Before there was Catherine the Great, there was Catherine Alexeyevna: the first woman to rule Russia in her own right. Ellen Alpsten’s rich, sweeping debut novel is the story of her rise to power.

St. Petersburg, 1725. Peter the Great lies dying in his magnificent Winter Palace. The weakness and treachery of his only son has driven his father to an appalling act of cruelty and left the empire without an heir. Russia risks falling into chaos. Into the void steps the woman who has been by his side for decades: his second wife, Catherine Alexeyevna, as ambitious, ruthless and passionate as Peter himself.

Born into devastating poverty, Catherine used her extraordinary beauty and shrewd intelligence to ingratiate herself with Peter’s powerful generals, finally seducing the Tsar himself. But even amongst the splendor and opulence of her new life—the lavish feasts, glittering jewels, and candle-lit hours in Peter’s bedchamber—she knows the peril of her position. Peter’s attentions are fickle and his rages powerful; his first wife is condemned to a prison cell, her lover impaled alive in Red Square. And now Catherine faces the ultimate test: can she keep the Tsar’s death a secret as she plays a lethal game to destroy her enemies and take the Crown for herself?

From the sensuous pleasures of a decadent aristocracy, to the incense-filled rites of the Orthodox Church and the terror of Peter’s torture chambers, the intoxicating and dangerous world of Imperial Russia is brought to vivid life. Tsarina is the story of one remarkable woman whose bid for power would transform the Russian Empire.


In the Winter Palace, 1725

He is dead. My beloved husband, the mighty tsar of all the Russias, has died—and just in time.

Moments before death came for him, Peter called for a quill and paper to be brought to him in his bedchamber in the Winter Palace. My heart almost stalled. He had not forgotten, but was going to drag me down with him. When he lost consciousness for the last time and the darkness drew him closer to its heart, the quill slipped from his fingers. Black ink spattered the soiled sheets; time held its breath. What had the tsar wanted to settle with that last effort of his tremendous spirit?

I knew the answer.

The candles in the tall candelabra filled the room with a heavy scent and an unsteady light; their glow made shadows reel in corners and brought the woven figurines on the Flemish tapestries to life, their coarse faces showing pain and disbelief. Outside the door, the voices of the people who’d stood there all night were drowned out by the Febru- ary wind rattling furiously at the shutters. Time spread slowly, like oil on water.  Peter had pressed himself into our souls like his signet ring  in hot wax. It seemed impossible that the world hadn’t careened to a halt at his passing. My husband, the greatest will ever to impose itself on Russia, had been more than our ruler. He had been our fate. He was still mine.

My Review

Catherine was not always Catherine. She was born Marta – penniless, but beautiful and resourceful. She leveraged her assets and her cunning into an extravagant life as the wife of Tsar Peter.

She sacrifices her youth and beauty to a world conscribed by his petty cruelties, her youth to an endless cycle of childbearing. She is marginalized and victimized by her husband. He tries to relegate her to the fringes of palace life, inconsequential and forgotten.

But Marta, now known as Catherine, is nothing if not resilient. She has been forging alliances of her own. When Peter dies, she accomplishes the inconceivable. She launches a successful coup, disinheriting the heirs to the throne. She is declared empress of all Russia.

Catherine the Great’s origin story is one of survival against incredible odds. It is a story of re-invention and unwavering determination. If you are fascinated by stories of political intrigue and strong women, I highly recommend immersing yourself in this elaborate tapestry.

Naked Truth

Victoria C. Woodhull’s story has always fascinated me. Carrie Hayes delves into Victoria and Tennessee Claflin’s extraordinary background. The origin and evolution of the spiritualist movement, the challenges of women’s suffrage and the social structure of the Gilded Age were meticulously researched. 

The motivations and character of figures such as Harriet Beecher Stowe and Cornelius Vanderbilt are explained in the context of their relationships with the Claflins and the greater social movement of the times. Hayes’ novel fills a gap in our knowledge of this seminal period of American history and sheds light on its lingering effects.

I highly recommend this read for any of you interested in the intricacies of nineteenth century politics, and the forgotten players in the women’s suffrage movement.

The Speed of Life

I went into this read completely blind. I was immediately submerged in a world of violence, conflicting versions of the truth, and a mother’s struggle to redeem her son.

When Estella is brutally raped and told that the attack was instigated by her son to appease his criminal cohorts, she refuses to believe it. She begins a harrowing quest to prove her son’s innocence.

This novel is a compelling exploration of the tenuous bonds between myth and reality. It exposes the flimsy barriers humanity erects against unwelcome revelations, and the subtle differences that influence our perception of events.

If you have been on the hunt for a genre-defying crime read, I highly recommend this story.

The Light at Wyndcliffe

About the Book

In the small Cornish village of Pevlyn, secrets are as treacherous as the rocky English shores.

Cornwall, England, 1820

Raised on the sprawling and rugged Wyndcliff Estate near the dangerous coast of South Cornwall, Evelyn Bray lives with her grandfather, a once-wealthy man now reduced to the post of steward. Evelyn is still grieving her father’s death and her mother’s abandonment when a passing ship is dashed against the rocks.

Liam Twethewey is a mere two and twenty when he inherits Wyndcliff Estate from his great uncle. His optimistic plans of opening a china clay pit to employ the estate’s tenants meets unexpected resistance, and rumors of smuggling and illegal activity challenge his newfound authority.

Brought together by troubling questions surrounding the shipwreck, Evelyn and Liam uncover even darker mysteries shrouding the estate. But as they untangle truth from deception, their loyalties separate them—and their budding love might not be strong enough to overcome the distance.

This latest Regency romance from Sarah E. Ladd evokes the captivating worlds and delicious dramas of Jane Austen, Daphne du Maurier, and Winston Graham.


A huge thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing me with an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review.

Around this time last year, my first October read was Jamaica Inn by Daphne DuMaurier. It’s only fitting that I revisited the treacherous Cornish coast of the 19th century.

This was a wonderful read. I found myself championing the heroine’s efforts to establish a new life for herself. Evelyn has been at the mercy of a domineering grandfather an a fickle mother her entire life. When the new owner arrives at the estate where she has lived since she was a child, the animosity of the village is palpable. Her grandfather, who as steward of Wyndcliffe has a position of unassailable authority in the community, is enraged at the effrontery of the upstart.

Liam has looked forward to claiming his legacy since he learned he was his uncle’s heir. He has spent his life making plans for the success of the estate, and arrives full of hope and grand plans. He doesn’t expect the undercurrent of violence he encounters, the cutthroat culture surrounding the salvage of shipwrecks, or his instant attraction to Evelyn.

Evelyn and Liam are irrevocably drawn to each other – despite the difference in their stations and all of the forces determined to thrust them

I loved the historical detail, tender Regency romance and hint of Gothic intrigue.

All Scot and Bothered

He is a man with an iron will. He has lived a life of denial and sacrifice to achieve success. All of his focus is on obliterating vice – the more effective he is, the more likely he is to advance in his career.

That chin…. and that piercing gaze.

She was at the mercy of her friends. She had no resources and no hope. And then an unexpected boon lands in her lap that will both change her fortune and throw her in the path of a man she cannot ignore.

Cecelia should not be attracted to the man tasked with shutting down her only means of survival. The Lord Chief Justice has risen from his obscure beginnings to a position of wealth, security and power. And Cassius Gerard Ramsey doesn’t intend to sit on his laurels. He has his eyes on greater glory. Rooting out the evil that plagues London is his own personal mission – and he won’t be swayed by a woman he finds irresistible.

A tendre cannot be formed based solely on
dinner conversation.

Cecelia and Cassius are acquaintances – but all of their meetings have happened in social settings. When Cecelia inherits her aunt’s gaming hell, she must disguise her identity. She walks a perilous road, beguiling Cassius as the demure society maiden and a bold proprietor. Things become even more fraught with danger when Cecelia becomes a target. There is a vigorous trade in the kidnapping of young girls, and Cassius is determined to unveil the villain he suspects it is Cecelia – until her disguise proves useless.

The closer they are drawn together, the greater the fire between them. The Chief Lord Justice may have a cold exterior, but he is nothing but ragged purple flames beneath an impervious surface. And he finds Cecelia the most addicting and troublesome temptation he has ever confronted. They exist on the periphery of each other’s worlds, bound buy the affection of mutual family and friends. The scandalous nature of her inheritance will draw them much closer, until they are embroiled in a game of cat and mouse that will reach its crescendo with an incomparable kiss.

The reckoning from that kiss will come when they let down their guard, acknowledge their weakness, and surrender to each other’s care.

I loved seeing Cassius unravel. Here are some of my favorite glimpses into the steady erosion of his control…

“Mother of all that was good and holy, but her voice did things to him. Hardened his sex and softened his heart.”

“He wasn’t lonely now. He felt hungry. Angry. Needy. Hot. His clothes seemed to scratch and bind. He was tired of talking. Tired of the questions she asked that revealed too much of him to her. —-If only there was a soft place in which to lose himself. His hand reached for her of its own volition. Suddenly she seemed like the answer to everything. At the same time, she was one gigantic question mark.”

“He caught both of her hands above her head. His tongue delved into her mouth, not just gaining a taste, but claiming territory in hot, silken slides.”

This is the magic that all historical romances should contain within their pages.

5 Hallelujah Stars.

Playing With Fire

Another amazing NA romance read from LJ Shen. Grace is the perfect antithesis to the perfect heroine. She is scarred and gritty and snarky and real. She says what she means and means what she says. She has built an impregnable fortress around her heart and her trust issues are deep-rooted and seemingly insurmountable.

Until the bad boy on the motorcycle, with the electric gaze and the eight pack carved from stone, decides he wants to work at the food truck. He steps into her space, intrusive and inescapable. The forced proximity makes her question everything she thought she knew. Is he really one of the privileged assholes? Is he really a sweet guy under the swagger? Is he really into her or is he playing some kind of messed up game?

West didn’t expect Grace. She’s strong and fierce. Her scars are beautiful because they mean she survived the horrors life tried to drown her in. She’s not boring, or predictable, or afraid. He should avoid her at all costs, but he can’t stay away. She’s dangerous because she makes him doubt the path he has chosen, makes him want more than mere survival, and he knows deep down the fight to keep her will be the bloodiest he has ever faced – in or out of the ring.

Here to Stay

A huge thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing me with an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review. 

The sparks fly between Julia and Rocco. But she’s trying to get control of her life again. She’s running a charitable foundation and even though she’s stuck in Dallas with an apartment and car lease oh so ungenerously gifted to her by her waste of space ex-boyfriend, she’s ok. She’s making it and she’s content. 

And her job is threatened when one of the company partners that funds the charitable organization calls in a number cruncher. Julia can hear the death knell. She misses New York anyway. 

Rocco is the number cruncher assigned to follow her and evaluate her every move. And he knows he’s supposed to be objective and distant and immune. But he finds Julia irresistible. The more time they spend together, the harder it is for him to remember what his priorities should be. 

Here are things I loved about this story:

1. It features an AfroLatina heroine whose voice is authentic and grounded.

2. The love story unfolds naturally, as first impressions are shattered. 

3. The hero is trying to do the right thing and rise above a past that would break the will of any child. 

4. The heroine is strong, independent and unafraid to take control of a situation when necessary. 

The level of steam is off the charts in this one, and you’ll be doggedly cheering for a happy ending as you swoon.

The Dazzling Truth

My Review

A huge thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing me with an ARC of this title in exchange for an honest review. 

This tightly woven family drama drew me into its arms like a cozy blanket. I was transported to an island where the cadence of Gaelic falls soft on the ears, where magic happens and stories are crafted. 

I agonized with Maeve over her struggles with darkness and her feelings of helplessness. I empathized with Murtagh over his fragile hope, tender care and unwavering devotion. I cried with the four children as they navigate the treacherous waters of their mother’s battle with mental illness. 

This book offers both profoud truths and a hope of sanctuary. We are all broken. We all bend. Love is precious no matter where we choose to bestow it – and nurtures even in the bleakest of circumstances. 

If you love family sagas with finely drawn characters, unflinching portrayals of reality and honest examinations of the complex mechanics of grief, you will love this book.

The Lions of Fifth Avenue

An unforgettable family saga set in the most famous library in the world…

So when I found out the protagonist lived in the New York Public Library, I was all in! Throw in an eagle eye glimpse into the Women’s Suffrage Movement and the disappearance of valuable books from the collection, and I was irrevocably hooked.

Laura thought she was happy being the wife of NPL’s superintendent. She thought she was content and fulfilled making a home and raising their children. Until she realizes that somewhere along the journey, she surrendered her dreams. When she applies to the Columbia School of Journalism, she is very skeptical about her chances of acceptance. When she is admitted, she is introduced to a world she never knew existed. She makes friends who are artists, free thinkers and activists. When her new life is threatened by a mysterious thief, she is torn between her commitment to her home and family and the dreams she wants to embrace for herself.

Eighty years later, Laura’s granddaughter Sadie is the new curator of the Berg Collection at NPL. She is excited about her job and eager to buck her grandmother’s controversial legacy. Sadie is soon drawn into chaos when irreplaceable manuscripts begin disappearing from the collection. She reluctantly teams up with a private security firm to identify the culprit.

But nothing is what it seems, and family secrets long buried begin to unravel.

I could not put this book down. It is an intoxicating blend of historical fiction, suspense and mystery. It offers wonderful insight into the mechanics of arguably the most famous library in the world, and the impact the women’s suffrage movement had on the activists themselves.

The Hero of Hope Springs

Every girl wants a cowboy….


For as long as brooding cowboy Ryder Daniels has known Sammy Marshall, she has been his sunshine. Her free spirit and bright smile saved him after the devastating loss of his parents and gave him the strength to care for his orphaned family. Only Ryder knows how vulnerable Sammy is, so he’s kept his attraction for his best friend under wraps for years. But what Sammy’s asking for now might be a step too far…

Something has been missing from Sammy’s life, and she thinks she knows what it is. Deciding she wants a baby is easy; realizing she wants her best friend to be the father is…complicated. Especially when a new heat between them sparks to life! When Sammy discovers she’s pregnant, Ryder makes it clear he wants it all. But having suffered the fallout of her parents’ disastrous relationship, Sammy is wary of letting Ryder too close. This cowboy will have to prove he’s proposing out of more than just honor…


New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Maisey Yates lives in rural Oregon with her three children and her husband, whose chiseled jaw and arresting features continue to make her swoon. She feels the epic trek she takes several times a day from her office to her coffee maker is a true example of her pioneer spirit. Maisey divides her writing time between dark, passionate category romances set just about everywhere on earth and light sexy contemporary romances set practically in her back yard. She believes that she clearly has the best job in the world.


Ryder and Samantha have been best friends for seventeen years. Ryder has always wanted more, but he buried those wants because he knew she wasn’t ready for them.

And then Sammy decides that she needs a baby to fill the empty places in her life and she recruits Ryder to help her find the perfect candidate. Ryder reluctantly agrees. But the moment Sammy starts showing an interest in someone, Ryder steps in.

It is uncharacteristic of him, and so is the intense heat in his eyes. Ryder has always been the strong, tall silent cowboy in the background that is her bulwark against the world. But Sammy doesn’t really believe in love. Her mother and father ignored and abused her, and relegated her to the fringes of their lives. She doesn’t think she’s cut out for long term relationships and unswerving devotion.

One night together, of opening his heart to Sammy, convinces Ryder that they were always meant to be more than friends. They have lived in each other’s pockets for years. They sense each other’s unspoken words and are the first person each turns to when they need encouragement and comfort. Convincing Sammy of their inevitability will be the hardest thing he has ever done.

I fell in love with this stoic cowboy, in his signature black hat. His quiet confidence doesn’t hide his swagger, and Sammy doesn’t stand a chance when he turns that bright, molten gaze on her. This friends to lovers story was tender and sweet and steamy –the perfect end of summer beach read!


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