Hidden by Shelley Shepard Gray

HIDDEN
Hidden by Shelley Shepard Gray
Publisher: Harper Collins
Genre: Contemporary, Inspirational
Length: Full Length (161 pgs)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

When Anna decides it’s time to leave her abusive boyfriend, she doesn’t know where to turn. Rob has completely won over her parents, and the entire community, with his good looks and smooth charm. Only Anna has seen his dark side.

Desperate, she runs to the only place she’s ever felt completely safe—the Amish Brenneman Bed and Breakfast, where Anna met life-long friend Katie Brenneman. The family welcomes her in, and with few questions asked allows her to stay, dressed in Plain clothing, and help around the inn.

Katie’s older brother Henry is the only one who doesn’t take too kindly to the intrusion. He tries to ignore Anna, knowing no good would ever come from caring for an Englisher like her. But as he gets to know Anna, he discovers her good heart and is surprised with her readiness to accept their lifestyle.

The more time Anna spends with the Amish, the more she feels she’s found a true home. But how can she deny the life she left behind? And will her chance for happiness be stolen away by the man from her past?

I remember the 80s movie Witness and after I started reading Hidden I found it easy to make a few parallel observations. The difference is that in this novel the romance bears fruit and there’s an HEA. I enjoyed the simple, profound and gentle romance between two very divergent people.

Henry and Anna are the main protagonists who at first don’t get along well – oil and water. As with all good romance stories, as circumstances affect them, as they get to know each other and see each other as they really are, feelings start to grow, respect is nurtured and understanding develops.

The character with the most to gain, lose, grow and change is Anna. She’s running for safety; she’s felt lost in her own world for a long time and someone does not want her to leave it. Time is running out. There’s a guy hot on her tail and he’s not very nice. Where can she turn? Who will help her? It turns out the least obvious is the best bet, but can she leave all that she knew behind? Surprisingly it’s her faith in religion that slowly guides her to make the choices that lead her to what her heart had been searching for and never found in all that she’s done in her life so far. It takes the calm and focused lifestyle of the Amish to give Anna the time to slow down, to think, to feel, and most importantly, listen to what God was trying to tell her. There’s so much Englisher static from her background it takes a while for Anna to finally hear.

The story is told mostly from Anna’s point of view, then Henry’s. The villain gets his say and he’s a sad specimen of humanity. The author made it very clear as the plot unfolded that something really isn’t right with that guy. He was an effective antagonist.

The one thing that saddened me about this novel was Anna’s mother. Her dad was written quite well and I liked him. The mother was a head case. Where there should have been redemption, she just didn’t get it, not truly, and I was disappointed in her final act on stage. Didn’t she learn anything?

I liked the dramatic conclusion and found it showcased all the main characters’ strengths. I liked the secondary characters and found them helpful as Anna and Henry navigated their growing attraction. The happy ever after was sweet and full of spirituality and love. It was tender and brought a smile to my face.

Hidden is a delightful change of pace from the many frenetic, violent or over the top sexy stories out there. Sometimes, a reader just wants a story of the heart, about two people overcoming seemingly unsurmountable odds to find love, happiness and fulfillment in a deeper way than most can comprehend. There are times where I need to be reminded that love isn’t proved by material things or boisterous gestures, but by trust in another person and the faith, love and respect they have for their God and each other. It can be beautiful and Ms. Gray did a wonderful job of capturing that with her story.

Wind by K.J. Taylor

WIND
Wind by K.J. Taylor
Drachengott Book One
Publisher: Impulse – Harper Collins Publishers
Genre: Historical, Sci-Fi/Fantasy
Length: Full Length (411 pages)
Heat Level: Sweet
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Orchid

Rutger has always been a bit different. Wanting more than his current provincial life holds, he practices swordfighting, ensuring he’s ready for … he’s not quite sure what. Until he meets Swanhild, an enigmatic young woman who knows exactly what she’s training for – war. The two meet every day in the forest to practice magic and Rutger feels like he finally belongs somewhere. But Swanhild is hiding something. Will Rugter find out her secret before it’s too late? Or will the battle they’ve been waiting for render secrets irrelevant

Drachengott, monster size dragon, master of all and giver of powers.

Syn, a female dragon called into being by the human servants of Drachengott, is considered a traitor by her own kind. She seeks out the only one who has the power to destroy Drachegott and set her free. Her problem is whether this man will help the dragon who killed his brother.

Rutger falls in love with Swanhild, a stranger he finds in the nearby forest. Swanhild teaches him magic and they set out to protect the world from the dragons and dragon helpers.

This is a well written story which draws an image of dragons controlling the world with only small pockets of human rebels who try to survive without technology or dragon magic. Defense weapons are crossbows and swords which are useless against the scale protected dragons. The hint of what the future holds for Rutger and Swanhild is shrouded in mystery, enough to make me read on to find out whether my thoughts were right, or the author had developed a clever plot twist.

Everyday events such as earning money for food and lodging came across as interesting and believable and helped the story forward. Sometimes a plot can forget that the characters have to do normal things to survive and this can spoil the flow of the story. This is not one of those books. Everything flows along very nicely.

Wind provided me with shiver down the spine moments, soft romantic scenes, smiles as other characters were duped by Rutger and Swanhild and all the time there was the question, will they or won’t they? All in all a good read especially as I love dragons.

Love and Miss Communication by Elyssa Friedland

LOVE
Love and Miss Communication by Elyssa Friedland
Publisher: Harper Collins
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (400 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Sorrel

This unforgettable debut novel asks us to look up from our screens and out at the world…and to imagine what life would be like with no searches, no status updates, no texts, no Tweets, no pins, and no posts

Evie Rosen has had enough. She’s tired of the partners at her law firm e-mailing her at all hours of the night. The thought of another online date makes her break out in a cold sweat. She’s over the clever hashtags and the endless selfies. So when her career hits a surprising roadblock and her heart is crushed by Facebook, Evie decides it’s time to put down her smartphone for good. (Beats stowing it in her underwear—she’s done that too!)

And that’s when she discovers a fresh start for real conversations, fewer distractions, and living in the moment, even if the moments are heartbreakingly difficult. Babies are born; marriages teeter; friendships are tested. Evie just may find love and a new direction when she least expects it, but she also learns that just because you unplug your phone doesn’t mean you can unplug from life.

A series of events has led Evie to leave social media.  When she loses her job, Evie vows to stop using social media and the internet, for anything. From then on she learns some things about herself she wouldn’t have otherwise, and finds herself attracted to one man she may not be able to have.

This book had a very interesting plot, and although it took a while for me to completely get into it, it was worth the wait.  The plot was simple but the characters, minor and secondary, were fantastic and stole the show. Especially Evie’s grandmother.

Love and Miss Communication is a story about a woman in her thirties struggling to find love through an internet dating site. What would make me come back and read this book again and again was this struggle which is both realistic and timely.

Miss Friedland did a wonderful job of writing a story which highlighted a modern woman’s struggle to not only be successful in her professional life but her personal one as well.  I loved the simplicity of this story and would recommend it.

Not a Fairy Tale by Romy Sommer

FAIRY
Not a Fairy Tale by Romy Sommer
Publisher: Harper Collins
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (244 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Hawthorn

And the award goes to…

Not Nina Alexander that’s for sure. With her best gracious loser face firmly in place, Hollywood’s hottest starlet is hoping to end her evening of disappointment with a graceful exit stage left. Only an unexpected proposal and an awkward wardrobe malfunction mean that this is certainly going to be a night to remember… for all the wrong reasons! So what girl would resist the gorgeous Dominic Kelly coming to her rescue?! Especially when he’s whisking her out of the paparazzi’s prying eyes on the back of his motorbike – and wearing a tux to rival James Bond!

Nina soon realises that the only way to recover from such a scandal is to toughen up and snag the role of the decade in the year’s hottest YA screen adaptation. Who better to train her than her very own professional stuntman? Getting up close and personal with Dom will take Nina well out of her comfort zone – both professionally and in her closely scrutinized private life. But this A-list couple know only too well that’s it not all happy ever afters in Hollywood…

I’m a bit skeptical of Hollywood romance stories, but this one turned out to be a great read.

Nina, as the star of the book and in Hollywood, was painted very realistically. She was in turn selfish and vain and deep and warm, with both aspects of her character written believably and surprisingly not mutually exclusive. Her painful past led her to find refuge in the shallow world of celebrities. Everything there is safe because it doesn’t include any emotional attachment; people are your friends only as long as you pay them or they need you to give them a boost in their career. There was no danger for her to get attached to someone and then lose them.

But she can’t escape emotional attachment when she meets stuntman Dominic Kelly. Sure, they have a business arrangement that says he’ll train her for the most coveted role at the moment, nothing more, nothing less. Unfortunately for Nina, this entails a whole lot more. But it’s also more for Dominic who’s not used to women staying until morning. But Nina, to hide from the paps, practically moves into his house. And them spending all their time together gets them to lower their defenses.

The pressures of stardom – and also the benefits of it – were shown very realistically, I thought. It was a wonderful image of what actors and actresses have to go through for their careers. The constant scrutiny, the ridiculous demands, the media – it all forces them to shut themselves from the world even more. But I also loved the scenes on the beaches because the author managed to paint the landscape very vividly, too.

My only objection was to how often Nina liked to repeat that she is selfish and vain. I realize this was part of her trying to convince herself that she didn’t need anything else but the public’s adoration and attention, but the frequency of her claims somehow clashed with the rest of her characterization.

I loved the slow progression of their relationship; how their feelings for each other blossomed quietly and unnoticed until it was too late. That final ‘complication’ was the ultimate test of their characters. And they passed with flying colors.

Not a fairy tale is a heart-warming story that shows the other side of Hollywood stars and paints them as people like us. It will make you want to read the other novels in the series.

The Duke’s Guide to Correct Behavior by Megan Frampton

DUKE
The Duke’s Guide to Correct Behavior by Megan Frampton
Publisher: Avon/Harper Collins
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (384 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Bluet

All of London knows the Duke of Rutherford has position and wealth. They also whisper that he’s dissolute, devilish, and determinedly unwed. So why, everyone is asking, has he hired a governess?

When Miss Lily Russell crosses the threshold of the Duke of Rutherford’s stylish townhouse, she knows she has come face to face with sensual danger. For this is no doting papa. Rather, his behavior is scandalous, and his reputation rightly earned. And his pursuit of her is nearly irresistible—but resist she must for the sake of her pupil.

As for the duke himself, it was bad enough when his unknown child landed on his doorstep. Now Lily, with her unassuming beauty, has aroused his most wicked fantasies—and, shockingly, his desire to change his wanton ways. He’s determined to become worthy of her, and so he asks for her help in correcting his behavior.

But Lily has a secret, one that, if it becomes known, could change everything . . .

Poor Marcus! The newly titled Duke of Rutherford is bored and dissatisfied with his new station in life. Another night of debauchery has left him cold, and wanting a purpose, something other than acting ducal, marrying the proper person, and producing little dukes-to-be. He was third in line to inherit the title, and never expected that it would come to him. Just as Marcus is contemplating the direction his life has taken he’s presented with a real game changer. His daughter, Rose. Years ago, Marcus had a liaison with Rose’s mother, Fiona. Fiona has now died, and Rose has been sent to her father. He decides to keep Rose with him for now, and to hire a governess.

Lily Russell and her friends are trying to make a go of their new employment agency. When a request comes from the Duke of Rutherford, she knows this could be the making of them, if they are successful. Lily decides to take the position herself. When she meets the duke, she is immediately attracted to his good looks, and she loses her heart to the shaking, frightened little girl. Marcus is attracted to Lily, as well, but he’s come to the decision that he must change his ways, and certainly can’t have a relationship with his daughter’s governess. Of course, their close proximity and their chemistry play havoc with the best laid plans.

At first I decided that I didn’t like Marcus. There were specific reasons I felt that his character was beyond redemption but to explain would give away pivotal points of the story. However, Marcus’ heart melts almost from the beginning as he meets his daughter, and against what’s normally done, he brings her into his household. His desire to change his lifestyle and become a better person and a good father are admirable. The child, Rose, is a sweet and lovable character, without stealing the show. Lily is a likable character from the start. She’s funny and caring, yet sensible. I adored the witty encounters between Lily and Marcus, as well as their fascination with each other.

I love governess stories, and this one had more obstacles to a happy ever after than most. Society frowns upon nobles making unequal matches, and Lily is hiding a secret that makes her even more unsuitable. It’s also not the thing to keep your illegitimate child in your household. The way this was resolved with a grand gesture at the end was romantic and swoon worthy. This was my first book by Megan Frampton, and I will be sure to check out her back-list, and future releases. If you enjoy humor, redemption, and emotion in your romance, this book fits the bill, and I heartily recommend it.

The Night Belongs to Fireman by Jennifer Bernard

FIREMAN
The Night Belongs to Fireman by Jennifer Bernard
Publisher: Avon/HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (296 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Daring . . . Sexy . . . Irresistible . . .
They’re the Bachelor Firemen of San Gabriel

When fireman Fred Breen rescues a bachelorette party after a construction crane collapses onto their limo, the media labels him the “Bachelor Hero.” But all Fred can think about is the petite brunette with the sexy mane of dark curls who bolted away from him faster than a wildfire after he carried her to safety. And when he discovers she’s none other than Rachel Kessler, the daughter of a tech billionaire, the girl whose kidnapping riveted the nation, he intends to learn every intimate detail about this intriguing woman who sets his pulse on fire.

Rachel can’t deny the lean-muscled firefighter is smokin’ hot. But after having one too many drinks at the bar where she first meets him, Rachel knows she’s made a fool of herself. Yet when he rescues her from the limo, she feels safe for the first time since she was held for ransom as a child. Then her overprotective father insists Fred be her bodyguard—and his close presence kindles a burning desire that only he can extinguish.

I find nothing more romantic than a story about two people who love each other so much, they want the absolute best for the other person, even at their own expense. It’s a theme that has been done numerous times in the past but this time it’s special. The author put her own clever stamp on the storyline by making the hero a hunky fireman who doesn’t think he’s anything special, and a woman with a scary past who is so rich, she’s been stuffed behind a wall of protection all of her adult life. The basic outcome is eventually the hero finally understands he IS special, and worthy of the title ‘hero, and the heroine learns to stand up for herself and not let the terror of the past dictate her future. They each do things that benefit the other but as is the course of human nature when crisis is in the mix and emotions and passions run high, folks don’t always say or do the brightest things in those types of situations. Such is one of the conflicts in this story and Ms. Bernard navigated it well.

I really like Fred. I also find it unusual to have a hero named Fred. Initially, I thought of Fred from Scooby Doo but that didn’t last too long. Ms. Bernard’s Fred is intelligent, fit, and talented in Martial Arts and performs a job that has him run into danger and possible harm, not away. He has a few chips on his shoulder that he has to face during the course of the story. Leave it to Ms. Bernard to put her hero in the most dramatic and suspenseful of situations to get a reader’s blood pumping. Some of the scenes with Fred are full of action, written with tight descriptions that make the gritty drama and fast pace pop off the pages. He comes through at the end with heroic flair and I enjoyed every moment of it. Even his dialogue showcases his personality.

Rachel is not a typical heroine. Yes, she’s pampered by daddy, but there’s a reason. A very good reason. She’s sweet, earnest and has an adventurous, fun side that seems to come out only with Fred. She’s a little rebel too and her actions, though they sometime verge on the annoying, contribute to the plot conflict. Ultimately, she does find the strength within herself to face her greatest enemy and those scenes prove to be quite gripping.

The villain of the piece was two-fold. And the one person I thought all along it might be, was not. One was a total nutcase, of which there was a tiny hint but I didn’t catch it until Fred remembered it, and the other came out of left field. That villain truly freaked me out. What a great choice of character!

When Fred and Rachel finally have had enough of their simmering feelings and act on them, the only thing I can say is, it’s a good thing that Fred is a fireman. Those pages were smoking and their getting together was sexy.

One of the cutest parts was when all the firefighter’s wives gathered to give Rachel some advice. It was adorable and fun. In fact seeing Vader again, and quite a few of the other firefighters from past books, was a true treat. This is solidly a standalone read, but it was a wonderful touch to have the other guys help Fred out when some of the situations got sticky. That reporter needs to be gagged. She’s NOT a nice person.

The Night Belongs to Fireman is a terrific addition to the Bachelor Fireman Series because it keeps the tradition of a great story, a hero and heroine that are fun to read about and a nice and easy storytelling voice. This novel has a lot going for it, including a wonderful dog, Greta. The author’s descriptions of scenes with Greta painted a clear picture and it was a delightful addition to the tale. I definitely recommend this book for romance readers, especially those who enjoy a bit of mystery and suspense to spice it up. Ms. Bernard sure knows how to entertain a reader.

Uncover Me by A. M. Hartnett

ME
Uncover Me by A. M. Hartnett
Publisher: Mischief: An Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full Length (176 pgs)
Other: BDSM, M/F, Anal Play, Fetish, Toys, Spanking, Voyeurism
Rating: 4.5 stars
Reviewed by Thistledown

There’s a heart inside every fantasy.

The photos are becoming a compulsion for Carrie. As soon as she wakes up, she feels the need to engage with the readers of her erotic website, Dirty Pictures. No matter how hard she tries to focus on her real life the need is always there. The high is knowing that men desire her.

One day a comment on her erotic website makes Carrie go cold: one of her readers, Brendan, has recognised a landmark in the window of one of her pictures. Brendan knows where to find her and has sent a tantalising private message. His invitation to play was so tempting in no time at all, in a variety of settings, their sensual adventures become wild. Her sexual and emotional reawakening reaches peaks she never imagined possible.

But Carrie finds it difficult to treat their relationship as casual. Terrified of heartbreak, she breaks off her affair with Brendan. Her previous relationship left her in tatters and she’s too scared to take such a chance again. Brendan endured a broken marriage so she’s not alone in her confusion and reticence. But can Carrie ever hope to be more than his fantasy girl?

Carrie is a girl with a blog and a secret.

Breaking up is hard to do. Carrie is suffering from a betrayal that left her reeling. Empty and heartbroken, she finds an outlet in a new blog—one where she takes pictures of herself in sexually explicit situations. No face. She is Maggie, a woman who is fearless and sensual, her body posing in very hot and intimate settings and situations. What starts off as an experiment quickly changes into a pulse pounding obsession that can’t be quenched. Her phone is her addiction of choice and the camera speaks the words she can’t say.

Brendan is a successful businessman and sees Carrie’s blog. Known to him as Maggie, he is captivated by her sexy photos and connects with her online. After he recognizes her building in a photo, he asks to meet her and the story really takes off.

Brendan and Carrie are two firecrackers lighting up the night with their mutual needs and passions. To be seen and to watch. Toys, spanking, sweaty sex scenes that made me want ice water and a host of scenarios kept me turning the pages. Hot. Hot. Hot. The story develops quickly with some interplay between Carrie and her sister and it adds dimension to the character I found refreshing.

Carrie wanted Brendan just for fun. If she kept him at a distance, he can’t hurt her. When he steps over the line and tries to draw her into his private life, things spiral out of control quickly. What started out as a physical “relationship” just got more complicated. Is Carrie able to forget the past and learn how to love? You’ll have to read this luscious tale and find out.

I loved this book for the unique scenarios it presented. The author draws you into each scene and you can feel what it’s like to be that girl taking pictures and posting them online for the world to see. It’s sexy and hot and amazing all at once. When Brendan finds her, you feel the uncertainty and fear—will my job find out? Will he stalk me? It’s all there. So is the heat when they connect. It’s electric and I couldn’t stop reading. Kudos to A. M. Hartnett. I am now a convert awaiting your next novel.

Blogging will never be the same again. Bring on the cameras.

The Earl’s Mistress by Liz Carlyle

EARL
The Earl’s Mistress by Liz Carlyle
Publisher: Avon / Harper Collins
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (400 Pgs)
Heat Level: Hot
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Bluet

Women rarely refuse the wicked Earl of Hepplewood, whose daring exploits are only whispered about. But when his new governess answers his proposition with a slap, then stalks out, references in hand, Hepplewood finds more than his face is burning.

Isabella Aldridge has brains, bravado, and beauty—but the latter is no use to a servant. Her circumstances are desperate, and with Hepplewood’s words ringing in her ears, Isabella realizes she must barter her most marketable asset . . . her body.

But when fate sends Isabella back into Hepplewood’s arms, the earl must make an impossible choice—draw Isabella down into his sensual darkness, or behave with honor for the first time in his life.

Isabella Aldridge is desperate. Her job as a governess has ended. She has two younger sisters to support, no funds, and no prospects except for a sleazy cousin. The man she just interviewed with, Anthony Chalfont, the Earl of Hepplewood, offered her a position, but it wasn’t as governess. Angry and disillusioned, she returns to her former employer to ask advice. The woman, who is notorious in her own right, suggests that Isabella needs to marry or find a wealthy protector. Isabella is a widow, and has no desire to marry again, so she resigns herself to becoming a mistress. She contacts a broker who makes these kinds of arrangements, and soon sets off to the country home of none other than the Earl of Hepplewood. Ironically, he was so taken with her looks at their initial meeting, that he commissioned the same broker to find him a mistress with her unique violet eyes and dark hair. It turns out that he gets the real thing, not a facsimile.

The Earl, Anthony, is a complex character. There are some tragic events in his past that have changed him. Although he is still mostly a kind man, he also is dominating and controlling. And he’s determined to flee any kind of emotional entanglement. After just one night, he knows he’s in danger of feeling more than just lust for Isabella, so for his own self preservation, he sends her away, but with a small fortune in jewels. Isabella is bewildered at being cast aside. Although she had been married, it was very brief, and she didn’t have much sexual experience. One night with Anthony gave her a whole new perspective, but she accepts that it’s probably for the best, so she uses the jewels to start a small book store and set up a new home for her and her sisters. But Anthony can’t stay away.

I found Anthony to be a real hero. I love his strength, his protectiveness of Isabella. He is off the charts HOT! Isabella was so well written, as well. She is honest, beautiful, loving, and even willing to sacrifice herself to keep her family together. There was a lot of going back and forth in this book about Isabella and Anthony being together, then not together. That’s something that normally annoys me, but in this case it just worked. The author does a great job of showing us the conflict and confusion each of them is feeling. There is also a mystery, and some danger, and it all comes together perfectly. A word of warning without giving too much away – the sex in this book is not all vanilla. If you are offended by elements of BDSM, you may want to avoid it. Normally, I wouldn’t choose to read a book with those elements, but it fits the people that Anthony and Isabella are, and it works.

This is a strong book that will go on my favorites list for this year. It’s hot, it’s emotional, it’s romantic, and the story just flows beautifully. The author, Liz Carlyle, stretched the typical boundaries of historical romance with this book, and in my opinion, it’s one of her best. It all comes down to a beautiful love story of two wounded people who are perfect for each other, and deserve their well earned happy ever after. Highly recommended!

Cavendon Hall by Barbara Taylor Bradford

HALL
Cavendon Hall by Barbara Taylor Bradford
Published by HarperCollins
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (416 pgs)
Heat: Sensual
Rated: Best Book
Review by Snapdragon

Cavendon Hall is home to two families, the aristocratic Inghams and the Swanns who serve them. Charles Ingham, the sixth Earl of Mowbray, lives there with his wife Felicity and their six children. Walter Swann, the premier male of the Swann family, is valet to the earl. His wife Alice, a clever seamstress who is in charge of the countess’s wardrobe, also makes clothes for the four daughters. For centuries, these two families have lived side-by-side, beneath the backdrop of the imposing Yorkshire manor. Lady Daphne, the most beautiful of the Earl’s daughters, is about to be presented at court when a devastating event changes her life and threatens the Ingham name. With World War I looming, both families will find themselves tested in ways they never thought possible. Loyalties will be challenged and betrayals will be set into motion. In this time of uncertainty, one thing is sure: these two families will never be the same again. Cavendon Hall is Barbara Taylor Bradford at her very best, and its sweeping story of secrets, love, honor, and betrayal will have readers riveted up to the very last page.

“Barbara Taylor Bradford” is all some readers need to see on a cover to want to read a book, and indeed, Cavendon Hall will meet fans’ best expectations. We readers step into start of the twentieth century, into an Earl’s family and grand old home, and see both sides at once: the staff’s sharp view as well as the view from ‘the family.’

Cavendon Hall is home to two families, sharing a symbiotic relationship – the gentry, the Ingham family and their long time, endlessly loyal Swanns. What sets this two families apart is mutual recognition and appreciation between those families. Unlike the more typical masterclass, the Inghams exhibit great appreciation for their staff.

Appreciation sometimes borders on great reliance, even attachments…but the mutual attractions do not always come with mutual benefits. The interplay of human drama here starts years–perhaps decades–earlier, as the current patriarch speculates about his father’s involvement with the incredibly loyal and brilliant Charlotte Swann. However, if there is one thing Swanns are careful about, it’s gossip…so we only slowly uncover the depths of the relationships here.

Odd characters with odd problems keep the story unpredictable: Why is the crazy local gypsy hanging about? What is wrong with the unlikable lady of the house, Felicity? And the lovely young Cecily, who yearns to be a dressmaker and seems so enthralled with a certain young man; can her dreams come true?

When disaster strikes the beautiful Daphne, favorite of both families, both immediately step up to protect her, and she needs protecting from both her attacker and the judgmental eyes of society. If I had one complaint, it would be how quickly answers to her ‘problem’ are suggested, although of course it might only be that I didn’t wish the story to end! There is more than one ‘knight in shining armor’ here, and more than one devil… even the lesser servants don’t escape the notice of the author!

Cavendon Hall is a romance with a depth and wealth of character within its characters: this is one of those books you read and want to keep reading, and in any moment when you must set it aside to do something else, you will yearn to keep reading.

The Runaway Princess by Christina Dodd

PRINCESS
The Runaway Princess by Christina Dodd
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Genre: Historical, Paranormal
Length: Full Length (360 pgs)
Heat Level: Spicy
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Masquerade

English orphan Miss Evangeline Scoffield has spent her life contenting herself with dreams. But with an unforseen inheritance, she can afford one perfect summer–a summer she will spend the rest of her life remembering. She buys herself expensive clothes, travels abroad, and presents herself as a lady of mystery.

Marriage

But she quickly discovers her mistake, for a darkly handsome man appears at her bedroom door, claiming to be a Crown Prince–and her fiance.

Or the Ever After of Her Dreams?

One look into her eyes, and the prince recognizes her. She is his betrothed, the runaway Princess of Serephinia. All her denials cannot change that, or alter the passion that burgeons between them. To fullfil their destinies, the prince will do anything–abduct her, coerce her, or, best of all seduce his reluctant bride into his royal world of peril, promise and passion.

Sometimes I hanker after a story about an arrogant, self-assured prince, castles and long ago told prophecies. In The Runaway Princess, the prince finds a woman that thwarts him, astounds him and simply does not conform to what he perceives a princess to be. He’s so sure she’s lying. He’s so sure he knows best. This tale is appealing because Prince Danior learns a thing or two of what being a real hero is all about. Evangeline beguiles him and seduces him by just being herself; and I enjoyed myself all the way through.

The heroine is quite the little escape artist. She’s well read, has lofty dreams and a pure heart. She’s also stubborn to a fault. I liked her character but I was shocked as to how she could conceive action from reading. If only I could do that. Then again, some of the things she did would make me cower in a corner and suck my thumb. Danior has his hands full. Since he’s so full of himself, Evangeline is the perfect partner for him. She knows how to use a well-placed knee and not afraid to do it. I chuckled quite a few times from her cheeky escapades.

Absolutely, Danior annoyed me. Any man would who was so commanding, autocratic and self-assured to the point of arrogance. However, give the hero his due, he shoulders a huge responsibility and his willingness to shoulder even more is a daunting task and worthy of respect. The extent to which the heroine messes with his intent was comical. She even tells him the truth, repeatedly, continually. What a stubborn man. He tried so hard to remain unaffected so it was doubly pleasing when he finally let loose. Oh, he has his misguided internal angst to deal with but eventually he figures things out and his ultimate decision was oh so very romantic.

Even though this book is tagged as paranormal, it’s not in the form of the latest fashion. It’s more a spiritual woo-woo with a bit of magic. A reader will put the clues together and figure out who is who long before the hero and heroine do. The thing is, I enjoyed seeing the ‘how’ of it and despite suspecting the big reveal, I was entertained and charmed by how the author chose to have things happen.

As far as villains, I was surprised. I really thought I knew who was bad. I had my own bit of arrogance thrown back at me when the truth was revealed. Actually, Evangeline and I were both duped. I liked that. What I find astounding is that one of the villains actually has his own story! I liked The Runaway Princess enough to wonder if this was the only book or if this was a series. Imagine my delight when I found that there was one more. Imagine my shock when I discovered who it was about. I’m buying it.

Even though I thought that it was impossible to put the written word into immediate unrehearsed action, I don’t fault the writing too hard for doing that because it provided some greatly entertaining scenes and plot shifts. Did I think the heroine went one episode too far? Yes, I did. But the results of its occurrence can’t be disputed as being pivotal, so I have to bow to the author’s fantastical suspension of logic. This book aims to entertain, and it does.

The Runaway Princess is fun, especially for a reader who likes to see a haughty royal getting humbled by love. It’s entertaining and a well told story. I only wished there was an epilogue because I would have enjoyed seeing if they had a boy or a girl. Because Danior and Evangeline were a cute couple, I would have liked to have seen the two as parents in the future. In any event, I think historical fantasy readers might like them too. It’s worth checking out.