VIRTUAL TOUR: Duke of Desire (Maiden Lane #12) by Elizabeth Hoyt

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Refined, kind, and intelligent, Lady Iris Jordan finds herself the unlikely target of a diabolical kidnapping.  Her captors are the notoriously evil Lords of Chaos.  When one of the masked-and-nude!-Lords spirits her away to his carriage, she shoots him…only to find she may have been a trifle hasty.


Cynical, scarred, and brooding, Raphael de Chartres, the Duke of Dyemore, has made it his personal mission to infiltrate the Lords of Chaos and destroy them.  Rescuing Lady Jordan was never in his plans.  But now with the Lords out to kill them both, he has but one choice: marry the lady in order to keep her safe.


Much to Raphael’s irritation, Iris insists on being the sort of duchess who involes herself in his life—and bed.  Soon he’s drawn to both to her quick wit and her fiery passion.  But when Iris discovers that Raphael’s past may be even more dangerous than the present, she falters.  Is their love strong enough to withstand not only the Lords of Chaos but also Raphael’s own demons?


Publisher and Release Date: Forever, October 2017

Time and Setting: England, 1742
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Historical Romance
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Em

Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series has had an impressive run, managing to captivate and entertain readers over a dozen uniformly good novels.  More recently, she’s seamlessly merged the long-running Ghost of St. Giles storyline into a new mystery surrounding the secretive and depraved Lords of Chaos.  This group has plagued Maiden Lane heroes and heroines over the last three books, but in the excellent Duke of Desire, the Lords finally get their comeuppance.  Although I’m sad that Duke of Desire represents an end to the series, I’m happy to tell you this last novel is romantic and profoundly moving, and concludes the series on a high note.  A note of caution before I continue:  The Lords of Chaos are a depraved and sadistic lot who regularly host revels in which their masked members rape and abuse men, women and children.  The hero of Duke of Desire is the son of their former leader, and the victimization of children and rape of women drive the narrative in this book.

The story opens in the midst of a revelry hosted by the Lords of Chaos.  They’ve kidnapped and held captive the Duchess of Kyle, and on this evening she’s to be violated and sacrificed as a form of revenge on the group’s hunter and nemesis, Hugh Fitzroy, the Duke of Kyle.  Unfortunately, they’ve kidnapped the wrong woman.

Lady Iris Jordan was returning home from Kyle’s wedding when she was forcibly taken from her carriage.  Bound, dirty and hungry, she’s terrified of the naked men in masks arrayed around her in the firelight, diverted only  after their leader, Dionysus, introduces her as the Duchess of Kyle.  She’s quick to correct him, and then listens as a man wearing a wolf mask approaches Dionysus and claims her for himself.  Her original kidnapper attempts to intervene and keep her for the group, but Dionysus allows the wolf to take her away after promising to kill her when he’s done.  Iris is marched to a carriage and angrily tossed in – but she hasn’t given up on hopes of escape.  She frantically searches under the carriage seats for a weapon and when the wolf returns and reveals himself, she shoots him.

Raphael de Chartres, the Duke of Dyemore, has finally infiltrated the Lords and plans to destroy them for good.  But he had to abruptly change strategy when he recognized the woman bound before him.  Since meeting her at a ball a few short months ago, he hasn’t been able to put Lady Iris Jordan out of his mind.  Claiming her for himself is the only way to save her.

Bleeding and hurt from the bullet wound to his shoulder, Raphael explains to Iris that he was only trying to rescue her, and that when the Lords discover she’s alive, she’ll be in even more danger.  Desperate to protect her and destroy their common enemy, Raphael, in a desperate solution to buy them more time, proposes they marry.  As his wife, he (and his loyal group of bodyguards) can offer Iris protection as he pursues his revenge on the Lords of Chaos.   After arriving home, a clergyman is summoned and before Iris quite knows what’s happening, she’s married.

The revelry, escape and marriage happen in the opening chapters of Duke of Desire, and Ms. Hoyt somehow managed to convince this reader that it all made sense.  It’s a bit insane and frantic, but much like her heroine, Iris, I decided to go with it and you should too.  The marriage provides the means for Ms. Hoyt to unite two souls who belong together.  Raphael is tortured by memories of his father (a former Dionysus), and a childhood trauma that scarred him for life.  He’s powerful, cold and consumed with plans for revenge on the Lords of Chaos, but he’s also deeply attracted to and affected by Iris and he’s determined to keep her close and safe.  Iris was married to an indifferent, older husband and then after his death, she’s lived a quiet life in her older brother’s household.  She’s alarmed by her attraction to her husband – a virtual stranger – but something about him calls to her.  She’s determined to demand more from this second marriage despite its less than auspicious beginning, and she’s unwilling to meekly follow Raphael’s directions.

As the novel unfolds, Raphael continues his attempts to infiltrate and destroy the Lords of Chaos, but Ms. Hoyt wisely focuses her attention on developing Iris and Raphael as individuals, and then as a romantic couple once it’s clear they’ve fallen for each other.  Duke of Desire deals with some heavy subject matter and Raphael’s secrets aren’t your typical romance novel fare – his past is marked by a deeply troubling climatic event, and even after Iris convinces him to reveal his past, he struggles to overcome it.  Though Iris hasn’t ‘suffered’ at quite the same level her husband has, she’s still damaged by her past as the wife of an indifferent husband.  I found the relationship between these two profoundly moving, and the way they inch towards each other – physically and emotionally – satisfying on every level.  Their physical relationship is particularly well done – they have a passionate attraction to each other – and I loved Iris’s willingness to seduce her husband and satisfy her own curiosities about lovemaking.  Raphael is overwhelmed by his attraction to Iris, and his futile attempts to resist her bold attempts to seduce him are priceless.  He can’t resist her, and when he allows himself to give in… it’s sexy and naughty and wonderful.  They’re a terrific match-up and perhaps one of my favorite Maiden Lane pairings.

I won’t spoil who Dionysus is, or reveal how Raphael’s investigation into the Lords of Chaos eventually concludes, except to say the resolution is a bit convoluted, and the final revelation of Dionysus is anticlimactic.  After a three novel build-up, and chapters detailing Dionysus’ machinations against Raphael, I wish Ms. Hoyt had spent a bit more time developing the leader and his backstory.  We know a bit about his awful history – enough to feel some sympathy for what he’s become – but the ending to this MAJOR storyline is rushed and unsatisfying.

While Duke of Desire is ostensibly about Raphael’s efforts to destroy the Lords of Chaos, it’s the redemptive love affair – passionate, tender and perfect – forged in a desperate attempt to thwart the depraved Lords of Chaos, that, quite rightly, takes centre stage.  It  shouldn’t work – but it does.  He’s damaged, she’s determined, and though the premise of their marriage seems ludicrous, Ms. Hoyt capably navigates their tricky road to happily ever after.


Desperately she flung herself at the opposite seat and tugged it up. Thrust her hand in.

A pistol.

She cocked it, desperately praying that it was loaded.

She turned and aimed it at the door to the carriage just as the door swung open.

The Wolf loomed in the doorway—still nude—a lantern in one hand. She saw the eyes behind the mask flick to the pistol she held between her bound hands. He turned his head and said something in an incomprehensible language to someone outside.

Iris felt her breath sawing in and out of her chest.

He climbed into the carriage and closed the door, completely ignoring her and the pistol pointed at him. The Wolf hung the lantern on a hook and sat on the seat across from her.

Finally he glanced at her. “Put that down.”

His voice was calm. Quiet.

With just a hint of menace.

She backed into the opposite corner, as far away from him as possible, holding the pistol up. Level with his chest. Her heart was pounding so hard it nearly deafened her. “No.”

The carriage jolted into motion, making her stumble before she caught herself.

“T-tell them to stop the carriage,” she said, stuttering with terror despite her resolve. “Let me go now.”

“So that they can rape you to death out there?” He tilted his head to indicate the Lords. “No.”

“At the next village, then.”

“I think not.”

He reached for her and she knew she had no choice.

She shot him.

The blast blew him into the seat and threw her hands up and back, the pistol narrowly missing her nose.

Iris scrambled to her feet. The bullet was gone, but she could still use the pistol as a bludgeon.

The Wolf was sprawled across the seat, blood streaming from a gaping hole in his right shoulder. His mask had been knocked askew on his face.

She reached forward and snatched it off.

And then gasped.

The face that was revealed had once been as beautiful as an angel’s but was now horribly mutilated. A livid red scar ran from just below his hairline on the right side of his face, bisecting the eyebrow, somehow missing the eye itself but gouging a furrow into the lean cheek and catching the edge of his upper lip, making it twist. The scar ended in a missing divot of flesh in the line of the man’s severe jaw. He had inky black hair and, though they were closed now, Iris knew he had emotionless crystal-gray eyes.

She knew because she recognized him.

He was Raphael de Chartres, the Duke of Dyemore, and when she’d danced with him—once—three months ago at a ball, she’d thought he’d looked like Hades.

God of the underworld.

God of the dead.

She had no reason to change her opinion now.

Then he gasped, those frozen crystal eyes opened, and he glared at her. “You idiot woman. I’m trying to save you.”




Elizabeth Hoyt is the New York Times bestselling author of over seventeen lush historical romances including the Maiden Lane series. Publishers Weekly has called her writing “mesmerizing.” She also pens deliciously fun contemporary romances under the name Julia Harper. Elizabeth lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with three untrained dogs, a garden in constant need of weeding, and the long-suffering Mr. Hoyt.

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Looking Back at 2016 – Our Favourite Books of the Year


Amazingly, another year has passed, and it’s time for us all to look back at the books we most enjoyed reading in 2016. Here are some of the books chosen by the RHR team as their favourites of the year; if you’ve read any of them do you agree with our assessment? What are your own personal favourites of 2016? Please stop by and tell us what you read this year that you loved!



I’ve had a pretty good year in terms of books; I’ve read and listened to more than 250 titles this year and have rated the majority of them at 4 stars or higher, which is a pretty good strike rate! That said, choosing favourites is always difficult and they change from day to day. So bearing that in mind, here goes…



A Gentleman’s Position by K.J Charles is the third book in her excellent Society of Gentlemen series, set in the final days of the Regency.  This story takes an in-depth look at the problems inherent in falling in love outside one’s class – as the two protagonists, Lord Richard Vane and his extremely capable valet, David Cyprian struggle to reconcile their feelings for one another with their relative social positions.  The story is compelling, the romance is beautifully written and developed and the sexual chemistry between the principals is absolutely smoking.  This series has without question been one of the best historical romance collections in recent years, and is well worth a few hours of anyone’s time.

Forevermore is the seventh and last book in Kristen Callihan;s wonderful Darkest London series of historical paranormals, and it brings this incredibly inventive series to an action packed and very fitting close.  The author skilfully draws together a number of plotlines sewn in earlier books, a real treat for those of us who have followed the series from the beginning; there’s plenty of action, steamy love scenes, a complex, fast-moving plot, heartbreak, angst … in short, Forevermore delivers all the things that have made all the books in this series such compelling reads.  I’m sorry the series has ended, but it ends on a real high, and I fervently hope that Ms. Callihan might one day return to this fantastical twilight world of shifters, angels, GIMs and demons.

Duke of Sin by Elizabeth Hoyt.  I do love a bad-boy hero, and there’s no denying that Elizabeth Hoyt set herself quite the task when she decided to turn the gorgeous, manipulative, devious and dangerous Valentine Napier, Duke of Montgomery into a romantic hero.  But she does it with aplomb, and without turning Val into a different character in order to effect his redemption.  The sexy game of cat-and-mouse played between the completely outrageous duke who thinks nothing of wandering around naked (well, he’s gorgeous, so why should he deprive people of the sight of him?!) and having the most inappropriate conversations with his housekeeper; and said housekeeper who is by no means insensible to Val’s charms, but who is sensible enough to know that he’s trying deliberately to rile her and not to take the bait – is wonderfully developed, and the relationship that emerges is one of surprising equality.  Duke of Sin is a thoroughly enjoyable novel and the eponymous duke is one of the most charismatic characters ever to grace the pages of an historical romance.

A Splendid Defiance by Stella Riley has been one of my favourite historical romances for the past thirty years, so I was delighted when the audiobook version, narrated by the massively talented Alex Wyndham became available just before Christmas.  Set during the English Civil War, the book tells the true story of the small garrison of just over three hundred men who held the Royalist stronghold of Banbury castle in Oxfordshire against an opposing Parliamentary force of almost ten times their number.  Against this superbly presented historical background, Ms. Riley develops an unforgettable romance between cynical, Royalist captain, Justin Ambrose and Abigail Radford, the sister of  a die-hard Puritan.  This is a real treat for anyone who enjoys their historical romance with an emphasis on the historical; the characterisation is superb, the romance is beautifully developed, and the audiobook is performed by one of the best narrators around.  Seriously – don’t miss it.

Jane Steele by Lindsay Faye, narrated by Susie Riddell.  With the tagline – Reader, I murdered him – there’s no question that Jane Steele – the book AND the character – is inspired by Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, and there are a number of key moments and events during this book that relate directly back to the classic novel. But this is ultimately a refreshing and somewhat unusual tale that very quickly takes on a life of its own. Jane is a remarkable and compelling character; a quick-witted survivor who doesn’t take crap from anyone but who nonetheless feels like a woman of her time, and what keeps her the right side of the listeners’ sympathies is that she’s motivated by love and loyalty.  We follow her through her time at school, her subsequent life in London and thence to a position as governess to the ward of Mr. Charles Thornfield, a British, Indian-born ex-army doctor with whom she eventually falls in love.  The writing is fresh and witty and the story is a terrific mixture of gothic romance and detective story featuring a unique protagonist, and I highly recommend the audiobook, as the narration by Susie Riddell is very good indeed.

Heather C.

The Duke of Deception by Darcy Burke – I loved the secrets being kept between the hero and heroine and how that pushed the story forward.  They weren’t simply a complication to tangle over.

The Daredevil Snared by Stephanie Laurens- This is the third book in the series and the best so far in my opinion. It isn’t often I say that!  There is less mystery than in the previous books and more action/adventure – with dire consequences.

A Gentleman’s Guide to Scandal by Kathleen Kimmel. The best romance I have read this year.  The romance felt so real and hot, the characters were infuriating (in the best way), and the story forced the heroine WAY out of her comfort zone! Made me immediately pick up the other books in the series.

Jenny Q

Forevermore by Kristen Callihan

I have been a big fan of the Darkest London series from the very beginning, and while I am sad to see it come to an end, Forevermore is one heck of a satisfying conclusion. If you’re a fan of historical paranormals, or if you’ve never read one and want to give the genre a shot, this series, (along with Bec McMaster’s London Steampunk series), is a great place to start. It’s a complicated world of elementals, werewolves, demons, spirits, and fae, and revolves around the Society for the Suppression of Supernaturals, tasked with managing them all. Forevermore gives readers pretty much everything we want in a series finale. I love how this story brought some threads back together from previous books and showed how everything that has happened to our favorite characters was set in motion and why. It was really cool how Kristen Callihan sort of brought everything full circle, not just for the story world but for some of the characters. The ending made me cry, and the epilogue made me smile. Forevermore is a riveting tale from beginning to end, and a worthy, powerful, and emotional conclusion to an outstanding series.

Rivals of Versailles by Sally Christie

Sally Christie’s debut novel, The Sisters of Versailles, about a family of five sisters, four of whom became mistresses of Louis XV, made my list of best books of 2015, and so I was anxiously awaiting my chance to read the sequel, The Rivals of Versailles. It picks up right where we left off, only now the story is being told by Jeanne Poisson, the young and beautiful commoner who will become known to history as the unparalleled Madame de Pompadour. Quickly rising from humble roots, she immerses herself in lessons and becomes the most elegant and cultured woman at Versailles, a patron of the arts and architecture, and a politically savvy negotiator, guiding Louis through two decades of wars and diplomatic relations. I highly recommend this series for lovers of French history and readers who love to read about real women who make their mark on the world against all odds. This book is so complex in its many layers and in its lush depictions of court life in all its beautiful ugliness that I don’t feel my review can do it justice. I can’t wait to see how Sally Christie will bring this chapter in French history and the glory days of Versailles to an end in the final book, The Enemies of Versailles.

Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War by Heather Webb, Hazel Gaynor, Beatriz Williams, Jennifer Robson, Jessica Brockmole, Kate Kerrigan, Evangeline Holland, and Lauren Willig

This is an excellent collection of short stories by nine talented historical fiction authors. While the stories are not interconnected, they do all share a common theme, the Armistice that ended World War I, and these stories really capture the conflicting emotions that the end of the war brings. Of course, there is joy and celebration but also a sense of uncertainty. Is it really over? What comes next? What do we do now? What was it all for? How do we go on as before when none of us will ever be the same? The stories are wonderfully varied, giving the reader a glimpse into different aspects of the war and life on the home front in Britain, Belgium, and France. All nine stories are good. There’s not a weak offering among them, though some did resonate with me more than others. All for the Love of You by Jennifer Robson, Something Worth Landing For by Jessica Brockmole, and Hush by Hazel Gaynor stand out as my favorites. These stories of love and war are beautifully written, encompassing the entire range of emotions and shades of humanity, and will stay with you long after you’ve finished reading them.

Lady Cicely

Wicked Highland Wishes by Julie Johnstone

Julie Johnstone has written a riveting tale of love, the desire to do what’s right and throws in some curve balls I didn’t see coming all to great effect.  Bridgette is a strong heroine who goes through ordeals that would truly break a lesser woman.  I bawled at what she goes through then bawled some more as she comes out even stronger.  And Lachlan?  I wasn’t prepared to fall hopelessly in love with this hero!  His adoration, love and patience is what true heroes are made of.

This is one of those rare stories that will sit with you long after you have read it.

Rebel Warrior by Regan Walker

Ms. Walker hits the ground running with this tale of love among war, politics, and betrayal. Her ability to infuse history into her tales without overwhelming the reader is a wonderful talent to have.  Rebel Warrior is an engaging tale that will have the reader thinking they have it figured out only to have the hero and heroine be given a story hiccup and the reader thinking “now I’m not sure” which only fuels the reader’s desire to find out what happens next.

Rescued by a Lady’s Love by Christi Caldwell

Christi Caldwell takes a slight departure from her usual writing style by going a little over to the dark side.  This little trip is a heart wrenching tale of two people who have every right to hate the world and the circumstances that have forced them into that world.  While keeping with the description of the Duke of Blackthorne from previous stories Ms. Caldwell slowly peels the layers back revealing how and why he is the way he is.  She makes the reader feel every ounce of pain and self-loathing both characters suffer and at the same time giving hope that there may be light at the end of the tunnel.

Blythe: Schemes Gone Amiss by Collette Cameron

Another hit by the extremely talented Collette Cameron that will have you laughing & crying all at the same time. Her wit combined with the strength of her characters will draw you in and not let you go.  Looking forward to her next installment to see which Culpepper Miss has me laughing out loud.

Lady Wesley

My favorite reads of 2016 include some old best-loved romance writers and a new-to-me author of mystery/romance stories.

After a fairly ‘meh’ first book in The Ravenels series, Lisa Kleypas got her groove back with Marrying Winterbourne. Rhys Winterbourne joins the ranks of Derek Craven (Dreaming of You) and Lord St. Vincent (Devil in Winter) as one of her most memorable and enticing heroes. I listened to the audio version narrated by Mary Jane Wells, who gets 10+ stars for her performance. Her Rhys Winterbourne is simply the sexiest, swoonworthiest hero I’ve ever heard from a female narrator, and I’m reliably informed that her Welsh accent is excellent. (It is – Ed.)

Once Upon a Dream was a triple delight for me. Two of my favorite authors: Mary Balogh and Grace Burrowes. One of my favorite settings: country house parties. My favorite duke – the Duke of All Dukes: Wulfric Bedwyn, Duke of Bewcastle. No way was I not going to like these two novellas. Balogh’s story takes us back Bedwyn World, a place that I came to love when reading her Slightly and Simply series. Our heroine, Miss Eleanor Thompson, played a secondary role in Slightly Dangerous, when her sister Christine married the top-lofty Duke. Eleanor appeared again in Simply Perfect, when Claudia Martin married the Marquess of Attingsborough, and Eleanor took over Claudia’s role as headmistress of a girls’ school in Bath. It was great fun to see this forty-year-old lady get her HEA. Burrowes gives us a widowed father of young boys who play matchmaker for their father and the daughter of an immensely wealthy cit. As usual, Burrowes excels at writing adorable yet realistically mischievous and exasperating children.

Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby series of four novels and one novella – each of them first-rate – features Keira Darby and Sebastian Gage. Now comes the fifth novel in the series, As Death Draws Near, and I believe it is the best yet. Keira and Gage interrupt their honeymoon to investigate the murder of a nun at a convent in Ireland. Although the mystery drives the plot, this book is also a strongly character-driven love story. It is absolutely lovely to watch Keira and Gage navigate through the early days of their marriage. Keira has grown since we met her in The Anatomist’s Wife, but she still harbors insecurities relating to her unhappy first marriage, the notoriety resulting from her work, and her rejection by society. As for Sebastian Gage, he remains handsome, stalwart, and devoted to Keira. His character is not as inclined to introspection as hers, but we do see him trying to navigate, not always successfully, between being Kiera’s husband and being her partner in investigation. Anna Lee Huber is a supremely talented author, and these books are complex, impeccably plotted, and clearly well-researched.


Duke of My Heart by Kelly Bowen

The idea of a Regency era “Fixer” who is both a peer and a woman shouldn’t have worked as well as it does. Kelly Bowen allows readers to quickly forget the implausibility of her storyline by engaging us with two highly intelligent characters who match wits, clash over control and somehow fall in love while searching for a kidnapped woman. It’s very easy to get wrapped up in the investigation underlying all of their interactions but the story works best in the small moments where the heroine Ivory is allowed to be both strong and independent but still have a woman’s heart to be lost to the right partner.

The Hunter by Kerrigan Byrne

I didn’t believe that Kerrigan Byrne could create a darker and more tortured hero than she did in last year’s The Highwayman but somehow she turned a sociopath into a man to fall in love with. The emotional walls Christopher Argent has erected to protect himself slowly crumble when he interacts with his target Millie LeCour and he begins to see the value of living through her eyes. Mille has her own problems to overcome but the brilliance of her character is that she meets her challenges with courage and never lets them damage her spirit. The mix of his dark soul to her inner light makes their relationship all the more intense. Twists in the story show a reader that sometimes true evil can hide behind the friendliest of faces while true love can heal over scars built from a lifetime of pain.

To Lure a Proper Lady by Ashlyn Macnamara

This book introduced me to one of my favorite characters of the year. Dysart starts off as a snarky Bow Street Runner full of contempt for the nobility but is slowly revealed to be a principled and honorable man. This story also had one of the best romantic partnerships with Dysart and his heroine Lizzie investigating the suspicious illness of her father along with other problems around the estate. I was reminded of the TV show Castle and the partnership of Castle/Beckett in how well Dysart and Lizzie work together but also tease and dance around their intense sexual chemistry. Dysart’s cleverness and dry wit alone make this book a keeper and the romance he finds with Lizzie made it all the more enjoyable.

Do You Want to Start a Scandal by Tessa Dare

In a year full of drama Tessa Dare delivers a romantic-comedy that merges two separate series into a satisfying conclusion for them both. It’s a meeting of opposites when a buttoned-up former spy tangles with a spirited woman to solve a whodunit and save their reputations. Seeing the long suffering Charlotte Highwood all grown up and finding her match was so much fun! The lighter tone of the storyline allows for outrageously humorous moments such as a regency sex-ed discussion full of modern iconography, a child detective on the trail of a “murderer” and a completely garbled declaration of love. There are serious moments too but they never detract from the pure entertainment value of the book.

Unmasking Miss Appleby by Emily Larkin

This was the surprise hit of 2016 for me. Emily Larkin mixes Historical and Paranormal elements into a book that never skimps on characters to sell the fantasy. Pushing the limits of the “woman in pants” storyline by adding the quirk of magic, the title character Charlotte Appleby experiences life for a few weeks as a woman embracing her sexuality and as a man understanding friendship and cameraderie. Charlotte’s physical transformation rather than just a disguise adds a subtext (perhaps inadvertently) about the nature of attraction and of gender being something intrinsic to the person rather than how they look on the outside. I loved seeing Charlotte discover that magic comes in many forms, from the supernatural kind to the type that sparks between people perfect for each other.


There was never any doubt that a Stella Riley novel would feature in my ‘best of books published in 2016’ but which to choose? It was extremely difficult as she has had four audio books and one print published this year. In the end I settled on the long awaited Lords of Misrule, the fourth in her Civil War series. And my reason? It’s simply fabulous – a great feast of a book combining what I love best, terrifically researched historical content and a subtle but beautifully developed romance.

Lucinda Brant will always have a place on any ‘best of’ list of mine if she’s had something published within the year. This time she has brought together her fabulous Salt Hendon books in a boxed set in both a print version AND an audio version with the stupendously talented Alex Wyndham narrating it. With both being published within 2016 I’ve had the loveliest of times both reading and listening, and being transported back in time to Ms. Brant’s knowledgeably written and extensively researched, opulent and exciting Georgian world.

One of the queens of historical romance began a new series this year and in her usual understated, subtle manner, Mary Balogh has hooked me in. Someone to Love is an original and fascinating start to her new series and I was thrilled to not only read it but but also to have the pleasure of discussing the characters personally with Ms. Balogh at the Historical Romance Retreat. This author doesn’t need to rely on complicated plot lines to sell her books – her strengths lie in her years of writing and life experience which I feel always comes across, and I love everything she produces.

One of my greatest reading pleasures has always been historical fiction and in particular books about the Plantagenets. There are no historical fiction writers whom I enjoy more than Elizabeth Chadwick and The Autumn Throne, the third and final book in her fascinating Eleanor of Aquitaine series is quite simply superb. Ms.Chadwick’s knowledge of the period and scholarship is mind boggling. All of her books are eloquently written, with exceptional attention to detail, but this series in particular really struck a chord with me and I finished it with a thirst to learn as much as I could about this fascinating historical character.

My final choice is a bit of a departure for me. K.J Charles is a new-to-me author in 2016 and was recommended by a respected reviewer friend. M/M historical romance is not something I had ever considered trying, nor to be honest, even knew existed. But I’m so glad I gave this author a try because I loved her Society of Gentlemen series and in particular, A Gentleman’s Position. This is such a clever story, taking place at a time when gentlemen could be executed for their predilections. But this story is about so much more than that, and the way the author develops the plot and brings it all to a satisfactory and plausible conclusion is very skilful. The love between her characters is tender and believable and the historical content is in-depth, real and fascinating.

All books in this list are linked to Amazon, so click to find out more!


Duke of Pleasure (Maiden Lane #11) by Elizabeth Hoyt


Purchase Now from Amazon.


Bold. Brave. Brutally handsome. Hugh Fitzroy, the Duke of Kyle, is the king’s secret weapon. Sent to defeat the notorious Lords of Chaos, he is ambushed in a London alley-and rescued by an unlikely ally: a masked stranger with the unmistakable curves of a woman.


Cocky. Clever. Courageously independent. Alf has survived on the perilous streets of St. Giles by disguising her sex. By day she is a boy, dealing in information and secrets. By night she’s the notorious Ghost of St. Giles, a masked vigilante. But as she saves Hugh from assassins, she finds herself succumbing to temptation . . .


When Hugh hires Alf to investigate the Lords of Chaos, her worlds collide. Once Hugh realizes that the boy and the Ghost are the same, will Alf find the courage to become the woman she needs to be-before the Lords of Chaos destroy them both?


Publisher and Release Date: Forever, November 2016

Time and Setting: London, 1742
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Wendy

It’s difficult to believe that Elizabeth Hoyt has managed to keep interest in this series alive for so long, with readers continuing to eagerly await each new book. And surprisingly – because this has not always been my experience with other long running series – the stories seems to be getting stronger. I really enjoyed Duke of Pleasure, and in fact I think it is my favourite so far.

I loved the main protagonists – Hugh Fitzroy, Duke of Kyle is a charismatic, gorgeous man although perhaps Duke of Pleasure is an inappropriate moniker because he is actually quite a vulnerable and serious man. His main concern is to win the love and trust of his motherless sons but he has also been tasked, by his father King George II, with bringing down the Lords of Chaos. This secret society of depraved aristocrats is an evil force to be reckoned with, and as well as their nefarious activities, they wield immense power within the upper echelons of society. Then there’s Alf – street urchin/information dealer/gatherer by day, Ghost of St.Giles by night. Normally the trope of a girl passing herself off as a boy does not appeal to me but Elizabeth Hoyt pulls it off admirably here, and I adored the cheeky, cocky, girl/boy character who was tempted to kiss her duke.

Hugh had left England for the continent after his marriage – which had started out as a passionate love match – fizzled out, to be replaced by a soul destroying hatred, with fierce rows and his wife’s perfidy driving them apart. He left in order to preserve his sanity and only returns when he hears of his wife’s death and in order to comfort the small sons who barely remember him and are hurting and grieving for their mother. He has returned an embittered man, vowing never to allow love to cloud his judgement again. Mindful of his duty to his little boys, however, he has already chosen his wife’s replacement – that is until a tiny phantom throws a spanner in the works.

Alf, abandoned by her mother at the age of five, has learned to take care of herself. She was fortunate enough to be rescued and cared for in the early days  by the leader of a street gang, who reasoned that she would be more likely to survive if she dressed and acted like a boy. Consequently, this is the only life she has ever really known and now aged twenty-one, her cohorts and people around her in the slums of St Giles know her only as Alf – the boy. She has left the gang, and has an extraordinary talent for climbing and making a quick escape across the rooftops and overcrowded slums where she lives. She has also been taught to fence with much skill and success by a previous – now retired – Ghost of St. Giles, Godric St.John and has regular fencing lessons with him to hone her skills. It is on one of her nightly patrols of the slums as The Ghost that she comes into contact with Hugh Fitzroy who is investigating a lead to the Lords of Chaos and finds himself cornered in the filthy backstreets of St. Giles. She and Hugh fight together and defeat his attackers but before leaving to escape back across the rooftops Alf impulsively kisses Hugh before running off into the night.  He feels an immediate attraction to the lithe, slim body that is undoubtedly a woman beneath the mask and costume, and is confused by the stirring of excitement and interest that he hasn’t felt in a long while. The next day, by coincidence, Hugh sends one of his men to find Alf – the known information dealer – to see if the street boy can find any information on the Lords of Chaos, never guessing that she is the phantom fighter – and kisser – who saved his life.

From then on it is only a matter of time before the ghost and Alf are revealed as the lovely young woman she is beneath the boys trappings and Hugh is in a dilemma. On the one hand he relishes the excitement she stirs in him and which he thought was long gone, but on the other hand he wants peace and security for himself and his boys with the women he has chosen to be his wife.

Elizabeth Hoyt has an immense talent for drawing her readers into the world she has created. She is bold and outrageous, her sexy love scenes earthy but not crude, her storylines well-crafted and intriguing. There seems to be a duke on every street corner and – even more unlikely in this case – one who is seriously attracted to a girl who dresses and acts like a boy during the daytime and runs around in a ridiculous harlequin costume by night, fights like a man and drops her h’s! And yet we believe in these characters, love them, root for them and most of all, want them to be happy. This is the attraction in Ms. Hoyt’s writing – she doesn’t pretend to conform, she’s imaginative, her characters larger than life, compelling and likeable. Duke of Pleasure is a thoroughly enjoyable read with lovely characters and I’m eagerly looking forward to Duke of Desire next year.

VIRTUAL TOUR: Sweetest Scoundrel (Maiden Lane #9) by Elizabeth Hoyt


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Prim, proper, and thrifty, Eve Dinwoody is all business when it comes to protecting her brother’s investment. But when she agrees to control the purse strings of London’s premier pleasure garden, Harte’s Folly, she finds herself butting heads with an infuriating scoundrel who can’t be controlled.


Bawdy and bold, Asa Makepeace doesn’t have time for a penny-pinching prude like Eve. As the garden’s larger-than-life owner, he’s already dealing with self-centered sopranos and temperamental tenors. He’s not about to let an aristocratic woman boss him around . . . no matter how enticing she is.


In spite of her lack of theatrical experience-and her fiery clashes with Asa-Eve is determined to turn Harte’s Folly into a smashing success. But the harder she tries to manage the stubborn rake, the harder it is to ignore his seductive charm and raw magnetism. There’s no denying the smoldering fire between them-and trying to put it out would be the greatest folly of all . . .



“What do you see when you look at me?”

What did she see when she looked at him?

Eve inhaled, trying and failing to tear her gaze from his.

Mr. Harte sprawled across her dainty settee like a Viking marauder in a pillaged Christian church. His broad shoulders took up more than half the width, his arms lazily draped over the back. His scarlet coat was spread open, contrasting with the sedate gray-blue of the cushions almost shockingly. One long leg was thrust straight before him, the other cocked open and resting on a booted heel. The pose made the apex of his thighs very . . . obvious . . . and even as she kept her eyes locked on his she could feel heat rising in her cheeks.

What did she see?

She saw violence and anger, kept under a control that was tenuous at best. She saw power and a strength that could hurt her—kill her—if he so chose. She saw the innate brutality that was, in larger or smaller part, in all men.

She saw her most terrible fears.

But—and this was the truly unprecedented part—she saw more in him. She saw temptation—her temptation—alluring and frightening at the same time, his virility so strong it was nearly a visible miasma in the space between them.

She wanted him. Wanted that brash gaze, those long, muscled thighs, that mocking, insulting mouth, and the shoulders that went on forever, big and brawny and so very, very male.

This was madness—she knew that intellectually. She’d never wanted a man before—was in fact afraid of almost all men, let alone one so obviously, blatantly sexual.

She took a breath, hoping that he couldn’t read all this from her gaze—and knowing it was a lost cause already.

His heavy-lidded green eyes were far, far too perceptive.

“I see . . .” She paused to lick suddenly dry lips. “I see that your hairline is nearly a perfect arc across the expanse of your forehead. That your eyebrows tilt ever so slightly up at the ends and that the right has a scar through it. I see that when you are solemn, the outer edges of your lips reach just to the midpoint of your eyes, but when you smile, they go beyond the corners. I see that your chin and jaw are almost in classical proportion and that a small white scar forms a comma on your chin just to the right of center.” She finally glanced away from him, breathing heavily, certain that she’d not thrown him off the track with her artist’s eye’s impressions. She inhaled again and ended, “I see every line of your face, every line’s intersection and how they relate. That is what I see when I look at you.”

“And is that all you see? Lines?” His voice was deep and amused.

She chanced a peek.

He still watched her, his gaze utterly unperturbed by her observations about his countenance.

No, she’d not fooled him at all.

She licked her lips again, buying time. “I see,” she said carefully, cautiously, “a very self-possessed man.”

Self-possessed,” he drawled. “I’m not sure what that means, frankly. It sounds, just a bit, like a coward’s answer.”

Her gaze flew to his, outraged.

But before she could take him down a peg, he chuckled softly. “Tell me, Miss Dinwoody, would you like to know what I see when I look at you?”

She shouldn’t. She really, really shouldn’t.

“Yes,” she blurted, and then winced because she knew well enough what men
thought when they looked at her: ordinary, if they were charitable. Plain if they were not.

She braced herself for mockery, but when she glanced again at him, his gaze was hot and hard. Certainly not gentle.

Certainly not kind. But he wasn’t dismissing her, either.

He looked at her as if they were equals. As if he really saw her, a woman to his man.

“I see,” he said, his deep voice musing, “a woman afraid, but fighting her fears. A woman who carries herself like a queen. A woman who could rule us all, I suspect.”

She gazed at him, her breath caught in her throat, afraid to exhale and break the spell.

A corner of that wicked mouth tilted up. “And I see a woman who has a deep curiosity. Who wants to feel but is worried—of herself? Of others?” He shook his head. “I’m not sure.” He leaned forward slowly, destroying his pose, and she had to fight herself not to scoot her chair away from him. “But I think she has a fire banked within her. Maybe it’s only embers now, glowing in the dark, but if tinder were to be put to those embers . . .” He grinned slowly. Dangerously. “Oh, what a conflagration that would be.”


Publisher and Release Date: Grand Central Publishing, November 24, 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: London, 1741
Genre: Historical romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

Hoyt_Sweetest Scoundrel_MM Through nine books now, veteran writer Elizabeth Hoyt has created an entertaining, glamorous, and gritty world in her Maiden Lane series set in the St. Giles neighborhood of Georgian era London. Though the books need not be read in order, I feel it adds to the richness of the story, as many past heroes and heroines are mentioned or make cameo appearances.

Readers first met Eve Dinwoody, the illegitimate daughter of a duke, in Dearest Rogue. Eve is the younger sister to Val, the outrageous and immature Duke of Montgomery, a mysterious and enigmatic man who blackmails people for sport. And Eve is the only person who fiercely loves him despite his faults since he saved her from a childhood tragedy and also because he feeds and shelters her.

Eve is very smart and serious. She manages the books for her brother’s many investments and interests while he frequently travels. That’s how she meets Asa Makepeace, the owner and manager of Harte’s Folly, a struggling and magical theatre/pleasure garden in London. It’s her job to make sure that her brother’s money is being spent efficiently and effectively and she clashes with the blatantly virile and shocking Asa.

Mr. Harte sprawled across her dainty settee like a Viking marauder in a pillaged Christian church.

At first, Asa finds Eve shrewish and uptight but she very quickly intrigues him with her contradictory nature of both discipline and her vulnerability in her fear of dogs and of touch.

The juxtaposition of the two – her iron core and her delicate exterior – was oddly fascinating.

Eve is also desperately lonely. She has no friends save her loyal servants. So when Asa literally crowds himself into her life, filling her small world with light, love, and addictive passion, she is overwhelmed, curious and, for the first time, dares to dream of a different future for herself. Above all, Eve realizes this is not a way to live, in constant fear and hiding.

If there was one thing Asa Makepeace knew how to do it was seduce a female. Even one with a poker up her arse.

Asa has long been estranged from his large, religious, and mostly conservative family – many od whose stories have been told in previous Maiden Lane novels. Eve helps Asa to heal the rift and he helps her come out of her shell of reserve and trepidation. The scenes with Asa’s many lively siblings add color, humor, and humanity to an already lovely romance.

Eve is drawn to Asa and wants to experience all the passion he has to offer a woman. Their love scenes are playful, sexy, and daring. He tempts her and makes her want things she never thought she would ever have.

It was lovely to be wanted.

The relationship between Eve and her servants, especially Jean-Marie, her Creole bodyguard, is touching and vivid. Ms. Hoyt brings all her characters to life and, as in all the books in the series, there are hints of another book, this time in the glimpses we are given into the activities of the mysterious Bridget Crumb, the very young and efficient housekeeper to the Duke of Montgomery, as she takes charge of the absent lord’s London townhouse.

Sweetest Scoundrel is a big, bold, and beautiful love story, and one I’m certainly recommending.


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HoytElizabethElizabeth Hoyt is the New York Times bestselling author of over seventeen lush historical romances including the Maiden Lane series. Publishers Weekly has called her writing “mesmerizing.” She also pens deliciously fun contemporary romances under the name Julia Harper. Elizabeth lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with three untrained dogs, a garden in constant need of weeding, and the long-suffering Mr. Hoyt.

The winters in Minnesota have been known to be long and cold and Elizabeth is always thrilled to receive reader mail. You can write to her at: P.O. Box 19495, Minneapolis, MN 55419, email her at: Elizabeth@ElizabethHoyt.com. or find her at:

VIRTUAL TOUR: Dearest Rogue (Maiden Lane #8) by Elizabeth Hoyt


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Lady Phoebe Batten is pretty, vivacious, and yearning for a social life befitting the sister of a powerful duke. But because she is almost completely blind, her overprotective brother insists that she have an armed bodyguard by her side at all times-the very irritating Captain Trevillion.

Captain James Trevillion is proud, brooding, and cursed with a leg injury from his service in the King’s dragoons. Yet he can still shoot and ride like the devil, so watching over the distracting Lady Phoebe should be no problem at all-until she’s targeted by kidnappers.

Caught in a deadly web of deceit, James must risk life and limb to save his charge from the lowest of cads-one who would force Lady Phoebe into a loveless marriage. But while they’re confined to close quarters for her safekeeping, Phoebe begins to see the tender man beneath the soldier’s hard exterior . . . and the possibility of a life-and love-she never imagined possible.



He cleared his throat. “Malcolm MacLeish is young and handsome—”

“A fat lot of good that does me, since I can’t see him.”

“— a gentleman of high spirits and quick wit and seemingly smitten with you as well.”

There was a silence.

“Smitten,” Phoebe said at last. “Smit-ten. The word sounds like a skin disease if you think about it too much.”

“He smiles every time he sees you,” he murmured quietly. Was he jealous?

“I smile every time I smell cherry pie.”

“You’re being ridiculous,” Trevillion said disapprovingly. “I don’t see why you’ve rejected him out of hand.”

“You sound like a querulous old aunt, scolding children for running through the house.”

“I am older than you,” he replied stiffly, “as I’ve pointed out on numerous occasions.”

A terrible thought struck her. “Are you shoving me at Mr. MacLeish because I kissed you?”


“It was my very first kiss, you ought to know,” she said very rapidly, because sometimes it was just better to say the embarrassing thing and get it over with. “I’m sure I’ll improve with practice. In fact, I’m sure of it. Almost everything improves with practice, don’t you think? And really, if I had a just a bit of help from your end next time—”

“I am not kissing you,” he said with the awful finality of a judge pronouncing a death sentence.

“Why not?”

“You know very well why not.”

“Nooo,” she said slowly, thinking it over. “No, I can’t say that I do, really. I mean I know why you think we oughtn’t kiss again: you’re as old as the Thames, you’re below me in rank, I’m too young and frivolous, and you much too serious, et cetera, et cetera, and et cetera, but frankly I don’t have any reasons not to kiss you.” She stopped for breath and to think and amended her statement. “Unless, of course, you’re either (a) a murderer running from the law or (b) hiding a secret wife. Are you?”

“I . . . what?

“Are you,” she repeated patiently, “either a murderer running from the law or hiding a secret wife?”

“You know I’m not,” he said with impatience. It was a good thing she was so stubborn, because that tone might have put off many another young girl. “Phoebe—”

“So then there’s no reason at all not to kiss me again.” She folded her hands in her lap and smiled.


Publisher and Release Date: May 26, 2015 by Grand Central Publishing

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: London and Cornwall, England, 1741
Genre: Georgian Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Lady Wesley

Elizabeth Hoyt’s books just keeps getting better! As I noted in my five-star review of her last book, Darling Beast, she has taken the Maiden Lane series in a new direction, adding characters while keeping the ones we’ve met before. Captain James Trevillion first appeared in Scandalous Desires (Maiden Lane, #3), leading a troop of mounted soldiers hunting for an accused murderer known as the Ghost of St. Giles. He wasn’t a villain exactly, but his strict devotion to duty put him in conflict with the heroes of the earlier books. Trevillion was invalided out of the army when his leg was badly broken after his horse was shot and fell on him. Now, walking with a cane but still able to ride like the devil, he has taken a job guarding Phoebe Batten, the young sister of a former adversary, Maximus Batten, Duke of Wakefield.

Maximus has decreed that Phoebe must have a guard because she is almost completely blind. of Phoebe was not born blind; her sight began deteriorating when she was twelve, and now at age 21, she can detect light but nothing more. The duke is not cruel or ashamed of her; he just wants to protect her from gossip or teasing or injury. And her brother knows that London in 1741 can be dangerous for any lady, even if accompanied by footmen; Trevillion, with his two pistols strapped across his chest, escorts Phoebe everywhere.

Phoebe is sweet, pretty, and charming to everyone – except Trevillion. She detests the restrictions imposed by her brother (although she loves him dearly) and is hostile toward Trevillion as a result (although she has full confidence in his ability to protect her). For his part, Trevillion accepts Phoebe’s enmity stoically while occasionally harboring secret tender feelings toward her. He knows that there can be nothing between a duke’s sister and a commoner.

The first chapter of this book is so cracking good that it could be a case study in how to set up a plot, introduce the main characters, and hook the reader. While Phoebe is shopping on Bond Street, four brutes attempt to kidnap her. Before Phoebe even realizes what is happening, Trevillion has shot two of them, stolen a horse, and is galloping away to safety with Phoebe in front of him. That’s the short, plain version of what happened. Ms. Hoyt’s version gives us the sights, sounds, and smells – especially Phoebe’s experience of the sounds and smells and riding a horse for the first time in years – as well as each character’s innermost thoughts and reactions. She is exhilarated by the experience, and Trevillion is impressed by Phoebe’s heretofore hidden passion.

Circumstances put Phoebe and Trevillion in an unusual position. They frequently are in close proximity, her hand on his arm, and sometimes they are alone, something that never would be allowed under ordinary conditions. There is this tension though, because they don’t like one another, except they sort of do, and it is a joy to watch them grapple with putting aside their preconceptions and get to actually know one another. Repeated kidnapping attempts bring the couple even closer, until finally Trevillion takes drastic action.

I’ve had some trouble writing this review because I don’t want to give away too much of the plot. Suffice it to say that they depart from London, and the enforced nearness and isolation bring Phoebe and Trevillion closer to one another. Each of them discovers the possibility of a whole new life they had never dreamt of before. Phoebe relentlessly assails Trevillion’s grim reserve, and he comes to appreciate her as so much more that just a blind girl. Unlike her brother, Trevillion is willing to let Phoebe try things even though she sometimes falls. It is just a beautiful love story and will melt the your heart and curl your toes.

Can you tell that I fell a little bit in love with Trevillion? To begin with, Elizabeth Hoyt’s Pintererst page features a photograph of Richard Armitage as Trevillion, and he perfectly fits the book’s description. Moreover, for all of his dour demeanor, Trevillion is a man of passion too. I simply adored this passage, which shows us Trevillion’s heart as well as Ms. Hoyt’s talent:

Trevillion watched Phoebe in the sea, the waves lapping about her ankles. She was laughing, her skirts lifted to her knees, her face shining in the sun, and he wished he could paint the scene. Keep it in his memory always.

Somewhere, at some indefinable point, he’d crossed a bridge and the bridge had crumbled behind him. There was no going back. He cared for Lady Phoebe Batten more than anything else in life. More than his family. More than his honor.

More than his freedom, should it come to that.

Bringing her joy was worth more than any amount of money. He knew – without doubt, without fear – that he would kill for her.

That he would die for her.

It was almost a relief, this realization. He might fight intellectually against it, using all those well-worn arguments: he was too old, she was too young, they were too far apart in class, but it simply didn’t matter. His heart had performed a coup d’état over his mind and there was nothing more to be done about it.

He loved Phoebe Batten, now and forevermore.

I have no real criticism of this book. Yes, the kidnapping story is rather convoluted and far-fetched, but that did not detract from my enjoyment At the end, I put it down with a happy smile on my face. In fact, it’s official: Dearest Rogue is now my favorite book in the Maiden Lane series.


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HoytElizabethElizabeth Hoyt is the New York Times bestselling author of over seventeen lush historical romances including the Maiden Lane series. Publishers Weeklyhas called her writing “mesmerizing.” She also pens deliciously fun contemporary romances under the name Julia Harper. Elizabeth lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with three untrained dogs, a garden in constant need of weeding, and the long-suffering Mr. Hoyt.

The winters in Minnesota have been known to be long and cold and Elizabeth is always thrilled to receive reader mail. You can write to her at: P.O. Box 19495, Minneapolis, MN 55419 or email her at:Elizabeth@ElizabethHoyt.com.

You can connect with Elizabeth at: www.elizabethhoyt.com * ~ * ~ * Facebook * ~ * ~ * Twitter * ~ * ~ * Goodreads.

RETRO REVIEW: Scandalous Desires by Elizabeth Hoyt

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Can a pirate learn that the only true treasure lies in a woman’s heart?

Widowed Silence Hollingbrook is impoverished, lovely, and kind—and nine months ago she made a horrible mistake. She went to a river pirate for help in saving her husband and in the process made a bargain that cost her her marriage. That night wounded her so terribly that she hides in the foundling home she helps run with her brother. Except now that same river pirate is back . . . and he’s asking for her help.

“Charming” Mickey O’Connor is the most ruthless river pirate in London. Devastatingly handsome and fearsomely intelligent, he clawed his way up through London’s criminal underworld. Mickey has no use for tender emotions like compassion and love, and he sees people as pawns to be manipulated. And yet he’s never been able to forget the naive captain’s wife who came to him for help—and spent one memorable night in his bed . . . talking.

When his bastard baby girl was dumped in his lap—her mother having died—Mickey couldn’t resist the Machiavellian urge to leave the baby on Silence’s doorstep. The baby would be hidden from his enemies and he’d also bind Silence to him by her love for his daughter.


Publisher and Release Date: Grand Central Publishing, October 2011

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: London, 1738
Genre: Historical romance
Heat Level: 2.5
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Maria Almaguer

Elizabeth Hoyt’s Georgian era Maiden Lane series is written in an almost fairy tale style. But it’s not light as Eloisa James’ Fairy Tales series. It is serious, rather dark, and very romantic.

Indeed, a short passage from an original fairy tale, Clever John, precedes each chapter of this book, perfectly mirroring the events of this romance. I would say it’s more of a morality tale where true love conquers all struggles.

Several months earlier, Silence Hollingbrook was publicly humiliated after spending one night in river pirate Charming Mickey O’Connor’s decadent palace of vice and sin. She was there to plead mercy for her beloved husband, William, who was accused of stealing cargo from one of Mickey’s ships. To spare him, Silence agreed to Mickey’s terms that she stay one night with him and risk her honor…but nothing happened. He merely fed her a delicious and extravagant meal and then let her be. After that fateful night, no one believed her version of the truth, William never looked at her the same way again, and her pristine reputation was shattered forever.

Since then, William has died at sea leaving Silence a lonely and heartbroken widow until an infant was abandoned on her doorstep. She began helping her older siblings more with their charitable endeavor, The Home for Unfortunate Infants and Foundling Children, managing the Home in the dangerous London St. Giles neighborhood and, in doing so, found some meaning, purpose, and peace in her life once again.

The child, christened Mary Darling, was cared for by Silence for almost a year until she was kidnapped. During this time, Silence had also received mysterious gifts, including a lock of black hair that matched Mary Darling’s…and Mickey O’Connor’s. At the beginning of Scandalous Desires, Silence bravely marches back to Mickey’s palace, suspicious that he has the child and demands her back.

Mickey O’Connor is a ruthless and dangerous man who has many enemies. An Irishman raised in St. Giles in poverty, he has known hunger and abuse. But he’s also handsome and charming and Silence agrees to move into his palace to care for his daughter because he promises she may keep the child once he ensures their safety.

Of course, Silence’s family is shocked and outraged because not only will this harm their beloved sister’s reputation even more, it will also reflect on the Home and impair its ability to get rich and aristocratic donors to contribute in order to ensure its continued operation and success.

Soon after she moves in, Silence charms Mickey’s loyal servants, a loveable ragtag group who dine together at one massive table. They smuggle food to her when she refuses to bow to Mickey’s command to join them and are kind to her. This creates some wonderfully funny and almost sweet moments as Silence upends Mickey’s tightly controlled and rigid life. We especially get to know Bert and Harry, Mickey’s most loyal guards.

“Silence disliked him, disobeyed him, argued with him, and was all but starting a rebellion amongst his people, and still he indulged her.” (p.131)

Silence is a strong woman who stands up for justice and she defends those she loves with her life. She represents all that is good, pure, and beautiful in the world to Mickey. It is something he desperately wants in his life but is also something he fears is just too good to be true. As she weaves her way into his life, he slowly lets his guard down and allows her to come to know him, sharing in his darkest secrets and his innermost fears. He is also drawn to her fierce maternal instincts in her love for his daughter, Mary Darling, a child he is ambivalent about until Silence’s goodness helps him realize what Mary means to him. Silence’s beauty and compassion remind him of his beloved mother, with whom he had a complicated and ambivalent relationship.

Silence sees and empathizes with Mickey’s painful and horrific childhood, much as Verity Ashton does with Justin Kinmurrie in Anna Campbell’s Claiming the Courtesan. As she gets to know him, she falls in love with the man she sees inside the cunning pirate facade.

This is a Georgian era romance, set in 1738 and the gritty and perilous streets of St. Giles are a stark contrast to the elegant and inviting atmosphere of Windward House, Mickey’s safe haven in the country where he is merely Michael Rivers, a shipbuilder. The descriptions of this house are some of the best parts of the book; it’s comforting, it’s home, and it’s where Michael gathers all the beautiful things in his life and keeps them safe, including eventually, Silence and Mary.

The ending is a tension-filled and on-edge experience with excitement and danger counting down the pages. There are also some hints of a future love story for Silence’s serious brother, Winter, and a rich, beautiful, and playful patroness, Lady Isabel Beckinall.

And who is the infamous and mysterious Ghost of St. Giles? It’s a mysterious minor subplot that runs through the entire Maiden Lane series and we have hints to his identity in this story. Or do we? He is a sort of Batman figure, dressed as a harlequin, that appears throughout the book, rescuing the poor people of St. Giles from danger and injustice.

Scandalous Desires is a passionate and romantic story told with wonderful pacing and emotion. This is a strong and wonderfully written series, but it is best read in order for character development and time and plot progression.

Darling Beast (Maiden Lane #7) by Elizabeth Hoyt

darling beast

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Falsely accused of murder and mute from a near-fatal beating, Apollo Greaves, Viscount Kilbourne has escaped from Bedlam. With the Crown’s soldiers at his heels, he finds refuge in the ruins of a pleasure garden, toiling as a simple gardener. But when a vivacious young woman moves in, he’s quickly driven to distraction . . .


London’s premier actress, Lily Stump, is down on her luck when she’s forced to move into a scorched theatre with her maid and small son. But she and her tiny family aren’t the only inhabitants—a silent, hulking beast of a man also calls the charred ruins home. Yet when she catches him reading her plays, Lily realizes there’s more to this man than meets the eye.


Though scorching passion draws them together, Apollo knows that Lily is keeping secrets. When his past catches up with him, he’s forced to make a choice: his love for Lily . . . or the explosive truth that will set him free.


Publisher and Release Date: Grand Central Publishing, October 2014
RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: 1741, London, England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2
Reviewer Rating: 5 Stars

Review by Lady Wesley

You might think that an author would begin to run out of ideas when she reaches the seventh volume in a series. In Elizabeth’s Hoyt’s case, however, you would be wrong. In Darling Beast she takes the Maiden Lane series into a new neighborhood with new characters while at the same time tying the story in with the earlier books.

In Duke of Midnight, Apollo Greaves escaped from his wrongful incarceration in Bedlam, with the help of his sister Artemis and his new brother-in-law, the Duke of Wakefield. Now he is living in a shed on the grounds of Harte’s Folly, a pleasure garden and theater that was nearly destroyed by fire. Mr. Harte is helping Apollo hide while Apollo is designing and building a new garden.

Lily Stump moves into the few habitable rooms left in the theater with her seven-year-old son, Indio, and nursemaid, Maude. Lily is a well-known actress but since she is under contract to Harte and since he has no theater in which she can perform, she is short on funds. When Indio, tells her that there is a monster living in the gardens, she laughs it off – until one day she sees the monster for herself as he emerges unclothed from a pool.

Lily is immediately suspicious of her son’s new friend. Apollo is unable to speak because of injuries he suffered in Bedlam. When Lily tries to question him, he can’t reply, and she thinks that he is simple-minded. Because he is hiding from the law and doesn’t know if he can trust Lily, he allows her to assume that he is just another one of the laborers hired to work for Harte.

Despite his mother’s warnings, however, Indio and his naughty dog, Daffodil, can’t stay away from the pond, and when Apollo rescues Daff after she fell into the water, Lily begins to realize that there is more to Apollo than she first thought.

Through much of the book, Apollo cannot speak, but he begins to communicate with Lily by writing. She has no idea that he is a fugitive nor that he is the heir to an earldom. Indio and Daff bring the couple together, in a way that is utterly charming. Cute children and animals are not something that every author can do well, but Hoyt excels here.

Another appealing element of this book is that nearly half of the story takes place in the garden, and even though it is ruined there is something rather enchanting about the place. Apollo is a true landscape gardener, and he sees what no one else can, as in this scene (after Apollo begins to regain his voice):

“Where are we?”

“The heart,” he said, his voice low and rasping. “The very . . . heart of my future garden . . . the center of the maze.”

She shivered at his words. This place didn’t look any different from anywhere else in the garden, but garden hearts, she supposed, like human hearts, could be disguised.

“I can’t see it,” she said.

He took a step toward her and turned her to face the same way as he, her back against his chest. “Here,” he said, wrapping his arms over her shoulders to hold her hands. “There’ll be a folly . . . of some sort right here . . . beneath our feet. A fountain or . . . waterfall or statue. Benches for lovers to sit and . . . kiss. The entrance will be over here” — he pointed to a space to the right — “and the maze . . . will wind all around us . . . like an embrace.”

Slowly he turned with her, tracing with his outstretched hand his imaginary maze.

“You have so much faith,” she whispered.

She felt him shrug behind her. “It’s there already . . . just waiting for the right person . . . to find it and bring it alive,” he said softly in her ear. “A maze . . . is eternal, you know, once discovered.”

It wouldn’t be Maiden Lane, though, if we didn’t have some danger and darkness. Apollo is desperate to find the person who actually committed the murders for which he was accused. The soldiers are on his trail. And Captain Trevillion, even though he has been invalided out of the army, is grimly determined to see Apollo back in Bedlam, while the real murderer has plans to pin one last crime on him. And Indio’s mysterious parentage actually may place him in danger.

In addition to Trevillion, other Maiden Lane characters are part of this story – Maximus and Artemis, of course, Hero and Phoebe, and even the absent Makepeace sibling, Asa. An intriguing and rather outrageous new character, the Duke of Montgomery, is introduced, and it isn’t clear whether he is friend or foe.

I think that Darling Beast is the most romantic book in this series, and I recommend it unreservedly. If you’ve read the previous Maiden Lane books, you definitely will not want to miss this one. And even if you haven’t read them, this touchingly tender story works just fine as a stand-alone.

Looking Back – Our Favourite Reads of 2013

Slide1As we head into a new year of – hopefully! – excellent reading, we thought we’d take a look back at those books we’ve most enjoyed during 2013. The majority of these are titles which were published in 2013, but in some cases, our reviewers have selected books which may have been published before, but which they read for the first time last year.

Choosing a small number of titles to highlight has been a tricky exercise for all of us, as we’ve all been fortunate enough to read some excellent books, so these surely represent the best of the best. If you’ve read them, then hopefully you’ll be in a position to agree with our reviewers’ choices, and if you haven’t, then perhaps you’ll find some food for your TBR pile here.

And perhaps you think we’ve missed out on something awesome – so please do leave us a comment and tell us about YOUR favourite books of 2013.



The Black Madonna by Stella Riley. This is a superbly crafted piece of romantic historical fiction in which the central romance is beautifully developed and the historical backdrop is fascinating and very well-researched. The hero of the story is the compelling and gorgeous Luciano del Santi, a young Italian goldsmith who is trying to find the truth behind his father’s death years earlier. His life becomes inextricably bound with the lives of the Maxwell family of Thorne Ash in Oxfordshire in the time around the first English Civil War.

The Boleyn Deceit by Laura Andersen. This is the second book in a trilogy which takes as its premise – “what if Anne Boleyn had given Henry VIII a living son?” The historical research is impeccable as Ms Andersen so skilfully intertwines her characters and events with actual events and historical figures. At the heart of the novels is the quartet of friends – William (King Henry IX), his sister Elizabeth, his loyal friend and advisor Dominic Courtenay and the vivacious Minuette, Lady-in-Waiting to Elizabeth, and the object of affection for both men. This second instalment made for an un-putdownable read as friendships are tested to their limits due to political and personal pressures. I can’t wait for book 3, The Boleyn Reckoning which is due out sometime in 2014.

For the Love of a Soldier by Victoria Morgan. This stunning début novel, set in England in the period following the Crimean War, is beautifully written and features two very engaging and well-characterised protagonists – a battle-scarred war hero, and a down-on-her-luck heroine whose eavesdropping saves his life. Their romance begins unconventionally, but is beautifully developed, with some truly delicious sexual tension along the way. There’s a superb set of secondary characters too, and plenty of humour – despite the horrors of war experienced by the hero, I laughed out loud several times while reading.

The Countess Conspiracy is the third novel in Courtney Milan‘s Brothers Sinister series and although it was only released the week before Christmas, I had to make room for it in my top five, because it’s such a superb book. The romance between two long-standing friends is beautifully done and very angsty, and the book is a kind of love letter from Ms Milan to all those forgotten women who made scientific advances in the nineteenth century but were ignored by virtue of their sex. Plus – Sebastian Malheur is one of the dreamiest heroes it’s ever been my fortune to read about;) My review will appear in early January.

18042822Flowers from the Storm (AUDIOBOOK) by Laura Kinsale & Nicholas Boulton. This wonderful tale of the debauched duke and the young Quaker woman who saves his sanity and his life is a perennial favourite. The language is beautiful and the author’s characterisation of Christian Langland, Duke of Jervaulx, as he gradually rebuilds his life is nothing short of masterful. Also nothing short of masterful is the performance given by British actor, Nicholas Boulton in this new audiobook version of the story as he brings Christian and Maddy vividly to life and adds an entirely new dimension to this wonderful and beloved story. Seven of Ms Kinsale’s books are already available in audio format (all expertly narrated by Mr Boulton), with more to follow in 2014.

Lady Blue

bluebonnets- Bonnie Blue

Duke of Midnight by Elizabeth Hoyt. Maximus is so guilt ridden over an incident that contributed to his parents’ deaths when he was a child, that he now compensates by being “perfect.” He must marry the perfect woman, and that is certainly not Artemis, who is not duchess material. I loved this book so much, that I wanted to start reading it again the moment I finished it. It is so well written that you are feeling every emotion along with Maximus, and urging him to follow his heart.

Ethan by Grace Burrowes. Ethan has had more heartbreaking and tragic incidents in his life than one man should have to endure. Alice leads him to love and reconciliation with his family, though it’s not an easy task. This is one man who deserved his happy ever after.

Lord of Darkness by Elizabeth Hoyt. Godric and Margaret (“Megs”) have both loved deeply and lost. Circumstances forced them into a marriage of convenience with neither of them expecting or wanting love again. Watching them fall in love with each other, and overcoming their guilt over doing so was pure joy.

It Happened One Midnight by Julie Anne Long. Jonathan is counted as fluff by his father, who manipulates him, trying to force him to marry. There is a steel backbone beneath Jonathan’s charming exterior, and when he meets Thomasina (“Tommy”) the two form a strong and loving bond that will let nothing stand in the way of their being together.

Lady In Red by Maire Claremont. Wrongfully institutionalized by her evil father, Mary is abused for years until she escapes. She finds a champion in Edward, and then finds healing and love. Her evil father gets his well deserved comeuppance. Mary’s strength was an inspiration.

Lizzie English


The Boleyn King by Laura Andersen
I’ve always loved the Tudor Era, it’s one of the most fascinating to me in any historical period. But to write a completely alternate reality of if Anne Boleyn hadn’t miscarried her son, and he became King. That changes everything. I still need to read the second book, but I can’t wait to see how this ends.

The Second Empress by Michelle Moran
Normally you see books about Napoleon’s first wife Josephine but never about his second. It was interesting to see the Great-Niece of Marie Antonette be brought into the French Empire and having to deal with all of this pressure with her Great Aunt’s fate ruling over her. There are lot of jumps in the story and obviously Marie-Louise isn’t apart of the main conflict in Napoleon’s story, but it’s interesting from her eyes.

Lord of Darkness by Elizabeth Hoyt
One of my favorite Romance Series. This one was especially wonderful, the back story is set up from the get go and you’re off running. A lot of the secret and mystery is in the beginning of the novel then it goes straight into core of Megs and Godric’s relationship and their eventual bond.

Highlander Most Wanted by Maya Banks
Genevieve is a broken woman and it takes Bowen to put her back together again. I LOVED this book. It’s just what you would expect right after the first novel, and who you wanted it to be as well. I really liked how Genevieve was written; she wasn’t willing in the beginning and she still wasn’t into it even after she realized she was in love. She was hesitant and it was logical. But now we have to wait until 2015 for the next one?



What Remains of Heaven by C.S. Harris
Another of Harris’ fascinating dark Regency mysteries with the attractive hero, Sebastian St.Cyr, Viscount Devlin. In this novel Sebastian seeks answers to a recent murder and one tied to the American Revolution thirty years ago. We learn more of Sebastian’s past, and about that of his family, and it answers some of the questions from the first novel: What Angels Fear. A 5 star for me, it’s more a mystery than a romance although the intriguing thread of romance is there.

Romancing Lady Stone (A School of Gallantry novella) by Delilah Marvelle
An entertaining novella, not without flaws, but I like Delilah Marvelle’s unusual stories. This one features an older heroine. At forty, Lady Cecilia Evangeline Stone has no intention of marrying again. But then she meets an intriguing man, Konstantin Alexie Levin, who is a world away from the English gentleman she was married to. There’s another romantic subplot in this and those lovers tell their story in later novel. 4 stars

The Heiress Effect (The Brothers Sinister Book2) by Courtney Milan
Expect the unexpected in a Milan story and she’s brilliant at series. Her characters seem so real and her plots are highly original. Is Miss Jane Fairfield really socially clumsy, or does she use it keep suitors at bay? 5 stars.

The Emperor’s Conspiracy by Michelle Diener
I haven’t read Diener before, but I will again. This is a well crafted Regency spy story set during Napoleon’s rein and plotted around a real event. Charlotte Raven is no society debutante – well she didn’t begin that way. She has grown up in the dangerous world of the London slums and knows how to survive in it. I like the originality of the story and the characters, although I wanted more romance at the end. 4.5 Stars

The Kydd Inheritance by Jan Jones
I don’t think this is available in e-book formats. Nell Kydd’s father is dead and her brother Kit is missing. Enter the rather mysterious Captain Hugo Derringer, who is very hard to pin down. Jan Jones says on Amazon that she fell in love with Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, and the 1800s at age 12. Those influences are evident in this novel which abounds in historic details clever characterization and a great plot. The Kydd Inheritance is a prequel to Fair Deception, which was shortlisted for the RNA Love Story of the Year 2010. 4.5 Stars


Heart of Iron by Bec McMaster
Set in 1879, a clever and entertaining combination of historical romance, steampunk, paranormal and alternate history. For readers who also enjoy the Darkest London series by Kristen Callihan and the Blud series by Delilah S. Dawson. 4.5 stars.

Into the Light by Ellen O’Connell. Unlike some of her previous books the setting is not the ‘Wild West’ nor the action and adventure normally associated with westerns. The pace here is slower with a lot of the ‘action’ centred around the newspaper business and the emergence of the automobile.
Ellen O’Connell’s attention to historical detail, her evident research, and her slowly-building love stories set her apart as the leading writer of western or American historical romances today. 4.5 stars.

The Heiress Effect (The Brothers Sinister Book2) by Courtney Milan. Courtney Milan doesn’t write the expected. Her writing is intelligent. She has once again combined a story rich in historical detail with a clever, deep plot, a slowly building romance, and some wonderfully humorous scenes.
Another stunning, layered story from one of the very best writers of historical romance. 5 stars.

The Sheik Retold by Victoria Vane & E.M Hull. Written in first person from Diana’s point-of-view this is a wonderful retelling of the 1919 classic The Sheik by Edith Maude Hull.
This is insanely entertaining. Although it does closely follow the original plot, Ms Vane has made certain changes to reflect a more modern retelling with some explicit sexual scenes. A recommended read for lovers of erotic historical romance, romantic historical fiction and sheik romances. 4.5 stars.

The Secrets She Carried by Barbara Davis. Set in dual timelines, 2013 and the 1930s, this romantic fiction is a must-read for those who enjoy family sagas and family secrets.
With beautiful prose, a mystery with some surprising twists and two romances, The Secrets She Carried is an impressive debut, suitable for readers of contemporary women’s fiction and romantic historical fiction. 4.5 stars.


Susan Frances 1

Norse Jewel by Gina Conkle
Hakan, a brawny but oh-so-gentle Viking purchases Helena, a Frankish slave girl from an abusive slave owner.  Conkle spins their employee/indentured servant relationship into a loving and sensual romance that puts Vikings in the running for the most desirable alpha males. In a world infested with warfare and back-stabbers, Hakan and Helena discover that the only ones they can invest their trust in is each other. Conkle makes their love seem believable and accessible to the audience, and most definitely sensual.

The Reprobate by Dorothy Bell
Royce O’Bannon, a self-proclaimed reprobate is transformed into a chivalrous romantic hero when his heart starts to pine for Cleantha Arnaud, a lovely and lamed damsel whose overly protective father stands in his way.  Bell crafts a well-defined cast of characters whose lives are turned upside and then right-side up with help of one another. Carving out a path separate from his thieving father, Royce discovers he has something more to offer society. With the guidance of Cleantha, this roué does indeed become a dreamy gentleman.

Shadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell
England’s Dark Ages are visited in this tale about Emma, the Maid of Normandy who is sent to London to marry the Saxon king Aethelred.  Bracewell provides a vivid image of this time period in a world fraught with war, treachery, and deceit embellished by scheming courtiers. Truth or fiction, this is a story that could be viewed as a biopic about Queen Emma even with the author’s creative liberties suggesting there were moments of intimacy between King Athelred’s wife Emma and his eldest son Aethelstan. Theirs is a love story that reminds audiences of the legendary Lancelot and Guinevere, though Aethelred’s kingdom was no Camelot. This is a book that gives readers clues about the past and which figures took part in shaping the course of world history and the entangling relationship of England, Normandy and Denmark.



Shattered by Jennie Marsland
This book was different from what would I normally choose to read, but I really enjoyed it. The story is very well written and I loved the characters. The author did an excellent job of withholding secrets and it kept me turning the pages for more to be revealed. Another thing I liked about the book was that the hero wasn’t drop dead gorgeous and wealthy and neither was the heroine. They were normal people with deep seated issues that needed to be resolved. I can’t wait to read the next one in the series.

The Duchess Hunt by Jennifer Haymore
Jennifer Haymore paints a vivid picture of the hypocrisy of London society, with their flagrant affairs and decadent life style through deeply moving emotional characters. I became so enmeshed in this story that I just couldn’t put it down and when I had to, the story kept running through my mind, keeping me anxious to return to this engrossing tale. It was as if I became Sarah. This book is very well written, which has not been the case with some of the books I’ve read lately. I thoroughly enjoyed this wonderful book, and I highly recommend this unforgettable story. This will go on my keeper shelf, because I’ll definitely want to return for another visit with these enchanting characters and unique storyline.

The Ledger by Lloyd Holm
When I read this book, I had no idea what this story was about. I thought it would be a typical historical romance set during World War II, but it turned out to be so much more. It starts out with a young engaged couple, Paul Rosenbaum and Christine Kruger, traveling to Sermaize-les-Bains to visit her grandfather, Andre Ferrand.
Andre Ferrand tells them how the Krugers and the Ferrands became such good friends. Andre Ferrand met Konrad Kruger on December 24, 1914 during what is now known as the Christmas Truce. They exchanged addresses, even though Andre was French and Konrad was German and his sworn enemy.
This book tells the story of the men’s friendship and the romance between their children, Hans Kruger, and Aimee Ferrand. The couple corresponds over a four year period, only seeing each other a few times, but their love is stronger than the tides of war. I won’t tell you more because I don’t want to spoil this for you. I hope you’ll take the time to read this incredible story of two young lovers who overcome all for the sake of love.

Lady Wesley


I’ll begin with the esteemed Courtney Milan. In The The Heiress Effect (The Brothers Sinister Book2), she pairs an unlikely heroine with a reluctant hero. Oliver Marshall thinks Jane Fairfield is rather ghastly, given her penchant for wearing garish colors, talking too loudly, and oh-so-politely insulting people to their faces. As they become better acquainted, however, Oliver finds that he rather likes her, but Jane is not the type of woman to make a good wife for an aspiring politician. There are several secondary stories that give the reader a vivid look at the role of women in mid-Victorian England. Even for the privileged, life is not always easy, but Milan’s ladies don’t wait to be rescued; they persevere until they find a comfortable mate and place in the world without surrendering their essential being. Despite being called the Brothers Sinister series, these books really are about the heroines and I recommend all of them.

Another young lady who doesn’t wait for her fate is Lady Genevieve Windham in Lady Jenny’s Christmas Portrait by Grace Burrowes. As the last unmarried daughter in the large Windham family, she is determined to live in Paris and study art despite her parents’ certain disapproval. When she crosses paths with handsome artist Elijah Harrison, her plans change but not her dedication to her art. As this is the last novel of eight in the Windham series, Lady Jenny’s siblings, their spouses, and their children make appearances, along with her delightful parents, still in love after forty years together. If you like family sagas, something at which Burrowes excels, the Windham series is hard to beat.

Grace Burrowes began a new family series last year, set in Victorian Scotland and revolving around the MacGregor clan. In Once Upon a Tartan, she has created a complex, enigmatic hero who is both maddening and fascinating. Although the heroine, Hester Daniels, is wonderful, Tiberius Flynn dominates the book. The spotlight often is stolen, however, by Hester’s nine-year-old niece Fiona. I am aware that some romance readers do not enjoy stories with children, but Grace Burrowes has a marvelous talent for creating juvenile characters who act and speak like real children. She is by turns exasperating, calculating, and stubborn and serves as an important catalyst in bringing Hester and Tiberius together.

Sherry Thomas, who oddly has been hit-or-miss for me, hits it out of the park with The Luckiest Lady in London, where two imperfect people make for a perfect couple. After growing up unloved, Felix Rivendale has adopted the persona of the “Ideal Gentleman.” Underneath, however, he is cynical about love; he must always be in control and will never allow any woman to have power over him. Louisa Cantwell, lacking beauty, pedigree, and fortune, is not the type of woman who Felix would ever notice. With considerable strength of mind, she has adopted her own persona. She hones her social skills, makes herself interesting, sweet, and warm, and is admired by everyone. But she feels like a fraud and distrusts everyone, certain that if they really knew her they would not be interested. Strangely, what draws Felix and Louisa to one another is that each feels like the other can see through their respective facades. The rough patches along their road to an HEA are never trivial, and Thomas does a brilliant job of immersing the reader in both characters’ pain.

I thoroughly enjoyed Tessa Dare’s final novel in the Spindle Cove series, Any Duchess Will Do. When Griffin Halford’s diabolical mother drags him to Spindle Cove and insists he choose a bride from among the many women living there, he decides to spike her guns by picking Pauline Simms, the barmaid. Griff is a duke, and his mama swears she can turn any woman into a duchess. While I generally find cross-class Regency novels to be unconvincing, Dare comes up with some clever and credible reasons to explain why Pauline is actually a diamond in the rough. The plot is clever; surprising events occur, and while I knew there would be an HEA I wasn’t certain how it would occur until the last page. The pacing is excellent; there was never a moment I wanted to put the book down and do something else. The trademark Tessa Dare humor is present on almost every page, but there are also beautiful, serious passages about the multi-faceted, fully-realized characters.

Sebina C.


One Good Earl Deserves a Lover (The Rules of Scoundrels #2) by Sarah Maclean. It’s no secret that Sarah Maclean is a popular and talented author. What I loved about this book was that we have a woman who wears glasses, who is a woman of science but who is essentially considered odd. She’s an outsider. When she meets Cross, she discovers someone who sees her for the person she is and who understands the things she says without confusion. I loved that they were both different and intelligent and that they challenged each other in all the right ways. Ultimately, the sexual tension, the lessons Cross gives her and the temptation they are to each other is what made this book one of my favorite Historical Romances this year.

Stowaway Bride (book #2) by Adrianne Wood. I don’t read many historical romances set in the American West, but this one is a great example of one written beautifully. It has a captivating and suspenseful plot, well-crafted characters, a hot romance and most of all a fun adventure story with many funny situations that will make you either laugh or smile. The story also has a wonderfully done and memorable falling-in-love dance between the couple, Emily and Lucien. Emily is a feisty and intelligent heroine, and Lucien is a passionate and risk-taking hero. They were one of the reasons this was a page-turning read for me. (Our review will run late January – ed.)

Sweet Revenge (Nemesis, Unlimited #1) by Zoe Archer. This was a more gritty, action-packed historical romance that had a really hot romance with two tough, no-nonsense characters. The author also focused on some aspects of the Victorian era that I’m not used to reading, and I responded to that. Men of action and empowered women – what more could one want? Oh yes, a really emotional and hot romance to die for.

Jenny Q


Shadowdance by Kristen Callihan. This entire series is awesome. The perfect blend of historical ambiance, supernatural lore, smart and sexy characters, dangerous liaisons, and of course, true love. It’s a classic good vs. evil story world where elemental witches, werewolves, and ghosts fight to prevent humanity from learning of their existence while trying to save the world from demons. In this fourth book, two tormented characters from the previous novels come together in a twisty-turny plot full of angst and emotion and seriously high stakes, and it’s my favorite book of the series so far.

Heart of Iron by Bec McMaster. This is the second in a series but the first book of hers I read, and it’s fantastic. I’ve purchased books one and three and just haven’t had a chance to get to them yet, but I will! This is along the same lines as Callihan’s series but in a more underworld/common man type of way. Our heroes hide in slums rather than reside in posh town homes among the ton, and not only are they known to the rest of the world but they are persecuted. There’s more steampunkery too. A vividly depicted story world, and Will, the Beast, is hot, hot, HOT. (I dig werewolves.) Pair him with a saucy little spy and the fireworks are explosive. Good characters, good story, good time!

Beautiful Bad Man by Ellen O’Connell. A self-published gem! Fantastic characterization of the kind you don’t normally find in romance. A gritty, realistic, heartbreakingly depicted tale of hardship, suffering, disappointment…and second chances. A true Western and an excellent story, well told. And beautifully written too. Had me hooked from the first page and left me thinking about it long after finishing it. It’s earned a spot on my favorites shelf.



The Sum of all Kisses by Julia Quinn. We all have had preconceived notions about people. This book makes you think. What if I got to know this person and found out I was wrong about them? Sometimes we get so tied up in our own misery we forget that other people have suffered as much or more than ourselves. This is what happened with Hugh and Sarah. They were forced together because of a wedding they both had to attend and after spending some time together, they realized life was too short to hold grudges. Forgiveness led to true love and many wrongs were righted in the process. Julia tells the heartwarming love story her signature wit and humor. 5+ stars!

The Hunter by Monica McCarty. Why did I like this book so much? First of all there were laugh out loud moments as Ewen fights off his attraction to a woman he thinks is a nun. Secondly, the danger and intrigue made the plot very absorbing, and of course you can’t go wrong with a sexy, alpha highlander! 5 stars.

The Officer and the Bostoner by Rose Gordon. This was one of the very few historical romances I read this past year that was set in America. There are TONS of Regency noblemen and Scottish Highlanders, which I obviously enjoy, but having a different setting was very refreshing. I also enjoyed the humor sprinkled throughout.

Conduct Unbecoming a Gentleman by Wareeze Woodson. What made this story stand out for me was Laurel’s grit and determination to do whatever it took to protect her child. While British law was on the side of Lord Andron, Laurel will move heaven and earth to be with her child. Finding love was the last thing she expected. This book highlighted the harsh laws regarding women and inheritance. The author didn’t sugarcoat the way things were back then, even if it was infuriating. I admired the author for staying true to the period in which she was writing.

Kisses, She Wrote by Katherine Ashe. This is the story of how the two main characters come to the slow realization that they more than like each other. They enjoy each other’s company and become friends, and of course, things escalate from there as the sensuality builds at a tantalizing pace. Novellas are becoming very popular and I am slowly warming up to them. One like this will keep me coming back for more!



One Good Earl Deserves a Lover (The Rules of Scoundrels #2) by Sarah Maclean. This is a gorgeously written story about an inquisitive bluestocking’s daring “scientific experiment” with a secretive and mysterious scoundrel. This is the second book in MacLean’s very entertaining Rules of Scoundrels series.

Darius by Grace Burrowes: With his beloved sister tainted by scandal, his widowed brother shattered by grief, and his funds cut off, Darius Lindsey sees no option but to sell himself — body and soul. Until the day he encounters lovely, beguiling Lady Vivian Longstreet, whose tenderness and understanding wrap his soul in a grace he knows he’ll never deserve. Handsome, sweet and caring Darius has been dealt a terribly distressing hand in life; this is how he makes his way out. An unusual, beautiful, and very tender love story, this is the first in Ms Burrowes’ sexy Lonely Lords series.

In the Arms of the Heiress by Maggie Robinson. This was a charming and very funny book; it made me smile and laugh out loud. I loved watching Louisa and Charles fall in love with each other, quirks and all. The first in Robinson’s Ladies Unlaced series.

Lord of Wicked Intentions by Lorraine Heath. For some reason, the third time’s the charm, that is, the third in any of Heath’s series and this is the third in the Lost Lords of Pembrook series. Evelyn’s brother auctions her off to the highest bidder: Rafe Easton. The story of how two damaged people find love and comfort in each other, this is a breathlessly romantic love story.

A Most Scandalous Proposal by Ashlyn MacNamara A Beautiful debut in the style of Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility, about two very close sisters’ love stories–both mired in potential scandal. Two wonderful romances, great dialogue, and characters I cared about, I loved this story.

So there you have it! A selection of great books from different time-periods and genres, chosen from the many titles our reviewers have read in the past year. How do our top fives compare to yours? Let us know if you think we’re missing out on any hidden gems!
And as we move into a new year – have you got any reading resolutions for 2014? Are there any time periods or genres you intend to read for the first time? What books are you looking forward to?

For now, it just remains to wish everyone a very Happy New Year!

2014 banner dhamphir


Grand Central Publishing, Releases 2/26/13


WHEN STRANGERS IN THE NIGHT …He lives in the shadows. As the mysterious masked avenger known as the Ghost of St. Giles, Godric St. John’s only goal is to protect the innocent of London. Until the night he confronts a fearless young lady pointing a pistol at his head-and realizes she is his wife . . .

BECOME LOVERS . . .Lady Margaret Reading has vowed to kill the Ghost of St. Giles-the man who murdered her one true love. Returning to London, and to the man she hasn’t seen since their wedding day, Margaret does not recognize the man behind the mask. Fierce, commanding, and dangerous, the notorious Ghost of St. Giles is everything she feared he would be-and so much more . . .

DESIRE IS THE ULTIMATE DANGER..When passion flares, these two intimate strangers can’t keep from revealing more of themselves than they had ever planned. But when Margaret learns the truth-that the Ghost is her husband-the game is up and the players must surrender . . . to the temptation that could destroy them both.

RHL Classifications

Romantic Historical, London, 1740

Heat rating 2.5

Review Rating 5 stars

Reviewed by Lady Blue

When you are captured by the first sentence of the book, you just know it’s going to be good.  “The night Godric St. John saw his wife for the first time since their marriage two years previously, she was aiming a pistol at his head.”  And so it begins…..

Godric, a widower, was blackmailed two years ago into marrying Margaret “Megs” by her brother, who knew his identity as the Ghost of St. Giles and threatened exposure.  Megs was pregnant, her fiancé just having been murdered, reportedly by the Ghost, so she was devastated and barely aware of what was going on around her.  After the marriage ceremony, she stayed at the country home while Godric returned to London.  They corresponded, and became almost friends of a sort.  Megs miscarried.

After two years, Megs has started to pull herself together, and decides that she would like a child.  She travels to London unannounced, intent on seducing Godric, then returning to the country when pregnant to raise her child.  Godric, meanwhile, has never recovered from his beloved wife’s death.  He has lived a quiet, celibate life, except when he goes out at night in his guise as the Ghost of St Giles.  That is the only thing that lets him know he’s still alive.

While the action happening with the Ghost, and the mystery is exciting, what makes this book excellent is Godric and Megs.  Unlike many clichéd books, where there is an unhappy first relationship, Godric and his late wife were deeply in love, as were Megs and her fiancé.  So now, while they are beginning to feel attracted to each other, they are also feeling guilt, as if they are betraying their true loves.  They are so deserving of their second chance at love, and it’s heartbreaking when they seemingly keep passing on the opportunity to grab it.

This book is exciting, poignant, and very, very well written.  I highly recommend it.

Available in paperback for $7.99 and in kindle format for $6.64.