, the last thing he wants to do is give up the intensity of the battlefield for the too-soft indulgences of noble life. But Gabriel Forrester does not shirk his responsibilities, and when he meets striking, raven-eyed lass Fiona Blackstock, his new circumstances abruptly become more intriguing.

Like any good Highlander, Fiona despises the English—and the new Duke of Lattimer is no exception. Firstly, he is far too attractive for Fiona’s peace of mind. Secondly, his right to “her” castle is a travesty, since it’s been clan Maxwell property for ages. As the two enter a heated battle of wills, an unexpected passion blazes into a love as fierce as the Highlands themselves. Is Fiona strong enough to resist her enemy’s advances—or is Gabriel actually her hero in disguise?

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Publisher and Release Date: St. Martin’s Paperbacks, October 4, 2016

Time and Setting: Scotland, 1812
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

Suzanne Enoch, an established, prolific, and accomplished historical romance author, revisits Scottish heroes in her newest series, No Ordinary Hero. Indeed, Major Gabriel Forrester does not fit the usual mold of historical romance heroes; though he has just become a duke and inherited great wealth and land, he is first and foremost a soldier. He has no airs or sense of self-entitlement and, when he meets Fiona Blackstock, he’s attracted to a woman who is every bit as bold and brave as he is. She has spirit and fire and she dares to challenge him. For his part, his wealth and his heart can help Fiona (a woman who has shouldered many burdens but is tired) while also finding a home for himself. As a soldier, he has traveled the world and it has never occurred to him to set down roots.

As in several historical romances I’ve read recently, there’s a strong mystery element running through the story as malevolent events threaten to destroy the livelihood of the castle and its many indigent and dependent villagers. Over the years, someone has been stealing sheep at an alarming rate and the troubles escalate when Gabriel appears. Being a superstitious people, the clan calls it a curse but Gabriel, an Englishman, is determined to uncover the truth.

The denouement in the novel is a little anticlimactic – I expected an all out blowout after all the strange incidents – but I really like how Ms. Enoch depicts both Fiona and Gabriel challenging the villain, instead of the classic hero saving the heroine schtick. It’s a refreshing and unexpected twist.

For Fiona and Gabriel, it’s lust at first sight. They bait and challenge each other at every turn but they also share an instant and intense sexual attraction. She’s wary of a “Sassenach” duke coming in to save the day, but she also can’t deny or resist his good looks and charm – and, eventually, his kind heart. Gabriel grows on her like grass, as she observes him caring for the laborers and cotters and his determination to make the estate prosper. He earns her trust as well as her heart.

The romantic love between them grows slowly as each discovers attractive emotional qualities but, while they’re discovering them, they’re having sex every chance they can get. Fiona is no virgin and, oddly enough, for a man of the time, Gabriel doesn’t seem to mind. Indeed, she challenges him on that very fact by pointing out that he’s no virgin either. They understand each other but it’s definitely a mostly physical relationship.

Fiona has been running the estate since her brother ran off – there’s an unsolved mystery there -but also taking liberties by taking into account the livelihood of the villagers. She over-employs people at the castle and pretty much single-handedly runs things. Her only mistake is that Gabriel outsmarts her by actually coming to Scotland to take matters into his own hands after she ignored his lawyers’ many letters. In this way, their romantic love grows out of a shared desire for partnership in the success of the Scottish estate and the well-being of its residents.

Every day Scottish village life is colorfully depicted with runaway cows, a village picnic, and the beautiful descriptions of the landscape of the Scottish Highlands. The reader experiences it much as newcomer and war hero Gabriel does.

Obviously, as it’s set in Scotland, this book has a lot of Scottish dialect which can sometimes be a burden to read. But I know many readers enjoy stories set in Scotland so this may not be an issue. Ms. Enoch writes very well, her pacing is steady, and her characters engaging and human.

If you love Scottish historical romance and independent and strong-willed heroines, you will enjoy this book.

The Perks of Loving a Scoundrel by Jennifer McQuiston

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Every girl dreams of a hero . . .

No one loves books more than Miss Mary Channing. Perhaps that’s why she’s reached the ripe old age of six-and-twenty without ever being kissed. Her future may be as bland as milk toast, but Mary is content to simply dream about the heroes and adventures she reads about in her books. That way she won’t end up with a villain instead.

But sometimes only a scoundrel will do.

When she unexpectedly finds herself in the arms of Geoffrey Westmore, London’s most notorious scoundrel, it feels a bit like a plot from one of her favorite novels. Suddenly, Mary understands why even the smartest heroines can fall prey to a handsome face. And Westmore is more handsome than most. But far worse than the damage to her reputation, the moment’s indiscretion uncovers an assassination plot that reaches to the highest levels of society and threatens the course of the entire country.

When a tight-laced miss and a scoundrel of epic proportions put their minds together, nothing can stand in their way. But unless they put their hearts together as well, a happy ending is anything but assured.

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EXCERPT

London, May 29, 1858

The smell should have been worse.

She’d expected something foul, air made surly by the summer heat. Just last week she’d read about the Thames, that great, roiling river that carried with it the filth of the entire city and choked its inhabitants to tears. Her rampant imagination, spurred on by countless books and newspaper articles, had conjured a city of fetid smells, each more terrible than the last. But as Miss Mary Channing opened her bedroom window and breathed in her first London morning, her nose filled with nothing more offensive than the fragrance of . . .

Flowers.

Disconcerted, she peeked out over the sill. Dawn was just breaking over the back of Grosvenor Square. The gaslights were still burning and the windows of the other houses were dark. By eight o’clock, she imagined industrious housemaids would be down on their knees, whiting their masters’ stoops. The central garden would fill with nurses and their charges, heading west toward Hyde Park.

But for now the city—and its smells—belonged solely to her.

She breathed in again. Was she dreaming? Imagining things, as she was often wont to do? She was well over two hundred miles from home, but it smelled very much like her family’s ornamental garden in Yorkshire. She didn’t remember seeing a garden last night, but then, she had arrived quite late, the gaslight shadows obscuring all but the front steps. She’d been too weary to think, so sickened by the ceaseless motion of the train that she’d not even been able to read a book, much less ponder the underpinnings of the air she breathed.

She supposed she might have missed a garden. Good heavens, she probably would have missed a funeral parade, complete with an eight-horse coach and a brass band.

After the long, tiresome journey, she’d only wanted to find a bed.

And yet now . . . at five o’clock in the morning . . . she couldn’t sleep.

Not on a mattress that felt so strange, and not in a bedroom that wasn’t her own.

Pulling her head back inside, she eyed the four-poster bed, with its rumpled covers and profusion of pretty pillows. It was a perfectly nice bed. Her sister, Eleanor, had clearly put some thought into the choice of fabrics and furniture. Most women would love such a room. And most women would love such an opportunity—two whole months in London, with shops and shows and distractions of every flavor at their fingertips.

But Mary wasn’t most women. She preferred her distractions in the form of a good book, not shopping on Regent Street. And these two looming months felt like prison, not paradise.

The scent of roses lingered in the air, and as she breathed in, her mind settled on a new hope. If there was a flower garden she might escape to—a place where she might read her books and write in her journal—perhaps it would not be so terrible?

Picking up the novel she had not been able to read on the train, Mary slipped out of the strange bedroom, her bare feet silent on the stairs. She had always been an early riser, waking before even the most industrious servants back home in Yorkshire. At home, the cook knew to leave her out a bit of breakfast—bread and cheese wrapped in a napkin—but no one here would know to do that for her yet.

Ever since she’d been a young girl, morning had been her own time, quiet hours spent curled up on a garden bench with a book in her lap, nibbling on her pocket repast, the day lightening around her. The notion that she might still keep to such a routine in a place like London gave her hope for the coming two months.

She drifted down the hallway until she found a doorway that looked promising, solid oak, with a key still in the lock. With a deep breath, she turned the key and pulled it open. She braced herself for knife-wielding brigands. Herds of ragged street urchins, hands rifling through her pockets. The sort of London dangers she’d always read about.

Instead, the scent of flowers washed over her like a lovely, welcome tide.

Oh, thank goodness.

She hadn’t been imagining things after all.

Something hopeful nudged her over the threshold of the door, then bade her to take one step, then another. In the thin light of dawn, she saw flowers in every color and fashion: bloodred rose blooms, a cascade of yellow flowers dripping down the wrought iron fence. Her fingers loosened over the cover of her book. Oh, but it would be lovely to read here. She could even hear the light patter of a fountain, beckoning her deeper.

But then she heard something else above those pleasant, tinkling notes.

An almost inhuman groan of pleasure.

With a startled gasp, she spun around. Her eyes swam through the early morning light to settle on a gentleman on the street, some ten feet or so away on the other side of the wrought iron fence. But the fact of their separation did little to relieve her anxiety, because the street light illuminated him in unfortunate, horrific clarity.

He was urinating.

Through the fence.

Onto one of her sister’s rosebushes.

The book fell from Mary’s hand. In all her imaginings of what dreadful things she might encounter on the streets of London, she’d never envisioned anything like this. She ought to bolt. She ought to scream. She ought to . . . well . . . she ought to at least look away.

But as if he was made of words on a page, her eyes insisted on staying for a proper read. His eyes were closed, his mouth open in a grimace of relief. Objectively, he was a handsome mess, lean and long-limbed, a shock of disheveled blond hair peeking out from his top hat. But handsome was always matter of opinion, and this one had “villain” stamped on his skin.

As if he could hear her flailing thoughts, one eye cracked open, then the other. “Oh, ho, would you look at that, Grant? I’ve an audience, it seems.”

Somewhere down the street, another voice rang out. “Piss off!” A snigger followed. “Oh, wait, you already are.”

“Cork it, you sodding fool!” the blond villain shouted back. “Can’t you see we’re in the presence of a lady?” He grinned. “Apologies for such language, luv. Though . . . given the way you are staring, perhaps you don’t mind?” He rocked back on his heels, striking a jaunty pose even as the urine rained down. “If you come a little closer, I’d be happy to give you a better peek.”

Mary’s heart scrambled against her ribs. She might be a naive thing, fresh from the country, and she might now be regretting her presumption that it was permissible to read a book in a London garden in her bare feet, but she wasn’t so unworldly that she didn’t know this one pertinent fact: she was not—under any circumstances—coming a little closer.

Or getting a better peek.

Mortified, she wrapped her arms about her middle. “I . . .that is . . . couldn’t you manage to hold it?” she somehow choked out. There. She’d managed a phrase, and it was a properly scathing one, too. As good as any of her books’ heroines might have done.

A grin spread across his face. Much like the puddle at the base of the rosebush. “Well, luv, the thing is, I’m thinking I’d rather let you hold it.” The stream trickled to a stop, though he added a few more drips for good measure. He shook himself off and began to button his trousers. “But alas, it seems you’ve waited too long for the pleasure.” He tipped a finger to the brim of his top hat in a sort of salute. “My friend awaits. Perhaps another time?”

Mary gasped. Or rather, she squeaked.

She could manage little else.

He chuckled. “It seems I’ve got a shy little mouse on my hands. Well, squeak squeak, run along then.” He set off down the street, swaying a bit. “But I’ll leave you with a word of advice, Miss Mouse,” he tossed back over one shoulder. “You’re a right tempting sight, standing there in your unutterables. But you might want to wear shoes the next time you ogle a gentleman’s prick. Never know when you’ll need to run.”

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Avon, September 27, 2016

Time and Setting: England, 1858
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

A few years ago, I read and loved Jennifer McQuiston’s debut, What Happens in Scotland. It was an original and well-written page turner and, since then, she has consistently contributed to the historical romance genre with interconnected novels (and a charming novella) set in early Victorian England.

The Perks of Loving a Scoundrel is the third in her newest series, the Seduction Diaries, featuring the younger brother of Clare (heroine of the first book). Geoffrey Westmore once held much promise and a looked towards a bright future. But his time in the Crimea changed all that as war often does.

Mary Channing is a bookish spinster quietly and contentedly living in Yorkshire when she is summoned to London by her twin sister, Eleanor, to be with her for Eleanor’s final months of pregnancy. Mary is ambivalent because she would much rather stay at home with her books and quiet life but feels she cannot refuse because it is her beloved sister. But, as Mary notes in the very first entry in her diary, she’s also afraid to see Eleanor’s fulfilling life, with her anticipated child and her loving husband, a life she secretly longs for but assumes will never ever be hers.

The novel is interspersed with diary entries that Mary faithfully writes every chance she gets. On her very first morning in London, however, when she has just discovered a lovely patch of garden where she might spend her quiet morning in blissful solitude, she is rudely interrupted by a drunken stranger urinating on her sister’s flowers! This reader admits to feeling every bit as shocked as Mary but I do appreciate the authenticity and realism that Ms. McQuiston introduces in her colorful and very human stories. The odors of London (with its polluted Thames) opens the story and Mary’s first day in the city along with the urinating stranger who turns out to be our hero, Mr. Geoffrey Westmore.

It seems to me to be a bit of a new trend in historical romance – at least the ones I’m reading lately – that historical romance now add a dash of mystery to the love story. Juliana Gray did it in her most recent novella (The Duke of Olympia Meets His Match) and Ms. McQuiston does it here with the hero and heroine accidentally overhearing a plot to assassinate the Queen Victoria when they are caught in a library together and sharing several stolen and passionate kisses.

Geoffrey was once a happy-go-lucky young man, fond of pranks and with an ambition to study architecture. But his dreams crashed down during the war in the Crimea and he has tried to forget it by becoming an irresponsible wastrel, much to the dismay of his loving and loyal valet, Wilson. Wilson is a character who is extremely familiar and informal toward Geoffrey – he still calls him “Master Geoffrey” for example – and also admonishes his disgusting habits and lifestyle. This is not something most servants would ever do so either Ms. McQuiston took some liberties here or there possibly may have been some servants who were almost like family.

Geoffrey spends his days sleeping off his long nights of drinking and whoring with his best friend, Grant, with whom he also experienced the horrors of war. Both are troubled young men and this is the part of the story that didn’t quite work for me. Geoffrey’s turnabout in the face of being caught with Mary seems much too fast. I can kind of see how his loving and close family may have some influence on him – he doesn’t want them to be ashamed of him – but it’s hard to believe that an uptight and proper spinster would be the impetus for his sudden volte face.

Mary has her own melancholy past with great loss and grief that has made her afraid to experience life; she’d much rather read about the world and adventures in books. Her time in London is her one chance to break out of her shell but, until she overhears the scheme with Geoffrey, she isn’t motivated enough to make her life better. When she meets Geoffrey, she is attracted to him but I don’t quite feel the sparks and sexual tension between them. It feels more like Mary is desperate for a change and it’s an opportunity for Geoffrey to reform.

In stereotypical male fashion, however, Geoffrey doesn’t want Mary’s help in uncovering the traitors conspiring to murder the queen even though she has some pretty darn good ideas. But he discovers he likes her determination and willfulness – even if it drives him nuts – and she eventually becomes attractive to him. For her part, Mary is simultaneously attracted to and shocked by Geoffrey’s colorful past, something a good girl has no experience with. I guess you could say opposites attract.

Eventually, Geoffrey begins to question his dissolute life while Mary contemplates her boring one as they work together to uncover truth about the assassination plot. The mystery part of the story is engaging and lively and the ultimate villain is a surprise. I like the unexpected and unique plot twists that Ms. McQuiston creates.

But what I like best about this book – and the entire series – is the strong sense of family that is depicted realistically and lovingly. I did not read the second book in the series but I don’t think you need to read them in order to appreciate and follow the thread of the novels.

I enjoy Ms. McQuiston’s writing style; it flows nicely, her plots are fresh and imaginative, and her characters rich and likable. I just didn’t quite believe what seemed like Geoffrey’s speedy transformation from debauched aristocrat to devoted husband.

If you enjoy heroes and heroines working together to solve a mystery as they fall in love, you will like this story.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

jen-highres-90218417464A veterinarian and infectious disease researcher by training, Jennifer McQuiston has always preferred reading romance to scientific textbooks. She resides in Atlanta, Georgia, with her husband, their two girls, and an odd assortment of pets, including the pony she promised her children if mommy ever got a book deal.

You can connect with Jennifer at: her website * ~ * Twitter * ~ * Facebook.

You Can’t Always Get the Marquess You Want (Masters of Seduction #2) by Alexandra Hawkins

you can't always get

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A MOST FORBIDDEN LOVE

They call him Chance, though in truth the Marquess of Fairlamb feels bitterly cursed: A long-ago family feud is still standing in the way of his heart’s desire. Lady Tempest is the daughter of his father’s sworn enemy, the Marquess of Norgrave. She is beautiful, innocent, and utterly untouchable. But some seductions are just too good to resist…

Turns out Tempest is a woman of her own mind—and a true romantic who will overcome every obstacle to be with the man of her dreams. But the odds are against handsome, wickedly charming Chance if he intends to win Tempest as his bride. Will he choose loyalty to his family—or risk everything he has for the woman he yearns for?

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Publisher and Release Date: St. Martin’s Paperbacks, April 2016

Time and Setting: Regency England
Genre: Historical romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

The Romeo and Juliet trope is a common one in historical romance and this novel follows the love story of the children of former best friends Blackbern and Norgrave. Their infamous falling out twenty-four years earlier is detailed in the exquisite first book in the series, A Duke but No Gentleman. I had likened that book to Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Choderlos de Laclos in its wit and cunning and downright scandalous behavior. Alas, the second book in Alexandra Hawkins’ new Masters of Seduction series does not quite measure up to either.

Both Norgrave and Blackbern are now fathers of adult children and in London high society, they are bound to eventually meet. They have managed to skillfully avoid each other and their families for many years – even society hostesses know not to invite both to the same soirées – but one hot day in the country, Tempest (Norgrave’s eldest daughter) catches a delicious glimpse of a naked Mathias (Blackbern’s heir) swimming in a pond with his friends. She has no idea who he is until he catches up with her and introduces himself. To his dismay, he realizes she’s the daughter of his father’s enemy and vows to avoid her. But he is hopelessly attracted. And so is she.

From here, the two meet at musicales and balls and then, more often, secretly, though her bombastic older brother Marcroft has threatened Mathias more than once with a duel. But I didn’t quite get the feel of danger and deceit though Tempest and Mathias are definitely playing with fire.

The denouement is a shocker but it seems a bit melodramatic and also, too little, too late. As lovers, Mathias and Tempest are likeable but their relationship isn’t very passionate or fraught with peril. Their naivété in thinking they will never be caught is unrealistic but, more than that, I am not sure I feel the attraction is well portrayed enough to warrant all the perceived drama. Yes, Marcroft is aware of the attraction but all he does is threaten. In other words, all bluff but no bite. The book needs more action to add excitement and tension.

Still, Ms. Hawkins writes very well and her depiction of the intricate dynamics in both families is very well done. I would love to see how the evil Norgrave ended up where is he now after the horrible scandal in A Duke but No Gentleman. That would be the more exciting and intriguing story to read. Perhaps Ms. Hawkins can be enticed to write a novella?

If you enjoy feuding family stories with star-crossed lovers, you might enjoy You Can’t Always Get the Marquess You Want.

VIRTUAL TOUR: Chasing Lady Ameila (Keeping Up With the Cavendishes #2) by Maya Rodale

VT-ChasingLadyAmelia-MRodale_FINAL

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Terribly Improper

Lady Amelia is fed up with being a proper lady and wishes to explore London, so one night she escapes . . . and finds herself in the company of one Alistair Finlay-Jones. He’s been ordered by his uncle to wed one of the American girls. How lucky, then, that one of them stumbles right into his arms!

Totally Scandalous

Alistair and Amelia have one perfect day to explore London, from Astley’s Amphitheater to Vauxhall Gardens. Inevitably they end up falling in love and making love. If anyone finds out, she will be ruined, but he will win everything he’s ever wanted.

Very Romantic

When Amelia finds out Alistair has been ordered to marry her, he must woo her and win back the angry American girl. But with the threat of scandals, plural, looming . . . will he ever catch up to the woman he loves?

EXCERPT

The duchess beamed at her charges, as if they hadn’t been foiling her every effort to marry them off. Amelia began to dread meeting “someone special.”

“I say, Duke,” Lord Nonesuch or whatever began, “do you have an opinion on any of the horses running Ascot?”

The lords always asked James for his opinion on which horse would win a race, so they might win a wager. And then they turned around and made snide remarks about his experience raising and training horses—as if he were beneath them because of this knowledge. Even though he now outranked them.

“I do,” James said, smiling easily.

“Don’t suppose you’d tell a friend who you think will be the winner?” Lord Nansen or Nancy said jovially, with a wink and a nudge.

“I might,” James replied.

This was a conversation he’d had before and Amelia had begged him to do something nefarious, like deliberately suggest a losing horse. But James refused and just smiled like he knew the winner and never said a word.

“I suppose you’re going to build up Durham’s stables,” his lordship said.

“Nansen, he doesn’t have time for horses,” his wife said in that exasperated way of wives. “He must find a bride first.”

The duchess beamed, an I-told-you-so smile.

Then Lady Nansen turned and fixed her attentions on Amelia. Her fan was beating at a furious pace.

“And Lady Amelia, have you found any suitors you care for?”

“After having met nearly all of England’s finest young gentlemen, I can honestly say that no, I have not found any suitors that I could care for,” Amelia said. “But I do have a new appreciation for spinsterhood. In fact, I think it sounds like just the thing.”

Just the thing was a bit of slang she had picked up. Sticking forks in her eye was just the thing (but only with the good silver!). Flustering old matrons with an honest and direct statement was just the thing.

Lady Nansen stared at her a moment, blinking rapidly as she tried to process what Amelia had just said.

“Well your sister seems to have snared the attentions of Darcy’s younger brother,” she said, evidently disregarding Amelia and focusing on Bridget, the one who cared about fitting in and finding suitors.

“Are Lord Darcy and Mr. Wright here tonight?” Bridge asked eagerly. Too eagerly. “I haven’t seen them.”

“It’s not a party without Darcy,” Amelia quipped.

Darcy spent the majority of every social engagement standing against the wall, glowering at the company, refusing to dance, and begging the question of why he even bothered to attend.

But that was neither here nor there and no one deigned to reply to Amelia, so she sighed and lamented her choice in footwear quietly to herself. When Lord and Lady Nansen took their leave and sauntered off, the duchess turned and fixed her cool, blue eyes on Amelia.

“You might endeavor to be a touch more gracious, Lady Amelia.”

The Duchess always said everything in perfectly worded, excruciatingly polite phrases. Translation: Lord above, Amelia, stop acting like a brat.

“I’m just . . . bored.”

And homesick. And unhappy. And dreading the future you have planned for me. And a dozen other feelings one does not mention when one is at a ball.

“Bored?” The duchess arched her brows. “How on earth can you be bored by all this?” She waved her hand elegantly, to indicate everything surrounding them. “Is all the splendor, music, and the company of the best families in the best country not enough for you? I cannot imagine that you had such elegance and luxuries in the provinces.”

Everyone here still referred to her home country as the provinces, or the colonies, or as the remote American backwater plagued by heathens, when Amelia knew that it was a beautiful country full of forthright, spirited people.

It was her true home.

They operated under the impression that there was no greater fun to be had than getting overdressed and gossiping with the same old people each night, in crowded ballrooms in a crowded city.

She missed summer nights back home on their farm in Maryland, when she would slip outside at night with a blanket, to look up at the vast, endless expanse of stars.

This, no matter what the duchess said, just did not compare.

Amelia shrugged.

“We already met half these people at the six other balls we have attended this week,” she said. “The other half are crashing bores.”

Crashing bores was a phrase Amelia had read in the gossip columns. The violence of it appealed to her.

“I suppose it would be too much to ask you to pretend to act like an interested and engaging young lady.” Then, turning to Lady Bridget, the duchess said, “I daresay she couldn’t.”

With that, the duchess turned away.

She turned away, leaving the words hanging in the air, floating to the ground, just waiting for Amelia to pounce on them.

“Well that was a challenge,” Claire said.

“I’m not certain she could manage it.” Bridget sniffed.

Really? Really?

“Is that a dare?” Amelia asked, straightening up. Oh, she would pretend all right. She would pretend so well they’d all be shocked. It would give her something to do at least. “Because I will take that dare.”

“I’d like to see you try,” Bridget replied. Then, muttering under her breath she added, “For once.”

Amelia reddened. Admittedly she hadn’t been taking this whole sister-of-the-duke business seriously. But she would show them. So instead of sticking her tongue out and scowling at Bridget, Amelia stuck her nose right up in the air and turned away.

OUR REVIEW

Publisher and Release Date: Avon, July 2016

Time and Setting: London, 1824
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

This novel has the usual sparkling wit, tongue-in-cheek humor, and capital letters for dramatizing amusing situations that have become Maya Rodale’s signature stamp on historical romance. If you’re a historical romance purist, however, her liberties with language may be off putting. But if you want to laugh out loud, then she’s the writer for you! I personally am impressed and pleased when an author can make me genuinely laugh but not when it’s trying too hard, and Ms. Rodale succeeds with me.

The trope of the one-day love story is used well here, however unrealistic it may be. Shana Galen did it in The Rogue You Know and Jennifer McQuiston in What Happens in Scotland, for example. And it’s a challenge to write enough action, movement in plot, and emotional depth to convince the reader without boring them to death with too much detail, but Ms. Rodale does it astutely.

Amelia Cavendish is the stereotypical American in England, with her wild and carefree ways, her impatience, and her intolerance for conforming to society’s high standards as befits the sister of a duke. Imagine, however, how homesick she must be. To go from the rural freedom of Maryland, where she could ride astride, traipse around barefoot, and speak her mind, to being molded into the perfect aristocratic debutante has to be a shock. She retains her spirit and bravely (or recklessly?) pursues her dreams with abandon. In one incident, she removes her very uncomfortable shoes at a ball, not thinking she will be asked to dance, and she throws a fit after the ball as she loses her temper among the solitude of her close family.

Alistair Finlay-Jones — I love these hyphenated British surnames, they add a little class and wit to mock the stiff upper lip English ways — is the quintessential nice guy who, incorrectly, is described as a rake. A rake is defined as “a dissolute person” according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, which Alastair is not. He’s actually a very lonely and bored heir to a baronetcy who longs for an intimate family life and the acceptance he has never had. He also wants to get back into good graces with his stern uncle, his only family, and the man who took him in when he was eight. In Amelia, he sees his golden opportunity to win a beautiful wife as well as join her close and loving family.

But, of course, there has to be a snag. Through his uncle, who has summoned him home from his extended six year Grand Tour, he learns he is commanded to woo and marry Amelia Cavendish. She and her family are not quite the thing (at least not yet), so his uncle thinks Alistair should strike before the iron gets hot. Too much of a coincidence? Perhaps, but in Ms. Rodale’s skillful hands, it’s done beautifully.

The one improbability I have with this story is that I don’t really comprehend what the big deal is as far as the obstacle to Amelia and Alistair’s happily ever after. The coincidence that she’s the woman his uncle has determined him to marry when he happens to find her stumbling around London one late night, unchaperoned, in a laudanum-induced stupor is just too good to be true. He’s wracked with guilt over not telling her the truth when he sees his chance to woo her while they’re having the time of their lives enjoying the sights of London. It makes some appearances and intrudes on his consciousness during their enjoyable day together, but he pushes it away just as quickly as it appears. He’s falling in love with her spirit and smile. And feeling more and more guilty as the day goes on.

As in the first book in the series, Lady Bridget’s Diary, this series makes several references to Jane Austen’s beloved Pride and Prejudice. The dull and officious cousin Mr. Collins is back as well as the imperious Mr. Darcy who saves the day — as he did poor Lydia in Austen’s novel.

The family dynamics of the Cavendish siblings are nicely depicted and Ms. Rodale portrays this vividly, even giving the very proper Duchess — the Cavendish sibling’s sponsor into ton society — a heart. The romance between Amelia and Alistair is sweet and they are very young and idealistic; their story seems almost adolescent to this forty-something reader. Because, of course, really, can you recognize the love of your life in one day?

Ms. Rodale writes with heart and humor that is intended to make the reader laugh, and she succeeds. Yes, you may have to suspend some disbelief as this is not intended to be a serious historical romance in the least but, rather, a perfect lighthearted beach read. I look forward to the last book in the series (the intellectual Claire’s story) next.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

MayaRodale (photo credit Paul Brissman)
Maya Rodale began reading romance novels in college at her mother’s insistence and it wasn’t long before she was writing her own. Maya is now the author of multiple Regency historical romances. She lives in New York City with her darling dog and a rogue of her own.

You can connect with Maya at: www.mayarodale.com * ~ * Facebook * ~ * Twitter * ~ * Goodreads

An Exquisite Marriage (Regency Makeover #3) by Darcie Wilde

an exquisite marriage

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Everyone knows Helene Fitzgerald will never marry. She and her wallflower friends may be on the rise socially, but Helene is still nothing but a sharp-tongued bluestocking who very publicly renounced her only marriage offer. Worse, her family is in serious financial trouble. So, how is Helene suddenly attracting the eye of Marcus Endicott, the Duke of Windford and one of England’s most eligible aristocrats?

Trapped by his father’s long legacy of mistakes, Marcus never thought he’d find a woman he’d want enough to risk his heart. But what began as a contentious friendship has transformed into a passion beyond anything he dreamed possible. Now, Marcus’s old secrets are threatening to destroy everything Helene and her friends have worked for. Can any passion be strong enough to carry Helene and Marcus away from their pasts?

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Publisher and Release Date: Intermix, May 2016

Time and Setting: London, 1817
Genre: Historical romance novella
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 3.5 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

This the final novella in Darcie Wilde’s Regency Makeover series and features the most admirable of all the heroines. Three debutante wallflowers seek acceptance in London high society by re-making themselves both socially as well as fashionably. Along the way, Adele, Madeline, and Helene become good friends and make love matches all under the sponsorship and limited supervision of Deborah Sewell, a lady novelist with a mysterious air who lives alone. The first two novellas had open-ended conclusions that read like serials while this one ties up all the loose ends.

Helene Fitzgerald is the strongest of the three young women. She’s smart, assertive, and has a backbone, yet Ms. Wilde also manages to show her vulnerability. She isn’t afraid to speak her mind or show her intelligence. She publicly broke off a high profile engagement in a scandalous scene that has pretty much blackballed her in the eyes of society. And if that wasn’t enough counting against her, there is also her family’s extremely reduced circumstances.

Ms. Wilde writes well and she pays attention to several historical details; however, the ending is a little too neat and twee. In fact, my only issue with this entire series is the rather caricaturish portrayal of secondary characters who get in the way of the heroines’ success; and in all three circumstances, it’s their families. As a result, the stories sometime come across as overly dramatic and unrealistic. If this doesn’t bother you, you could say they have an almost fairytale-like quality.

Marcus, the Duke of Windford, makes a very worthy hero. He has successfully revived his title and brought it back to sound financial footing as well as rectified the repercussions of his father’s mistakes. But the dukedom is his entire life and all that he knows. Ms. Wilde creates an exciting and well-developed banter between Marcus and Helene that realistically depicts their growing romantic relationship. I especially like how Helene offers up an alternative path for Marcus and challenges him to dare to pursue it.

The secondary storyline about Marcus’ young protégé is a touching subplot that mirrors Marcus’ own self-discovery and purpose. But the conflict that threatens Helene and Marcus’ relationship is a little strained, predictable, and melodramatic.

I have read the entire series and I still think Ms. Wilde should write the story of Deborah Sewell who, in this novella, takes almost a backseat to the forceful and determined Helene. If you like stories about quiet heroines overcoming adversity, you will enjoy this story and this series.

The Duke of Olympia Meets His Match by Juliana Gray

the duke of olympia meets his matc

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

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

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

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Publisher and Release Date: Intermix, May 2016

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

Review by Maria Almaguer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Stepsister's Triumph

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

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

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

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Publisher and Release Date: Intermix, April 19, 2016

RHR Classifications:

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

Review by Maria Almaguer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luck is No Lady by Amy Sandas

Luck is No Lady

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Gently bred Emma Chadwick always assumed she’d live and die the daughter of a gentleman. But when her father’s death reveals a world of staggering debt and dangerous moneylenders, she must risk her good name and put her talent for mathematics to use, taking a position as bookkeeper at London’s most notorious gambling hell. Surrounded by vice and corruption on all sides, it is imperative no one discovers Emma’s shameful secret or her reputation-and her life-will be ruined.

But Roderick Bentley, the hell’s sinfully wealthy owner, awakens a hunger Emma cannot deny. Drawn deep into an underworld of high stakes gambling and reckless overindulgence, she soon discovers that in order to win the love of a ruthless scoundrel, she will have to play the game…and give in to the pleasure of falling from grace.

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Publisher and Release Date: Sourcebooks Casablanca, April 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Regency London
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

The theme of the strong and capable woman who doggedly shoulders the world without help from anyone (but who also secretly longs to let go and be taken care of sometimes) is a common one in historical romance. But in Luck is No Lady, Amy Sandas creates an engaging and beautifully written Regency era romance that is original, fresh, and quietly introspective.

Emma Chadwick is the devoted and protective eldest sister of three, helping her two unmarried siblings navigate the intricate expectations of ton society to find a respectable and fortunate spouse. She is very smart, responsible, and thrifty, picking up the pieces of her late, profligate father’s trail of gambling debts after years of caring for her sick mother. She is also sort of a martyr, as she keeps this information from her sisters instead of enlisting their assistance. They are young but they are far from stupid and selfish.

When Emma encounters Roderick Bentley, the charismatic, illegitimate owner of a London gambling hell, in a sexually charged accidental first meet, her world is overturned in many ways that challenge her firm compass and her steadfast heart and reputation.

With his good looks and caring nature, Roderick makes Emma want to be reckless and spontaneous for the first time in her twenty-five years. Indeed, she has spent her entire life caring for others and now dodges a threatening man who is menacingly insistent she repay her father’s debts. Emma wants and needs nothing more than a break from her rigid and exhausting responsibility and duty.

I really like how Emma, though she hears unsavory rumors about Roderick, chooses her own path and decides to follow her own heart as she gets to know the real man behind the reputation. She sees his kindness, his protectiveness and genuine assistance to others first hand, making her fall deeply in love with him.

Ms. Sandas creates two protagonists, neither of whom is what they at first seem to be. Emma circles the ton life of gentility, but desperate circumstances force her to make decisions that, should they be revealed, would be deleterious for her and her family’s reputation. And Roderick, whose bastardy mars him in the eyes of society, owns a very successful and reputable gambling establishment, takes care of his employees and those he cares about.

The love story between Emma and Roderick grows at a leisurely but sizzling pace as they circle their attraction to each other. Their romance feels very adult and deliberate; yes, they are very attracted to each other, but there is also a great respect and admiration between them that is evident on the page.

Amy Sandas first caught my attention last year with her delightful, sparkling, and witty novella, Relentless Lord. Her voice and writing style are clear and readable, and her stories unique and entertaining. She creates likeable, smart, and sympathetic characters, puts them in realistic situations, and the twists and turns feel smooth and natural.

There are some loose and intriguing threads of more stories to come for Emma’s sisters Lily and Portia that (hopefully) will turn into more love stories in this new Fallen Ladies series. And Emma’s enchanting but unobservant chaperone, her aunt Angelique, is a charming older woman who teaches Emma some lessons about life.

If you enjoy an intelligent and grounded heroine and a self-made hero with a kind heart, you will love Luck is No Lady.

The Bride Behind the Curtain (Regency Makeover #1) by Darcie Wilde

the bride behind the curtain
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Even wallflowers find a way to bloom…

Adele Edmundson has always been considered too plump and too awkward for the fashionable world. But the girl has a discerning eye for fashion, filling notebooks with designs for beautiful dresses. She also has an eye for the dashing son of French expatriates, James Beauclaire. With a little help from her friends, and a talented modiste’s assistant, Adele’s gowns take society by storm and she begins a secret flirtation with James, who finds himself torn between family loyalties and true love. But as all Adele’s impossible dreams begin to come true, can she resist the temptations of a world suddenly throwing itself at her feet?

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Publisher and Release Date: Intermix, March 2016

RHR Classifications:

Time and Setting: Regency London
Genre: Historical romance novella
Heat Level: 1.5
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

James Beauclaire is a dashing young Frenchman trying to make a respectable living in England after his prominent and wealthy family lost everything in the Revolution. The problem is his father’s irresponsibility is hurting the family and James is the sole breadwinner trying to keep himself, his sick mother, and his young sister afloat, much less getting ahead himself. As a result, he resorts to gambling to make money quickly, and he also seeks an heiress to wed but, because he is a gentleman and mingles in high society, he cannot let on and must conceal his desperate need for money. With her hero, James, and his sister, Marie, Ms. Wilde gives the reader a poignant if small glimpse of the struggle faced by French aristocrats shortly after the Revolution.

Lady Adele Edmundson is a shy and, at times, martyr-like wallflower, the slightly overweight and dowdy older sister disparaged by her aunt and bullied by her prettier, younger sister, Patience, and her friends. Darcie Wilde’s portrait of a painfully insecure young woman sometimes creeps toward the miserable and Adele’s turnaround to survivor and expert dress designer is a little unrealistic. Adele’s sister Patience is truly horrible and a bit over the top in her evil attitude toward her sister and I am not quite sure why she is so hateful to her sibling. Their brother, Marcus, is pretty clueless about anything and is not supportive or loving at all. Adele seems quite alone in the world until she meets Deborah Sewell, Helene, and Madelene.

Still, Ms. Wilde writes very well – I loved her historical romance debut, Lord of the Rakes – her pacing keeps the story fresh and engaging, and this is a light-hearted novella with a fun, unique, serial-like presentation.

Adele is one of three wallflowers ignored by society and regularly put down by their nearest and dearest. With the assistance of a scandalous, elegant, and confident lady novelist, Deborah Sewell, who acts as their chaperone, Ms. Wilde’s clever Regency Makeover series documents the trio’s metamorphosis into social successes. At a time when to remain single increased the chances of poverty for a woman, this series creates an original story portraying the travails of the Regency marriage market.

The love story between James and Adele proceeds very quickly, but this is a novella so events must move along at a fast pace. And the secondary characters are interesting as well. Deborah Sewell is an interesting and enigmatic woman of a certain age whose story I would very much like to read.

Note: The Bride Behind the Curtain concludes on a cliffhanger ending with several loose threads. Future stories will feature Adele’s comrades, Helene and Madelene. And perhaps Deborah Sewell?