Review: Smooth Talking Cowboy by Maisey Yates + Giveaway

Review: Smooth Talking Cowboy by Maisey Yates + GiveawaySmooth-Talking Cowboy (Gold Valley, #1) by Maisey Yates
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Gold Valley #1
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on February 20th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Welcome to Gold Valley, Oregon, where a rough-and-tumble rancher and the girl next door are about to learn that opposites attract

Olivia Logan has a plan: win back her ex by making him see what he’s missing. But first she needs to find a man who’s willing to play along. With his laid-back cowboy charm and knack for getting under her skin, Luke Hollister is an unlikely hero—but he wants her help convincing her father to sell him land, which means he needs her as much as she needs him.

Luke likes his life—and his women—uncomplicated. So why does good girl Olivia heat his blood like no one else? She’s always been off-limits, but the more time they spend as Gold Valley’s hottest new “couple,” the more real it’s starting to feel. Luke was supposed to help her win back another man…not keep her in his arms. But now that he has her there, he’s not sure he’ll ever let go.

My Review:

It’s not so much that Luke Hollister is a particularly smooth talker – it’s more like Olivia Logan is particularly susceptible to his brand of cowboy charm – even if she can’t admit it, not even to herself.

But then, Olivia has a long and sad history of not admitting what’s important to her to herself or to anyone else. She has become so invested in being a “good girl” for so many sad and bad reasons that falling for Luke’s charm is the furthest thing from her mind.

Until after it happens, and she’s forced to realize, at least in the privacy of her own mind, that he’s just what she’s been waiting for all along – even when she was pining away for someone else entirely.

This author has a knack for getting her heroine’s into really angsty situations, and Olivia Logan is no exception, even if some of her angst, or at least the layers on top, are mostly of her own making.

In the Copper Ridge series, which takes place just down the road from Gold Valley, Olivia Logan was one of the secondary characters. As her friends and co-workers met and fell in love with the men of their dreams, Olivia was absolutely certain that she had already found the man she was destined to spend the rest of her life with.

The fact that it was obvious to everyone that Olivia Logan and Bennett Dodge had absolutely zero chemistry didn’t seem to matter to Olivia. She had convinced herself that Bennett was the perfect man for her. And it turned out that Olivia’s father had convinced Bennett that Olivia was the right woman for him.

This is not the stuff of which dreams are made. Occasionally it IS the stuff of which nightmares are made.

After a year of extremely tepid dating, Olivia expected a ring. Bennett wasn’t ready. It’s dubious whether Bennett would ever be ready, but Olivia wasn’t ready to admit that. She broke up with Bennett in the hopes that her absence would make him realize just what he was missing.

Instead, Olivia discovered exactly what she was missing, in the person of Luke Hollister – a man who delighted in getting her just a little bit riled up every time they met. Sort of like the way that little boys tease the girls they like but don’t know what to do with yet.

Luke wasn’t interested in relationships, and Olivia wasn’t interested in anything but. But without Bennett to fill in the empty spaces, Olivia discovered that being a good girl was kind of a strait-jacket, and that Luke was the perfect person to help her out of it. And everything else she might possibly have on.

If she’s willing to take a risk on not being perfect, on getting hurt, and on saying (and doing) what’s really in her heart.

Escape Rating B+: As I said earlier, Olivia has been one of the secondary characters in Copper Ridge, and in the author’s Copper Ridge series. She has not been one of the more likeable characters, but up until now, we didn’t really know why.

What we do know is that she’s just a bit socially awkward, and not for any of the usual reasons. Olivia has been so invested in being the “good girl” that her parents expect her to be that she has done her best to live a completely disciplined life and remove any and all temptations to stray from the straight and narrow. And she’s pretty judgemental about anyone who does stray from that straight and narrow.

Olivia is a twin, but her twin sister is not in the picture. Vanessa didn’t just stray from the straight and narrow, she ran headlong away from it, into sex and booze and eventually drugs. As happens in so many families, the more that Vanessa turned toward the “dark side”, the more that Olivia felt obligated to become her opposite, the “good girl”. And now that Vanessa is who-knows-where doing who-knows-what, Olivia is kind of stuck in her role. Not only does the entire town expect it, but so do her smothering, overprotective parents who are desperate to hover over the child they still have in their lives.

Marrying Bennett Dodge was part of the life that Olivia was expected to have. It’s only once Bennett is out of her life that she’s able to look at what she really wants – even when she herself doesn’t want to see it.

Not that Luke is much more self-aware. Just as the loss of her twin is at the heart of so much of Olivia’s behavior, and so much of her internal conflict, Luke Hollister is also hiding a deep loss that he hasn’t been able to get past. It’s their traumas that finally bring them together, and nearly tear them apart.

The lesson at the end of the story is both sad and beautiful. You’ll see.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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Review: Hell Squad: Levi by Anna Hackett

Review: Hell Squad: Levi by Anna HackettLevi (Hell Squad, #15) by Anna Hackett
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: post apocalyptic, science fiction romance
Series: Hell Squad #15
Pages: 182
Published by Anna Hackett on January 29th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

In the middle of an alien invasion, a bad boy berserker collides with a spunky mechanic on a dangerous sabotage mission.

Levi King has always lived rough. Raised by a biker dad, he fought for everything he had—including being president of the Iron Kings motorcycle club. But when the aliens invaded, he lost it all. Now he wades through the muck with his fellow berserkers, fighting to protect the last of the human survivors. He fights hard and parties harder, and follows no one’s rules but his own. But then he finds himself fascinated by a mouthy, auburn-haired mechanic who isn’t afraid to give him a piece of her mind.

Chrissy Hagan survived months of alien captivity and now she’s found a purpose at the Enclave—as mechanic in charge of the armored Hunter vehicles. She keeps her babies purring…and hates every scratch the soldiers put on them, especially when a certain arrogant, cocky, and annoying biker is responsible. Did she mention annoying? What about tattooed, man-bunned, and far too sexy? Chrissy and Levi do more than strike sparks of each other…they start full blown infernos, and she isn’t afraid to use her wrench on his hard head when required.

But then a vital mission requires Chrissy to step out of the safety of the Enclave, and sabotage and steal an alien vehicle. Working side by side, desire burns white-hot. Levi discovers he will give everything he’s got to keep Chrissy safe and claim her as his…if they both get through the deadly mission alive.

My Review:

OK, we’re now 15 books into the Hell Squad series. And it’s still pretty damn awesome.

This is a post-apocalyptic science fiction romance series that will even work for people who don’t generally like post-apocalyptic science fiction. Like me. In a way, the series is kind of an extended version of the first Independence Day movie. The aliens have landed, and they are determined to wipe out humanity and strip the planet. (Or absorb humanity and strip the planet, as the Gizzida definitely have some Borg-like features).

Unlike the movie, instead of the happy ending where the aliens get kicked off Earth with extreme prejudice happening relatively quickly, and before all of the planetary-wide organization has been wiped out, the Hell Squad series stretches out over a relatively long period of time. At this point in the series we’re definitely a couple of years into the mess, and the human population has been decimated, using something closer to the original meaning of the term. But instead of one person in ten being wiped out, the results of the Gizzida invasion have been more like the other way around – one person in ten has survived.

The series focuses on one group of survivors in Australia. The inhabitants of the Enclave have been taking the fight to the Gizzida, and the aliens are determined to wipe out this last bastion of resistance by any means available. And they are unfortunately very, very inventive at thinking up new ways of targeting the remaining human population.

While all of the books in this series are definitely romances, there is an overarching story about the ongoing resistance to the Gizzida  as well as the neverending search for a way to kick them off our Earth. (I’m really, really looking forward to that story!)

In each story in the series, the romances have featured different people among the resistance. While the original story (Marcus) was all about the romance between one of the soldiers and the squad communications officer, as the series has unfolded the romances have featured every sort of person who would be needed to keep a place like the Enclave running.

In the case of this particular story, the romance is between Levi, one of the members of the Berserker Squad, and Chrissy, an ace mechanic in the equivalent of the motor pool. If it has an engine, Chrissy can fix it, armor it up and keep it running, no matter what.

But as a woman who has always worked in a man’s world, she’s kept her heart to herself. As someone who was once a prisoner of the Gizzida, she also highly values her freedom. That combination has meant that she keeps herself to herself, does her job, and is not impressed by the high-testosterone members of the Squads. Not until Levi breaches her defenses.

As with many books in the series, a situation arises where the noncombatant partner has to go on a mission that will put them directly in harm’s way. In this case, the Gizzida have flooded an area near their Sydney Airport base, and are obviously building something that they don’t want the humans to see. It’s up to Chrissy to help steal one of their amphibious vehicles and help drive it into the underwater compound so that the Berserkers can investigate at close quarters.

And of course the mission goes pear-shaped. Until Chrissy saves the day. And her man.

Escape Rating B+: The first third of this book, while a lot of fun, felt a lot like previous books in the series. A lot of patterns have developed over the course of the series and they are pretty easy to spot. Still fun to read, though.

Howsomever, at about ⅓ of the way in, the book suddenly grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. I have no idea why, but once I hit that point, I was all in for the rest of the wild ride.

One of the things that I love about this series is the way that the author keeps expanding the base. It’s not just soldiers, and the women are never damsels in distress. We see all the people who are needed to keep a place like this, and a resistance, up and running and taking it to the enemy. Every single person is busy, and everyone contributes something to the fight.

Chrissy is a terrific heroine for this series. Like many of the women, she’s both strong and vulnerable. That she was a prisoner of the Gizzida and was rescued gives her a different perspective on life in the Enclave. She never mourns what she lost in the invasion – only who she lost. But after her imprisonment, she sees every tiny luxury as a gift to be grateful for. And she is.

I liked Chrissy as a character quite a bit, as was happy to see her find her Happy for Now. All the romances in this series are all HFNs, not for the usual reasons, but because the Now is so precarious.

I hope to see them all become HEAs when the Gizzida get kicked back into space – or into Hell – for good. Hopefully in the not too distant future.

Review: Season of Blood by Jeri Westerson

Review: Season of Blood by Jeri WestersonSeason of Blood (Crispin Guest Medieval Noir #10) by Jeri Westerson
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: historical mystery
Series: Crispin Guest #10
Pages: 224
Published by Severn House Publishers on December 24th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


A missing Holy Relic. A mysterious and beautiful woman. Two murdered monks: Crispin Guest tackles his most intriguing investigation to date.

1390. Hailes Abbey, Gloucestershire, England. Two monks lie murdered, their Holy Blood relic stolen: a relic that is said to run liquid for the sinless and remain stubbornly dry for the sinner. Unwilling to become involved in a bitter dispute between a country monastery and Westminster Abbey, the disgraced former knight Crispin Guest attempts to return the relic to Hailes where it belongs, but somehow it keeps returning to his hands no matter what.

As he tries to shield a former nemesis from a charge of murder while becoming entangled with a mysterious and beautiful woman caught between Church politics and the dangerous intrigues of King Richard's court, Crispin begins to suspect that someone at Westminster is conspiring with the assassins. Can the Blood of Christ point to the killer?

My Review:

Season of Blood follows last year’s A Maiden Weeping, and Crispin seems to have learned very little from all the trouble he got into during that case.

A man dies on his doorstep with a knife in his back. In Crispin’s down-at-heels section of London, that actually might not be all that uncommon an occurrence. But the dead man in this particular case is a monk. And in addition to his corpse, he leaves Crispin with two big problems.

That knife in the monk’s back clearly bears the seal of Simon Wynchecombe, former Sheriff, current Alderman, and always a thorn in Crispin’s side. Simon hated Crispin while he was Sheriff, and beat and belittled him at every turn, including when he needed Crispin to resolve a case.

The second problem presented by the corpse is that he has a religious relic in his possession. Crispin has been involved with relics before. He doesn’t trust them or the people who traffic in them. But the damnable things keep invading his life, and that never ends well for him.

On the heels of the corpse, a woman hires Crispin to find her errant niece, who seems to have run off with a married man – that married man being the same Simon Wynchecombe whose knife was in the dead man’s back.

This all should scream “unlikely coincidence” to Crispin the expert tracker, but something about this woman has Crispin doing most of his thinking with his little head instead of his big one. Not that that hasn’t happened before, too. Crispin can never resist a pretty face, especially when there’s a clever brain behind it.

So Crispin, as usual, finds himself investigating a case where he trusts that no one is telling the truth. He is forced to rely on his own wits to determine who killed the first monk (and eventually the second and the third) without having anything like 21st century forensic science. Only his own knowledge of how things work and how people behave – even if his wits are a bit addled by the beautiful woman who seems to be at the center of this spider’s web of a case.

And just because he doesn’t believe in the truth of the relic, doesn’t mean that others are not willing to kill for them. Or that just because so many of the people involved with this case are celibate monks, does not mean that there are not men under those robes, just as fascinated by a pretty face as he himself is. Possibly even the same pretty face.

The chance to solve this conundrum tests Crispin at every turn. But the unexpected chance to score against an enemy – PRICELESS.

Escape Rating B+: A part of me wants to say that this was fun, in spite of the dead bodies falling at every turn. This case is interesting because it is so foreign. The past is definitely another country in this one.

Crispin is skeptical about the truth and the efficacy of those much venerated relics. His attitude is in some ways almost modern, and in others fits within his time. He’s not sure they are real, but if they are, we don’t deserve them. And it’s not for him to judge their religiosity, only to follow the trail of death and end it – no matter the cost.

But this is a case where trying to follow “who benefits?” is difficult because the benefits don’t seem based in our reality – even though they are in theirs.

As always, Crispin is a fascinating character. Once upon a time, he was a nobleman, who lost his station and his fortune by backing the wrong claimant in one of the early skirmishes of what became later known as the “Wars of the Roses”. He should have been killed for his treason, but instead he was reduced severely in station.

He should have died of his ignorance, but instead was helped and taught until he could manage to make his own living as the infamous “Tracker” who solves problems for a fee and shows up the Sheriffs at every turn. He has seen life from both the heights and the depths, but is a stranger in both and at home in neither.

He’s also in his mid-30s and starting to feel that he is no longer young. At the same time he has no idea of if or how to “settle down”. He does have a knack for gathering interesting people around him who both help and support him. A group that gets more interesting all the time, particularly in this outing.

If you like historical mysteries where you really feel (and occasionally taste and smell) just how different the past is from our own present, Crispin Guest is a master at bringing his world to life – and solving its suspicious deaths.

Review: A Distant Heart by Sonali Dev + Giveaway

Review: A Distant Heart by Sonali Dev + GiveawayA Distant Heart by Sonali Dev
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance
Series: Bollywood #4
Pages: 352
Published by Kensington Publishing Corp. on December 26th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Her name means “miracle” in Sanskrit, and to her parents, that’s exactly what Kimaya is. The first baby to survive after several miscarriages, Kimi grows up in a mansion at the top of Mumbai’s Pali Hill, surrounded by love and privilege. But at eleven years old, she develops a rare illness that requires her to be confined to a germ-free ivory tower in her home, with only the Arabian Sea churning outside her window for company. . . . Until one person dares venture into her world.

Tasked at fourteen-years-old with supporting his family, Rahul Savant shows up to wash Kimi’s windows, and an unlikely friendship develops across the plastic curtain of her isolation room. As years pass, Rahul becomes Kimi’s eyes to the outside world—and she becomes his inspiration to better himself by enrolling in the police force. But when a life-saving heart transplant offers the chance of a real future, both must face all that ties them together and keeps them apart.

As Kimi anticipates a new life, Rahul struggles with loving someone he may yet lose. And when his investigation into a black market organ ring run by a sociopathic gang lord exposes dangerous secrets that cut too close to home, only Rahul's deep, abiding connection with Kimi can keep her safe—and reveal the true meaning of courage, loss, and second chances.

Infused with the rhythms of life in modern-day India, acclaimed author Sonali Dev’s candid, rewarding novel beautifully evokes all the complexities of the human heart.

My Review:

It’s all Kimi’s fault. Not just the events in A Distant Heart, but also everything that happened in A Change of Heart. Both the good and the bad. But especially the bad.

The problem is that Kimi doesn’t know it’s her fault, or that the people she trusted the most saved her life with a giant lie. All that she knows is that two years ago, a donor heart was mysteriously found, and she was able to finally emerge from the sterile bubble in which she had been forced to live her young life.

Kimi doesn’t know where her heart came from. Her rich and influential father has insisted on respecting the privacy of the donor and the donor’s family.

But there’s a black-market organ dealer who is determined to expose the truth that surrounds Kimi’s heart – right before he takes it out of her chest. Or at least ensures that it will never beat again – not for Kimi, not for anyone.

And there’s a police detective determined to bring that same criminal to justice before that happens. Detective Rahul Savant has put all the resources he has at his disposal to bring Asif Khan to justice, no matter what it costs. Not just in revenge for the death of his friend Jen, and for the deaths of all the lost souls whose body parts have been “harvested” by Khan’s organization, but really because Kimi is the love of his life. Even if he can’t admit that to himself. And even if he isn’t allowed to admit it to anyone else. Especially Kimi.

Escape Rating B+: A Distant Heart is the direct follow-up to A Change of Heart. While the friends-into-lovers romance between Kimi and Rahul is played out in this story only, the events that set everything in motion began in A Change of Heart. Because A Distant Heart is the shattering conclusion to a story begun in the earlier book, it is necessary to read both to get the full impact.

And what an impact it is.

Kimi’s life has been a miracle and a tragedy all in one. Her story has elements of the “poor little rich girl” trope, but the “poverty” in Kimi’s story is deeper. Yes, she’s a lonely, rich girl, but she’s lonely not because of distant or neglectful parents (at least not both of them), but because she has an autoimmune disease and must live in a sterile bubble. If her parents weren’t wealthy, the disease would have killed her long ago.

Rahul, on the other hand, began with a happy childhood that was invaded by tragedy of a different kind. His father, also a police officer, was killed in the line of duty, taking a bullet for Kimi’s father. The lesson Rahul learned early, and that was repeated with the sudden death of his little sister, was that people he loved would be taken away without warning.

But the tragedy of his father’s death linked the two families. Kimi’s father felt duty-bound to provide for the family, and 14-year-old Rahul felt equally duty bound not to accept charity from the man who had gotten his father killed. The result was a long-standing arrangement for Rahul to work off the money that was contributed for his and his brother’s education at the estate where Kimi lived in her bubble.

These two children of tragedy connected in a lifelong bond. A bond that neither her illness nor her eventual recovery, or even Rahul’s obsession with the black market organ harvesting ring that led to his friend’s death, could truly break.

And neither could her father’s attempts to place restrictions and limitations on their friendship.

This is a story with multiple facets. The relationship between Rahul and Kimi careens between friendship, love, resentment and fear on an endless roller coaster ride. Rahul is afraid to love anyone, out of fear they will be taken from him. That’s a fear that is more than realistic in Kimi’s case as her life has always been on borrowed time. Kimi loves Rahul, but can also be somewhat of a spoiled brat about getting her own way. She’s never bad about it, but she is used to being indulged in a whole lot of ways because her illness made her precious to everyone around her.

There is also a central mystery to the story. The organ harvester is after Kimi for reasons that are obscure at first, but become clear over the course of the story. His pursuit is deadly, and forces Rahul and Kimi to stay together for safety, giving them the chance they need to work through how they really feel about each other as adults.

But that pursuit is an obsession, and it’s an obsession that gets the man killed. Not that he doesn’t deserve to die as the story goes, but more that it defies common sense. He could have, and should have, left Kimi alone and escaped to set up somewhere else. Not as interesting a story, but more logical. My two cents.

A Distant Heart is a love story where there is so much bitter mixed with the sweet, right until the very end, that you’ll need tissues to cope with the pangs of your own heart. If you are in the mood for sweetness mixed with angst (and a touch of crazy), this one will keep you tied to your chair until the final page.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Enter the giveaway for a prize pack from Sonali that includes a $50 Amazon gift card and print copies of A Bollywood Affair and A Change of Heart!

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Review: The Duke of Her Desire by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Duke of Her Desire by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Duke of Her Desire (Diamonds in the Rough #2) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Diamonds in the Rough #2
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on December 26th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


He was only supposed to keep an eye on his friend’s sister . . . now he’s about to lose his heart . . .

When Thomas Heathmore, Duke of Coventry, agrees to steer his friend’s inexperienced younger sister through society, he doesn’t expect the lady in question to be so infernally stubborn. Amelia Matthews seems to have little interest in balls or suitors at all. Instead, she intends to open a school, and against his better instincts, Thomas offers to help. Yet somewhere along the line, Amelia ceases to be a simple responsibility . . . and becomes an undeniable temptation.

Since her brother inherited a dukedom, Amelia’s prospects have transformed. But though she’s long been secretly infatuated with Thomas, she refuses to heed the arrogant aristocrat’s advice. If only it were as easy to ignore his heated touch. And as Amelia soon learns, the ton is a minefield, where one moment’s indiscretion can unleash a scandal—or entice her to surrender everything to the duke of her desire . . .

My Review:

In the past couple of months I have read a lot of Sophie Barnes, and they’ve all been a lot of fun, particularly A Most Unlikely Duke, the first book in her Diamonds in the Rough series. This second book in the series is every bit as much of a romp as the first.

The series features the family of the newly elevated Duke of Huntley, who was discovered to be living in the slums of St. Giles when he inherited his title, along with his two sisters Amelia and Juliette. Once upon a time they were gentry – until their father committed suicide and their mother abandoned them.

Now, after a lot of unexpected deaths between Raphe and the title, he is now a Duke. The story of his semi-adjustment to his new status, as well as his finding his happily ever after, is the story that is told in A Most Unlikely Duke.

But now that Raphe is settled (or as settled as he’ll ever be), it is his sister Amelia’s turn. Their new society friends believe that Amelia’s turn needs to be fairly urgent – she is over 20 and if she does not marry this Season she will be labeled as permanently on-the-shelf and doomed to eternal spinsterhood.

There are at least two problems with seemingly everyone’s plan to find Amelia a suitable husband and marry her off posthaste.

While some of the high-sticklers in the ton think that Amelia’s background in St. Giles will prevent her from ever being “one of them”, her background per se is not the problem. What is a problem is that her sudden elevation from poverty to riches, combined with her own gifts in mathematics and other subjects that women of the ton never even get near to, has left her with a desire that borders on compulsion to find a way to give back to society in the broader sense and St. Giles in particular. She wants to found a school for the children of the area so that they can have a chance to escape the grinding poverty and make something of themselves.

She is more than willing to put herself and her reputation at risk to achieve her goal, and is unwilling to accept much aid or any restriction in its pursuit.

The other stumbling block to everyone’s plans for Amelia to marry someone “suitable” is that Amelia has already fallen in love with someone that she believes is well above her touch. As a Duke the equal of her brother, Thomas, Duke of Coventry is more than suitable for her, but she is certain that with her background she is far from suitable for him. And his treatment of her, correcting her at every turn, reinforces that view.

But the real problem between them is that Coventry doesn’t believe he is in a position to marry anyone. He is raising his late sister’s bastard child as his own, and keeping that secret is worth sacrificing his own happiness for. But Coventry’s plan to hold Amelia at a figurative rather than a literal arm’s length is doomed when Raphe asks him to watch over Amelia and Jessica while he is away on his honeymoon, and Coventry discovers that the only way to protect Amelia in her mad plan to open a school is to help her with it.

The more time they spend together, the less they are able to resist each other. But when their marriage seems as if it is forced, they both try to turn away from their best hope of happiness.

Escape Rating B+:The Duke of Her Desire is every bit as delightful as A Most Unlikely Duke. I think that this one might have been just a bit more fun as the story is mostly told from Amelia’s perspective – and she is anything but a typical society heroine.

So often in historical romances the woman has had a very sheltered upbringing and needs time to learn her own mind before she can insist on having it. This is definitely not the case with Amelia. Like her brother Raphe, she is old enough when the family is ennobled to be all too aware of the contradictions and the injustices that are part of life among the upper crust. While she feels disheartened by the people who won’t accept her, she is also fairly sure of who she herself is and what her values are – and what she needs to do to live out those values. She also chafes at the loss of freedom that comes from being part of society. Her life was freer, and had more purpose, in St. Giles.

Coventry is an interesting choice for a hero. He is trying so hard to do the right thing by both Amelia and his son/nephew Jeremy. In the conflict that he perceives between those two desires he is often priggish and in a foul mood with all and sundry, including his adored mother – who is eventually forced to give him a well-deserved dressing down over the hash he is making of his life. But his conflict between his best intentions and his basest desires is constant, and only resolved when he finally gets his head out of his gorgeous ass about the situation.

If you like historical romances with unconventional heroines, and especially if you enjoy historical fiction that takes a good hard look at both sides of the way things were (and were not), the Diamonds in the Rough series is marvelous fun.

I’m now looking forward to the next book in the series, The Illegitimate Duke, where Juliette goes after the man she’s loved all along. In spite of everything that says he doesn’t deserve her. Because of course he does.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

LINK:  https://goo.gl/xXFeax

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. Three winners will receive a paperback copy of A Most Unlikely Duke by Sophie Barnes.  This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 1/5/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address.  Duplicates will be deleted.

Review: Once Upon a Maiden Lane & Once Upon a Christmas Eve by Elizabeth Hoyt

Once Upon a Maiden Lane by Elizabeth Hoyt
Format read: eARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genre: historical romance, holiday romance
Series: Maiden Lane #12.5
Length: 100 pages
Publisher: Forever Yours
Date Released: November 14th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Miss Mary Whitsun is far too intelligent to fall for the rakish charms of a handsome aristocrat. But when the gentleman in question approaches her in a bookshop, mistaking her for his fiancee, Lady Johanna Albright, the flirtatious encounter only raises more questions. Could Mary, a servant raised in a St Giles orphanage, actually be Lady Joanna’s long-lost twin sister? If so, Mary has been betrothed since birth—to the rakishly handsome artistocrat himself . . .
Henry Collins, Viscount Blackwell, is far too intrigued by Mary to let her go so easily. He’s drawn to her sharp mind, indomitable spirit, and the fiery way in which she dismisses him—ladies simply don’t dismiss Lord Blackwell. But as Mary makes her first hesitant steps into society, she can’t help but wonder if she truly has a place in Henry’s world—or in his heart.

 

Once Upon a Christmas Eve by Elizabeth Hoyt
Format read: ebook purchased from Amazon
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genre: historical romance, holiday romance
Series: Maiden Lane #12.6
Length: 93
Publisher: Forever Yours
Date Released: December 5th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author’s Website, Publisher’s Website, Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

Adam Rutledge, Viscount d’Arque, really rather loathes Christmas. The banal cheerfulness. The asinine party games. And, worst of all, the obligatory trip to the countryside. His grandmother, however, loves the holiday—and Adam loves his grandmother, so he’ll brave the fiercest snowstorm to please her. But when their carriage wheel snaps, they’re forced to seek shelter at the home of the most maddening, infuriating, and utterly beguiling woman he’s ever met.

Sarah St. John really rather loathes rakes. The self-satisfied smirks. The sly predatory gazes. Oh, and the constant witty banter rife with double meaning. But in the spirit of the season, she’ll welcome this admittedly handsome viscount into her home. But as the snowstorm rages, the Yule log crackles, and the tension rises, Sarah and Adam find themselves locked in a fiery, passionate kiss. If love is the true meaning of Christmas, it’s the one gift this mismatched pair can’t wait to unwrap.

My Review:

Even here in Atlanta, it was beginning to look (and certainly feel) a lot like Christmas this weekend. Not only do lots of houses in the neighborhood have their lights up, but it was downright cold! It put me in the mood to read more holiday stories. So when I finished Once Upon a Maiden Lane and discovered there was a second Maiden Lane holiday novella this year, I picked that up, too, so I could review them together. And here they are!

Both of these stories, like Sophie Barnes’ lovely Honorable Scoundrels series, take place over the Christmas holidays, so the story is short and so is the amount of time available for it to happen. Not that in both cases it wouldn’t have been great if they’d been just a bit longer, because there is plenty to explore.

The stories take two tried-and-true tropes and use them in interesting ways.

Once Upon a Maiden Lane is kind of a Cinderella story, except that Mary Whitsun does not feel remotely put upon in her position as nursemaid to the Caire children. But it is still a rags to riches story, where Mary is suddenly believed to be a lost daughter of the aristocracy, and must adapt to a vast change in circumstances.

Once Upon a Christmas Eve works with a completely different trope, that of the weather-stranded traveler and a romance that must be completed before the weather clears and the traveler is on his (in this case) way. It also has the added fillip of a “rake reformed” hero.

Mary Whitsun, the heroine of Once Upon a Maiden Lane, has been a secondary character throughout the entire Maiden Lane series. As a consequence, long-time readers will be happy to see her as the heroine of her own story at last. Because she has been part of the “cast” of the series from the beginning, many of the series’ previous HEA couples make at least a brief appearance in this story. However, the story works well on its own for those who are not steeped in the backstory.

In the isolation of a country-house holiday celebration, there are fewer long-term denizens of the Maiden Lane series in Once Upon a Christmas Eve, so this one definitely stands on its own for new readers looking for a taste of Maiden Lane.

One of the things that both stories have in common is that both of the heroines are very aware, and remind the reader, that women’s choices were completely subscribed and utterly restricted. Mary, when confronted by Viscount Blackwell in the bookstore, feels trapped, and with good reason. If an aristocrat takes an interest in her, she has no recourse. If he chooses to pursue her, no one will aid her in turning him away. If he rapes her, only she will suffer any consequences whatsoever, from loss of her position to potential pregnancy. Everyone will believe that she seduced him, no matter how she protests. She has no social capital and he has it all.

Sarah St. John, the heroine of Once Upon a Christmas Eve, has suffered from just such a situation. Even though she is herself a member of the aristocracy, once upon a time she was merely a young woman in her first season exploring her first stirrings of romance. When a man took advantage of her innocence, he claimed that she seduced him, and she was the one blamed and ostracized, even though he was known to be an experienced rake. It’s always the woman’s fault, even when it isn’t.

Both of these rocky beginnings get turned on their heads in delightful ways. Viscount Blackwell is not pursuing Mary with nefarious motives – he truly believes that she’s the lost twin of his fiance, and should be returned to the family that has never given up on her.

The Viscount D’Arque, while he really is the rake that he appears to be, isn’t JUST the rake that he appears to be. He’s reached the point where he is looking for something more, and Sarah St. John turns out to be just what he has been missing. In their hesitant and initially unintentional courtship, Sarah is able to reclaim her lost self, and finally listen to what she herself wants instead of what society tells her.

Escape Rating B+ for both Once Upon a Maiden Lane and Once Upon a Christmas Eve.

I particularly wish that Once Upon a Maiden Lane had been a longer book. The romance worked in the time available, but Mary’s life goes through an incredible amount of upheaval in a very short period of time. A longer story would have given readers the chance to experience that change with her, which would have made a fun story even better.

Once Upon a Christmas Eve was just right. While Viscount D’Arque played the standard “rake redeemed” hero, he was certainly a fine example of the breed and the reader is able to see a lot of his confusion and change and why Sarah both sparks him and falls for him. He was never as irredeemable as he appeared. That Sarah was able to step away from her past and claim the future she wanted all along made this a lovely story. This is one where I would have liked more, but that need doesn’t feel quite as necessary as it does for Once Upon a Maiden Lane.

These novellas seem to be the conclusion of the long-running Maiden Lane series. And they are a lovely way to celebrate the season, tie up the loose ends and make sure that everyone has found their HEA.

Review: Amid the Winter Snow by Grace Draven, Thea Harrison, Elizabeth Hunter, Jeffe Kennedy

Review: Amid the Winter Snow by Grace Draven, Thea Harrison, Elizabeth Hunter, Jeffe KennedyAmid the Winter Snow by Grace Draven, Thea Harrison, Jeffe Kennedy, Elizabeth Hunter
Format: eARC
Source: publisher
Formats available: ebook
Genres: fantasy romance
Series: Twelve Kingdoms, Elder Races
Pages: 454
Published by Brightlynx Publishing on December 12th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

As the snows fall and hearths burn, four stories of Midwinter beginnings prove that love can fight its way through the chillest night...

THE DARKEST MIDNIGHT, by Grace DravenThe mark Jahna Ulfrida was born with has made her a target of the cruel and idle all her life. During the long, crowded festivities of Deyalda, there’s nowhere to escape. Until a handsome stranger promises to teach her to save herself…

THE CHOSEN, by Thea HarrisonIn her visions, Lily sees two men fighting for her tiny country’s allegiance: the wolf and the tiger, each deadly, each cunning. One will bring Ys chaos and death, one a gentler path—but she’s destined to love whichever she chooses. The midwinter Masque is upon them, and the wolf is at her door…

THE STORM, by Elizabeth HunterWhen her soul mate died in a massacre of the half-angelic Irin people, Renata thought she’d never feel happiness again. She’s retreated to the snowy Dolomites to remember her hurts—until determined, irrepressible Maxim arrives to insist on joy, too. And before she can throw him out, they discover a secret the Irin have to know…

THE SNOWS OF WINDROVEN, by Jeffe KennedyAs a blizzard threatens their mountain keep, the new Queen Amelia of the Twelve Kingdoms and her unofficial consort Ash face their own storm. Ash knows a scarred, jumpy ex-convict isn’t the companion his queen needs. But when a surprise attack confines them together in their isolated sanctuary, the feast of midwinter might tempt even Ash into childlike hope…

My Review:

Be sure to wrap up warmly before you start this one. And have a cozy blanket and a hot cup of tea or cocoa – along with a cat or dog to keep your feet warm. All of these stories do an excellent of job of making the reader really feel Jack Frost nipping at their nose – and everywhere else!

I came to visit the Twelve Kingdoms, and ended up making the whirlwind fantasy romance tour. And I’m glad that I did – even if my toes are still frostbitten.

The Snows of Windroven by Jeffe Kennedy

I read The Snows of Windroven first. While I have enjoyed all of the Twelve Kingdoms books, I’ll admit that Amelia, the heroine of The Tears of the Rose, was my least favorite heroine of the entire series. She begins that story as a spoiled brat. It’s only when everything and everyone who has spoiled her is taken away that finally grows into the woman she was meant to be.

And that woman is the heroine of The Snows of Windroven, not that we don’t occasionally see flashes of the spoiled princess that Ami used to be. But this time, she’s mostly right.

None of the daughters of High King Uorsin have ended up in traditional-seeming relationships. Andi is now the Queen of the Tala, but her husband had to kidnap her in order to get her on her throne. He’s not king, only Prince Consort. Even then, their relationship is more traditional than that of the new High Queen Ursula, who cannot marry her consort due to political tensions in his home country. But she will not marry another.

Ami’s fairy tale husband died in The Tears of the Rose. Her paramour is Ash, a Tala half-breed ex-convict with just a touch of healing magic. While Ash is the person who helped Ami grow into who she was meant to be, using a whole lot of very necessary tough love, he’s also certain that she will outgrow him. That he’s not good enough for her, and that she will eventually bow down to the pressure that surrounds her to marry someone of the nobility, someone who can be king to her queen.

So a lot of The Snows of Windroven is about Ash sticking his head in his ass and refusing to take it out. He loves Ami, she loves him, her children love him, but he is determined to set her free. And she is equally determined to keep him. But Ami has a goddess on her side, and poor Ash doesn’t stand a chance. Not that he really wants one.

Escape Rating B+: I have to admit that I still don’t like Ami all THAT much. She has definitely grown up, but there’s still an element of “I’m queen so I can change the rules to get what I want” in her. I’ll also confess that the “I’m too good for her so I have to give her up” trope is not one of my favorites, because it always comes with a heaping helping of misunderstandammit.

That being said, the strength of this story is that it is written entirely from the perspective of the normally taciturn Ash. Being inside his head, seeing his reactions to Ami from his perspective, was marvelous. I liked his “voice” and would be interested in seeing more of their adventures from his point of view – especially now that he’s managed to mostly extract his head from his fundament.

The Darkest Midnight by Grace Draven

Every time I pick up one of Grace Draven’s novellas (For Crown and Kingdom and Teeth Long and Sharp) I’m reminded again that I really need to grab a round tuit and read Master of Crows. Based on her short work, that one must be awesome.

I will say that I very much enjoyed her entry in this volume, titled The Darkest Midnight. But as I read it, I found the story a bit too familiar, to the point where it was driving me a bit batty. The central theme of The Darkest Midnight is quite similar to the central point in the recent (and terrific) historical romance Someone to Wed by Mary Balogh, to the point where they blend together a bit.

As I loved them both, that’s not really such a terrible problem to have!

Escape Rating B+

The Storm by Elizabeth Hunter

If I’ve read other work by Elizabeth Hunter, I don’t remember doing so. And after reading The Storm, I’m not sure that I’ll seek her out. This was the weakest story in the collection for me. I think it has to do with the whole “fallen angels” thing. I’ve read several different stories that use the whole “Grigori are half-breed fallen angels” premise, and it just doesn’t work for me. I actually liked the romance between Maxim and Renata, but the background just didn’t do it for me.

Escape Rating C+

The Chosen by Thea Harrison

And finally, last but definitely not least, The Chosen by Thea Harrison. I have not read Harrison’s Elder Races series, but now that I’ve dipped my toe into this series, I can’t wait to go back and start from the very beginning. This novella is a kind of historical fantasy romance. By that I mean that the setting feels a bit historical, but that it is definitely fantasy. It’s a kind of story I’ve read before, but in this case it’s done particularly well. The seeress Lily knows that she will be forced to chose between two alliances for her country, represented by two men who visit her in her prophetic (and sexy!) dreams. Her tiny country, no matter how much magic it contains, is no match for either of the two predators who are bearing down on her. She knows that one alliance leads to not merely survival but actually increased prosperity, and the other leads to ruin and death. But she has little to judge between them, until one of the predators arrives at her doorstep.

It is only then that she has enough information with which to make a choice. She can pick the distant kingdom, and the man who goes with it, who sends polite and thoughtful missives but she has never met, or the wolf at her door, a man who brings his army, his gifts, and most of all, his overwhelming self. Lily is caught between terrible choices, and is not certain whether the wishes of her own heart represent the best decision for her people, or the worst.

Escape Rating A-: This one is just too short. I wanted more of the this world, more of the conflict that sets this story in motion, more of Lily’s life as the Chosen of Camael, and more of the developing relationship between Lily and Wulf. I loved that they are both the reluctant leaders of their people, and that Wulf is willing to help LIly understand how hard that kind of position is without ever attempting to take it from her. They have a terrific “court and spark” romance that just sizzles on the page. This is a series that i can’t wait to go back to.

One of the reviewers on Goodreads said that she came for the Elder Races and got sucked into the rest. I came for the Twelve Kingdoms and got sucked into the Elder Races. This a series to be added to the towering TBR pile and binged on as soon as manageable. One of the marvelous features of collections like this one is that readers get introduced to writers and series that they have not heard of, or in my case with the Elder Races, skipped because by the time I heard about it the series was already several books in. I’m happy for this introduction, even if I can hear the towering TBR pile groaning in the background.

Review: Back Home at Firefly Lake by Jen Gilroy + Giveaway

Review: Back Home at Firefly Lake by Jen Gilroy + GiveawayBack Home at Firefly Lake (Firefly Lake, #3) by Jen Gilroy
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, small town romance
Series: Firefly Lake #3
Pages: 368
Published by Forever on December 5th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A heartwarming small-town romance that will make you believe in love and second chances.

She has a million reasons to leave. Can he give her the one she needs to stay?
Cat McGuire's return to Firefly Lake is turning into much more than she bargained for. Sure, she missed the crisp pine-scented air and the comfort of having her family around her. But being home makes her feel less like the successful single mom she is--and more like the awkward teen who never fit in. It doesn't help that hockey-pro Luc Simard is back in town, too. Luc was her childhood crush, the hometown hero who never noticed her, and yet somehow he still makes her heart skip a beat.

Luc's homecoming has been bittersweet. He's lost his wife and his career, but there's no better place to start over than Firefly Lake. Coaching the local kids' hockey team makes him feel alive again, and he thinks his life is complete--until Cat arrives. The shy girl he always wanted to protect is now the gorgeous woman who's stealing his heart and making him believe in second chances. But how can he convince Cat that Firefly Lake is where she truly belongs?

In the tradition of New York Times bestselling authors Susan Wiggs and RaeAnne Thayne comes an emotional story about finding love in the most unexpected of places from Jen Gilroy.

My Review:

Second chance lake strikes again!

Firefly Lake really does deserve to be renamed “Second Chance Lake” because it seems like everyone who goes there, especially those who go back home there, discover a second chance at love, and sometimes even a second chance at life.

Cat McGuire needs a do-over. Or a restart. Or at least enough time to consider what her next step in life should be. As the sister of Nick McGuire (hero of Summer on Firefly Lake) she has some of the same baggage that Nick did. Their dad didn’t just leave their mother when they were kids, he ran out of town just ahead of everyone finding out that he’d cheated a whole lot of people out of their money. Think of him as a small time Bernie Madoff who faced fewer consequences.

But Cat, already considered the town oddball as an intellectual whiz kid, found herself the center of more attention than any child could reasonably cope with. Which she, of course, avoided by retreating even further into her books, making her stand out even more.

The one person who stood up for her against all the bullies was budding hockey star Luc Simard. So of course Luc became her hero, and her first crush, and her big brother’s best friend all rolled into one.

Cat comes back to town to look after her mother a bit, after the cancer scare, but also to use a research grant to work on a book about women’s sports in Vermont history. She hopes that getting the book published will finally put her on track for a tenure-track teaching position – something that is really hard to come by for history Ph. D.s, even when they get that Ph. D. from Harvard.

And Cat is hoping that Firefly Lake will give her daughter a chance for a do-over at school. At 12, all Amy wants to do is play hockey. But her dyslexia has held her back academically, and her Boston team was ready to kick her out for not meeting academic standards. The Firefly Lake team is a community team and not a school team, so her grades are not an issue. But Cat worries just as much, because there is no separate girls hockey team in tiny Firefly Lake. Amy will have to play with the boys. And while she’s plenty good enough, if not better, than the other players on the team, as puberty kicks in she just isn’t as big.

But Luc Simard has retired from the NHL and come home. As the new head coach of the team, he sees something in Amy that he doesn’t often see. She can feel the ice in a way that only great players can. It’s a talent he’s happy to nurture. not just for the joy of coaching but also as a way to “pay forward” to the sport that he loves and that has given him so much, even though it has also taken so much away.

Like it took his late wife, who was  herself a women’s hockey star. But now Maggie is gone, two years dead after a brain aneurysm burst. He wasn’t there because he was on the road with his team. And he can’t manage to let go of his grief or his guilt.

So when he discovers that Cat, the little girl he used to protect, is all grown up, he discovers that she touches a part of his heart that he thought he had buried with Maggie. He feels even more guilty.

But the ice has melted, and he can’t stop feeling. Even if he doesn’t know what to do about it. And even as he mucks things up again. Second chances are rare. Third chances are almost – but not quite – impossible.

Escape Rating B+: This series, heartwarming from its beginning in The Cottage at Firefly Lake to its end with this book, with its small town centered around a lake and its second chance at love stories reads a lot like Mary McNear’s equally lovely Butternut Lake series. Although the two are several states apart, these little lake towns and the people who populate them have a very similar feel. If you like one, you’ll like the other – even if Firefly Lake in Vermont sounds BRRRRR cold this time of year!

Although both Luc and Cat need the second chances offered by a return to Firefly Lake, the second chances that they each need are different.

In some ways, Luc’s story is a bit more obvious. In his mid-30s, Luc has been a widower for two years. His wife died suddenly and tragically, while carrying their child. Her aneurysm may have been caused by her high-risk pregnancy. He feels guilty, both about persuading her to try again after a series of heartbreaking miscarriages, and because he wasn’t there when she died. He’s grieving the loss of his soulmate, their child and the future that they had planned together.

And he’s grieving the loss of his career in the NHL, after an illegal hit took out his shoulder. And even though the reality is that if he had not retired when he did, he hadn’t had many years left at the top of his sport, and if he weren’t retired by now, it would be coming soon. Which doesn’t make that loss any easier to deal with.

Cat’s circumstances are different. She isn’t eligible for a second chance at love because she’s never let herself be vulnerable enough for a first chance. Her beloved daughter Amy is the result of a leaky condom and what she thought might be the beginning of a relationship while the guy in question was trying to win a bet. That circumstance, on top of her dad’s betrayal, has left Cat understandably gunshy about men and relationships.

But she does need to step back and do a re-think of her choices and her options. She’s been so focused on achieving her academic goals that she hasn’t been able to look at the big picture. A picture that makes the future look a lot like the past and present, stringing together enough temporary teaching gigs to make barely enough to keep Amy and herself fed and clothed by working 16 hours a day for too little pay. Liberal arts Ph. D.s are unfortunately on the wrong end of a buyer’s market. There are too many candidates and not nearly enough tenure-track jobs.

Both Luc and Cat are back in Firefly Lake at the point of a kind of “time-out” in both of their lives. Even though neither of them is looking for it, both of them are in a position where they need to re-think both their pasts and their futures.

And what they discover is that the affection that they’ve always had for each other is still there, but that now they have the possibility of more – if they can get past the baggage that they are both tripping over on the way there. As their chemistry heats up but the roadblocks multiply, their HEA looks like it might derail before it even leaves the station. It’s only when they all (including Amy) finally decide to go for it anyway that they are able to reach for the future, together.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

Jen is offering one (1) lucky Grand Prize winner a $25 Amazon Gift Card and a paperback copy of Back Home at Firefly Lake. Five (5) runner-up winners will receive a paperback copy of their choice from the Firefly Lake series! This giveaway is open internationally. To enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter below:

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Review: Christmas at Thorncliff Manor by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: Christmas at Thorncliff Manor by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayChristmas at Thorncliff Manor (Secrets at Thorncliff Manor, #4) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, holiday romance
Pages: 244
Published by Sophie Barnes on December 5th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

More than love is in the air …Join the Heartly family as they return to Thorncliff Manor for the holiday season where four sisters and four very handsome, very eligible bachelors, are about to enjoy a lively Christmastime filled with laughter and love. But aside from the covert matchmaking undertaken by the eccentric hostess, Lady Duncaster, the thrill of adventure is sweeping through the estate. Soon, all the guests will be entangled in a treasure hunt for a lost heirloom and secrets hidden for decades will rise to the surface as matters of the heart are finally revealed.

Will Fiona ever see the Earl of Chadwick as more than a friend? Will Emily find an unlikely love in the Marquess of Montsmouth? Can Laura recognize the man of her dreams in the Duke of Lamont? And is Viscount Belgrave able to open Rachel’s eyes to romance? The magic of Thorncliff is about to offer the last unmarried Heartly sisters a chance at their own happily-ever-afters. So sit back with a warm mug of cocoa and lose yourself in a Regency Christmas Romance…

My Review:

Christmas at Thorncliff Manor is a delightful little sugarplum of a holiday romance.

It is also the final book in the Secrets at Thorncliff Manor series, and as such, it does its level best to both resolve the outstanding mysteries left from the first three books in the series and get the remaining Heartly daughters happily married before the final page.

I have not read the previous books in the series, and it looks like some absolutely fascinating things occurred during those books. Thorncliffe Manor is hiding a secret stash of valuables smuggled out of France during the Terror. And while those who betrayed the nobles who left that stash have been revealed and received their just desserts, the treasure trove itself has never discovered.

Not that several of the Heartly siblings, among others, have not spent a significant amount of time hunting for it.

Fiona is hoping to find her great-aunts jewel box. The Marquess of Montsmouth, an avid art collector, wants to find the paintings that are supposed to be included. They do not end up with each other.

But the remaining Heartly sisters, fun-loving Fiona, author Laura, artist Emily and scientist Rachel, do find their happily ever afters where they at least least expect them, among the wealthy, titled, and eligible men that their hostess Lady Duncaster has invited to spend the holidays at Thorncliff Manor.

The fun in this story is watching each of these singular sisters find someone who is just perfect for them. Even the scientific and mathematically inclined Rachel, who can prove with statistical certain that it is statistically impossible for her to ever meet the right man for her.

Instead, one after another the sisters find their matches, men who appreciate them as they are, and have no desire to attempt to mold them into what society expects them to be.

The sweetest story of all is Fiona’s. She is finally mature enough to see that the man who has been her playmate and protector is the only man she could ever possibly love. Even though trying for more has the potential to ruin the foundational friendship of both of their lives, it is too great a prize for them not to risk it all.

Finding the missing treasure is the icing on a very delicious cake of a holiday romance.

Escape Rating B+: If you’re looking for a sweet historical holiday romance, Christmas at Thorncliff Manor is an excellent choice. And I say that even though I have not read the rest of the series. It seems clear that there is more depth to the backstory if you’ve read them all, but this entry is surprisingly complete in itself, especially considering that the Heartly siblings have been hunting for that treasure from the very first book.

The holiday party setting also adds to the fun, and it provides the “glue” that makes these four separate romances stick together. It’s obvious to the reader, and to at least some of the participants, that someone is matchmaking in the background, and that everyone is more than willing to go along for the ride.

I did find Fiona and Chadwick’s romance to have the most depth. It does feel as if they are the primary couple in the story, and we see Fiona’s point of view more than her sisters. Their romance is in a classic trope. They have known each other forever, but Chadwick was her older brother’s friend. He has treated her like a little sister, but now she is 19 and he has finally realized that she is the woman he wants to marry. He has to figure out how to make her see him as something other than an older brother without scaring her off. And there’s a bit of a bittersweet touch because he knows this marks an ending no matter what happens. If she can’t see him as a romantic partner, he’ll need to step away from a family that has become a second home to him.

As I said at the very beginning, this one is a sugarplum, a sweet holiday treat, indeed.

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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Review: The Lady Travelers Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger by Victoria Alexander

Review: The Lady Travelers Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger by Victoria AlexanderThe Lady Travelers Guide to Larceny with a Dashing Stranger (The Lady Travelers Society, #2) by Victoria Alexander
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Lady Travelers Society #2
Pages: 544
Published by Hqn on November 28th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Join the Lady Travelers Society in their latest romantic misadventure, from #1 New York Times bestselling author Victoria Alexander


She must secure her future

A lady should never be obliged to think of matters financial! But when Lady Wilhelmina Bascombe’s carefree, extravagant lifestyle vanishes with the demise of her husband, her only hope lies in retrieving a family treasure—a Renaissance masterpiece currently in the hands of a cunning art collector in Venice. Thankfully, the Lady Travelers Society has orchestrated a clever plan to get Willie to Europe, leading a tour of mothers and daughters…and one curiously attentive man.


He must reclaim his heritage

Dante Augustus Montague’s one passion has long been his family’s art collection. He’s finally tracked a long-lost painting to the enchanting Lady Bascombe. Convinced that the canvas had been stolen, he will use any means to reclaim his birthright—including deception. But how long before pretend infatuation gives way to genuine desire?


Now they’re rivals for a prize that will change everything

Willie and Dante know they’re playing with fire in the magical moonlit city. Their common quest could compromise them both…or lead them to happily-ever-after.

My Review: 

This Lady Travelers Guide is a fitting successor to the first book in this delightful series, The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels and Other Gentlemen, even though both the hero and the heroine are opposites from those in the first book.

Unlike India Prendergast, Lady Wilhelmina Bascombe is quite likeable, and more than a bit uncertain of herself. Which does not stop her from being absolutely determined to find a way to rescue her fortunes without resorting to marrying for money.

As a widow, Willie has a bit of latitude in her behavior. As the widow of a young man who seems to have had zero funds but was determined to have oodles of fun, Willie has few means at her disposal, particularly after she paid off her late husband’s many (many) debts.

She may have eloped with George in a cloud of scandal, but she’s discovered over the two years since his death that she doesn’t miss him very much. And she’s outgrown the constant thrill-seeking that used to be their existence. But she does miss all the friends she thought she had.

And where Derek Saunders certainly had lived up to being the “scoundrel” of the title in that first book, Dante Montague has become a bit too staid and respectable for his sister Rosalind’s comfort. Not that respectability isn’t a good thing, but it seems as if Dante has lost the spirit of fun that he used to have, between managing his investments and managing the down-at-heels art museum he inherited.

But Willie and Dante have something in common, something that is going to bring them together, and very nearly tear them apart.

Once upon a time, Dante’s grandfather owned a beautiful triptych of paintings by one of Titian’s students. And dear grandfather either gave the center painting in the set to Willie’s grandmother – or Willie’s grandmother stole it.

Willie’s late and less-and-less lamented husband pawned it to an Italian collector. She plans to go to Venice to pay back the loan and redeem her painting, so that she can sell it for enough to provide her with financial independence.

But Willie is pretty much flat broke, and the only way she can manage the trip to Venice is to take over as tour host for one of the tours arranged by her godmother’s little enterprise, the Lady Travelers Society.

Dante wants to take back what he believes is “his” painting, and the only way he can do that is to follow Willie to Venice. He contacts the brilliantly idiotic scheme to accompany his sister and her daughter on the Lady Travelers Society tour.

And that’s where everything goes terribly right and horribly wrong, all at the same time. Even before they are forced to flee Venice one step ahead of the polizia.

Escape Rating B+: As Dante discovers, it is impossible not to like Willie Bascombe. Her life was completely overthrown, but she is determined to make the best of the situation that she admits she stuck herself in. George was charming, but neither steady nor trustworthy. Sooner or later, they would have come to financial grief, with or without his death.

Willie is independent, whether she wants to be or not, and she is determined to make the most of it. Not by remarrying for money, but by finding a way to achieve independence on her own. She’s having a difficult time of it, and she’s finding out she has more inner strength and resources than she ever imagined. And that independence can be very, very hard.

One of the lovely bits of this story is the way that the women on Willie’s tour band together and develop a true and sincere friendship, in spite of their many differences. That they all end up first fostering Willie’s relationship with Dante and then uniting against the common enemy is a terrific testimonial to the power of real friendship.

Dante is used to being in control. His investments are successful because he does his research and controls his emotions. While he may have done his research on Willie, he is never, ever in charge of his emotions. Part of what makes the story so much fun is the way that Dante’s sister Rosalind manages to burst his bubble at every turn. She’s his older sister, he’s being a complete idiot, and she relishes calling him on it, while still making it clear that she loves him in his idiocy, even though she refuses to save him from the folly of his own actions.

This is my second book in a row to feature Paris as a setting. In this case, a big chunk of the tour is set in Paris during the time of the 1889 World’s Fair, when the Eiffel Tower was new and a marvel of the world. The descriptions of Paris in general and the Tower in particular are lyrical and moving. It’s astonishing to think that the icon of Paris was originally intended to be a temporary structure.

At the end, this story surprisingly reminded me of the famous short story, The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. Each tries to give the other something that they once wanted desperately but no longer need. The little bit of mystery at the end is the icing on a very fine cake.

There’s one more book in this series at least so far. The Lady Travelers Guide to Deception with an Unlikely Earl will be published next May. And it looks like another treat!

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