Tag Archives: book review

Tasty twist on marriage of convenience trope

A romance set in New YorkAny Way You Slice It is my first novel by Monique McDonell, but it certainly won’t be my last. This funny and uplifting story set in New York pairs Piper, an Australian in need of a green card so that she can keep running the business she has established, with Aaron, an American lawyer in need of a wife so that he can get promotion within the law firm he works for. Throw in a friend with a warm and fiery Italian family and some combustible (if occasionally unwanted) chemistry and you have a classic New York romance that works its way from ‘I must’ to ‘I do’.

I’m a fan of witty writing and clever packaging. Monique McDonell provides both. I adore the series title ‘An Upper Crust Romance’ with its promise to keep the wolf from the door. I am also delighted to report that there is more than just delicious pie on offer to keep you drooling – and I’m not even talking about the delicious Aaron. There are seven more books in the series. Yes, SEVEN! I do love a nice, long series.

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About the author

Monique McDonell writes fun, flirty women’s fiction. Her books include Mr Right and Other Mongrels, Hearts Afire, A Fair Exchange and the Upper Crust series. Monique lives on Sydney’s Northern beaches where she writes, drinks coffee and runs a small PR firm (not necessarily in that order). You can follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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Thief of Hearts, a Christmas novella

December. It’s time to feel the warmth and love of the Christmas Spirit. If she (or he) has not yet visited your home, I suggest you download Thief of Hearts, read it and be inspired to decorate, wrap and spread good cheer.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000026_00016]Elizabeth Ellen Carter is one of my favourite Australian historical novelists. I am constantly amazed at her ability to switch time periods and write with the same level of authenticity, accuracy and passion regardless of whether she is writing about Ancient Rome, medieval England or, as in this case, Victorian England. Her last novella was the delightful Nocturne, a Valentine’s Day release, set in Regency England. I thoroughly enjoyed it, as I thoroughly enjoyed Thief of Hearts, a historical suspense caper involving a Duke as a magician and a young lady as a sleuth. Elizabeth does always like to turn convention on it’s head!

I asked Elizabeth why this particular story. She said, ‘Australians suffer a little bit of cognitive dissonance when it comes to celebrating Christmas. First of all, being in the southern hemisphere, we celebrating in the middle of our summer but happily sing about ‘dashing through the snow’, Frosty the Snowman and that the ‘snow lay all about, deep and crisp and even’.

‘Another thing we missed in our local customs was being outside of the TV ratings periods. Conventional wisdom had it that in the depths of bitter winters, people would gather around the electronic hearth and watch television. And since Christmas fell right in the middle of the northern hemisphere’s TV ratings period, all the best TV shows had a Christmas episode.

‘They were fun and whimsical, often suspending current storylines for something a little bit light-hearted and fun.

‘So, in that Christmas spirit, I wrote The Thief of Hearts, a veritable Christmas punch of few Hercule Poirots, Girl’s Own Adventures stories, a dash of While You Were Sleeping and other Christmas-themed rom-coms.’

Book DescriptionAWWC16

December 1890
London, England

Some seriously clever sleight of hand is needed if aspiring lawyer Caro Addison is ever going to enjoy this Christmas.

To avoid an unwanted marriage proposal, she needs a distraction as neat as the tricks used by The Phantom, the audacious diamond thief who has left Scotland Yard clueless.

While her detective inspector uncle methodically hunts the villain, Caro decides to investigate a suspect of her own – the handsome Tobias Black, a magician extraordinaire, known as The Dark Duke.

He’s the only one with the means, motive and opportunity but the art of illusion means not everything is as it seems, in both crime and affairs of the heart.

As Christmas Day draws near, Caro must decide whether it is worth risking reputations and friendships in order to follow her desires.

Extract

He turned the card over and with a thumbnail flicked a tab made of the same backing as the playing card. Even up close the addition was difficult to see. Tobias placed the card on his lap and pulled out a deck of cards. He flicked the edge of the deck of cards towards them. Each time the Queen of Hearts stood out.

“I want you to think I can read your mind, but in reality…”

Tobias split the deck and showed them the Queen of Hearts and then the other half of the deck. The card that had been just before the Queen of Hearts was fully a third shorter than the rest of the cards. He put the pack together and flicked through the deck once more.

“I make you see what you want to see. I suspect The Phantom does the same.”

“You mean his crime scenes are illusions?” Margaret asked. Tobias gave her a smile and Caro wished oddly that its brightness shone on her too.

“I think so. From what I read in the newspapers… no sign of entry or departure?” he asked. Caro confirmed it with a nod. “That tells me he’s creating an illusion of invulnerability. But it is an illusion. A trick. He wants to force the attention of the police away from something else – in the same way a magician will use a gesture or an action to distract you.

“Find out what that is then you will find his sleight of hand and that will be his vulnerability.”

Tobias stood.

“Now, if I’ve sated your curiosity, I’ll take my leave of you. My crew and I have our last show this evening.”

Caro rose and Margaret did also. Tobias took Margaret’s hand and bowed over it then released it. Then he took Caro’s and held it. Then his eyes held hers for a moment and he dropped a kiss on the back of her hand.

“I’m so glad it was you who paid me a visit… instead of a representative of Scotland Yard.”

“Not at all, Mr Black,” she replied, her voice a little huskier than usual, “you have been more than gracious with your time.

“Call me Tobias.”

He was flirting with her! Caro kept the smile to herself as he escorted them both to the entrance of the theatre.

“Just one more question, Mr Black,” Caro asked. “You wouldn’t happen to know how someone might dispose of a suite of diamonds would you?”

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Author Bio

eecarter400h-203x300Elizabeth Ellen Carter is an award-winning historical romance writer who pens richly detailed historical romantic adventures. A former newspaper journalist, Carter ran an award-winning PR agency for 12 years. The author lives in Australia with her husband and two cats. Elizabeth loves to interact with her readers and you can find her at:

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Romantic conclusion to Chance Sisters Quartet

New book review: The Summer Bride by Anne Gracie

From the moment Anne Gracie introduce the Chance Sisters* in The Autumn Bride, I felt protective of Abby, Damaris, Jane and Daisy and worried about their futures. I particularly worried about heroic, spirited Daisy. In a society where birth, breeding and education still counted for almost everything, she was the most vulnerable. Even although I knew neither her sisters nor her ‘aunt’, the outrageous Lady Bea, would abandon her, I worried that her stubborn independence might rob her of her chance at love.

cover-summer-brideAt the beginning of The Summer Bride, Daisy is certainly resistent to the notion of husband hunting. She believes love is not for her and is determined to instead follow her dream of becoming dressmaker to the ton. In the process, she is working herself to death day and night.

‘I can make anyfing out of anyfing, but even I can’t make a silk purse out of a bloomin’ sow’s ear!’ Daisy Chance declared. ‘I was born in the gutter, raised in an ‘orehouse and I got a gimpy leg. I don’t look like a lady or speak like a lady and I ain’t never gunna be a lady, so what’s the point of––‘

Lady Beatrice cut her off. ‘Nonsense! You can do anything you set your mind to!’

Daisy rolled her eyes. ‘Maybe, but I don’t want to be a lady! I want to be a dressmaker – not just any dressmaker. I aim to become the most fashionable modiste in London – fashion to the tob nobs.’

The older lady shurgged. ‘No reason why you can’t be a modiste and a lady.’

Daisy stared at the old lady incredulously. ‘You don’t have no idea, do you? What it’s gunna take––‘

‘Any idea. It’s any idea.’

Daisy rolled her eyes. ‘Work, that’s what it takes – hard work, never-endin’ work. I’m workin’ every hour God sends as it is, and even so I’m barely managin’. There ain’t no time for me to prance around pretendin’g to be a lady.’

‘You are a lady!’

Daisy snorted and Lady Beatrice went on, ‘Your entire nature declares it. Inside you are a lady, Daisy – loyal, loving, honest, sensitive to others’ needs – all we have to do is teach you to be ladylike on the outside as well!’

‘Bugge that,’ said the budding lady …

Enter a most unconventional hero, Irishman Patrick Flynn. Flynn has made a fortune as a trader and is determined to find himself an aristocratic bride (one whose family will appreciate his money if not his orgins) and elevate his position in society.

Daisy makes Flynn’s flamboyant waistcoats, and he has promised her first pick off the materials on his newly docked ship. As a self-made man, he appreciates Daisy’s determination to create a business. As her friend, he doesn’t care at all for the fact that she is clearly in danger of working herself into the ground. And as he pokes his nose in where it is not wanted, at least not by Daisy, he comes to realise that, as a red-blooded male, he wants to be more than her friend. He wants passion, love – and marriage. Daisy will agree only to be his mistress, fearing she will lose her business, her independence, and her way out of poverty, if she marries. But Flynn didn’t create his business empire by taking the first ‘no’ as an answer. What Flynn wants, he will get, no matter how long he has to wait for it.

I liked how the story line for The Summer Bride overlaps with that of Jane’s romance in The Spring Bride without destroying the integrity of either book. It was interesting to see how the two romances overlapped, as those of our friends so often do in real life. It takes a skilled writer to drop a hint in one book and bring it to life in another.

I adore Anne Gracie’s sweetly sexy books. She is never afraid to explore the physical and emotional injuries of our pasts which plague our presents and threaten our futures. Yet she always offers hope; that the sum of a couple in love is greater than their individual natures; and that with the steadfast support of the one who loves us, we can rise above our pasts to be our best selves.

In The Summer Bride, she once again combines humour – sometimes wry, sometimes outrageous – with excellent historical detail and a deep understanding of our human fears, needs and desires to create a stand-out, memorable Regency romance.

This novel is one to keep. Actually, all the books in this series are keepers, and since all four books are now available, I plan to take advantage of the upcoming bad weather to read straight through the whole series. If you haven’t read them yet … lucky you! A treat awaits.

*If you are unfamiliar with this series, only two of the Chance sisters are related by blood, Abby and Jane. They met Damaris and Daisy during a perilous rescue of two of the girls from a brothel after which, having no family to turn to they swore allegiance to each other and attempted to support themselves in a shabby corner of London.  A chance encounter with old Lady Bea led to the girls rescuing her from abusive and neglectful servants, an act of goodwill which led to their re-entry into society.

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The four titles in the quartet are:

  • The Autumn Bride
  • The Winter Bride
  • The Spring Bride
  • The Summer Bride

Anne Gracie has a beautiful website well worth visiting to find out more about her and her books:http://www.annegracie.com.

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Queen of the Historical Novella triumphs again

Book Review: Stranded with the Scottish Early by Anna Campbell

I adore Anna Campbell’s romances, with their combination of wit and passion. Stranded with the Scottish Earl is a Regency novella and a delightful quick read perfect for a work-night evening escape or a weekend treat.

It opens memorably and so I was (once again) hooked from the start.

Stranded with the Scottish Earl‘A week before Easter, Ewan Macrae, Earl of Lyle, rode through a raging storm to reach Basington Grange – only to discover Cinderella guarding the the door.

‘Good afternoon,’ the lassie in the ragged brown skirt said coolly, holding the door open just far enough to speak to him. To keep the rain out? Or to fend off unexpected earls?

At twenty-eight, Lyle wasn’t a green lad to stammer in a lady’s presence. Still, he needed a few seconds to catch his breath and dredge some response from the mush that used to be his brain.

Cinderella was very pretty.

He swallowed, shifted on his feet like a yokel and located a word or two. Hardly original. ‘Good afternoon.’

Cinderella had creamy skin and rich honey-coloured hair, tumbing loose around her slender shoulders. Symmetrical streaks of dirt adorned high, slanted cheekbones. Half a dozen freckles set off a sweet, straight nose.

She really was a peach. Not even the half-closed door could hide .

‘You need to turn around and go back,’ she said after an awkward pause. From the depth of the house behind her, a dog yapped to warn off the intruder.

‘But I’ve only just arrived,’ he said, trying a smile. Despite his hat and thick greatcoat, a trickle of water traced a chilly path down his neck. ‘I’d love to come in out of the rain for a wee while. It’s hurtling it down in buckets.’

‘To confirm his statement, a gust of wind spattered raindrops across where he stood beneath the unreliable shleter of the portico. Damn it all, the weather was cold enough for Scotland.

He was used to his smile melting the frost off unwelcoming lassies. Cinderella was made of sterner stuff. Under gracefully arched eyebrows darker than her hair, the amber eyes remained wary. ‘No, you really need to go back.’

So begins Lyle’s madcap adventure and unconventional wooing of Cinderella, who he knows is really Miss Charlotte Warren. She attempts to conceal here identity knowing that he is the man her father thought would suit her as a husband, a fact he informed her of by letter from London. Charlotte does not wish to marry, and she is not sure who she is more annoyed with – her father for talking to this Scottish rake without her leave or said Scottish rake for daring to come and look her over when he knew perfectly well her father was not at home.

However, Lyle is decided. He fell in love the moment she opened the door. Now all he has to do is convince Cinderella Charlotte that the feeling is mutual and admit her identity –even if he has to rescue sheep in the pouring rain to do so.

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Cinderella may be the Queen of Lyle’s heart, but Anna Campbell is undoubtedly the Queen of the Historical Novella, seamlessly combining humour, period detail, passion and love in small parcels of story dynamite. Read and enjoy.

Stranded with the Scottish Earl is available as an ebook. You can find out more about the delightful Anna here: http://annacampbell.com/about-anna/

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New Book Review: Nocturne by Elizabeth Ellen Carter

I’m very pleased to feature the novella Nocturne by Elizabeth Ellen Carter as one of my 12 Nocturne AWWCreview for the Australian Women Writers 2016 challenge. Elizabeth enjoys setting her novels during historical periods fraught with war and complexity, for example during the Norman conquest of Anglo-Saxon England and the French Revolution. She writes compelling heroes and heroines who fight the restraints and evils of their times with equal determination. She also writes really scary villains and I trembled in my boots whilst reading Warrior’s Surrender. So it was a delicious surprise to read Nocturne and discover that it was a domestic drama set during the Regency period, but underscored with all Elizabeth’s usual themes and appreciation for the subtleties of human virtues and vices.

Ella Montgomery is forced to take a position as a governess on the death of her father. She is a sweet woman, shy and used to being described as plain. Blackheath Manor, the home of her employer the Earl of Renthorpe, overflows with the terror of hidden secrets. The secret of all this subterfuge is Thomas, the Earl’s brother, who was dreadfully wounded and blinded in the war against Napoleon and is kept hidden as a secret by the family, which has declared him dead and even erected a memorial to him.

Thomas feels his life is all but over and is resigned to being secreted away. His only pleasure comes from the piano he plays in the evening after the family has gone to bed. He meets Ella when she follows the sound of the music downstairs, and they begin a clandestine romance in the dark. But Ella will lose her position if she is caught and the stakes are even higher for Thomas. His harsh and angry brother has a great deal more than face to lose if the world discovers Thomas is still alive. Can Ella overcome her shyness and use her wits to forge a path to freedom for them?

Music sings from the pages of this story. Elizabeth Ellen explores the nature of creativity, what it means to be alive and the complexities of family loyalty in this lovely sweet novella. Despite all the darkness Nocturne carries, both physical and emotional, hope – and love – ensure a rich read and a happy ending. Highly recommended

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Nocturne by Elizabeth Ellen Carter (indie-published) is available as an ebook.

EE Carter

Elizabeth Ellen Carter believes that love is a great adventure. Find out more about her and her books at http://eecarter.com. You can also join her on Facebook at Elizabeth’s Library Book Club where she dispenses free reads, new release information and exclusive content.

Festive reading: The Last Chance Christmas Ball

I’ve always loved the December holidays. Having lived in the southern hemisphere all my life, I love the rain that heralds the end of winter and the beginning of new life. Bursts of greenery and flashes of colour abound as nature blossoms from spring into summer. December is a beautiful month, and it reflects the feelings and emotions we hold dear as Christmas approaches: hope, cheer, love and generosity; the wish for peace and the desire to give to friends and family; reflections on a year past and plans for the future; joy and happiness. And, of course, from our northern neighbours come ancient stories snow, fairy tales and gifts, mulled wine and mistletoe with its promise of romance.

Reality, however, has a nasty way of dealing sideways blows to the best laid plans, ably abetted by office politics and family dramas. So, when the Grinch is threatening to lay low the Spirit of Christmas, I take refuge in a good book (as you do).

Some of the very best new books are released in time for Christmas, and The Last Chance Christmas Ball honours this publishing tradition. It’s a delightful collection of novellas by the Word Wenches, Anne Gracie, Mary Jo Putney, Joanna Bourne, Nicola Cornick, Jo Beverley, Susan King, Patricia Rice and Cara Elliot. The stories in most book collections are bound by theme, genre or period. Very few are put together around a single central event – and for good reason. It’s a challenge to the skills of the writers to co-ordinate well enough as a group to overlay stories without spoilers or boring repetition.

The Wenches have risen to the challenge in this collection of sweet Regency romances set in 1815 at Lady Holly’s Last Chance Christmas Ball, which she has hosted for the last fifty year to illuminate the charms of those ladies who might have been overlooked for whatever reason. The lives of the Stretton family, who host the ball on behalf of the Dowager, their grandmother, are weaved through every story. Naturally, most of the guests are friends and well-known to them and all have their reasons for looking for – or avoiding – love, from past scandals to broken hearts, unsupportive families and financial troubles. While the men scoff at its powers, the ladies hold out hope. After all if there is one season designed to empower love, it has to be Christmas. Every year, the glitter of Lady Holly’s ball weaves its magic for someone; this time, ten romances are born,rekindled or saved, ensuring that 1816 was a busy year for local vicars!

The ball is held on the 28th of December each year. The stories range from just beforehand as guests plan their travels and the family plan the festivities through Christmas Day to the ball itself and the beginning of the next school year.

Each story is delightful, charming, heartwarming and so utterly romantic that they renewed my faith in love, hope and romance all over again. The heroes are dashing, brave men with good hearts outwardly cloaked in a range of guises from permanent bachelor to embittered soldier, steadfast citizen and light-hearted rake. The heroines are pretty, spirited, generous and smart. After I had finally finished reading the book, I went back and read each story again, just to enjoy the moment when love conquered all with a kiss. If you are looking for just one book to lift your spirits in this last frantic week before Christmas 2015, I recommend you grab a copy of The Last Chance Christmas Ball.

 

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The Last Chance Christmas Ball by Mary Jo Putney, Anne Gracie, Joanna Bourne, Nicola Cornick, Jo Beverley, Susan King, Patricia Rice and Cara Elliot (Kensington) is available in paperback and ebook. I purchased my own copy, inspired by my love for the individual works of the authors. If you are unfamiliar with the Word Wenches blog, and you love historical romance, you can sign up for updates here.

New release: Christmas Down Under box set

Spend some time Down Under this Christmas, where the weather is hot and the men are hotter.

Christmas Down Under is the perfect box set for your Christmas Down Under.pngDecember holidays. It’s a delicious confirmation of exactly why those of us who live in the Southern hemisphere love the heady partnership of summer sun and prawns on the barbie on Christmas Day. If you’re currently snowed-in and shivering somewhere up North, these stories will warm your heart with their combination of long lazy summer days and Christmas cheer.

This contemporary romance collection features five New Zealand and Australian authors and one honourary Kiwi, American Rosalind James, who gets a nod after a 15-month stint in Auckland. It’s a weighty collection of over 900 pages that will comfortably keep you going through a 10-day holiday as it contains five full-length books and novella. These sweet-sexy romances range from a little bit steamy all the way to OMG.

Although I loved all the stories in Christmas Down Under, my personal favourite was Annie Seaton’s novella Christmas with the Boss. It has sun, summer, loving, and a cheeky ghost who helps Jilly and Dominic to straddle the hurdle that is their office relationship. There’s a long tradition of Christmas ghost stories including A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, and I like the way a ghost story links this collection to Christmas in all countries regardless of climate.

Another aspect of the collection I really enjoyed was how each author made the location of her story come to life, giving me a feel for cities and places all over New Zealand as well as the NSW north coast of Australia.

The Christmas Down Under box set is only available until the end of December, so download your copy asap. It’s great value for money at only 99c.

Rating

3.5 hearts

 

 

More about the stories (in order of appearance)

A Festive Treat by Serenity Woods: Haunted Skye Graham only wanted a one-night stand, but Owen Hall’s an expert at finding lost people, and he’s determined to search the whole of the Northland until he tracks her down.

Christmas with the Boss by Annie Seaton: Jilly Henderson had been looking forward to five days of bliss at the beach: alone, no work, and with no one to bother her over the Christmas break. The last thing she expects is to find her sexy boss, Dominic, holidaying in the beach shack next door. This surf god looks mighty different from the uptight executive she’s used to–and mighty hard to ignore.

Christmas Holiday Hearts by Kris Pearson: Ellie McKenna’s dream job becomes her worst nightmare when she discovers the man she’ll be working for is her long-ago holiday fling. He gave her the hottest memories of her life – and a son he knows nothing about. How will Ellie carry out her Christmas holiday contract now?

Just for Now by Rosalind James: Just for Now is part of Rosalind James’ Escape to New Zealand series. Jenna McKnight has run from heartbreak into a new body, a new city, and a new job. But the gorgeous Auckland villa isn’t really her home, rugby star Finn Douglas and his kids aren’t really her family, and playing house can be a dangerous game.

Promising Penny by Joanne Hill: Penny Portman works in her parents’ Auckland cafe and dreams of running her own place one day. When old friend Michael McGuinn shows up, her feelings for him resurface, and she wonders if he will ever think of her as more than an honorary sister and if this could be the Christmas all her wishes come true.

Hide Your Heart by Tracey Alvarez: Lauren Taylor has returned to her New Zealand hometown, hiding from her famous past. Nate Fraser plans to fix up the property next door and sell it as a celebrity retreat. As passion ignites between them over the Christmas season, can Lauren trust Nate with her secrets, and her heart?

More about the authors (in order of appearance)

Serenity Woods is an award-winning author who lives in the sub-tropical Northland of New Zealand with her wonderful husband and gorgeous teenage son. She writes hot and sultry contemporary romances and much rather immerse herself in reading or writing romance than in doing the dusting and ironing, which is why it’s not a great idea to pop round if you have any allergies.

Annie Seaton lives near the beach on the mid-north coast of New South Wales. She is fulfilling her lifelong dream of writing and has been delighted to discover that readers love reading her stories as much as she loves writing them. She worked in education for most of her working life, completing a Masters Degree in Education before she took up a full-time writing career.

Kris Pearson grew up surrounded by orchards in Hastings, New Zealand, and always knew she was going to be a writer. In addition, she has worked in radio, as a copywriter, in television, and in advertising. These days she and her husband own a décor company and are proof that happily ever after does exist.

Rosalind James met her husband Rick at UC Berkeley when she was 21, so she really does believe in True Love and Happily Ever After, a fact which helps a lot in writing her stories! Their home base when they’re not adventuring is in Berkeley, California. During 15-month stint in New Zealand she fell in love with the country, the beauty and diversity of the landscape (not to mention the seascapes), the Maori culture and its integration into the country’s life, and, perhaps more than anything, the people: modest, good-humored, unfailingly polite and hospitable, and so very funny.

Joanne Hill is a writer of contemporary fiction with romantic elements. Besides writing fiction, Jo blogs about pop culture and heritage and has written feature articles for local magazines.

Tracey Alvarez lives in the Coolest Little Capital in the World (a.k.a Wellington, New Zealand) where she has yet to be buried under her TBR book pile by our infamous wind – my Kindle’s a lifesaver! Fuelled by copious amounts of coffee, she is now the author of contemporary romantic fiction set predominantly in New Zealand. Small-towns, close communities, and families are a big part of the heart-warming stories I love to write. Oh, and hot, down-to-earth heroes—real Kiwi men, in other words.