Category Archives: Book Reviews

Sara’s Review of My Fair Duchess by Megan Frampton

I’m thrilled to be participating in the tour for Megan Frampton’s newest novel, and would like to thank Tasty Book Tours for letting me share this post with you today. I’d also like to extend my sincere thanks to Avon Books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review, murr! =^.^=

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Rating:

Publisher: Avon Books

Date Released: February 28, 2017

Series: Dukes Behaving Badly #5

Goodreads Description:

In Megan Frampton’s most recent installment of The Dukes Behaving Badly series, an unexpected duchess proves that behaving badly isn’t exclusive to the Dukedom.

The Unexpected Duchess

Archibald Salisbury, son of a viscount, war hero, and proficient in the proper ways of aristocratic society, has received orders for his most challenging mission: Genevieve, Duchess of Blakesley. How she inherited a duchy isn’t his problem. Turning her into a perfect duchess is. But how can he keep his mind on business when her beauty entices him toward pleasure?

It was impossible, unprecedented…and undeniably true. Genevieve is now a “duke”, or, rather, a duchess. So what is she to do when the ton eyes her every move, hoping she’ll make a mistake? Genevieve knows she has brains and has sometimes been told she has beauty, but, out of her depth, she calls on an expert. And what an expert, with shoulders broad enough to lean on, and a wit that matches her own. Archie is supposed to teach her to be a lady and run her estate, but what she really wants to do is unladylike—run into his arms.

Review:

I’ve greatly been enjoying Frampton’s Dukes Behaving Badly series, so I knew when this book was announced that I would like it. As with the previous books in the series, this novel can be read as a stand-alone and contains just the right amount of humor, wonderful characters, slowly burning romance, and engaging plot. Fans of Frampton’s books will not be disappointed in this one, and new comers to the series will find this to be a delightful read.

Genevieve is one of those people who is much stronger than she realizes. While she may feel that she is not cut out and knowledgeable enough to be a Duchess and run a dukedom, I feel she knows quite a bit and simply lacks confidence in herself. Archie was a bit hard for me to get a solid read on personality wise when I first met him, and as I continued reading I still wasn’t entirely sure what my true thoughts were where he was concerned. He has a playful side that is enjoyable, especially when it comes out around Genevieve, but he’s also got a side of him that is guarded and prefers things to be ordered and regimented (unsurprising since he is a retired military captain). Together these two have a fun and slow burning chemistry that fully comes into its own toward the end of the book. I loved that Archie taught Genevieve to have confidence in herself and that she in turn taught him to let go and have fun by setting aside proper behavior from time to time.

This is one of those books that left me smiling periodically while I was reading, and sometimes even chuckling to myself. Genevieve just has this fun quality to her that you can help but love. Her grandmother and her godmother also bring a bit of mischief and humor to the reading; I’m reminded of a scene toward the end of the book that deals with “sparkling” sheep. It’s this quality to Frampton’s writing which I enjoy immensely and always look forward to when reading this series. They’re all just fun books, and I was happy to see this quality carry over into this novel.

There were only two things that kept me from fully falling in love with this title. The first was that there were issues that came up in the story that were never fully resolved. I don’t want to say that the ending felt rushed, but I do feel that one particular issue wasn’t as explored and dealt with as I would have liked. There’s a moment in the final chapter where you think you’re going to see something happen, but it’s left hanging there unresolved. Now this could be because Frampton plans to bring this particular character back in the next book in the series as an obstacle for the main characters in that story, at least that is my hope, but I was a tad disappointed with how easily this issue was handled. And actually, now that I think about it, this issue ties in with my primary problem with the book which was that the conflict was too simple, and we don’t see nearly as much of it as we could have. We have a character, a woman mind you, who has inherited the title of Duchess, something that in this time period was practically unheard of. She also hasn’t been trained to handle the proper running of an estate and all that the title entails. You would think that there would be more focus on the social stigma this would engender and more examples of Genevieve not knowing how to handle things, but we don’t really see that a whole lot in this story. Yes, we get some training, but what we primarily see is lessons in how Genevieve should act toward people, which in the grand scheme of things isn’t all that different from lessons young ladies receive prior to entering the Ton. Now, please bear in mind that I did find the overall plot of the story to be engaging, but I believe that there was more that Frampton could have done to truly let this book shine, and thus standout, especially since she chose to twist societal convention around.

Overall, I honestly feel that this was a wonderful addition to what is an enjoyable series, and I’m greatly looking forward to seeing what Frampton has planned next. Would I recommend this book to others? Most assuredly! As I said toward the start of my review, this book works well as a stand-alone, and I feel that anyone who hasn’t read Frampton’s books would enjoy this one. But I also would recommend the series as a whole for readers to enjoy because each installment in the series brings about its own bit of fun and wonderful characters. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with Frampton’s books, murr!

Excerpt:

1845, Lady Sophia’s Drawing Room

“There’s only one solution,” Lady Sophia said, passing the letter to Archie as he felt his stomach drop. And his carefully ordered life teeter on the verge of change. “You’ll have to go to London to sort my goddaughter out.” She embellished her point by squeezing her tiny dog Truffles, who emitted a squeak and glared at Archie. As if it was his fault.
He resisted the urge to crumple the paper in his hand. “But the festival is in a few weeks,” Archie said, hearing the desperate tone in his voice. He did not want to ever return to London. That was the purpose of taking a position out here in the country after leaving the Queen’s Own Hussars a year prior. His family was there, and his father, at least, had made it clear he never wanted to see him again. What’s more, he did not want to assist a helpless aristocrat in some sort of desperate attempt to bring order to their lives. Even though that was what he was doing in Lady Sophia’s employ. But working for her had come to have its own kind of satisfactory order, one he did not want to disrupt.
“There is work to be done,” Archie continued, hoping to appeal to his employer’s sensible side.
Although in the course of working for her he had come to realize his employer didn’t really have a sensible side, so what was he hoping to accomplish?
“Didn’t you tell me Mr. McCready could do everything you could?” Lady Sophia asked. “You pointed out that if you were to get ill, or busy with other matters, your assistant steward could handle things just as well as you.”
That was when I was trying to get one of my men work, Archie thought in frustration. To help him get back on his feet after the rigors of war. And Bob had proven himself to be a remarkably able assistant, allowing Archie to dive into Lady Sophia’s woefully neglected accounts and see into her investments, neither of which she paid any attention to.
Lady Sophia placed Truffles on the rug before lifting her head to look at Archie. Who knew, in that moment, that he was doomed. Doomed to return to London to help out a likely far-too- indulged female in the very difficult position of being a powerful and wealthy aristocrat.
Perhaps it would have been easier to just get shot on the battlefield. It certainly would have been quicker.
“It’s settled.” She punctuated her words with a nod of her head, sending a few gray curls flying in the air. “You will go see to the new duchess and take care of her as ably as you do me. Mr. Mc-Cready will assist me while you are away.”
Archie looked at the letter again. “This duchess is your relative?” he asked. That would explain the new duchess’s equally silly mode of communication. An “unexpected duchess,” indeed. What kind of idiot wouldn’t have foreseen this circumstance? And done something to prepare for it?
“She calls me aunt, but she is not my actual niece, you understand,” Lady Sophia explained. “She is my goddaughter; her mother married the duke, the duchess’s father. It is quite unusual for a woman to inherit the duchy.”
“Quite,” Archie echoed.
“But it happened, somehow, and since I don’t know anything about being a duchess . . .” Because I do? Archie wondered. But there wasn’t anybody else. She wouldn’t have asked Lady Sophia, of all people, unless there was nobody else.
Or if she was as flighty and confident as her faux-aunt. A scenario that seemed more and more likely.
“The only thing Mr. McCready can’t do is attract as much feminine interest as you do, Mr. Salisbury.” She sat back up and regarded him. “Which might make him more productive,” she added. She leaned over to offer Truffles the end of her biscuit.
Archie opened his mouth to object, but closed it when he realized she was right. He wasn’t vain, but he did recognize that ladies tended to find his appearance attractive. Lady Sophia received many more visitors, she’d told him in an irritated tone, now that he’d been hired.
Bob, damn his eyes, smirked knowingly every time Archie was summoned to Lady Sophia’s drawing room to answer yet another question about estate management posed by a lady who’d likely never had such a question in her life.
Archie responded by making Bob personally in charge of the fertilizer. It didn’t stop Bob’s smirking, but it did make Archie feel better.
“And you will return in a month’s time so you can be here for the festival.”
“Sooner if I can, my lady.” If this duchess needed more time than a month, there would be no hope for her anyway. Country life suited him; he liked its quiet and regularity. It was a vast change from life in battle, or even being just on duty, but it was far more interesting than being the third son from a viscount’s family. A viscount who disowned his third boy when said boy was determined to join the army.
Meanwhile, however, he had to pack to head off to a new kind of battle—that of preparing a completely unprepared woman, likely a woman as flighty and often confused as Lady Sophia, to hold a position that she was entirely unsuited for.
Very much like working with raw recruits, in fact.

About the Author:

Megan Frampton writes historical romance under her own name and romantic women’s fiction as Megan Caldwell. She likes the color black, gin, dark-haired British men, and huge earrings, not in that order. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and son. You can visit her on her website, @meganf, and at Facebook.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

***Giveaway***

If you would like to enter for your chance to win 1 of 3 print copies of Megan’s Why Do Dukes Fall in Love, book #4 in the Dukes Behaving Badly series, please use the Rafflecopter link below. This giveaway is open to US residents only.

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/521ac4c81241

Sara’s Review of The Beast of Aros Castle by Heather McCollum

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I’d like to thank Tasty Book Tours for letting me host Heather on the blog today! If you’d like to see all of the blogs participating in this event, please click on the banner above, murr! =^.^=

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Rating: paw4

Publisher: Entangled Publishing – Scandalous

Date Released: February 20, 2017

Series: Highland Isles #1

Goodreads Description:

On the run from a dangerous man, Ava Sutton flees to the Isle of Mull off the coast of Scotland. Masquerading as a titled, English lady, Ava must convince the cynical and darkly handsome chief of the Macleans of Aros to wed her before the devil tracks her down.

Tor Maclean, the new chief of Aros Castle, has sworn off marriage after his first wife tricked him into it. Despite his efforts to scare away the Englishwoman, his father arranged for him to wed, Tor is drawn to her fire, courage, and beauty. But when truths are revealed, and hearts as well as lives are on the dagger’s edge,  Tor doesn’t know if he can forgive or if he will truly become the solitary Beast of Aros Castle…

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Review:

This was an enjoyable read, and as the first in an all new series, I can say that I’m looking forward to reading more. If you enjoy historical romance novels, you’ll want to add this one to your TBR pile.

Ava was a fun character. She’s mischievous, got a bit of sass in her, loyal to those whom she loves, and will do what she has to to protect those closest to her, even if it means deceiving others in the end. Tor is guarded, he’s had his trust broken before and so is not as open when we first meet him. It took me a while to warm up to him, but once I started to learn about his character and what motivates him, my appreciation increased. Yes, there were times when I grew frustrated with him and his treatment of Ava, especially toward the end when the truth comes out, but those moments were tempered by ones where I couldn’t help but swoon for him. Together I felt they were a wonderful couple, each balancing the other out and making them stronger for it. I also really enjoyed Ava’s friend Grace and hope that she gets her own story in this series. She has some of Ava’s spirit about her, but is a bit more cautious and meek deep down. I’d like to see her end up with one of Tor’s men or maybe be the one to tame Tor’s friend Cullen, who strikes me as being a bit of a rogue. As for the antagonist, Vincent, talk about a disgusting soul. He’s vile, smarmy, and honest made my fur crawl. I will admit that I cheered when he got what he deserved.

For the most part I felt the story flowed nicely, but I do think that the ending was drawn out just a bit too much. There is one point where it feels like the book ends naturally, but McCollum adds in an extra little conflict at the end which slows the story down in my opinion. I can see a reason for adding this moment in the story as it allows you to see how much Tor has changed since the start of the book, I just have to wonder if there could have been a different way to show this without the extra bit of drama. Regardless of this, the overall pacing was great, the writing was easy to read, and the suspenseful scenes left me holding my breath in anticipation. This is definitely one of those books that you could read in a day if you were so inclined.

So when all is said and done, I have to give McCollum purrs for a wonderful start in what feels like a promising series. Can’t wait to discover who the focus is for book two and when I can expect to return to the Island of Mull in Scotland. =^.^=

Excerpt:

He ignored her pity. “If I am to choose a bride, she would have to be someone I deem worthy. Someone who wouldn’t perish during the first winter storm or hide under the bed if troops came to take the castle.”
“I am actually noted for my resistance to illness,” she said, intertwining her slender fingers together before her skirts. “As well as my reluctance to crawl under furniture.”
He moved closer, an idea forming. The woman was brazen, unpredictable, and she thought she had the upper hand with that bloody camp of English just across the way. But if she thought it best to break the betrothal, he would accommodate her. And the best way to scare off a virgin, even a brazen virgin, was to give her a taste of fire.
“How about passion, lass?” He leaned down to her ear. “Are ye reluctant to crawl under my sheets?” She inhaled quickly as he pulled her against his body, one hand guiding her head while the other pressed against her back. Her eyes widened as he descended for the kiss.
He met her mouth with every intention of being frightening and hard. How dare this Englishwoman come onto his island, demanding he drop his mountainous pile of obligations as chief and sacrifice his freedom to wed her? But the moment he felt the soft warmth of her lips, the ripe feel of her body in his arms, against his length, the kiss changed. She tasted of woman and innocence wrapped together with awakening heat. He threaded his fingers through her hair to cup her face without breaking contact. Her cheeks were smooth against his rough palms, and instead of yanking away, she remained rooted to the ground.
With a slight tilt of her face, their lips melded intimately as she met him with the same intensity, moving in rhythm with him like they’d been tupping for years. The thought made a low growl creep up his throat before he realized it, nearly escaping as a groan. But he wouldn’t give her that triumph.
Dainty but strong fingers curled into his shirt, holding her to him as he bent to surround her on three sides. Yet he gave her room to escape. If she’d just step back, surrender to the contest, but she didn’t. Were her heels dug into the floor?
His pulse thrummed as fire swept through his body, and thoughts of victory turned to smoke. Tor’s fingers loosened pins and curls as he slid his fingers through her bound hair.
A gasp. “Tor, unhand that lass this minute.” His mother’s voice doused his desire with ocean spray.
As if breaking through the surface of the sea, Tor released Ava’s lips, but he still held her body. Her eyes were closed, her lips damp, cheeks flushed, hair tumbling free around her shoulders. She blinked, waking to stare straight into his eyes. But instead of fear or better yet, barely controlled passion, he saw something that cooled his blood more thoroughly than his mother’s scolding.
Contempt.
Her words were a soft issue from kiss-swollen lips. “So then,” Ava whispered. “You are a beast.”

About the Author:

heather

Heather McCollum is an award-winning, historical and YA contemporary paranormal romance writer. She earned her B.A. in Biology, much to her English professor’s dismay, and was a 2009 Golden Heart Finalist. 

When she is not creating vibrant characters & magical adventures on the page, she is roaring her own battle cry in the war against ovarian cancer. Ms. McCollum recently slayed the cancer beast and resides with her very own hero & 3 kids in the wilds of suburbia on the mid-Atlantic coast.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

***Giveaway***

If you would like to enter for your chance to win a $15 Amazon Gift Card and an eBook of choice from Heather McCollum’s backlist, please click on the Rafflecopter link below:

http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/521ac4c81231

 

Sara’s Review of Somebody Like You by Donna Alward

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I’d like to thank St. Martin’s Press for not only letting me participate in this tour event, but also providing me with a copy of this novel in exchange for my honest review, murr! =^.^=

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Rating: paw4

Publisher: St. Martin’s Paperbacks

Date Released: February 7, 2017

Series: Darling, VT #1

Goodreads Description:

A kiss to last a lifetime

Aiden Gallagher was only five years old when he appeared in a photograph on the Kissing Bridge. The town of Darling, Vermont, has used Aiden’s image on the famed bridge—local legend has it that a kiss there results in everlasting love—as part of its tourism campaign. Now, twenty years later, Aiden is asked to recreate the moment with the woman he once kissed: Laurel Stone.

Recently divorced, there’s nothing Laurel wants less than to pretend happily-ever-after with Aiden. As teenagers, their romance was no fairy tale—and Laurel has never quite forgiven Aiden for breaking her heart. But now that she is back in her hometown, and keeps bumping into police officer Aiden, Laurel can’t deny that there’s still a strong flicker between her and her old flame. Could it be that the Kissing Bridge is working its magic on Laurel and Aiden—and that all true love ever needed was a second chance?

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Review:

If you enjoy small town, sweet romance novels, this is the perfect book for you. The first in a brand new series, I’m not lying when I say I’m hooked and am anxious to read the next two novels, murr! This story had all the feels, it made me laugh, cry, and growl in frustration. And I loved every minute of it.

Laurel is a wonderful, caring, sweet individual, but she’s also broken. Her dreams have been shattered and she’s struggling to come to terms with everything that has happened. I can’t blame her for being angry, cautious, and closed off initially where Aiden is concerned. I’d say my only problem with her is that there are times when she is too sweet. There were some moments where I wanted to take a swipe at her because she really needed to learn to say “no”, especially where her ex was concerned, and it frustrated me when she didn’t follow her instinct which was telling her to do just that. She wants to please everyone, at the expense of her own comfort and well-being. While I can see exactly where she’s coming from, it doesn’t mean I wasn’t annoyed and that I approved of her behavior at times. Still, my heart went out to her throughout most of this book and I enjoyed watching her come into her own and find her happiness in the end.

Aiden, meanwhile, has stolen my heart. He initially comes off as a bit full of himself, but he actually has a heart of gold. He not only cares about his family and friends, but he’s driven to protect and stand up for those in need, and it’s these qualities that make him an excellent cop. He’s an easy character to admire, especially since he’s the first in Darling to actively try to help George, the local homeless man. I quickly grew to love him, and what he does for Laurel at the end of the book had me tearing up.

Alward captures small town life perfectly, from the fast spreading gossip to the support every gives when one resident is in need. The pacing of the story is smooth and I feel that I could have easily read this in one day. I enjoyed the fact that while Laurel and Aiden’s romance was steamy, it wasn’t over the top and in your face. Their romance is sweet, with the bed room scenes taking place behind the scenes. Now don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy a steamy romance every now and then, but sometimes it is nice to switch things up and go for something light. Honestly, this book hit me right in the feels. I was hooked from the first chapter, and I loved the fact that Laurel and Aiden’s story was built around the town’s Kissing Bridge. I’ve read several small-town romances over the years, but this one has quickly became a favorite and I’m looking forward to discovering what Alward has in store for the rest of the citizens of Darling, VT.

Excerpt:

By the time they were through, it was nine o’clock and time to open. Being a Saturday, business was brisk. Her dad dropped off the supplies and offered to stay to help cover the tagging, but with the heavy shopping traffic, Laurel decided to wait until things died down. For now the tarps covered the tags, and she’d focus on her customers. Otherwise her anger would get the best of her and that was bad for business. By six p.m., things had slowed considerably.
Laurel had been going flat out for ten hours, stopping for only fifteen minutes to run to The Purple Pig for a sandwich. Her stomach growled, her feet hurt, there was dirt beneath her nails and she really, really wanted a shower and a glass of wine—in that order. Laurel had just dragged out the hose to water the fruit trees when a half-ton truck drove into the lot and parked in an empty space.
The driver hopped out, and her heart slammed against her ribs as she immediately realized how she must look. Dirty jeans, mannish golf shirt that did nothing for her figure,
scrubby ponytail through a Ladybug Garden Center ball cap, and prob ably smudges of dirt on her face and arms. Not that she was trying to look nice for Aiden or anything, but it was him getting out of the truck, looking sexy as hell in faded jeans and a T-shirt that stretched across
his chest and shoulders.
She could pretend she hadn’t seen him. Resolutely she turned on the hose and started watering the apple trees.
“Hey, Laurel,” he called out, and that erased any hope of avoiding him.
She turned off the hose and faced him. “Aiden. What brings you by? Looking for a shrub or tree or something?”
Keep it businesslike, she reminded herself. The last thing she needed was for him to know that he had the ability to fluster her.
“I heard about what happened.”
Of course he had.
“Don’t even. I’m still pissed.”
“I know it’s not what you needed. Did Crystal tell you that you weren’t the only one hit?”
Crystal must be the officer from this morning. “She did.”
“Well, that must make you feel better.”
She stared at him. “Better? Seriously? Since I opened a month ago, I’ve had to have the driveway re-graded, I’ve had to replace shrubs that were stolen from out front, deal
with a break-in and vandalism, and now tagging. Trust me, Aiden, the only thing that would feel better is if you actually did your job and found out who was doing this.”
She turned the hose back on.
He waited. He waited a long time. Several seconds, maybe thirty. Which was really not that long at all but definitely felt that way. She was watering the third tree when he sighed. “ You’re upset.”
“No shit, Sherlock.”
He met her gaze, and his eyes were soft, even though she’d basically just accused him of not doing his job. The understanding she saw there made her stomach churn. She didn’t want to lash out, but that was what she did when she was hurt. Angry.
Stopping by was kind and thoughtful. She kept trying to make him out to be a bad guy, and he kept being nice. It definitely made it difficult for her to hate him. Particularly since her biochemistry betrayed her at every turn. Even now, when she was utterly preoccupied with the day’s events, she seemed to notice everything. His hair, his eyes, the breadth of his chest, the armband tattoo that looked like some sort of Celtic braid, peeking just below the hem of his T-shirt sleeve. The shape of his lips . . .
He muttered something that was as creative a curse as she’d ever heard, and sounded suspiciously Irish. She couldn’t help but laugh, and tried to clamp her lips shut again. But not before he saw and heard, and his eyes took on an impish gleam.
“ You’re not fine. You’re tired and upset and rightfully so. You’re also just as stubborn as you always were.” He put his hands on his hips. “I take it you’re not adverse to help, just help from me in particular.”
Her face heated. Dammit.
“Maybe this could be my penance,” he suggested, giving her a quick grin. And she wished she could take him seriously, but he always seemed to be teasing. It was one of the things she’d really liked about him and hated at the same time. Particularly now, when she wanted to be, if not mad, completely unaffected. And she wasn’t. He was trying to cajole her out of her mood and it was working.
“It’s Saturday night. Don’t you have a hot date or something?” She turned on the hose again. Focused on the large plastic pot holding a cherry tree.
“Nope. Free as a bird.”
Dammit again.
“Come on, Laurel. Peace offering. Manual labor for you to stop hating me.”
She glanced over at him. “Why do you care so much?”
He was quiet for a moment, and to her surprise the teasing expression left his face. After a while he answered, his voice a little lower. “I don’t know why I care what people think so much. I always have. I don’t like anyone to be mad at me. Maybe it has something with being one of the younger siblings in the family. I don’t know. I just know that I don’t like it that you’re still so angry.” His intense blue gaze locked with hers. “It’s starting to become a personal mission to win you over. To atone for past sins.”
“Good luck,” she said dryly, more touched than she wanted to admit.
His boyish grin was back. “Come on, Laurel. You know you can’t hold out forever. You think I’m hot.” He had the audacity to wink at her.
She rolled her eyes.
“You do. You have a thing for gingers. And you have to admit, I grew up kinda good.” His hands were still on his hips and he tensed his muscles so that his shoulders and chest tightened beneath the thin T-shirt.
“I think you’re a bit taken with yourself, to be honest,” she replied. And tried not to smile. She didn’t want to be charmed, but he was incorrigible.
“Laurel.”
Damn, his voice was all silky-smooth now. “Yes, Mr. Narcissist?”
“You know damn well you want to hate me and you can’t. Besides, I saw your face just now. Maybe if I took off my shirt . . .”
“Would you like to go somewhere private to be with yourself?” she asked, biting the inside of her lip. She shouldn’t be enjoying this so much. And she wouldn’t be, if she thought he was serious. But he was teasing her.
Like he used to do when they were friends. And today . . . she swallowed against a ball of emotion. Today she needed a friend, and all she’d had were well-meaning customers.
She looked over at him. “Jeez, Aiden. You’re looking a little flushed. I think you could stand to cool off.” And before he could reply, she flicked her wrist and aimed the spray of the hose right at the center of his chest.
The abrupt shock on his face was gratification enough, but then he grinned and reached to take away the hose. She danced away, still spraying him, admiring how the shirt now clung to his skin and the little droplets lit up his face and hair. A laugh bubbled up through her chest and out her mouth as she darted around the trees, dragging the hose with her. But there were too many pots and not enough room to maneuver and within seconds he caught her, wrapped one strong arm around her and wrenched the hose away with the other, spraying her in the process.
Cold water dripped from her nose, down her neck, over her bare arms. Aiden held her close against his body, close enough she could feel the hardness of his muscles, and thrilled at it. Their breaths came fast, their chests rising and falling with both laughter and the exertion of the struggle over the hose. But it was the way he was looking down at her right now that made her feel as if the lack of air was strangling her lungs. All it would take was the tiniest move and he’d be kissing her. Her gaze dropped to his lips—he’d always had fine lips—and she swallowed, nervous and scared at her reaction and turned on as hell.
She looked up, which was a mistake. Because he was staring at her lips. And his arm tightened just a little bit at the hollow of her back. Oh God . . .
A car horn honked and Laurel jumped back. He let her go, but the gravity of the moment remained.

Copyright © 2017 by Donna Alward and reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Paperbacks.

If you’d like to read the prequel to the Darling, VT series, visit http://www.donnaalward.com/ and sign up for Donna Alward’s newsletter. A box will pop up inviting you sign up when you visit Donna’s site.  The link to the download etc. is in the confirmation e-mail you’ll receive when you sign up!

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About the Author:

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While bestselling author Donna Alward was busy studying Austen, Eliot and Shakespeare, she was also losing herself in the breathtaking stories created by romance novelists like LaVyrle Spencer, Judith McNaught, and Nora Roberts. Several years after completing her degree she decided to write a romance of her own and it was true love! Five years and ten manuscripts later she sold her first book and launched a new career. While her heartwarming stories of love, hope, and homecoming have been translated into several languages, hit bestseller lists and won awards, her very favorite thing is when she hears from happy readers!

Donna lives on Canada’s east coast with her family which includes a husband, a couple of kids, a senior dog and two crazy cats. When she’s not writing she enjoys reading (of course!), knitting, gardening, cooking…and is a Masterpiece Theater addict.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads

***Giveaway***

If you would like to enter for your chance to win a paperback copy of Donna Alward’s Someone Like You, please tell me in the comments below what your dream wedding would be. Please be sure to include your email address in your answer. I will select one winner (U.S. Only) at the end of the tour on Wednesday, February 15! =^.^=

Dancer’s Review of Heartstone by Elle Katharine White

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I’d like to offer my sincere thanks to RockStar Book Tours for letting me participate in this amazing blog tour, and to the publisher for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review. If you would like to see all of the blogs participating in this tour, please click on the banner above. =^.^=

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Rating: paw5

Publisher: Harper Voyager

Release Date: January 17, 2017

Goodreads Description:

A debut historical fantasy that recasts Jane Austen’s beloved Pride and Prejudice in an imaginative world of wyverns, dragons, and the warriors who fight alongside them against the monsters that threaten the kingdom: gryphons, direwolves, lamias, banshees, and lindworms.

They say a Rider in possession of a good blade must be in want of a monster to slay—and Merybourne Manor has plenty of monsters.

Passionate, headstrong Aliza Bentaine knows this all too well; she’s already lost one sister to the invading gryphons. So when Lord Merybourne hires a band of Riders to hunt down the horde, Aliza is relieved her home will soon be safe again.

Her relief is short-lived. With the arrival of the haughty and handsome dragonrider, Alastair Daired, Aliza expects a battle; what she doesn’t expect is a romantic clash of wills, pitting words and wit against the pride of an ancient house. Nor does she anticipate the mystery that follows them from Merybourne Manor, its roots running deep as the foundations of the kingdom itself, where something old and dreadful slumbers . . . something far more sinister than gryphons.

It’s a war Aliza is ill-prepared to wage, on a battlefield she’s never known before: one spanning kingdoms, class lines, and the curious nature of her own heart.

Elle Katharine White infuses elements of Austen’s beloved novel with her own brand of magic, crafting a modern epic fantasy that conjures a familiar yet wondrously unique new world.

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Review:

Take everything you love in Pride & Prejudice and now add some dragons, high fantasy, suspense, sword fighting, and more, and you’ve got the wonderful and amazing book that is Heartstone! Of the many Pride & Prejudice adaptations I have read, this is one of my favorites. I can only hope that White takes on other Austen stories, or tries her hand at writing more high fantasy novels because I definitely plan on reading more of her books!

White does a spectacular job of building and expanding the world and story that we know and love from Austen’s classic novel. Aliza, Elizabeth Bennet, is fiercely intelligent, devoted to her family and her home, and is not one to back down once challenged. She may be considered a regular human by Riders’ standards, but she’s got the potential to be equal to them when everything is said and done. Daired, Darcy, appears overbearing and a snob at first, but eventually his true character is revealed and, like the original Mr. Darcy, it is hard to not fall in love with him as the story progresses. The attraction between these two characters is palpable, it’s very much a dance been love and disdain, and White was able to capture the passion between them perfectly.

One thing that I always look for when reading an Austen adaptation is a blending of the original tale with the inclusion of the author’s own interpretation of the story while conveying it in a unique way. I don’t want an exact retelling with just a few minor tweaks here or there. I want something new, yet familiar at the same time, if that makes any sense. With Heartstone you get the key scenes from the original classic, those moments that fans enjoy, but the path to them, the story surrounding them, and their depiction are entirely unique to White’s story. The dance scene between Darcy and Elizabeth that marks one of the major turning points for their characters’ relationship appears in this novel, but it is more fraught with uncertainty as to whether Aliza and Daired will truly end up together or not. Likewise the scene where Darcy confesses to Elizabeth his feelings, and we all know which scene I’m referring to, appears in this book, and it is even more of a swoon worthy yet cringing of a scene than in the original. You can’t help but love Daired yet want to shake sense into him at the same time during these moments.

And that is another thing which I loved while reading. Just like with the original classic story, I was emotionally drawn into this book and its characters. I laughed, I sighed, I cringed and shook my head in dismay, and I cheered when the characters whom I quickly grew to love overcame the challenges they had to face. And yes, I even cried at the end for the sacrifice of one character. As much as I did not like Charis through a good portion of the story, my respect for her increased greatly toward the final few chapters. What a way to redeem oneself!

While I’ve focused on the ways in which this book handles the adaptation of Pride & Prejudice, this is so much more than a retelling of Austen’s classic novel. This is a beautiful high fantasy story, which feels a little like McCaffrey’s Dragon Riders series and Williams’s Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn series. White has created a world with a rich history that I would love to see more of, both within regards to the land itself and the creatures that inhabit it to the magic that we only see glimpses of. There are so many avenues that White can explore in future books if she so desires, and that to me is the sign of a strong world builder.

This book has everything that a lover of fantasy could ask for, and any fan of retellings for that matter. From the first page it will pull you in and it can easily be read in one sitting if the reader is so inclined. I enjoyed this book immensely and my only regret was that I finished it because I honestly didn’t want the story to end. I always say that the best books are those that pull you in and take you away from reality, and this is without a doubt one of those books. I can’t wait to see what White plans to come up with next!

About the Author:

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Elle was born and raised in Buffalo, NY, where she learned valuable life skills like how to clear a snowy driveway in under twenty minutes (a lot easier than you think) and how to cheer for the perennial underdog (a lot harder than you think).

When she’s not writing she spends her time reading, drinking absurd amounts of tea, having strong feelings about fictional characters, and doing her best to live with no regrets.

Connect with her on Facebook at @ellewhite.author, or witness the hilarious spectacle that is a writer contending with the 140-character limit on Twitter at @elle_k_writes.

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***Giveaway***

If you would like to enter for your chance to win 1 of 3 finished copies of HEARTSTONE, US Only, please click on the Rafflecopter link below:

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Sara’s Review of Lady Claire is All That by Maya Rodale

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My thanks go out to Tasty Book Tours for letting me participate in this tour event and to Avon Books for providing me a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. If you’d like to see all of the blogs who were involved in this event and read some exclusive content, please click on the banner above. =^.^=

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Rating: paw5

Publisher: Avon Books

Date Released: December 27, 2016

Series: Keeping Up with the Cavendishes #3

Goodreads Description:

Her Brains
Claire Cavendish is in search of a duke, but not for the usual reasons. The man she seeks is a mathematician; the man she unwittingly finds is Lord Fox: dynamic, athletic, and as bored by the equations Claire adores as she is by the social whirl upon which he thrives. As attractive as Fox is, he’s of no use to Claire . . . or is he?

Plus His Brawn
Fox’s male pride has been bruised ever since his fiancée jilted him. One way to recover: win a bet that he can transform Lady Claire, Society’s roughest diamond, into its most prized jewel. But Claire has other ideas—shockingly steamy ones. . .

Equals A Study In Seduction
By Claire’s calculations, Fox is the perfect man to satisfy her sensual curiosity. In Fox’s estimation, Claire is the perfect woman to prove his mastery of the ton. But the one thing neither of them counted on is love . . .

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Review:

I truly have been enjoying this series! Once again Rodale has written a wonderful novel that fits perfectly into what has become a much-loved series for me. As with Chasing Lady Amelia, Claire’s story runs parallel to many of the events covered in the first book of the series and then expands beyond those moments and/or provides more detail on some scenes that were originally glossed over in the two preceding novels. Yes, you can read this book as a stand alone, and actually this book lends itself more to being a stand alone because while you get details about what happens to Claire’s sisters at the end of their books, what is shared isn’t prone to spoil their stories if you decide to read them later. Course, I always suggest picking a series up from the first book just so you have a good idea of who everyone is and what roles they play throughout the series, but that aside, I highly recommend this novel for anyone who love historical romance and enjoys a bit of Pride and Prejudice adaptation with a dash of Pygmalion on the side.

The reasons why I loved this novel are many, but for the sake of this review I’ll try to keep to a few main points and not go complete fan feline on you. Claire is the perfect leading lady. She’s intelligent, strong-willed, independent, and responsible. She’s not afraid to use her mind and fight for her goals, nor does she feel the need to shape herself into a person she isn’t simply for the sake of fitting in with society. She is content to stand on the outside looking in, that is until she meets Fox, a man who is her opposite in every way possible. Fox is, well, he’s not exactly a rake, but he isn’t ashamed to flirt with every lady who smiles and looks his way, either. He’s more bronze than brains, and he’s okay with that. He knows he’s good-looking, excels at everything he does, with the exception of school, is extremely proud, to a fault, and has a propensity to act without thinking of the consequences. You wouldn’t think that either character would have any interest in the other, but as this story proves, opposites really do attract. And when I think about the type of person who Claire is, I honestly can’t see her with anyone other than Fox. They keep each other off-balance, they question what they are comfortable with, and I think that if they were to have ended up with partners who were exactly the same as they are, they’d all be miserable in the end.

The actual lead up to Claire and Fox’s relationship is a slow burn. She initially is suspicious of him, while he’s perplexed by the fact that she’s not fawning all over him. There’s no instant attraction and rush to be intimate. Instead there are stolen, sometimes passionate kisses, and that’s it until the final chapters of the book. Now the fact that Fox’s original interest in Claire is based entirely on a wager with one of his friends does help in putting up obstacles where their relationship is concerned. No one ever wants to find out that the person they are interested in only started engaging with you because of a bet. The interesting thing is though, you would think that such a realization would end any chance of happiness between the couple involved, but in Claire’s case she takes the entire thing and turns it around to her advantage in the end, and also wins the man when all is said and done. And oh let me tell you that I loved how Claire handled the entire thing! It’s absolutely brilliant, though I was worried at one point that she wasn’t going to succeed.

And speaking of the bet, the actual terms of the wager had me thinking of the story Pygmalion when I first started reading. The idea of taking a person on the outside of society and changing her or him to not only pass but fit entirely in said society is not a unique plot in any sense, but when added to the base plot of Pride and Prejudice, which was what the first book in the series was entirely about, the blending of the two stories works well and the result is enjoyable to say the least.

One thing that surprised me with this novel was that I actually liked Lady Francesca, Fox’s sister and the primary antagonist from the first book in the series. We see a lot more of her in this book, and as a result we learn more about who she is and what drives her to do what she does throughout the series. If I’m to be honest, I rather admired her a bit in this book. Yes, she’s still very much a bully, but she’s also very intelligent and I could argue that if circumstances were different she wouldn’t be that bad of a person to know in the long run. My feelings toward her are much changed from my original first impressions. Rather curious to see what part, if any, she’ll play in James’s novel, which I’m greatly looking forward to reading! After three books of him being on the sidelines, I’m more than ready to see what Rodale has in store for him. Heehee.

I greatly enjoy how Rodale has tied all of the books in this series together. As I mentioned earlier, there are scenes from the first two books in this story that are expanded on as viewed through Claire’s eyes. As a result we not only get to read and learn about Claire, but we also get to learn more about her sisters, Bridget and Amelia. Having all three sisters’ books run parallel with each other provides a richer storyline and allows the reader to get closer to the family in ways that I’ve not experienced with other books before. It’s a feature that certainly stands out for me and I have to wonder if this is a style of writing that occurs in all of Rodale’s series or if it is unique to this one. Either way it is certainly one of the defining reasons for why I love this series. Seriously, if you’ve not picked up this series, what is stopping you? I dare you to discover the Cavendish siblings for yourself, and I promise you won’t regret a single moment of your time spent with them if you do. I really can’t wait to read more of Rodale’s books! =^.^=

Excerpt:

“Who would have thought we’d see this day?” Mowbray mused. “Miss Arabella Vaughn, darling of the haute ton, running off with an actor.”
“That alone would be scandalous,” Rupert said, adding, “Never mind that she has ditched Fox. Who is, apparently, considered a catch. What with his lofty title, wealth, and not hideous face.”
Fox’s Male Pride bristled. It’d been bristling and seething and enraged ever since the news broke that his beautiful, popular betrothed had left him to elope with some plebian actor.
Not just any actor, either, but Lucien Kemble. Yes, he was the current sensation among the haute ton, lighting up the stage each night in his role as Romeo in Romeo and Juliet. Covent Garden theater was sold out for the rest of the season. The gossip columns loved him, given his flair for dramatics both onstage and off—everything from tantrums to torrid love affairs to fits over his artistry. Women adored him; they may have sighed and swooned over Lucien Kemble as much as Fox.
To lose a woman to any other man was insupportable—and, until recently, not something that ever happened to him—but to lose her to someone who made his living prancing around onstage in tights? It was intolerable.
“Just who does she think she is?” Fox wondered aloud.
“She’s Arabella Vaughn. Beautiful. Popular. Enviable. Every young lady here aspires to be her. Every man here would like a shot with her,” Mowbray answered.
“She’s you, but in petticoats,” Rupert said, laughing.
It was true. He and Arabella were perfect together.
Like most men, he’d fallen for her at first sight after catching a glimpse of her across a crowded ballroom. She was beautiful in every possible way: a tall, lithe figure with full breasts; a mouth made for kissing and other things that gentlemen didn’t mention in polite company; blue eyes fringed in dark lashes; honey gold hair that fell in waves; a complexion that begged comparisons to cream and milk and moonlight.
Fox had taken one look at her and thought: mine.
They were a perfect match in beauty, wealth, social standing, all that. They both enjoyed taking the ton by storm. He remembered the pride he felt as they strolled through a ballroom arm in arm and the feeling of everyone’s eyes on them as they waltzed so elegantly.
They were great together.
They belonged together.
Fox also remembered the more private moments—so many stolen kisses, the intimacy of gently pushing aside a wayward strand of her golden hair, promises for their future as man and wife. They would have perfect children, and entertain the best of society, and generally live a life of wealth and pleasure and perfection, together.
Fox remembered his heart racing—nerves!—when he proposed because this beautiful girl he adored was going to be his.
And then she had eloped. With an actor.
It burned, that. Ever since he’d heard the news, Fox had stormed around in high dudgeon. He was not accustomed to losing.
“Take away her flattering gowns and face paint and she’s just like any other woman here,” Fox said, wanting it to be true so he wouldn’t feel the loss so keenly. “Look at her, for example.”
Rupert and Mowbray both glanced at the woman he pointed out—a short, frumpy young lady nervously sipping lemonade. She spilled some down the front of her bodice when she caught three men staring at her.
“If one were to offer her guidance on supportive undergarments and current fashions and get a maid to properly style her coiffure, why, she could be the reigning queen of the haute ton,” Fox pointed out.
Both men stared at him, slack jawed.
“You’ve never been known for being the sharpest tool in the shed, Fox, but now I think you’re really cracked,” Mowbray said. “You cannot just give a girl a new dress and make her popular.”
“Well, Mowbray, maybe you couldn’t. But I could.”
“Gentlemen . . .” Rupert cut in. “I don’t care for the direction of this conversation.”
“You honestly think you can do it,” Mowbray said, awed.
He turned to face Mowbray and drew himself up to his full height, something he did when he wanted to be imposing. His Male Pride had been wounded and his competitive spirit—always used to winning—was spoiling for an opportunity to triumph.
“I know I can,” Fox said with the confidence of a man who won pretty much everything he put his mind to—as long as it involved sport, or women. Arabella had been his first, his only, loss. A fluke, surely.
“Well, that calls for a wager,” Mowbray said.
The two gentlemen stood eye to eye, the tension thick. Rupert groaned.
“Name your terms,” Fox said.
“I pick the girl.”
“Fine.”
“This is a terrible idea,” Rupert said. He was probably right, but he was definitely ignored.
“Let me see . . . who shall I pick?” Mowbray made a dramatic show of looking around the ballroom at all the ladies nearby. There were at least a dozen of varying degrees of pretty and pretty hopeless.
Then Mowbray’s attentions fixed on one particular woman. Fox followed his gaze, and when he saw who his friend had in mind, his stomach dropped.
“No.”
“Yes,” Mowbray said, a cocky grin stretching across his features.
“Unfortunately dressed I can handle. Shy, stuttering English miss who at least knows the rules of society? Sure. But one of the Americans?”
Fox let the question hang there. The Cavendish family had A Reputation the minute the news broke that the new Duke of Durham was none other than a lowly horse trainer from the former colonies. He and his sisters were scandalous before they even set foot in London. Since their debut in society, they hadn’t exactly managed to win over the haute ton, either, to put it politely.
“Now, they’re not all bad,” Rupert said. “I quite like Lady Bridget . . .”
But Fox was still in shock and Mowbray was enjoying it too much to pay any mind to Rupert’s defense of the Americans.
“The bluestocking?”
That was the thing: Mowbray hadn’t picked just any American, but the one who already had a reputation for being insufferably intelligent, without style or charm to make herself more appealing to the gentlemen of the ton. She was known to bore a gentleman to tears by discussing not the weather, or hair ribbons, or gossip of mutual acquaintances, but math.
Lady Claire Cavendish seemed destined to be a hopeless spinster and social pariah.
Even the legendary Duchess of Durham, aunt to the new duke and his sisters, hadn’t yet been able to successfully launch them into society and she’d already had weeks to prepare them! It seemed insane that Fox should succeed where the duchess failed.
But Fox and his Male Pride had never, not once, backed away from a challenge, especially not when the stakes had never been higher. He knew two truths about himself: he won at women and he won at sport.
He was a winner.
And he was not in the mood for soul searching or crafting a new identity when the old one suited him quite well. Given this nonsense with Arabella, he had to redeem himself in the eyes of the ton, not to mention his own. It was an impossible task, but one that Fox would simply have to win.
“Her family is hosting a ball in a fortnight,” Mowbray said. “I expect you to be there—with Lady Claire on your arm as the most desirable and popular woman in London.”

About the Author:

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Maya Rodale began reading romance novels in college at her mother’s insistence and it wasn’t long before she was writing her own. Maya is now the author of multiple Regency historical romances. She lives in New York City with her darling dog and a rogue of her own.

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