Tag Archives: book review

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.

 

5 hearts all

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.

 

Tessa Dare delights readers again

Author Tessa DareWhen a Scot Ties the Knot is the third in Tessa Dare‘s delightful Castles Ever After series. Each romance features characters so real that they feel like childhood friends by the time I finish the book. I wish I could invite them over for dinner – or, even better, step into the pages of her books and join them for dinner!

Each of Tessa Dare’s characters have their own individual quirks and passions, fears and challenges that they have to overcome. In When a Scot Ties the Knot, the heroine Maddie (Miss Madeline Gracechurch) is a talented artist with a love of nature who is shy to the point of social phobia. To escape her terror of a season in London, she invents a fiance, a war hero who conveniently dies in battle, allowing her to retire to the country and mourn his ‘death’ in peace.

The hero Captain Logan MacKenzie is a mentally bruised and battered survivor of the wars in France who is determined to create a safe place for what remains of his army unit to rebuild their lives. Unfortunately, for Maddie, his name is the same as the one she chose for her fictional fiance – and the ever-efficient British Postal Service made sure each and everyone of her letters reached him. Being killed off triggers one of his emotional hot buttons, and when the war ends, a furious Logan he sets off to Maddie’s rural haven in Scotland, determined to make this careless society Miss pay for her perceived disregard for his name and person – and honour the engagement she created.

As always, Ms Dare has written a romance this is rich, witty, sexy and unforgettable. This story is truly a delight. Read and enjoy.

5 hearts all

 

 

When a Scot Ties the Knot is a sexy Regency romance.

 

The Seduction of Lord Stone: A delightful romantic interlude

SPOILER ALERT: FANGIRL POST AHEAD

An Anna Campbell novellaI discovered my first Anna Campbell novel just a couple of years ago as I was browsing the shelves of a small bookshop. What a serendipitous moment that proved to be, leading me through multiple titles in rapid succession until I arrived here, at the publication of The Seduction of Lord Stone, the first book in her Dashing Widows series.

I’m always on the lookout for a good novella. There are lots of points in its favour. I can read a whole book if I have a couple of hours spare one evening, or over the weekend, getting a satisfying full-story fix uninterrupted by work or dinner or housework. I’m also fond of brevity. Cut the waffle, I say. The intensity level is also higher, especially in the hands of an expert like Anna.

Of course, not all authors excel at this short form. Some truncate the story, resulting in a simplistic plot or under-developed characters. However, every one of Anna’s novels that I have read is a full, rich and rounded story regardless of whether it is  a full-length romance or a short and sexy novella. Yes, I’m a fan, and I make no apologies for that. Let me take the stand and declare: I LOVE Anna Campbell’s books! They are emotionally intense, dark and funny and sexy – smoking’ hot actually. I adore her heroines and love her heroes. What more could I ask for as a reader?

The Seduction of Lord Stone is the story of Caroline, Lady Beaumont and Silas Nash, Viscount Stone. Caroline has had a dreary year in mourning that she survived only because of her new friendships with Helena, the Countess of Crewe and Fenella, Lady Deerham. The three decide to become dashing widows once their year of mourning is complete since not one of them, for different reasons, wishes to remarry. Caroline in particular is determined to have some fun and sets about targeting the right man to make her lover. For this task she enlists the help of Helena’s brother, Lord Stone.

Poor Silas! What a lowering position for a reformed rake to find himself in. He has devoted the year of Caroline’s mourning to winning her trust only to discover that he has been designated the status of ‘a dear friend’. Worse, Caroline has her eye fixed on his best friend, a man he now regards as not fit for London society let alone Caroline’s. Can he change her mind? Persuade her that it is possible to be lovers and friends? You’ll have to read it to find out. To whet your appetite and find out what indignities the man suffers, read an extract from The Seduction of Lord Stone here.

Books two and three in the Dashing Widows series of novellas will be available in early 2016. Look out for Tempting Mr Townsend and Winning Lord West.

Also recommended: The Sons of Sin series

  • Seven Nights in a Rogue’s Bed
  • A Rake’s Midnight Kiss
  • What a Duke Dares
  • A Scoundrel by Moonlight
  • Three proposals and a Scandal (novella)

5 hearts all

 

 

The Seduction of Lord Stone is a sexy Regency romance.

The Ministry of Marriage

How could one not read a series called The Ministry of Marriage? For me it conjures up an image of a Hogwarts-style benevolent rule that immediately demands a certain rebellion. So it proves. The guardians and parents who make up the Ministry of Marriage aim to ensure the dynastic future of Regency England’s best families whilst also securing marriages based on respect for their children. Naturally the children rebel and insist on falling in love.

Ministry of Marriage

Like all the best series, Christina Brooke‘s Ministry of Marriage can be read in order – or flagrantly out of order, as I have done. I started with The Wickedest Lord Alive about Xavier, the Marquis of Steyn and Lizzy Albright. Then, having developed a taste for Christina’s fine command of the best and worst of human nature, especially as contained within family units, I read his sister Rosamund and Griffin, the Earl of Tregarth’s story in Mad About the Earl. Love is at the heart of both of these sexy Regency Romances, threatened by family intrigue, warring factions and internal doubts.

The heroes of both the above books are deeply scarred by their childhoods, Xavier emotionally and Griffin both physically and emotionally. Fortunately for them, neither Lizzie nor Rosamund is as sweet and gentle as she looks. Both are prepared to fight for what they want and neither will be deterred by either fearsome scowls or insane and dangerous relatives.

I was also delighted to find out that three of the books – The Wickedest Lord Alive, London’s Last True Scoundral, and The Greatest Lover Ever (they are nothing if not confident, the Westruther men) are now available as audiobooks in the US. Hopefully worldwide distribution will follow soon.

I am not the only one who adores Christine’s books. As regards Mad About the Earl, Suzanne Enoch said ‘Clever, lush and lovely’ whilst Romance Junkies called it ‘a true historical gem‘. Romance Junkies. RT Book Reviews described The Wickedest Lord Alive as ‘Smart, funny and a joy to read’. I think I will tackle Heiress in Love next. Anna Campbell said of the Constantine Black, ‘One of the most compelling heroes I’ve read in years’. Given how much I like Anna Campbell’s heroes (watch this space), that lure is irresistible.

There are many more members of the Westruther, Black and de Veres families to be married off, so I hope that Christina will not stop at book 6 but continue to write and delight fans like me. In particular, I wait with bated breath for the Grand Daddy of the Westruthers, family protector and arch manipulator the Duke of Montford, to fall in love. He deserves it – and so do his charges!

5 hearts all

 

 

The Ministry of Marriage books are sexy Regency romances.

Protected by the Prince by Annie West

Protected by the PrinceUSA Today best selling author Annie West won the RuBY for best short, sexy contemporary romance for Damaso Claims His Heir at this past weekend’s 2015 Romance Writers of Australia awards evening – which seems to me an excellent reason to review another of her novels, the deliciously naughty and extremely nice Protected by the Prince.

Normally when I read a book involving royalty, I travel back in time at least 200 years so I was intrigued to find out how I would feel about a modern-day Prince Charming. Would the spell be as real in a world I know the ugly truth about? Of course, as I should have known, whether I love or hate a character has everything to do with the skill of the writer, and Annie did not let me down.

Prince Alaric is as remote as the tiny mountain kingdom he rules, bound by a strict sense of honour and a deep cynicism based on past experiences. He is not averse to the charms of women, but he no longer lets one anywhere close to his heart.

Tamsin Connors is not the least bit interested in Alaric’s position or his fortune; its his archives she wants to explore so that she can restore her tarnished name in her discipline. But when she uncovers a dangerous secret in those same archives, she is suddenly the subject of his full attention.

Alaric discovers to his surprise that looks can be deceiving. He can feel powerfully attracted to a bespectacled women in dowdish manly clothes (although he itches to dress her in more flattering clothes). In turn, Tamsin discovers that there is more to the Prince than meets – or bedazzles – the eye.

Annie West draws a wonderful portrait of two wounded but independent souls getting to know each other and discovering that passion – and love – can exist and flourish with the person you were least likely to pick as compatible.

Annie has an honours degree in Classics and lives near Lake Macquarie north of Sydney with her own tall, dark and handsome hero. She lives out her fantasies about exotic locations and brooding foreign lovers through her books.

4 hearts

 

 

Protected by the Prince is a sexy contemporary romance.

A Dangerous Madness by Michelle Diener

Welcome to my first post on Love Lines, a blog I dedicate to all the wonderful romance writers who bring their readers so much pleasure and entertainment. Like many of you, I have an enormous store of books, overflowing from book shelves and even busting out of my Kindle, if such a thing is possible. I have decided to review and share them as it is such a pity to keep good news to oneself.

My first review is Michelle Diener’s delightful sweet Regency romance, A Dangerous Sweet Regency RomanceMadness. It’s beautifully written and combines romance with adventure in a story in which Michelle skilfully blends fact and fiction when Miss Phoebe Hillier and James, Duke of Whittaker get caught up in the conspiracy surrounding the assassination of British prime minister Spencer Percival in May 1812.

I love learning about history through my fiction, and Michelle has obviously done a great deal of research around the only successful assassination of a British prime minister. Spencer Percival was a man with many political enemies and investigating each group against a tight deadline provided fascinating insight into England’s domestic politics during the Regency.

However, the history never interferes with but rather compliments Phoebe and James’ growing romance. James has a reputation as a dissolute Duke, one he has cultivated at great pains to allow him to penetrate circles no respectable person would be seen in – or trusted in. Phoebe is 25, in the care of her aunt, and engaged to a man she does not like. However, when Lord Sheldrake jilts and makes a run for the continent, he not only threatens to ruin her personal standing in the ton but also puts her life in danger as his connection to the plot to assassinate the prime minister is revealed. Although he is initially not sure if he can trust her, it is up to James to save her life.

Aside from the history, there were a couple of things I particularly liked about A Dangerous Madness. The dialogue between the two protagonists is witty and the romance underlined by growing admiration and desire. The heroine has courage and the hero … well, I do love a grown up, emotionally mature and chivalrous hero. A little part of me will always be in love with the Duke of Whittaker. Further, the book came in the most beautiful paperback edition which I will treasure. It is also available as an ebook.

Michelle has two other Regency romances, Emperor’s Conspiracy and A Banquet of Lies as well as a host of other books. She writes in two genres, historical romance and science fiction/fantasy, and I look forwarded to reading more of her work.

5 hearts

A Dangerous Madness is a sweet Regency Romance