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Archive for June, 2017

If the Rogue Fits

(Must Love Rogues, #2)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

A Misunderstood Shrew:

Lady Margaret is infamous throughout London as the most volatile and shrewish of all young ladies. After four years on the market, with a vast fortune, her determination to remain unwed is legendary. Having a decidedly plain face, Margaret has learned that men only want her for her money, and the unkindness of those around her has led her to protect her heart with a cutting tongue and willingness to shove silly young men into orchestra pits. When she meets the Earl of Carlyle, the beautiful and seductive lord, who makes her body yearn for his touch, seems like he might be different than the rest. But when Margaret finds out the earl has been less than honest in his pursuit for her hand, will she ever be able to forgive him and find a way to love?

A Lord Who Has No Wish to Tame Her:

William Deveraux, Earl of Carlyle, is in desperate need of funds. His father, a ruinous gambler, has driven the earldom, it’s estate, and his tenants, into destitution. There’s only one thing for William to do. Wed and wed well. Undaunted that the only available lady with a sufficient fortune at present is Margaret the Mad, he’s determined to win her by any means. . . Even by deceit. But when Margaret discovers his lies, he finds he’s fallen for the plain yet oh so witty woman who is his savior in many ways. Will he ever be able to win her heart and convince her that she is the most wonderful woman in the world? Or will her years of being treated foully by society, ensure Margaret never lets him into her heart?

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This is the second book in Eva Devon’s Must Love Rogues series which features one of my favourite tropes – a marriage of convenience.

Margaret knew that it had not been a fortuitous beginning when her father had first looked upon her countenance, frowned and declared that she was ugly.

Margaret grew up knowing that, in her father’s eyes, she has nothing to commend her. All her parents’ affection and attention is reserved for Isabella, her beautiful, younger sister to whom she is constantly compared and found lacking. There is no love lost between Margaret and Isabella because their father is adamant that Isabella cannot marry until Margaret does, something the younger sister resents. In addition, her disastrous first season and plain looks have made her an outcast among the other young ladies. So, Margaret leads a restricted and lonely life, hiding her wounded heart behind a mask of disdain and a biting tongue.

After four years on the marriage mart, she has received any number of proposals but knows that her suitors do not see her as a person with her own thoughts and feelings, only her ‘jaw-dropping fortune’.  Most of all, she hates their lies – the false compliments that have the power to hurt. Her sharp tongue and ill-temper soon deter would be suitors, earning her the unflattering nickname Margaret the Mad or Margaret the Red Fury. Long ago, she had decided that being on the shelf was far preferable to being married to someone just like her father. Instead, she finds pleasure in reading, studying history and riding, with dreams of being independent and traveling.

William’s father was selfish, unkind and a compulsive gambler who never showed any love for his son. William’s grandfather was a man of honour who always did the right thing and he had been more like a father to William than his own father ever was. Seeking freedom and adventure like his grandfather before him, William left home at nineteen and spent much of the next ten years travelling the globe.

However, he has always known that one day he would have to return to take up his responsibilities. He promised his grandfather to do everything in his power to restore the fortunes of the family estate but when William returns, it is to find that his father has totally bankrupted the earldom. The family home is in a terrible state of disrepair; the mill which provides bread for his tenants needs fixing and the tenants’ cottages are also in desperate need of repairs. Without the necessary funds, he will have no alternative but to start selling off land which has been in his family for nearly eight hundred years. Desperate to keep his promise to his grandfather, there is only one solution…he needs a wealthy wife.

At first, William’s interest in Meg (as he insists on calling her, much to Margaret’s annoyance) is purely mercenary but he soon sees a strong, bold and intelligent woman; one far more interesting than any other woman he has met and rather likes the idea of being married to such an indomitable woman. Having seen how her father and others around her have tried to crush her spirit, he believes that by marrying her, he can give Margaret the independence she has never known. I like how William is genuine in his desire to rescue her from her father’s influence. The scene where he proposes to Margaret is one of my favourites. The back and forth between them is delightful, and I love the sting in the tail for the unsuspecting, overconfident William!

Oh, yes. This was going to be a marvelous union and from the way she was responding to the sensual foray, it would be no time before she agreed to marry him.
She pulled back ever so slightly and smiled softly.
He smiled back. This was the moment. She was going to agree.
Meg’s eyes flashed and she drove her foot down atop his.
He yelped and hopped onto one booted foot.
She backed away and brushed her hands. “You should have recalled Mr. Rutherford.”
“We weren’t dancing,” he wheezed as he struggled to catch his breath.
“Kissing. Dancing.” She shrugged her shoulders. “What does it matter? It’s all the same.” “Like men,” he added, the pain jolting right up his leg.
She gave a terse nod. “Now take yourself and your proposal and hie off, my lord.”

For her part, Margaret finds William very different to her other suitors, who were so easily deterred by her sharp tongue; not so William, with his forthrightness, idiotic sense of humour and total disregard for convention. I love how Margaret is totally bewildered by his behaviour but is clever enough to realise that there could be advantages to marrying William. For the first time, she would be taking her life into her own hands and would no longer be at the beck and call of her father. Some wise advice from her trusted maid, Travers, provides a plan for ensuring her independence and fulfilling her dream of travelling. Having decided on her course of action, I love how she boldly takes matters into her own hands.

He opened the door slowly and peered in through the crack.
A glimpse of fiery red hair met his perusal.
“You’d best come in, Carlyle,” she clipped. “So we can get on with business.”
His jaw dropped.

When William hears Margaret’s conditions for marrying him, I sympathised with his difficult dilemma and understood why he chose to deceive her. He does it for the most honourable of reasons but hates himself for lying to Margaret. I felt Margaret’s deep hurt at discovering William’s duplicity and, although she can understand why he did it, she can never forgive him for lying to her. It seems that an irreparable wedge has been driven between them.

I love how the story is very character-driven and concentrates on the developing relationship between these two. At first, Margaret feels angry and is determined to keep her distance from William but, gradually, she comes to like and admire him. Beneath the arrogant exterior, she sees a man who cares passionately.

…he cared about his tenants. He cared about his servants. He cared about the history of his family. He cared.

She also discovers how cruel and uncaring William’s father was and can relate to the pain of always wishing for a father’s love but never having it. She can’t hate him and comes to realise that William may need her love and care as much as his neglected house does. William soon comes to realise that he wants Margaret for herself and not just for her money and is determined to change her mind about him. Their desire to restore the estate brings them closer together but, when William realises he has fallen in love with Margaret, he knows that she could never love him until she sees her own self-worth and that her beauty radiates from inside.  I love William’s act of selflessness when he offers Margaret the freedom to travel and discover her true self but my heart ached for him.

Margaret’s triumph at her sister’s engagement ball and how she comes into her own is wonderful to see. I also applauded when William is so cutting towards Isabella and her fiancé who have previously caused Margaret such pain.

Ms. Devon throws in a bit of a twist towards the end which makes Margaret realise that she believed all her father’s cruel words; believed that she was ugly and that no one could ever love her. She has been afraid to admit her love for William for fear of being hurt but not any longer…

“You’re going abroad,” he protested. “You’re going to see the world. You’re going to make an informed decision.”
“I have all the information I need,” she scoffed. “You love me…and I love you.”

William’s friend Lord Garret Hart and his wife, Harriet (The Rogue and I) are on hand to provide wise council and moral support, while John Forthryte, Garret’s scheming, bastard half-brother, plays the unlikely role of ‘a strange and marvellous matchmaker’ to steal Margaret’s words. I loathed Margaret’s father with a vengeance but loved Margaret’s maid, Travers, who was more friend than a servant and provided one of my favourite quotes:

“My dear, men do have their uses and a man like that?” Travers smiled and suddenly looked like a girl of sixteen contemplating meeting a lover at the back garden gate. “I’d use him six ways from Sunday. Twice on a Saturday.”

MY VERDICT: I always enjoy Eva Devon’s books because they are entertaining, romantic and sexy with engaging characters and sparkling dialogue. Recommended.

 

REVIEW RATING: 4/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM


Must Love Rogues
series do date (click on the book covers for more details):

The Rogue and I (Must Love Rogues, #1) by Eva Devon If the Rogue Fits (Must Love Rogues, #2) by Eva Devon Duke Goes Rogue (Must Love Rogues, #3) by Eva Devon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Wicked Cousin

(Rockliffe, #4)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian)

Cover Blurb:

Sebastian Audley has spent years setting every city in Europe by the ears and keeping the scandal-sheets in profit. Word that he is finally returning to London becomes the hottest topic of the Season and casts numerous young ladies – many of whom have never seen him – into a fever of anticipation.

Cassandra Delahaye is not one of them. In her opinion, love affairs and duels, coupled with a reputation for never refusing even the most death-defying wager, suggest that Mr Audley is short of a brain cell or two. And while their first, very unorthodox meeting shows that perhaps he isn’t entirely stupid, it creates other reservations entirely.

Sebastian finds dodging admiring females and living down his reputation for reckless dare-devilry a full-time occupation. He had known that putting the past behind him in a society with an insatiable appetite for scandal and gossip would not be easy. But what he had not expected was to become the target of a former lover’s dangerous obsession … or to find himself falling victim to a pair of storm-cloud eyes.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

The Prologue to THE WICKED COUSIN, the fourth book in Stella Riley’s magnificent Georgian Rockliffe series is, without doubt, one the most poignant I have ever read. I defy any reader not to be deeply moved or fail to be intrigued by the opening, captivating sentences and, as the story unfolds and we learn more about the life of her charismatic character (who is more sinned against than sinning), not to fall hook, line and sinker in love with Sebastian Audley.

On a scorching August day in 1757 when he was eight years old, Sebastian Audley’s life changed. And though he didn’t know it, that change was to last for the next thirteen years…….. 

It was the day that a distraught child lost not only his twin, but his beloved brother; the other half of himself. No one understood his grief. The boys were two halves of a whole, knowing each other’s thoughts in the intuitive way that only twins can. In Sebastian’s emotionally underdeveloped child’s mind, he believed that he was failing Theo at a time when he needed him the most. Locked in his room, he could only cry out his despair and feel his brother’s pain…. and then…. the dreaded silence… when he knew that part of him was gone forever. It was also the time that Sebastian’s charmed, carefree life ended; the time when he began blaming himself for being alive when Theo was dead; a conviction reinforced by the diatribe hurled at him by his eldest sister, who had irrationally never cared for the younger of her twin brothers. Theo’s early and tragic death shaped the way the adults in his life treated him, albeit believing they were keeping him safe, but worse still, ultimately because of their actions, the way he himself behaved for the best part of seven years after finally escaping from his cotton wool straight jacket. They were actions that his autocratic but grief-stricken father was to come to bitterly regret.

Sebastian’s first acts of defiance came when he was finally allowed to leave to study at Cambridge, refusing to be ‘chaperoned ‘ by the local vicar’s son or to study the subject chosen for him by his father. Instead, he diligently and quietly applied himself to studying law which he saw as a way of eventually becoming independent of his father’s claustrophobic control. Although he obtained an honours degree in law, he never had to take up a profession because an unexpected bequest from a Great-Aunt made him independently secure. During his time at university, he did not indulge in the fun and frolicking other undergraduates enjoyed, but did re-discover a love and quite remarkable talent for the intricacies of chess, which he had once enjoyed playing with his twin. This talent would serve him well later in life.

As sole heir to his father, Viscount Wingham, Sebastian had to be kept safe at all costs and, by the time he reached his majority, he was more than ready to escape the suffocating over protectiveness of his family. After his years of sobriety, he was eager to face the world head on, firstly by setting London alight with his outrageous exploits and then disappearing to the continent to further kick over the traces of his years of solemnity. All the girls he had never kissed or bedded became a part of his life, his adrenalin seeking exploits becoming legendary, and salaciously reported in the gossip rags. Whatever the rumour mill insisted he had done – no matter how ridiculous, or even whether it was fact or fiction – was avidly reported and devoured by the ton. His notorious reputation, coupled with his lauded and extraordinary good looks, bluer than blue eyes; glorious hair of a rich burgundy/garnet colour and impressive physique set him apart from his peers.

After seven years of self-imposed exile, wandering from place to place and with a desperate need to escape from the determined pursuit of a spurned lover turned stalker, Sebastian’s nomad life had become intolerable. In the latter couple of years on the continent he had already toned down his behaviour and with little else to do, his beloved chess became his only real enjoyment in life. With time and practice he honed his skills with remarkable results. Later in the story we learn just how remarkable – in fact, such a talent never really did sit well with his rakehell reputation which was more a few years of madness than a character trait; his outrageous behaviour born out of a need to be free. Reluctant to come back into the controlling orbit of his father, he nevertheless has a strong sense of familial duty, and one of the many things I liked about Sebastian is that he is a loveable and honourable young man who knew that one day he would return for good to his responsibilities.

In all the years apart, he has never stopped loving his father and, without fail, he annually made the long and arduous journey home for a short stay, mainly driven away again by the cruel jibes of his eldest sister, Blanche, whose dislike of him has not abated. He tries to hide the hurt she intentionally causes with a couldn’t-care-less attitude, but this only compounds her dislike of him. Is it any wonder he never wishes to remain long in his ancestral home when she is the unmarried matriarch residing over it? Ironically, it is a letter from Blanche informing him that his father has suffered an apoplexy that gives him a reason to return home for good.

After a long and arduous journey, he arrives home to find his father well on the road to recovery and, after spending some private time together, they finally make their peace. Maybe it was his brush with death that finally opened the viscount’s eyes to his mistakes regarding Sebastian. Whatever the reason, he admits to his son that he should have treated him differently and acknowledges that he clipped his wings. However, Sebastian is still not entirely convinced of his father’s ability to let him run his own life. I found the viscount’s pride in his son rather touching, whether despite of, or maybe because of his reported escapades, I’m not sure.

Sebastian decides to go to London to attempt to repair some of the damage to his reputation and convince society that he is a reformed character. There, he seeks the help of Adrian Devereux, Earl of Sarre (The Player), the pair having met and become firm friends whilst both were exiled on the continent. Adrian proposes a plan in the form of a private wager which sets out to protect and ease Sebastian back into society in a civilised manner. With this secret wager in place he is protected from further ridiculous challenges by silly young bucks. Sebastian’s first tentative steps are fraught with pitfalls, including the fact that he has been given the nickname, The Wicked Cousin, courtesy of Olivia Delahaye, the rather silly younger sister of Cassandra (Cassie) whom we met in previous books as a secondary character. Cassandra’s father, a close friend of the Duke of Rockliffe, plays quite a big part in this story and I admired his quiet, reasonable character and wise council, especially regarding Sebastian. The familial relationship between the Delahaye’s and Audley’s is tentative but nevertheless one in which Olivia is more than happy to bask

Sebastian’s initial, accidental meeting with Cassie is less than auspicious and only serves to reinforce her pre-conceived opinion of him as an arrogant, feckless, philanderer whom she could never like. However, after several more formal encounters, Cassie reluctantly begins to see why he is so popular and intriguing to the men and women of society; he’s witty and amusing but in a kindly, non-mocking way with no apparent artifice and seems genuinely interested in her as a person. Then he seals her approval with some simple but honest gestures and, whether she realises it or not, she is already half way in love with him – and who could blame her? So was I! She is flustered by her own reaction, never in her wildest dreams imagining that her feelings could ever be returned; in her experience, she’s only ever attracts dull dogs – whose mothers like her for goodness sake!

But they ARE returned. For his part, Sebastian is utterly smitten. He sees the beautiful, captivating and interesting girl that other foolish suitors have failed to appreciate and releases the butterfly from her chrysalis, transforming a previously – on the surface at least – sweet but unexceptional girl into the attractive and desirable young woman he has seen almost from the beginning.  Charles and Serena Delahaye do not recognise their daughter as she turns from gentle doe to protective tigress in defence of her man….in the words of her father – ‘You, Mr. Audley, have turned my lovely girl into a damned Valkyrie.” I just loved that statement! From the moment the two admit that they are meant to be together, Cassie refuses to believe anything derogatory about Sebastian and, when his spurned lover tries to make trouble on more than one occasion, Cassie fights tooth and nail for him.

Cassie’s parents have always appreciated her worth, never pressuring her into settling for second best. So, when Sebastian requests permission of her father to pay his addresses to Cassie – with her approval – the astute Charles Delahaye is more than happy with her choice, especially given that his daughter has never sent a young man to him before and must therefore be ‘in love’ at last. Despite Sebastian’s reputation, Sir Charles has always known there are valid reasons behind his behaviour and has some sympathy for the young man.

THE WICKED COUSIN is very much a character driven, beautifully crafted love story, with interesting and loveable characters. Their love story plays out in the most wonderfully romantic way. I particularly like the author’s unique way of taking apparently ordinary women and showing us that we all have hidden depths and just need the right man to see them as Sebastian does with Cassie. I adored both these characters; Cassie with her sweetness, determination and loyalty and Sebastian with his kindness, protectiveness and generosity of spirit. Cassie sees beyond Sebastian’s carefree attitude to the still damaged, grieving little boy inside. It’s particularly warming to see Sebastian’s unconditional love bringing Cassie to the peak of her beauty. I thought Stella Riley rather clever in her pairing of these two – so different and yet so right for each other. Sebastian’s rather naughty sense of humour and Cassie’s whole-hearted acceptance of it is amusing and a little risqué, but not too much, because, true to her style, Ms. Riley allows us just enough to wet our appetite and no more!

The unforgettable Duke of Rockliffe (The Mésalliance) again leads the group of friends that Stella Riley has grown and cultivated since the beginning of the series. They are once more in action as they close ranks to protect one of their own. Amusingly, at one point in the story, they take the normally calm and collected Rock away to entertain him, mainly at the request of their wives, to give his wife Adeline some respite from his fussing as she awaits the arrival of their first child. And when at last the child arrives – my heart just melted! Just imagining the perfectly controlled, formidable Rock as a doting papa! Stella Riley is one of only a few authors who can reduce me to mush, and she always succeeds in one way or another:

Mr. Audley handed his card to the Duke of Rockliffe’s butler and after a short wait, was shown into the drawing room where his Grace was walking back and forth by the windows holding a small bundle wrapped in a lacy white shawl while the duchess was engaged in pouring tea.

I was also thrilled to see the return of Adrian Deveraux, arguably my favourite character in this series. His story is told in The Player which is, in my opinion, one of the best and most intriguingly complex stories in the genre. I loved seeing a little more of how his story and marriage to Caroline, his countess, has progressed.

This series is REALLY addictive and I’m particularly fond of a saga where we see the return of family and friends in high profile. These people have all become so special to us as readers THAT we feel invested in their lives. Ms. Riley has done this to great effect making these men and now their women too, feel like old friends.  My imagination has been stirred further by the prospect of another book in the series. I have come to know Ms. Riley’s little foibles; she tells us the story in its entirety – so no worries there, as each story stands on its own – but she always gives us a clue as to whose book might come next. I hope it’s Rock’s younger brother, Nicholas Wynstanton, the only unmarried member of his select group, and hopefully his courtship of Madeleine Delacroix, Aristide’s prickly sister. And while we’re on the subject Ms. Riley – please don’t forget Aristide.

As with any Stella Riley novel, her research is so impeccable that we can be sure she has it right whether it is the intricacies of chess or the cut and thrust of a tense and exciting fencing match. In addition, her blending of fact and fiction is so seamlessly done that the lines invisible.

If you haven’t already read any of Stella Riley’s work, then I recommend that you do. She is consistently a 5-star writer in my opinion and each story she writes is special in its own right.  I would advise starting at the beginning of the series, mainly to gain a perspective and understanding of how she has developed her intriguing group of friends and relatives, and to see how their loves and lives interweave, but more importantly how they all support one another. However, it isn’t necessary, as each story is unique and different to the previous books in the series.

MY VERDICT: THE WICKED COUSIN is just wonderful, with a fabulous cast of characters, good and bad as is usual with this author. She always injects some wit and humour into her novels and the scene where Sebastian ties up his ex-mistress and cuts her hair was particularly entertaining! Stella Riley never disappoints and I always look forward with eager anticipation to a new releaseHIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

 

REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Rockliffe series so far (click on the book covers for more details)

The Parfit Knight Volume 1 (Rockcliffe) by Stella Riley The Mésalliance (Rockliffe) (Volume 2) by Stella Riley The Player (Rockliffe, #3) by Stella Riley The Wicked Cousin (Rockcliffe, #4) by Stella Riley

 

**I received a complimentary copy of the book from the author in return for an honest review**

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Catherine Curzon Interview - author picture

I’m delighted to welcome Historian, Author and Lover of all Things 18th Century CATHERINE CURZON (AKA MADAME GILFLURT) to Rakes and Rascals today for an exclusive interview.

It’s a real delight to be here; it seems like a long, long time since we met via a blog comment three years ago!

~~~~~~~

 

R&R:
Could you tell us where you were born and what it was like growing up there?

Catherine:
I was born in a small town just outside Nottingham and was just your average, run-of-the-mill, obsessed with guillotines little girl. My grandparents lived in a tiny hamlet that was just a handful of cottages, a pub and Sherwood Forest literally at the bottom of the garden, so I spent every moment that I possible could there. I learned to ride horses in their hamlet and we even used to sit on the garden in the rain and watch the rally cars go past once a year. I’ve always credited my lovely old Geordie granddad with my love of telling scandalous, grisly tales, and some of the happiest moments of my life were spent with him, listening to his tall stories.

 

R&R:
How would you describe yourself – temperamental or easy-going?

Catherine:
I used to be a very anxious sort of gal and could worry anything down into the ground but now, I’m much more easy going. I’ve learned that you choose your battles and that life is short, so I don’t waste in time in worrying about things that I can’t change anymore. I can be a perfectionist though, and there are some things that I can’t compromise on… especially when it comes to the strength of my brew!

 

R&R:
When it comes to food do you like sweet or savoury or both?

Catherine:
Mine is a savoury tooth, but I have a weakness for a chocolate eclair and the darkest, bitterest chocolate you can find.



R&R:

What is your most treasured possession?

Catherine:
My teddy bear! I was a very, very ill child and ended up in hospital wired up to all manner of machines. I wasn’t expected to survive and if I did, the long term forecast was bleak indeed. Forty years later I’m still here and so is my ted. He’s as old as I am and sat in the crib in hospital with me through every moment of illness. Now he sits on my bed, wearing a sassy scarf and carrying a magic wand.

Catherine Curzon Interview - teddy bear

 

R&R:
If you could afford a second home anywhere in the world where would you choose and why?

Catherine:
The North Yorkshire coast, looking out over the sea. I love to be by the ocean and get away whenever I can, so I’d love a little place of my own on the edge of a cliff somewhere – but no too close to the edge.

Catherine Curzon Interview - Yorkshire

 

R&R:
Finally, what has been your most embarrassing moment?

Catherine:
I’m no stranger to tripping over my own feet whilst standing still. Because of this peculiar quirk, I don’t embarrass too easily!


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Thank you for taking time out to be here today and sharing these interesting facts about yourself, Catherine.

Thank you for all that you do, you’re a true gem!

 

If you would like to find out more about Catherine and her books, here are the links:

Website/Blog
Goodreads
Facebook
Twitter

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Alanna Lucas Interview - author picture

I’m delighted to welcome Historical Romance Author ALANNA LUCAS to Rakes and Rascals today for an exclusive interview.

Thank you for having me today. I’m excited to be here!

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R&R:

Could you tell us where you were born and what it was like growing up there?

Alanna:
I was born in Germany, but moved to California when I was very little. The best thing about living in California was being so close to my mom’s family and lots of cousins!

Alanna Lucas Interview - Alanna
Me as a little girl

 

R&R:
How would you describe yourself – temperamental or easy-going?

Alanna:
For the most part, I’m easy-going with a dash of stubbornness to keep things interesting 😉

 

R&R:
When it comes to food do you like sweet or savoury or both?

Alanna:
Definitely savoury, but not too much spice.



R&R:

What is your most treasured possession?

Alanna:
Family pictures.

Alanna Lucas Interview - Grandpa
My grandpa (the picture was taken outside Vienna).

 

R&R:
If you could afford a second home anywhere in the world where would you choose and why?

Alanna:
Holland! I have family there and love visiting them. It would be wonderful to spend more time with them.

 

R&R:
Finally, what has been your most embarrassing moment?

Alanna:
At my very first writer’s conference, I had a tear in my dress. I wasn’t staying at the host hotel, so I didn’t have a room and had to try and mend my dress in the restroom. Needless to say it was an utter disaster and I ended up flashing a room full of women, including the editor I was going to pitch to!

~~~~~~~

Thank you for taking time out to be here today and sharing these interesting facts about yourself, Alanna.

This was so much fun! Thank you to everyone who stopped by!

 

If you would like to find out more about Alanna and her books, here are the links:

Website
Goodreads
Facebook
Twitter

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To Steal a Heart

(Secrets and Spies, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1815)

Cover Blurb:

Forced to do the bidding of a corrupt government minister, Marianne de Bonnard agrees to plant incriminating evidence in the offices of France’s most notorious spymaster. Under cover of night, the tightrope-walking thief puts her skills to good use—until her aerial stunt is foiled when her target appears in the window and, with consummate poise, helps Marianne off the wire and into his lair. The tremors that run through her body are not just from fear; there’s an unwanted frisson of desire there, too. But is it because of her elegant, wickedly handsome host . . . or his proposition?

Nicolas Valette has had plans for his graceful trespasser since he witnessed her unique skills at the Cirque Olympique. Sinuous as a cat, Marianne is perfect for his next mission, but she refuses his generous offer for fear of disobeying her family’s tormenter. When their mutual enemy auctions off her virginity to the highest bidder, Nicolas leaps at the chance to purchase her cooperation. Keeping her will be like trying to tame a wild animal, but what’s life without a little risk? Besides, Nicolas and Marianne both want the same thing: revenge—and, perhaps, something else that’s equally delicious.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

I loved this impressive 2016 debut novel from K. C. Bateman. Set in France just before the final defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, it combines a well-written, action-packed story, intriguing characters and a sensual romance.

Following the death of his younger brother, Nicolas carries a deep sense of guilt for having survived when his brother didn’t, and his life no longer has any real meaning. The danger, intrigue and excitement inherent in the world of spying and his desire for revenge against Napoleon, whom he holds responsible for his brother’s death, are what keep him going, earning him a reputation for being bold, arrogant and uncompromising. Handsome, virile and seductive, there are any number of beautiful women only too eager to share his bed, but he has long ago built an impenetrable wall around his heart and his emotions are never engaged.

He always enjoyed their company, but he’d never wanted more from them than a few nights’ entertainment. He had absolutely no difficulty keeping his emotions separate from his physical needs.

Ever since her parents’ death in a fire, Marianne has worked at the Cirque Olympique as a tight-rope walker and knife thrower and as a spy for her corrupt and loathsome cousin and guardian, Jean-Jacques Duval.  She is resourceful, intelligent and stubborn but has an Achilles heel – her younger sister, Sophie. Having suffered Duval’s perverted attentions, she is willing do anything to protect Sophie from him.

She felt him (Nicolas) smile against her skin. “Whore for her?”
   A wave of shame rolled over her as she forced herself to admit the unpalatable truth. To save Sophie? Yes. She’d suffer any indignity. She closed her eyes in despair. “Yes.”

Ms. Bateman blends the romance and suspense perfectly and I love the back-and-forth verbal sparring between Nicolas and Marianne and one of the most memorable early scenes is where Nicolas buys Marianne and Sophie in a brothel auction arranged by Duval and then has to pretend to relieve Marianne of her virginity.

He sat up slowly so as not to startle her and held his hands up in surrender. “I’m at your mercy, mademoiselle. Please say you’re going to have your wicked way with me.”
   She scowled, unimpressed with his attempt at humor.
   He sighed. “I suppose we’ll have to go with the backup plan then.”

The backup plan turns out to be hilariously reminiscent of the famous Meg Ryan scene in “When Harry Met Sally”!

I enjoyed the interplay of danger and sexual tension and seeing how their relationship changes and how they grow and evolve both as individuals and as a couple.

At first, Nicolas sees Marianne as merely an integral part of the mission and would willingly sacrifice her in his search for revenge. However, during the gruelling course of training for the mission, she is a constant distraction with her rebellious nature and sheer determination and gradually the dynamic between the two of them changes.

Something had changed between them, some indefinable twist to the dynamic that was both unnerving and exciting. He liked her. Respected her. Wanted her. They were no longer master and apprentice; instead of opponents, they were suddenly a team.

After his brother’s death, Nicolas didn’t really care whether he lived or died but now he finds himself beginning to care about life again all because of Marianne who has slowly broken down his defences and stolen his heart.

Marianne is an intriguing combination of strength and vulnerability. I love how she isn’t afraid to stand up to Nicolas and refuses to give in when the going gets tough.  She has to rely on her own skills, resourcefulness and inner strength.  Emotionally, Duval’s abuse left her feeling tainted and believing that she would never be able to respond to any man again, so her response to Nicolas is unexpected.

She’d thought herself immune, irrevocably tainted by Duval’s abuse. It was highly disconcerting to discover she might have been wrong. One look from Valette, and her blood heated to a slow boil.

I was frustrated by the decision Nicolas makes towards the end of the book, but I admired the way Ms. Bateman kept him true to  character. I think it was the only way he could put the past behind him. Besides, Marianne is a woman quite able to take care of herself.

Duval is a suitably odious and slimy toad while I was definitely intrigued my Raven, the mysterious smuggler. I shall look forward with interest to A RAVEN’S HEART, in which he is paired with Nicolas’ younger sister, Heloise.

Ms. Bateman has obviously undertaken a lot of research to create a real sense of the period and I particularly like how she uses a little artistic license to incorporate Louis-Charles (the “Lost Dauphin”) into the plot.

I was disappointed there was no Epilogue, which made the ending seem rather abrupt. I’m therefore hoping that I may see more of Nicolas and Marianne in the next book.

MY VERDICT: An very impressive debut novel which I can definitely recommend.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Secrets and Spies (click on the book covers for more details):

To Steal a Heart (Secrets and Spies, #1) by K.C. Bateman A Raven's Heart (Secrets & Spies, #2) by K.C. Bateman A Counterfeit Heart (Secrets & Spies, #3) by K.C. Bateman

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