Review: The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla (Pink Carnation, Book 11) by Lauren Willig

mark of the midnight manzanillaReviewed by Lynn Reynolds

Make sure to read the Prologue because it prepares the reader for the first chapter.

Sally Fitzhugh is at an evening soirée and she has an interesting discussion with friends.  Lucien, the Duke of Belliston, has a late night visitor and they have an interesting discussion – there’s no way you can stop reading now.  Believe me, if you like to read historical, paranormal, and time travel romances by the end of chapter two this author will have you hooked.

Sally has an interesting personality and she’s a woman who doesn’t mind trying to figure things out.  This author could have left that story at that and just let things unfold from there but she took it a step further- she’s added in a mystery to be solved.  And don’t worry about wondering if you’ll be lost between the past and present – the author lets you know so there’s no confusion.

This was a book that looks to be part of a great series.  My only disappointment was that I didn’t start reading this author’s work before now.  I found that this book could be read as a stand-alone so you don’t need to read any of the other books to understand what is going on here.  My only hope is that if you liked this book as much as I did, and you haven’t read this series before, you will want to go back and read more about the ladies of the Pink Carnation.  If you’re patient, book twelve is scheduled to come out next August.

Rating: ★★★★½

Buy: The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla: A Pink Carnation Novel

An Earthly Elysium

ringmaster's daughterGuest blog by Grace Elliot, author of The Ringmaster’s Daughter

Have you heard of a pleasure garden?

Pleasure gardens were all the rage in Georgian and Victorian England, and as the name suggests they were open air spaces where people went to be entertained. It’s difficult to think of a modern equivalent and perhaps closest would be an amusement park or major concert venue but neither of these reflect the varied nature of the entertainments that were found in a pleasure garden. In the 18th and 19th centuries, gardens such as Ranelagh and Vauxhall held open air concerts, firework displays and balls, and the visitor would encounter strolling musicians, acrobats and singers, they could shelter in an exotic pavilion, rotunda or a supper box, or else walk along lantern lit paths to see mirror fountains, trompe l’oeil grottos, light shows and statues. Indeed when the 18th century novelist Tobias Smollett visited Ranelagh he described it thus:

“[Ranelagh] made me almost think I was in some enchanted castle or fairy palace.”

The reason for his delight were the nightly illuminations which consisted of ropes of coloured lanterns strung along vast avenues of trees – if you remember that this was in an era when there was no electricity and candles were a luxury, such a display was extravagant to say the least. Indeed, such was the fascination with light that visitors came specifically to see the almost miraculous spectacle of the lanterns lit simultaneously via a special fuse mechanism. (The usual way of lighting lamps was a man and a taper, so this sight was truly breathtaking).

Such was the popularity of pleasure gardens that eminent composers such as Handel premiered work there, including his Royal fireworks music. Indeed, as a publicity stunt a barge sailed along the Thames with musicians playing excerpts on board, to entice visitors along.

Gardens such as Vauxhall were described as ‘an Elysium on earth’, or an earthly paradise away from the noise, smell and bustle of London. For the one shilling entry fee anyone from the common man to a prince could walk through enchanted grottoes and marvel at the wonderous sights with his sweetheart. And hence the reason for my post. What better setting for a series of romances than the backdrop of a pleasure garden?

My latest release, The Ringmaster’s Daughter, features the fictional pleasure gardens at Foxhall. Indeed, the idea came from my fascination with the actual Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens. In #1 of the Foxhall series we join our heroine, Henrietta Hart, with her father’s livelihood is in danger. She enters a battle of wills with the new manager, Tobias Wolfson, and as mutual attraction grows between them, they face a stark choice between love and survival…

Excerpt: Chapter 1

So far that morning, Tobias Wolfson, the new manager of Foxhall Pleasure Gardens, had watched an overweight acrobat, an arthritic contortionist and a ballad singer who was so out of tune that she made his teeth ache. Small wonder the gardens were losing money, he reflected, if these were Foxhall’s best entertainments. And given that the next act was late, his mood showed no sign of improving as he stared across the deserted stable yard.

“Perchance Mr Hart does not value his job?” Wolfson said.

At his side, a florid man in a periwig, smiled nervously. “He should be here, I told him myself.”

“Where is he, Mr Uglow? Answer me that!”

Mr Uglow’s shoulders drooped. “Happen Mr Hart has been detained.”

“Hart’s Performing Horses,” Wolfson murmured, making a mental note to strike the act from the list of those retained.

“Perhaps he’s inside.” Uglow’s plump hand gestured towards the large stone barn.

Wolfson studied the two-story building. Evidently the stables and a tack room were on the ground floor, while the upper housed both a hayloft and some cramped accommodation. He nodded toward the loft.

“Mr Hart and his daughter live up there. Anyone else?”

“No. There was a groom, but he was let go.”

“A quick look and if Hart’s not there, it’s his loss.”

With a grunt, Wolfson marched toward the tack room but, as he passed through the open door, he felt a disturbance in the air and — before he could shout a warning — a young woman cannoned into the wall of his chest. She hit with such force, he heard the breath knocked from her lungs as she rebounded and tumbled backwards. By sheer reflex, Wolfson grabbed her upper arms to steady her. Instead of seeming grateful for his help, the girl glared back, her dark eyes fizzing angry as a wasp’s nest poked with a stick.

Raising a brow, he studied this whirlwind. She had an oval-shaped face, her complexion glowed with health and hair, the color of ripe chestnuts, fell in a thick plait down to her bottom. She was dressed in working clothes, an apron covering a plain woolen skirt, a chemise and a shawl. She was, he realized, a young woman rather than a girl – with a curvaceous figure to match. His interest peeked.

“Sir, release me!” She jerked a shoulder.

With a start, Wolfson found he still gripped her surprisingly muscular upper arms. “Apologies, madam.” He let go and couldn’t help inspecting his hands, puzzled by the tingle of static on his palms. Bemused, he looked up to find her staring back, her mouth softly parted in question. Feeling an unwanted tug of attraction, Wolfson scowled.

Composing herself, the woman stood hands on hips, her brow furrowed in challenge. “What are you doing in my yard?”

Bold as a lioness, she held her head high, and something jumped inside Wolfson as he returned her stare. Even standing still, she exuded energy — and the faint smell of lavender and horses. Perhaps it was the vivacity behind those dark eyes — so dark as to be almost black — or that determined expression, but her spirit excited Wolfson and his brow rose further.

“Your yard?” he said, faintly amused.

Mr Uglow coughed politely. “Ah, this is Mr Hart’s daughter, Henrietta — she may know what has detained her father.”

For the first time, the young woman faltered. “You want Pa?”

“Indeed, I would be most grateful,” Wolfson continued, “unless he has more important matters to attend to than keeping his place.”

Miss Hart eyed him suspiciously. “And you are?”

With an ironic smile, Wolfson tipped his tricorn hat. “Mr Wolfson, new manager of the Foxhall Pleasure Gardens.”

Miss Hart hesitated, her gaze flicked to the stout man by his side. “The gossip is true — Mr Uglow isn’t running things anymore?”

Wolfson proceeded smoothly, “Mr Uglow continues as a valuable asset to the gardens, but I am here to ease his workload and provide fresh insight during the renovations.”

“Mr Wolfson and I will be working together.” Uglow’s tight lips suggested he disliked the arrangement.

“Oh, I see,” Her dark eyes widened and deepened to black. “And you wanted Pa because…?”

“To decide the act’s future.”

“Oh.”

Was his imagination or had Miss Hart just trembled? Beside him, Mr Uglow shuffled his feet. With effort, Wolfson marshalled his thoughts back to the task in hand.

“Miss Hart, will your father be honoring us with his presence?”

“Pa’s out. Being fitted for a new costume. Not expected back afore late afternoon.” She held his gaze, but Wolfson’s skin prickled as it did when he was being lied to.

“Is that right?”

Miss Hart licked her lips. “I just said so.”

Wolfson arched a brow at her impertinence but let the disagreement go, for he would get to the bottom of matters in his own time. He folded his arms across his chest, tapping a manicured finger against the opposite sleeve.

“I understand your father has performed at Foxhall for many years.”

“Yes, sir. He started when I was a babe in arms. There was a time when Hart’s Performing Horses were the star attraction,” she added hastily. “Of course the act is still very popular.”

Wolfson inclined his head toward Mr Uglow. “What are the gate receipts like?”

The ruddy-faced man waved his hands in exasperation. “I’m far too busy running the gardens to keep track of every little detail.”

Wolfson hid his irritation behind a genial smile. “But you can find out?”

“I suppose so. There will be ledgers somewhere.”

“Have them sent to my office as a matter of priority. And Miss Hart,” He faced those devastating dark eyes – that he decided were a deep hazel, bordering on brown. “Please explain why last night’s performance was cancelled.”
Her skin, lightly tanned from time spent outdoors, paled slightly. “The lead horse, Stardust, he went lame.”

There it was again, the skin prickling sensation. For some reason Miss Hart was lying, but he nodded as if sympathetic. “I trust he will be fit for tonight.”

“Oh yes, sir.” She smiled, but her lip quivered. Clearly something was troubling her.

“Even so, I would like to speak with Mr Hart urgently.”

“I can pass on a message.”

“Very well. Tell your father that tonight I will be in the audience deciding whether or not to re-commission the act. Nothing I have seen or heard to date inspires confidence. I suggest he gives the performance of his life.”

For the first time, Miss Hart seemed dumb-founded. “Of course, Mr Wolfson, I will tell him.”

“Good,” he sighed. “Next on my list are the giant tortoise and his handler. Lead on, Mr Uglow, lead on.”

Aware of Miss Hart’s eyes burning into his back, he left the stable yard with the niggling impression that Miss Hart was as an uncut diamond amongst coals.

Buy: The Ringmaster’s Daughter

The Ringmaster’s Daughter – synopsis

1770’s London

The ringmaster’s daughter, Henrietta Hart, was born and raised around the stables of Foxhall  Gardens. Now her father is gravely ill, and their livelihood in danger. The Harts’ only hope is to convince Foxhall’s new manager, Mr Wolfson, to let Hetty wield the ringmaster’s whip. Hetty finds herself drawn to the arrogant Wolfson but, despite their mutual attraction, he gives her an ultimatum: entertain as never before – or leave Foxhall.

When the winsome Hetty defies society and performs in breeches, Wolfson’s stony heart is in danger. Loath as he is to admit it, Hetty has a way with horses…and men. Her audacity and determination awaken emotions long since suppressed.

But Hetty’s success in the ring threatens her future when she attracts the eye of the lascivious Lord Fordyce. The duke is determined, by fair means or foul, to possess Hetty as his mistress – and, as Wolfson’s feelings for Henrietta grow, disaster looms.

Buy: The Ringmaster’s Daughter

graceelliotAuthor Bio:

Grace Elliot leads a double life as a veterinarian by day and author of historical romance by night. Grace lives near London and is housekeeping staff to five cats, two teenage sons, one husband and a bearded dragon.
Grace believes that everyone needs romance in their lives as an antidote to the modern world. The Ringmaster’s Daughter is Grace’s fifth novel, and the first in a new series of Georgian romances.

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Buy: The Ringmaster’s Daughter

Review: The Ringmaster’s Daughter (The Foxhall Series, Book 1) by Grace Elliott

ringmaster's daughterReviewed by Lynn Reynolds

Tobias Wolfson meets Henrietta Hart in a very interesting way. Hetty and I both have something in common – we take care of our fathers. Tobias is all about business but that was before he meets her. He’s a man of vision.

Grace takes the reader back to a time when the circus was all about the talent and not about the theatrics and pyrotechnics. What grabbed people’s attention back then would probably be almost boring by today’s standard. It also makes you wonder what those people would think about our circuses today. Our author’s descriptions are so realistic that I felt as if I was a part of the audience watching the show.

Hetty is a young woman who has a lot riding on her shoulders – makes the reader feel sorry for her. You want to keep reading so that you can see how she handles herself. It also shows how brave she is. This story shows a young lady growing up into a strong woman.

If there’s one character that fits into the hate category, that would be Uglow. I can almost picture him with a moustache and him twirling the ends. But he also fits into the storyline and I don’t think the story would be the same without him.

At times, it did seem a little slow but our author does give her reader a lot for their money. Don’t expect the romance to start at the beginning – you will have to be patient. The scenes aren’t too graphic so it lets the readers use their imagination. But just remember that nothing ever runs smoothly but it’s how the author resolves any issue that makes it interesting.

I found this book to be more historical than romance although I was very pleased with the ending. If you’re on the fence on whether you want to purchase the book, or not, stop at your local library. Even though this is an e-book, a lot of libraries do lend them out. This is the first book in a series and I would see what the next book brings. I did go to her web site, http://graceelliot-author.blogspot.com, but I was unable to get any indication of what it will be about.

Rating: ★★★½☆

Buy: The Ringmaster’s Daughter: A Georgian Romance (The Foxhall Series)

Review: A Baron in Her Bed (Spies of Mayfair, Book 1) by Maggi Andersen

baron in her bedReviewed by Lynn Reynolds

This story takes place in the year 1816.

In reading Maggi’s book, she made the best choice when she created Horatia Cavendish. It’s a great way to start off the book when the lead female character has a mind of her own and goes against convention. She also has her male character, Guy Truesdale, let his ladylove be herself – he doesn’t try to change her.

This book has a lot of passion between the two without having to add all the sex that some readers crave. I don’t think the book would have been as good. It would have taken away from all the mystery and intrigue that Maggi has included. That is what had me turning the page. I wanted to find out what was going on the same time that Horatia did.

There were other characters in this book, one being Guy’s sister Genevieve and his friend John. I’m hoping that since this is a series, Maggi will have a couple more stories that will let us know what has happened to those two – I will keep my fingers crossed. When it comes to thinking who the female character would be played by, we always want to put ourselves in her place. But the real question is, who would play your romantic lead?

When I looked this book up on Amazon.com it was nice to see that the paperback is Low in Stock and that sounds like a good thing. I may have an e-reader but I still love to have a book where I can physically turn the pages and look at the great cover whenever I want to. If you’re looking for a great historical fiction that has some mystery, suspense, and just the right amount of romance, you will want to add this book to your library. It’s also a great way to start off a series.

If you love to follow blogs, you may want to go to http://www.maggiandersenauthor.com and sign up for her newsletter. She has a book two of this series coming out titled Taming of a Gentleman Spy. I could not get any information, other than it’s coming out in September, but if you follow her I’m sure that she will give some hints as to what this next book will be about.

Rating: ★★★★½

Buy: A Baron in her Bed (The Spies of Mayfair Series)

Review: Sweet Madness (Veiled Seduction, Book 3) by Heather Snow

sweet madnessReviewed by Lynn Reynolds

The year is 1817 and then it jumps to 1820.

Gabriel Devereaux is watching Lady Penelope Bridgeman dance with her husband. He seems to be envious of what she and her husband have. Then Heather jumps ahead when we see that something may have happened to Gabe.

Heather covers a subject that you rarely see in a fiction book – especially a romance. As I read Gabe’s story, I start to compare what our soldiers of today must be going through. But we don’t seem to think that our soldiers in the past must have gone through the same thing. It must have taken a lot of research in order to be historically accurate.

We also get to see how people of that time period treated people that were different – it’s not something that they would be able to get away with today. And that is a blessing. It also makes me wonder what Lady Penelope would think of the medical help the soldiers receive today.

There’s a carriage scene that I just loved. It appeared to be a bit of role reversal. Penelope seemed to be the one with the strong compassionate personality and Gabe seemed to be the vulnerable one.

Heather gives you a sex fix if that is what you look for in your historical romances, but it’s not the main focus of the story. And then she gives us the perfect ending – she never disappoints her readers. You will also want to make sure to read the “Author’s Note”. I’m looking forward to seeing if there is a book four

Rating: ★★★★½

Buy: Sweet Madness

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Review: Treacherous Temptations by Victoria Vane

Treacherous Temptations by Victoria VaneReview by Lynn Reynolds

The prologue starts on December 31, 1720. It has a shocking beginning and then it jumps over a year ahead. The setting is Venice and our character describes it as if it were female. I always find it interesting how a town is described as being female. It also makes me wonder why they are never described as being male.

Hadley, the current Lord Blanchard, seems to be a man who only has one thing on his mind. And his “stepmother”, Lady Barbara Blanchard, doesn’t appear to be much better. The story then jumps ahead to the year 1727.

Mary Elizabeth Edwardes is a product of the times – there are only two things that she’s good for, but I admire that she tries to stick up for herself. She has what I consider to be an elegant name, but she prefers to go by her nickname.

It’s interesting to see how sometimes money can influence everything you do – no matter if someone gets hurt in the process. But it doesn’t matter what the time period, it still happens today. It seemed to rule everything back then and we still rely on it heavily today.

Victoria does a great job of creating Hadley. He’s one of those characters that you love to hate but hope he finds redemption and love in the end. He fits the definition of a Rake to a “T”. Does Mary have what it takes to change him or is she just too timid? You will have to get a copy of this book in order to find that out. Victoria gives the reader their sex scene but it is not rushed. Descriptions are graphic so that you can enjoy the moment the same time they do. As you read, you think things are going to work out but then Victoria adds some new twists and turns which just add to the suspense.

Some people don’t read all the way to the very end. With this book please make sure that you do. Victoria has included some “Titillating Tidbits”. It is very insightful. The end came too quickly for me. You will not be disappointed to read this latest book of Victoria’s and it will leave you wanting to read more.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Buy: Treacherous Temptations

Audio Review: Seven Nights in a Rogue’s Bed (Sons of Sin, Book 1) by Anna Campbell

seven nights of sinHero: Jonas Merrick is the illegitimate son of the late Viscount Hillbrook. In his youth, his cousin, William Merrick, the new Lord Hillbrook, slashed his face deep leaving him permanently disfigured. His deepest desire to exact revenge on William and his plans are going smoothly right up until William’s wife, Roberta, sends her virgin spinster sister to pay of the debt she owes Jonas. What the hell! Intrigued by her gumption and her beauty, Jonas strikes a new deal – and might just wind up offering his heart in the bargain too.

Heroine: Sidonie Forsythe will not let Jonas ruin her sister, who is in a very difficult situation at home, so she takes Roberta’s place in the beast’s bed. When they meet, she is able to change the agreement a little bit. Instead of taking her virginity outright, Sidonie is allowed to resist, if she can, his charms. Seven nights in Jonas’ bed, sparks a desire in her heart to be with him for always and she wants to give into it, but the secret she holds could be her undoing.

Review: Despite the fact that Jonas is not quite beastly enough, and the Gothic atmosphere is not quite heavy enough, the story is undoubtedly a great retelling of Beauty and the Beast. I was very drawn to both the hero and heroine. Their chemistry was off the charts. Like Sidonie, you will want to give into Jonas. His emotional scars are deep and you want to see them healed. If you are like me, you will be grabbed by the get go and be sad to see it end.

Narrator: Antony Ferguson has a wonderful voice. I loved to listen to him. He can read me a historical romance any time he wants.

Rating: ★★★★★

Buy: Seven Nights in a Rogue’s Bed (Sons of Sin)

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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