‘A Beauty So Rare’ by Tamera Alexander

ta absrSTORY: Eleanor Braddock, a spinster–plain, practical, no stunning Southern beauty–has long since dismissed any hope of marriage. But when a dying soldier whispers his final words, she believes her life can still have meaning and determines to find his widow. But this compassionate deed takes a harsh turn, and Eleanor finds herself dependent upon the richest woman in America and the most despised woman in Nashville–her aunt, Adelicia Acklen, mistress of Belmont Mansion. A clandestine act of kindness leads Eleanor to an unlikely path for her life–building a home for destitute widows and children from the Civil War. And while Eleanor knows her own heart, she also knows her aunt will never approve.

Gerhard Marcus Gottfried, Archduke of the House of Habsburg and fourth in line to the Austrian throne, arrives in Nashville in search of a life he determines, instead of one determined for him. Collaborating with botanist Luther Burbank, Marcus seeks to combine his own passion for nature with his expertise in architecture. But his plans to incorporate natural beauty into the design of the widow’s and children’s home run contrary to the wishes of practical, frugal Eleanor, who sees his ideas as costly nonsense.

Yet as the construction project continues, Marcus and Eleanor find common ground–and a love neither of them expected. But Marcus is not the man Adelicia has chosen for Eleanor to marry, and even if he were, someone who knows Marcus’s secrets is about to reveal them all.

REVIEW: Eleanor Braddock is a fairly unconventional, tall, nearly 30-year-old woman who has served as a nurse during the Confederate War and has experienced much horror, as well as holding many men in her arms soothing them as they died of their wounds.  Now that the war is over, she is left to care for her widowed father, once a famous attorney, who is showing early signs of dementia.  As their funds are minimal, her wealthy Aunt Adelicia Acklin Cheatham has invited her to live with her at her home, Belmont Mansion, in Nashville Tennessee.  However, due to her father’s deteriorating condition, she is also having to admit him to the only place available to care for him:  an insane asylum.  While she is grateful to her aunt for providing her with a home, she is not interested in pursuing the daily engagements of ladies of society.  Her true wish is to be a cook and to that end, has put money down on a building in town she can rent to open a restaurant.

Marcus Geoffrey, who in actuality is the Archduke Gerhard Marcus Gottfried von Habsburg, is pursuing his dream to live in America before having to return home and take on his family responsibilities.  His true love is botany and he has been hired on by Lady Cheatham to care for her gardens, as well as to produce the perfect “sunrise” colored rose for her.  When Eleanor meets Marcus and they become friends, she thinks he is simply and under-gardner and has no idea of his real life.

When Eleanor finds that opening her own restaurant is not a possibility for her, she uses her meager funds to feed the widows and children of the town left on their own as a result of the devastating war.  Her works meet with some negativity by her aunt and other townspeople all shocked that a mere woman has chosen to undertake this task.  

With the help of Marcus and their growing attraction to each other, she is able to achieve her dream of a home for the widows and children where they can live in safety knowing they will be cared for.

This book is a saga.  The story is a long one but well worth ever page read.  Tamera Alexander has obviously put her heart into this book and I am so pleased to have been able to read it.  I hope others will do the same.  The history learned here is priceless.

Connie for b2b

Complimentary copy provided by the publisher. 

 

‘The Scandalous, Dissolute, No-Good Mr. Wright’ by Tessa Dare

td tsdngmwSTORY: Miss Eliza Cade is a lady in waiting. And waiting.

Because of a foolish mistake in her youth, she’s not allowed “out” in Society until her three older sisters are wed. But while she’s trying to be good, she keeps bumping elbows—and, more distressingly, lips—with notorious rake Harry Wright. Every moment she spends with him, she risks complete ruin.

The sensual passions he stirs in her are so wrong . . . but Eliza just can’t resist Mr. Wright.

(Originally appeared in the e-book anthology Three Weddings and a Murder.)

REVIEW: Miss Eliza Cade is one of four daughters.  Due to an “unfortunate mistake” she made some years ago, her father has decreed that she will not have a season until all of her sisters are married.  Frustrating as this is, she is resigned to her fate.

One evening at a soiree, she is inadvertently thrown together with the handsome and rakish Mr. J.  Harrison (Harry) Wright.  His reputation includes tales of gambling, drinking and seduction of women.  Eliza finds him in a room waiting for a liaison with another woman.  Harry proceeds to tease her and while she rebuffs him, she is nevertheless attracted to him.

Some time passes and they continue to run into one another and find that their attraction has not lessened at all.  If anything, it has only grown and although they both have a “past,” they overcome it.

The bantering humor in this novella is absolutely delightful.  I thoroughly enjoyed the characters so much that I wanted to hug them for entertaining me so much.

*Connie for b2b.

*Book provided by  my local library.

Spotlight on Mary Balogh and …

The Web Series

mb tgw‘The Gilded Web’

STORY: All she wanted was to escape the hot, crowded London ballroom. But moments after stepping into the bitterly cold night, she is seized by a pair of strong hands and spirited away. Fully expecting to be ravished, sheltered Alexandra Purnell instead finds herself at the mercy of the man who saved her from certain scandal.

Edmund, Earl of Amberley, is bold and sensual, tempting Alexandra to be reckless for the first time in her life. But as passion ignites, Edmund’s offer of marriage takes Alexandra completely by surprise. Now a woman who craves her freedom above all else is about to discover how far one man will go to protect and possess the woman he loves.

REVIEW: I am a huge fan of Mary Balogh and I can safely say that she’s one of my all time favorite authors. She just has this incredible talent of sucking me into the story so deeply that I have a hard time coming up for air.

The Web series had been published awhile back, and it has been on my TBR forever, so it was time I dived in.

After many stories that featured funny, likeable and charming characters that I enjoy reading about, I was ready for some unique, intriguing and complex heroes and heroines to sink my teeth into, and let me tell you, Mary Balogh delivers on all the above in spades.

The first story is Edmunds who is the Earl of Amberley; second one is  one of the twins’ Lord Eden’s, and the third is Lady Madeline’s.

As the eldest and the head of the family, Edmund shoulders a lot, and has been since he inherited the title at nineteen after his father’s unexpected death. He is wise, loving and patient, as well as respectful and caring son and brother. He is brought up in a loving home, by caring parents who were not afraid to foster love in their children, as well as free thinking.

Quite by accident and brought on by his brother, who had best intentions and yet the worst timing, Edmund finds himself in the inconvenient circumstances that require him to offer marriage to our heroine. 

This story is without a doubt character driven and I loved it!

To watch the heroine as she slowly, and I mean very slowly, comes to think for herself and not blindly trust and follow her pious and domineering father was something to behold. I know that many might not have enjoyed her character much just because of that, but I thought it fascinating. The confusion, the  battle within this woman of what her deep, inner self desires and the love for her parents despite their lack of the same for her, was heartbreaking and painful to go through with her.

If you like conflict and struggle of any kind in your love stories, this is a book that will give it to you. It is not a book for the faint of heart, impatient and those that need a quick fix of ‘sugar & spice, and everything nice’.

I have deep respect and appreciation for all authors who take the risk and put their characters through an extreme, just to see how they’ll come out of it. Well played Ms. Balogh, well-played.

mb wol‘Web of Love’

STORY: He’d served with her husband on the battlefield—and secretly desired her for years. Yet for Dominic, Lieutenant Lord Eden, Ellen Simpson has remained tantalizingly out of reach—until she is widowed by the war. Suddenly pursued by the dangerously handsome nobleman, Ellen is stunned by the depth of attraction he arouses in her.

Soon their friendship flames into something deeper…and as scandal ignites, marriage seems the only solution. But Ellen has a secret—one she can share with no one—that prevents her from fully opening her heart to Dominic. Until he devises his own plan for the ultimate consummation of their passion—and the woman he is determined to possess at any cost…

REVIEW: In this second book of her Web series, Ms. Balogh tackles the story of Dominic, Lord Eden, Edmund’s mischievous, charming, and care-free brother.

Let me say this before I go into the reasons behind loving this book most out of the Web Trilogy.

As some series go, you are able to read them out of order and most of the time they can well stand on their own, but I found that this particular series is not one of them and I know for certain that my enjoyment would have been thwarted if I hadn’t read these stories in order.

In the first book we met Dominic as a young man full of mischief, willing to fall in love at a drop of a hat, filled with dreams of joining the fray of an imminent war with Napoleon. In this book we watch him as he finally finds his true heart’s desire and is faced with brutality and reality of the war.

For the first time we meet Ellen, a married, very strong, smart and courageous young woman that Dom met a few years ago in Spain. She loves her older husband who is Dom’s superior and his mentor. The three of them are close friends and it never even occurred to either Ellen or Dom that they would ever end up being lovers. She deeply respects and loves her husband and is wholly devoted to him and their marriage.

As this story opens, we welcome back Alex and Edmund as they arrive with his sister Madeline, Dom’s twin, into Brussels in support of their sibling who they haven’t seen in three years.

And here is where the story gets interesting for me. I loved the setting [think War and Piece movie with Audrey Hepburn!] and Ms. Balogh did an outstanding job in bringing to me this world of uncertainty, bravery and agony that surrounded our maine and secondary characters.

And speaking of those, I can’t even begin to tell you how much I loved those, from Jennifer, Ellen’s teenage step-daughter to Lieutenant Allan Penworth, a man who becomes very dear to Madeline; I loved Charlie Simpson, Ellen’s husband so much that I mourned him almost as much as Ellen and Dom did.

But what came through the most in this story was the way Ms. Balogh clearly showed her readers that great love can strike twice in a lifetime, and how hard it is to understand and accept that fact. That part touched me deeply personally.

I’m so glad I finally got to this series off my TBR!

mb tdw‘The Devil’s Web’

STORY: The last time Madeline Raine had seen James Purnell, she had been but a chit of a girl, and at his mercy. Purnell had held her helpless in his arms – but protectively above the abyss of her own dangerous hunger for him.

He had left her then, not taking her innocence but taking her heart, as he vanished from England. Since then Madeline had reigned as society’s most dazzling and heartless beauty, making all men pay for one man’s rebuff of her.

Now James was back, more handsome and arrogant than ever. And Madeline steeled herself not to fall under his spell again. But she soon discovered that the melting power of passion ignited by love would not easily die…

REVIEW: If you’ve not read the first two books, especially the first one, ‘The Gilded Web’, I guarantee you that you will not understand our couple’s past, present and future behavior. It really is imperative you at least read book one.

In this book we watch Madeline, sister of Edmund and Dominic, mature, yet when it comes to planning and mapping out her future, she hasn’t changed a bit. She is still kept back with her conflicting feelings toward James and is hurling herself from one plan to another, only to find out that she must face the reality of loving a man who will certainly drag her into darkness with him.

Talk about a man, James Purnell, brother of Alexandra and Edmund’s wife from ‘Gilded Web’, who is torn by the past and his feelings of unworthiness when it comes to his future.

This is the third and last story of the Web Series and if it was the hardest to read for me, I wonder if it was as hard to write for Ms. Balogh.

If you’re not into dark and complex characters, then this story will be wasted on you. But if you can appreciate the intricacies of a very complex relationship between James and Madeline, you will be rewarded tenfold with a story of deep, true, abiding and long lasting love that had to go through many trials in order to blossom.

I loved all three stories and Ms. Balogh’s writing is as strong as ever. The depth of the characters that she writes about is one that I will always appreciate. If you’ve never read this author, these may not be the books to start you on her wonderful writing, but once you do, please don’t miss out on these unique, complex and very interesting characters.

It comes as no surprise to me that she succeeded yet again in creating three romance stories that touched my heart. She weaved these with a historical event that helped the plot and shaped the characters that I was deeply touched by, and will stay with me forever. I highly recommend all three of these engrossing and wonderful stories.

*Melanie for b2b.

*Books provided by my local used book store.

‘The Wedding Gift’ by Marlen Suyapa Bodden

msb twgSTORY: In 1852, when prestigious Alabama plantation owner Cornelius Allen gives his daughter Clarissa’s hand in marriage, she takes with her a gift: Sarah—her slave and her half-sister. Raised by an educated mother, Clarissa is not the proper Southern belle she appears to be, with ambitions of loving whom she chooses.

Sarah equally hides behind the façade of being a docile house slave as she plots to escape. Both women bring these tumultuous secrets and desires with them to their new home, igniting events that spiral into a tale beyond what you ever imagined possible.Told through the alternating viewpoints of Sarah and Theodora Allen, Cornelius’ wife, Marlen Suyapa Bodden’s The Wedding Gift is an intimate portrait that will leave readers breathless

REVIEW: The setting is Alabama during the time of slavery.  Mr. and Mrs. Allen have a large plantation with many slaves.  As often happened during this time period, Mr. Allen has fathered a child with one of his slaves.  Her name is Sarah and she is the same age as his daughter, Clarissa.  Mrs. Allen is a kind woman and knowing that Sarah and Clarissa are half-sisters, she is open to having teaching Sarah along with Clarissa even though this is illegal.  Knowing this, Sarah keeps her knowledge to herself.

The story takes us through the life of the slaves and their treatment.  For the most part, Mr. Allen is a “good” master but he does have a temper.  Most of it caused by his constant drinking followed by his taste for rich food.

We get to know Sarah, her mother and her sisters.  While all the slaves are tempted to run away, they know that the chances of getting caught are nearly 100 percent.

When Clarissa marries, a wedding gift from her father is Sarah, her husband and many field hands.  When Clarissa’s gives birth to a full-term baby not long after her wedding, it is shocking to find that her husband is not the father.  The abuse that Clarissa receives from her husband nearly kills her until Sarah can help find a way to get her away from him.

I found this story to be completely enthralling.  It was not written in a fashion to stir up trouble between blacks and whites, but to present the facts.  I enjoyed the book, “The Help” and I find that this book is right up there with it.

*Connie for b2b.

*Book provided by my local library.

‘Romancing the Duke’ by Tessa Dare

RTD TDSTORY: In the first in Tessa Dare’s captivating Castles Ever After series, a mysterious fortress is the setting for an unlikely love . . .

As the daughter of a famed author, Isolde Ophelia Goodnight grew up on tales of brave knights and fair maidens. She never doubted romance would be in her future, too. The storybooks offered endless possibilities.

And as she grew older, Izzy crossed them off. One by one by one.

Ugly duckling turned swan?
Abducted by handsome highwayman?
Rescued from drudgery by charming prince?

No, no, and… Heh.

Now Izzy’s given up yearning for romance. She’ll settle for a roof over her head. What fairy tales are left over for an impoverished twenty-six year-old woman who’s never even been kissed?

This one.

REVIEW: Isolde (Izzy) Ophelia Goodnight is the daughter of the late Sir Henry Goodnight, Scholar. Her mother died when she was born which now leaves her alone and penniless. But – hark! She has just learned that she has inherited Gostley Castle in Northumberland. Using her last few coins, she travels there only to find it to be a dilapidated, haunted, rat and bat-infested castle. She also finds Ransom, the Duke of Rothbury who was the owner of the castle but mistakenly sold it which he now regrets. Rothbury is blind and plagued by headaches.

Izzy grew up within a world of knights and fairytales from stories penned by her father. The huge following of people who have read these stories has resulted in a “cult” of Moranglians, which are groups of people who dress as characters acting out battles and scenes.

Izzy is a total optimist while Ransom is brusque and sullen. He has learned that there are those who want him out of the castle and even want to institute him as being mentally ill. But Izzy isn’t giving up without a fight and it might be one taken directly from the fairy tales she grew up with.

This is a wonderful story full of beautifully constructed characters. I hope readers won’t think that this book sounds like a bit of fluff and give it a miss. If they do, that would be a huge mistake. There is sensitivity, humor and romance all wrapped up in this delightful book that will be available in bookstores January 28, 2014. You will love it. Spot on, Tessa Dare!

*Connie for b2b.

*ARC provided by the author.

‘Secrets For Seducing A Royal Bodyguard’ by Vanessa Kelly

SFSARB VKSTORY: In this witty, sensual new series, Vanessa Kelly introduces the Renegade Royals, illegitimate sons of the Royal Princes who are finding their rightful places in society…

Accomplished spy Aden St. George prefers to stay away from the frivolous ton, especially after the way his mother was used by the Prince Regent. But his latest mission compels him to guard unconventional, vibrant Lady Vivien Shaw. Rescuing her from kidnappers was easy. Resisting her beauty is not. Duty demands he keep an eye on her—and naturally, his lips soon follow. For someone who views entanglements as a weakness, this is pure, delicious folly…

Though grateful for Aden’s help, Vivien has secrets she must keep hidden. Yet with her abductors still at large, she needs Aden’s protection almost as much as she craves his touch…

REVIEW: England 1814

Aden St. George is sent by Sir Dominic Hunter to rescue Lady Vivien Shaw from some smuggling caves. He finds her drugged and carries her to safety. On the ride from the caves to the tiny hamlet where a coach is waiting, they find their attraction for each other growing. Vivien hasn’t had a man care about her welfare or make her feel safe since her father died.

Her family treats her horribly. Her older brother denies any payment for ransom even before it’s asked for. Her mother and younger brother repeatedly get themselves into debt gambling, knowing Vivien will find a way to pay them off.

Aden works for Dominic who is a most powerful spymaster in England under the guise of working for the Home Office. He is Lady Thornbury’s bastard child with the Prince of Wales, now England’s Regent. His mother and Vivien are close and, deep inside, Aden resents his mother’s closeness to her having never had it himself. Dominic gives him orders to stay close to Vivien as she goes about her life in the ton. They will try to figure out who is behind her kidnapping.

Prince Ivan of Russia (Ivan the Terrible) has his sights set on Vivien and Aden is having none of it. These two are constantly at each others throats when it comes to her. Her older brother gives his consent for Ivan to court Vivien and she refuses to do this.

Aden tells Vivien to stay at home and out of trouble until they can find who is behind her kidnapping. He will escort her to every function and she’s to stay put when he’s not with her.

Griffin Steele, Aden’s cousin and another bastard with royal blood simmering in his veins, sends Aden a note telling him Vivien was in his gaming hell. Aden literally runs over to snatch her out of there. Aden takes her out of the gaming hell, into his carriage, and leaves her younger brother who had been with her to find his own way home.

Vivien is a spitfire. Very good at gambling, very protective of her family and always into something that has Aden slapping his forehead. She’s going to send him to Bedlam with her antics yet. They both have fallen hard for each other at this point and Aden is fighting it hard.

I’ll stop here and leave you read the book to find out what happens

The story ends with Linnet and Anthony Tait, from Lost In a Royal Kiss, telling Dominic they hope he can find his happiness someday. Dominic has taken it upon himself to help all the royal bastards. He has his sights set on Griffin next. But first he is going to find Griffin’s mother, the woman Dominic loves and he will find her if he has to search every inch of England.

Dominic is a common thread through this series and will get his own book. Griffin’s story, Confessions Of a Royal Bridegroom is next and I am trying desperately to find patience to wait for it.

I loved the banter between all the characters. The story was well paced and I felt each character held their own. I had a true sense of anger and dislike for the villains. I also could have throttled Vivien’s mother and younger brother at times but loved how Vanessa kept me coming back rooting for them. I laughed and felt my heart tug, felt anger, and happiness while reading this. There are some really loveable characters and some major villains. This is one series you do not want to miss!

*Leah for b2b

*Book provided by the publisher through NetGalley

‘Lost in a Royal Kiss’ by Vanessa Kelly

LIARK VKSTORY: In this thrilling introduction to her Renegade Royals series, Vanessa Kelly transports readers to the court of King George III—where a London street urchin unwittingly plays Cupid, ushering in a new era—and ultimately a new kind of royal…

With her widowed mother working long hours as governess to the royal children, Linnet St. Clare must look after her siblings and run the household. Now she must add to her worries the fate of Dominic, a poor orphan who has inspired the wrath of the king himself. Clearly Linnet has no time to consider her own desires—much less notice the attentions of a certain handsome, powerful magistrate…

Sir Anthony Tait is at a loss for how to capture Linnet’s interest. If only she would be still long enough for courting. Outright seduction seems the only answer. But will his kisses be enough to persuade her—or might Anthony have something to learn from young Dominic about matters of the heart? And in saving the boy’s future, might Anthony and Linnet at last create their own?

REVIEW: This was a great intro into the new series, although I really wished it was just a bit longer.

My thinking is that the length would have allowed our couple to grow on us more, but I do understand the author’s dilemma in this particular case.

To introduce us to her new series, she chose a couple, Sir Anthony Tait and Linnet St. Claire, both attached to the royal court. He is King’s chief magistrate and she is a daughter of a woman who is summoned to court as the governess to the royal children, leaving Linnet the responsibility of raising her siblings.

Basically, you have two main plots and a couple of subplots within constraints of a novella, and Ms. Kelly did what she does best: She poured her heart into giving us the best characterization of both couples that she could.

The story opens up with our young heroin coming to Sir Anthony with a problem that she believes can only be dealt with common sense and strong hand.

As Sir Anthony comes to grips with the situation of a teenage prince having relations with a young daughter of his tutor and a young Dominic, an orphan and a commoner who the Queen brought to court in order for her sons to develop some humility, he realizes that the time to finally declare himself to Linnet has come.

At thirty-seven, and two years of yearning for her, he believes that the time has come for them to admit and accept their admiration and attraction for each other.

Chloë, a daughter of the tutor to the Royal prince Ernest, is only fourteen when she is seduced by him, and the deed is discovered by both Linnet and Dominic, who are dealing in different ways to protect Chloë’s reputation. He by beating the stuffing out of Ernest to begin with and later by offering to marry her, and she by approaching Sir Anthony for help and guidance in protecting both, Dominic and Chloe.

Ms. Kelly does a wonderful job with both couples as their emotionally charged stories take shape and take us on an intriguing and entertaining journey through the maze of a Royal Court.

I liked the introduction very much and am looking forward to the new series.

*Melanie for b2b

*Book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Leah’s 2013 choices for…

Five Star Reads are:

XMTS VRI know we all have our favorite genres and our favorite authors. As for me, I read all types of historical books. Even a few contemporaries.

I had many 4 – 4 1/2 star reviews this year but I thought I’d post about my 5 star reads and you will see by my list just where my heart lies when it comes to genres, which doesn’t mean that I won’t give high marks to contemporary novels.

I gave a very high 4 1/2 to ‘Spin’ by Bella Love.  I am hooked! You can check out my review here.

Now, back to my FIVE STAR reads and so, here we go….

Julianne Lee and her Tenebrae series

‘Knight Tenebrae’, ‘Knight’s Blood’ and ‘Knight’s Lady’.

“Trapped in a place not their own, two strangers find the only thing they can count on is one another”.

Follow Alex and Lindsay as they travel back through time to 14th century Scotland. All three books take you on their journey. I was simply full of emotion throughout all three books. Read Mel’s reviews for the series here.

Sue-Ellen Welfonder and her Highland Warriors series

 ‘Sins Of a Highland Devil’, ‘Temptation of a Highland Scoundrel’ and ‘Seduction of a Highland Warrior’, along with SOTC PBthe novella, ‘Once Upon a Highland Christmas’.

I can tell you that Sue-Ellen brings medieval Scotland to life for me every time I go into one of her stories. They are full of humor, mystery, highland magic, warfare, and love. All are filled with history bits that will keep all history buffs happy. You can read my reviews for the series here, here & here, with Melanie’s review for the novella here,

Monica McCarty and ‘The Hawk’

It is part of the Highland Guard series and I highly recommend it. They all received high marks from me but Eric “Hawk” MacSorely stood out above the rest. She is another auto-buy for me. You can read my review here.

Diane Darcy and ‘She Owns The Knight’

I can’t express enough how much I enjoyed this book! I am sitting here smiling from ear to ear as I write this. If you love 13th century England, laughing, and watching as two people learn what love is all about, this story is a must buy! You can read my review here.

Victoria Roberts and ‘X Marks The Scot’

TH MMcCThis is #2 in the Bad Boys of the Highlands series and I waited patiently for Declan and his story and was so excited when I finally got it in my hands.

I knew there was a wonderful man behind the rogue. Laidain is just the woman for him too, one who won’t let him hide behind his blether, and one who is strong enough to stand her ground with him and everyone else for that matter.

This story is packed with treason, danger it seems around every turn, secrets discovered that condemns some and saves another, and laughter…..tons of laughter!

Patricia Bracewell and ‘Shadow on the Crown

Loved this story! From the history to the direction Patricia took this story in, her writing had hooked me in!

I felt for Emma as she accepted her lot in life and smiled when she stood for herself when needed. King Aethelred was constantly suspicious of everyone and because of his guilt, found himself tortured by visits from his murdered brother’s ghostly shadow. He also blatantly carried on with Elgiva, his mistress. I enjoyed the way Ms. Bracewell took the story line with Athelstan, the King’s son and his relationship with Emma. Through her words she brought OUAHC SEWcharacters into my life to love and hate, and added with the history, this became one of my most favorite reads this year. I cannot wait for the next on this series to see what she brings us next!

Kris Kennedy and ‘The Conqueror’

This author’s words move me. Period. I feel a deep connection while reading her work and urge you to give her a try if you haven’t yet. You can read my review here.

Margaret Mallory and ‘The Chieftain’

This is book 4 in the Return of the Highlanders series.

From beginning to end she had me captured in their world. My heart-felt warmth as I read the epilogue. I enjoyed watching their love come to fruition and talk about HOT!! I loved the mystical parts of this story. Tearlag and Ilysa and their sight, the fairy glens and the chants… ghostly sightings and the legends surrounding them all call to my heart. Scotland is full of lore and Margaret Mallory does an TIW KKexcellent job of bringing it to life.

She left me aching to walk the fairy glens, graveyards, and hills with standing stones. You can read Melanie’s review here.

Tanya Anne Crosby and her Highland Brides series. 

‘The MacKinnon’s Bride’, ‘Lyon’s Gift’, ‘On Bended Knee’ and ‘Lion Heart’ were re-reads for me that kept calling for me to pull out. Screamed at me actually. ‘Highland Song’ is a new addition to the series and stole my heart just as swiftly as the others did.

I found Tanya when I started reading 20 years ago and she was instantly catapulted to the top of my favorites list.

To me, her writing pulls at my heart and wraps me solidly within its pages.

You can read my reviews for the series herehereherehere, and here. You can now get the first 4 in the series in a boxed set…Cheaper that way, only $9.99!

So, there you have it! The stories that hit 5 stars for me this year and in no particular order. I would love to hear what everyone else read this year that received a 5 star rating. Feel free to share with us and give us your recommendations.

Now, I’m looking forward to seeing what 2014 brings into my reading world.

*Leah for b2b

Anna Campbell stops by b2b …

‘Midnight’s Wild Passion’

ACBOOK BLURB: London’s most notorious seducer, Nicholas Challoner lives solely for revenge…

The dashing, licentious Marquess of Ranelaw can never forgive Godfrey Demarest for ruining his sister—now the time has come to repay the villain in the same coin. But one formidably intriguing impediment stands in the way of Nicholas’s vengeance: Miss Antonia Smith, companion to his foe’s unsuspecting daughter.

Having herself been deceived and disgraced by a rogue—banished by her privileged family as a result and forced to live a lie—Antonia vows to protect her charge from the same cruel fate. She recognizes Ranelaw for the shameless blackguard he is and will devote every ounce of her intelligence and resolve to thwarting him.

Yet Antonia has always had a fatal weakness for rakes . . .

Buy Links: Amazon / B&N / Book Depository

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Hi Melanie, Leah and Connie! Thank you so much for having me as your guest today on bookworm2bookworm and a big mushy mwah on your third birthday! Congratulations! What a fabulous achievement!

Book pushing is something I love to do. I do reviews once a month over at the Romance Dish of older books that might have gone under people’s radar. I was originally going to do that here, but then I decided to talk about a book of my own that I’ve always had a particular soft spot for.

MIDNIGHT’S WILD PASSION came out in 2011 as my take on the classic Regency romance that I’d grown up reading, most memorably from Georgette Heyer. It has elopements and glamorous Regency parties and duels and frumpy companions with shady pasts to hide and a hero who tries very hard to be a wicked man, but can’t quite manage it once he falls, very much against his will, in love.

Here’s a short excerpt from the scene where ruined lady in disguise Antonia is very close to succumbing to the rakish Lord Ranelaw, much against her better judgement.

Bascombe Hailey, Surrey, Spring 1827

When she rounded the side of the building, Antonia glanced across the silent lake. Stars shimmered on the still blackness, turning it into an inverted sky.

“Good evening, Antonia.”

She wasn’t surprised to look back at the summerhouse and see Lord Ranelaw watching from the shallow flight of steps. His presence seemed part of the enchantment. Or perhaps she was so tired, she drifted in a blur where nothing seemed quite real.

“Lord Ranelaw,” she said softly. A breeze across the lake ruffled her loosely arranged hair.

“Nicholas,” he said equally softly. He leaned against one of the four Corinthian columns that supported the portico and folded his arms.

“Nicholas.” His name signaled a concession they both recognized.

Starlight glimmered on his white shirt—did the man never go decently dressed in coat and neckcloth?—but she discerned few other details. She didn’t need to see him. His image was etched on her heart. Handsome, careless, wicked.

Precious…

“I knew you’d come.” He sounded calm, sure.

The darkness sharpened senses other than sight. She heard the rustle of the trees, smelled the slight dankness of the lake behind her, felt the evening breeze cool against her skin. Skin flushed with awareness.

“You waited three days.”

“I can be patient,” he responded steadily.

She bit her lip. Had she expected to see him? Did her presence mean they’d make love? Somewhere she’d already said yes.

“Are you going to run?” he asked in a casual voice, as if consent or refusal were all the same to him. But even in the shadows, she saw he tautened with anticipation.

“I should.”

He straightened and prowled down to the bottom step. She knew he waited for her to flee like a frightened bird. Like a woman with an ounce of self-preservation.

He became preternaturally still. His voice was low, coaxing, thick and deep as velvet. “What’s it to be, Antonia?”

“Don’t bully me, Ranelaw,” she said sharply.

“Are you pretending you’re just out for an evening walk?”

That’s what she’d told herself. Not even she believed it.

She’d left the house, wandered toward the summerhouse, because she knew Ranelaw waited. She admitted that to herself. She wasn’t quite ready to admit it to him. “I didn’t realize you’d be here.”

Her eyes had adjusted enough to see the glint of his teeth as he smiled. “Yes, you did.”

What use struggling to preserve her pride? He’d soon know she was helpless to resist him. He knew already.

“Yes, I did,” she answered almost soundlessly.

The words lay between them like a challenge.

She poised in breathless suspense for him to sweep her into his arms. Across the several yards separating them, she couldn’t mistake his urgency. The silence developed a vibrating quality. Even the breeze dropped in expectation.

Why hadn’t he touched her yet? They both knew she wouldn’t fight.

He turned his face to the glittering sky then he stared directly at her. Through darkness, that regard burned.

“Why?” The question cut through the night like a blade.

You can read another excerpt on my website.

I’d love to give away a copy of MIDNIGHT’S WILD PASSION (print or e-book, international) today. Just leave a comment! I’d love to know what was the book that got you hooked on reading historical romance.

AAUTHOR INFO: Australian ANNA CAMPBELL has written eight multi award-winning historical romances for Grand Central Publishing and Avon HarperCollins and her work is published in sixteen languages. Anna has won numerous awards for her Regency-set romances. Anna’s latest release is Book 2 in the Sons of Sin series, A RAKE’S MIDNIGHT KISS, which has just been nominated as best sensual historical romance of 2013 in the RT Book Reviews Reviewers Choice Awards.

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Julianne Lee stops by b2b …

‘The Scottish Play Murder’ by Anne Rutherford aka Julianne Lee

TSPM ARBOOK BLURB: The first production of The New Globe Players was marked by murder. Now Suzanne Thornton’s company dares to mount the most cursed of plays…

When charming Scotsman Diarmid Ramsay asks to play the titular role in Macbeth, he sets off a flurry of excitement among The New Globe Players. Despite protests from the company director that performing the “Scottish play” will lead only to disaster, Suzanne decides that the show must go on—with herself acting the part of Lady Macbeth, opposite the handsome stranger.

Rehearsals begin—but then rumors about Ramsay arise, implicating him in the death of a sailor found behind the Goat and Boar. Is the man a murderer, possibly involved in a plot against the newly restored king? Suzanne refuses to believe it, until another murder connected to Ramsay occurs.

It seems the curse of Macbeth may have been unleashed, leaving Suzanne no choice but to use her wits and her wiles to determine if Ramsay is a gifted actor—or a murderous villain.

BUY LINKS: Amazon / B&N / iBookstore

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EXCERPT: 

He said to the voice, “Tell your business.”

“Louis, let him in. I can’t hear him out there.”

With a show of reluctance, Louis hauled the door wide enough to allow the visitor to enter. In stepped a man in a skirt. Not just a skirt, but a checkered one that barely covered his knees. The woolen fabric of it overflowed his belt so lavishly that he threw the excess over his shoulder like a cape or shawl. Suzanne had seen a kilt once before, but that had been a dull brown with black threads running through it. This luxurious garment was a stunning red with green, black and yellow criss-crossing in large squares. The fabric was clean and appeared new, a rare thing in this neighborhood, and in her experience almost an oddity in a Scot. Beneath the kilt the visitor wore a clean white shirt that was equally stiff and fresh. His belt was dyed shiny black and bore a large, silver buckle wrought so finely as to bespeak a great deal of wealth. As did the sword that hung at his side from a black leather baldric. A utility dagger with a plain wooden handle was thrust into his belt without scabbard. For shoes he wore only soft leather without ornament or heel, and no leggings at all. It begged the question of what linens he might be wearing beneath the kilted wool, and though there had once been a time when Suzanne might have simply lifted the hem to find out, today she refrained for the sake of proving herself no longer a tart. At her age, that sort of behavior was less than amusing to most men and should be left to women far younger and comely than herself.

And besides, this man’s face caught her attention and held it. He had the black Irish coloring she’d always found appealing, with jet black hair, pale skin, and warm, ruddy cheeks. His mouth was red, and appeared to have the sort of habitual smile that made some people seem happy all the time. In addition, this man was actually smiling. His charm was palpable, and Suzanne felt if she stood in his presence long enough she would soon be covered in it, like spring pollen.

He looked straight into her eyes and said, “I’ve come for an audition.”

Suzanne blinked, surprised. This man appeared far too wealthy to need employment as an actor. Theatre was something one did when desperate and only when without skills other than lying. Certainly that was how she herself had ended up here. In the general scheme of things, acting was thought by most people as one step down from military service, one step up from thievery, and just around the corner from murder for hire. The wealth and beauty she saw standing before her was almost never found onstage.

Their visitor continued, in a rich, rolling brogue, “My name is Diarmid Ramsay, and I’ve been told you’ve a need for someone to play the title role in Macbeth.”

This was news to Suzanne. That play was one the troupe had not yet addressed, and she’d not heard mention of it from Horatio. She turned to call him from the ‘tiring house, and found he’d not left the stage. He was still there, staring at the brightly dressed Scot as if fascinated by the busy tartan wool. “Horatio!” she called. “Have you put out an audition notice regarding Macbeth?”

“I expect you mean the Scottish play.” An odd stress in his voice puzzled her, and he crossed himself as if she’d uttered a curse. When he kissed the wooden crucifix he wore around his neck, she knew she’d truly frightened him.

Oh, right. Nobody ever called that play by its proper name. Bad luck, or something. Horatio was a stickler for taking no chances with theatre superstition, going so far as to ban whistling in the ‘tiring house though he’d only just that year heard it was bad luck. “Very well, then, if you like. The Scottish play. Are we casting for it?”

“No, and we will not ever. ‘Tis terrible luck and I won’t have it.”

Suzanne turned to Ramsay. “I’m sorry, kind sir, you seem to have been ill informed. We’re not casting Mac…that play.” She took a glance back at Horatio.

“Are you certain?” asked the would-be Macbeth.

Horatio called out from where he stood, “We are most certain. No Scottish play for us. Every troupe that has performed that play has failed and dispersed soon after. ‘Tis bad luck.”

Suzanne frowned, thinking, and turned back toward Horatio. “Well, it seems to me the luck is not so much luck as simply timing. Everyone knows that a failing company performs popular plays to increase attendance. And you can’t deny it’s a popular play.”

“You’ll recall in the old days, the time Cromwell’s soldiers attacked us we’d just performed that play.”

“We were performing The Twelfth Night when they came.”

“But the day before it had been the Scottish play.”

“And you think we were cursed by Shakespeare?”

“’Twas the witches. The witches cursed us.”

“You mean the Double, double…”

“Stop!” Horatio pressed his palms to his ears and shut his eyes tightly. “Do not say it!” He crossed himself again, then quickly returned his right palm to his ear. He crouched, as if awaiting a blow.

Louis said mildly, “I’d like us to do Macbeth.” Horatio flinched, but Louis ignored him. “I’ve always enjoyed that play, all dark and mysterious like. I prefer the spooky ones. Witches and ghosts and all that there suchlike.”

“A young man such as yourself would know no better than to flirt with the powers of darkness. So exciting for yourself, but not so merry for those of us who know the ways of the world and how badly they can go awry. ‘Tis bad luck, I say. You can have your mystery, Louis, and keep it.”

Matthew said, “Not so mysterious, I think. Ambitious woman eggs on her husband to do murder, they both go mad with guilt, and everyone ends up dead.”

“Not everyone.”

“Everyone who deserves it, and then some. A crowd pleaser, that one.”

Suzanne allowed as she did rather like Macbeth, and thought it would be a good addition to the repertoire. Indeed, one might think it a necessary addition, being a crowd pleaser. “I think we should do it.”

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Julianne LeeAUTHOR INFO: At twelve I began to write for fun, which I think is the only real reason to write fiction. Daydreaming with a purpose, and gradually I realized I could gain approval for the very thing teachers used to criticize me for in class. When I was thirty I decided to write for money and bought a copy of Writer’s Digest.

Twelve years, twelve completed novel manuscripts, and eight proposals for uncompleted novels after buying that Writer’s Digest, I sold a novel. Son of the Sword was my thirteenth completed manuscript. Lucky thirteen. Since then Berkley has published two time travel series set in historical Scotland, and two straight historicals set in Tudor England. I also write historical mysteries set in Restoration London, under the pseudonym Anne Rutherford.

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