Valor Under Siege by Elizabeth Boyce


Valor Under Siege by Elizabeth Boyce
Publisher: Crimson Romance
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (224 pgs)
Heat Level: Hot
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon

All’s fair in love and politics…

When ambitious solicitor Norman Wynford-Scott is ousted from his legal studies due to a holiday revel spun out of control, he adapts a new plan of running for the Parliament seat of a local village. Only trouble is, the same irresistible woman who ruined his good name is thwarting his campaign at every turn.

Widowed and drink-addicted, Lady Elsa Fay has retreated to the family village of Fleck to regain her sobriety. She’s distracting herself from her troubles—and her memories of the one passionate night she shared with Norman—by organizing the Parliament campaign of her husband’s cousin. Until Norman arrives intent on winning the seat for himself.

Shamed and determined, Elsa will do all she can to send her former friend and now adversary packing—even if it means breaking her own heart in the process.

1817 London … and the punch catches fire. Yes, the party punch. On fire. Elizabeth Boyce’s new historical Valor Under Siege sets off in a surprising manner, and if curiosity did not at once envelope the reader, her style would undoubtedly beguile them.

If flouncing gowns, sharp-heeled shoes and wandering flames do not do-in poor old Norman Wynford-Scott, his urge to ‘leave a mark’ on the school might well.

Wynford-Scott captures the readers’ sympathies at once. Events, intended to be enjoyable Christmas revels, have gotten out of hand. Though we’ve scarcely met our main character, he’s plainly being pushed out of his comfort zone.

Lady Fay is quite a different character, all in all. She might feel shame, but she knew what she was about. We readers are still back, feeling for poor Norman. Lady Fay’s predicament seems well-deserved. We’re thinking maybe he should have … but no giveaways here! Valor Under Siege is full of the quirk-ily unexpected, and I don’t want to spoil a minute of it. Although there are laugh-out-loud moments, there is the surprisingly heartfelt as well. Occasionally the book might wallow in Lady Fay’s outlook a tad more than strictly required; my one and only complaint.

Hot moments are indescribably hot, thoroughly described but not overdone, not out-of-place. The backdrop is perfect; from Gray’s Inn to the grand home, Norman’s preference for riding to traveling in the carriage, and Fay’s trust in and reliance on her servant. The historical setting is well done but not intrusive.

Valor Under Siege is a clever, quick, unexpected and genuinely hot . Its a case of drawing-room valor to be certain, but valor nonetheless.

Heather in the Mist by Madelyn Hill


Heather in the Mist by Madelyn Hill
Publisher: Soul Mate Publishing
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (250 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Snapdragon

Forced to wed to save her clan, Lady Rogan Cameron agrees to wed without love. What her father doesn’t know is Lady Rogan has plans of her own-plans to keep her from a loveless marriage. Can she save the clan before she has to say “I do?” Ian Albright abolished all ties to Scotland after his family betrayed him and he is now nursing a wounded ego due to an unfaithful fiancée. He pledges never to return to his home until the fateful day he accepts an invitation to his dear cousin’s wedding. The minute he sees his cousin’s betrothed, his heart is captured. If only she didn’t belong to another . . . Lady Rogan and Ian have known each other since they were young and bent on vexing each other. Now, the only thing they find vexing is the fact Rogan is betrothed to another. Together they fight their growing attraction while investigating the forces bedeviling the clan. Yet at every turn their foe appears and wreaks havoc. When tragedy strikes, their hopes are dashed again. Can Lady Rogan and Ian’s love win when fate seems determined to keep them apart?

Unexpectedly intriguing, Ms. Hill’s Heather in the Mist sweeps readers directly to 16th century Scotland. The old castle walls and a certain splash of brogue team with a delicate touch for scenery, to give a real sense of place.

Young Miss Rogan’s problem is all about duty, an important alliance…and meeting parental expectations. An arranged marriage is hardly an exceptional problem for the time, but the story takes unexpected turns and is simply not predictable. Explanations and backstory do slow the pace early on, but the action quickly takes over.

Rogan is both quick-witted and very capable; she rides astride like a man and oversees her family’s clan as if she’d been the eldest son, not daughter. She’s by no means the ‘marriage victim’ her plight might at first suggest. She’s such a determined character, readers find themselves rooting for her from the very first chapter.

Yet, almost at once, the challenge is less about her than about her people. She rises to the occasion…for it will mean struggle and sacrifice. Given the beginning, that an unexpected relationship develops is (no spoilers here) also a surprise! There is more than one interested party in the picture, but Rogan has her people to consider, too. The attraction between the two builds suspense throughout almost the entire tale. Fans of the historical romance will find this delightful.

In the Shadow of Lakecrest by Elizabeth Blackwell


In the Shadow of Lakecrest by Elizabeth Blackwell
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (284 pgs)
Rated: 4 stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon

The year is 1928. Kate Moore is looking for a way out of the poverty and violence of her childhood. When a chance encounter on a transatlantic ocean liner brings her face-to-face with the handsome heir to a Chicago fortune, she thinks she may have found her escape—as long as she can keep her past concealed.

After exchanging wedding vows, Kate quickly discovers that something isn’t quite right with her husband—or her new family. As Mrs. Matthew Lemont, she must contend with her husband’s disturbing past, his domineering mother, and his overly close sister. Isolated at Lakecrest, the sprawling, secluded Lemont estate, she searches desperately for clues to Matthew’s terrors, which she suspects stem from the mysterious disappearance of his aunt years before. As Kate stumbles deeper into a maze of family secrets, she begins to question everyone’s sanity—especially her own. But just how far will she go to break free of this family’s twisted past?

Katherine Moore makes no bones about letting us know what she is after: a better life than she had. She’s quick to take on whatever role (and name) will get her there. She’s frank and genuine though, and readers will find they understand her initial choices. In those first couple chapters, she’s someone who seizes the day, takes a risk…

Yet, for all she’s decisive and headstrong, she suddenly gives in and lands at ‘Lakecrest.’ Its one of those moves where we spectators are shouting ‘don’t do that!’ Katherine/Katie seizes us too you see, right from the start.

Author Elizabeth Blackwell has created incredible, dynamic characters, and will hold readers enthralled. Even those of us who do not like our heroine’s choices…even though this story does not seem to lead us (or her) to a better life. America in the 40s- fashion, culture, and news of the day all become backdrop for Katie’s story.

Impeccably written, In the Shadow of Lakecrest is unpredictable and not entirely pleasant. It is worth reading but its story is…disconcerting. Do put this on your reading list, but don’t look for it to lift your spirits.

The Earl by Katherine Ashe


The Earl by Katherine Ashe
Publisher: Avon Books
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (368 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rating: 5 stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon

How does a bookish lady bring an arrogant lord to his knees?
Entice him to Scotland, strip him of titles and riches, and make him prove what sort of man he truly is.

Opposites…
Handsome, wealthy, and sublimely confident, Colin Gray, the new Earl of Egremoor, has vowed to unmask the rabble-rousing pamphleteer, Lady Justice, the thorn in England’s paw. And he’ll stop at nothing.

Attract.
Smart, big-hearted, and passionately dedicated to her work, Lady Justice longs to teach her nemesis a lesson in humility. But her sister is missing, and a perilous journey with her archrival into unknown territory just might turn fierce enemies into lovers.

The Earl, part of the “Devil’s Duke’ series, introduces a pair more likely to become sparring partners than a romantic couple. Indeed, the circumstances they confront are far more serious than romantic: and beyond the usual scope of political intrigue as well. Emily, the self-styled “Lady Justice’ has a terribly personal reason for reaching out to the duke for help.

She’s a ‘pamphleteer’ in the early 1800’s London- struggling for the rights of women. She’s identified various members of the Falcon club (a gentlemen’s club) as thwarting her endeavors and… Colin, the just-stepping up to Dukedom, is among those on the ‘other side.’

But when her own sister goes missing somewhere in the wilds of Scotland, it is Colin she reaches out to. He might be her nemesis, but he’s no fool…and Scotland is by no means as tame as London!

The complex heroine is especially appealing. She’s firm in her beliefs but so resolute toward her goals that she’ll bend to ‘using’ someone she considers ‘against’ her. She’s smart: she keeps up with news, uses her maid to keep up with gossip, and knows all of the goings-on of the day ; but in her own, familiar city.. Scotland might be a whole other world…

And Colin is equally admirable, not because he steps in to assist a lady; but because of his own complexity. He must put aside self-doubt, as well as (to some degree) family expectation, but he becomes as firm in his resolve as she.

The Earl is incredibly engaging, primarily for its deep and determined characters, but also for its wonderful backdrop – exactly as expected, yet more. The plot is completely unpredictable. This is simply a super read.

Lord of Dishonor by Edith Layton

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Lord of Dishonor by Edith Layton
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (216 pgs)
Heat Level: Sensual
Rated: 4 stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon

Lovely Amanda Amberly was a young lady of unsullied virtue–against all odds. Her bewitching mother, the Countess of Clovelly, was notorious for her amorous escapades, and every hot-blooded gentleman in society expected Amanda to follow in the Countess’ straying footsteps.

So far Amanda had succeeded in steering clear of the clutches of those eager young blades. She even had begun to hope that the eminently respectable Sir Giles Boothe might consider her a possible match. But when, by her mother’s cunning design, Amanda found herself in the arms of the incredibly handsome and charming Viscount North, the most irresistible if infamous rake in the realm, she discovered she could defend her virtue only if she refused to listen to her heart.

A rather artsy historical, Layton’s Lord of Dishonor is written in what seems a purposefully older style, which comfortably suits its setting. It stars the regency realm’s classic clash of respectability and restraint–or scandalous lack thereof.

It also stars to unlikely lead characters, with Amanda, the bubbly countess’ daughter, to Lord North, who is not exactly who he should be. Before a romance can happen, a murky past needs to … well, we really have no idea what needs to happen! Lord of Dishonor’ is unexpectedly unpredictable, with a unique and original cast of characters and some pretty unexpected circumstances, too.

Although descriptions certainly convey a sense of time and place, they are also wordy and this reader found they distracted from the main tale. If words bore physical weight, too many of Layton’s are heavy. However, this might well be because this reader so wanted to rush ahead and discover how it all turned out.  A solid historical read.

Fallen Star by Allison Morse

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Fallen Star by Allison Morse
Published by The Wild Rose Press
Genre: Historical (1970s), Mystery/Suspense
Length: Full (315 pgs)
Heat: Sensual
Rated: 4.5 stars
Review by Snapdragon

Who killed 1940s screen goddess Gloria Reardon? Her unsolved murder hypnotized the public with its scandalous details and shocked two generations.

Avid feminist and aspiring filmmaker, Kate Bloom discovers long lost footage that holds the key to who murdered her grandmother. Legendary movie star, Gloria Reardon, may be dead, but friends and lovers from the Golden Age of Hollywood’s heyday are still very much on the scene, and it seems everyone has something to gain or lose from Kate’s discovery. Enlisting the youthful and brash film restorer Dylan Nichols as her closest ally, Kate becomes haunted by Gloria’s glittering past. Caught between glamorous Old Hollywood and the gritty, exciting New Hollywood of the 1970s, Kate is determined to find out what really happened to her grandmother and in the process becomes the killer’s new target.

The long-ago life and love of a Hollywood star feed this ’70s era mystery.

Kate Bloom found out about violence–and desperation–first hand, as well as getting too close to some of the worst of Hollywood. But, it made her strong.

Gripping and gritty, honestly, the opening violence was a little of a turn-off for me, but played so into character development, that I came to see it as central to the story. Is Kate Bloom a victim or a fighter? Her plight, as well as her determination, captures reader’s hearts and interest from the first.

Before we have the details of her quest or grasp her determination, we find ourselves hoping that she will somehow recover the sweet, well-meaning girl that started the story. The crime, men in her life, the competition to get into the Hollywood world or ‘compete’ with successful all fall second to that.

Dylon Nichols is quite a different story. He is successful. He also seems an opinionated piece of the Hollywood structure. When he fails to recognize her talent and her creativity, we can already tell these two will not hit it off.  At first, we don’t even want them too. However, his insight might be useful, especially as Kate pursues proof about grandmother, Gloria Reardon’s death. While we are pretty sure Kate is right about him being a jerk, he’s useful and she has an agenda…and somehow, we readers find ourselves mirroring the thought process of our main character. It makes the story all the more believable, as does the great inside look at the industry; at how scripts and talent are acquired.

This is an unusual mystery as Kate is chasing down proof of who killed her grandmother. She has strong suspicions (and some special access to info) from the start.

Filled with fear, anger, frustration: Fallen Star delivers action in an unpredictable, fast-paced fashion. A great read.

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Camp Wedding by Kay Springsteen

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Camp Wedding by Kay Springsteen
Publisher: EsKape Press
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Short Story (120 pgs)
Heat: Sweet
Rated: 4 stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon

A blind Marine, a nervous bride, and an adorable child with Down syndrome who loves them both is an equation for another tug on the heartstrings in the story behind the Heartsight nuptials. Is Trish ready for life as a military wife? Is Dan ready for the challenges of being a father to a precocious 6-year-old? How will Bella add her special brand of magic to the day?

Wedding jitters magnify every little thing that seems to be going wrong right before Trish’s wedding. She’s even more frustrated at how her husband-to-be handles those small ‘bumps in the road.’ Readers become conscious, early on, that these are two very different people. However, Springsteen does a wonderful job building our belief in their mutual and heartfelt feelings. This only makes us more impatient as even more ‘bumps’ appear. Right from the start, the characters carry this wonderful little story. Subtle humor lightens some conversations…as does the odd embarrassing predicament.

There are too-sweet moments, and abrupt changes in point-of-view disturb the flow of the story. However, these are small complaints in what is overall an engaging, heartwarming tale.

Although this is a continuation from the story ‘Heartsight,’ it is a story unto itself and reading the precursor isn’t necessary. Camp Wedding is utterly charming on its own:

Florentine Enchantment by Judith B Glad

ENCHANTMENT
Florentine Enchantment by Judith B Glad
Publisher: Uncial press
Genre: Paranormal, Historical
Length: Short Story (30 pgs)
Heat: Hot
Rated: 3 stars
Reviewed by Snapdragon

Orphaned in Florence, Lucy Raymond takes the only employment she can find, that of a castrato assistant to an art and antiquities dealer. But as she grows into womanhood, her masquerade chafes, for it allows none of the romance she craves.

In her loneliness she often visits the Piazza della Signoria, where she gazes at the magnificent sculptures and dreams impossible dreams. Until one day, when she is overcome by loneliness and the oppressive heat, she faints at the feet of an enormous sculpture, only to wake in the arms of its living embodiment.

Allowing herself to be seduced is the last thing Lucy should do. But Vido is warm and vital and the living image of David, so how can she resist?

Florentine Enchantment by Judith B Glad offers the dilemma of a well-educated woman in times of old, in Italy. The main character is a strong, intelligent woman, but desires not learning, but love. We have her story as if spoken directly from her mouth.

It is an interesting approach, although some is merely setting the stage for the story, and is somewhat slow going. We need to wade through long explanations before we get so much as a conversation.

The setting is utterly magnificent; from the scents of olive trees to the sculptures in the square, this writer puts us in the scene: the city of Firenze, and impact of the sensual sculptures. Desire is inflamed as if from sculpture, and it is then that our heroine meets Vido. Is it love? It seems something else… and this story moves along quickly from that point on.

Intriguing? Yes. And we can put the belief issue on hold. Florentine Enchantment is original; in fact, wonderfully creative, and imaginative. The whole point of the story, however, seems to be to get to a particular scene; and those who read hot specifically for the heat might enjoy this.

Red Jack’s Daughter by Edith Layton

RED
Red Jack’s Daughter by Edith Layton
Publisher: Untreed Reads
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (233 pgs)
Heat: Sweet
Rated 5 stars
Review by Snapdragon

HER HEART WAS DIVIDED IN THREE

Jessica Eastwood’s country sweetheart, Tom Preston, wanted her to be the free and independent spirit that her gallant officer father had raised her to be.

Jessica’s irresistibly attractive distant European cousin, Anton Von Keller, wanted to mold her into a sophisticated woman of the world.

Society’s most eligible aristocrat, the dazzling Lord Leith, wanted Jessica to be the star of the London Season, a model of feminine beauty and fashion.

But before Jessica could find out which of these women she truly was, she had to decide which one of these maddeningly desirable men she really loved…

An unexpected treasure, Red Jack’s Daughter is a wonderful foray into a (sweltering) ballroom in London, at just that point in ‘the season.’ Yes; a wrap up to the annual marriage mart.

The perhaps unfortunate choice of title does not reach out and grab readers; but rest assured it is the only dull note in the entire tale. From start to finish, beginning with the not-young lady’s point of view right to final resolution, the story is entirely unpredictable and intriguing. Main character Lord Alexander Leith is inveigled to dance with the rather easily overlooked Jessica Eastwood. It hardly seems an auspicious start.

We feel at once the one’s discomposure but also, quickly, grasp his main interest’s point of view. Jessica is indeed an amazingly self-possessed heroine and (quite unlike most of the rather well-behaved ladies of the time) she will make up her own mind and pursue her own fortune. Still, we cannot but hold out a hope for the well-meaning Alex, who just set out to do a friend a favor. It all begins with a little conspiracy; a consideration of fashion (while of course avoiding the spectacular.)

Fashion and the ordering of new dresses seems like the most obvious (and dull) event given the times, but no dressmaker ever quire ran into a challenge like Jess!

The ins-and outs of London society are visited from a very different perspective in this tale. We readers begin to suspect there may indeed be reason to hope…although there is no escaping personal history…but, no spoilers here!

If you enjoy historical romances, you must put this one right at the top of your list. The writing style is beautiful; characters deep and very light, (except for rather grumpy aunty) and Layton’s perceptive touch with humor is quite perfect.

I cannot remember when I have enjoyed a dance in the ballroom of London’s marriage mart more: clever and Most enjoyable.

A Knight for Kallen by Lauren Linwood

KNIGH
A Knight for Kallen by Lauren Linwood
Publisher: Soul Mate publishing
Genre: Historical
Length: Full Length (258 pgs)
Heat: Spicy
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Snapdragon

Kallen de Mangeron grew up in a convent, her noble family never knowing of her birth. When a new Mother Superior informs them of her existence, they send trusted knight Griffith Sommersby to escort her home.

Griffith’s heart broke when he lost his wife and infant son during childbirth, and he’s kept his feelings locked away from the world—until he meets Kallen. He soon learns her dark secret—that she sees auras around people—which allows her insight into their actions and personalities.

Now Quentin, bastard brother to the king, decides to harness Kallen’s gift in a plot to win the throne. Will Quentin successfully use a kidnapped Kallen as his political pawn, or will Griffith be able to stop him before Kallen changes the course of England’s history?

In this early thirteenth century tale, women are shown as completely the victims of the machinations of men. They are used for creating useful family ties as well as for revenge. There is probably too much of uncomfortable truth here, but the start of A Knight for Kallen is abrupt and ugly, with injustice reigning supreme.

Then unexpected kindness turns the tide.

Kallen is unusually strong and clever…particularly so for the circumstances of her childhood. Her future is plainly uncertain; she may be a ‘mischievous spirit,’ but she is in a world ruled by nobility, and mostly male nobility at that. She must rely on herself and her own unusual abilities…at least, she thinks she must.

Griffith, a fighting man who is no stranger to tragedy, makes an unexpected impression upon her. Though she ‘reads’ him – she is also left unsure.

From her first journey onward, Kallen’s path is unpredictable. We readers will find ourselves intrigued with the events as much as with the people.

Linwood’s setting – from castle to abbey, and horseback to forest – always seems completely perfect. And for the most part, we are swept along, from great halls and along lonely roads. Some conversations carry the burden of too much information and slow the pace, although these moments are rare.

There is no denying the strength of the characters; minor secondary characters are often as strong and clear as primary. Although lacking on the charm scale, A Knight for Kallen does offer action, unpredictability and powerfully intimate feelings.