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Jess Russell Interview - author picture

I’m delighted to welcome Multi-Award Winning and Best-selling author JESS RUSSELL to Rakes and Rascals today for an exclusive interview.

Carol, it is my absolute pleasure. I have been reading your reviews and interviews for a long while and I am excited you asked me to participate.

~~~~~~~

 

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

Jess:
I am an “Air Force Brat” so I grew up all over. I was born in Brussels, Belgium and moved every two to four years thereafter. Some moves were more traumatic than others. Certainly, at age 11! My Dad got transferred from the Pentagon to Bangkok, Thailand. I had to leave my pony and BFF. Then two years later we left Bangkok for Tullahoma, TN. I was totally into ballet and was afraid I would never find a teacher in such a small town. But, surprisingly, tucked up in this little town was a woman who used to be a soloist with the New York City Ballet! I was lucky to spend all 4 years of high school in Tullahoma. I left ballet behind for Drama School and then moved to New York City, which has been my home ever since.


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

Jess:

Well, I think I used to be a bit more easygoing, but these days, though I am not exactly temperamental, I would term my state of being as slightly overwhelmed and alternately impatient. I have a lot on my plate right now-new book out (making a Victorian gown to help market the book), trying to finish the next book in the series, doing a play, renovating an apt. in upper Manhattan, AND my only child is going off to college in less than a week! My TBR list (which you contribute to almost weekly) is getting VERY long! I look forward to disappearing into a good romance read soon!

Jess Russell Interview - In Addams Family 1  Jess Russell interview - Addams family 2 Jess Russell Interview - Addams family 3
Pics of me in The Addams Family (I am a dead ancestor, hence the ghoulish make-up)

Jess Russell Interview - dress for marketing book
The Victorian gown I made to help market my new book

 

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

Jess:
Oh, I am a saltaholic. Give me something crunchy and covered in salt and I am one happy camper. (and perhaps an accompanying glass of wine.)

 

R&R:
What is your most treasured possession?

Jess:
Not so long ago I would have said my photo albums. I love pictures. I am the person who is delighted to scroll through near complete stranger’s vacation shots, or granddaughter’s first birthday. But now I would have to say my computer. OK, not so sexy, but it holds so much of my life-not only my pictures but my writing! Of course, it is technology, and technology and I sometimes do not get along. (just to give you a perspective, not so long ago I finally gave up my flip phone!)

 

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

Jess:
The beach! My husband’s family has a home in the Catskill Mountains. I love wandering those woods and poking around in my garden, but I love the ocean! I miss it. There is something about staring out at those endless waves and looking up at the canopy of stars that makes me feel so small-not in a bad way, but in a way, that gives perspective. I am just a blip in time, so breathe and enjoy this ride!


R&R:

Finally, what has been your most embarrassing moment?

Jess:
Hummm…Well, I think I’ll forego the story of too much wine, a blow-up bed and an over eager St. Bernard! (I might need to use that in my next book…) I suppose my most embarrassing moment was not really a moment but a period in my life. I am dyslexic. In third grade, we all had to read the “Dick and Jane” books around in a circle, taking turns reading out loud. I struggled painfully. I would come home telling my mom, “I am so dumb!” Well, she jumped right on it and got me the help I needed. Now I love to read!

~~~~~~~

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

It has been my pleasure, Carol. Thank you for promoting and supporting romance authors. You are a treasure!

 

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

Website
Goodreads
Facebook
Twitter

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Mad for the Marquess

(Reluctant Hearts, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian, 1863)

Cover Blurb:

James Drake, Marquess of Devlin, had everything—until he was found covered in blood, standing over a dead girl. Now locked away in a madhouse, he has one short year to recover his memories and prove his sanity, or be condemned for life. But the demons inside Devlin’s head are far easier to battle than the evil surrounding him at Ballencrieff Asylum.

Anne Winton hardly expects to find her calling—or love—while working in a lunatic asylum. But despite all warnings, the “Mad Marquess” proves dangerously fascinating to innocent Anne. She vows to save him not only from his adversaries, but from himself.

Initially, Anne is only a pawn in Devlin’s bid to gain his freedom, until he begins to see her not just as a means to an end, but as a beautifully passionate woman. He must choose: compromise the woman he loves, or languish forever in hell.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

AMAZING – that’s the first word that came to mind after I’d finished reading MAD FOR THE MARQUESS.  Ms. Russell drew me into this compelling, dramatic and intensely emotional romance from the very first pages and kept me totally immersed in the story right up to the last page.

Ballencrieff’s walls pressed more firmly in on him. If he didn’t get out soon, they would crush him into oblivion.

James Drake, Marquess of Devlin, and heir to the Malvern duchy, has enjoyed a life of excess – drinking, gambling, taking opium and enjoying the company of beautiful women. He is also a gifted painter who has exhibited his paintings. However, everything changes when he is found next to the body of a young girl, covered in her blood. He has no memories of the past and his mind has become unbalanced. To secure the succession, his ailing father has James committed to Ballencrieff Asylum for a month, hoping that a cure can be found. Drugged, constrained with chains and manacles and confined in a straight-jacket, James struggles with his inner demons and fears that, unless his memories return and he can prove his sanity, he will never leave the asylum. His salvation comes in the unlikely form of an innocent, naïve and drab young woman.

She squeezed her eyes shut. There was no going back. Her fate lay within the walls of this madhouse

Anne Winton, who was orphaned at the age of four, spent 15 years at Ardsmoore Charitable School. At first, her unusual gift for healing made her the subject of malicious gossip and earned her the name The Witch. Slowly she comes to be accepted by most of the other girls but one jealous, spiteful girl fabricates an incident and accuses Anne of witchcraft. The kindly vicar arranges for her to work at Ballencrieff Asylum as a general companion to two lady inmates, but fate, in the form of the ‘Mad Marquess’, steps in to take her life in a direction she never thought possible.

I loved the complexity of James’ character and Ms. Russell conveys his seeming ‘madness’ with such chilling realism. I felt his pain, fear, anger and desperation; experienced his harrowing nightmares and watched him battle his inner demons. James needs a special kind of heroine and Anne is just that… kind, caring and with a quiet inner strength. I like how she uses her healing powers to bring James an inner peace he has never felt before and understands him in a way no one else does.

You believe the answer to my demons lies in my dreams?”
“I do. Perhaps not all the answers, but dreams are a window into greater clarity.”

I love how she believes in him, challenges him and gives him strength and hope.

Anne has always thought of herself as plain but James sees her with an artist’s eye; he sees beyond her drab appearance to the woman beneath.

Despite her drab feathers, this woman was color, all color. He wanted to show her what he saw. To see herself in glorious color.

I enjoyed seeing James becoming a better man as he recovers. He intends to marry Anne as a means of gaining his freedom from the asylum but, ultimately, he is willing to let her go because she deserves to be loved. It is Anne who willingly sacrifices her freedom to set him free.

The romance provides a sharp contrast to the darker elements of the story. It is tender, poignant and sensual but, not without its problems. Neither are willing to confess their love for each other and Anne believes that James still loves his former mistress, Nora. It is James’ painting that finally brings them together and I love the scene where Anne goes to view the portrait James is exhibiting at The Queen’s Charity Exhibition, believing his model to be Nora.  It is such a beautiful, romantic scene which had me all watery eyed.

He smiled his pirate smile, and her breath hitched. “Not Nora. Never Nora. She is not you. She is not my little Owl. My heart.” She dashed at the tears streaming down her cheeks. Soon her nose would be dripping. This would not do.
His heart. He had painted what was in his heart.

As the story unfolds, it is evident that James has a malicious enemy who will do anything to sabotage his bid for freedom and keep him in the asylum permanently, where an unfortunate fatal accident might befall him. I feel that Ms. Russell maintains the suspense well until the dramatic scene where the villain’s identity is finally revealed. I also like how realistically the villain still has the power to hurt a certain someone from beyond the grave.

There are moments of humour which act as a welcome counterpoint to the darker tone of the story and one of my favourites is…

“What you perceived is a weapon—one Dev is all too adept at using—but it will not kill.” He turned away, shaking his head. “Perhaps slay, á la petit mort, but not kill.”
Little death? Her rudimentary French did not help. “I am not used to riddles, sir. I am afraid I do not understand.”
“No. Better you don’t, Miss Winton. Much better you don’t
.”

The secondary characters all add colour, interest and richness to the story including my particular favourites –  Ivo, James’ gentle giant of a keeper, whose most treasured possession is his pet mouse, and asylum inmate, Lady Matilda (Maddie) Tippitt, who tends to have a penchant for lewd displays, but later proves to be a staunch friend to Anne.

Ms. Russell concludes with a charming Epilogue and there is a rather cheeky reference to an earlier scene in the book.

She dusted off her skirts and then turned to her husband. “Lord Devlin, I believe I feel a cold coming on.”
 “Indeed, my dear?” Ellie reached out a hand trying to remove her father’s nose.
“Yes, I have an irresistible urge to sneeze. I am hoping you might provide some sort of relief.” 

If you want to know its relevance, I’m afraid you will have to read the book!

MY VERDICT: A compelling, intensely emotional and beautiful love story. A MUST READ!


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Reluctant Hearts series so far (click on the book covers for more details):

Mad for the Marquess (Reluctant Hearts Book 1) by Jess Russell

 

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

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Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

Rhys Merrick, Duke of Roydan, is determined to be the antitheses of his depraved father, repressing his desires so severely he is dubbed “the Monk” by Society. But when Olivia Weston turns up demanding payment for gowns ordered by his former mistress, Rhys is totally flummoxed and inexplicably smitten. He pays her to remove her from his house, and mind. But logic be damned, he must have this fiercely independent woman.

Olivia’s greatest fear is becoming a kept woman. She has escaped the role of mistress once and vows never to be owned by any man. Rather than make money in the boudoir, she chooses to clothe the women who do. But when a fire nearly kills her friend and business partner, Olivia’s world goes up in smoke and she is forced to barter with the lofty duke.

As their lives weave together, Olivia unravels the man underneath the Monk, while Rhys desires to expose the lady hiding behind the dressmaker. Will his raw passion fan a long-buried ember of hope within her? Can this mismatched pair be the perfect fit?

♥♥♥♥♥♥

It is hard to believe that this is a debut novel because Ms Russell weaves such a compelling and intensely emotional story with complex and flawed characters that I really cared about.

Rhys is such a fascinating hero and I like how Ms Russell gradually develops his character allowing us to see the lonely, insecure man beneath the mask of sobriety and aloofness…a man who has forgotten what happiness is.

Happiness? He was not even sure what it was anymore. The feeling had eroded to almost nothing. A vague shadow lurking at the edges of his heart.

The cruelty and terrible humiliations Rhys endured at the hands of his depraved father, shown in flashbacks, were so heart-breaking but revealed just how much they had forged him into the introverted man he became. I felt so much revulsion for Rhys’s father who should have loved and nurtured his son.

I love how during the story we discover unexpected things about Rhys – his lovely, deep, resonant bass singing voice and his passion for making automatons. They somehow emphasise his vulnerability.

Forced to flee the traumatic events of her past, Olivia knows there are few options for someone who is seen as “ruined” in the eyes of society. I admire her tenacity in using her talents as a dressmaker to clothe men’s mistresses rather than becoming one herself. Although she is strong, determined and independent, there is a moment of vulnerability in which she describes her secret yearnings and her words touched my heart. Her love of painting was an extra facet to her character and it plays quite a significant role later in the story.

There are some delightful touches of humour which helped relieve the dark and intense mood of the story. My favourite is Olivia’s imaginary harassment of Mrs Battersby (Rhys’s former mistress) which conjured up such a comical picture.

Take that! Creating a mental series of feints and parries, Olivia had the woman huffing and puffing in no time.
Slice— one sleeve gaped. Slash— the other soon followed. Now the poor lady’s bodice lay gaping, her bosom a tad less buoyant now.

Ms Russell took me on an engrossing and emotional roller-coaster of a journey before Rhys and Olivia finally attain their hard-earned Happy Ever After. Here are a few of my favourite moments from that journey.

He wanted to be more than a bloody title. He wanted to be more than a rutting beast. This woman made him want more but he didn’t know how… how to make her see… To see him. To see him as… Rhys.

They had danced. They had waltzed to Vivaldi. He had held her within his arms and, heaven help her, it had been magic.

They did not speak. They only loved. Simply touching and learning each other. Words were too harmful and too much a source of misunderstanding. Words were for later. Much later. Now there was only love.

Then she saw a slight miracle. He smiled. It was by no means a full-fledged smile, but as he gazed intently up into the clouds, his lips curved and his eyes crinkled.

I loved the secondary characters, especially Olivia’s dearest friend and her rock, Eglantine (Egg) and Rhys’s Uncle Bertram who has always had his nephew’s best interests at heart.

It’s not difficult to guess the identity of the villain who has Olivia in his sights but he does provide a heart-stopping climax when both Rhys and Olivia’s lives hang in the balance.

Ms Russell more than fulfilled my longing for a heart-melting Epilogue with these beautiful words…

Tiny fingers, soft as new-churned butter, gripped his own with surprising strength. Could there be anything more perfectly beautiful in this amazing world? Could God be so generous? Then his wife— his Olivia— looked up at him, closed her hand over theirs, and smiled. Yes, by heavens, the answer was a resounding yes.

My Verdict: If you enjoy a well-written, compelling story with fascinating characters and plenty of angst, I can definitely recommend this book.

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

Read August 2015

. **I received copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review. **

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