Tag Archive | romantic historical fiction

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Vikings: The Truth About Lagertha And Ragnar by Rachel Tsoumbakos

Purchase Now from Amazon

Lagertha was known to be one of the wives of the famous Viking Ragnar Lodbrok. But did you know they first met each other at a brothel? And just how long did their marriage last? Was Lagertha really the revered shield maiden we see her as today? ‘Vikings: The Truth About Lagertha And Ragnar’ aims to unravel all these secrets.

‘Vikings: The Truth About Lagertha And Ragnar’ is so much more than a history book though.

In Part One their story is brought to life with a historically accurate retelling. Part Two then explores the historical facts surrounding this story.

‘Vikings: The Truth About Lagertha And Ragnar’ aims to discover just how much of what we know of the shield maiden Lagertha and the famous Ragnar Lodbrok in popular culture today is actually true.

‘The Truth About’ series explores the historical fact from present day fiction in regards to the Vikings and other key historical figures that existed in the Viking era.



“Did you see that woman?” Ragnar was sitting next to one of the fires burning bright in Fro’s village. The tinder had once been a building and the fire blazed high up into the dark sky. “Her hair was like gold spun with fire.”

Erik laughed at him. “Such a fancy way to describe bloodmatted hair, have you sipped Odin’s gift while I was not looking? You can have you warrior women, I am happy with a woman I do not have to fear can match me in a fight.”

There was laughter as the men listened in on the conversation.

“She intrigues me,” Ragnar said to no one in particular. “I need to find out more about her.”

“Are you really after a common whore? And what of Aslaug? Is she not warming your bed now she has presented you with so many sons?” The questions came from the back of the group. He searched the shadows but couldn’t work out who had said it.

“I think it is one thing to be a common whore, but quite another to be raised noble and trained as a shield maiden but be forced into that life because of a dispute between leaders.” He ignored the other questions about Aslaug. Yes, she had borne him many sons, and yes, she was no longer eager to share their bed. It was complicated and something he did not feel like addressing with a field full of drunkards. Besides, here he was, far away from his wife’s bed, and it was a given someone else was likely to warm his furs while away from home.

There was silence for a moment, as if the crowd was not sure whether to pursue the unanswered questions as they contemplated the way noble standing can fall so quickly at the folly of kings.

Then someone raised their drinking horn and proposed another toast, this time to the valkyries.

“On all sides saw I | Valkyries assemble,
Ready to ride | to the ranks of the gods;
Skuld bore the shield, | and Skogul rode next,
Guth, Hild, Gondul, | and Geirskogul.
Of Herjan’s maidens | the list have ye heard,
Valkyries ready | to ride o’er the earth.”

Several men cheered, likening her to a maiden of Herjan, or outright calling her a valkyrie. Others still, thought she was more like a beserker, entering the battle with a bloodlust normally reserved for them.

Regardless, cheering returned and Ragnar moved to the edge of the fire. He gazed deeply into the flames, his thoughts distracted by the maiden he had seen. He remembered her golden hair flicking out behind her, her face as he had slain Fro, and chuckled to himself. She had been both relieved and angry at Fro’s death. Ragnar suspected she wanted the victory for herself, and he didn’t blame her for those thoughts. He would have been downright outraged at not being able to bring justice to a man how had wronged him. The thought of her being upset with him over Fro’s death both upset and aroused him.


a Rafflecopter giveaway


Rachel Tsoumbakos is a stay home mother of two. Her main passions are writing, reading and organic gardening. Rachel lives with her husband, two kids, three cats and seven chickens in suburban Melbourne, Australia.

While she has several articles published through mainstream magazines, she has also written extensively for The Inquisitr.

Over the years, Rachel has been interested in many aspects of history. When studying a Library Studies diploma, she discovered just how much she enjoyed researching and has since used these skills in several of her novels.

However, it was her work with The Inquisitr that brought her into the world of the Vikings and she has spent several years delving into the sagas of this culture as well as the history of the Viking Era.


Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Rachel-Tsoumbakos/e/B004Q2IRR6
Author website: https://racheltsoumbakos.wordpress.com
Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/rtsoumbakos
Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/mrszoomby

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: Murder in the Forbidden City (Qing Dynasty Mysteries #1) by Amanda Roberts

Purchase Now from Amazon

Peking, 1867

When one of the Empress’s ladies-in-waiting is killed in the Forbidden City, she orders Inspector Gong to find the killer. Unfortunately, as a man, he is forbidden from entering the Inner Court. How is he supposed to solve a murder when he cannot visit the scene of the crime or talk to the women in the victim’s life? He won’t be able to solve this crime alone.

The widowed Lady Li is devastated when she finds out about the murder of her sister-in-law, who was serving as the Empress’s lady-in-waiting. She is determined to discover who killed her, even if it means assisting the rude and obnoxious Inspector Gong and going undercover in the Forbidden City.

Together, will Lady Li and Inspector Gong be able to find the murderer before he – or she – strikes again?

Readers who enjoy historical mysteries by authors such as Victoria Thompson, Deanna Raybourn, and Anne Perry are sure to love this exciting start to a new series by Amanda Roberts.



The empress, high up on her dais, wept uncontrollably. The baubles dangling from her elaborate hairdo quivered as she hid her face in her trembling hands.

The dead girl, one of the empress’s ladies-in-waiting, was lying on a long table in front of Inspector Gong. The investigation has already been botched beyond solving. The girl had been moved from the scene of the crime. Who knew how many people had trampled through the scene itself. The eunuchs had probably worked quickly to clean up the mess. The other men present, the ministers and advisors, had no words to comfort the empress. Everyone of importance was there except for the emperor himself. Such horrors were not appropriate for a child.

“Who did this?” the empress shrieked. “I demand to know!”

The room stayed silent as she resumed her crying. The empress, young as she was, was a formidable force, yet the Inspector knew the killer would not make himself, or herself, known just because the empress demanded it. This was one situation where the empress was not going to get her way.

“Your Majesty,” Inspector Gong finally said, “may I have a closer look at the body?”

The empress nodded her consent. “Just don’t touch her!” she yelled.

“Of course,” the Inspector replied, even though her demand was ridiculous. How could he get a complete understanding of what happened if he couldn’t examine the body fully? He approached the girl and kneeled down next to her. She had been stabbed several times in her neck and chest, her qaopao ripped open where the knife slashed through the beautiful fabric. Dark splotches of blood stained the light blue satin. The blood was dark, almost black. Even though blood typically darkened over time, it seemed unnaturally dark. Her hands were bloody as well and showed evidence of a struggle. Someone else’s blood, perhaps. Her hair was a mess and her shoes were gone. She had fought back and most likely tried to flee from her attacker. Her jaw was tightly clenched and her eyes closed. Her death had been frightening and painful.

“What was her name?” the inspector asked in a loud clear voice so all could hear. He stood straight and crossed his arms as he looked around the room.

“Lady Yun,” one of the eunuchs replied.

“How old was she?” he asked.

“Fifteen, sir.”

The inspector grunted. Fifteen. And she was beautiful, even in death. The long eyelashes of her closed eyes lay upon her pale cheeks.

“Who were her family?” he asked.

“She had no male relatives,” the eunuch replied.

“She was an orphan?” the Inspector asked.

“No, sir. She has a mother, but she is sickly. She was primarily cared for by her brother and sister-in-law until her brother’s death. Her sister-in-law is her guardian, but the girl had been living here at the Forbidden City for the last year.”

“I’ll need to speak to her sister-in-law,” he said. “Has she been informed yet of the girl’s death?”

“No, sir.”

“Good, I want to be the one to tell her. I need to see her reaction.”

“Whatever you need,” the empress finally spoke up, “it shall be yours. You must find who did this.”

“I need to see where she was killed, and speak to all the other ladies of the inner court who knew her.”

The room gasped and the empress starred at him in shock. The men began to murmur and argue among themselves.

“That is not possible,” one of the men said loudly, pointing a finger at the inspector. “No man can be allowed in the inner court. It is for the women’s protection.”

“Protection?” the inspector asked. “One of the empress’s own ladies was murdered inside the very walls of the Forbidden City. Make no mistake; if someone could kill this girl, no one here is safe. Look at her hands, the stab wounds. She must have screamed. How could no one have heard her? I must be allowed to inspect every aspect of this crime if any member of the royal family wishes to feel safe in their own home again.”

The inspector knew he was making things worse. There was no evidence that the killer would strike again or that the empress or child-emperor were in danger, but unless he was allowed behind the sealed doors of the inner court, he would never find the killer. If he had to frighten the empress out of her wits to achieve his goal, he would do so.

The room erupted in yelling and arguments. The empress was no longer crying, but was looking around the room with her large, dark eyes.

“Inspector,” she finally said, silencing the room. “Are you saying you think I could be in danger?”

“I do not know, Your Majesty,” he said. “But I can rule nothing out. I do not know if Lady Yun was the target of the killer’s rage or if she only got in the way. I do not know if the killer has fled or if he, or she, is within this very room.” Another round of gasps followed. “What I do know,” he continued, “is that this investigation should be the throne’s priority, and to do my job properly, to bring the killer to justice, I need to be allowed into the inner court of the women.”

The empress opened her mouth to speak, but she was interrupted by a court minister by the name of Song. “No!” he said firmly. “It is forbidden and improper. You cannot violate the sacred space of the women’s quarters. To do so would be as violating the women themselves.”

“Minister,” Inspector Gong nearly laughed. “Investigating a murder would hardly be the same as taking a woman to bed…at least in my case.” Several of the other men laughed.

“This is no laughing matter,” Minister Song erupted. “If you cannot do your job from outside of the inner court, then you are not worthy of your title and should be stripped of your rank and salary immediately!”

“Now, see here, Minister…” the inspector began.

“I agree,” another minister interrupted. “Is his job worth doing if it violates the integrity of the empress?”

Several other men spoke up in agreement.

“Enough,” the empress finally said, her voice clear and even. The room went quiet. She was calm now. Even her hands were steady. “I agree this case should be of the utmost importance. My own safety and the safety of the emperor rely on it.”

“Thank you, Your Majesty,” Inspector Gong replied.

“However,” she continued, “we cannot allow this killer, whoever he is, disrupt our lives and the way things are done. Tradition and court procedure are at the very center of the throne and the country. I have to agree with the ministers. You cannot be allowed to enter the inner court, Inspector.”

“So you will allow a killer to go free?” he asked. “Allow a murderer to perhaps roam your very halls?”

“No,” she said. “You will find the killer. And you will do so quickly so that we can make sure my son is safe. You will have everything you need at your disposal, but you will do so from outside the inner court.”


a Rafflecopter giveaway


Amanda Roberts is a writer and editor who has been living in China since 2010. Amanda has an MA in English from the University of Central Missouri. She has been published in magazines, newspapers, and anthologies around the world and she regularly contributes to numerous blogs. Amanda can be found all over the Internet, but her home is TwoAmericansinChina.com.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: The Du Lac Chronicles Book 1 by Mary Anne Yarde


Purchase Now from Amazon

AD 495, Wessex, Briton.

If all you had left was your heart, would you give it to your enemy?

A generation after Arthur Pendragon ruled, Briton lies fragmented into warring kingdoms and principalities.

The powerful Saxon King, Cerdic of Wessex, has spent the last twenty years hunting down Arthur’s noble knights. He is determined to secure his kingdom against any reprisals for killing their legendary leader. The knights who have survived the genocide are destined to spend the rest of their lives in hiding, never revealing who they really are.

The only knight who refused to be intimidated by this Saxon invader was Lancelot du Lac. Lancelot and Cerdic formed a fragile truce, but Lancelot has been dead these past eight years and it has fallen to his sons to protect Briton from the ambitions of the Saxon King.

Alden du Lac, the once king of Cerniw and son of Lancelot, has nothing. Betrayed by Cerdic, Alden’s kingdom lies in rubble, his fort razed to the ground and his brother Merton missing, presumably dead. Cerdic has had Alden tied to a post and ordered his skin to be lashed from his back. In the morning, if Alden is still alive, he is to be executed.

Annis, daughter of King Cerdic of Wessex, has been secretly in love with Alden for what seems like forever. She will not stand by and see him die. She defies father, king, and country to save the man she loves from her father’s dungeons. Alden and Annis flee Wessex together.

To the horror of Alden’s few remaining allies, he has given his heart to the daughter of his enemy. Alden’s allies see Annis, at best, as a bargaining chip to avoid war with her powerful father. At worst, they see a Saxon witch with her claws in a broken, wounded king.

Alden has one hope: When you war with one du Lac, you war with them all. His brother Budic, King of Brittany, could offer the deposed young king sanctuary—but whether he will offer the same courtesy to Annis is far less certain.



Inside the Writer’s Mind ~ Mary Anne Yarde

Writing can be a daunting prospect, what made you decide to share your story with the world?

I grew up just outside of Glastonbury ~ The Ancient Isle of Avalon ~ England. The stories of King Arthur and his Knights were very much a part of my childhood ~ he was everywhere. I knew the stories of Arthur from a very young age and as a teen, I became fascinated with his life.

For me, Arthur embodies an almost utopia age. Everything he stands for, everything he did, had such an impact, that we are still talking about him today. He was a hero, and we all need heroes.

The problem with researching Arthur is that there is a very blurry line between what is real and what is fictitious. But the one thing, which I found the most frustrating, wasn’t the lack of evidence, but the actual story itself, particularly with regards to the ending. King Arthur is betrayed by Lancelot, and then he is betrayed by Mordred. Arthur is fatally wounded at the Battle of Camlann. He is taken to Avalon, and we never hear of Arthur again. As for his knights…if they were lucky enough to survive the battle, they simply disappeared or became hermits.


That was the best the great poets could come up with? I’m sorry, but that ending sucks! The Knights stopped being knights? I don’t buy it and I never will.

I came up with an idea for a book that told the story of what happened after King Arthur’s death. My favourite knight has always been Lancelot, and I wanted to create a world for his children ~ a world for the next generation of Du Lacs and Pendragons. I didn’t realise then, that it would take me another 12 years to actually have a manuscript that I thought was worth sharing with the world. Publishing wasn’t so much of a daunting experience as a necessary one. I had sat on this story for too long.

Who has influenced you as an author?

I am an avid reader. I love the books by Nicholas Evans and Nicholas Sparks. They both write such beautifully emotive prose that I cannot help but admire them.

What is your writing method? Do you outline first or do you purge your brain on paper until your story is told?

I made a plan once. It took me ages, several months in fact. Once I was happy with the plan I sat down at my computer, looked at my notes and thought ~ oh screw this! I threw the notes away and just started writing. I do have a rough plan in my head and I will jot down the odd sentence that I think would work well later on in the book, but apart from that. I just sit down at the computer and bleed!

How long does it take you to write your story, from getting it down on paper to publishing?

The Du Lac Chronicles, from start to finish, took me 12 years. The second book in the trilogy, which is due out later this year, took me about six months. Hey, I think I’m getting quicker at this writing game!

Can you tell me a little bit about your book(s) without giving away too much? Why should I read it?

I would be honoured to tell you about my books…

A generation after the fall of Arthur Pendragon, Briton lies fragmented into warring kingdoms and principalities.

Eighteen-year-old, Alden du Lac, Lancelot’s son, ruled the tiny Kingdom of Cerniw. Now he half-hangs from a wooden pole, his back lashed into a mass of bloody welts exposed to the cold of a cruel winter night.

When Alden notices a shadowy figure approaching, he assumes death has come to end his pain. Instead, the daughter of his enemy, Cerdic of Wessex, frees and hides him, her motives unclear.

Annis has loved Alden since his ill-fated marriage to her Saxon cousin ~ a marriage that ended in blood and guilt ~ and she would do anything to protect him. Annis’s rescue of Alden traps them between a brutal Saxon king and Alden’s remaining allies. Meanwhile, unknown forces are carefully manipulating the ruins of Arthur’s legacy.

If you love romance, adventure, intrigue and King Arthur’s knights, then check out The Du Lac Chronicles to find out what happened after King Arthur died. I promise you there are not any hermits. Well there is one, but he doesn’t come into the story until much later on in the trilogy!


a Rafflecopter giveaway


du-lac-chronicles-authorBorn in Bath, England, Mary Anne Yarde grew up in the southwest of England, surrounded and influenced by centuries of history and mythology. Glastonbury—the fabled Isle of Avalon—was a mere fifteen-minute drive from her home, and tales of King Arthur and his knights were part of her childhood.

At nineteen, Yarde married her childhood sweetheart and began a bachelor of arts in history at Cardiff University, only to have her studies interrupted by the arrival of her first child. She would later return to higher education, studying equine science at Warwickshire College. Horses and history remain two of her major passions.

Yarde keeps busy raising four children and helping run a successful family business. She has many skills but has never mastered cooking—so if you ever drop by, she (and her family) would appreciate some tasty treats or a meal out!

Website https://www.maryanneyarde.com/

Twitter @maryanneyarde

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/maryanneyarde/

Blog http://maryanneyarde.blogspot.co.uk/

Amazon Author’s page http://www.amazon.com/Mary-Anne-Yarde/e/B01C1WFATA/ref=ntt_dp_epwbk_0

Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29243164-the-du-lac-chronicles

Lords of Misrule (Roundheads and Cavaliers #4) by Stella Riley

Lords of Misrule March 2016Purchase now from Amazon

Still tied to his desk in the Intelligence Office, Colonel Eden Maxwell has become increasingly disenchanted with both Oliver Cromwell and his own daily existence; and with the advent of new Royalist conspiracies, he despairs of ever getting away.

Then a brick hurled through the window of a small workshop sets in motion a new and unexpected chain of events. After all, who would want to hurt Lydia Neville – a young widow, giving work and self-respect to maimed war veterans considered unemployable elsewhere? But when the assaults in Duck Lane escalate, threatening the life and remaining limbs of some of Eden’s former troopers, finding the culprit becomes a personal crusade.

At their first meeting, Lydia finds Colonel Maxwell annoying; by their second, having discovered that he had arrested and questioned her brother in connection with the Ship Tavern Plot, she mistrusts his motives. On the other hand, it swiftly becomes plain that she needs his help … and has difficulty resisting his smile.

Solving the increasingly hazardous mystery surrounding Lydia is not Eden’s only task. Between plots to assassinate the Lord Protector and a rising in Scotland, he must also mend the fences within his own family and get to know his son. Life suddenly goes from mind-numbing boredom to frenetic complexity.

With reckless Cavaliers lurking around every corner and a government still struggling to find its way, Lords of Misrule is set against a time of national discontent and general failure. But readers of the previous books in the series can look forward to catching up with old friends as well as meeting new ones … while, against all the odds, Eden and Lydia find danger and reward in equal measure.


Publisher and Release Date: Stella Riley, May 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: England 1653 – 1655
Genre: Romantic Historical Fiction
Heat Level: 1.5
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Wendy

It’s always difficult to come to a series of books part-way through, so when I knew that I was going to review Lords of Misrule, I decided to quickly acquaint myself with some of the background information to the series and about the English Civil War, my knowledge of which was sketchy to say the least. I was advised to read The Black Madonna (first in the Roundheads and Cavaliers series) and was very glad I did, as it’s here that we first meet Eden Maxwell, who is the hero of Lords of Misrule. Married young to a woman who was completely wrong for him, his early experience of love and marriage has left Eden deeply mistrustful, embittered and unable to show love to his son and resentful of the little girl he realises he did not father. He rarely returns home even though his wife disappears with her lover soon after discovery and his continuing absence drives a wedge between himself and his family even while it is not what he wishes. A decade later, and older and wiser, he has vowed never to trust love and absolutely never to marry again. By now a confident and battle-scarred soldier, Eden is also a man who does not suffer fools or trust easily; and I adored the tetchy, vulnerable, overprotective, charismatic character that Eden has become – and then there’s that devastating smile!

These are serious times. England has been in the grip of civil war for well over a decade; families are split, the Country is short of money and the anointed King has been executed. Oliver Cromwell has been named Lord Protector – king in all but name – and parliament is attempting to bring some order to a divided country. Eden Maxwell has become a discontented and disenchanted man, and, owing to his inborn integrity and sense of justice is finding himself frequently in sympathy with both sides. Employed as an Intelligence officer and code breaker at the Tower of London, Eden reports directly to Cromwell’s Secretary of State, John Thurloe. He is first and foremost a soldier, and having fought in and survived three civil wars, is not happy with his current role as paper pusher and glorified errand boy.

When a brick is hurled through a window of recently widowed Lydia Neville’s workshop in a seemingly random attack, she is thrown into the orbit of Colonel Eden Maxwell. He instantly becomes interested – Lydia, an entrepreneur and philanthropist, has continued on with the work she began with her now deceased husband. They had intuitively recognised a need, and then provided the opportunity for honest employment for wounded and disabled soldiers, casualties of both sides of the war; and then too, for the widows of soldiers left with families to care for. At first Lydia and Eden strike sparks off of each other, he overbearing, cynical and dismissive; she independent, feisty and not about to allow any man to control her or her actions. Worthy adversaries both, it isn’t long before their antipathy turns to reluctant attraction, as they are drawn to each other firstly by their joint empathy for Lydia’s workforce and then by the threats and intimidation levelled at Lydia herself.

The challenge presented by the ever increasing threats to Lydia and her workforce is something that Eden relishes and embraces with enthusiasm, as well as bringing out his inborn desire to protect. The romance, which develops slowly over the entire story, sends shivers down the spine, but in Stella Riley’s inimitable style is never allowed to take-over, this being very much a historical romance with the emphasis on ‘historical’. Ms. Riley’s characters are superbly well drawn and they quickly become our friends; we love them; admire them; feel for them; worry for them. It’s something the author does incredibly well, we meet actual people, who lived and contributed to the past, but so well developed are her fictitious personalities that it’s easy to forget which are historical and which are figments of her very fertile imagination.

Stella Riley’s story has encompassed everything; fantastically well researched and richly described historic detail, characters to love and swoon over and an incredibly well devised plot that had me guessing until the end. It’s intricate, plausible and intelligent, displaying her unique talent for ratcheting up the drama until we’re left gasping from the sheer ingenuity and thrill of it all. As is always the case with any story written by this author, the relationships between her characters, especially the men, are sensitively and tenderly grown, their camaraderie beautiful, moving and at other times extremely funny. Ms. Riley has a very dry wit and some of the scenes between Eden and his brother, Tobias, are especially touching and amusing in turns.

What a fascinating period the seventeenth century was, and since embarking on my Stella Riley binge, I am continuously asking myself how I could have failed to be interested in this vital period in English history. Ms. Riley’s scholarship is incredible; this is such a complicated period to get to grips with and her descriptions, knowledge and quite obvious love for it shines throughout. How can we, the reader, fail to be infected by this author’s hard work, enthusiasm, knowledge and outstanding writing skill? I can’t recommend the Roundheads and Cavaliers series highly enough and fully intend to go back and read Garland of Straw and The King’s Falcon because it is not to be missed.

SATURDAY SPOTLIGHT: The California Wife by Kristen Harnisch


Purchase Now from Amazon

In the sweeping, poignant sequel to The Vintner’s Daughter, the Lemieux family’s ambition to establish an American winemaking dynasty takes Sara and Philippe from pastoral Napa to the Paris World’s Fair and into the colorful heart of early 20th-century San Francisco.

It is 1897, and Sara and Philippe Lemieux, newly married and full of hope for the future, are determined to make Eagle’s Run, their Napa vineyard, into a world-renowned winemaking operation. But the swift arrival of the 20th century brings a host of obstacles they never dreamed of: price wars and the twin threats of phylloxera and Prohibition endanger the success of their business, and the fiercely independent Sara is reluctant to leave the fields behind for the new and strange role of wife and mother.

An invitation to the World’s Fair in 1900 comes just in time to revive the vineyard’s prospects, and amid the jewel-colored wonders of Belle Époque Paris, Sara and Philippe’s passion is rekindled as well. But then family tragedy strikes, and, upon their return to California, a secret from Philippe’s past threatens to derail their hard-won happiness in one stroke.

Sara gains an ally when Marie Chevreau, her dear friend, arrives in San Francisco as the first female surgery student to be admitted to prestigious Cooper Medical College. Through Marie, Sara gets a glimpse of the glittering world of San Francisco’s high society, and she also forges friendships with local women’s rights advocates, inciting new tensions in her marriage. Philippe issues Sara an ultimatum: will she abandon the struggle for freedom to protect her family’s winemaking business, or will she ignore Philippe and campaign for a woman’s right to vote and earn a fair wage?

Fate has other plans in store in the spring of 1906, which brings with it a challenge unlike any other that the Lemieux family or their fellow Northern Californians have ever faced. Will the shadow of history overwhelm Sara and Philippe’s future, despite their love for each other? In The California Wife, Kristen Harnisch delivers a rich, romantic tale of wine, love, new beginnings, and a family’s determination to fight for what really matters—sure to captivate fans of The Vintner’s Daughter and new readers alike.



November 1897, Vouvray, France

Sara Thibault had never been this sure—or scared—of anything in her life. Marriage to Philippe Lemieux would be like jumping into the rushing current of a river: thrilling to the senses, adventurous and undoubtedly tumultuous.

When she slid her arms around the man she’d just agreed to marry, his brilliant blue eyes warmed with affection, and his lips formed the crooked smile that never failed to soften Sara’s bones. She pressed her cheek to the lapel of his damp wool coat, enjoying the clean smell of the snow that blanketed them on this crisp, gray November morning. Sara was happy—for the first time since she’d fled Saint Martin last year.

Sara recalled the events that had brought them from Eagle’s Run, Philippe’s California vineyard, back to her family’s vineyard here in the heart of the Loire. The tragedy that had forced Sara and her sister, Lydia, to flee France in the first place had taken Sara to California. There, in spite of the tangled history between their two families, Sara and Philippe had formed an unbreakable bond. She shuddered, remembering how close they’d come to being separated forever—all because of one man.

“Are you cold, love?” Philippe asked. “Shall we go inside and share our news?”

“Not quite yet.” Sara looked past him to the watchman’s shed where her mother, her new husband, Jacques, and Sara’s nephew, Luc, waited. Of course she would have to tell them, but what would she say?

“Sara?” Philippe’s lips skimmed hers, and she instantly craved more.

She explained shyly, “I want to spend more time with you—alone.” The ten hectares of bare, dormant vines and rocky soil beckoned to her, just as they had during the winters of her youth. How could she make him understand? “I want to show you Saint Martin.”

His expression relaxed. “And I’d love to see it through your eyes.”

Sara’s face brightened and she linked an arm through his, tucking her hands into her warm woolen muff. Touring Philippe around Saint Martin was a sensible idea. It would keep her mind off the beautiful planes of his face, his tall, vigorous physique and the simmering need she repressed every time he called her name.

They strolled for nearly an hour. She guided him around the perimeter of the farm, past the watchman’s shed to the stables, which held two horses and a wagon. Sara paused at the spot with the clearest view of the Loire’s surging waters. Philippe was quiet and contemplative when she pointed out the three hectares, now vacant of vines, that had been ruined by the phylloxera louse two years ago. “When will we replant with American rootstock?” she ventured.

Philippe shook his head. “Not quite yet.” What did he mean? Sara grew self-conscious, suddenly aware of how small Saint Martin was in comparison to Philippe’s California vineyard. Ten hectares—nearly twenty-five acres of chenin blanc grapes—was no match for the two hundred acres of cabernet, zinfandel and chardonnay grapes at Eagle’s Run. Eagle’s Run was one of the largest vineyards in Napa, and Philippe was one of the county’s most respected vignerons—how could she compete? Nevertheless, this small patch of vines in Vouvray had shaped Sara’s soul from birth. She’d spent years of her life kneeling on Saint Martin’s rocky soil, plucking the thin-skinned chenin blanc grapes from their stems and tasting their juicy flesh. She and Lydia had chased chickens through the vine rows, their girlish laughter playing on the summer breeze. As a young girl, she’d carved her name into the winery’s enormous fermenting barrels, staking her secret claim upon her father’s legacy. Philippe would never fully understand Sara until he acquainted himself with every meter of Saint Martin—and Sara would never be satisfied until they restored Saint Martin to its former vitality.

She’d gone weak with relief when he’d appeared earlier today, but she couldn’t allow herself to blithely, blindly follow him back to America, away from her own aspirations. She would bide her time, but Sara was determined to have her way.


a Rafflecopter giveaway


California wife authorKristen Harnisch drew upon her extensive research and her experiences living in San Francisco and visiting the Loire Valley and Paris to create the stories for THE CALIFORNIA WIFE and her first novel, THE VINTNER’S DAUGHTER. Ms. Harnisch has a degree in economics from Villanova University and currently resides in Connecticut with her husband and three children. Visit her online at the following places:


Indiana Belle (American Journey #3) by John A. Heidt

Indiana Belle

Purchase Now from Amazon

Providence, Rhode Island, 2017. When doctoral student Cameron Coelho, 28, opens a package from Indiana, he finds more than private papers that will help him with his dissertation. He finds a photograph of a beautiful society editor murdered in 1925 and clues to a century-old mystery. Within days, he meets Geoffrey Bell, the “time-travel professor,” and begins an unlikely journey through the Roaring Twenties. Filled with history, romance, and intrigue, Indiana Belle follows a lonely soul on the adventure of a lifetime as he searches for love and answers in the age of Prohibition, flappers, and jazz.


Publisher and Release Date: John A. Heldt, April 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: Indiana & California, United States, 1925 and 2017
Genre: Historical/Time Travel with Romantic Elements
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating:
4 stars

Review by: Heather C.

Indiana Belle has so many things going for it that it really defies a distinct categorization. It has a romance thread that runs throughout. It is packed with a little mystery, intrigue, and adventure from the earliest pages. There is the historical setting and some significant events. Oh, and let’s not forget the very critical element of time travel!

I have been a fan of John Heldt’s works since I first read back-to-back The Mine and The Journey in 2013 (both are from his other book series, The Northwest Passage). All of his books include an element of time travel and that was one of the elements that originally drew me to them. In Indiana Belle, the time travel element involves some tunnels, some gypsum crystals, and some scientific formulae. While the time travel element does require some level of suspension of reality, and maybe it’s presentation here isn’t what most would expect for a method of traveling through time, I found it creative and plausible. The novel also tackles the age old idea that if you travel back in time you must be careful to not change the past or it could affect the future. Cameron wrestles with this premise as he does not wish to let a historical murder happen on his watch. Seeing how he struggles with this and what decision he ultimately makes is one of the central concepts of this novel. Some of the best scenes of this book deal with Cameron’s making continuity mistakes while back in 1925 – some were things that I would never have even thought of.

The romance is a very light, but critical, part of the story. What happens if you fall in love with someone who isn’t from your time? It served as more of another obstacle to time travel and the completion of Cameron’s mission than anything else. The scenes were sweet and grew from a natural place.

Mr. Heldt does an excellent job here of bringing to life the Roaring Twenties; from the quiet mid-west town, to the speakeasy parties, to the big church revivals, it has it all. Cameron sees it as a simpler time initially, but it is full of its own problems, like the KKK and women’s struggle for rights. Some of these elements are obvious while others are atmospheric, but all contribute to a well-formed sense of time. The author also tends to cover an event of significance in most of his novels and here we get a little bit of the Tri-State Tornado of 1925. Having survived a tornado myself, his descriptions felt very real.

There was only a small element that I questioned while reading, which I’d thought might be resolved at some point in the novel; but ultimately it wasn’t. Cameron comes from 2017. I wondered at the choice to set the book in the near future instead of the current year. I wondered what difference it could make for anyone reading the book in a couple of years’ time – the entire novel will occur in the past. After reading, I concluded it didn’t have an obvious purpose.

While Indiana Belle is the third book in the American Journey series, it certainly is successful as a standalone novel. I have not read the first two books yet (September Sky and Mercer Street), but did not feel like I was missing out on anything. I have a feeling Geoffrey Bell, the professor referenced in the book description, probably has connections to the first two books based on some allusions to other time travelers and maybe we learn more about him there, but you still come away with a full understanding and appreciation of Indiana Belle on its own.

There is a little something for everyone here and would appeal widely to both men and women!

Sawbones by Melissa Lenhardt


Purchase Now from Amazon

Outlander meets post-Civil War unrest in this fast-paced historical debut.

When Dr. Catherine Bennett is wrongfully accused of murder, she knows her fate likely lies with a noose unless she can disappear. Fleeing with a bounty on her head, she escapes with her maid to the uncharted territories of Colorado to build a new life with a new name. Although the story of the murderess in New York is common gossip, Catherine’s false identity serves her well as she fills in as a temporary army doctor. But in a land unknown, so large and yet so small, a female doctor can only hide for so long.


Publisher and Release Date: Redhook, 29 March 2016

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: America, 1871
Genre: Romantic Historical Fiction
Heat Level: 1
Reviewer Rating: 4.5 stars

Review by Jill

When Dr Catherine Bennett is falsely accused of murdering one of her patients, she flees New York City with her maid. There’s little chance of a fair hearing, since the murdered man’s wife has influential connections, and a conviction seems certain. With a bounty on her head, she travels to Texas and from there decides that the wilds of Colorado may be her best chance to hide out with a new identity. So Dr Catherine Bennett becomes Dr Laura Elliston.

Set in 1871, the fictional story of Laura Elliston is embedded in actual historical events of that year, with a number of famous historical figures, like General William Sherman and Quanah Parker, included in the storyline.

If you pick this up thinking Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, you may be disappointed. And shocked. Sawbones is not a light and fluffy historical romance or historical western. The cover, and perhaps the title, may give that impression but, be warned: the book is brutal and violent at times, depicting an era that was often harsh and without mercy.

There are graphic, uncompromising descriptions of massacres, violence – both sexual and physical – and of medical procedures. Racism and sexism abound. People die. These were not politically correct times.

Narrated in first person from Laura’s point-of-view, this is mainly her story. Laura’s father was a doctor-surgeon, and she trained alongside him as his (male) orderly during the war. We’re often reminded how difficult it was for any woman during this era, let alone one as independent and career-minded as Laura.

There are no black and white cardboard cutout characters here. Just as in real life, people are partly good, partly bad, their motives and reactions are not always pure or right. Even the main characters are nuanced, displaying at times less-than-stellar attitudes and characteristics. Laura is strong, independent and intelligent. She can also be rash, quick-tempered and unsympathetic towards the Native American population, whom she fears.

There is a romance, but it’s not the focus of the story and in fact, since it’s not mentioned in the blurb, I wasn’t even sure who Laura’s love interest would be. Her first meeting with him is as original as it is unexpected. He is charming, handsome, kind and honorable. And in true heroic form is willing to do his all to protect Laura, no matter the cost.

The blurb says: Outlander meets post-Civil War unrest…

Of all the books over recent years that have lured me in by playing the Outlander card, this is the first one I’ve read that actually lives up to the sales pitch. Not that Sawbones is Outlander exactly. After all we’re talking America in 1871, not the Scottish Highlands of 1743 .

But like Outlander, Sawbones is historical fiction, minus the time-travel. It is told in first-person from the heroine’s PoV. There is a love story. And like Outlander, the story is captivating, well-written, well-researched, set within real historical events, contains lots of details about medical procedures and vivid descriptions of the setting and era. Like Diana Gabaldon, Ms Lenhardt doesn’t pull any punches about the brutality and violence of the times. The heroine is a doctor like Claire. (Laura is thankfully, more likable.)

However, the romance is lighter, and the characterisation of the hero not quite as in-depth as Jamie Fraser, so raders looking for the depth of passion of the Outlander protagonists may be left wanting. The romance is definitely there, but it’s less to the fore.

I did have some minor issues with the story which is why it isn’t getting a straight 5 stars. Laura really should have kept her qualifications as a doctor under wraps. A female doctor in this era is going to draw attention, and that was the last thing she needed when she was on the run. Near the end in the final showdown with the villain, there were some clichéd and unnecessary turns before he was finally dealt with.

If you want a sanitised look at the Old West where nothing bad happens, where people don’t die and where atrocities are glossed over, this may not be the book for you. This is the first in a trilogy, I believe, with book two, Blood Oath due out later in the year. Sawbones doesn’t exactly end on a cliffhanger – it’s more of a to-be-continued. There are a number of threads that need to be tied off and number of characters whose continuing stories need to be told, not the least of which is how the main characters’ are going to get their happily-ever-after.

For readers who enjoy straight historical fiction, romantic historical fiction and American historicals, and an ongoing series with the same couple, Sawbones is highly recommended.

VIRTUAL TOUR: Avelynn by Marissa Campbell

04_Avelynn_Blog Tour Banner_FINAL


Add to GR Button

One extraordinary Saxon noblewoman and one fearless Viking warrior find passion and danger in this dazzling and sensuous debut.

Marissa Campbell’s debut novel is a winning combination of romance, history, and adventure sure to appeal to fans of Diana Gabaldon.

It is 869. For eighteen years, Avelynn, the beautiful and secretly pagan daughter of the Eadlorman of Somerset has lived in an environment of love and acceptance. She hasn’t yet found a man to make her heart race, but her father has not pressured her to get married. Until now. With whispers of war threatening their land, her father forces Avelynn into a betrothal with Demas, a man who only covets her wealth and status. The dreaded marriage looming, she turns to her faith, searching for answers in an ancient ritual along the coast, only to find Alrik the Blood-Axe and sixty Viking berserkers have landed.

Alrik is unlike any man she has ever known, strong and intriguing. Likewise, he instantly falls for her beauty and courage. The two stumble into a passionate love affair, but it’s more than just a greedy suitor who will try to keep them apart.

As the Saxons and Vikings go to war, Avelynn and Alrik find themselves caught in the throes of fate. Can they be true to their people as well as to each other?.


A coarse, bloodcurdling shout reverberated through the mist. The drum silenced. I froze. My heart took up a thunderous beat as if a thousand starlings’ wings beat in my chest. Something was terribly wrong. I turned my gaze to the sea, frantically scanning the swirling, ebbing mass of gray, willing the mist to lift.

Shades and shadows melted away. The outline of a Viking ship materialized before my eyes. A blood-red sail pierced the gloom, a black bird emblazed upon the fabric. A beast of a man ran toward me, a painted shield in one hand, an axe in the other. He stepped over the circle and grabbed my arms. I could smell the fetid reek of his breath, the unwashed sweat and sea spray on his filthy clothes. I screamed. He snarled, covered my mouth, and thrust me to the ground. I kicked and thrashed as he fumbled one-handed with the drawstring on his trousers.

Then he stopped, a look of surprise etched in his wide eyes. Blood sputtered out of his mouth, and he fell sideways.

I scrambled back as his body twitched, my breath ragged. An axe was stuck fast in his spine.

I screamed again as another Viking appeared before me. Taller than Glastonbury Tor, he wore a silver helmet with nose and cheek guards and full mail. The same black bird as on the ship’s sail stretched its wings across the battered wooden surface of his shield. A sword and a knife, cradled in their scabbards, hung from a leather belt on his waist. He grabbed one of the dead Viking’s feet and hauled him out of the circle. He jerked the axe free of the body and tucked the weapon into a sling that hung on his back.

I found my feet, spinning to discover the extent of my trouble. Were there more invaders? Did the Viking know I was alone with no chance of aid? Were his men scoping the surrounding area even now? Did they find our campsite with only two horses and two bedrolls? Where was Bertram?

The Viking looked down at the circle drawn in the sand and bowed. With his body still bent, he raised his head, blue eyes regarding me. “I apologize for the disruption to your ritual, Seiðkana,” he said, speaking in the Norse tongue.

I narrowed my eyes at him. Seiðkana? I wasn’t sure of the translation of the word, but I thought it meant witch.

“Who are you?” I asked in Norse, earning a look of shock.

“I am Alrik the Bloodaxe, your servant.”


Publisher and Release Date: St. Martin’s Press, September 2015

RHR Classifications:
Time and Setting: 869, England
Heat Level: 2
Genre: Romantic Historical Fiction
Reviewer Rating: 4 stars

Review by Jill

There was no future for us. He was a Viking, I was a Saxon.

At seventeen, Avelynn is almost past her time for marriage. She has been waiting for a love match, similar to that of her mother and father. But with the threat of an imminent invasion by Viking hordes, her father wants to see her safe, and arranges a betrothal to the wealthy Demas of Wareham.

02_Avelynn_CoverIn a land that has been Christianised for generations, Avelynn is a pagan, a secret worshipper of the Goddess, like her mother before her. Unimpressed and suspicious of Demas, Avelynn travels to a mystical place on the west coast of Somerset to celebrate the equinox, and to ask the Goddess’s blessing and guidance. There on the shores of the sea she comes face-to-face with Alrik, the Bloodaxe.

Set in England 869AD, this is Marissa Campbell’s debut and overall it’s a pretty fine read. The strength here might be the descriptions of the era, setting and culture of the 9th century. Well-paced, with a flowing narrative, she captures the spirit and life of the times when England had been invaded by the Great Heathen Army. The historical details combine deftly with the romance.

Narrated in first person from Avelynn’s point-of-view, we don’t get to see a lot of pillaging by these Vikings, unfortunately. With the story viewed through Avelynn’s eyes, we do get to see her view of life in Britain at the time, and the mysticism and supernatural world of the pagan. Avelynn has been given a fair amount of freedom by her father, the Earl of Somerset. But with the spread of Christianity, with women made subservient to men and women’s rights diminished, she bristles at not being allowed to choose her own husband, own her own land, and to be respected.

Despite being a Viking, Alrik is not quite the bloodthirsty Norseman that one normally reads about, at least with Avelynn. He is a considered warrior-lite compared to his brothers, Ivan, Ubbe and Halfdan. Under Ivan’s leadership the Vikings had marched into East Anglia more than four years before. With a cruel and mostly absent father, Alrik was raised by his mother and a Christian priest who educated him in languages, mathematics and morality, but he was also taught to fight by his father.

My only real complaint here, is that the romance between Alrik and Avelynn leans towards the insta-love kind. Although it took Avelynn a little longer, it didn’t take too long for Alrik to fall for her.

In all, Avelynn is a very strong début. And one that would suit fans of both romantic historical fiction and Viking romances, rather than readers of straight historical fiction.



a Rafflecopter giveaway


03_Marissa Campbell_AuthorMarissa Campbell is a published freelance author, and co-author of the award-winning, spiritual self-help book Life: Living in Fulfillment Every Day.

Look for her debut historical fiction Avelynn coming September 8th, 2015, from St. Martin’s Press. Currently, hard at work on the second book in the Avelynn series, she is a proud member of the Historical Novel Society, Romance Writers of America, Writer’s Community of Durham Region, and local critique group B7.

When she is not writing, she is busy looking after her wonderful children, spending time with her fantastic husband, hanging out with her awesome friends, teaching yoga, dancing, laughing, and having fun!

For more information visit http://marissacampbell.com. You can also follow Marissa Campbell on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

The Boleyn Deceit (Boleyn Trilogy #2) by Laura Andersen


Henry IX, known as William, is the son of Anne Boleyn and now the leader of England, his regency period finally at an end. His newfound power, however, comes with the looming specter of war with the other major powers of Europe, with strategic alliances that must be forged on both the battlefield and in the bedroom, and with a court, severed by religion, rife with plots to take over the throne. Will trusts only three people: his older sister, Elizabeth; his best friend and loyal counselor, Dominic; and Minuette, a young orphan raised as a royal ward by Anne Boleyn. But as the pressure rises alongside the threat to his life, even they William must begin to question-and to fear….

Publisher and Release Date: Ballantine Books, 5 November 2013

RHL Classifications:
Time and Setting: Tudor England
Genre: Historical Fiction with strong romantic elements
Heat Rating: 1
Reviewer Rating: 5 stars

Review by Caz

The Boleyn Deceit picks up more or less where The Boleyn King left off and is, I have to say, even better than its predecessor. With William now king in his own right, the stakes are higher and friendships are going to be tested further than ever.

At the end of the previous book, William had prevented all-out war with France and arranged his betrothal to the young daughter of the King of France as a way of appeasing the Catholic faction in England. His friends Dominic and Minuette helped to avert a Catholic rebellion by discovering the whereabouts of a document purporting to prove that William was not his father’s son. The document turned out to be a forgery, but the religious divide in England is as dangerous as ever with powerful families ranged against each other and ready to tip the country into civil war with little more than the slightest provocation.
Close to the end of the book, Dominic and Minuette had at last admitted the depth of their feelings for each other and had been about to seek William’s permission to marry – when William dropped the bombshell that he loved Minuette and wanted to make her his queen. Knowing that William trusts very few of the people around him and that he needed them and their support at this difficult period in the early days of his reign, Dominic and Minuette opted to stay silent, believing that William would soon outgrow his infatuation.

By the time The Boleyn Deceit opens, however, that shows no sign of happening and people are starting to talk about William’s marked preference for his childhood friend. The rumours have even reached the French court, where the king has the suspicion that Will is going to renege on his betrothal to the princess, an action which would also enrage the English Catholics.

Where the first book concentrated on the friendship of Will, Dominic, Elizabeth and Minuette, this one brings the romance to the fore with Minuette and Dominic desperately in love and unable to be together, and Elizabeth and Robert Dudley in a relationship that is just as frustrating, albeit for different reasons.

For Robert Dudley is married. And Elizabeth knows, deep down, that even had he not been, she would never have been allowed to marry him. I liked the picture Ms Andersen paints of Dudley – he’s so often depicted as an evil schemer, out for his own ends – and while there’s no doubt that he certainly did have an eye to the main chance, it’s made clear here that he’s very much in love with Elizabeth (or as much as a man of his ilk can be in love with anyone). Elizabeth is terribly torn – knowing nothing can come of her fondness for Robert she is simultaneously annoyed with herself for falling for him and unable to resist his attentions. She’s very much the Elizabeth we know – intelligent, learned and devoted to her country. Like Will, she has her father’s temper, but unlike him, she is better at dissembling and able to see more clearly where her own desires are concerned.

Although it is clear that William is a very shrewd young man, well able to weigh his own decisions and to hold his own amid all the intrigues of the court, it’s also apparent that he has inherited his father’s talent for self-deception and his inability to see beyond his own desires when it comes to the woman he wants. Ms Andersen draws many parallels between William’s desire for Minuette and his father’s for Anne Boleyn, and the way that his desperation for one woman caused him to completely disregard the best interests of his country. His passion for Minuette is driving William along the same path and he is unwilling to give her up, believing that if he offers his sister’s hand to Spain, the Catholics will be appeased and that everyone will accept Minuette because he wants them to. But his rashness and his inability to hide his feelings very quickly combine to make Minuette the subject of court gossip – and then worse, a target for those who wish to get the message to Will that she is not an acceptable choice for queen.

While William is the titular focus of the book, the real hero of the story is Dominic, now created Duke of Exeter. Courageous, honourable and fiercely loyal to those he loves, he’s by nature reticent and unobtrusive, despite having been raised to one of the highest offices in the land. He’s the one person Will knows will not flatter him and sometimes it falls to Dominic to say the things that nobody else will. But he hates the deception he and Minuette are having to perpetuate, a deception that seems in danger of tearing them apart. For me, their relationship was the heart of the novel, and I felt for Dominic especially, as he struggled to maintain his customary composure.

And the backdrop to all this is the constantly shifting, constantly hazardous world of sixteenth century court politics and intrigue which our characters must navigate. Will’s uncle, the Duke of Rochford is now Lord Chancellor, and although his power has been somewhat lessened, he is still pulling the strings in the shadows. We are introduced to the man who will become known as Queen Elizabeth’s Spymaster, Francis Walsingham, and also to John Dee, the astrologer and astronomer who also served as one of Elizabeth’s personal advisors.

Minuette is still searching for the man who murdered her fellow lady-in-waiting, Alyce de Clare; Dominic is trying to guide and advise the young king, knowing all the while that he and Minuette are living on a knife-edge; the French king contemplates allying himself with the Scots in order to teach Will a lesson and unrest at home is fostered by some of the oldest families in the land.

Ms Andersen’s meticulous research and her skill in weaving together the strands of reality and fiction sent me running to my history books on more than one occasion, because the action and events evolve so naturally and feel so completely plausible that I started to wonder which was which! I was very impressed indeed with the way she managed to preserve the integrity of certain events in her alternate version of history, and with the way in which the historical figures she employs in the story are still recognisable and very much the people we have come to know through the historical records.

Like The Boleyn King, The Boleyn Deceit ends on a nail-biter of a cliffhanger which left me howling and scrambling to the computer to check when the final book in the trilogy will be coming out (sometime in 2014). You don’t have to have read the earlier book in order to enjoy this one, but I would strongly suggest doing so in order to familiarize oneself with all the different courtiers and characters.

Ms Andersen’s writing is intelligent and well-paced, and all the characters – real and imagined – are well and consistently drawn. The Boleyn Deceit is a terrific read and one I have no hesitation in recommending most highly.

Conquest of the Heart by Michele Stegman


Buy now from Amazon

Her people conquered his country. How can they overcome the distrust they feel to find love?
Madeline wants a big, brash, never-defeated-in-battle, Norman knight. What she gets, by order of the king, is a wiry Saxon who once studied for the priesthood instead of warfare. But is this gentle man she has fallen in love with entangled in the rebellion now sweeping the land?

Ranulf wants to marry the girl next door. What he gets, by order of the king, is a lush, strong Norman woman who just might be a spy reporting his every move. He wants her in every way a man can possibly want a woman. But can he trust his heart to a woman who might have been sent to root out the struggle for freedom his people are engaged in?

Publisher and Release Date: Breathless Press, 14 June 2013

RHL Classifications
Time and Setting: 11th Century England
Genre: Historical Romance
Heat Level: 2.5
Reviewer rating: 5 stars

Review by Patrice

Lately, there’s been an influx of Regency historical romances, with the occasional Edwardian, Georgian or Victorian period piece to add variation. Then dozens of Scottish Highlanders, Vikings and Gladiators, storm the stores and reading shelves until I find myself wondering: What happened to the Cavaliers of the Restoration? Or the Privateers heroically sailing the seas while swimming oceans of political intrigue? And yes, please don’t forget those Knights who jousted on fields for sport, fought and died in battle for their liege, and wooed ladies with courtly love?

It was a pleasure to review Conquest of the Heart, a novel that takes place one year on from 1066AD and the Battle of Hastings. What makes this novel unique? Let’s just say that Madeline and Ranulf are not in the usual style. Oh no, you won’t find any bodice ripping and chest-beating misogynistic frenzy in this book. Each man is male in his own unique way, and all the women are spirited enough to give them the right amount of trouble. For where there is fire, there is passion, and where there is passion, romance is de rigueur in the traditional love story regardless of era.

Trained for the priesthood, Ranulf becomes Lord of Etherby after the deaths of his father and brothers. He is not too proud to pledge his fealty to King William to save his land and people. King William is impressed by his honest bearing and accepts his allegiance with the stipulation that he wed a Norman lady. Stunned, Ranulf accepts, aware that The Conqueror is shrewd and determined to secure England by binding the Saxon nobles to him through marriage. Ranulf is also ordered to build a castle despite the fact that he is a man of peace.

Lady Madeline is escorted from Calais to her new home. Yes, her betrothed is a Saxon noble but she hopes he proves to be a strong, tall and honorable warrior. Perhaps she can find mutual respect and contentment where there is no possibility for love.

Upon her arrival, Madeline’s new husband is far from her ideal. Ranulf is average height, lean, and an intellectual. His hair is long and he wears a beard in the Saxon style. He is very different from the brash, rowdy knights of the Norman court. There’s gentleness in his mannerisms but there is also masculine strength. His confidence draws her in from the moment she gazes into his fierce, deep eyes.

Ranulf is stunned by his tall, voluptuous bride and is understandably suspicious of her intentions. She is independent, solidly built, yet lush. He is staggered by his fierce desire for her. He hoped to wed a delicate flower of England. Now he must make the best of this arrangement.

What impressed me most was how the author gets down to business from chapter one to the finale. I appreciate how all the characters are introduced and the way in which she uses characterization within the structure of the storyline so that we get to know Madeline and Ranulf. Ms. Stegman understands the newlyweds’ insecurities and uses the precarious, post-war tightrope they are walking to create dimension and friction as they struggle against their burgeoning attraction. The relationships in this story, forged after the tragedy of Hastings, become part of the never ending battle of the sexes. At one point, everyone is infected with the love bug. I smiled and cheered until the last hurdle.

I realized Ranulf represents a man who would not be valued for his wits in a time where prowess on the battlefield was revered. This was an age of war and violence. Men who did not fit the warrior standard, or were second or third sons, joined the priesthood or a courtly office.
As a 21st Century woman, I could appreciate Ranulf. He’s an introvert attuned to the feelings of others, a champion for the weak and defenseless. This means he has respect and reverence for women, unheard of in a period where men were quick to beat their wives and children. Yes, I know he sounds like a paragon, but he isn’t. He knows how to fight and has his hang-ups. He’s got Madonna/Whore complex issues which add dynamic tension to his inner conflict — and poor Madeline’s.

Ranulf is no courtier, having spent years on his family estate in the middle of nowhere and aboard. Yet his character has been forged under the harsh lessons of dealing with a father and brothers who were all hulking *ahem* bullies, uh – warriors. I was impressed by his honor, his instinct for self preservation and strategy in combating challenges. His chivalry is a part of his composition. He and Madeline are matched in that they are both loyal, natural leaders and steel-willed.

Today, there are women who look a lot like Madeline and have her insecurities. She worries about not being petite and slender, the kind of woman men flock to and take care of. That is why she feels that she needs a big, strapping warrior to make her feel dainty and womanly. There’s a turning point and a lesson that deals with how sometimes what we see as the perfect woman is not so perfect. Perfection is who we are once we come to appreciate all that entails. Madeline and Ranulf reach self acceptance and it makes it possible for them to love one another later with no walls.

Madeline becomes the perfect chatelaine when she takes up her duties in her new home. She proves she is not just Ranulf’s wife but his willing partner. I liked her even more when she became competitive and challenged a would-be rival and later fights off an aggressive suitor. She fends for herself, and does not need anyone to save her. Except Ranulf. She needs him in ways she never imagined.

When Madeline accepts her feelings for Ranulf, she does not back down from the challenge of winning his heart. This proper Norman lady whips out her bag of tricks to unload them onto the inexperienced Ranulf who is no match for the seductive skills she learned at court. How modern is that? She proves how love can make you fearless and willing to sacrifice all to win.

The racy chemistry between the couple, engaging dialogue and spicy humor, along with everyday details of living la vida loca in 11th Century Englan, is why I personally nominate this novel for Medieval Romance Perfection. Yes, I believe I just made up that award. An excellent story deserves its very own award.

Conquest of the Heart reflects some of the best qualities of the genre’s formula: romance + love=life. I want to roll around in a field of all those wonderful, mushy quotes and clichés. Love is stronger than death; it can overcome hate. Most important, I want to reread this novel and revisit the romance and love between two people who learn to love and overcome social and cultural differences in turbulent times. That’s a story that is timeless and universal.