‘The Unexpected Duchess’ by Valerie Bowman

vb tudSTORY: Is there any greater surprise than falling deeply, madly in love?

In This Battle of Wits

Lady Lucy Upton’s tongue may be too sharp to attract suitors but her heart is good, and when her painfully shy friend Cassandra needs help she devises a brilliant scheme to help her discourage an unwanted suitor, the Duke of Claringdon. Lucy will hide behind the hedgerow and tell Cass just what to say to discourage the duke…but it turns out that he’s made of sterner stuff than either of them anticipated. And Lucy is shocked to discover that tangling with the tenacious man is the most fun she’s had in ages.

Kisses Are the Best Weapon

Lord Derek Hunt made a promise to his dying friend to marry the demure Cassandra, and for a man who wants nothing more than peace and quiet after the horrors of war, she’ll make the perfect bride. If only the impudent Miss Upton will let him court the girl! Doing battle is the last thing on his mind, but bantering with Lucy behind the bushes is too tempting to resist. And the spoils of this war just may be true love…

REVIEW: Lady Lucy Upton and Lady Cassandra (Cass) Monroe are great friends who feel as though they are firmly on the shelf.  Both are very lovely ladies yet they feel that they have not found the right man for them.  Cass is pining for Julian who has been away fighting in the war for sometime.  Word is that he has been injured and is not expected to live.  She is not able to express her feelings because her cousin, Penelope, is betrothed to him.  Cass has said that if she cannot marry Julian, she will not marry at all.  Lady Lucy is a very outspoken young woman who made a cake of herself when introduced to the Queen at her coming-out.  Thus, her reputation reinforces her determination to stay a spinster.

Lord Derek Hunt, the Duke of Claringdon, has just received his title from the Queen for his bravery in the war.  Not used to this type of life, learning to accept being called “Your Grace” is hard for him to learn.  While on the battlefield, his friend, Swift, knowing he was dying asked Derek to promise to marry Cassandra for him.  A man of his word, Derek is now seeking her hand.  Since Cass does not want to marry anyone else but Julian, she and Lucy concoct ways to push him away with Lucy being the offensive ringleader.  Their bantering and bets only end up bringing them closer until things really heat up between them.

I truly loved this story.  Just the right amount of bantering is great.  Too much and I get turned off.  The characters are well written and the tale weaves together to form a perfect book that the reader will not want to put down.  This is the first book in a new series by Valerie Bowman and I eagerly await her next installment.

Connie for b2b

‘Capturing the Earl’s Love’ by Jane Lark

jl ctelSTORY: This novella tells the story of secondary characters from The Illicit Love of a Courtesan.

Rupert Stanforth, Earl of Morton, is exasperated by his sister’s choice of friend. Meredith Divine, clings, using Rowena’s plain appearance as a foil for her auburn curls and fuller figure. He would break the friendship, but the more he complains the more time the girls spend together. Ceasing his disagreement, he hopes the friendship will die, believing Meredith will take a wrong-step soon…

Meredith clings to her only friend, Lady Rowena Stanforth, despite the disgusted looks thrown by Rowena’s proud, judgemental brother. Lord Morton cannot abide Meredith because of her low standing but Meredith’s heart favours him… then in his single act of kindness, Meredith grasps an opportunity she cannot resist…

REVIEW: The blurb is sufficient in setting up the story, so I’m not going to go into it much.

The main hero of this story is Rupert, Earl of Morton and a cousin to Edward from the first book in the series, Illicit Love of a Courtesan, and one I recommend highly you read, even though it’s not really necessary for you to do so as this little gem stands on its own merit.

Rupert was a witness to Edward and Ellen’s affair and someone who doubted their love match, even after they married, but slowly he’s been coming around as he watches them display devotion to one another. He finally realizes that this sort of affection and love he dearly wishes upon his own sister Rowena, a young woman who he is responsible for and plans to arrange a suitable marriage for as the head of his family.

Rowena is someone who abides by the rules and etiquette, yet I did get the feeling of strength and some stubbornness in her. She did befriend our heroine, Meredith Divine, a beautiful young woman who comes from the ‘new money’ and a father that’s in trade, and that tells me that she’s not a snob.

I liked her story as well.

As a heroine, Meredith was a bit more complex. We first see her through Rupert’s and and then Rowena’s eyes. We, as Rupert, begin to question her motives of friendship to his sister. We are aware that she is hiding something and as the story unfolds, we see this young woman’s secret desires and dreams slowly begin to crumble and she is given only one chance to take her life into her own two hands and trust her feelings and jump at a chance at happiness.

The reason why I called this story a ‘little gem’ is because it really is. You have to give this author props for ‘cramming’ a lot of book into a handful of pages.

And if you don’t trust my opinion on it, here’s your chance to get it right now as it’s FREE on Amazon / Kobo / Google Play /

ENJOY!

Melanie for b2b

Complimentary copy provided by the publisher

‘The Baron Next Door’ by Erin Knightley

ek tbndSTORY: Charity Effington learned two valuable lessons from her first betrothal:

1) When one loses the attention of an earl, one gains the attention of every gossip in London.

2) Despite the lingering scandal, she’s not prepared to marry for anything less than love.

After an exhausting Season, Bath’s first annual music festival offers Charity the perfect escape. Between her newly formed trio and her music-loving grandmother, Charity is free to play the pianoforte to her heart’s content. That is, until their insufferably rude, though undeniably handsome, neighbor tells her to keep the “infernal racket” to a minimum.

Hugh Danby, Baron Cadgwith, may think he’s put an end to the noise, but he has no idea what he’s begun. Though the waters of Bath provide relief from the suffering of his war injuries, he finds his new neighbor bothersome, vexing, and… inexplicably enchanting. Before long, Hugh suspects that even if his body heals, it’s his heart that might end up broken.

REVIEW: Charity Effington is living with her grandmother in Bath.  She loves to play the piano and practices it daily.

Next door to her is Baron Hugh Cagwith who is in Bath to “take the waters” by both soaking in them and drinking the foul stuff.  He was in the war and his injuries have left him with a concussion and debilitating spinal injury resulting in severe headaches, back and neck pain.  One day he is awakened by the high octaves of Charity’s music through the walls which exacerbates his pain, driving him crazy.  When he confronts her about it, she is quite insulted and refuses to stop playing.

Charity plans to play her music in the Assembly Rooms of Bath, but when she arrives to apply, she is met by (mean old) Mr. Green who tells her she is just a minute or two late and thus the applications are closed.  Two other young ladies, Sophie, who plays the oboe, and May, who plays the zither, are also disappointed to find that they have been turned away.  However, a kind woman speaks up for them and tells Mr. Green (boo-hiss!) that she will withdraw her application and the three ladies can be a trio.  Thus, they are accepted to play.

As the ladies get together for practice, they learn more about one another.  May is from China and the girls learn a lot from her.  One thing is her Chinese friend living with them, Suyin, who is trained in Eastern massage therapy called “tui na” which helps body aches and headaches.  As Charity is sore from the hours she sits practicing her piano, she is delighted when Suyin demonstrates these massages.

Charity and Hugh continue to see one another and as they share a balcony between their homes.  They often meet up on the balcony and talk.  When Hugh confesses his pain difficulties, Charity insists on showing him some of the massages she has learned where they prove to be a great relief to Hugh.

This is a really great novel from Erin Knightley that I thoroughly enjoyed reading.  I learned a lot from it as well.  It is to be published on June 3, 2014.

Connie for b2b

Complimentary copy provided by the publisher

‘Lady of Ashes’ by Christine Trent

ct loaSTORY: In 1861 London, Violet Morgan is struggling to establish a good reputation for the undertaking business that her husband has largely abandoned. She provides comfort for the grieving, advises them on funeral fashion and etiquette, and arranges funerals.

Unbeknownst to his wife, Graham, who has nursed a hatred of America since his grandfather soldiered for Great Britain in the War of 1812, becomes involved in a scheme to sell arms to the South. Meanwhile, Violet receives the commission of a lifetime: undertaking the funeral for a friend of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. But her position remains precarious, especially when Graham disappears and she begins investigating a series of deaths among the poor. And the closer she gets to the truth, the greater the danger for them both…

REVIEW: When Violet marries Graham Morgan, she eagerly begins to learn his family’s business of Morgan Undertaking.  Although it is very unusual for a woman in Victorian England to be an undertaker, Violet is strong and determined to do a good job and make sure that the business is a success.  When Graham becomes more and more moody and is away from the shop a lot, the work falls on Violet’s shoulders.

One day, she finds a young girl asleep in one of the coffins.  It turns out that she has run away from a workhouse.  Even though Graham is against it, Violet brings Susanna into their home as her ward.  Having no children of their own, Violet is so happy to have her.  Slowly, Susanna begins to help her in the business.  Several of the corpses she prepares have strange marks on their bodies that seem to be the same.  Violet tries to get the doctor to approve an autopsy, but to no avail.

Graham and his brother concoct a scheme to revenge their father’s honor against the Americans.  As this is the time of the war between the states in America, there is a lot of smuggling into the country and Graham gets caught up in it.

When Prince Albert passes away, Queen Victoria calls upon Violet to assist with his funeral.  As the Prince had once happened upon Violet preparing the body of a friend of his, he was fascinated with embalming and made it known he wanted her to be his undertaker and to be embalmed.  But, Queen Victoria would not hear of desecrating his body that way.  Having assisted with his funeral, Violet’s business increases enormously.

When Violet starts receiving letters threatening her life, she begins to think that someone wants her out of the way to cover up the reason for the mutilated bodies she had questioned.

When I first considered reading this book, I thought that it might be just a bit too creepy to attempt.  However, I am so glad that I did.  I learned a lot about the undertaking business in Victorian England and even in America at the time.  The story of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert is so well documented with all kinds of details.  In addition, there is a story about the Monitor-Merrimack Battle of Hampton Roads off the coast of Virginia (which is home to me).  This novel is so very well written with a mystery of a serial killer added in making it so scary at times that it sent chills down my back.  This is a book you do not want to miss.  I promise you that you won’t be able to put it down.  I couldn’t.

Connie for b2b

Copy provided by my library

‘The Haunting of Grey Cliffs’ by Nina Coombs Pykare

ncp thogc1STORY: Edward’s proposal was shocking: he would marry Hester and provide for her if she would care for his troubled son. Despite her misgivings, Hester agreed — for something in Edward’s dark, anguished eyes touched her soul.

But upon her arrival in Cornwall, Hester feared she had made a terrible mistake. Not only was the castle filled with eccentric relatives — including a cousin who claimed to be able to contact spirits — but Edward’s father had died under questionable circumstances, and a killer might still lurk within the stone walls.

REVIEW: Hester Durant is seeking a job as a governess.  When she meets Edward, Earl of Grey Cliffs, he is quite taken with her experience and demeanor and ends up asking her to marry him instead of simply hiring her to be the governess to his son.  The fact that she understands boys and is not threatened by their childish antics, makes her very appealing to him.  Surprised by his proposal by intrigued by his manners and handsomeness, Hester agrees.  Thus, they marry and head to his home on the moors of Cornwall.

The isolated home, as well as the strange family members living there is quite daunting to Hester.  In addition, her husband appears to be quite moody at times.  However, she is quite taken with Edward’s son, Ned.  An intelligent young boy with the usual mischievous characteristics of boys, Hester soon gains Ned’s trust and sets up a course of studies for him.  Edward’s brother’s twin by-blow sons also join the school room for studies.  Three boys are a challenge for Hester but one that she enjoys.  Together, they explore the mansion in hopes of finding a priest’s hole.  Hester feels that if she joins in with their fun, it will help to keep them out of mischief.

One of the eccentric family members tells Hester that Edward’s father was murdered and the finger of suspicion points to Edward.  When some things begin happening to Hester that shows someone wants her dead, she becomes frightened and determined to find out who the killer is before they are successful in killing her.

This is the type of gothic story that I like.  Although written in 1992, this book still stands as a good story for people who enjoy gothic mysteries.  

Connie for b2b

Copy provided by my library 

‘One Night with an Earl’ by Jennifer Haymore

jh onwaeSTORY: Beatrice Reece, Lady Fenwick, has retired from polite society. Everyone knows her late husband treated her abominably, and she simply cannot bear the whispers of the ton. But it’s the night of London’s premier masquerade ball—and Beatrice’s one chance to revel in anonymity. She hopes no one will recognize her beneath her mask, not even the sinfully sexy stranger across the room who holds her captive in his gaze. 

Andrew Sinclair would know beautiful Beatrice anywhere from the gentle sway of her hips, the richness of her hair and the lushness of her body. When he asks her to dance, the attraction is instant and all-consuming. The only woman he’s ever truly wanted is finally in his arms. But when the clock strikes twelve, will this one reckless night fade into the morning light?

REVIEW: Beatrice Reece, the widowed Lady Fenwicke, chooses to stay closeted at home since the death of her abusive husband.  Many people feel she is in some way at fault for his death which is not the case.  However, she certainly does not miss him and the physical abuse he constantly piled on her.  Currently, she is living with her parents who view her with scorn.

When her good friend, Jessica, convinces her to dress up and attend a masquerade party, she agrees only because her parents will be away from the house for the time she will be at the party.

Andrew Sinclair, the ninth Earl of Weston, is more interested in spending his time classifying botany specimens that attending ton events.  However, his friend, Madame Lussier, insists that he attend her masquerade.

Dressed as Lady Persephone, Beatrice is intrigued when a masked Andrew approaches her and they strike up a conversation that leads to a waltz.  As the evening continues, their attraction becomes more intense and thus they leave the party for a walk in the park.  The walk then leads to them to Andrew’s home.  Where will things go from there?

A sweet novella about two people who fall in love quickly this story gets quite hot as well.

Connie for b2b

Complimentary copy provided by the publisher 

Spotlight on Nina Rowan and …

… A Daring Hearts Series!

nr asisA Study in Seduction (#1) 

BOOK BLURB: A Heart Divided

Blessed with an uncanny gift for mathematics, the lovely Lydia Kellaway can solve the most complex puzzles. The one thing she can’t figure out? How to manage the most infuriating man she’s ever encountered.

A Passion Multiplied

Alexander Hall, Viscount Northwood, has purchased a one-of-a-kind locket from a pawnshop, unaware of the priceless sentiment it holds for Lydia. The gentlemanly thing to do would be to simply return it. But Lydia sparks a desire that has Alexander curious to see just how bold this brilliant beauty will be…

A Love Unequaled

What begins as a playful wager quickly escalates into a contest of the minds, a clash of the wills—and a battle of the sexes—as their fiery attraction grows. Even a genius like Lydia can’t account for the feelings Alexander arouses with his smile, or the fire he ignites with his touch. But when a dark family secret is suddenly thrown into the equation, it just might divide them forever.

REVIEW: What a wonderful début novel this is!

Nina Rowan must have had a blast writing this one. I certainly did reading it. Only a handful of authors out there are willing to gift their readers with strong, smart, complex and intellectual heroines such as Lydia. This woman with her brilliant mind adds a very unusual ‘equation’ to this well told story and I reveled in her wit and charm from page one.

As for Alexander Hall, Viscount Northwood, I honestly couldn’t have found anyone better suited to her even if I wrote the story myself [said she wistfully!].

Ms. Rowan paced the story perfectly so we would enjoy the relationship she built between Lydia and Alexander, and watching them get closer to each other was a lot fun.
I truly enjoyed everything in this story, from prose to plot; characters and historical aspect of the story; all of it was well researched and thought out. Whole heartedly recommend it!

nr apfpA Passion for Pleasure (#2) 

BOOK BLURB: Prelude to a Kiss

A brilliant pianist and notorious rake, Sebastian Hall indulges his passion for music and women with equal aplomb. But now that his elder brother has married, his father insists he pursue a more respectable path and find a suitable wife.

Music to Her Ears

As a girl, Clara Whitmore quietly loved her piano teacher from afar. Yet her youthful crush cannot compare to the powerful desire she feels when she unexpectedly meets Sebastian again. Perhaps the man who once dominated her dreams could be the husband she has hoped for—and save her from the fate she most fears.

Love Strikes a Chord

Risking scandal, ruin, and their own reputations, Sebastian and Clara enter into a marriage of convenience. But the pair soon discovers that their undeniable attraction is anything but convenient. Swept up in a crescendo of desire, Sebastian and Clara take each other to new heights of ecstasy—until secrets from the past threaten to doom the duet forever. Now Sebastian will have to change his tune—and prove his love is true.

REVIEW: This second book in Nina Rowan’s Daring Hearts series, we are treated to Alexander’s brother Sebastian’s happily ever after and once more Ms. Rowan gifts us with a very ‘lyrical’ character such as Sebastian.

Sebastian Hall was a gifted pianist as well as well known womanizer, once upon a time, but those days are now gone and he must figure out how to appease his father and find himself a bride and at the same time help Alexander locate the plans for a machine that he’d like to build. Enter Clara Whitmore, a widow with a possible plan that just might solve both their dilemmas.

She is a mother that is willing to sacrifice everything for getting her son back from her own father who took the position of her son, thinking her unfit to raise him. She misses him dreadfully and needs a plan to get him back. Enter Sebastian, her former piano teacher who she had a crush on since she was sixteen.

Together, these two will forge a bond in matrimony, friendship and passion in order to face their past and create a future together.

This story has it all, from intrigue, romance, mystery and characters as real as you and I. I’m beginning to like this authors way of telling interesting and complex stories very, very much.

nr ttnbm‘Twas the Night Before Mischief (#2.5) 

BOOK BLURB: When Penelope Darlington is persuaded to elope with a most unsuitable suitor, she wastes no time. With visions of passion and adventure dancing in her head, she steals away in the middle of the night, just before her father’s Christmas feast.

Fearing for his daughter’s reputation, Henry Darlington begs Darius Hall, the Earl of Rushton’s daring yet discreet son, to bring Penelope home. When Darius finally catches up to Penelope, he is shocked. She’s not the silly little girl he expected, but a beautiful woman with a sharp mind and an allure that cannot be ignored.

Now forced to kidnap Penelope in order to bring her home, Darius and his new charge spend the next several days—and nights—in very close quarters. Penelope wanted passion and adventure, but she never could have imagined the pleasures Darius can provide…

REVIEW: This was my first time reading and reviewing this author and I read this little novella over the holidays, but I’m sharing it here again with those of you that missed it last December.

At a first glance, this might sound like a predictable story, but the further you go into it, the more you realize that not to be the case. It is one of those love stories that involves two people who have a total misconception of one another, yet both are attracted to the other.

I thoroughly enjoyed the journey they took to finally come together. I can’t recommend this one enough for the simple reason that this hero may as well have been my husband. It made me chuckle all the way through. It really is true that opposites attract, and I can vouch for that!

nr adodA Dream of Desire (#3) 

BOOK BLURB: No Distance Can Keep Them Apart.

For most her life, Lady Talia Hall has been dreaming of the day James Forester will take her in his arms and kiss her with unrestrained passion. Tired of waiting, Talia decides to take drastic measures to make James see her as more than his best friend’s little sister. But her bold plan goes awry when the scoundrel informs her that he is leaving London—and her—for a life of adventure traveling the world. Crushed, Talia throws herself into her reform work and vows never again to let her foolish heart get the better of her.

But even halfway across the world, James can’t stop thinking of the beautiful Talia, her bold declaration . . . or her brazen kiss. And when James learns that Talia’s reform work has thrown her into the path of danger and scandal, nothing can keep him from returning to London. But a broken heart is not easily put back together, and old habits die hard. Talia and James must learn that trusting in true love is the greatest adventure of all…

REVIEW: In the third book of this series we watch Talia, Alexander’s sister, get her heart broken by the only man she ever loved, James Forester, Baron Castleford, and put back together by the same man, many years later.

Damn but there’s so much I liked in this book, I’m not sure where to start! In spite of this being a romance novel, this little gem of a story encompasses a lot of historical detail about reformation of a juvenile prison system in England, to which our heroine dedicates her time and resources as well as her love for those less fortunate.

I also loved the characterization of the hero. He was a typical Beta hero that by the end of the book was all Alpha and I loved his whole nature, his explorer side as well as his outlook on the society in general.

Talia was another strong and capable heroine that I’m used to by now from Ms. Rowan. Her heroines are not just beautiful but smart, tenacious and very witty.

The romance was slow, sweet and subtle; characters were rich in-depth and the plot fast paced and engaging.  This whole series was a pleasant surprise from the first book to the last. I highly recommend you read it.

As someone who cherishes her time, I’ve become a bit of a cynic when it comes to ‘new to me authors’ [especially début authors], and that’s why I try to buy books that are novellas.  I started this series with ‘Twas the Night Before Mischief, a #2.5 in the series, and just knew I’d like all the others that were coming up. You can do the same. It’s still only $1.99 so go forth and check it out!

Melanie for b2b

Complimentary copies provided by the publisher