Scandal at the Christmas Ball by Marguerite Kaye and Bronwyn Scott


This title may be purchased from Amazon

One Christmas house party leads to two Regency love affairs! 

A Governess for Christmas by Marguerite Kaye 

At the glittering Brockmore house party, former army major Drummond MacIntosh meets governess in disgrace Joanna Forsythe, who’s desperate to clear her name. Both are eager to put their pasts behind them, but their scandalous affair will make for a very different future…

Dancing with the Duke’s Heir by Bronwyn Scott 

As heir to a dukedom, Vale Penrith does not want a wife, and certainly not one like Lady Viola Hawthorne. So why does London’s Shocking Beauty tempt him beyond reason? Dare he try and tame her, or is a Christmas seduction the best way to bring her to surrender?

Rating: B (B+ for the Kaye, C for the Scott)

Scandal at the Christmas Ball is the second collaboration between historical romance authors Marguerite Kaye and Bronwyn Scott, and, like their previous work, Scandal at the Midsummer Ball, takes place at the country estate of the Duke and Duchess of Brockmore, a widely liked, respected and highly influential couple who are regarded as powerbrokers within the ton and whose invitations are much sought after.

Among their guests this Yuletide are the duke’s nephew and heir, Vale Penrith, Lady Viola Hawthorne, a shockingly fast young woman who goes out of her way to do and say outrageous things, and a former officer of the Scots Guards, Drummond MacIntosh, whose army career ended somewhat ignominiously three years earlier, just after the Battle of Waterloo.


A Governess for Christmas by Marguerite Kaye (Grade: B+)

Ms. Kaye is one of the few authors of historical romance who regularly writes about untitled, non-aristocratic progatonists, and she continues that trend in this poignant, tender and sometimes heart-wrenching story about an ex-army officer and an ill-treated, down-on-her-luck governess who find each other one Christmas but who will face some difficult choices if they are ever to make a life together.

Drummond MacIntosh has lived a somewhat reclusive existence for the past three-and-a-half years owing to the huge scandal that attended his catastrophic fall from grace.  With his reputation in tatters, he has finally accepted that he needs help if he is ever going to claw his way back from ruin and carve out a new and useful existence.  No less a personage than the Duke of Wellington himself arranged Drummond’s invitation to the Brockmores’ Christmas house party, but as Drummond wryly notes, the Duke wouldn’t have done such a thing if it hadn’t been ultimately useful to himself; he needs a man of Drummond’s good sense, practicality and ability to lead men at his back and is presenting Drummond to Brockmore “for inspection” as it were.  The whole thing leaves a bitter taste in Drummond’s mouth; he doesn’t want to be beholden to Wellington (or to anyone) and certainly not on terms which attempt to brush years of exile under the carpet and blame Drummond for acting as his conscience dictated.

Drummond’s situation is mirrored by that of Miss Joanna Forsythe, a governess who has been invited to the party so she can meet a prospective employer.  Joanna had a comfortable position in the household of Lady Christina Robertson, but has been reduced to teaching at a ramshackle school in return for her bed and board, after she was wrongly accused of theft and dismissed without a character. Like Drummond, she has been invited to the Brockmores with a view to improving her situation, but also like him, the hoped for “improvement” falls short.  Joanna had hoped for an apology after her innocence was discovered and the real culprit owned up. But instead, her former employer wants to buy her off by the offer of an excellent new position and a sum of money.

Even before they know of the similarities of their respective situations, Drummond and Joanna are strongly drawn to each other and very soon find themselves exchanging confidences… and increasingly heated kisses.  I admit that the pair progresses to this stage rather quickly but Ms. Kaye creates such a strong emotional connection between them, and imbues their burgeoning relationship with such depth and longing that it’s possible to overlook its somewhat speedy beginning.  This is a pair of ordinary people in very difficult circumstances who demonstrate the importance of a spotless reputation to those who had to earn their living, for without it, there was little to no chance of their ever securing decent employment. But with Drummond on the verge of a prestigious appointment and a return from the cold, how can Joanna – and her tarnished reputation – stand in his way?

This is a beautifully wrought, heartfelt romance between two people in difficult circumstances.  I was completely gripped by Drummond’s story and applaud Ms. Kaye for the introduction of a character motivated by compassion whose actions were so misunderstood and reviled.  He’s not a character-type I’ve read in historical romance before, and I could be singing the author’s praises for that alone.  But added to a very well-crafted romance and a strong, determined heroine in the form of Joanna, A Governess for Christmas  makes my list of favourite seasonal reads.


Dancing with the Duke’s Heir by Bronwyn Scott (Grade: C)

In this story, a rather proper gentleman finds himself reluctantly fascinated by the most unsuitable sort of woman he could ever have imagined would attract him.  Vale Penrith, heir to the Duke of Brockmore, has still not recovered from the deaths of his father and older brother some years ago, and continues to find his role as a ducal heir somewhat ill-fitting.  He really would prefer to be left to his own devices in the library, but knows he will have to do his bit and take part in the various activities planned for the duration of the party.  He is also aware that while the Brockmores’ Christmas parties don’t have the same match-making reputation as their summer affairs, his uncle has a prospective bride lined up for him – something else he doesn’t want anything to do with.

Lady Viola Hawthorne, daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Calton, is a determined, high-spirited woman whose deepest desire is to go to Vienna to study music.  “The Shocking Beauty” as she is known, has quite the scandalous reputation, all of it designed to put off any suitors so she can remain unwed and pursue her dreams of Vienna and a musical career.  She reckons that one final, massive scandal at the Brockmores’ party should do the trick once and for all and cause her parents to give up on their attempts to marry her off.  Hence her decision to climb a ladder to hang mistletoe from a chandelier in the hall while wearing no underwear; perched at the top, affording the crowd of young men below a glimpse of her ankles (and possibly other things besides) she manages to achieve her end just before the ladder wobbles and she falls – literally – into the arms of Vale Penrith, who is appalled and annoyed at such reckless, outrageous behaviour.

Viola likes what she sees, but Penrith, while gorgeous, is a stuffed shirt and not at all the sort of man she’d be interested in.  But when her friend, Lady Anne, tells Viola that her parents are trying to arrange a match with Penrith while she – Anne – is in love with someone else, Viola agrees to help her out by providing a distraction.  The problem is that she finds herself being distracted by Vale – who is not at all the cold fish she had first imagined – as much as he is distracted by her, and the more time they spend together, the more they discover about what lies behind their social masks and the more they are drawn together.

I have to say straight off that I really didn’t care for Viola in this story.  I admired her desire to forge her own path in her life, but her methods – which are, basically, to shock as many people as often as possible – are childish, and she behaves more like a mistress or courtesan than a duke’s daughter, drinking spirits, smoking and playing billiards with the men.  I’m sure not all young ladies at this time were as pure and virginal as fiction would have us believe, but Viola goes a little too far in the opposite direction for my taste.  Vale is much more likeable, but because I disliked the heroine, it was difficult to understand what he saw in her beyond the physical and I found it difficult to believe that two people possessed of such opposing personality types could forge a lasting relationship.

If you’re more tolerant of the spoiled and outrageous type of heroine than I am, this story might work better for you than it did for me.


Ultimately, Scandal at the Christmas Ball is something of an uneven read, but is worth it for the Kaye story alone.

Advertisements

The Chase (Brides of Beadwell #3) by Sara Portman

This title may be purchased from Amazon.

According to his father’s terms, Michael Rosevear’s duty is to be ignored–until such time as he is useful. Now that the earldom is in need of funds, Michael is to be sold off in marriage to the daughter of a crass but wealthy merchant willing to pay for any connection to nobility–even one from the wrong side of the blanket . . .

En route to his fate in London, Michael does not plan to board an extra passenger. Yet there is something in the young miss’s desperate plea that tugs at his conscience–though he is certain her story is a fabrication . . .

Juliana Crawford has fled her father’s cruel home. Using a false name to evade pursuit, she must find a private traveler with whom to complete her escape. Chance matches her with a dark and wounded young lord who guards his own secrets just as carefully. The unlikely pair embark on a journey filled with revelations and unexpected adventure–one that may lead them to question whether to part at their destination–or change course entirely. . .

Rating: D

When one reads a lot of books, one learns to take book blurbs with a pinch of salt.  Those that give a basic outline of the plot are fine, but those that proudly proclaim how ‘exciting’, or ‘unforgettable’ or ‘unique’ a story is always see me raising a sceptical eyebrow and thinking, ‘yeah, right.’  Or wrong.  As is the case here.  The cover copy of new-to-me author Sara Portman’s The Chase promised a ‘thrilling romance’, but I think whoever wrote that must have lost their dictionary, or got hold of one in which the definition of ‘thrilling’ was ‘the feeling one experiences when watching paint dry.’ Because there is nothing remotely thrilling about a story featuring quite possibly the wettest, wimpiest, weepiest heroine I’ve think I’ve ever read, who is completely dependent on the hero to get her out of every single difficulty she faces.

Miss Juliana Crawford has spent all of her adult life acting as her father’s skivvy.  Hers has been a very lonely life, but throughout it all, she has had one thing to look forward to; the small inheritance that will become hers on her twenty-fifth birthday.  She knows her cruel, cold father will never allow her to receive it, so for years, she has hoarded every penny she can in order to buy herself a ticket that will take her away from her home village of Beadwell in Derbyshire.  She can’t afford to purchase a ticket to take her to London, (where she plans to visit the family solicitor to claim her inheritance) but hopes instead to be able to inspire the kindness of a random traveller to take her there.  Juliana has lived a very sheltered life, but I’d have thought her father’s example of bad-tempered selfishness would have been sufficient to tell her that relying on the kindness and good intentions of others is not really the way to go.

Anyway. Watching the various arrivals at the Bear & Boar coaching inn in Peckingham, Juliana surveys the available prospects (a large family, a mother and son) and in the end, approaches a well-to-do gentlemen who is travelling in a smart carriage with a coat of arms on the door, and asks if he will convey her to London.  The man is very surprised at her making such a request of a stranger, and warns her that her reputation will be ruined if she is known to have travelled with a man without a chaperone; Juliana insists she is not worried about it, and the man allows her to enter his carriage.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

Snowdrift and Other Stories by Georgette Heyer

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Previously titled Pistols for Two, this collection includes three of Heyer’s earliest short stories, published together in book form for the very first time. A treat for all fans of Georgette Heyer, and for those who love stories full of romance and intrigue.

Affairs of honour between bucks and blades, rakes and rascals; affairs of the heart between heirs and orphans, beauties and bachelors; romance, intrigue, escapades and duels at dawn. All the gallantry, villainy and elegance of the age that Georgette Heyer has so triumphantly made her own are exquisitely revived in these wonderfully romantic stories of the Regency period.

Rating: B

If you’re already a fan of the great Georgette Heyer – the author who pretty much invented the Regency Romance single-handedly – then it won’t take much persuasion from me to send you in the direction of this newly re-issued collection of the author’s short stories, most of them written for and published in prestigious women’s magazines of the 1930s. There are fourteen in this collection, of which eleven were previously published in the anthology Pistols for Two; Snowdrift features those plus three that have been newly discovered by the author’s biographer, Jennifer Kloester. Is it worth obtaining this new collection to read those new stories? On balance, I’d say that yes, it is, especially as one of the new stories (Pursuit) turned out to be one of my favourites of the set.

I don’t plan on reviewing each individual story here, as that would take more space than I have, so instead I’ll cherry pick as, like most anthologies, there are some excellent stories and some not quite so good ones. Each one features character types and plot elements that will be familiar to regular readers of historical romance; cross-dressing heroines, elopements, mistaken identity, dashing military men, second-chance romance, duels, high-stakes card games, regency-slang and, best of all, those handsome, authoritative heroes and their intelligent, witty heroines. Fans of the author’s will no doubt recognise the seeds of some of the plots and characters who later appear in some of her full-length novels here, too. I’ll also add a couple of words of caution. While very enjoyable, this is an anthology best dipped in and out of rather than read all at once; and these are short stories, so some of the romances are fairly perfunctory and in many cases, rely on insta-love. I’m not a fan, but in this case, it’s mostly forgivable due to the short length and the fact that the stories are beautifully written and enjoyable for so many other things besides the romances, so full are they of Heyer’s trademark laser-sharp social observation, sparkling dialogue and clever characterisations.

And so to the cherry picking. Pistols for Two is a rather unusual story in that it turns a frequently used trope on its head. Two lifelong friends discover that they are in love with the same young woman – another childhood friend who has grown into a beauty – and through misunderstanding and mischance, end up facing each other on the field of honour. Told through both their points of view, the young lady in question is a peripheral character and the author does a terrific job of describing the prickly, adolescent pride of the two young gents.

In A Clandestine Affair, we have an older hero and heroine who clearly share some sort of romantic history. Elinor Tresilian’s niece, Lucy, wants badly to marry the man she loves, Mr. Arthur Roseby, who happens to be the cousin of Lord Iver – who is vehemently opposed to the match. As it happens, Miss Tresilian is not overly in favour either, but headstrong Lucy is determined to have her way. When the couple elopes, Elinor and Lord Iver set off in pursuit, bickering and sniping along the Great North Road until… they aren’t.

A Husband for Fanny sees the young widow, Honoria Wingham, shepherding her lovely daughter, Fanny through the Season and hoping to secure the best and wealthiest husband for her. The Marquis of Harleston is certainly most attentive and would be an excellent match… so why does Honoria feel just the tiniest pang of jealousy when she sees how well the marquis and her daughter get along? You can see the twist in this one coming a mile off, but it’s an engaging story nonetheless.

To Have the Honour. Newly returned from war, young Lord Allerton discovers he has inherited a mountain of debt along with his title. His mother, however, is still spending money at the old rate, because Allerton has all but been betrothed to his cousin Hetty since the cradle; as she is a great heiress, once they are married their money woes will be over. But Allerton dislikes the idea of marrying for money and tells Hetty that he will not hold her to the arrangement between their families and she is free to choose for herself. Some timely scheming behind the scenes means that all ends well.

Hazard is one of my favourites; in it a young woman is staked in a game of chance by her weaselly half-brother, and is ‘won’ by the very drunk Marquis of Carlington. Foxed though he is, Carlington admires Helen’s spirit and insists they leave for Gretna Green right away. Helen is remarkably matter-of-fact about the whole thing, and I loved the way she issued a little payback to her not-swain the next day. Their dash to Scotland is fortuitously interrupted – by Carlington’s fiancée, no less…

Of the three new stories, Pursuit, Runaway Match and Incident on the Bath Road, the first is my favourite, being another elopement story in which an older couple once again takes centre stage. Mary Fairfax and the Earl of Shane are pursuing his ward (and her charge) Lucilla, who has eloped with the man she loves, Mr. Monksley, who will shortly be shipping out to the Peninsula with his regiment. In Runaway Match, the lovely Miss Paradise convinces her friend, Rupert, to elope with her so she can foil her father’s plans to marry her to the old, odious Sir Roland. She has never met her intended, but is horrified to realise he has followed them all the way to Stamford. Or has he? And in Incident on the Bath Road, the handsome, wealthy but ennui-laden Lord Reveley (always courted, never caught) is on his way to Bath when he encounters a chaise accident and takes up the young Mr. Brown who explains that he has urgent business in the city. This urgent business turns out to be going to the aid of the lovely Miss X, who is going to be forced into a distasteful marriage… and Reveley’s life turns out not to be quite so boring after all.

While Georgette Heyer’s full-length novel allow her strengths – tightly-written plots, characterisation and witty banter – to shine fully, there are enough glimpses of all those things in these short stories to make them well worth reading, whether you’re a long-time fan (as I am) or a newcomer to her work. Snowdrift and Other Stories is just the book to have on hand when you don’t have time to settle into a full-length novel and want a quick romance fix.

Twelfth Night with the Earl (Sutherland Sisters #3) by Anna Bradley

This title may be purchased from Amazon

As far as Ethan Fortescue is concerned, his family’s seat in Cornwall is only a source of torment, one that he’s managed to avoid for two years. Now that he’s the Earl of Devon however, he can close the door on his haunted past by locking up the cursed place for good. But upon arriving at Cleves Court, he is shocked to find the house aglow with Christmas celebrations, filled with music and laughter. And right at the center of the holiday madness is the infuriating—and eternally tempting—Theodosia Sheridan . . .

Thea has always loved the town of Cleves, especially at the holidays. As a girl, she also loved Ethan with all her heart. It’s painful to see how his brother’s tragic death has embittered him. Still, she will do anything to make sure the town thrives—even if it means going to battle with Ethan to save Cleves Court. Now she has only until Twelfth Night to make a Christmas miracle happen—by proving that his childhood home can be a source of love and wonder. But before long, she finds herself wondering if she’s trying to save the house—or its handsome master…

Rating: B

This emotionally charged novella is billed as the third book in Anna Bradley’s current Sutherland Sisters series, although it doesn’t actually feature a Sutherland. It’s linked to the other books by virtue of the fact that its hero, Ethan Fortescue, Earl of Devon, is one of the secondary characters from Lady Charlotte’s First Love. In Twelfth Night with the Earl, Ethan takes centre stage as a thoroughly Scrooge-like figure who returns to his family home in Cornwall (and I did wonder why the Earl of Devon has his family seat in the next county) with the intention of closing it up for good so that he can finally bury the painful memories that reside there. I confess that when I started reading, I thought I was in for a clichéd, grouchy-lord- lightened-up-by-spunky-heroine sort of thing – I’m not a fan – but fortunately, Ms. Bradley doesn’t go that route and I was instead very pleased to read a nuanced story about the importance of facing up to grief, loss and guilt that also included a tender and heartwarming rekindled romance.

Ethan Fortescue hasn’t been to Cleves Court for two years, not even returning there after becoming the Earl of Devon a year earlier. He detests the place and has one object in travelling to the wilds of Cornwall just before Christmas – to close the house down for good. He arrives in a bad mood and somewhat the worse for drink, expecting the place to be dark, freezing and damp with only a skeleton staff of servants on hand; so pulling up to the front of the house to find it well-lit and with some sort of social gathering going on inside comes as something of a shock.

Furious, Ethan storms in and demands to know what’s going on, and is surprised and hurt when he discovers his childhood friend – and the only woman he has ever loved – Thea Sheridan, at the centre of it all. His anger and sense of ill-usage get the better of him, and he berates her in front of everyone, accusing her of acting without permission in holding the party and of stealing from him, accusations she calmly refutes.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

Miss Truelove Beckons by Donna Lea Simpson

This title may be purchased from Amazon

When Truelove Becket’s betrothed went missing in a naval battle, she vowed never to marry unless she found someone she loved as much. In the seven years since then, the quiet vicar’s daughter has lived a simple and contented life helping the poor people of her village. But now another man has asked for her hand in marriage and, unsure if she is ready to commit to him, she agrees to accompany her beautiful cousin Arabella on a trip to visit friends so she can take time to think it over.

Viscount Drake cut a dashing figure when he returned from war to a hero’s welcome, but the Battle of Waterloo left him a shattered and haunted man. As his dreams are invaded by the terrors of war he becomes a sleepless shell of a man, and as his torment grows he begins to wonder if marriage to the lovely Arabella will help restore him again. But as Arabella coquettishly flirts to secure Drake’s hand and his riches, it is the pretty and practical True he turns to for solace.

With the weight of her marriage proposal bearing down on her, True finds herself irresistibly attracted to Drake’s quiet dignity and genuine distress, just as he finds himself drawn to her honest nature and soothing compassion. When a spark of passion ignites between these two who have both lost so much to war, they will have to confront their biggest fears—and everyone else’s plans for their futures—to discover if love can truly cure all ills.

Rating: B-

The story of the poor relation who falls in love with the well-to-do handsome hero destined to marry another (who is completely wrong for him) is a familiar one, but while Donna Lea Simpson’s Miss Truelove Beckons ostensibly follows that pattern, the author actually subverts the trope of the “evil other woman” and crafts a story of more weight and substance than is found in many other Regency romances.

Major General Lord Wycliffe Prescott, Viscount Drake, son and heir of the Earl of Leathorne, joined the army when he was just eighteen, and served for a number of years before almost meeting his end at the Battle of Waterloo.  He was lauded as a hero on his return to England, but he couldn’t feel less like one; he saw too much death, bloodshed and wanton destruction, killed too many men and came too close to death himself to feel anything but disgusted by the war and his part in it.  Fortunately for Drake, the only outward evidence of his long service is a bad leg injury which has left him with a slight limp, but on the inside he’s a mess, haunted by memories and worn down by dreams and nightmares he experiences on a nightly basis.  His parents love him dearly but don’t know what to do to help him; naturally, it’s something Drake doesn’t discuss with them, but his mother can hear him screaming at night and is desperately worried for him.

In an attempt to divert Drake’s attention, Lady Leathorne decides it’s time to further a match between her son and Miss Arabella Swinley, the daughter of one of her oldest friends.  Although nothing has been settled officially, the ladies have long cherished the idea of such a thing coming to pass, so the countess invites Lady and Miss Swinley to Lea Park for a few weeks, sure that an engagement will shortly ensue.

The Swinley ladies duly arrive, accompanied by their cousin, Miss Truelove Beckett, the daughter of the country vicar and in whose house Arabella had spent much of her childhood.  She and Truelove – True – used to be very close, but in the years since Arabella’s come-out (and since she has been wholly subject to her mother’s influence) True has sadly noticed her younger cousin becoming more and more spoiled and more and more like her mother, who is sharp, haughty and not always kind.

True has come to Lea Park at Arabella’s request, and also because she needs time to consider the proposal made her by the local curate, Mr. Bottleby.  Seven years earlier, the man True loved was killed and she vowed never to marry unless it was to someone she loved as much as she’d loved Henry.  But she doesn’t want to be alone forever or be a burden on her father; Mr. Bottleby is a good man and True yearns to be useful… but she isn’t sure he will provide the sort of companionship she longs for.

Drake and True are almost immediately drawn to each other and Drake is surprised to find himself telling True things he’s never told anyone about the memories that haunt him and the guilt he carries.  She is a good listener and never judges him, knowing the right things to say and when to ask questions and when to remain silent. Her calm, rational demeanour has a strong effect on Drake, who finds her presence to be the one thing that can truly soothe him; their friendship definitely has a positive effect on Drake and she helps him to realise that he needs something useful to occupy him. This takes the form of a school which will employ veterans skilled in various trades to train other veterans so that they can find work – and for the first time since he returned from war, Drake is finally starting to feel like a whole person once more.

The growing friendship between Drake and True is not looked upon with favour by either his mother or Lady Swinley, although as Lady Leathorne begins to see the improvement in her son’s manner and health, she realises that the most important thing is that he is well and happy – and if Miss Becket is the woman to make him happy, then her social status is of no matter.  Lady Swinley, however, is a different matter; Drake is to marry Arabella, and she is not about to let her mousy cousin cut out her daughter, an acknowledged diamond of the first water.  Arabella at first comes across as a spoilt brat.  She simpers, swoons and pretends to be a dim-wit in the attempt to display all those qualities that so enamour gentlemen of the ton, but none of this has any effect on Drake, who thinks she must be a ninny.  But recognising that his mother’s heart is set on his marrying Arabella, he makes an effort to talk to her and actually finds that she’s not at all as empty-headed as she seems.  Unlike many other books in which the heroine’s rival is a nasty piece of work, Arabella really isn’t; as True has seen, she’s too much influenced by her mother’s mercenary nature, and by Lady Swinley’s constant harping at her about what she should be doing to attract Drake’s interest.

True is terribly torn.  She has fallen in love with Drake, but can see that Arabella is bewildered and disgusted by any mention he makes of the war while recognising that Arabella will make him a much better viscountess than she ever could.  Yet she also knows that Drake needs someone who will understand and love him in a way Arabella is unlikely ever to be able to.  And then there’s Mr.  Bottleby, who is awaiting her answer to his proposal…

Miss Truelove Beckons is a charming and well-written romance that tackles the difficult subject of PTSD in a sensitive way.  So many historical romances set during this period feature heroes returned from war with physical and/or mental injuries which are often glossed over, but that’s not the case here.  Drake is clearly a very troubled man; he suffers sleep deprivation because of his horrific dreams and frequently withdraws into himself during the day… and the reader really feels his pain and desperation.  True is good and kind, but she’s not a doormat; perhaps she’s a bit too good to be true (!) but she’s never overly sweet or cloying.

Although Lady Swinley is a bit of a caricature, the other secondary characters are well-drawn and contribute much towards this book being a cut above average.  Drake’s parents are especially well-done, and the brief insights we are given into their marriage are very poignant, while Arabella becomes a more sympathetic character as the story progresses.  The writing is excellent and the central relationship is nicely developed, although if you like a bit of steam in your romances, this might not be the book for you, as things are fairly low-key with only a few kisses exchanged.  There’s no question that True and Drake are attracted to each other and that their romance is one born of friendship – but while I don’t need to read sex scenes in a romance novel, I do like there to be a decent amount of sexual tension and there isn’t a great deal of that here, which is why I knocked half-a-star off my final rating.

Nonetheless, Miss Truelove Beckons is definitely worth checking out if you are after a well-written, character-driven romance with a bit more heft than is normally found in the genre.

Lord Hunter’s Cinderella Heiress (Wild Lords and Innocent Ladies #1) by Lara Temple

This title may be purchased from Amazon

Betrothed…to the wrong man!

Building a life away from her bullying family, schoolmistress Helen Tilney now needs to convince her childhood sweetheart she’s a worthy bride. Standing in her way is Lord Hunter–the man Nell has just discovered she’s betrothed to!

Hunter’s offer of marriage to Nell came out of guilt, and now seems less than appealing! So when she asks for his help to win another man, he agrees. Until their lessons in flirtation inspire a raging desire that has Hunter longing to keep Nell for himself…

I saw that. I saw you rolling your eyes and saying “another Cinderella book?!” In principle, I’m with you – while Harlequin/Mills & Boon book titles are (thankfully) bereft of cutesy song lyrics and faux film titles, they can sometimes be rather dreadfully unimaginative. But, much as with the case of another Harlequin Historical I reviewed recently (Pursued for the Viscount’s Vengeance), Lord Hunter’s Cinderella Heiress is a much better book than the title suggests and I’d urge you – strongly – not to let it put you off reading it.

Lara Temple is a relative newcomer to the Harlequin/M&B stable – this is, I think, her fourth novel – but I’ve enjoyed the other books of hers I’ve read, which have been distinguished by strongly characterised, attractive principals, lashings of lovely sexual tension and excellent dialogue. I knew that at some point she’d come up with a book which would knock my socks off – and this is it.

Our titular Cinders is Miss Helen (Nell) Tilney, who lives with her overbearing, brutish father and an obnoxious aunt who is forever finding fault with her. The only times Nell is truly happy are when she’s away at school or when she’s working with her father’s horses – and it’s in this capacity she first meets Gabriel, Lord Hunter. He is interested in purchasing Petra – a thoroughbred of which Nell is especially fond – and Nell reconciles herself to parting with her when she sees that Lord Hunter is a man who appreciates good horseflesh and will treat the animal well. Nell puts the horse through her paces and afterwards, retires to her room thinking she will never see him again. Unfortunately, however, her aunt has other ideas and summons Nell to dinner, knowing full well that Nell will hate it.

When a willowy, wan and very timid young woman enters the drawing room before dinner, Hunter can’t believe this is the intrepid horsewoman who rode Petra so skilfully and with such joy earlier in the day. He also can’t help but notice the way Sir Henry treats his daughter and her aunt’s continual bullying; and when Nell finally snaps and tells her aunt she wants nothing more to do with her, he is impressed by her show of spirit and silently cheers her on. It’s this, together with the thought that allying the Hunter and Tilney estates might not be a bad idea – plus that fact that Hunter is one of life’s protectors – that prompts him to ask Tilney for Nell’s hand the next day. By then however, Nell has fled back to school so isn’t privy to the discussion, but given Hunter is in mourning for his younger brother and Nell has to complete her schooling, there is no question of a wedding in the near future. Tilney undertakes to explain matters to Nell and Hunter takes his leave.

You can read the rest of this review at All About Romance.

At the Christmas Wedding (anthology) by Caroline Linden, Maya Rodale and Katharine Ashe


This title may be purchased from Amazon

Snowed in at a castle full of handsome lords, three young ladies are about to have the holiday of their lives…

Map of a Lady’s Heart by Caroline Linden

The road to happily-ever-after… With Kingstag Castle full of guests and the snow falling, Viola Cavendish has her hands full making sure the Christmas house party runs smoothly. The unexpected arrival of the Earl of Winterton and his nephew Lord Newton upends everything. Not only is Lord Newton flirting with the young ladies Viola is supposed to chaperone, Lord Winterton himself makes her pulse race.
Always takes some twists and turns Wesley Morane, Earl of Winterton, has come to Kingstag Castle in search of a valuable atlas, and he refuses to be deterred by the snow, the house party, his nephew, or even the most ridiculous play ever staged. But before long the only map he wants is one that shows him the way to Viola’s heart…

Hot Rogue on a Cold Night by Maya Rodale

Jilted by a duke: Lady Serena Cavendish was born and bred to be a duchess. Too bad, then, that the Duke of Frye mysteriously and suddenly ended their betrothal.
Seduced by a Rogue: Greyson Jones, an agent of the crown, is the only one who thinks being jilted has made Serena more alluring. When he lucks into an invitation to a Christmas house party at Kingstag Castle to cheer her up—and perhaps find her a husband—he seizes the opportunity to win her heart before they might be parted forever.
On the way to the altar: Their journey to happily ever after involves a ridiculous play, a lovesick swan, a mysterious gift and, of course, a kiss.

Snowy Night with a Duke by Katharine Ashe

The last time Lady Charlotte Ascot bumped into the Duke of Frye, she climbed a tree to avoid him. Sometimes it’s simply easier to run away than to face her feelings for him — overwhelmingly passionate feelings that no modest lady should have! Now, on her way to Kingstag Castle to celebrate the holidays with friends, Charlotte is trapped by a snowstorm at a tiny country inn with the duke of her steamiest dreams.
But Frye has a secret of his own, and Christmas is the ideal time to finally tell the woman he’s always wanted the whole unvarnished truth. Better yet, he’ll show her…

Rating: B+ overall. Individual stories: B+ : B- : B+

At the Christmas Wedding is a collection of festive novellas by three of the biggest names in historical romance – Caroline Linden, Maya Rodale and Katharine Ashe. As with their previous anthology, At the Duke’s Wedding, the individual stories take place concurrently, this time at and around Kingstag Castle in Dorset, the site of a festive house party being hosted by the Duke and Duchess of Wessex. The three stories are perfect seasonal fare – warm, light-hearted and perfectly romantic, laced with humour, filled with likeable principals and served up with a soupçon of Yuletide cheer and festive frolic.

You can read the rest of the review at All About Romance.