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CABOT #1

Setting: London, England, 1820

“Our sister is marrying a vampire.”

When the ever practical Caroline Cabot first hears those words from the lips of her fanciful youngest sister, she accuses Portia of having a wild imagination.

But when she discovers their sister Vivienne is actually being courted by Adrian Kane, the mysterious viscount rumored to be a vampire, she decides to accept his invitation to a midnight supper and do some sleuthing of her own. To both her delight and her dismay, she soon finds herself falling under Kane’s bewitching spell.

After all, what’s a proper young lady to do when her sister’s suitor arouses more than just her suspicions?

★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★

After Midnight, the first book in the Cabot series, is a tongue-in-cheek mix of vampire story and historical romance. It’s a delightful blend of surprise plot twists, charming characters, sparkling dialogue and humour.

Enigmatic, charming, seductive and passionate, Adrian is definitely a hero to make your heart beat faster. I couldn’t help adoring him for his unwavering love for his brother, Julian. It’s wonderful to see how protective he is towards Caroline and the sacrifices he is willing to make to keep her safe. I smiled at his obvious jealousy when he finds Caroline and Constable Larkin chatting:

“I must say, Constable Larkin that you are in dire need of either a valet or a wife”.
“Which position are you applying for, Miss Cabot.”
At that resonant growl, Caroline glanced over her shoulder to find Adrian Kane looming over the chaise. He was glowering down at them with little evidence of his “notorious charm”.

Caroline is smart, practical and outspoken and it’s obvious she loves her sisters and would do anything to see them happy, even forfeit her own happiness. She feels guilty over her attraction to the man her sister loves but Ms Medeiros resolves this obstacle in a surprising but satisfying way.

I did figure out the truth about Adrian before the big revelation. If you read the dialogue between the characters carefully, then as David Frost used to say on the TV series ‘Through the Keyhole’ – “The clues are there”. What I did enjoy was watching the other characters’ reactions when the true situation is revealed.

If I have one criticism, it’s that I found the sexual tension between Adrian and Caroline somewhat lacking but the love scenes are deliciously sensual, particularly the mirror scene.

Ms Medeiros’s books always have a rich array of secondary characters. There’s brooding Julian, fond of spouting Byron; spirited Portia, with the overactive imagination; beautiful, serene Vivienne; Constable Larkin with the abominable fashion sense and Duvalier, the suitably menacing villain.

There is lots of humour in this story as well and here’s one of my favourites…

She (Caroline) was unknotting the scarf, fighting the urge to strangle her sister with it, when a pungent aroma drifted to her nose. She leaned forward sniffing at Portia’s skin. “What on earth is that stench? Is it garlic?”
Portia stiffened. “I should say not. It’s simply my new perfume.” Sticking her nose in the air, she swept past Caroline, trailing the earthy scent behind her.

This is another well-written, engaging and funny historical romance from one of my favourite authors.

RATING: ★★★★½

SENSUALITY RATING : HOT

Read January 2012

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TURNER SERIES #4

Smite Turner is renowned for his single-minded devotion to his duty as a magistrate. But behind his relentless focus lies not only a determination to do what is right, but the haunting secrets of his past—secrets that he is determined to hide, even if it means keeping everyone else at arm’s length. Until the day an irresistible woman shows up as a witness in his courtroom…

Miranda Darling isn’t in trouble…yet. But she’s close enough that when Turner threatens her with imprisonment if she puts one foot wrong, she knows she should run in the other direction. And yet no matter how forbidding the man seems on the outside, she can’t bring herself to leave. Instead, when he tries to push her away, she pushes right back—straight through his famous self-control, and into the heart of the passion that he has long hidden away…

★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩

I can’t believe that I only discovered Courtney Milan last year, but I’m so glad I did. It’s no wonder she’s become one of my favourite authors. Her stories are original and beautifully crafted, her characters are unique and compelling and her writing is so emotional, evocative and sensual.

There was just enough of Smite in the previous books to intrigue me and I’ve been anticipating reading Unraveled ever since.

The hero, emotionally scarred by past childhood events, is common enough in the world of Historical Romance but Ms Milan succeeds in creating one of most fascinating heroes I’ve ever come across. She gradually developed Smite’s character through his actions, his interactions with others and the insight into his thoughts and feelings. I loved Smite with his flaws and idiosyncrasies (especially his ‘Sentimentality Quota’). I was so pleased that he stayed true to his character throughout. He could never truly be free of those terrible childhood experiences because they are part of who he is; they are what spurred him to become a magistrate. He even regards his nightmares in a positive light:

They were more like a call to arms. They were a reminder of what had transpired. Of what it meant for him to do his job, to listen to those who came before him. Of what might happen if he turned a blind eye.

I like Miranda because she’s a realist and does what she has to survive in the slums of Bristol. I don’t have a problem with her decision to become Smite’s mistress. She’s attracted to him and it means an apprenticeship for Robbie and future security for herself. She’s also strong, witty, determined and independent and just the perfect heroine for Smite. She really cares about him and is willing to accept him flaws and all.

I was so happy to see Smite finally reconciled with Ash and settle his grievances with Richard Dalrymple. The scene with Ash was so, so heart-rending but finally they were both able to reveal what was truly in their hearts.

The mystery element of the story had lots of twists and turns. I didn’t guess the identity of the Patron and I liked the way Ms Milan painted that character in shades of grey rather than black and white.  The final confrontation scene in the docks certainly held some surprises.

Here are a few of my favourite quotes:

“Ghost. Do listen. In event that I need a squirrel brought to justice, I will go to you first. Until then…” He adopted his harshest tone. “Behave in my absence, or you will pay the consequences when I return.”

She reached to touch his cheek, and he grabbed her hand.
“I said, I’m perfectly well.”

But he wasn’t. A flutter of…of something passed through him. Something barely recognizable.

Her pulse beat, and an unexpected thrill ran through her at the sight of him. The sensation spilled through her body in little shocks, like a harpist strumming out an arpeggio against her ribs.

She was… God, there were no words for her. She warmed up his dark room.

There was nothing easy about Turner. He’d fashioned himself into one hard edge. He was all blade and no handle. If she held him close, she’d risk being cut.

“…The truth is simply this: you can find a better man than I. God knows you wouldn’t have to look very hard. But I don’t believe you can find one who loves you more.”

VERDICT: SIMPLY PERFECT AND HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

RATING:  A STELLAR ★★★★★

SENSUALITY RATING:  HOT

Read December 2012

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Setting: North Yorkshire, 1825

Will a chance meeting on Christmas Eve…

Alicia Sinclair, Countess of Kinvarra, cannot believe that fate has been so cruel as to strand her on the snowy Yorkshire moors with her estranged husband as her only hope of rescue. During their rare encounters, the arrogant earl and his countess act like hostile strangers. Now that Alicia has fallen into Kinvarra’s power, will he seek revenge for her desertion? Or does the dark, passionate man she once adored have entirely different plans for his headstrong wife?

…deliver a second chance at love?

Sebastian Sinclair, Earl of Kinvarra, has spent ten wretched years regretting the mistakes he made with his young bride, but after long separation, the barriers between them are insurmountable. Until an unexpected encounter one stormy night makes him wonder if the barriers of mistrust and thwarted desire are so insurmountable after all. When winter weather traps Sebastian and his proud, lovely wife in an isolated inn, could the earl and his headstrong countess have a Christmas miracle in store?

Expanded version of “Upon a Midnight Clear” from the anthology Mammoth Book of Regency Romance.

★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★

This novella may be short in terms of page count but this poignant and heart-warming second-chance-at-love tale kept me totally engaged until the final page.

It had the emotional and passionate intensity I’ve come to expect from Anna Campbell, all in a small, enticing package. She captures Sebastian and Alicia’s feelings of pain, hurt, regret, forgiveness, hope, and love so perfectly.

Somehow the story never seemed rushed and I really felt I understood Sebastian and Alicia and why their marriage had failed. Youth, immaturity and pride had prevented them from bringing their problems into the open and so they separated acrimoniously.  Ten years on, both are older and wiser and I loved watching them finally able to discuss things openly and rediscover their love for each other.

The Winter Wife – A Christmas Novella is perfect for curling up with on a dark winter’s evening and recapturing a little of that Christmas magic.

RATING:  ★★★★½

SENSUAL RATING: HOT

Read December 2012

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HIGHLAND PLEASURES #4.5

Setting: Scotland, 1884

The Mackenzies gather for a clan Christmas and New Year’s in Scotland. In the chaos of preparations for the celebration–the first of Hart and Eleanor’s married life–one of Ian’s Ming bowls gets broken, and the family scrambles to save the day. Daniel busily runs a betting ring for everything from the time Eleanor’s baby will arrive to whether Mac’s former-pugilist valet can win a boxing match to who will be the first of the many guests to be caught under the mistletoe. Ian begins a new obsession, and Beth fears the loss of one of his precious bowls has made him withdraw once more into his private world.

★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★

ABSOLUTELY LOVED THIS!

I didn’t know how much I’d missed those sexy Mackenzies and what a treat to have them all gathered together with their wives and offspring.  There’s so much going on in this story but Jennifer Ashley seems to balance all the different threads so perfectly.

At the heart of the book is the power of family and love and it’s wonderful to watch their overwhelming support of each other in times of trouble.

I love all the Mackenzie brothers but Ian stole the show for me. He simply melted my heart with his words to Beth…

“You broke the bowl, and it is gone. But you are here and whole. Nothing else matters.”

and I loved how he supported Hart when Eleanor was in labour.

Daniel is growing up fast and judging by Mac’s words, he’s going to rival any of the older Mackenzies

“He’s quick-witted, resourceful, inventive, and as stubbornly obsessive as any of us. Very dangerous.”

Then there’s the intriguing situation between Inspector Lloyd Fellows (the Mackenzies’ illegimate half-brother) and Lady Louisa Scranton (Isabella’s younger sister) and the heartbroken Sinclair McBride (Ainsley’s brother). I can’t wait for their stories!

If you’re looking for a last minute present, this is the perfect gift for any lover of Historical Romance at it’s best.

VERDICT:  Full of warmth, laughter, fun, sadness, surprises, drama and romance!

RATING: ★★★★★

SENSUAL RATING:  HOT

Read December 2012

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Setting: Victorian England, 1892

As a young man, Simon, Viscount Wycombe learned the painful truth that a tradesman’s daughter is suitable only for liaisons and nothing more. But Ivy Beecham is a far cry from his preconceived notions, and he’s determined to have her. But when she rejects him, it only increases his determination to seduce her into a world of sin and pleasure.

Ivy Beecham knows first-hand that handsome aristocrats like Simon can’t be trusted. But the intellectual scoundrel is hellbent on making her his mistress, using every means at his seductive disposal. When she refuses to give away her heart on Christmas Eve, a ghostly specter shows her in one night why her surrender can be the greatest gift of all.

★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★

What a delightful treat this novella was!  It had all the elements that make it the perfect holiday read.

An innovative, wonderfully evocative, intensely emotive, heart-warming romance

A strong, intelligent, dependable, caring, and delightfully arrogant hero who has a very seductive way with words

An beautiful, spirited, intelligent, spinster, librarian heroine who hides a passionate nature

An enigmatic ghost who must persuade the heroine to let go of the past and open her heart to love, trust and forgiveness to find true happiness

Powerful emotional conflict, fiery passion and lush sensuality

Lots and lots of HOT love scenes
Leaves you with a lovely, warm, tingly feeling

RATING: ★★★★★

SENSUALITY RATING: POSITIVELY SIZZLING

Read December 2012

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HIGHLAND PLEASURES #4

Setting: London, England 1884, Waterbury Grange, Berkshire, England 1884, Castle Kilmorgan, Scotland 1884

Who is Hart Mackenzie’s perfect match? Eleanor Ramsay doesn’t know–she jilted him all those years ago–and now all she wants from the devastating duke is a job. Or so she tells herself. Persuading him to hire her as an assistant to his secretary is tricky, but Eleanor has a trick or two of her own up her sleeve…

★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩

I so wanted to give this book 5 stars because there was so much I loved about it but there were a few issues that really bugged me and so I’m rating it 4.5 stars.

WHAT I LOVED ABOUT THIS BOOK

Hart and Eleanor

As with everything else, Hart had planned with precision how he intended to win Eleanor back and make her his wife. Poor Hart! Things don’t go completely to plan and it was wonderful to see that famous self-control crack when she unexpectedly walks back into his life. He’s so used to controlling everything and everybody around him but Eleanor is the one person who has never been intimidated by him even at his most imperious.

I love Eleanor. She’s irrepressible, smart and determined but she’s also warm, compassionate and kind. She has a way of putting everyone at their ease, whatever their station in life, and I like that about her. I smiled at how her constant chatter drives Hart crazy but arouses him at the same time.

”Goodness, I haven’t seen her in donkey’s years,” Eleanor said, sitting back as they rolled on. “Her daughters must be, oh, quite young ladies now. Have they made their come-outs yet?”
Her mouth was still kissable, closing in a little pucker while she awaited his answer.
“I haven’t the faintest bloody idea,” Hart said.

I loved seeing that Eleanor has a slightly wicked side; the way she peruses those nude photos of Hart in such detail!

These two are just a perfect match. Even after their break-up, Eleanor was the only one he ever confided in and trusted his darkest secrets to. I think she understands him even better than he understands himself. Eleanor can strip away the protective layers and find the laughing teasing man she fell hopelessly in love a decade ago. Despite the passage of time and the different paths their lives have taken, I feel their love for each other has remained a constant.

Yes, he’s still got that hard edge but I began to see Hart through very different eyes. In the intervening years, he has suffered terrible pain and grief but he has always hidden his emotions behind a cold-hearted mask. There’s such a heart-wrenching scene where Eleanor finds him touching his son’s gravestone and his words are so poignant that I felt tears welling in my eyes.

I enjoyed how the romance developed between Eleanor and Hart. Beneath their teasing, there was always an undercurrent of sexual tension between them and I loved that rather delicious scene in the laundry room.

Ian

The deep connection between Ian and Hart plays an important part in this story. Hart had always done everything he could to protect his younger brothers from their cruel and ruthless father.  But Ian has always been different and special in Hart’s eyes and the actions he is prepared to take to keep Ian safe speaks more than anything for his love for his brother. It is obvious how much Hart’s happiness means to Ian.

The Rest of the Mackenzie Family

I loved seeing all the happily married Mackenzie brothers, their wives and adorable children. The family scenes had such warmth and humour and this is one of my favourites.

Screaming erupted from on hig, shrill, desperate, Armagedon-has-come screaming. Mac grinned and jogged back upstairs.

“Papa’s coming, hellions,” he called. “If you’re good, you can have Auntie Eleanor for tea.”

WHAT BUGGED ME ABOUT THE BOOK

There was constant reference to Hart’s darker sexual side and his fear of telling Eleanor the full truth about his needs. Like many others, I was disappointed that Ms Ashley didn’t explore this aspect in any depth. The only concession was a lack-lustre scene involving light bondage. I remember reading Elizabeth Hoyt’s beautiful and erotic scene in Wicked Intentions between Temperance and Lazarus and wished for something similar in this book.

A further issue I had concerned the dramatic events towards the end of the book which lead to Hart’s realization of what‘s really important in his life. I can suspend disbelief with the best of them but this seemed to layer one improbable situation upon another. It’s difficult to explain without resorting to spoilers.

Despite these issues, I still enjoyed this book and I’m looking forward to the next book about Elliot McBride (Ainsley’s brother).

VERDICT: LOVE THESE DELICIOUS MACKENZIE BROTHERS

RATING: ★★★★½

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

Read April 2012

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 LONDON’S GREATEST LOVER’S #2

Setting: England, 1855

As the black sheep second son of an Earl, Stephen Lyons has gained a reputation in the art of seduction, but when his wicked ways result in scandal, he joins the army to redeem himself. On the battlefield, he proves courageous . . . until he is seriously wounded. Returning home to recover, he discovers he can’t remember the angelic beauty who arrives at his doorstep, his babe nestled in her arms.

Mercy Dawson will risk everything to protect the son of the dashing soldier she once knew and admired. When Stephen offers to do the honorable thing, she is determined that London’s most notorious gentleman will desire her and no other. But Mercy fears that what began as an innocent deception could destroy her dreams and their blossoming love if Stephen ever learns the scandalous truth . . .

They are masters of seduction, London’s greatest lovers. Living for pleasure, they will give their hearts to no one . . . until love takes them by surprise

✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩

Lorraine Heath is one of my favourite authors because whenever I pick up one of her books, I am always assured of an outstanding historical romance. PLEASURES OF A NOTORIOUS GENTLEMAN, the 2nd book in her London’s Greatest Lovers series, is a passionate and moving story of two deeply wounded people who find happiness through the healing power of love.

One of Ms Heath’s greatest strengths is her ability to create in depth characters that appeal directly to the emotions. The torment Stephen endures because he can’t remember the events of the past two years is captured so well and gives him a vulnerability which is very touching.

But his eyes – his beautiful blue eyes – had changed the most. They held such an incredible bleakness when he looked at her that she almost wept. His wounds went much deeper than his flesh; they had penetrated his soul.

The war has changed him. Gone is the irresponsible, womanizing rogue from Passions of a Wicked Earl to be replaced by a man prepared to take his responsibilities seriously and marry Mercy. It takes him a little longer to bond with his son, John but, when he does, it’s a poignant moment.

She transferred the child to Stephen’s waiting arms. Not once did John release his firm grip on Stephen’s finger. His throat knotted, Stephen forced out the words. “Hello, John. You and I are going to have quite a time of it, aren’t we?”
The boy blinked up at him, a question in eyes of blue, a shade that mirrored Stephen’s. “Who the devil are you?”
“I’m your father.”

Mercy is gentle, courageous and loving and just perfect for Stephen. Her own experiences of war allow her to understand him in a way his family can’t. Her tenderness and compassion are exactly what he needs to heal his troubled soul. She’s not perfect and doesn’t always make the right decisions. I did not agree with her keeping the truth from Stephen but I understood that she was driven by her love for Stephen and John and her fear that she might lose everything she held dear.

Their journey to happiness is passionate, poignant and, at times, heart-rending as they struggle to overcome the obstacles that lie in their path. But the final affirmation of their love is well worth waiting for.

Before she could protest, he took her in his arms and kissed her deeply while the world looked on. With his reputation, no one even raised an eyebrow. But Mercy knew the kiss symbolized much more. It was a celebration of their life their love.

Ms Heath brought to vivid life the harsh realities of war and I was pleased that she chose not to take the easy option as regards Stephen’s amnesia.

I love the secondary characters; Stephen’s younger brother, the Duke of Ainsley who exudes power and authority and demonstrates a maturity well beyond his years; Stephen’s mother, the Duchess of Ainsley who loves her sons and wants their happiness and her young lover, Leo who obviously loves her to distraction. I was also pleased to see the rift between Stephen and his older brother, the Earl of Westcliffe healed.

I’m looking forward to reading Ainsley’s story in the final book in the series, Waking Up With the Duke

VERDICT: A GREAT READ!

RATING:★★★★½

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

Read March 2012

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