‘Christmas Brides Anthology’ by Valerie Bowman, Elizabeth Essex, Suzanne Enoch, Alexandra Hawkins

cba vb se ah eeSTORIES: A collection of previously published Christmas e-novellas…

“One Hot Scot” by Suzanne Enoch

Duncan Lenox lives surrounded by enemies, a MacLawry in a land of Campbells. But when an English beauty has nowhere else to turn, he feels obligated to help. Now that they must spend a night together in an abandoned cottage while a storm rages on, will their mutual passion save—or doom—them both?

“Once Upon a Christmas Scandal” by Alexandra Hawkins

Lady Ellen is outraged when she learns her dowry’s been increased by her dad, eager to draw every bachelor in England to her front door. So when Lord Swainsbury comes knocking, Ellen assumes he’s another dreadful fortune hunter. Little does she know that Swainsbury has completely fallen for her—body, heart, and soul…

“The Scandal Before Christmas” by Elizabeth Essex

Lieutenant Ian Worth needs a wife by Christmas. He has to find her, woo her, and wed her before he goes back to sea. Anne Lesley is a shy spinster with no prospects, so she accepts Ian’s hasty offer only for the security it will bring. But when a midwinter storm rolls in, things start to heat up between them…and they might just find true, honest-to-goodness love…

“It Happened Under the Mistletoe” by Valerie Bowman

Oliver Townsende intends to avoid the hordes of marriage-minded misses at a friend’s holiday party. When he meets Miss Cerian Blake, who’s dodging her own unwanted set of admirers, the two decide to join forces and fake an infatuation to keep their suitors at bay. But when mistletoe becomes involved, will their Christmastime prank turn into a love to last all seasons?

REVIEWS: “It Happened Under the Mistletoe” by Valerie Bowman

Oxfordshire, December 1817.  Oliver Townsende, the new Duke of Markingham, has been invited to attend Lord Medford’s Christmastide House Party.  It is with a bit of trepidation that he agrees to attend.  Now that the word is out that he has become a Duke and is single, the young women are around him like bees to honey.  For instance, one young woman, Lady Selina Kinsey, is quite brazen in her pursuit of him, trying to grab him at every turn and kiss him under the mistletoe.  It is while hiding from her that he meets a young woman who is also hiding from several gentlemen who are pursuing her.  

Miss Cerian Blake, age 22, is a cousin to a Viscountess and is in possession of a large dowry.  Although her father made his fortune in the copper trade, Lords Easterbrooke, Dashford, Meriwether and Sir Giliam are all looking to get their hands on her dowry.

As Oliver and Cerian are attracted to one another they are both trying not to give into this as they are each concerned that someone would want them only for their money.  However, they soon find that the attraction they have is true.

I enjoyed reading about Oliver and Cerian and found that they were perfectly matched for one another. They both possess a good sense of humor which is so necessary to having a good relationship.

Once again, Valerie Bowman has written a total winner.  I look forward to reading even more of her novels.

“The Scandal Before Christmas” by Elizabeth Essex

It is December 1816 where we find Lieutenant Ian Worth, second son to Viscount Rainsford who is demanding that Ian marry right away.  After spending 12 years as an officer in His Royal Majesty’s Navy, Ian is not open to demands from his bully of a father.  As it happens, his brother, Ross, and heir to the family’s fortune, has fallen from his horse and being paralyzed he will not be able to father children.  As Ross was engaged to Honoria, daughter of Sir Joseph Lewis, Ian is now instructed to marry her. In order to stall for time, Ian tells his father that he is already married when he in truth is not.

When Ian meets up with his old friend, Colonel Lesley, in a bar who tells him that he has decided to sell his commission and stay home to marry off his daughters, Ian responds that he is looking for a bride. They agree that Colonel and Mrs. Lesley will travel to Ian’s home, Gull Cottage on the Isle of Wight. They will bring their 22-year-old daughter for Ian to meet.  He is told that she is a sensible girl with a good head on her shoulders.

When the family arrives, Ian is somewhat taken aback that Anne Lesley is a rather plain and painfully shy young woman constantly at the beck and call of her mother who treats her as a servant.  In truth, Anne would like nothing more than to marry and get away from her jabbering mother.

As Ian and Anne get to know one another, he is pleased to find that she is quite agreeable to live at Gull Cottage while he is away at sea.  She loves the peace and quiet of the place.

However, Ian’s father makes an unexpected appearance at his home demanding to meet his bride. When Ian tells Anne that he has lied to his father, she goes along with his deception and pretends to be his bride.  Ian always received cruel treatment from his father and was forced to go to sea at age 12.

Will Ian and Anne truly fall in love?  Will they be able to live their lives as they wish without interference by their parents?

I found this to be a very sweet story.  Ian and Anne are perfectly matched for each other.

“One Hot Scot” by Suzanne Enoch

Julia Prentiss is a lovely young woman with a large dowry.  What visiting family, she is kidnapped by Lord Bellamy and taken to his home in Scotland.  His plan is to make her marry him so he can gain access to her dowry.  But Julia is a wily one and manages to escape and take off on a horse.  When the horse throws her, she lands on the ground by a river.  When she sees a naked man bathing in the river, she asks for his help.  His name is Duncan Lenox and offers for Julia to stay in his small cottage a few miles from Lenox House.  A huge rainstorm necessitate that they stay there overnight.  They are immediately attracted to one another and he tells her about himself and his family.

When Lord Bellamy discovers them in the cottage, he tries to take Julia back but they escape to Lenox House which turns out to be a huge mansion.  There, his grandmother and three sisters welcome her.

Duncan is a very wealthy man and Julia is an heiress.  Wonder what will happen next?

This is short but sweet novella with just the right amount of romance and angst.

“Once Upon a Christmas Scandal” by Alexandra Hawkins

It is 1826 in London where we find Lady Ellen Courtland, age 30, living with her parents, Lord and Lady Netherley.  Ellen’s father is ill and has been diagnosed with angina pectoris.  His doctor tries to keep him in bed but his love for his plants in his conservatory keep him escaping from his bed.  Lord Courtland is frustrated that Ellen has not married, but she simply does not care for any of her suitors.  When she discovers that her father has decided to triple the amount of her dowry to make sure she finds the right man, she is furious.  However, she tries to cover her anger and go along with her father to keep him calm.  Her family has invited a great number of people for Christmas and, hopefully, one of them will be someone Ellen will choose to marry.

When Derrick Martin Hunt, Earl of Swainsbury, appears as part of the Christmas invitees, Ellen just figures that he is another man looking to marry her and gain her dowry.  However, as they get to know one another better over the days, she discovers he is not the man she thought he was.  In fact, he is handsome, kind and truly cares for her.  When he confides a sad story about his murdered sister, she is shocked to find that Derrick has reason to believe that the killer is now after her.

As the attraction between Derrick and Ellen increases, so does the tension of what might happen.  When near tragedy strikes, they ban together to save her and her family.

This is a cleverly written novel with solid characters that make the story one that the reader will not want to put down.

I have strived to include teasers by not spoilers in this review as I do not think the book/novella has been published before.

Connie for b2b

Complementary copy provided by the publisher

‘Mastering the Art of French Eating’ by Ann Mah

am mtaofeSTORY: When journalist Ann Mah’s diplomat husband is given a three-year assignment in Paris, Ann is overjoyed. A lifelong foodie and Francophile, she immediately begins plotting gastronomic adventures à deux. Then her husband is called away to Iraq on a year-long post—alone. Suddenly, Ann’s vision of a romantic sojourn in the City of Light is turned upside down.

So, not unlike another diplomatic wife, Julia Child, Ann must find a life for herself in a new city.  Journeying through Paris and the surrounding regions of France, Ann combats her loneliness by seeking out the perfect pain au chocolat and learning the way the andouillette sausage is really made. She explores the history and taste of everything from boeuf Bourguignon to soupe au pistou to the crispiest of buckwheat crepes. And somewhere between Paris and the south of France, she uncovers a few of life’s truths.

Like Sarah Turnbull’s Almost French and Julie Powell’s New York Timesbestseller Julie and Julia, Mastering the Art of French Eating is interwoven with the lively characters Ann meets and the traditional recipes she samples. Both funny and intelligent, this is a story about love—of food, family, and France.

REVIEW: This author has always loved food and enjoys writing food reviews for publications. When her diplomatic husband is assigned to Paris France for a three-year assignment, they are completely thrilled.  As the expat spouse of a diplomat, finding a job can be nearly impossible unless one chooses to apply for working papers and jump through all the hoops involved.  After settling in, Ann decides to write about a few of the signature dishes of France.  Some of these dishes are:  crepes, steak frites, salad Lyonnais, Cassoulet, Soupe au Pistou, Choucroute, Fondue and Boeuf Bourguignon.

To be as thorough as possible, Ann travels to each region from which these dishes originate.  While in each place, she meets with some of the masters, i.e., chefs and restaurant owners and even the growers, to discuss the history and preparation of these dishes and why they are indigenous to a particular region.

A huge fan of the famous Julia Child, Ann wanted to cook like Julia.  Julia was also the spouse of a diplomat assigned to Paris in 1948.  While there, Julia fell in love with French cooking and attended the Cordon Bleu.  While working on a tiny stove in her equally tiny apartment, she mastered many French dishes and wrote a book entitled, “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” which is now considered to be a standard of French cuisine.

The first year in Paris finds Ann alone and on her own as her husband has to leave on an one-year assignment in Baghdad to be then followed by completing his assignment in Paris.  Ann describes the difficulties of loneliness and homesickness.  Add to that the pressure to learn the French language and immerse herself into the culture of France makes for some trying times.  However, her strength and determination to make a success of her time in this beautiful country sees her through. 

I found this book especially appealing to me because I was also that spouse when my husband took a 6-year diplomatic assignment in Paris.  I can certainly understand the many hurdles Ann faces because I did so as well.  However, I also enjoyed seeing her become a stronger person as she learns to adapt herself to all the changes in her life and learns to embrace the entire glorious experience.

If you have an interest in French food and of the history of the regions of France, I think you will also enjoy this book as much as I did.

Connie for b2b

‘Accidents of Marriage’ by Randy Susan Meyers

rsm aomSTORY: Accidents of Marriage explores a topic rarely shown in fiction: the destruction left in the wake of spouse’s verbal fury. Ben never meant to hurt Maddy. He never imagined his recklessness would lead to tragedy.

Maddy is a social worker trying to balance her career and three children. Years ago, she fell in love with Ben, a public defender, drawn to his fiery passion, but now he’s lashing out at her during his periodic verbal furies. She vacillates between tiptoeing around him and asserting herself for the sake of their kids – which works to keep a fragile peace – until the rainy day when they’re together in the car and Ben’s volatile temper gets the best of him, leaving Maddy in the hospital fighting for her life.

Randy Susan Meyers takes us inside the hearts and minds of her characters, alternating among the perspectives of Maddy, Ben, and their fourteen-year-old daughter. Accidents of Marriage is a provocative and stunning novel that will resonate deeply with women from all walks of life, ultimately revealing the challenges of family, faith, and forgiveness.

ACCIDENTS OF MARRIAGE explores a topic rarely shown in fiction: the damaging effects of a spouse’s emotional abuse.

REVIEW: Maddy and Ben are the typical family of three children, teenager Emma and younger kids, Gracie and Caleb.  Maddy is a social worker and Ben is a public defender.  Both have their parents living nearby and have a “mixed” marriage as Maddy is Jewish and Ben is Catholic.

As with any busy family, they are always hurrying to jobs and school and working hard to keep the housework up.  Problem is, Ben has a temper that explodes way too often.  This has resulted in Maddy’s tendency to “walk on eggs” around him to try and defuse his outbursts.  While Ben has never hit anyone, he has broken things by throwing them.  
One day during a rainstorm, Ben and Maddy are in the car and Ben’s temper gets the best of him as someone is tailgating him.  The road rage that overcomes him results in a serious accident that leaves Ben only slightly injured but Maddy suffers a serious brain injury.  The aftermath of simply hoping Maddy will survive to her time spent in a coma puts a huge strain on all of the family members.
The story follows Ben as he finds himself trying to take care of the children as Maddy always did, in addition to visiting her in the hospital, doing his job and handling the anger from family members for his fault in causing the accident.  We see him feel guilt, love for Maddy, interactions with his children and frustration with all of his new responsibilities.
Emma is saddled with a lot of the household chores and caring for her younger siblings while coping with her own anger at her father, worry about her mother and just being a teenager.
When Maddy finally comes out of the coma, her difficulties are just beginning as she has to learn to speak and relearn so many things that result in a difficult uphill and emotional battle for her.  While Ben is solicitous to Maddy, she soon learns that his temper was the reason for the accident.  Will she be able to forgive him and keep their marriage intact?
This is a dramatic story of the consequences of an act of anger.  It could happen to anyone.  Perhaps we all can learn a bit of a lesson here.
Connie for b2b

‘A Lady at Willowgrove Hall’ by Sarah E. Ladd

sel lowhSTORY: Willowgrove Hall is full of secrets, but soon everything hidden is brought to light.
Cecily Faire has a secret—and she intends to keep it. But when she arrives at Willowgrove Hall to serve as a lady’s companion, she comes face-to-face with the only person who knows the truth about her past.

As the steward of Willowgrove Hall, Nathaniel Stanton is dedicated to serving those around him. Nothing escapes his notice—including the beautiful new lady’s companion. He is certain the lovely Miss Faire is hiding something, and he determines to uncover it. But Nathaniel has a secret of his own: he is the illegitimate son of Willowgrove’s former master. Falling in love was not part of his plans . . . until he meets Cecily Faire.

When Willowgrove’s mistress dies, everything changes. Fear of exposure forces Cecily to leave under the cover of darkness, embarking on a journey to finally find her long-lost sister. When the will is read, Nathaniel’s inheritance makes him question his future plans. Cecily and Nathaniel are forced to make decisions that will change the course of their lives. Is their love strong enough to survive?

REVIEW: Cecily Faire, age 16, has a twin sister, Leah.  The girls lost their mother some years ago and have been raised by their angry father.  Unbeknownst to him, Cecily has fallen in love with Andrew Moreton of nearby Aradelle Park and the two are meeting to elope.  However, her father, who works as the blacksmith to Andrew’s father, catches them before they can leave and immediately takes Cecily to the Rosemere, School for Young Ladies.

Laurel Cottage at Willowgrove Hall, Wiltonshire England 1814.  Nathaniel Stanton is watching his father die.  Seeing his father so ill has distressed him immensely so it is very upsetting when his father confesses a long-kept secret that turns his world upside down.  At his father’s passing, Nathaniel then becomes the Steward of Willowgrove.

Now age 21, Cecily is a well-educated and accomplished young woman.  Sadly, she has never again heard from her father or her sister.  Ashamed of her past action of trying to elope, Cecily carefully hides her secret.  With her incredible talent for embroidery, Cecily would like to be a seamstress.  So, she is rather surprised when the Headmistress of Rosemere tells her that she has a job for her at Willowgrove Hall to be the companion to Mrs. Tryst, who is now is poor health.

When Cecily arrives at Willowgrove, she is shocked to find Andrew Moreton, the young man she was supposed to elope with, living there and the heir to Willowgrove.  Afraid that he might reveal their past, Cecily does all she can to avoid Andrew. 

Cecily has made friends with Nathaniel Stanton’s family and enjoys being with them during her free time from Mrs. Tryst.  As she and Nathaniel get to know one another better, they find an attraction to one another.

Although Mrs. Tryst is a crotchety woman, Cecily is very patient with her and they slowly develop a friendship.  When Mrs. Tryst’s health fails even more, past secrets are revealed.

This is the third of Ms. Ladd’s novels.  The first ones are “The Heiress of Winterwood” and “Headmistress of Rosemere.”  I immensely enjoyed her first novels and have anxiously awaited this one.  While it is a good story, I found that the pace of this novel is a bit slow.  However, I think readers will truly enjoy the book and I am certainly looking forward to more novels by this very talented author.

This book is due to be published October 7, 2014 by Thomas Nelson Fiction.  I have strived to add teasers to this review without giving out any spoilers.

Connie for b2b

Complementary copy provided by the publisher

‘While Love Stirs’ by Lorna Seilstad

ls wlsSTORY: After graduating from Fannie Farmer’s School of Cookery in 1910, Charlotte Gregory is ready to stir things up. She is thrilled to have the opportunity to travel, lecture, and give cooking demonstrations on the very latest kitchen revolution–the gas stove–and certainly doesn’t mind that the gas company has hired the handsome Lewis Mathis to perform at her lectures. Lewis encourages her work, especially her crusade to introduce fresh, appetizing, nutritious food to those convalescing in hospitals. But young hospital superintendent Dr. Joel Brooks is not convinced any changes should be made–especially by this outspoken young woman.

When Charlotte and Joel are coerced into planning a fund-raising gala for the hospital, will this combustible pair explode?

Fan favorite Lorna Seilstad is back with a breezy, lighthearted love triangle that will keep readers guessing. Attention to historic detail adorns the timeless story of a young woman looking for true love and making her way in a rapidly changing world.

REVIEW: Charlotte Gregory and her sisters, Hannah and Tessa, grew up on a farm and know what it’s like to have to work hard.  When Hannah married her husband, Lincoln, Charlotte and Tessa were invited to live with his wealthy Aunt Sam.  The sisters lost their parents some years earlier and have become a comfort to Aunt Sam.

It is now 1910, and Charlotte has just graduated from Fannie Farmer’s School of Cookery.  She has always loved to cook and her dream is to be a chef.  Ah – but those jobs seem to be reserved for men. She then enters a cooking competition sponsored by the gas company and wins a new gas stove and a job offer.  Cooking with gas is the new and modern way to cook.  Her job takes her to different cities where she lectures and demonstrates cooking with gas.  She has one week working and one week off. 

Around that time, her sister, Hannah, has just given birth to a little girl.  While visiting her at the hospital, she meets her sister’s doctor, Dr. Joel Brooks.  While Charlotte is impressed with the doctor’s manners and good looks, she is appalled at the bland food being offered to the patients.  An outspoken woman, Charlotte tries to introduce better cooking and nutrition ideas to the hospital itself.  The nurses are all for it but the doctor is not open to change in that area.  He feels that what monies the hospital has should be used for new equipment. 

When Charlotte is free from her lecturing job, she is determined to see that changes are made at the hospital.  A stubborn young woman, she is well paired with Dr. Brooks who is just as stubborn.  While sparks fly with their disagreements, they also begin to light up an attraction between the two.

Aunt Sam suggests a fund-raising ball to help purchase some of the things the hospital needs and set up a kitchen with a goal for better food for the patients.  This means that Charlotte and Joel are working closely together to prepare for the ball.

This book offers several plots woven together so there is never a dull moment.  There are bits of interesting cooking tips, a mystery, crazy weather events and medical emergencies.  That means there is something for everyone.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and look forward to more from this author.

Connie for b2b

‘Thirty-Three Going on Girlfriend’ by Becky Monson

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000031_00006]STORY: Julia Dorning thought she would die a lonely spinster. That was until nine months ago, when her world was turned upside down. Now she’s got a dream career as a bakery owner, and a relationship with handsome Jared Moody—a life she never thought possible.

Just as she’s starting to feel comfortable in her new life, Julia is invited to battle it out on national television making cupcakes. An amazing opportunity, if she can muster up the confidence to do it, that is. Then, out of the blue, Jared goes and throws a rather large wrench in their relationship causing Julia to have to make some big decisions. With her two trusted confidants off in wedding la la land, Julia is on her own to figure everything out.
Left to her own devices, will Julia be able to work things out for herself? Or will she make a disaster of it all? Find out in Becky Monson’s sequel to Thirty-Two Going on Spinster!

REVIEW: Julia Dorning is at a happy point in her life.  She owns her bakery and is very happy with her boyfriend, Jared Moody.  However, she has a lot hanging over her head right now because she is facing being in the weddings of her best friend, Betsy Brown, and her sister, Anna.  Julia is to be in both weddings and has agreed to make the wedding cakes for both brides.  Betsy isn’t a problem but Anna is trying to handle all the wedding plans herself thinking that her fiancé, stuffy Jonathan, is too busy being a big-shot attorney.  (Julia’s thoughts – not Anna’s.)  In actuality, Julia is asked to help more and more with her sister’s wedding which keeps her on the go.

Jared owns a consulting company which takes him out of town fairly often.  This is difficult for Julia because she misses him so much.  However, she is staying busy working long hours in her bakery and helping her sister with those never ending wedding plans.  But when she starts to notice a sadness come over Jared and his travel increases, she can’t help but wonder what’s going on.
One of Julia’s passions is watching Cupcake Battles on TV.  Her dream is to be a contestant on the show.  So, one night she makes an audition tape and sent it off to before she could change her mind.  Lo and behold, she is accepted to take part in the competition.  The winner cannot tell who won until the show airs.  I don’t want to give out any spoilers on this competition but to say it’s funny and crazy!
When Jared finally shares his bad news with Julia, her world is turned upside down.  She doesn’t know what will happen to their relationship.  With the stress of this plus the upcoming weddings, Julia is exhausted.
Come share Julia’s life as she takes it one day at a time.  You will love her co-workers and family members.  Each character has been developed perfectly by the author so you feel like you actually know them personally.  The commentary is snappy, witty and fun.  The story is chick-lit at its finest and I loved every word of Becky Monson’s second book.
Be sure to read her first book, “Thirty-Two Going on Spinster.”  Her second book is a spinoff of the first but both are great as a stand alone.  My review of her first book is on Goodreads.
I want to personally offer Becky Monson huge congratulations on both her novels.  Her writing style is terrific and I’m betting other readers will become fans of hers as well.
Connie for b2b
Complementary advanced copy provided by the author

‘Love and Let Spy’ by Shana Galen

sg lalsSTORY: Her name is Bonde, Jane Bonde . . .

A beautiful and eligible member of the ton, Jane has more than a few secrets: she’s one of the Crown’s most elite agents. She may be deadly, but she doesn’t know a thing about fashion, flirtation, or love . . . until Dominic Griffyn shakes up her carefully stirred world and asks her to be his bride. He’s exactly the kind of man she’s not looking for. And he’s dangerous, because falling into his arms is so much more satisfying than saving England from her enemies.

He’s an improper gentleman who needs a wife. . .

Tall, dark, and tortured, Dominic Griffyn is haunted by demons from his past. When his stepfather insists that he marry, Dominic allows himself to hope that the beautiful but mysterious Miss Bonde might help him forget his troubles. As they grow closer, it’s clear that there’s more to Jane than danger. She might be just what his neglected heart needs

REVIEW: It is 1816 and Miss Jane Bonde, a beautiful, slender young woman with blonde hair and blue eyes is happy with her life and has no desire to get married.  Why, you ask?

Because Jane is a spy and a darn good one at that!  Jane lives with her uncle and guardian who has taught her the spy craft.  Now, he is informing her that it is time she gets married.  Balking at his request, Jane wants to continue with her work to catch a very elusive French spy.

At age 32, Dominic Griffyn, stepson of Lord Edgeberry, Marquess of Edgeberry, has also been informed that it is past time that he marries and the families are pairing him up with Jane Bonde.  

Both Jane and Dominic aren’t really keen on this marriage decision but have no choice.  When Dominic discovers Jane’s secret career, he inadvertently ends up joining her on some missions.  Jane does not want Dominic with her because she works better alone.  Their escapades are dangerous and scary, but also humorous at times.

The novel is loosely based on James Bond’s “Live and Let Die” which adds some tongue-in-cheek humor to the story that will have the reader laughing.  But there are some poignant scenes that will touch your heart as well.

This is the third novel of Ms. Galen’s spy series.  The first two novels are “Lord and Lady Spy” and “True Spies.”  Shana Galen has an amazing talent for writing spy novels which has resulted in a huge following.

Connie for b2b