Review: The Secrets of Colchester Hall by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Secrets of Colchester Hall by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Secrets Of Colchester Hall by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: Gothic, historical romance, regency romance
Pages: 148
Published by Sophie Barnes on January 12, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

As one of six possible candidates vying for Viscount Sterling's hand, Lady Angelica has been invited to stay at his grand manor for a week-long house party. But an unpleasant feeling lurks within Colchester Hall. It's almost as if someone's watching Angelica just beyond the edge of her vision. And while she tries to explain the chill creeping up behind her as merely a draft, she can't shake the feeling that something disturbing might be at play.
When Sterling decides she's the woman he wants, can Angelica accept her new home and the sinister secrets she fears it might hold, or will she give up on true love because of what could prove to be nothing more than her own imagination?
NOTE: This novella was previously included in the anthology, Wicked Liaison

My Review:

It’s not illogical that the result of a man discovering that his late wife was unfaithful would be for him to ensure that his next wife wouldn’t be tempted. Or in the case of Viscount Randolph Sterling’s search for a new bride, wouldn’t be tempting to others.

The problem is that his next viscountess really does need to be tempting to him.

It’s a conundrum that he intends to solve by inviting six women who are “on the shelf” to his home, with their chaperones, in the hopes that one will strike his fancy – even if it seems that the entire ton has labelled them as unmarriageable for one reason or another.

Three are shy to the point of paralysis, which explains their lack of previous offers. One is a bit shy, but is mostly disqualified because she’s already in love with someone else, who of course doesn’t seem to notice that she exists. (I really liked Lucy and wouldn’t mind seeing her story!)

One of the eligible ladies has the personality of a narcissistic velociraptor. And I might have just insulted velociraptors. It’s clear upon first meeting that the reason no one has offered marriage to Lady Seraphina is because she’s a vicious bitch. And again, that’s an insult to both vicious people and bitches. She’s a piece of work.

That leaves our heroine, Lady Angelica. She’s not shy. In fact, many might say that her lack of shyness, certainly her lack of what was considered decorum and proper behavior for ladies, was the reason that no one – at least so far – had wanted to marry her. Angelica speaks her mind, to the point where she is considered to be blunt to a fault.

Angelica is exactly what Randolph Sterling has been looking for. Over the course of a week where he “interviews” all of his prospective brides, he already knows that he has made his choice.

If Angelica will agree. And if the malign spirit that seems to haunt Colchester Hall will let her live long enough to reach the altar.

Escape Rating B+: For a surprisingly short book, The Secrets of Colchester Hall manages to encompass some seriously creepy Gothic chills while solving the mystery of those titular secrets and leading to a satisfactory – and heated – romantic happy ever after.

Of course, the protagonists need the heat of that HEA to get over the chills induced by those terrible secrets.

The Secrets of Colchester Hall is billed as a gothic romance, and was originally published as part of an anthology of gothics. Gothic romances are a subgenre that isn’t as popular as it was once upon a time, so it was fascinating to read one that invoked some of the classics of the genre.

There are hints of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, to the point where that story is deliberately lampshaded in the bookstore when the hero recommends the book to the heroine. A heroine who is a fan of such gothic romances, as is the heroine of Northanger Abbey herself.

But it feels like the real inspiration for this foray into those secrets at Colchester Hall is Dame Daphne du Maurier’s classic creeper Rebecca. The story has several similar elements, enough to let a reader predict at least some of the outcome. But it stands more than well enough on its own to keep the reader shivering and turning pages to the very last.

What makes this one stand out is the character of Angelica. Her bluntness and plain-speaking make her easy for contemporary readers to identify with, and her willingness to say what she really thinks, no matter the social cost, provides the story with many of its best and most lighthearted moments – as well as providing Sterling with all the reasons he could ever want to ask Angelica for her hand.

Like most gothic romances, there is more than a bit of willing suspension of disbelief involved. The actual villain of the piece is flesh-and-blood and certainly among the living, and that person’s machinations are plausible. Sinister, murderous, manipulative, but still plausible. But there’s an element of paranormal woo-woo involved in most gothics and this one was no exception. Angelica is receiving messages from the beyond and those messages are getting her attention – as well as the attention of the villain. That the story requires her to believe those messages and for the hero to believe her and not have her committed, is a bit of a stretch.

A stretch that works, and chills the reader right to the bone.

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Review: An Unexpected Temptation by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: An Unexpected Temptation by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayAn Unexpected Temptation by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, regency romance
Series: Townsbridges #5
Pages: 146
Published by Sophie Barnes on December 8, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads


No other woman compares...

Six years ago, Athena Townsbridge broke up a wedding. This worked out well for her brother and the lady he loved, but Athena has never forgiven herself for what it did to Robert Carlisle. No one has seen him since he fled the church in humiliation, so when she learns of his estate's proximity to the property she is staying at during a family visit, she sets out, determined to make amends.
When Robert, Marquess of Darlington, is reunited with Athena, she's no longer the troublesome girl he remembers, but rather a fully grown woman. Trapped with her when a blizzard sets in, he rediscovers her playful side, the laughter and joy she can bring to his life. But it is her willful nature that tempts him, both with the need to tame her and with the dream of making her his.

My Review:

At the very beginning of The Townsbridges story, all the way back in When Love Leads to Scandal, there were Robert and Athena. And now, at the end of the saga, tying everything together along with, eventually, the proverbial knot, are Robert and Athena.

But where they began is a far and unpredictable cry from where they ended.

When they began, Athena was only 14 and Robert was a grown man of 24 as well as being her older brother Charles’ best friend. There was no hint of a romance there – and there shouldn’t have been.

Athena was much too young, and Robert was engaged to someone else. In fact, Robert was engaged to the woman who eventually married his best friend, Athena’s brother Charles. An event that could, nearly in its entirety, be laid at Athena’s door.

After all, Athena was that rare person who, when faced with the preacher asking if anyone could show just cause why those two, in this case Robert and his fiancé-on-the-absolute-verge-of-becoming-his-wife Bethany, should not be joined in holy matrimony, Athena spoke up and brought the entire house of polite cards down with a thud. Athena said out loud the thing that everyone else was too polite – or too afraid of starting a scandal – or too worried about hurting Robert’s feelings – to say. That her brother Charles and Bethany had fallen in love with each other.

Six years later Robert is a bit of a recluse. After all, his engagement to Bethany was the second time the man got left at the altar. Six years later Athena is 20 and about to be paraded around the “marriage mart” herself. But both of them are still paying, at least in the social sense, for Athena’s breach of etiquette and manners at the wedding that did not happen.

Everyone thinks that Athena is headstrong and in need of taming, but no one believes that they are up for the job. Certainly not her own family, as much as they love her.

Athena wants someone to love her for herself, personality warts and all, and fears that she will never find such a person. As she hasn’t exactly found that kind of acceptance in the bosom of her own family, her fears are quite real and have done a bit of a number on her self-confidence. Her family would say not nearly enough of a number, which says a lot about that relationship.

So Athena concocts a scheme to repair both her and Robert’s slightly tarnished reputations. She takes herself off to his country house, in secret, to beg his forgiveness for her behavior all those years ago. Not that she thinks she did anything wrong in revealing the truth, but at least conscious that the way she went about it had severe repercussions all around.

Like so many of Athena’s clever schemes, the best laid plans of mice and in this case women very much “gang aft a-gley.”

She gets snowbound with Robert. Who does not want to forgive her or even see her or speak with her, but cannot resist the pull between them. No matter where, or how deep into the surrounding snowdrifts, it might lead them both.

Escape Rating B: The Townsbridges are both a lovely family and a delightful collection of Regency romance novellas. This final entry in the series is a fitting conclusion to every single unconventional romance that has made up the series – and the family.

The Townsbridges marry for love. That was true for Margaret and George (their story is in Once Upon a Townsbridge Story) and it has been true for every single one of their children. But Athena is beginning to suspect it’s not going to happen for her as this conclusion to the series opens.

This is, particularly, Athena’s journey, and with her having opened the series in her unconventional way, it’s possible to see the whole thing as Athena’s journey – just that her brothers and sisters managed to find their own HEAs along the way of Athena growing up and growing into herself.

The hard part of this particular entry in the series is the relationship between Athena and her family, and between Athena and Robert, and the way those two things feed into each other. Because in order for Athena to grow up she has to learn where the lines are. And in order for her to be happy she has to find someone who will help her figure out that terrible lesson without suppressing the core spark of her personality.

And at first we wonder if Robert is remotely up for that job. Athena’s family seems to have abdicated all responsibility in the matter. So on the one hand we have a family that loves her, but from their perspective very much in spite of herself, and on the other hand a man who seems to want to control her or at least manage her – because of course he knows best.

It’s only as the story goes on a bit that the reader, or at least this reader, gets past the uncomfortable bits where Robert talks about Athena needing a “firm hand” – and didn’t that make me squirm – to the point where he’s expressing that he loves her exactly as she is, that her spirit is a big part of what he admires in her, and that what she needs to learn is how to move in society so that she doesn’t either offend or run roughshod over pretty much everyone pretty much all of the time. It’s a bit more subtle than how he sounded at the beginning.

That switch is the making of this story and a fitting end for a lovely series.

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Review: Her Seafaring Scoundrel by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: Her Seafaring Scoundrel by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayHer Seafaring Scoundrel by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Crawfords #3
Pages: 300
Published by Sophie Barnes on April 28, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

The last thing she wants is a husband…

Least of all one determined to win her heart…

Lady Cassandra has no desire to marry. But when Captain Devlin Crawford brings scandal to her doorstep and offers salvation, she cannot say no. Not with her daughter’s future at stake. So she decides to accept Devlin’s offer, provided he agrees to never being intimate with her. For although Cassandra is drawn to Devlin, she refuses to dishonor the memory of her one true love.

Devlin knows he’s made a mess, but now that it’s done, marrying Cassandra doesn’t seem like the worst idea in the world. Far from it, though it will take serious effort on his part to convince her of this. Especially since she’s never stopped mourning the man she was meant to marry over a decade ago. So once they set off on a grand ocean voyage, Devlin embarks on his greatest adventure yet – the wooing of his wife.

My Review:

Lady Cassandra Moor and Captain Devlin Crawford have the absolute worst timing in the world. They have managed to be in the wrong place at the exact right time to screw up each other’s lives entirely too often – even before they first met.

A propensity that is almost their undoing, and more than once.

They’ve been friends, or at least friendly acquaintances, for years by the time that this story opens. Dev is the younger brother of the heroes of the previous two books in this series, while Cass is the sister-in-all-but-blood of the women that Dev’s siblings have married. Of course they know each other.

(Although this is the third book in the series you certainly don’t have to have read either of the other two to enjoy this one. I haven’t but I had a lovely time with Dev and Cass – even when they were at odds with each other.)

As the story opens, neither Cass nor Dev have any intention of marrying – not each other, not anyone. Dev is the captain of his own ship and spends 10 months of the year – if not a bit more – sailing between Portsmouth and India. He loves sailing, he loves travel, and the more he travels the more absurd he finds the ton and all of its silly, petty rules.

He neither wants to be tied to England by marrying, nor does he want to leave a wife and most likely children to manage without him for months at a time. He’d be a visitor in his own life and he’s just not interested in doing that to either himself or the hypothetical wife.

Cassandra Moor, on the other hand, had her chance at happily wedded bliss and missed it by a few measly hours. Literally. Her groom was run over by a carriage on his way to the church for their wedding. That tragedy was compounded by their having anticipated their wedding vows, leaving Cassandra bereaved, pregnant and abandoned by her oh-so-proper family.

Her daughter is the light of her life. She has no regrets on that score. And no desire to replace her beloved Timothy in either her heart or her bed.

But the machinations of Dev’s matchmaking mother put Dev and Cass at a society ball that neither of them had any desire to attend. Dev promised his mother he’d dance one – and only one – dance before retreating to the card room. He chooses to dance with Cass, a friend who will not chase after him with a matchmaking mama of her own.

And that’s where it all goes pear-shaped. Only it turns out to be, not a pear, but an absolutely perfect peach of a mistake. That leads to a surprising happy ever after for Devlin, Cass and especially Cass’ 12-year-old daughter Penelope – who has been matchmaking along with the best of them!

Escape Rating B: If you are in the mood for light fluffy romance – with just a touch of angst happily resolved – in the current real life crisis, then Her Seafaring Scoundrel may be just the rogue you’re looking for!

Because this is a delicious little romance with not just a very unconventional heroine – those seem to be in these days – but with an equally unconventional hero. It’s not just that Cass is “ruined” or that she runs an orphanage, but that she’s completely unrepentant about the whole thing. She doesn’t enjoy being the censure of society, and therefore doesn’t expose herself to it often, but she likes her life as it is. And she likes herself as she is, too. The angst of this story doesn’t come from Cass lamenting that she’s not worthy because she has an illegitimate child, but rather that she is still dealing with her very real grief at the loss of the man she loved and expected to marry.

Maybe she clings to that grief a bit too hard, but that’s human.

Dev’s father wasn’t any happier with him than Cass’ parents were with her. Dev went to sea to escape, and to make a life for himself at something he’s good at. In spite of his father’s censure. Like Cass, he clings to that need to escape too tightly, long after it has ceased to serve him.

Or them. Because the story here is of Cass and Dev falling in love with each other after his impulsive and ill-advised announcement of their engagement. An engagement which, at the moment he made his precipitous announcement, did not exist.

But they are friends, and there are worse bases for marriage. A life spent traveling the high seas, seeing places that few English men or women ever get to see, is also one hell of an inducement.

That they fall in love is inevitable. With each other, and with the life they can have together. The reasons that they almost ruin it before it has truly begun lead back to their mutually terrible timing.

But they survive the storm. All the storms. They get past the dark clouds and don’t merely survive, but thrive. Together. With a happy ever after that has all the fluff that a reader could possibly desire.

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Review: Lady Abigail’s Perfect Match by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: Lady Abigail’s Perfect Match by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayLady Abigail's Perfect Match (The Townsbridges #2) by Sophie Barnes
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Townsbridges #2
Pages: 99
Published by Sophie Barnes on October 29th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

A kiss can cure any ailment…

Lady Abigail has been infatuated with Mr. James Townsbridge for three years. But when she is finally introduced to him, she finds him arrogant and rude. Unfortunately, this doesn’t stop her heart from racing or her stomach from flip-flopping while in his presence. In fact, being near him makes her feel somewhat ill. Which complicates matters when they are suddenly forced to marry.

James doesn’t like the aloof young lady to whom he has recently been introduced. And since he has a blistering headache, he doesn’t have the patience for someone who clearly doesn’t want to be in his company. But when she lands in his lap and he accidentally rips her gown, his duty is clear. Now James must try to get along with his awful fiancée, or risk living unhappily ever after. But is that possible?

My Review:

This story was a surprise. Oooh was it ever! And I meant that in a very good way.

At the beginning, it seemed like it was going to be the misunderstandammit to end all misunderstandammits. Admittedly, at the beginning, the hero and heroine don’t know each other AT ALL, so the way that they begin by misunderstanding each other and keep on doing it at every turn is a direct result of them being barely acquainted in the first place.

That their first meeting is far from auspicious doesn’t help matters. He’s really, seriously hungover, and she’s shy and tongue-tied in that way that comes off as standoffish and disapproving when it’s really all about wanting to disappear.

Then they each disappear from the party that neither of them wants to be at, in order to find a dark, quiet room where they can just breathe and give in to their equal but opposite desires to be anywhere else.

Until she sits on him in the dark – literally – and their quiet room is invaded by everybody and his brother – as well as both of theirs – discovering them in a position that looks extremely compromising.

This is a Regency romance, which means that they have to marry to preserve her reputation. Even if it seems as if he quite literally makes her sick to her stomach.

At this point I kind of wondered where the story could possibly go from here, because it seemed as if every time they were in the same room together they managed to make the whole situation worse.

Until they began writing notes to each other, and discovered that they have the same somewhat morbid and slightly offbeat sense of humor. They begin to find a way, and it starts to look like their impending marriage is going to be glorious and not doomed.

Of course there’s one more crisis that nearly drives them apart – again. But in their forced walk through some very dark places, they manage to find their way into the light. Happily. And together.

Escape Rating B+: I picked this book because I really enjoyed the first book in the series, When Love Leads to Scandal, and wanted to see where the story led next. (There’s no NEED to read the first to like the second, the one is not dependent on the other. But the first book is VERY short and a quite delightful romp all by itself.)

At first, I’ll admit that I totally wondered where Lady Abigail was headed (both the book and the character!) The misunderstandammit is one of my least favorite tropes, but in the first half of the story it seemed as if the whole thing was one giant misunderstanding and not much else. I’ll also confess that the reason Lady Abigail was so tongue-tied it made her sick – that James Townsbridge is just too handsome for words – felt a bit silly. But then, the whole misunderstandammit trope is pretty silly.

Once Lady Abigail put on her metaphorical big girl panties by talking to James through the shrubbery(!), their relationship began to sing. Or at least giggle and chortle quite a bit. It was certainly working.

When the crisis came and everything nearly fell to bits, things got very dark. And I’m trying not to spoil it, because the way they eventually recovered and learned to get past it was extremely well done.

So this one isn’t nearly as light and fluffy as that blurb might lead you to believe. And it’s all the better for it.

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Review: When Love Leads to Scandal by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: When Love Leads to Scandal by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayWhen Love Leads to Scandal (Townsbridges #1) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Townsbridges #1
Pages: 96
Published by Sophie Barnes on February 19th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
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Two people fated to be together…

Recently engaged to the Earl of Langdon, Lady Bethany is content with the knowledge that she’s made a wonderful match for herself. Until a chance encounter with a handsome stranger makes her wish she was still unattached – a sentiment that grows even stronger when circumstance causes her to spend more time in this gentleman’s company.

And the duty that threatens to come between them…

Charles Townsbridge is not prepared to learn that the mystery woman he met in the park, the very same woman he cannot get out of his head, is in fact his best friend’s fiancée. Determined to do the right thing, he tasks himself with quashing the attraction, only to discover that the heart cannot be so easily controlled.

My Review:

Think of this as a historical version of the trope about falling for your significant other’s best friend – just with a whole lot of added consequences.

After a Transatlantic crossing where they had a chance to get to know one another, Lady Bethany agreed to marry Robert, the Earl of Langdon. It seemed like an excellent match – and it possibly might have been. Except for that whole best friend problem.

And because Robert basically saw their engagement as a business transaction, one where once the contract was signed and sealed he didn’t have to put forth any future effort to win the woman who had agreed to become his wife.

He had plenty of other unspoken expectations as well. Love didn’t enter into it – and it honestly didn’t for Bethany, either. But she did hope that when they got to know one another that they would have a solid foundation on which to build a marital partnership of some kind.

He couldn’t be bothered. Which probably goes to show just how much he cared in the first place.

On that very infamous other hand, Bethany met his best friend Charles Townsbridge in the park. Chasing after her runaway bonnet. And felt the spark that had completely eluded her in all of her meetings with Langdon.

She could have considered it just a passing fancy. Or a bored impulse. Or pretty much anything except that spark of an attraction she was no longer eligible to feel.

But Charles felt it too. Leaving him determined to suppress his desires at every turn. Of which there were entirely too many – because Bethany’s fiance trusted his best friend to take care of the woman he couldn’t be bothered to even take tea with.

Nothing happened. There was no affair. Plenty of temptation, but just the barest hint of flirting – and even that only after being thrown together too many times. They were both completely honorable – and both suffering in silence. A silence they both planned to take to their graves.

Lucky for ALL of them, Athena Townsbridge was completely unwilling to let her brother suffer alone for the rest of his life – no matter how much scandal SHE had to cause, with his permission – or without.

Escape Rating B+: This book feels like the absolute ultimate read in UST. That’s “unresolved sexual tension” for those who are not familiar with the acronym from reading fanfic.

The story here is delicious. It’s also appropriately short. I say that because the tension between Bethany and Charles is palpable from their very first meeting, to the point where it quickly becomes painful for them to be together, and equally painful for the reader to watch.

What makes the story is that they are both trying to do the honorable thing. She affianced herself to Langdon quite willingly – albeit not with nearly enough information. Also, he seems to have put on an act of being truly interested in her while they were aboard ship, only for him to completely drop the act once the contract was signed.

He doesn’t come off very well, and he shouldn’t.

But Charles and Bethany both feel stuck. There will be a terrible scandal if she cancels the engagement and it will all fall on her and her family. While they can weather the storm, it could easily mean the difference between her making a good marriage and not marrying at all.

It’s just a mess, and we feel for both of them the whole way through. Robert, not so much.

All of the adults are trying to do the responsible thing, which makes it doubly delicious when Charles’ young sister decides to hell with leaving everyone to wallow in their misery. I hope she gets her own romance sometime later in this series. She’s already earned her own HEA!

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Review: The Love that Saved Him by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Love that Saved Him by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Love That Saved Him by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 219
Published by Sophie Barnes on October 2nd 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

He needed escape…

Suffering from the recent loss of his wife, Pierce Jackson leaves behind his corporate job in New York City and heads to the Klondike. There he meets Sarah Palmer whose eighty-five year old gold mining grandfather wants to lease the most dangerous part of Pierce's property. The last thing Pierce wants is to fall for Sarah. But as they start working together, a bond begins to form, and Pierce must eventually ask himself if he can overcome guilt and heartache and welcome the love of another woman into his heart.

And found a new beginning instead.

Sarah has a lot more on her mind than starting a relationship with her handsome new neighbor. But as she gets to know Pierce, she begins to wonder, what if? Encouraged by her matchmaking grandfather whose biggest wish is to see her settled, Sarah finds herself swept up in the most unexpected romance. But with shocking family history unfolding and a gold-mining expedition that could go wrong in so many ways, there's a lot for Sarah and Pierce to take care of before they can find their happily ever after.

My Review:

It’s also about the love that saved her. And it got me right in the feels, on multiple levels. On all the levels. I’m still reeling.

The cover for this one just looks so adorable, but the story is much deeper than it appears. This is one of those ones where not judging the book by its cover is good. Because the cover looks fluffy, and this is not a fluffy story.

It’s an excellent story, but not a fluffy one.

Both Pierce and Sarah have suffered from terrible tragedies. At 35, Pierce lost his wife to leukemia. It was swift and sudden and awful and a year later he is still in the midst of his grief and not dealing with it well. But what he is not is also in the midst of the tatters of the life they planned together. Once the dust settled a bit on her passing, he packed himself up and moved to the Klondike, to the land she inherited from her grandfather.

Whatever starting over he was or wasn’t going to do, he planned to do it far from New York City, their apartment, their career-driven lives, and the friends she left behind. And both his and her still-grieving parents. Because so far all they were sharing was pain, and Pierce just couldn’t.

Sarah Palmer has suffered her own tragedy. At 25 she is living with her grandfather, estranged from her parents, still grieving the loss of her unborn child and reeling from the drunken brute that the baby’s father turned into.

She’s still living in the midst of all her pain, because that’s where her grandfather lives, and his support and their work together are the things that have kept her going through everything.

Sarah’s grandfather Thomas is a gold miner. So is Sarah. They still exist in the Klondike (and other places) even though the easy, close to the surface stuff was gone long ago. There are plenty of smaller veins that were inaccessible but now are thanks to modern machinery. It’s those veins that Thomas and Sarah’s company tries to explore.

But the one place that Thomas Palmer has always been dead certain held a rich vein has always been out of his reach. It’s the ridge on the property that Pierce has just moved into – and for the first time in 30 years the lease on that land is available to him.

Just in time for one last hurrah – and a chance for Pierce, Sarah and everyone else in both their families to heal what’s been broken for far longer than they ever imagined.

Escape Rating A: For a relatively short book it’s a surprisingly slow-burning romance at the beginning. But then again, once you get into the story the romance turns out to be not the half of what’s waiting to be explored. And that’s pretty awesome.

One of the things that makes this story work is the instant closeness between Pierce and the Palmers. It could have seemed much too fast, that they were all too quick to trust, but it reminded me of my own experience in Alaska. In places that are remote and have relatively small populations, those “six degrees of separation” are more like three, or maybe two. And it happens surprisingly fast – as it does in this story.

The reason this story hit me so hard is personal. I’m 20 years older than my husband, so we’ve had to have the conversation about what happens if he ends up in the situation that Pierce is in, because that is the more likely scenario – although hopefully not for a long time yet. But still, this felt so REAL to me that it made my own heart hurt in sympathy with the character.

Part of what I loved about the story was the way that both Pierce and Sarah, coming out of their very different but equally difficult wounds, managed to reach towards each other so slowly and so carefully but still find a way through – and just how much of their respective family traumas managed to get healed in their wake. In spite of the blows yet to come.

The characters of this story, especially Thomas Palmer, are right. Life is too short to not take the time to say and do the things that need to be said. And in spite of the ever increasing height of my towering TBR pile – and the number of sniffles engendered by this reading, it’s too short not to take a couple of hours and fall into this book.

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

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Review: The Girl Who Stepped Into the Past by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Girl Who Stepped Into the Past by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Girl Who Stepped Into The Past by Sophie Barnes
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: time travel romance
Pages: 256
Published by Sophie Barnes on June 5, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
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She was looking for inspiration…

When historical romance author Jane Edwards goes to England on a research trip, she doesn’t expect to travel two hundred years into the past. She also doesn’t expect to be accused of murdering the Earl of Camden’s sister. Presented with few choices, Jane decides the best course of action is to help Camden find the real killer. But the more time she spends in his company, the more she falls for the dashing earl, and the more she hopes for a life with him by her side.

And found love in the most impossible place.

James Sullivan, Earl of Camden, is convinced Jane had something to do with his sister’s murder. Until he learns she lacked the ability to accomplish the feat. Still, her explanation about stopping by his home in the middle of a rainstorm to seek employment, doesn’t add up. And yet, when he offers her the position she supposedly seeks, he discovers the smart resourceful woman she is. Which makes him wonder if marrying his new maid, might be worth the risk of scandal.

My Review:

It’s a tale as old as time – or at least as old as the concept of time travel. The premise will sound familiar to anyone who has read any time travel romances. The details change a bit. In this particular version of this old tale, a woman who is looking for a fresh start after the end of a relationship falls in love with a man in a portrait. When the thunder booms and the lightning cracks, she finds herself back at the period of that portrait, face to face with the man of her dreams.

When the trope is as tried and true as this one, whether a particular variation of it stands out from the crowd lies with the execution – because we know how it’s going to end. Somehow there’s going to be an HEA, whether in the past or the present. Or it’s going to be a tragedy, but romance writers generally don’t go there. Readers love their HEAs after all.

Although the beginning of this one reminded me particularly of Timeless Desire by Gwyn Cready, in the end it mostly recalled The Geek Girl and the Scandalous Earl by Gina Lamm. Both of those stories were a lot of fun, and The Girl Who Stepped Into the Past is as well.

Jane Edwards doesn’t merely find herself in the Regency period that she has studied long and hard as part of her research for her own series of historical romance novels, she finds herself standing over a dead body in the middle of a unsolved murder. A murder that was never solved, so she does not have any future knowledge about who done it.

In an era where circumstantial evidence ruled, her position is rather damning. The Earl of Camden, the man that Jane has fallen for via his portrait, is certain that Jane must have just killed his sister. Jane has her work cut out for her, not only proving her innocence but also explaining her sudden presence in the middle of the English countryside.

Jane turns out to be more than up to the task. But involving herself in the life and household of James Sullivan, Earl of Camden, causes her no end of problems, as one might expect. The two bond over their investigation into his sister’s death, in spite of Jane’s rather unconventional appearance and manners.

Jane begins to realize that James is the man she has been looking for all of her life. But falling in love has its own risks. Will he believe her strange story? Is he willing to be shunned by society to marry a woman who at best seems to be an American adventuress? And is Jane willing to give up the safety, convenience, freedom and loneliness of the 21st century for life with the man she loves in a world that will otherwise never accept her?

And will solving the murder change history too much to make any of their wishes even remotely possible?

Escape Rating B: This is a fun little story. I enjoyed reading it but it doesn’t rise above some of the truly great time travel stories like Outlander and The Jane Austen Project. And there are plenty of nods to Jane Austen herself in this story.

Jane Edwards, our heroine, is a lucky woman. By the time she tells him, James manages to believe her story, as outlandish as it seems. He believes, perhaps, just a bit too easily. I considered it all part of the handwavium of time travel and didn’t let it bother me too much.

Jane does have an awfully easy time figuring out who killed James’ sister. To the point where the reader may be surprised that she was a Regency romance author and not a mystery author! But it is all in good fun, at least fun for anyone not the victim or the perpetrator.

The heart of the story is the romance between Jane and James. While they fall in love rather quickly, the dilemma they face is the one that tears at the heart. She might be able to go back. It will be difficult for a 21st century woman to live with the restrictions imposed on women in the 19th century. If she stays so they can marry, James will be shunned by his peers for the rest of his life, and that shunning may also fall on any children they have. They have to be willing to give up a great deal in order to be together. What we feel for, in the end, is the internal conflict they each have to resolve and their ultimate willingness to be all to each other, and to hell with what the rest of the world thinks.

And that’s a hard thing to do under any circumstances, time travel or no time travel. By the time they reach that ultimate decision, we are right there with them.

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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: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, holiday romance
Series: Secrets at Thorncliffe Manor #4
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.

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Review: The Duke Who Came to Town by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Duke Who Came to Town by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Duke Who Came To Town (The Honorable Scoundrels #3) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Honorable Scoundrels #3
Pages: 84
Published by Sophie Barnes on November 21st 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

She doesn’t want to be a kept woman...

Josephine Potter knows she must retain her employment to provide for her younger sisters and to maintain the house. While a young woman working as an accountant—at a hotel no less—could be frowned upon by some, it’s still a respectable way to earn a living. No matter what a certain duke might think. Besides, Josephine has a few rules she lives by: Don’t rely on others, don’t accept money from someone you don’t know, and never allow a man to control your life. But when she is fired from her job, Josephine may have to bend a few rules...

Devon, the Duke of Snowdon, has never met a more bull-headed woman than Josephine Potter! The Potter sisters are granddaughters of a Viscount and should not have to work for a living. So despite Josephine’s arguments, Devon insists she end her employee status immediately and accept a stipend for her and her sisters. When she is then fired, she accuses him of meddling in her life...and things are about to heat up despite the cold winter weather. As they work together to figure out why Devon’s hotel is losing money, a mutual attraction that won’t be denied, grows between them.

But when rumors of impropriety abound, can Josephine’s reputation be saved...or will her life be destroyed by scandal?

My Review:

This is the third, and presumably final, novella/novelette in the Honorable Scoundrels series. I say final because the series has been the story of the three Potter sisters finally finding their happily ever afters, after having been left destitute by their late and not much lamented father.

There are only three sisters, so unless cousins start popping up, only three stories in the series.

Each of the stories in the series has been a delectable little treat, and this final story in the series is no exception.

Josephine Potter is left at home in London while her next sister Louise goes to the north of England to take up a position as a governess in The Governess who Captured His Heart, and their youngest sister Eve travels southwest to spend the holidays with a married friend who can help her make connections, if not in the haut ton, at least connections that will lead to a respectable marriage in The Earl Who Loved Her. (All three stories take place at the same time, but none of them know what really happens to the others. At least not until afterwards.)

Josephine stays home in London because she has a job. A rather surprising position as an accountant for a middle-class hotel

But her job isn’t half as surprising as the man who unexpectedly pays her a visit. Since her family’s fall in fortunes, a duke, any duke, is the last sort of person she expects to see in their slightly down-at-heel townhouse. Even more surprisingly, Devon, the Duke of Snowdon, claims to be a representative of the Potter sisters’ guardian – a man who has never cared a fig for their state or status or even if they were managing to keep body and soul together.

Which they learned to do without his nonexistent help, thankyouverymuch.

But their old guardian is dead, and the new holder of his title and obligations feels obligated to take care of the Potter sisters, not just by a meager stipend, but actually in the style they should be entitled to as great-granddaughters of a Viscount.

Which means that the Duke of Snowdon arrives at Josephine’s threadbare house and insists that she quit her job and rely on the charity of a man she has never met, and whose father couldn’t be bothered to spare her and her sisters the merest thought.

Josephine is having none of it, and can’t be bothered to be polite about it. Nor should she be. But when her job suddenly disappears, she’s absolutely certain that the Duke of Snowdon must be behind her sudden reversal of fortunes.

And he is, but not in the way that she believes. Now Devon needs Josephine’s help to find out why his investment in a respectable middle-class hotel is losing money instead of making it.

Working together, they find not just the true source of Devon’s problem, but also that their best true match is with each other.

Escape Rating B: This series is fun, brief, and meant to be read all together. Three lunch breaks might just about do it – these stories are quite lovely and equally short.

One of the things that worked well in the first two books is the way that the unlikely romances occurred in equally brief circumstances. Events had to proceed quickly because there was a naturally limited amount of time for the couple to fall irrevocably in love in spite of occupying rather different social strata and economic circumstances.

The duke’s coming to town is not similarly constrained. Devon could spend as much time in London as he needed or wanted, in spite of his visit not occurring during the Season or when Parliament was in session. That the element of time constraint was missing meant that this story could have been longer, and I wish it had been. In the vastness of London there was plenty of opportunity for more background and an equal amount of time for the romance to develop.

So while I enjoyed The Duke Who Came to Town, I think I would have liked this one a bit better if it had been a longer story. Which is, in its own way, a different kind of compliment to the author. I liked these people so much that I wanted to spend more time with them.

But if you are looking for a series of sweet little treats to sweep you away for short breaks during the busy holiday season, you can’t go wrong with these Honorable Scoundrels.

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Review: The Earl Who Loved Her by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Earl Who Loved Her by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Earl Who Loved Her (The Honorable Scoundrels, #2) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Honorable Scoundrels #2
Pages: 86
Published by Sophie Barnes on November 14th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

A chance meeting...

Eve Potter can hardly wait to arrive at Amberly Hall for the Christmas season! The hope is that she will make a match with an eligible gentleman. But as fate would have it, she misses the coach that is sent to collect her from her point of arrival, and starts out on foot...only to go in the wrong direction. Nearly frozen, she arrives at Blackhall, where she is invited inside and introduced to the master of the house, the Earl of Ravenworth. Eve is smitten, for he is beyond handsome, which makes him a temptation she must avoid. But can she...?

Bryce Harlowe lives as a recluse, shunned by Society and even his own family after being accused of taking a scandalous transgression. The young woman at his door cannot stay at Blackhall less her reputation be ruined. And yet, when the pesky winter climate leaves them snowed in together at Blackhall, Bryce and Eve grow closer, each discovering a mutual respect and longing for the other. Until Bryce’s past is revealed, threatening to rip apart their newfound love...

-Please note that this is a novella-

My Review:

The Earl Who Loved Her is the second novella in the Honorable Scoundrels series, after last week’s The Governess Who Captured His Heart. The series features the three Potter sisters, Louise, Eve and Josephine.

The Potter sisters were raised as gentry, great-granddaughters of a Viscount. But their grandfather was a younger son who made a quite comfortable living as a solicitor. Unfortunately for the girls, their father did not inherit either their grandfather’s talent for the law or his facility with hanging on to his money.

When their mother died, their father descended into a bottle and neglected both his living and his daughters. At his death, the sisters were left destitute. But instead of throwing themselves on the kindness of strangers or even distant and neglectful family, they are determined to rescue themselves.

The Honorable Scoundrels series is the story of those attempts, which have so far proven to be much more successful than any of their late father’s attempts at either business or the practice of law.

The first two stories in this series take place at the same time, but in different places. This is not one of those stories where the same events are viewed through different eyes. As far as Eve (and Josephine) know, their sister Louise is off to her first position as a governess somewhere in the north of England.

As far as Louise (and Josephine) know, Eve is off to visit her best friend Margaret, who lives near Bournemouth on England’s southwest coast. Margaret has married well, and Eve’s invitation to her house for the holidays is intended to provide Eve with important connections so that she has a chance of marrying well and rescuing the family’s fortunes – or at least their position in society.

But just as Louise’s trip had unexpected results, so did Eve’s. She arrived at the coaching station in the midst of a freezing drizzle, and could not face waiting a half hour or more for the promised carriage to arrive to get her. Instead, she set off down the road, expecting to arrive at her destination in good time.

She trudged her freezing, cold, wet way to the nearest estate, only to discover when she was admitted that she fetched herself up not at her friend’s house, but at nearby Blackhall, home of the reclusive (and scandalous) Earl of Ravenworth.

Just as the rain turns into snow, and the roads become impassable. Eve is stuck at Blackhall, alone (except for the servants) in the house with the most notorious man in the district. If her situation is ever discovered, it will ruin her chances for a favorable marriage – whether anything happens between them or not.

Eve’s reputation teeters on the brink of utter ruin.

Of course, nature does not cooperate, and the weather gets even worse. Eve can’t leave. But the more that she and Bryce get to know each other, the more tempted they become. Bryce cannot manage to conceal just how much he is tempted to compromise the beautiful and intelligent Eve. And she is even less capable of hiding just how close she is to letting him.

But Bryce feels like his past actions have made him unforgivable, so he refuses to tell Eve what it is that she should be (or not be) forgiving him for. They are at an impasse – until Eve finally has the ammunition she needs to take matters into her own hands.

Escape Rating B+: Just like the previous novella in this series, The Earl Who Loved Her is a short, sweet and relatively clean read. And treat.

Also like the previous story, this one takes place over a relatively short and deliberately constricted time period, and under circumstances where there are of necessity relatively few characters and the hero and heroine are forced into a circumstance where they have little choice but to spend a great deal of concentrated time together.

It’s a circumstance that makes the relatively quick romance and the short length of the tale work very well.

The Earl Who Loved Her is a little treat – sort of like a “fun-sized” candy bar. There’s just enough story here for a brief pick-me-up, without being so big as to feel (or make the eater feel) over-saturated with sweetness (or chocolate, to continue the metaphor).

The language that the Earl sometimes uses is a bit flowery, but the feelings behind it seem true. As with the previous book, he is a man who considers himself not worthy of the heroine’s affections. He wants to make sure she has the choice to pursue the goal she originally planned, and is absolutely certain that he can’t be the advantageous marriage that she needs, no matter how much she wants him to be.

And no matter how innocent he is of the “crime” of which he has been accused. It’s up to her to get it through his thick skull that he is what she wants after all. And Eve, like all the Potter sisters, is more than up to the challenge!

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