Top Pick – Highly Recommended

A Scandalous Deal by Joanna Shupe

A Scandalous Deal (The Four Hundred, #2)A Scandalous Deal by Joanna Shupe
Tracy’s rating: 5 of 5 stars (I would give it more if I could!)

Series: The Four Hundred, #2

Release Date: April 24, 2018

I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this book!

Lady Eva Hyde, daughter of the famous architect E.M. Hyde, Lord Cassell and the holder of the unfortunately nickname Lady Unlucky (because of her 3 deceased fiancés) is on her way to New York to oversee the biggest project of her career. Too bad everyone believes it is her father’s design.

Eva meets Phillip on the ship, she literally runs into him she introduces herself as Evelyn and helps him with his sea sickness, days later during a storm, they meet again and after too much champagne, they share a passionate encounter. Phillip tries to find her the next morning, but she is gone.

Phillip Mansfield is the owner and developer of the hotel, the Mansfield Hotel will be his legacy, he has hired only the best for the project, including famed architect E.M. Hyde. He is back in New York and ready to start his hotel project, but he can’t stop thinking of Evelyn, so when she arrives on his job site, he is shocked and then angry when he learns who she is. Phillip cannot abide deceit, he has been burned by a woman before and has a real problem trusting any woman. He takes Eva back to his office and learns that her father is ill and sent her in his place. Eva doesn’t reveal the truth about her father’s illness or that she is in fact the true designer of the hotel. Phillip agrees to let her stay on as long as she promises to stay in constant contact with her father and that she doesn’t use her real name, she agrees, she needs this job, her father is no longer competent, his memory is gone and Eva has been designing projects under his name for two years. Added to that is the fact he needs constant care and due to poor financial decisions, they are practically penniless. She cannot lose this job! They also agree to keep their relationship professional and forget about what they shared on the ship. Phillip suggests they consider themselves friends.

Eva is staying with her dear friend Lady Nora (heroine from the first book) and confesses all to her, Nora tells her she should tell Phillip the truth, but Eva wants time to prove herself. But that is going to be difficult, it seems that everyone is against her running the project. Union reps threaten Phillip, the General Contractor causes problems with her and demands that Phillip keeps her off the site, which causes problem with his relationship with Eva.

Phillip has other problems besides Eva, his mother is pushing Miss. Rebecca Hall in his path, he has told his mother repeatedly that he doesn’t want to marry. Becca is a lovely woman, but he feels nothing for her besides friendship. He knows Becca doesn’t want him either, but when he learns why, he agrees to “court” her to keep their parents at bay.

When Eva meets with the city building inspector and irons out the problems that have shut down the project. Phillip invites her out to celebrate, he wants an affair, but the risk is too high for her. He asks her to consider it. He takes her to see the new Madison Square Garden building and she is awed. She is touched that Phillip knows her so well and decides to take the risk and they embark on a heated affair.

Things are moving along, both personally and professionally for them, but Eva feels guilty about her lies, she decides to tell Phillip everything, but before she can, everything falls apart.

With her life in shambles, Eva flees to Newport and gets advice and support from an unexpected source. She returns to New York, intent on righting her wrongs.

Phillip will have to face some hard truths and make some serious decisions, is he willing to swallow his pride and grovel? Will that be enough to save his hotel and win back the woman he loves?

This book was fantastic, I couldn’t put it down once I started reading, there is a lot going on, but it never feels busy and the story stays on track even with all the little side plots and twists and turns. It is well written, flows perfectly, has steamy love scenes, a little angst, betrayal, some heartache, lies, secrets, drama, witty banter, great secondary characters, a great epilogue and a very, very hard won HEA.

This is the second book in the series, but it can easily be read as a stand alone title. I cannot recommend this book enough, it is definitely going on my re-read list!

*I am voluntarily leaving a review for an eARC provided to me by Edelweiss and the publisher*

Scandal in Spades by Wendy LaCapra

Scandal in SpadesScandal in Spades by Wendy LaCapra
Tracy’s rating: 5 of 5 stars

Series: Lords of Chance, #1

Release Date: April 10, 2018

Giles Langley, Marquess of Bromton aka Spades has learned that his entire existence is a lie. He has been raised to be the Marquess and embodies the role – he is proper, he is pompous, he is entitled and he cannot abide scandal – so learning that the former Marquess is not his father and his now widowed mother has married an artist is enough to drive him to desperation – he has convinced himself that he must right the wrong done to the marquisate – so upon learning that none of his properties are entailed, he searches his family tree and forms a plan. He befriends Percival Stanley, Earl of Markham aka Hearts, a very distant relative – actually the only other male relative in the Langley line – and convinces him to place a wager on a game of vingt-et-in along with his other friends, Lord Rayne aka Diamonds and Lord Farring aka Clubs. Giles has had each man place secret wagers and “fixes” the game so Markham will win – and win he does, all of Giles unentailed property. Markham confronts Giles and tells him he knows he cheated – he refuses to take the winnings, but proposes an alternative – Giles could marry his sister, Katherine.

Katherine’s hopes of a happy life were crushed when Beau Brummell declared her the “Most Unmarriageable Maiden in England” due to two failed betrothals, her first was a love match, but he died before they could marry and the second ran off with his mistress after fighting a duel the day before he was to marry Katherine. She has accepted her lot and cares for her younger sister, Julia and manages Markham’s estate, while she might not be happy, she is content. She does worry what her tarnished reputation will mean to Julia when she has her come out next season, but she hopes the talk will have died down and her perfect behavior will ensure that Julia is successful. She is less than thrilled when Markham sends her a letter saying he is bringing home a guest. She an Julia plan how to get rid of them. But Giles is a man on a mission – marrying Katherine and having an heir, will ensure that Langley blood holds the title. He will marry her.

She is attracted to Giles, but she doesn’t trust him. Why would a man who prides himself on living a scandal free life, want a tarnished spinster? Slowly, they get to know each other and Katherine begins to fall for Giles, but she is sure that once he learns her secret, he will leave. He pushes for them to marry and she tells him to give them two weeks to get to know each other and if at that time he still wants to marry her, she will say yes. Giles is changing, much to his surprise and he is falling for Katherine. He begins to feel guilty about keeping the truth from her, but convinces himself it is a good thing for her, being married to him will improve her social standing and will help her siblings as well. So when she tells him her secret, at first he is taken aback, but he insists that he still wants to marry her and that her past is the past. Katherine is a little surprised that the oh so proper marquess is willing to overlook her past, but she is happy too and agrees to marry him.

He heads off to London to get a special license and decides to visit his mother. When she learns that his is going to marry and hasn’t been honest with Katherine, she warns him that he is making a mistake, but he is still angry with her and says truly awful things to her, so awful she tells him he is no longer welcome to call on her. Ruffled by her words but still set on his plan, he returns to Southford, where he finds Farring and Rayne at the village inn. Farring is happy for him, but Rayne is angry – Giles had a long standing understanding with his sister Clarissa, which he broke off when he learned the truth of his birth, but he never explained why and caused a rift with his friend – He sends them off to the house and tells them that he is just going to freshen up and will meet them later – he then proceeds to get rip roaring drunk with the locals. Katherine was visiting a tenant and slipped into the inn to escape the rain. The innkeeper decides to play matchmaker and sends her up to a room to dry off and then sends up a very drunk Giles. They share a moment of passion and both leave looking forward to their wedding night.

But when tension between Rayne and Giles finally comes to a head and Katherine learns the truth, will there even be a wedding?

This was a fantastic story, well written, flowed great, had probably the most realistic sibling interaction that I have ever read in a book, steamy love scenes, great secondary characters, secrets, some groveling and an ending that gave me goosebumps and made me teary eyed. I have never read this author before, but I am going to check out her backlog and will be looking out for her future books!

*I am voluntarily leaving a review for an eARC that was provided to me by NetGalley and the publisher*

The Companion’s Secret by Susanna Craig

The Companion's Secret (Rogues and Rebels, #1)The Companion’s Secret by Susanna Craig
Tracy’s rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Series: Rogues and Rebels, #1

Release Date: April 3, 2018

Gabriel Finch, Marquess of Ashborough aka Lord Ash, has a reputation of destroying everything he touches, he is a gambler, an unrepentant rake and possibly a murderer. When he overhears his cousin using Gabriel’s estate as collateral for a wager, he makes a decision. He will marry, have an heir and make sure his cousin never inherits. Problem is, he is not exactly welcomed in good society and finding a bride the traditional way might prove impossible. But not to worry, blackmail and extortion will do just as well. He asks his good friend Christopher Fox about potential brides and settles on Lady Felicity Trenton, daughter of the Earl of Merrick and sister to Lord Trenton, a man that owes Gabriel a fortune.

Camellia Burke is Lord Merrick’s niece and has come from Ireland to act as a companion to Lady Merrick, Cami is an aspiring author and came to England in hopes of finding a publisher for her book. It is a volatile time in Ireland and she is hoping that her book will enlighten the English to the plight of the Irish. She has found a publisher and he loved her story, but feels like she needs to make her villain more believable, she is at a loss until she meets Lord Ash – he is a perfect model for her villain!

Gabriel is fascinated by Cami, but Lady Felicity is perfect for his needs, he needs a wife with an impeccable lineage to thwart his uncle and cousin and Cami doesn’t fit the bill. But the more he is with her, the more he wants her. For her part, Cami uses her time to study him – for her book of course – She knows Felicity doesn’t want to marry him, but the alternative is ruin for her family.

Cami is beginning to believe there is more to Gabriel than he lets anyone see and when she tells him Felicity doesn’t want to marry him, he kisses her. Cami is conflicted, she wants him, but feels guilty. When Gabriel’s uncle gives Felicity the cut – things escalate quickly.

Gabriel learns his Uncle is plotting to destroy him, this is not the first time, but this time might well be the last. He needs to marry Felicity, he has been avoiding asking for her hand, but his time is up. He tells Fox that he will marry Felicity – Fox objects, he cares for her and doesn’t want her to be hurt. Gabriel says he will make sure she is taken care of, but that is not good enough for Fox and he leaves in anger. Fox is the only person that has ever stood by him and Gabriel wonders if he has finally turned that relationship to ash as well.

Lady Merrick is outraged by Gabriel’s uncle and declares that if Lord Ash doesn’t propose, Felicity will be ruined. Cami joins them for breakfast and tries to sooth her aunt, but when a letter from home arrives, all thoughts of Felicity and Gabriel flee. Trouble is brewing and she must return home.

When Gabriel arrives, Felicity urges him to go after her and Gabriel sets a new plan in motion. He finds Cami and tries to convince her to travel with him, she resists, but then he tells her he is not going to marry Felicity. Cami finally gives in to the attraction between them and the next morning when Gabriel finds her manuscript, she gives him more than just her body. She reads her book to him and in doing so, shares her soul with him.

Gabriel knows he should go back to London and clear his name, because he wants a future with Cami. Realizing how much she shared with him, he opens up to her, as he has never done with another person. This is a very touching and emotional scene – tissues may be needed by the reader – It appears that they have come to an understanding and he will return to London. But when the news of trouble in Ireland is learned, he can’t let her go alone. But if he goes, he could lose everything – including his life.

This is such a great story, a wonderful blend of fact and fiction woven into a complicated and emotional tale, with a broken hero and an equally broken heroine – two imperfect people who are perfect for each other. This book has steamy-ish love scenes, a little heartache, sacrifices made, secrets shared and a very sweet ending. If this book had an epilogue it would have been a 5 star read – because IMO, it needed an epilogue, the ending just came a little too fast, tied up a little too neatly and ended a little too abruptly and left me wanting more. But that doesn’t change the fact that I loved this book and would highly recommend it.

*I am voluntarily leaving a review for an eARC that was provided to me by NetGalley and the publisher*

My Lady Captor by Hannah Howell

My Lady CaptorMy Lady Captor by Hannah Howell

Tracy’s rating: 5 of 5 stars

Release Date: March 27, 2018 (Re-issue)

Someway, somehow I missed this gem when it originally released in 1996 AND when it was re-issued in 2009 – This book is classic Hannah Howell and I am so glad I finally got to read it!

Lady Sorcha Hay finds Sir Ruari Kerr injured on the battlefield while she is searching for her brother Dougal. She learns from Ruari that Dougal was taken by the English and will be ransomed back. While she is talking to him, her cousin Margaret finds another survivor, who turns out to be Ruari’s cousin Beatham.

Sorcha is dismayed, her clan has no coin to pay the ransom and her brother is Laird, they need him! So being the smart, resourceful girl she is, Sorcha hatches a plan, she will raise the ransom by holding Ruari and Beatham for ransom! She takes them back to her keep and hopes she can keep them from learning the secrets of the Hay clan. She tends Ruari’s wounds and tells him that he is her prisoner, Ruari is beyond angry and vows revenge.

Once they are back at her keep, Sorcha waits for the ransom demand from the English and tries to ignore the attraction she feels towards Ruari all while attempting to keep him from learning that most of the Hay clan are women, that she has the power to see and speak to spirits, that her cousin Euphemia is transitioning into womanhood and all the trouble that comes with that for a Hay woman. Not to mention trying to keep her cousin Margaret and Beatham from forming an impossible attachment and thwarting Ruari’s escape attempts.

Sorcha meets with the English and becomes the object of Sir Simon Treacher’s unwanted attention, she manages to negotiate a ransom and hopes to never see Sir Simon again. She sends the ransom demand to the Kerrs and informs Ruari. Ruari is still angry, but he wants Sorcha with a desire stronger than any he has ever felt. He proposes that they become lovers, no promises, no commitments. At first Sorcha is opposed, but she is attracted to him and will probably never marry, so she agrees. They share three incredible nights together before his family comes for him. They part and words are exchanged. But as he rides away, Sorcha knows that he is taking her heart with him.

She gets her brother back and is again subjected to Sir Simon, the man is obsessed! They manage to evade him and make it back to their keep. Six months pass and it finally seems like he has given up, so when Dougal suggests they attend the market fair, she looks forward to the chance to get out of the keep, she is still nursing a broken heart, but is not nearly as dramatic about it as Margaret is. She convinces Margaret to attend and even with a warning of trouble given by Effie, they set out.

Trouble finds them almost as soon as they reach the fair, Ruari is there and when he sees her, he is ready to take his revenge.

This book is great, there is a lot going on, but it never seems busy and all the various characters and story lines all tie neatly together in the end. The love scenes are steamy, the dialogue is amusing, the villain is vile, the problems keeping them apart seem unsurmountable, the declaration scene is very sweet and the epilogue is completely delightful.

I have no idea how I missed this book years ago, but I am so delighted to have found it! I would highly recommend this book and will be looking to see if there are any other books I missed!

*I am voluntarily leaving a review for an eARC that was provided to me by NetGalley and the publisher*

The Sins of Lord Lockwood by Meredith Duran

The Sins of Lord Lockwood (Rules for the Reckless, #6)The Sins of Lord Lockwood by Meredith Duran

Tracy’s rating: 5 of 5 stars

Series: Rules for the Reckless, #6

Release Date: February 27, 2018

I loved this book, it is a complex story with many layers that converge into an intense and gripping read.

The book opens days after William Devaliant, the Earl of Lockwood aka Liam marries Anna Wallace, the Countess of Forth (in her own right). He is aboard a prison hulk being beaten, he was abducted and traded for another prisoner. Later he realizes who orchestrated his abduction, his cousin Stephen and he vows revenge.

Fast forward 3 years, 8 months – Anna has left Scotland and traveled to London to confront her errant husband, he disappeared on their wedding night and she hasn’t heard from him since. But she learns he is back in England and is spending HER money and sponsoring artists in his London townhouse and she is going to set him straight. She enters the house and there is a party in full swing, she is appalled by his servants and the debauchery going on around her. She finds Liam on a sofa with a courtesan attached to him like a leech. He rises to greet her and tells her to leave. She refuses and tells him to send his “guests” home. Liam is not in good shape, he took some drug to gain oblivion, but it has only made him muddled. He can’t believe Anna is here and needs to send her on her way. She flat out refuses to go and wants answers – answers he is not willing to give.

Anna makes herself at home and takes every opportunity to vent her anger on Liam. She has come to town to settle some business matters and to get answers – so far she has only more questions. Liam is not the young man she married, but she sees glimpses of him. Where has he been and why did he leave her? The next day they talk again and he tells her what happened to him, but she thinks he is lying. She makes accusations that he does not deny and she seethes.

Liam doesn’t want Anna in his home, he has put his plan into motion and she is a complication he doesn’t need. But seeing her again brings back something he thought he lost, feelings, he FEELS for the first time in years and feelings he thought gone forever. And when she demands he give her an heir and lays down her rules, he agrees, but has a rule of his own. The passion between them is white hot, but neither is willing to bend and they wage a major war of wills.

Liam is no longer the young love-struck boy she married, the past four years have changed him, irrevocably. But Anna is no simpering maiden and she stands up to this new callous Liam. And when she learns the truth, Anna will stop at nothing to save Liam.

The story has several flashbacks to their first meeting, their courtship, wedding day and the fight they had before he disappeared. These flashbacks are well placed in the story and give the read a much better understanding of these two people.

This is not a light read, but neither is it overly dark. It is a meaty, stick to your ribs kind of story with two very flawed people finding their way back to each other, it is a story of revenge, acceptance, forgiveness and love. I was hooked from the first page, it is extremely well written and even with flashbacks, it is paced perfectly. There are steamy love scenes, moments of heartbreak and sorrow, moments of horror, great secondary characters (including Julian and Emma), a shocking twist and a very sweet epilogue. This is the sixth book in the series, but it could be read as a stand alone title with no problems. I loved this book and would be happy to recommend it!

*I am voluntarily leaving a review of an eARC provided to me by NetGalley and the publisher*

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The Woman In The Water by Charles Finch

The Woman in the WaterThe Woman in the Water by Charles Finch

Barbara’s rating: 5 of 5 stars

WOW! I am in awe of Charles Finch and his writing and I’d give this book more than 5-stars if I could. This has to be the absolute best book of the Charles Lenox Mystery series so far. While it is shown as book #0 in the series because it is a prequel, it is actually something like the thirteenth if you count the novellas. The writing is superb, the characters are fully developed and relatable, and the story is fast-paced, engrossing and detailed.

We are introduced to a young Charles Lenox, just twenty-three years of age and newly living in London on his own. He desperately wants to be a detective, but his few forays into it and his interactions with Scotland Yard have been very disappointing. However, being the tenacious young man that he is, Charles perseveres by honing his knowledge of crimes in London, how they are solved and the details behind them. He does that by buying copies of all of the newspapers and cutting all of the crime related articles out and filing them away.

When one of those newspapers carry the text of a letter claiming that the writer had already committed one ‘perfect’ murder and would be committing another soon, Charles knew he had to be involved. He and his valet, Graham, use the timeline given in the letter and find the case the letter writer must be claiming as his perfect crime. They are off to Scotland Yard to show them their conjecture and to offer their services. Of course, Scotland Yard wants no part of their help, but that doesn’t deter Charles. As he digs and learns more and more – he shares it all with Scotland Yard.

While the murder plot was interesting, detailed and engrossing, I think my favorite parts of the book were the more personal parts. Those are skillfully written and poignant, heartwarming, emotional and sad. We meet Charles’ mother and father and learn of the father, Edward’s, medical diagnosis. How Charles, his mother, and brother Edmund – his father too – deal with that is so bittersweet and lovely. I absolutely adored his father and the efforts he made to ensure that he spent time with each of the family members individually and that they knew he loved them. I loved the descriptions of his fence painting – and I loved that when he finally spoke to Charles about his leaving them he said – “The hardest part of losing a person, Charles, is that grief is only an absence. There is nowhere to go to touch it.”

It was fun to meet the younger, more immature versions of people we’ll get to know and love throughout the series. There is Jane, of course. She’s married to someone else and Charles is heartbroken over that. Graham, of course, is one of my favorite people. Then, we meet a very young and very mischievous John Dallington.

I usually don’t read prequels, especially if I know that someone doesn’t last through the series – especially because of a bad end. I am so very, very happy that I made an exception for this book. It is so well written, so well developed and just such a wonderful read that I cannot imagine having missed it.

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“I requested and received this e-book at no cost to me and volunteered to read it; my review is my honest opinion and given without any influence by the author or publisher.”

Beyond Scandal and Desire by Lorraine Heath

Beyond Scandal and Desire (Sins for All Seasons, #1)Beyond Scandal and Desire by Lorraine Heath
Tracy’s rating: 5 of 5 stars

Series: Sin for All Seasons, #1

Release Date: January 30, 2018

WOW, Just WOW! Anyone who follows my reviews knows I read A LOT of books, but rarely do I want to cry at the end of book as much I as did this one – not because it was sad, but because it was over! I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this book! Ms. Heath has a way with words, she has the ability to draw a reader in and force them to become invested in her characters – their joy is your joy, their pain is your pain, their troubles become your troubles – it is a rare treat to find an author who has this talent and an amazing gift for anyone lucky enough to read the book.

This is the first book in the Sins for All Seasons Series, the series is centered around the Widow Ettie Trewlove and the children she raised, who are all illegitimate cast-offs. Ms. Heath sets up the series and introduces us to the future characters, but never does it feel like this book is just a set up for the series, Mick Trewlove and Lady Aslyn Hastings are truly the stars and the main focus of the book.

Mick knows that the Duke of Hedley is his father and wants to be acknowledged as such. He is a wealthy self-made man who literally pulled himself from the gutter and forged an empire. But he longs for the respect and acceptance of the nobility, he is sure if his father would acknowledge their connection, doors would be opened to him. He has written to the duke several times, but after responding that he has no bastard to the first letter, the duke has ignored him. Mick wants his acknowledgement more than anything in the world and hatches a plan. If the duke won’t accept him, Mick will ruin his heir.

Lady Aslyn Hastings in the orphaned daughter of an earl and the ward of the Duke of Hedley. She has lived with the family since she was a young child and though it has not been officially announced, she and everyone in society assume that she will marry Hedley’s son and heir, the Earl of Kipwick and affectionately known as Kip. Aslyn has been sheltered and knows little of the world, the duchess is a recluse and extremely over protective of her. Aslyn longs for excitement and begs Kip to take her to Cremorne Gardens. This is where Mick and Aslyn meet for the first time.

Mick along with his sister Fancy are at the gardens and “happen” to run into Kip and Aslyn. Kip knows of Mick and longs to gain entrance to his brother Aiden’s club – The Cerberus Club. After a bit of friendly chatter, Mick tells Kip, he will take him to the club. Meanwhile, Aslyn is mesmerized by Mick, never has she had such a reaction to a man and it makes her question her feelings for Kip.

Over the next few days, Mick enacts his plan and plays on Kip’s weakness for gambling, he also begins to “woo” Aslyn. He plans to steal her from Kip and bring Kip to ruin, thinking he will then be able to force the duke’s hand. What he didn’t plan for was Aslyn or his reaction to her.

This is an amazing story, it is well written, flows wonderfully, there are secrets, betrayal, moments of wonder and joy, moments of immense heartache, steamy love scenes, shocking twists that have even bigger shocking twists and a truly beautiful soul-mate type love. I cannot recommend this book enough, I will definitely be re-reading this one and cannot wait for the next book in the series.

*I am voluntarily leaving a review for an uncorrected eARC that was provided to me by Edelweiss and the publisher*

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