Review: The Road Beneath Me by Jessica Blair

the-road-beneath-meReviewed by Sandra Scholes

Jessica Blair is a well-known author of almost seventy books written under several pseudonyms; The Restless Spirit, Reach For Tomorrow, The Restless Heart, Storm Bay, A Distant Harbour, and The Seaweed Gatherers. In her new novel, The Road Beneath Me, Kate Swan is thrown out of the house by her father for being unwilling to marry a man of his choosing. The fact she abhors him deeply does not sway her father in the slightest.

Far away from Kate, Malcolm McFadden marries a crofter’s daughter, Rowena Murray, yet even for him, disaster strikes and Rowena has second thoughts about marrying him. Somehow, Malcolm encounters Kate, and they find an attraction that transcends convention; though he leaves her as he has other responsibilities back home to attend to. Kate is troubled by him leaving so soon, and wonders if she will ever see him again.

Jessica Blair, author of similar titles Sealed Secrets and Secrets of a Whitby Girl is well versed in weaving a tale. Malcolm McFadden is no Heathcliff in this Yorkshire drama; he is a man who tries to do right by those he cares for. The backdrop of Whitby is the perfect setting for the two lovers who can make a go of their relationship. Kate felt as though she was naive for thinking she would, like most of her friends get married to a man who would fulfill all her criteria for the perfect man, and what she actually got was much different. As her father only had designs on the Garfield business, her father did not take her feelings into consideration. He was only interested in using her as a pawn to get more money, and she wanted no part of it, not from her father, and not to marry Cyrus Garfield.

Of course, in that time period, Kate had made a harsh, if not foolish decision to leave home as many would have been left penniless and found themselves on the street with nowhere to go. She is unsure of the path that is in front of her, and afraid to leave even though she has to, or resign herself to marrying Cyrus. She has only one place to go, her brother Archie’s and stay there until she can find somewhere else. To be honest, she is lucky she could find someone, family who would take her in, as usually once a girl had been banished by her father, the entire family would have had nothing to do with her. As Archie is in business with her father, he can’t risk letting Kate stay too long, but there is an answer, she can be sent to become a domestic near Robin Hood’s Bay. At least there she can set up a new life.

Jessica takes the reader through Kate’s thoughts and feelings on her father’s decision to have her leave, and how she can make a life for herself even though her father always thought she would run back to him, and agree to marry the man he wanted. I would count Kate as being very fortunate in this particular period for having the support of her brother at the start. It might seem unrealistic to have Kate helped in this way, however it keeps readers seeing the harsher side of life on the street, and gets her right into the arms of Malcolm.

The Road Beneath Me is filled with heart-rending accounts of what Kate had suffered at the hands of her father and the emotional turmoil she experienced with Malcolm. This is a romance novel that gives hope to all of us.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Buy: The Road Beneath Me

Review: Curse of the Gypsy (Lady Anne Mystery, Book 3) by Donna Lea Simpson

Curse of the GypsyHeroine: When Lady Anne Addison visits the gypsy camp on her father’s lands, she swears she spies Tony in the woods. Unacceptable! She meant it when she said she needed space. Did the man never listen? Well he can’t misunderstand her if it is in writing!

Hero: Anthony, the Marquess of Darkefell, has proposed to Anne and her rejection has stung. Who does think she is to order him away from her side? Then to write such a letter! He wasn’t in Kent, but if she didn’t spy him in the woods, who was it? He intends to find out what is going on and convince Anne to wed him in the process.

Mystery: Sickness is spreading in the village and gypsy camp and both sides blame each other. Both sides curse each other and superstitions run amuck. As fear and tension grows, Lady Anne and Tony strive to get to the bottom of illness and what is causing it.

Review: I love that despite his disappointment, Tony still wears his love on his sleeve. I could have done without the focus on the illness, perhaps a string of escalating “incidents”? There were several in the story that were a tangent mystery. I love how Donna brings back the mystery of the first novel and wraps up the trilogy nicely.

Rating: ★★★★½

Buy: Curse of the Gypsy: A Lady Anne Mystery

Review: Revenge of the Barbary Ghost by Donna Lea Simpson

lady anne revenge of the barbary ghost
This story continues immediately after the events of Lady Anne and the Howl in the Dark.

Lady Anne Addison: Our plucky heroine isn’t sure she wants to wed and escapes to the coast to avoid answering the Marquess of Darkefell’s proposal. She can’t stop thinking about the man but she is determined to be distracted. The local mystery of the Barbary Ghost in Cornwall is just the ticket. She can’t imagine it’s a real ghost, but seeing it in person makes her think twice, still she’s certain she can figure out how the ghost stunt is achieved.

Marquess of Darkefell: Our strikingly handsome hero won’t take a non-answer from Anne about his proposal so he chases her to Cornwall after obtaining her whereabouts from her family. To press his suit, Darkefell joins her in sleuthing, which also helps an old employee worried about his son being involved in the smuggling. The biggest mystery at Cliff House for him though is not the Barbary Ghost and the smugglers; the biggest mystery to solve is how to win Lady Anne’s hand in marriage.

Review: You should definitely read Lady Anne and the Howl in the Dark before reading this one, as it helps illuminate their relationship. The romance between Anne and Tony is one that will play out serially like the Francesca Cahill Deadly Mysteries. Each novel gives you more forward movement, but also leaves you begging for more! Anne is certain if she were to marry the only man she’d want is Tony, but is undecided about the institution of marriage fearing if she does marry Tony, the power it will give him over her life. She is not yet willing to give up what control she has (which is more than most young ladies as she has her inheritance). The style of writing is sweet, clever, full of twists and turns, and passionate! I love both Anne and Tony and can’t wait to see them get their happy ever after as a crime solving duo!

Recommended If You Like: Francesca Cahill Deadly Mysteries, Lady Julie Grey Mysteries, Jaine Austen Mysteries, Mrs. Murphy Mysteries, and mysteries that are light, clever, have a dash of romance and are full of fun!

This series continues with Curse of the Gypsy, which makes it sound like Tony has a twin brother to stir up trouble! Oh la la!

Buy: Revenge of the Barbary Ghost: A Lady Anne Mystery

Review: A Light on the Veranda by Ciji Ware

light verandaReviewed by Cara Lynn

This is a re-publishing of her novel. I read an uncorrected advance copy.

This was a hard book for me to get into. It wasn’t until I was on about page 200 when I began to figure it out. Perhaps that was because it took me so long to read the first 200 pages that I might not have remembered clues given earlier. Who knows.

The basic story is about a harpist Daphne Whitaker Duvallon who wishes to attend her brother’s wedding (and perform). Her conductor in NYC, Rafe, who also happens to be an ex-lover, fires her from her position. She goes to the wedding anyway. About a year earlier, she had literally stopped her wedding to Jack when she discovered her soon-to-be husband in the throes of making love to someone else. (She announces that at the wedding.) He holds a grudge; she is terribly hurt. He sabotages her harp just before her brother’s wedding.

Enter Sim Hopkins, a bird photographer, whose marriage ended disastrously in divorce when he was not home when his wife loses a baby. His ex-wife is a lawyer that Jack hires to push through disposing toxic waste too close to the bird sanctuary. Of course Jack does this after researching Sim on the Internet and knowing that he and Daphne are getting close. Daphne tries, unsuccessfully, to convince Sim that they are up to no good.

Both of them hear a harp playing in the middle of the night when no one is there. They are in two separate locations.

In a way, this book is a sort of time-travel gothic romance. Daphne finds herself transported back into the past when she hears certain sounds or music. She witnesses the people; she isn’t part of it. (That wasn’t clear to me in the beginning.) Whether Sim has any similar experiences, we don’t know.

Suffice it to say that the lives of the ancestors are in some ways influencing the present. And they are thoroughly unlikeable, with a couple of exceptions, as well as mentally off, shades of Jane Eyre with the crazy wife in the upper rooms, then the daughter with similar issues put in an insane asylum when she doesn’t deserve it by a tyrant of a second husband after her money, stillborns, forced marital ‘rights’. Even with the geneologies in the front of the book, I had a hard time keeping them straight. This is the deep south, in the time of slavery.

The book flips back and forth from present day to the past.

Both Sim and Daphne are wounded by their own pasts, let alone their ancestors.

Be warned: There is abortion, miscarriage, stillborn, suicides, insanity, disfigurement, a Gothic-type denouement.

Recommended: If you like reading about the past and the above situations.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Buy: Light on the Veranda

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Review: The Demon Lover (Fairwick Chronicles, Book 1) by Juliet Dark

demon lover juliet darkReviewed by Lynn Reynolds

This story is written in the first person.

Dr. Cailleach Fay seems to enjoy writing about all types of demon lovers. She doesn’t just teach the classics but also watches episodes of Dark Shadows and reads the works of Anne Rice. Callie is vying for a teaching position at Fairwick College. A college where we find out that everyone isn’t as they seem.

Juliet does a great job of describing the town where Fairwick College is located. It sounds like a quaint little town that any romantic would love to visit. Callie is staying at an Inn in town while waiting to see if she got the job. She then falls in love with a house across the street called Honeysuckle House.

Callie starts to get nightly visits from a mystery man. Is he just a man of her dreams or is he something more? We have a little mystery going on and some of it revolves around Callie’s house and the woods that are just behind. The College also seems something of a mystery.

Callie’s house used to belong to a romance novelist. Part of what the novelist wrote is located in the attic. Callie is very interested in learning more about the novelist that lived in Honeysuckle House as well as reading her works. Will Dahlia LaMotte’s stories, journals, and letters connect these two ladies?

I did love how Juliet gives us a story within a story. We get to read parts of the stories that Dahlia created. Juliet also gives her readers some pretty hot dream scenes. Not overly sexual but hot, and very descriptive, all the same. But there were times that I thought things were moving to slow. And that there were parts that could have been left out and probably would not change the storyline.

I think that Juliet knew what she was doing by creating a mystery around Callie’s house. It will hold your attention and make you question as to what is going on. We need to keep reading in order to see if the mystery gets solved. But then she surprised me by who she hooked Callie up with. I never would have guessed that one in a million years.

The story will make you turn the pages but if you’re looking for a romance, this may not be the kind you are looking for. To me it’s more of a paranormal mystery. But since this is book one, maybe the storyline will continue in book 2. Maybe this is the hook that Juliet wants to use to have us follow the series. I would say that if you want to read this book, check it out at your local library.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Buy: The Demon Lover

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Review: Red Velvet and Absinthe by Mitzi Szereto

Reviewed by Sandra Scholes

There is nothing like 15 stories of paranormal erotic romance to thrill a reader into each of them, all are different, yet all will leave them with the distinct taste of absinthe on the tongue from the sheer pleasure they bring.

A Foreword and Introduction create enough of a background to the Gothic horror story to set the scene for the stories that the reader will immerse themselves in. Kelley Armstrong goes into all the elements that make up the Gothic story, the darkness, the innocent woman, mysterious man who is interested in her, and the haunting madness that is so often the bread and butter of this genre. They don’t always work out that way, though, there are the stories that bend the rules a little, some are different in they use gay or lesbian characters instead of the usual ones everyone knows about.

Well, everyone doesn’t know about these stories – they vary from each one, and all have the distinct elements of the Gothic horror within them. They can surprise, shock, and amaze-all with the intensity of the Gothic drama and feel of the age. These stories bring out an atmosphere of intrigue, full of dark and twisted emotions we can all feel in the right light…in this case it is candle light that will inspire us.

Here are a few of the stories available and my reviews of them:

Snowlight, Moonlight by Rose De Fer

A woman on a journey is attacked and left for dead on a snowy path. The coachman did not survive and the coach itself would not be useable again. Lucky for her she has someone who can help her, a man who encounters her body one night and takes her all the way back to his mansion house. There she wakes up and wonders where she is. The kind gentleman tells her where he found her, yet she has no memory of it. Everything is a blur to her mind until he mentions one thing, the things that attacked her days ago. That is what startles her.

Of particular interest to the reader will be what the man has been studying for a while, and what she really is after the accident. It interested me when a perfect gentleman could be so out of character to tie the lady to his bed – but then again, the reader will find out why. I enjoyed the atmosphere this story conjured for me, and I found it the sort of story that I could read again and again.

Cover Him with Darkness by Janine Ashbless

A young girl remembers seeing a young man tied to a slab of limestone. She sees how handsome he is, and how strong he looks, yet also how vulnerable and unhappy he is too. As she is so young, she doesn’t know what the man has done to make her father have him bound so cruelly, but he doesn’t tell her anything – just decides to keep her in the dark as far as explanations go. She is persistent though, and soon she will discover who and what he is. When she is older, her father’s dying words are that someone has to watch over the man as he had many years ago, and it sounds like she will have to do her duty to the family.

Strangely enough, the reader might not ever find out what he is, they will have to make their own mind up as to whether he is a titan or some kind of Prometheus as Janine makes him out to be. All the reader will know is that he is a muscular and handsome man who has been imprisoned for what seems like generations.

A Rose in the Willow Garden by Elizabeth Daniels

Bierce is wandering around for that special person, but he hasn’t found her yet, and being a hunter of a man he does keep on trying until he gets to her, but it isn’t easy when he is trawling the bars and inns along the town in search of her. He always finds loose women there who want him as he is a seductive devil, but one eludes him, and whoever she is he can’t get her out of his mind.

Readers will soon find out that he is not the sort of man she should mess with even if she does think she loves him. She does have a boyfriend already which annoys him a great deal, but he understands that she will have lovers being a handsome woman. There are things she needs to know about his past and what he has done with other women before she takes the plunge and gets with him, but it’s up to her. This is an unusual story with a nice ending.

The Blood Moon Kiss by Mitzi Szereto

The Blood Moon Kiss is a vampire soap opera directed by Mark Gaitzburger and the heroine is the beautiful Christine, while the anti hero is Talen played by Kyle. He is a method actor and everyone knows how good he is at playing his part to the fullest. Christine thinks there is something wrong with him, something the other actors have missed, but she also finds him intriguing to her in a way no other man would, and that, for her…could be dangerous.

Kyle’s accent could give him away as she notices it is slightly European, and has a certain twang about it. He does get ill occasionally and tends to shut himself away from the sight of others, and it bothers her that he does this. The Blood Moon Kiss reminded me of Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula, a man who finds the love of his life in the future and can’t be without her. This is the perfect Gothic romance story set in the present day in this volume.

Painted by Anna Meadows

You would never think a painting could cause jealousy, but in one woman’s wife, it does. She hates the very sight of it, but the husband likes it a great deal, and after winning it in a bet, he finds her dislike of the woman annoying for him. She mentions that the woman looks like a tart, hoping he will remove it some day. The woman in the painting has a certain something that Benjamin likes, and it entices him to keep looking at it even though it sends goose bumps on his skin.

Benjamin feels as though no one is taking his feelings into account about the painting, as he sees the woman in it as almost alive. He is the only one who has a connection with her, and one night when he is alone, he notices that the woman is gone. The rest of his family think Ben should get married, but he isn’t interested in anyone other than the woman in the painting and he wonders who she really is. I enjoyed the setting of this story, and the presence it evoked for me.

La Belle Mort by Zander Vyne

Elizabeth Morton is due to be executed, and she is with child too. She has been tried for a crime she did not commit, she did not steal a diamond necklace from the estate where she lived, and worked but she knows who has. This is a journey back in time again to when a woman could be tricked into anything, and the gentleman would get away with it. Taken to prison before this can happen, she is made open to a life of nothingness, and doesn’t expect the sorrow and pain life in jail can cause. She does have a visitor though, and he could be the answer to her dreams. When another man arrives she listens to what he has to say, mentioning that if she tells them where she has hid the necklace, they will pardon her. Unfortunately, she hasn’t stolen it, and doesn’t know where it is.

Elizabeth is the sort of woman from period dramas who was used in those days by rich lords who had affairs with nursemaids and servants when the wife was otherwise indisposed. Tales are numerous about what happens when these women are pregnant and can only do one thing – leave where they are or risk being kicked out anyway. In those days, servants were used and cast out, and this story tells the reality of what happened.

These are only a few of the stories in this book, and I picked my favourites out, but there will be the readers own favourites too and not all of the characters are so obviously monsters either – this is much more than a compilation of the unusual and the monstrous…it is deliciously Gothic.

Rating: ★★★★½

Buy: Red Velvet and Absinthe: Paranormal Erotic Romance

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Defining the Genre: Gothic Romance

genre

Gothic romance is a genre you can’t find all too easily today. It was a popular genre a few decades ago and lovers of this romance sub-genre will have to troll secondhand bookstores to find titles. Classics of this genre are novels such as Wuthering Heights and Scarlet Letter. Well known authors of Gothic romance/horror include Ann Radcliffe of the past and Stephen King of the present.

A typical Gothic romance revolved around conflict and mysteries. It made the heroine choose between two male characters for love. One is bright, sunny, cheerful and charming. The other was dark, mysterious, secretive, and brooding. Plotlines of cursed leads and daring adventures took place on wind-swept moors, and places that were haunted. The heroine would embark on a thrilling journey to discover if her hero was worthy of love. Her task usually boiled down to find out if the hero really murdered his first wife, brother, mother, insert other relation.

It is interesting to note that Radcliffe introduced this brooding male as the Gothic villain, which developed into the Byronic hero. She is considered a pioneer of the genre. The movie Becoming Jane shows a meeting between Radcliffe and Jane Austen but there’s not basis for this meeting. However it does provide an interesting backdrop on the dual rise of the two types of popular novels.

As Gothic or dark romanticism developed it became more distinctly separated. The first direction of Gothic novels glorifies gore. The second took on the key aspects of modern romance. This new evolution made the focus on the romance instead of the mystery. These are the romances that disappeared after the eighties.

So what is a Byronic hero?

Trivia: The name of this hero comes from the English poet Lord Bryon.

The hero himself is highly intelligent, urbane, sophisticated and introspective. In other words he’s arrogant, mysterious, seductive, and moody (see bipolar). We see male figures like this all over, you could make the argument that Mr. Darcy is a Byronic hero on top of being a Regency hero, as Byronic heroes dislike social formalities and functions. Of course Mr. Darcy doesn’t have a troubled past or flippant air towards the wealthy and privileged, as he is one of that set. While Mr. Darcy was disliked he was not a complete social outcast and exiled from polite company. All these things are attributed to the Byronic hero.

What’s a good modern Gothic romance?

Some titles of the modern Gothic romance include: Bells of Widow’s Bay by Miriam Lynch, Castle Midnight by Evelyn McKenna, and Satan’s Rock by Marilyn Ross.

Authors to look for include (past and present authors): Victoria Holt, Dorothy Daniels, Theresa Weir, Phyllis Whitney, Barbara Michaels, Allison Knight, Mary Stewart, Joanna Challis, and Megan McKinney, Kay Hooper, Eve Silver… to name a few.

Trivia: In the 1980s Harlequin had an all Gothic line of books. See here for Gothic titles. Harlequin Intrigue also contains several titles that could satisfy your craving.

Review: Mr. Darcy, Vampyre by Amanda Grange

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Amanda Grange picks up where Pride and Prejudice ends. Jane and Elizabeth are getting ready for their double wedding, both eager and anxious about the life spreading out before them. On the way to the wedding, Elizabeth experiences a brief foreboding chill but shrugs it off as wedding nerves. The ceremony goes smoothly, Darcy’s vows stirring deep emotions in both.

It’s when they leave the reception that things start taking a turn for the worse. Through the reflection in the glass of their carriage Elizabeth spies a flash of torment crossing Darcy’s features, but a quick look at the real man shows smooth features. Elizabeth believes she has imagined it… unexpectedly he changes their wedding tour plans and routes them from the Lake District to a direct route to France over the channel.

Elizabeth is unconcerned about this change, but wholly concerned with Darcy. She can’t help but compare her expectations to the reality of her marriage to Darcy. He does not visit her bedchamber the first night or the next or the next. When they are together during the day Darcy is everything attentive, kind, and devoted, but at night he disappears.

As Elizabeth struggles to find reasons for this strange behavior, she meets a dizzying array of friends, family, and strangers over the continent. Some people and places inspire a great deal of trepidation in Elizabeth and she spills her worries to Jane in a series of letters.

It’s not until the last one hundred pages that things really begin to unravel and Darcy’s mysterious behavior is revealed. I was surprised by how flawless the transition was from Austen’s Regency romance to Grange’s Gothic flavored romance. Grange has a talent with words and uses this talent to create a believable paranormal filled with stunningly chilling atmosphere and mystery.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Buy: Mr. Darcy, Vampyre