Upon Your Return by Marie Lavender

This historical read presents us with a strong start, a suspenseful conclusion, and an exciting meet cute involving the rescue of a damsel in distress through a vicious sword fight.

What’s it About? 

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Fara Bellamont has been back in society for a year after leaving Cluny Abbey, where her uncle sent her long ago. When he chooses a suitor for her for marriage, she fears that she will be forced to marry a stranger and live a miserable life. But, Fara finds herself thrust into an adventure of a lifetime when unforeseen circumstances cause her to place her trust in a strange man for protection. His intervention not only saves her, but puts her in an even more compromising position.

Grant Hill, a trading captain, is enchanted by the young heiress not only because of her beauty, but because she is hardly conventional. Underneath her ladylike exterior lies a tigress. Grant cannot help but offer his protection as she is in need and he is far from immune from her charms. Fara just never bargained on the passion that she feels for Grant Hill. As events unfold, she must decide whether her desires and the dictates of her heart should trump the rules of society in this exciting tale.

First Impression

After the untimely death of her parents, Fara was placed under the guardianship of her unloving uncle when she was just a young girl. Every choice in life was not hers to make, which is also the case when her uncle arranges for her to marry a complete stranger. After their surprise engagement is announced, Fara finds herself lured to the harbor by this fiancé she barely knows. At night. Alone. Mkay, not the smartest way to highlight the prowess of our lead character. During this escapade she is happened upon by two men hired to confront and most likely rape her. Alas, a handsome and roguish boat captain comes to her rescue. Seriously, that’s a strong start with an incredible meeting between our lead characters! You can’t wait to see the love story develop between these two, for Grant to rescue her from her cold-hearted uncle, and perhaps whisk her away to travel the world. Unfortunately that doesn’t exactly happen.

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The Quarreling of Lovers

Fara and Grant definitely have passion, but surprisingly they spend the bulk of their time together bickering. I think at times it was supposed to come across as a cute kind of arguing that’s more like foreplay than anything else, but I can’t say it was executed to its full potential. Most of the time they spent arguing I remember feeling confused, and having a tough time following what exactly they were getting so heated over. A main source of malice between them for example, is that neither can fully admit their true feelings to the other. It’s like they want to convince each other it’s just passion and desire between them without love, but then they get upset if such an implication is made. A repeated back and forth of feeling hot and then cold. One such argument occurs after Fara and Grant have given into their physical attraction and had sex. Definitely a big no-no in 19th century French society for an unmarried lady to engage in. Now they have to figure out what to do in terms of their relationship seeing as her uncle especially wouldn’t condone a marriage between them.

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Grant offers to marry her, but Fara declines saying she doesn’t want to marry when it’s not for love…even though she realizes she’s falling in love with him. Kind of a contradiction there! Fara’s life to this point has been filled with tragedy from the death of her parents, followed by living with her uncaring and harsh uncle. It’s almost like she doesn’t think she’s worthy of love or happiness. True, Grant doesn’t come right out and say he loves her, but he calls her “his woman”, constantly comes around to protect her, gets her out of her engagement to the man her uncle set her up with, will often mention how enamored he is of her, and when he’s forced to leave town he asks that she wait for him. He was so clearly trying to demonstrate through his actions how he felt about her. Yet when he repeatedly said that he only wanted her, she internally convinced herself that he was so careful to not say he loved her that it must mean he doesn’t actually care.

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Strength in Sickness

One of the most powerful moments of the novel was when Grant fell ill, and recovery seemed unlikely. His crew members sought out Fara in the hopes that her mere presence would help him find the strength to live. It was in this moment that both characters let fall all the walls they’d been building up in an attempt to deny their feelings for each other. We see Fara’s strength, fortitude and determination to stay by Grant’s side no matter what. As for Grant…he was kind of out of it because of the fever, so he couldn’t technically voice his gratitude in such a hallucinatory state. However, it was during this illness that we saw Grant call out for just one person in the whole world to be by his side, and that was Fara.

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Unfortunately the moment is slightly ruined when Grant awakens after a full recovery. For some reason Fara tries to conceal how worried she actually was during his illness, which of course causes him to get testy because he then assumes she doesn’t care about him at all (couldn’t be further from the truth of course). This immediate reflection of coldness after all her dedication in seeing him through his fever resulted in her becoming incensed at the fact he wasn’t more grateful. Such a vicious circle between these two! You really scream internally that they’ll simply admit how much they both love each other.

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Unanswered Questions

The end of this novel presents us with an interesting bout of suspense when someone from Fara’s past comes back to threaten her happiness with Grant. Overall we see that Fara has encountered numerous obstacles in her life, and Grant is a strong presence who tries to stick by her side whenever possible. That being said, some important questions of the novel were left unanswered, or at least not fully explored. For example, we never really get a full explanation as to why Fara’s fiancé set her up at the start of the novel, which served as the entire impetus for Fara and Grant coming together. It’s sort of implied her ex-fiancé had a gambling problem, but we never see him come to justice for setting her up to be possibly kidnapped and raped.

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As I mentioned earlier, Grant is forced to leave town for a lengthy period of time towards the middle of the novel, which results in him being absent for a good chunk of the story. Years in fact. We really only receive the briefest of explanations as to why he was called away in the first place, as well as what happened to him during his years apart from Fara. While his absence allows Fara to grow as an independent woman, it also means Grant’s character remains more of a mystery to us. We don’t get to know him as well as I would have liked, and his years away from Fara felt like a missed opportunity to delve deeper into his past and personality.

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*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: Heiress in Love, book 1.

Final Impression: You can’t help but admire Fara’s strength and tenacity in the face of hardship. However, at times I felt she was also quick to push Grant away, or find a reason to close herself off from him. A few moments of bickering would have been ok between them, but it’s so prevalent during the majority of their interactions that it came across as feeling slightly overdone. In addition, Grant’s absence in the second half of the novel made it more of a challenge to connect with his character. Definitely an exciting start and conclusion, but a few tweaks here and there in the middle could have helped us emotionally connect more with our leads.

Smut Level: This is pretty steamy for a historical read! Nothing too dirty or erotic, but there’s a heap of passion in there for sure. Fara and Grant aren’t afraid to roll around on the floor if they need to.

Seasonal Giveaway: Click Here to check out a giveaway on the author’s blog. There are almost 200 prizes from 42 different authors!! This giveaway lasts until Thursday, December 20 at midnight Eastern.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $3.99 Kindle Price. Summer Solstice Publishing. 329 Pages.

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A Sinner without a Saint by Bliss Bennet

Two men with a past. Will their mutual obsession with art draw them closer together, or drive a wedge between them forever?

What’s it About?

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An honorable artist: Benedict Pennington’s greatest ambition is not to paint a masterpiece, but to make the world’s greatest art accessible to all by establishing England’s first national art museum. Success in persuading a reluctant philanthropist to donate his collection of Old Master paintings brings his dream tantalizingly close to reality. Until Viscount Dulcie, the object of Benedict’s illicit adolescent desire, begins to court the donor’s granddaughter, set on winning the paintings for himself . . .

A hedonistic viscount: Sinclair Milne, Lord Dulcie, far prefers collecting innovative art and dallying with handsome men than burdening himself with a wife. But when rivals imply Dulcie’s refusal to pursue wealthy Miss Adler and her paintings is due to lingering tender feelings for Benedict Pennington, Dulcie vows to prove them wrong. Not only will he woo her away from the holier-than-thou painter, he’ll also placate his matchmaking father in the process.

Sinner and saint–can both win at love? But when Benedict is dragooned into painting his portrait, Dulcie finds himself once again drawn to the intense artist. Can the sinful viscount entice the wary painter into a casual liaison, one that will put neither their reputations, nor their feelings, at risk? Or will the not-so-saintly artist demand something far more vulnerable–his heart?

First Impression

A feature you notice from the very opening page of this book, and which the author should be commended for, is that it truly feels as though we have been transported to the Regency Era. I’m sure some of you are thinking that for a 19th century historical read, we damn well better feel like we’re in the 1800s. Well, hear me out! To write a historical romance is one thing, but to feel as though the novel was actually written in the 1800s? That’s a talent all in itself. From the syntax to the British slang, the work felt reminiscent of something written by Jane Austen or Frances Burney. While it was a noticeably admirable trait of the novel, it did also make for a slightly slower read. What can I say? It took me some time to decipher what the characters were actually trying to say. But I also couldn’t deny that my desire for a pot of tea and tray of cucumber sandwiches grew stronger with every page turned.

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Classic Beauty vs. the Unnatural

In my opinion, the true mastery of this novel lay not necessarily with the romance between Benedict and Dulcie, but instead through their discussions and debates of art. Benedict’s goal in life is to open a national art museum for the British people. All British people, regardless of class, station, or wealth. Dulcie on the other hand is one of the leading art critics of the day, with his sights set on acquiring unique pieces for his own private collection. The heated discussions which erupt between the two, as well as with their fellow high-class art peers, were so insightful and thought-provoking that you couldn’t help but feel moved to take up an opinion on the matter as well. As the novel progresses we see a shift in the conversation from who is worthy of appreciating good art to who decides what good art is in the first place. The scrutiny placed on the artistic system was riveting, as our characters understand that sometimes you have to look beyond the paint to what is hiding underneath.

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What hit me the most though was how this discussion of art and beauty could find direct symmetry in the romance between Benedict and Dulcie. The two are art connoisseurs, yet they can both appreciate the talent in an artistic piece that might not be considered classically beautiful. While some might view tangled limbs and an imperfect male specimen on a canvas as grotesque, they are both enamored with the emotion such a piece can evoke in the viewer, and therefore can’t deny that it deserves praise. Even if the majority of their contemporaries don’t agree with them.

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Do me a favor. Do yourselves a favor. Stop talking, and look. You’re not required to write a paper. You’re not even required to like it. You *are* required to consider it. – Mona Lisa Smile

When we look at Benedict and Dulcie’s relationship, the majority of regency society would also look upon it as something grotesque and unnatural. And sadly, there are many in our own time who would see it in the same context. But what lies underneath the surface? What do you have when you push the physical component to the side. What lies beneath the paint? Simple, it’s love. Love between two consenting adults who want to spend the rest of their lives together. Love is love and romance is for all. While they can see the beauty in this, and a minuscule number of their contemporaries understand it, for the majority it is seen as too far removed from what society deems as “right” or “proper”. Again, the parallels between their love and the discussion of modern art was so subtly clever that I’m still thinking about it.

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Romance vs. Challenge

While I was fully entranced by the discussion of art for the masses, unfortunately there was one aspect of the novel that I’m sorry to say I had a much harder time falling in love with. And that would be Dulcie. Now, let me start off by saying that eventually he does manage to redeem himself by becoming a devoted partner and friend once again to Benedict. The problem is that it took sooooo long to happen. Throughout the novel Benedict is this adorable, wide-eyed puppy dog that I just wanted to pick up and snuggle, even though he definitely has some bark behind his bite. When it came to Dulcie though, he was like a predatory hawk. Constantly circling, searching for who he could mess with next.

Ok, ok, so a hawk might be too harsh a comparison. How about a puppet master who loved to pull the strings of others? He could tease, seduce and manipulate with the best of ’em. It was really a struggle to know whether or not his heart was ever behind his pursuit of Benedict, or if it was simply a challenge to regain Benedict’s childhood affections. Again, eventually we see Dulcie open up with Benedict, and share some of his innermost thoughts, feelings and fears. I just wish it had come a bit earlier on in the novel. Something else which I think could have helped me warm up to Dulcie earlier was if we could have received a prologue to show how the two initially connected at school all those years before. We see the moment where their interaction ends, and towards the end of the novel we realize how both of them suffered following the end of their friendship, but the missing element for me was that initial crucial moment which connected them in the first place.

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Let’s Get Physical…Or Not

Duclie’s pursuit of Benedict throughout the novel is fairly relentless. Both admit to an undeniable attraction that seems to be pulling the two of them together. For Benedict though, he doesn’t want anything to happen between them unless Dulcie is willing to offer up his mind in addition to his body. For Dulcie? He’s basically just looking for a good ole rough and tumble in the back room of a tavern. He employs all the seductive looks, touches, and smirks at his disposal to try and sway Benedict to his line of thinking. Essentially, he’s a classic playboy. What I found to be so fascinating though was what happened when the two finally did get physical.

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There’s some rubbing, some tugging, some “spending”. Anything beyond that though? Shockingly this is where Dulcie becomes more reserved! Throughout the whole novel his attitude and confidence towards getting Benedict in his hands sort of implies that he’d be the expert and dominant when it came to the physical side of their relationship. What debauchery might they get into when the seducer finally captures his prey? Who knew it would be the complete opposite with Benedict being the more experienced one?!?! It was very interesting to hear Dulcie’s rather negative opinion towards the concept of oral sex, not to mention penetration, almost as though it was beneath his high stature to engage in such uncivilized and…unsanitary behavior. I have a feeling Benedict might succeed in changing his opinion on that matter though 😉

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*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: The Penningtons, book 4. This was the first book I read in this series, and I will admit I had trouble with the links between some of the different characters. It was kind of difficult to understand the relationship and familial webs at times.

Final Impression: Overall I can’t say I was fully connected to Dulcie and Benedict as a couple. I couldn’t help but feel that Dulcie’s eventual transformation into a caring and selfless lover came a bit too late in the game for me, and if anything I wanted more for Benedict. As a social and artistic commentary though it was an enthralling read. There are arguments about classic beauty versus opening the mind to modern interpretations that will keep you thinking for a few days.

Smut Level: Any time a couple can successfully balance on a chaise longue whilst exploring each other’s bodies deserves honorable mention. While we don’t get any scenes involving penetration, we get a few decent kissing scenes, tingling spines, tightening of groins, cock-stands, and “spending” a time or two.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $4.99 Kindle Price. Bliss Bennet Books. 298 Pages.

Tomorrow’s Extravaganza Post: The Mate by Abigail Owen. Paranormal, Shifters.

Here and Then After by D.M. Porters

Beth has been given a second chance at life, and in the process she also has a chance at love. It might be the truest love she’s ever experienced. In this lifetime…or her last one.

What’s it About?

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Retired tax accountant, Elizabeth Edwards is devastated when she discovers her husband of 41 years, has been unfaithful most of their married life. What’s worse, she discovers this after he passes away when deep, punishing secrets are revealed. She is left to struggle with the deception and the fact that her life has been a lie. Broken, tortured and alone, Beth decides to leave her life behind and start over with what little time she had left.

With a keen eye for antiques and her love of history, Beth embarks on a journey to England that will change everything for her, even time. She visits the countryside to explore its grand manors and estates. Then, the directions to a ‘hidden gem’ are disclosed to her, and she is inexplicably drawn to this estate – Taylor Manor.

Faced with her own sudden death, Beth is given a second chance to live. This time, however, it is in the body of a beautiful young woman living her own hell 200 years in the past. In a twist of fate, the haven she is sent to is Taylor Manor, where she is to work as a maid. There she meets the brooding Lord Samuel Taylor, who has lived through his own pain and suffering. Can Beth start over and learn to live in this new and dangerous world while resisting her growing attraction to handsome Lord Taylor? Can he allow himself to love while battling his own demons? Love truly has no boundaries, not even time.

First Impressions

This novel presents us with a very unique and interesting twist to your typical time travel romance. Rather than simply traveling through time (seriously, who hasn’t in this day and age?), Beth has actually died in the year 2017 from a heart attack. As she’s traveling towards the white light of the beyond, she encounters a young woman named Sarah who is also moving along that same light. Beth then proceeds to inhabit Sarah’s body back in the early 1800’s. This added an interesting dimension to the whole time travel theme in that Beth doesn’t just have to adapt to living in a new time period, but she also deals with a flood of memories from this young woman’s sad and short-lived life. I can’t say I’ve ever come across a time travel romance such as this, and I must say I loved this twist. Instead of constantly wondering whether or not Beth will be able to return to her own time, because let’s face it that ship has sailed, we get an alternate drama of her having to cope with the events and tragedies that Sarah tried to escape from through suicide. We quickly learn that this woman was abused and raped at the hands of her drunken father, and while Beth is able to hide out in the countryside estate, Taylor Manor, we all know it’s just a matter of time before this abusive father comes to find her.

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A New Life

Beth doesn’t lament too long on the fact that she’s leaving her old life behind for good. After all, she was in her 60’s at the time of her death, and suffering from obvious heart problems. She now gets to inhabit the body of a beautiful 20-year-old, and the aches and pains of old age are no more. Beyond that though, she had also just learned that her recently deceased husband of 41 years was quite the philanderer, and even had a daughter she never knew existed. After learning of this betrayal, Beth decided to finally set out and live life for herself by exploring the beautiful country estates of England. She visits a rather hidden estate known as Taylor Manor, and feels an immediate connection to the house before keeling over dead from a heart attack. Imagine her surprise when she wakes up in the 1800’s, and learns that to escape the clutches of Sarah’s lunatic father she will be hidden away as a housemaid in none other than Taylor Manor.

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Now, most people who find themselves in this type of situation would probably be freaking the eff out. However, you have to admire Beth’s tenacity and ability to look at this entire situation as a second chance at life. Sure, Sarah’s life was fraught with issues, but Beth still chooses to make the most of every day. The fact that she gets to spend her time in a beautiful manor house surrounded by glorious antiques is simply an added bonus! And sure, the devilishly handsome master of the house with whom she has an undeniable sexual chemistry isn’t half-bad either. However, I do feel that there was one missed opportunity here for some added fun. In her former life, Beth was a wealthy older woman who had worked a desk job as a successful accountant. Now she is suddenly a housemaid in the 1800’s doing dishes, cleaning, etc? I just wish we could have been privy to a few more scenes which focused on the difficulty of adjusting to this new life. I get that by waking up 40 years younger she probably has a bit more pep in her step, but it seems like she would have had a few issues here and there with having to put some elbow grease into her daily work.

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Life in the Manor

Of all the manors in England to end up in after traveling through time, Beth definitely lucked out being placed in Taylor Manor. The various characters of the house are such a delight, and you can’t help but fall in love with them. From the motherly love of the head-housekeeper, to the joyous affability of the cook, and especially the rambunctious innocence of the young stable boy. As soon as Beth steps foot into this house you can’t wait to get to know them all, and just like Beth you too will be swept up into the warmth of this friendly bunch of people. And then of course we get to the master of the house, Samuel. He’s a bit of a surly fellow. Kind of closed-off and grumbly, although he has a definite soft spot for his employees.

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We learn that his parents died in a tragic carriage accident when he was just a boy. The fact he witnessed the entire ordeal adds to the overall tragedy of the event, and obviously contributed to his seemingly outward lack of empathy as an adult. But at the first sight of Beth he is obviously smitten, and also surprisingly intrigued by her adept knowledge of math and balancing his ledgers. Beth is also surprised to feel such desire for a man again. I will admit at times I was prone to a slight giggle-fest when they eventually acted upon their desires for each other. What can I say? I couldn’t help but remind myself that in essence we have a woman in her 60’s getting down and dirty with a handsome English Lord in his 20’s. Sure, her body might be young, but this woman has lived, and she brings all of her experience to the table. Let’s just say she has a few tricks up her sleeve to bring this man to his knees. Well…she gets down on hers anyway!

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The Big Reveal

Alright, so the time has come which we know is inevitable in any time travel romance. The moment when our lead character admits to her love interest the fact that she isn’t from this time. Samuel has suspected pretty much from day one that Beth was hiding something about herself, but he never dreamed in a million years what she would come to admit. Now, typically when this reveal happens, a very common response is for the opposite party to think our time traveler is crazy. I definitely get it. But here was the one aspect of this novel that I wasn’t toooooo fond of. Normally when the person thinks the time traveler is crazy, they immediately start to treat them like delicate glass, and vow to get them the help they so desperately need. Well…we don’t get that here.

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Instead, after Beth admits she’s lived a life in the future, Samuel not only declares she must be mad, but practically insists that she get the hell outta his house as soon as possible. Dude, I understand it’s a tough thing to understand, but don’t throw the poor woman out on the street! Let’s assume for a moment that he does actually believe she is legitimately insane. Beth has already admitted to him that she (or at least the woman she’s occupying) tried to commit suicide after being abused and raped at the hands of her father. Why wouldn’t Samuel just think she’s going through some kind of post-traumatic meltdown, and somehow tried to create an alternate life as a way to cope with this trauma? While he quickly comes to regret his decision to kick her out of his house, and immediately runs after her to bring her back, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed at his initial reaction to her admission. I expected more from you Samuel!

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*A copy of this book was provided for an honest review*

Series: Taylor series, book 1. I have definitely fallen in love with this family, and this manor. Can’t wait to see what comes next in book 2!

Should you read it? I will say it does take some time for our story to build up to Beth’s eventual death and travel through time. Quite a bit of time is spent on Beth interacting with her husband’s illegitimate daughter that I’m not 100% convinced was entirely necessary. Unless of course that story line comes back into play in a future novel? Who knows! That being said, once Beth makes the jump through time I was hooked. You have the drama and intrigue of her adjusting to life in the 1800s, falling in love with Samuel, and eventually dealing with the suspense of the abusive father. I figured we’d end with a happily ever after, but what I wasn’t expecting was to see how everything connects back to the future. The novel definitely comes full circle in a delightfully clever way, and I for one am excited to see what other inventive twists and turns we might encounter in a second book.

Smut Level: For a historical romance this book will definitely have you blushing. Sure, we get the typical mentions of trembling and bursting forth into ecstasy, but there are also a few more details in there to please our modern sensibilities.

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Amazon Digital Services LLC. 237 Pages.

Larken by Suzanne G. Rogers

The miracle orphan finds love. After years of being alone it’s so nice to see that something has finally gone right.
What’s it About?
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The sole survivor of a train accident, young Larken Burke is dubbed the Miracle Orphan. Four years later, however, her life is far from fortunate. Because of her emotional and physical scars, she believes she’s un-marriageable. With little hope for the future, she agrees to wed a gentleman she’s never met. Unfortunately, his aloof manner proves difficult to take.

Marked by romantic tragedy and the loss of his brother, Brandon King has forsworn marriage. Obliged to take in a ward, he advertises for a mail-order bride to raise the boy. Since the union is to be a marriage in name only, his criteria are youthful age, a certain level of intellect, good breeding, and that the girl shouldn’t be so ill-favored she would embarrass him in society. To his dismay, he gets more than he’d bargained for. Will it take a miracle for Mr. and Mrs. King to fall in love, or is their marriage another accident waiting to happen?

First Impressions 
I have read many a mail order bride romance novel, and honestly after about two or three they get kind of repetitive. However I must say this one was quite unique in that we aren’t dealing with a young woman who gets sent out West to fall in love with a lonely cowboy. Instead this novel is set in the Regency period of jolly ole England. Larken has been brought into the family of Brandon King to act as a sort of governess for his ward. The fact that he places an ad in a newspaper in order to find such a woman to marry and become his wife, sight unseen, makes this romance a bit different than your typical Lord falling in love with a governess tale.
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Why would a woman as young and beautiful as Larken agree to enter into such a bizarre arrangement? Easy, she has no choice. Her parents died years before in a tragic train accident in which Larken was the sole survivor, making her the “miracle orphan”. She was eventually adopted by a cold, unloving family. Larken is now of age to be married off, and her stepfather takes the first offer he finds. This novel definitely draws you in with its sad beginning, but eventually we see a beautiful romance develop, not to mention the importance placed on family. Just when it seems that everything is going wrong for Larken, she eventually finds a happily ever after she never thought was possible. 
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The New Wife and the Ward 
Hands down my favorite aspect of this novel is the fact that it didn’t really start off as a romance. Instead we see the focus placed more on Larken developing a relationship with Myles, Brandon’s young Ward. He too is an orphan, and is afraid to suddenly be in a new home surrounded by people he doesn’t know. This is where Larken is able to offer her own personal perspective, and connect with Myles when it seems no one else can. She too has been left alone in the world, and is just looking for someone she can talk to. Neither will find this in the cold-mannered Brandon King. He practically ignored Larken at their wedding, refusing to look or speak with her. Hell, they didn’t even consummate the damn thing. Needless to say her opinion of him was quite negative at the outset.
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As for his relationship with Myles, we aren’t given too much information at the beginning. We just know that Brandon knew Myles’ mother, and felt obligated to pick up the young lad over in America before returning back with him to his estate in the English countryside. Brandon said only a handful of words to the young orphan on the return journey, and therefore Myles also doesn’t have the best opinion of his new caretaker. He is also wary of Larken in the beginning, insistent that she would never be able to replace his mother. But this is where Larken admits she has no such objective. She is just looking for a friend. This is also where we get to see Larken’s rather carefree and whimsical nature. She had to invent imaginary friends in order to survive the harsh realities of being orphaned in such a tragic manner. She has no hesitancy whatsoever in introducing these silly characters with their own personalities to Myles.
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Eventually their laughter draws the attention of the brusque Brandon King. While both are understandably wary of letting him into their tight-knit circle in the beginning, they eventually are able to open up with each other and become a family. All of them have lost loved ones, and while they understand the others could never replace those that they’ve lost, they are able to overcome the tragedies of their pasts the more time they spend together. All of this takes place within the first half or so of the novel, so you can see why it was definitely my favorite part. Once this ragtag bunch of characters find happiness with each other, things start to get a bit…interesting.
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While there were definitely some interesting plot twists towards the end of the novel that I did not see coming, I must admit that the second half wasn’t as enjoyable as what came before it. I did find one particular plot twist revolving the death of Brandon’s brother, Theo, rather interesting. Brandon blames himself for his brother’s tragic death years before, and we see that it actually relates to Myles’ mother. His brother’s death not only impacted his surly manner, but also his outlook on life and love.
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Both Larken and Myles are able to help Brandon overcome the tragedy of his brother’s death, but with this certain plot twist in the second half it sort of throws everything we thought we knew for a loop. While certain aspects of this twist weren’t necessarily my favorite, or particularly realistic, I really did enjoy that it connects back to how our novel began with the terrible train accident involving Larken and her parents. It was neat to see that almost every aspect of the novel introduced in the beginning comes back full circle by the end. Even the most seemingly erroneous of details actually had a purpose, and nothing is left unresolved.
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However, while the twist involving Brandon’s brother may not have been my absolute favorite, the dramatic plot point that was saved for the very end of the novel was by far my least favorite aspect of the book. It was just too over-the-top, and actually involves Larken being kidnapped by an unhappy group of theater actors dressed as pirates. So…yeah. It was too theatrical for my taste, and took away a sense of realism to the story which had been so strong up to that point. Both the pain and love which all of these characters felt was something that we could all understand. And then suddenly we have this group of outsiders dressed as pirates to throw a wrench in the whole thing. I definitely understand the need for drama, but let’s tone things down just a smidge. 
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Series: Graceling Hall, book 1. Overall I really did enjoy the characters and the story presented in this novel. I will definitely be continuing on with book 2.
Should you read it? This is a short, quick read. It highlights the importance of family, and to keep trudging on when life seems to be at its lowest point. You never know, there might just be a break in the clouds up ahead. The ending was definitely a bit too over-the-top, but I loved the familial dynamic between Brandon, Myles and Larken, not to mention the developing romance between our male and female lead.
Smut Level: Two short kisses, and an implied love scene at the very end. Clean read, no graphic details, and very sweet. Not the steamiest of historical romances. 
Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $2.99 Kindle Price. Idunn Court Publishing. 176 Pages.

How to Sin Successfully by Bronwyn Scott

Oh boy did these two ever sin successfully! A few times!

What’s it About? 

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With his comrade rakes-in-arms succumbing to respectability, anyone might think that wicked Riordan Barrett is next. But such happy endings aren’t for him—the whole of society knows there isn’t a redeemable bone in his sinfully sexy body.

Suddenly Riordan finds himself not only an earl…but father to two young wards! His only experience is in the art of irresponsibility. This rake needs help—and hiring a young, pretty governess won’t be such a hardship!

Sweet, innocent Maura Caulfield is the only lady in London seemingly unaware of Riordan’s disreputable ways. But it won’t stay like that for long. He’ll show her just how much fun sinning can be….

First Impressions

Alright, if we’re talking first impressions here I’ve gotta start with the narration. After all, it was literally the first thing I heard when listening to this audio book. Maura’s voice was done extremely well, and almost had a Naomi Watts like quality in its elegance. The voices of Riordan’s wards were also spot on, and they were both so adorable you couldn’t help but giggle along to their enthusiastic matchmaking attempts. And then we get to Riordan. He’s basically the first voice we hear aside from the narrator, and I felt terrible that I couldn’t help but laugh. It was so low and fake, and when you add in his attempts at seduction it just got worse.

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A Little of This and a Little of That

 

There is a lot going on in this novel! Maura has run away from home to avoid marrying a dubious wretch her uncle promised her to because of a lost wager. She escapes to London and makes it on her own by taking a governess position no one else wanted. After all, who wants a devilish rake for a boss?

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On top of that we have some mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of Riordan’s brother, not to mention Riordan’s own attempts to keep his wards in his home instead of sending them away to live with greedy relatives. He needs a maternal figure in the house to show that his wards are being looked after. Hmm, I wonder who could possibly stand in as the maternal figure?

Riordan

Although he was a bit of a flirtatious picadilly at the beginning of the novel, you can’t deny that he is great when it comes to the children. Unlike many other romance novels where our rake has to be convinced to spend time with children, Riordan jumps at the chance whenever he can.

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He loves being around them, and will do anything to provide them with a good home. Even if it means sacrificing his potential happiness with their stunning governess, and instead marry someone the courts would deem more suitable. Riordan is also a master when it comes to attention to detail, especially when he’s doing a nude painting/sketch of Maura. There are so many Jack and Rose Titanic references to make here, I can’t even.

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Maura

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For the majority of the novel I thought Maura was pretty bad ass considering the time period. She’s escaped a terrible situation at home, and kind of holds her own when Riordan attempts to spoil the children by having no weekly schedule. Then, when Maura and Riordan get a little comfy on the sofa after a long day and a nip of alcohol she’s kind of like, “What the hell?” Reputation’s shot to shit anyway. Might as well enjoy life while she’s young and foolish.

 

At the very end of the novel though, I must admit that Maura kind of got on my nerves. She and the children are kidnapped by the wretch she’d been promised to, and she agrees to marry him in exchange for their safe release. Totally noble act, and I 100% commend her for it. However, when Riordan bursts in to rescue her, she’s convinced he’s NOT doing it out of love. Girl, open your eyes! You are more than worthy of this man’s love! He’s putting himself in harm’s way to get you out of it, and I’m practically swooning over here. If he really didn’t love you he could have easily sent some coppers to go and rescue you, but he wants to be your knight in shining armor. Please let him!

*A copy of this audio book was provided by Recorded Books for an honest review*

Series: The Rakes Beyond Redemption, Book 3. I hadn’t read the first 2 books, and had no problem following along.

Should you read it? It’s a steamy historical romance with some interesting twists and turns. As Riordan and Maura get closer and closer at expressing their feelings for one another, we also read how her former betrothed is getting closer to discovering her whereabouts. Kind of suspenseful!

Smut Level: I love that in these historical romances the characters never “climax”, or have an “orgasm”. On no, they “achieve their pleasure”. So freakin’ eloquent!

Get it on Amazon: Click Here. $5.49 Kindle Price. Harlequin Historical. 284 Pages.