Lady Derring Takes A Lover

“I suppose I was wondering…. why you want me?”
“Because you’ve a spark about you,” he said swiftly. “In a room full of people you seem like the one visible star in a night sky.”

Julie Anne Long is one of my favorite historical romance authors for three reasons:

Her build-them-from-the-first page characters that are always perfectly imperfect;

The dialogue is sharp and sweet, tart and lush;

The emotional development of the characters is the focus of the plot, and the evolution of their relationship always plays center stage.

This is the first book in her latest series- Palace of Rogues.

Delilah learned to never truly ask for what she wanted. She learned that a woman’s place is wherever her husband has relegated her- no matter how venal and desperate that corner is. She has learned that control over her own life is a luxury she can only dream of, and she will always be a victim of circumstance.

But Delilah’s husband is suddenly dead and the world is a vast sea of opportunities. And then she learns she’s penniless. She is certain there is one scrap of the estate to fortify her independence, and when the executor hands her the keys to a mystery building on the docks, she knows it is her one chance.

She finds an unlikely cohort in her husband’s former mistress, and they concoct an impetuous, wonderful plan to ensure they have bread on the table.

Tristan is the King’s man. He ferrets out smugglers and contraband at the behest of the Crown, and he has never failed to land his quarry. He is convinced that the building Delilah has inherited is the headquarters for an insidious smuggling ring. He makes her acquaintance on false pretenses, but she dominates the periphery of his world.

This inexorable, imminent descent to tangled sheets, slow-burn romance is a must read.

Hit Me With Your Best Scot

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

“Of course I’m in love with you, Coll MacTaggert. – How could I not be? You are mountains and craigs and rocky streams and winter winds and the first breath pf springtime. My first taste of springtime.”

The true measure of a man is whether or not your diabolical cat chooses to attack him. When Penelope’s cat decides he loves to wind around the giant Scotsman’s legs, and won’t stop purring, she knows she is in trouble.

The future of Conall’s tenants depends on a successful bride hunt. But Conall is impatient with the debutantes proferred by society. They can’t seem to string three sentences of any interest together, and seem more impressed by the title than the man. He needs a wife that is content with a business arrangement, but regards the marriage bed as more than a duty and a way to indemnify her from spinsterhood.

Penelope Jones loves the life she has chosen for herself. As the most successful actress on the London stage,  she has financial security and independence. She doesn’t need brawny, brooding Scotsmen with irresistible brogues, thighs like tree trunks and a protective streak wider than the Thames in her life.

From the moment their gazes meet, they can’t look away. Neither has room in their agenda for complications, but love has other plans. When Penelope becomes the target of an inept, but determined assassin, Conall becomes her protector. Soon, it’s all about picnics, and laughter, and an insatiable desire to tie this vivacious, stubborn women to his side forever. But Penelope has demons from the past she is running from. She wants a quiet life that she has control over, not one where her every action is scrutinized at the whim of high society.

This is a love story about finding your other half when you least expect it. It is about being brave enough in front of someone to expose your fragility. It is about facing the world together, no matter what it throws at you.

The Duke Heist

Thank you to the author for sending me an advance copy of this book! I absolutely loved it!

Sometimes you recklessly pursue something you think will be the answer to all of your questions, something you think will make you whole and free. Chloe and her siblings are convinced that the very thing that binds them as a family is a painting that disappeared after their father died. The empty space on the wall haunts them, and echoes the emptiness in their hearts. They have tried to recover the painting from the son of the man who stole it, but he has rebuffed all of their legitimate efforts to recover it. They are tired of waiting, and decide to take matters into their own hands.

Chloe is the pickpocket of the family, so she leads the valiant effort. But Chloe’s plans are thwarted when she realizes that the Duke of Faircliffe isn’t at all what he seems to be.

He is not cold and haughty. He is shy and socially awkward.
He isn’t glaring at her. He is mesmerized by her.
He is not ignoring her presence. He’s trying not to make it obvious that no one else in the room even exists for him.

Lawrence is a duke with empty pockets – and marrying an heiress is the only solution. But he sees Chloe Wynchester from the moment they are formally introduced. She is witty and warm and beguiling, and her dreary wardrobe and determination to be unobtrusive do not dissuade him in the least. Soon he is craving every stolen moment he can wrangle before his debts force his hand.
She inspires him to amateur millinery, sleight of hand, and painting. She makes his life rich and colorful.

This love story is about a woman finally brave enough to recognize her own worth. It is a love story about looking beyond the masks people wear, and seeing who they really are. It is a love story about listening to the voices of those you care about, and ignoring all of the rest – because if you are truly happy you are untouchable and they mean nothing.

Someday My Duke Will Come

What a wonderful way to wile away the weekend…

I loved seeing Clara and Quincy’s story unfold. Here are the reasons this one will be on my keeper shelf:

1. Clara is a complex heroine who has given up on her chance at happiness. She has sacrificed herself for her family, and built a fortress around her heart. She carries the burden of a deep and secret sorrow. She is well into spinsterhood- a maiden of 31. She is not an innocent debutante, and I was profoundly touched by her commitment, despair and resignation.

2. Quincy is an emotionally mature hero. He is aware of both his shortcomings and his strengths, and isn’t afraid to voice his feelings. He acknowledges Clara’s sacrifice and bravery, and cements his reputation as a man who notices the important things. “I am ridiculous in a good many things, but not in this. You think because you’ve led a quiet life at home that you’re not brave. It’s easy to leave everything behind when times are hard. Often it’s the person dealing with the difficulties of day-to-day living that turns out to be the bravest there is.” Swoon. 

3. Their relationship is based on friendship, mutual respect, and slow burn. Although the attraction between them could  light even the most sodden kindling, when they finally take that step it is a moment of both trust and fragility. 

4. There is a dragon in the form of an indomitable dowager. And I am convinced Lady Tesh and Lady Danbury would be the closest of confidantes– although there would be endless machinations to gain the upper hand. 

Read this if you need a slow simmer of warmth to keep winter at bay.

4 ⭐️

The Princess and the Rogue

A huge thanks to the author, the publisher and Netgalley for the chance to read an ARC of this extraordinary historical romance. 

The Bow Street Bachelors series is everything I look for in a read. This is the third installment and the chemistry between Anya and Seb ignites the pages. 

Anya lives quietly incognito as Anna Brown. She teaches reading, writing and arithmetic to the soiled doves next door. Sebastian catches her in the middle of a lesson and assumes she is also on offer. After an unforgettable kiss that turns her world upside down, Anya refuses his offer. 

Sebastian combs every nook and cranny of London trying to locate her – completely unaware that she is under the patronage of his aunt. They are thrown together once again when he rescues her from a botched kidnapping attempt. To ensure her safety, Sebastian proposes that Anya shelter at his gambling hell, The Tricorn. 

The enforced proximity only fans the flames higher, and soon both Anya and Seb are faltering through unfamiliar territory. The attraction between them is undeniable, but their need runs far deeper. 

I could not put down this captivating read! You’ll fall in love with Sebastian’s brooding and sweltering and rejoice in Anya’s acts of rebellion and defiance.

Chelsea Girls

The paperback copy of this wonderful story is now out in the world.

Hazel has been a side character her entire life – her value and her potential dwarfed and shadowed by the light of her brother. He was the only thing her parents saw. But Hazel is convinced that she deserves a chance in the spotlight and signs on with the USO to provide dramatic entertainment to the troops.

She is thrust into a world of chaos. She finds her calling as an impromptu playwright and director. With Japan’s surrender, the war ends shortly after Hazel’s arrival. Although she hasn’t gained the experience of her fellow performers, she is now much more courageous and assertive. She takes intermittent work and focuses her attention on finishing a play inspired by tragic events she witnessed in the midst of war.

Hazel’s life changes irrevocably when she becomes a tenant of the iconic Chelsea Hotel.

I loved the immersion into the lavish world of post-war New York. The intricacies of McCarthyism were woven into the plot as well as the background of the Golden Age of Hollywood and Broadway.

You will not regret picking up this tour de force.

4.5 🌟

Arctic Fury

An unforgettable story about a journey to the Arctic by a troupe of women determined to find their story.

Publisher’s Synopsis:

A dozen women join a secret 1850s Arctic expedition―and a sensational murder trial unfolds when some of them don’t come back.

Eccentric Lady Jane Franklin makes an outlandish offer to adventurer Virginia Reeve: take a dozen women, trek into the Arctic, and find her husband’s lost expedition. Four parties have failed to find him, and Lady Franklin wants a radical new approach: put the women in charge.

A year later, Virginia stands trial for murder. Survivors of the expedition willing to publicly support her sit in the front row. There are only five. What happened out there on the ice?

My review:

Arctic Fury by Greer Macallister was one of my favorite reads of the year.

Here are all of the reasons you should read it:

It will educate and confound you. Arctic exploration is not for the faint of heart. And it was certainly not for the faint of heart in an age unequipped with our modern technologies. Greer’s meticulously researched plot shows us the motivations of an explorer’s heart, the need to escape the restrictions society places upon us because of our gender, and why we seek to redefine our identities.

The cast is absolutely unforgettable. The troupe of women who embark on the journey are invested in the mission for many different reasons. They learn to appreciate one another’s uniques competencies and work together to ensure survival in their frigid environment.

The heroine, Virginia, is a study in contrasts. She is both deeply empathic and deeply flawed – and running from a horrible past she cannot escape.

The murder mystery at the core of the book unfolds mercilessly. It explores the gap between the resources of the wealthy and the poor, and demonstrates how the justice system can act as an engine of vengeance and oppression.

The ending was completely unexpected – and yet the perfect ending to this extraordinary read.

Tsarina

Summary:

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.

Excerpt:

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.