Book Review: “The Rose and the Thistle” by Laura Frantz

Today I’m sharing a review by the queen of 18th century stores — Laura Frantz, that is. Her latest is an escape from the England to the Scottish Lowlands with a heart-stirring romance: The Rose and the Thistle.

About the Book

In 1715, Lady Blythe Hedley’s father is declared an enemy of the British crown because of his Jacobite sympathies, forcing her to flee her home in northern England. Secreted to the tower of Wedderburn Castle in Scotland, Lady Blythe awaits who will ultimately be crowned king. But in a house with seven sons and numerous servants, her presence soon becomes known.

No sooner has Everard Hume lost his father, Lord Wedderburn, than Lady Hedley arrives with the clothes on her back and her mistress in tow. He has his own problems–a volatile brother with dangerous political leanings, an estate to manage, and a very young brother in need of comfort and direction in the wake of losing his father. It would be best for everyone if he could send this misfit heiress on her way as soon as possible.

Drawn into a whirlwind of intrigue, shifting alliances, and ambitions, Lady Blythe must be careful whom she trusts. Her fortune, her future, and her very life are at stake. Those who appear to be adversaries may turn out to be allies–and those who pretend friendship may be enemies.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

Laura Frantz is adept at her 18th century epics, and The Rose and the Thistle features a change of setting as all of it is abroad (no American colony or frontier). Her immersive style paints a fresh view of the moors and medieval castles, lending the 1700s story an older air as the antiquity of the setting mirrors the noble and honorable hero and heroine. Intrigue and duty are interwoven in this lush historical tale with a romance at its center.

And what a remarkable romance it is! It’s enough of a slow burn that the reader has a sense of Everard and Blythe, and the ways they will suit, even before they meet on page. This makes it a bit of an adventure to see them verbally spar at first because of their opposites (faith traditions and cultural upbringings), even as the reader knows their sameness of spirit in loyalty and intelligence. From an initial prickliness to a shared devotion to Everard’s littlest brother, Orin, they find common ground in friendship and elements of faith even as they cautiously venture toward a romantic possibility despite political dangers and opposition. When the romance does progress, wow, is it breathtaking in its telling. Everard is the best combination of fierce protector with a tender heart, while Blythe exhibits compassionate strength and humility.

The often-surprising plot, vibrant secondary characters (the Hume brothers!), and formidable Scottish Lowlands settings (Wedderburn Castle! Edinburgh!) all combine to heighten the stakes and add immeasurable depth to the tale. Orin, in particular, is a favorite, with a precocious and candid nature. Another small element of the story I love is the ongoing presence of birds — Blythe has a pet sparrow and Everard engages in falconry.

Through the ups and downs Everard and Blythe face, their story unfolds as more than just a romance, but as a story of honor and mutual respect. Both admirably cling to their faith in different ways. The Rose and the Thistle is the kind of story I wish I could read again for the first time — and I believe I will find new depths and facets upon each reread.

Thank you to the publisher for my review copy. I voluntarily purchased an ebook copy. This is my honest review.

Book Review: “The Blackout Book Club” by Amy Lynn Green

I’m sharing a review of Amy Lynn Green’s latest historical novel, one with strong BOOKISH elements (much discussion of beloved literature): The Blackout Book Club.

About the Book

An impulsive promise to her brother before he goes off to the European Front puts Avis Montgomery in the unlikely position of head librarian in small-town Maine. Though she has never been much of a reader, when wartime needs threaten to close the library, she invents a book club to keep its doors open. The women she convinces to attend the first meeting couldn’t be more different–a wealthy spinster determined to aid the war effort, an exhausted mother looking for a fresh start, and a determined young war worker.

At first, the struggles of the home front are all the club members have in common, but over time, the books they choose become more than an escape from the hardships of life and the fear of the U-boat battles that rage just past their shores. As the women face personal challenges and band together in the face of danger, they find they share more in common with each other than they think. But when their growing friendships are tested by secrets of the past and present, they must decide whether depending on each other is worth the cost.

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

The Blackout Book Club by Amy Lynn Green is a great story of friendship and community, all centered on a favorite thing: books! The coastal setting and WWII home front elements make for a very interesting backdrop.

This is a historical story with elements of women’s fiction and a little romance, with four main ladies and their POVs central to the story. I enjoy how they offer perspective and variety in class, profession, and personality yet all contribute to the story of enduring trials and joining together to support each other and the community. A small lending library happens to be the thing which brings them together, but they soon find common ground and develop strong friendships outside of their book club. One favorite element of the story is the continued “notebook” of notes from each book club meeting. They are often hilarious and show the characters in a unique light.

This is the first of Green’s novels I have read, but I am happy her previous two are on my shelves for me to go back and experience now. I recommend this story for fans of bookish fiction and authors like Jocelyn Green and Katherine Reay.

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy. This is my honest review.

Review & Blog Tour: Hearts of Steel by Elizabeth Camden

Thanks for visiting my stop on the blog tour for Hearts of Steel by Eizabeth Camden, the third book in her “Blackstone Legacy” series. While this can read as a standalone, I highly recommend reading the series in order for a better understanding of the Blackstone family and characters.

About the Book

Publication Date: January 17, 2023

Bethany House Publishers

Genre: Historical Romance/Christian

Series: The Blackstone Legacy, Book #3

His steel empire has catapulted him to the top of the world, but loving her could cost him everything.

Maggie Molinaro survived a hardscrabble childhood in the downtrodden streets of Manhattan to become a successful businesswoman. After a decade of sacrifice, she now owns a celebrated ice cream company. But when she offends a corrupt banker, she unwittingly sets off a series of calamities that threaten to destroy her life’s work.

Liam Blackstone is a charismatic steel magnate committed to overhauling factory conditions for the steelworkers of America. Standing in his way is the same villain determined to ruin Maggie. What begins as a practical alliance to defeat a common enemy soon evolves into a romance between two wounded people determined to beat the odds.

A spiraling circle of treachery grows increasingly dangerous as Liam and Maggie risk their lives and fortunes for the good of the city. It will require all their wit and ingenuity to protect everything–and everyone–they hold dear.

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE | BOOKS-A-MILLION

Review

Hearts of Steel is the long-awaited conclusion to Elizabeth Camden’s latest Gilded Age series, this one featuring three members of the affluent Blackstone family of New York. Liam is our hero, with an unlikely (and tragic) history, subsequent rise to notoriety, and his compassionate nature making him likable from the start (in book 1, so I’ve been eager to see his POV!). His world collides with that of Maggie Molinaro, the determined heroine, and begins a friendship-turned-romance all while an underdog story plays out amidst a small neighborhood and the biggest boardrooms in the city. This is a story of two people finding a balance between pride, strength, and a reliance on others, while a struggle against injustice and a tentative romance bring them together.

The characters and setting are remarkably penned as Camden captures the sights and sounds of a bustling New York City at the cusp of modern innovation. From the immigrant-centric neighborhood where Maggie’s family runs and ice cream parlor and factory to the coasts of Maine and the mansions of some powerful figures, the settings shine and make me crave vanilla ice cream or possibly lobster. The nuances of a person and of relationships are another notable feature, with simple things like stamp collecting, a family heritage, shared grief, or the humor of the bulldog Frankie being just as important as friendships or the brother and sister dynamic Liam has developed with Gwen (LOVED seeing their rapport).

I enjoy seeing how friendship and respect unite Liam and Maggie at the very first. They quickly shift to a romantic attraction as they recognize qualities they have in common, especially their fierce loyalty and sense of justice. I appreciate how Liam makes and effort to understand and support Maggie’s choices, and she, in turn, speaks encouragement to him in key moments and grounds him in a way he needs.

Readers of the first two books in the series will be delighted to see the familiar heroines and heroes again on the page, with Patrick and Gwen having a very active role in Liam’s life.

Thank you to the publisher and HFVBT for the complimentary paperback review copy. I voluntarily purchased an ebook copy. This is my honest review.

Book 1: Carved in Stone Book 2: Written on the Wind (my personal fav of the series)

About the Author

Elizabeth Camden is best known for her historical novels set in Gilded Age America, featuring clever heroines and richly layered story lines. Before she was a writer, she was an academic librarian at some of the largest and smallest libraries in America, but her favorite is the continually growing library in her own home. Her novels have won Christy, Carol, and RITA Awards and have appeared on the CBA bestsellers list. She lives in Orlando, Florida, with her husband, who graciously tolerates her intimidating stockpile of books.

WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | GOODREADS

Blog Tour Schedule

Tuesday, January 17
Review at Ms. Darcy Reads

Wednesday, January 18
Excerpt at Aubrey Wynne
Review at Michelle the PA Loves to Read

Thursday, January 19
Review at Novels Alive
Review at Books, Cooks, Looks

Friday, January 20
Review at Classicly Kait
Review at Tammy Reads

Saturday, January 21
Review at Reading is My SuperPower

Sunday, January 22
Review at Debjani’s Thoughts

Monday, January 23
Review at The Green Mockingbird

Tuesday, January 24
Guest Post at Heidi Reads

Wednesday, January 25
Review at Bookworlder

Thursday, January 26
Review & Excerpt at Older & Smarter

Friday, January 27
Review at The Lit Bitch

Monday, January 30
Review at Jorie Loves A Story
Feature at CelticLady’s Reviews

Tuesday, January 31
Feature at I’m Into Books

Wednesday, February 1
Review at Reading is My Remedy

Friday, February 3
Feature at Coffee and Ink

Giveaway

We have two copies of Hearts of Steel by Elizabeth Camden up for grabs during this blog tour!

The giveaway is open to the US only and ends on February 3rd. You must be 18 or older to enter.

Click here to enter the giveaway.

Book Review: “In Love’s Time” by Kate Breslin

It’s time to share my first book review of the year! Today I’m talking about a must-read historical author, Kate Breslin, and her recent WWI historical romance, In Love’s Time.

About the Book

In the summer of 1918, Captain Marcus Weatherford arrives in Russia on a secret mission, with a beautiful ballerina posing as his fiancé. Marcus searches for the Romanov Tsarina and her son–who both allegedly survived the murdering Bolsheviks–and the information behind an allied plot to assassinate Lenin. But Marcus’s sense of duty battles his desire to return home to Clare–his actual love.

Hospital orderly Clare Danner still suffers from Marcus’s betrayal and now fears losing her daughter to the heartless family who took Daisy away from Clare once before, but only Marcus can provide the critical proof needed to save her daughter.

Faced with danger and unexpected circumstances, can Clare trust Marcus, or will he shatter her world yet again?

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

In Love’s Time takes readers along on a journey of intrigue, sacrifice, and duty as Clare and Marcus navigate their way toward a lasting romance while WWI machinations and personal troubles threaten to tear them apart. This standalone novel is impeccably researched by Breslin (yay for some fascinating real life history! Women-run hospitals and the Bolshevik revolution). Readers familiar with her previous interconnected titles will delight in seeing Jack and Grace (from Not By Sight) as important secondary characters, along with recognizing the hero, Marcus, as an important figure in 4 other stories.

Clare and Marcus are a delightful couple to root for, even through some traumatic and angst-filled situations. I love how Clare brings out the best in Marcus, including his laughter, and as she learns more about his family and early life, her compassion works to give him the benefit of the doubt in a way. (I can’t get too detailed because #spoilers!) And Marcus… his gentleness and devotion are qualities to be cherished, especially when he’s talking of his beloved sister or interacting with little Daisy (Clare’s daughter).

Strong themes of trust are a prominent part of this story and intertwine naturally with the romance. Marcus begins to learn to let Clare in and be vulnerable and Clare, in turn, to relinquish control and place her faith in God to safely direct her way. I recommend this story for fans of WWI drama/romance, or authors like Elizabeth Camden, J’nell Ciesielski, or Roseanna M. White.

Thank you to the publisher for my review copy. This is my honest review.

Favorite Quotes from the Brotherhood of the Black Tartan Series

The Brotherhood of the Black Tartan series is one of my new favorite historical romance series and one I can eagerly recommend to readers interested in late Regency stories set in England and Scotland. It has adventurous heroes, daring heroines, 5 unique love stories that explore a variety of tropes, and one uniting past event that ties the group together in a story thread that comes into their present timeline. I’m sharing my thoughts on each book in this post, and I’m highlighting my favorite quotes from each book in the series in another blog post linked below.

Companion blog post: Series Review: Brotherhood of the Black Tartan by Nichole Van

These books are best read in order, especially concerning the ongoing plot thread and quite the twist that happens close to the middle of the series. For that reason, the book descriptions and premise of the final book, in particular, constitute mild story spoilers. I would caution you in reading any details about Remembering Jamie if you want to avoid spoilers! I will try to be as non-spoilery as possible in my thoughts.

For more information on each book, click the book titles to view them on Goodreads.

Suffering the Scot

“Her extensive etiquette training had never covered this particular scenario: When a young lady of excellent breeding finds herself tumbled into a muddy stream and cursing like a sailor before a group of Scotsmen . . .” chapter 4

“He knew there was fire just underneath her surface, perhaps a secret version of Lady Jane she hid from others. Given her expansive vocabulary when upset, Lady Jane could not be the chilly lady she would like others to believe. Not entirely. And somehow, knowing that, nearly put a smile on his face.” chapter 8

“You. Do. Not. Find. Him. (Or his knees.) Attractive! A woman was in dire straits indeed if she found a man’s kneecaps fetching.” chapter 9

“He was kind and observant. He listened attentively to her questions and gave an ear to her ideas and explanations. He saw her as an equal intellectually, challenging and meeting her head- on in arguments. He had ceased goading her as he had before— as if challenging her to react— and now met her comments with good- natured teasing and dry wit.” chapter 17

“It is easier tae meet someone’s low expectations than tae change their prejudiced assumptions.” chapter 19

Suffering the Scot Book cover with Snack

“Wasn’t this a woman’s lot in life? Her world could be tumbling down around her, but a proper lady would sit and calmly stitch poppies and butterflies despite the chaos. Embroidery, in moments like this, was not nearly violent enough for Jane’s taste. Clearly, a sadistic man had dreamed up the pastime.” chapter 27

Romancing the Rake

“Oh. Be still her heart. A biology-educated rake. The man was truly a menace to bluestockings everywhere.” chapter 1

“This woman. Instead of crumbling into a weeping heap, she swallowed, pinched her lips together, and rallied. And damn if he didn’t admire her all the more for it.” chapter 11

“This was the Lady Sophie of his memory, the woman who delighted him with her unexpected comments, with her ability to always be three thoughts ahead of him.” chapter 14

“Would Lord Rafe ever stop being this man to her? The one who undid her, unraveled her heart and made her yearn for things she had given up years ago. Even now, he was unearthing bits of her soul—hope and desire and longing that she had thought broken beyond recovery—and offering them to her, encouraging her to rebuild. But . . . she had trusted him once, and he had shattered her.” chapter 16

“His Sophie. He had gone and done it. He was thinking of her in possessive pronouns. Words like his and mine and us. A man was done for when a woman started to alter his very grammar.” chapter 17

“She appreciated that Rafe handed her the gun and had faith that she could keep them safe. She knew she was competent, but most men would not assume so. Jack certainly would never have trusted her in this situation. But Rafe was not like most men. He treated her as a partner, a friend in every sense of the word. She and Rafe . . . they were equals. Working together.” chapter 22

“Love, she realized, was not the sort of thing to neatly fit into parameters and boundaries. No . . . Love took many forms and needed to be accepted as it came. To do otherwise was to risk a life of eternal disappointment.” chapter 29

Loving a Lady

“Tension still hung in the room. That bitter orange color clinging to furniture and dripping down the walls.” chapter 1

“From her earliest memories, she had adored this view. The vastness of the ocean. The red sandstone cliffs extending up and down the coast. The green sweep of fields and gorse. This landscape was a soothing calm on a sunny summer’s day and a glorious terror in the throes of a January storm. Today was somewhere between those two extremes.” chapter 7

“She hadn’t realized how much she needed a witness to her pain and guilt until this moment. Someone to look into her soul and say, I understand. I have stood in this place, too.” chapter 11

” ‘I see it like this. If a woman asked for my help, I would offer it, as far as was proper. That said, as a former prizefighter, I recognize the value in knowing how to defend one’s self from attack. I would want any woman in my life to have the skills necessary to choose her own destiny, as it were. There is power in knowing ye can fight your own battles, if ye ken what I mean.’ ” chapter 16

“How was he to behave around her now? How was he to keep his adoration from shining through every look, every word? Worse, was he going to have to thank Andrew and Rafe for their high-handed interference?” chapter 18

‘ “Well, I have had about enough of this brooding. Care to talk about it?’ The older man stretched, knuckles cracking. ‘Not particularly,’ Ewan replied because he was . . . well . . . brooding.” chapter 24

Making the Marquess

Making the Marquess cover on smartphone, held up in front of blooming red geraniums

“What did one call a group of solicitors anyway? Were they a pride, like lions? A murder, like crows? Several of Alex’s closest friends were naturalists. He should have a clever answer for this. A quarrel, perhaps?” chapter 1

“… the lady was not to be pigeon-holed. She was not monolithic but human and approachable and mussable. And Alex didn’t wish the words mussable and Lady Charlotte to ever come near one another in his brain.” chapter 9

“ ‘How do you do this?’ Her words held a nearly plaintive tone. ‘You pluck the very thoughts from my brain.’ ‘Me?’ Alex barely stifled a surprised laugh. ‘I would have said the same thing about yourself. Though I think there is another truth here. That just as ye can know someone for years and never understand them, the opposite can also occur. Ye can know someone for only a wee while and feel a deep connection.’ ” chapter 13

“He had vastly underestimated her. As usual, Lottie’s external harmony led one to assume that her inner life was similarly peaceful. But like the mole on her cheek, her small outer imperfections were wee emblems of the riot of living inside her head. And, in the end, wasn’t that the answer to his question— Why had she kissed him? She had kissed him because Lady Charlotte, despite her demure princess-like appearance, was herself a dragon.” chapter 14

“The sight of Alex dragging a pencil across the back of his hand, naming tendons, should not have set her heart to pounding and yet, everything about the man was a hammer to her good sense.” chapter 17

“Life isnae so black and white. Winds turn, masts crack, sails have tae be jury- rigged. We make do until a new breeze comes and pushes us in an unexpected direction. Change is hard. It’s often messy and hurts like bloody hell. But sometimes, ye have tae leave the past and move forward into an unknown future.” chapter 25

Remembering Jamie

“ ‘So [he] makes off with a King’s ransom for luring me to you, while I receive nothing?’ ‘Oh, I didnae say that.’ Kieran wanted to list outright everything he would give her—his beating heart, his endless devotion, every last shilling to his name.” chapter 2

“… it was the fire of her that drew him in. The sense that she would always meet him as an equal. Perhaps sensing his thoughts, she paused, her gaze tangling a bit too long with his. He smiled wider, perhaps a smidge challenging now. True to her nature, she didn’t flinch.” chapter 9

“The North Sea stretched before them, a rippling mass of shadow and light. The ocean currents and the near-constant wind conspired to create a crosshatch pattern on the water. In Scotland, the water itself bore the stamp of a tartan. But as a sailor, Kieran understood only too well the danger of a crosshatch sea. It spoke of strong, competing currents that could easily drag a man down to his death. Was that what he and Jamie faced now? A swirling tartan sea that would spell the doom of their love?” chapter 13

“He sobered, his eyes turning soft and thoughtful . . . which was, again, somehow even worse. She was rapidly realizing that underneath the charm and flirtation rested a sincere and earnest heart.” chapter 14

“I’m happy tae tell ye how fetching ye look in trousers, lass. Women would never wear dresses again, if I could help it.” chapter 19

“Where did friendship end and attraction and romantic love begin? Were the two even capable of being separated, in the end?” chapter 28

Did any of these quotes stand out as a favorite? Or, did one spark your interest in a particular story? I’d love to gush with you over these characters in the comments.

Series Review: Brotherhood of the Black Tartan by Nichole Van

The Brotherhood of the Black Tartan series is one of my new favorite historical romance series and one I can eagerly recommend to readers interested in late Regency stories set in England and Scotland. It has adventurous heroes, daring heroines, 5 unique love stories that explore a variety of tropes, and one uniting past event that ties the group together in a story thread that comes into their present timeline. I’m sharing my thoughts on each book in this post, and I’m highlighting my favorite quotes from each book in the series in another blog post linked below.

Companion blog post: Favorite Quotes from the Brotherhood of the Black Tartan Series

These books are best read in order, especially concerning the ongoing plot thread and quite the twist that happens close to the middle of the series. For that reason, the book descriptions and premise of the final book, in particular, constitute mild story spoilers. I would caution you in reading any details about Remembering Jamie if you want to avoid spoilers! I will try to be as non-spoilery as possible in my thoughts.

For more information on each book, click the book titles to view them on Goodreads.

Suffering the Scot

Suffering the Scot has all the hallmarks of my favorite kind of historical romance. It has a fantastic, considerate hero and a whip-smart, feisty heroine. The romance is *happy sigh* thoughtful and complex.

I am just discovering Nichole Van’s stories, and I’m happy to report her style and research is impeccable. The portrayal of class prejudice, in particular, is a big part of this story (and series) and her skill in writing witty banter and intelligent conversations is impressive.

Suffering the Scot Book cover with Snack

I appreciate the vulnerable hearts of the characters. Andrew is hilarious and endearing while Jane is relatable and spirited, and when their relationship starts to develop, they become a formidable pair to root for. While not without its ups, downs, and surprises, though, it does end up in a realistic way with a great ending.

The original plot with a hint of adventure and suspense puts me in mind of another era favorite, Mimi Matthews’ Gentleman Jim. The two share in common lead characters with striking depth, plot surprises, and a heroine who just might have a secret tomboy side.

Romancing the Rake

I. Love. Rafe. (And Sophie, of course! And her cat studies!) And his rakish façade that hides a tender and gallant heart. Their story is one of the most adventure-filled of the series, with a humorous and enlightening journey by coach from southern England all the way to the wilds of Scotland.

Rafe delivers the BEST one-liners and quips of any of the heroes, appropriately so because of his fierce sense of humor.

The romance is a second-chance one, born of a friendship shown in the early chapters from years before. This is a unique story device that’s thoughtfully employed to illustrate the depth of their connection and bring the reader into their emotions through more than just simple memories or brief flashbacks.

A personal note: I named one of my cats after Lady Sophie, and I can say she shares a sense of daring with her namesake.

Loving a Lady

I just want to cheer for Ewan and Violet as they get to know each other and see how much they share in common. Theirs is a deeply emotional romance and story of finding happiness. And, the ongoing plot connecting each book in the series kicked up a notch with events and revelations in this one.

Ewan is a study in contrasts, as his physical persona leads people to perceive him in one way while his sensitive, artist’s heart proves his complexity. I especially like that he thinks and processes the world around him through ideas of color.

Making the Marquess

Making the Marquess cover on smartphone, held up in front of blooming red geraniums

Oh, my heart! This ROMANCE. It tentatively begins with friendship and absolutely BLOSSOMS. And, because of family + rules of inheritance, etc, it’s a bit of an impossible situation (not quite forbidden), so that makes it poignant in the best way.

I love how Alex sees Lottie as his equal and falls for her intelligence most of all. And, in return, how Lottie balances and slows his constant energy (that’s really a wall he hides behind!).

The ongoing “Brotherhood” story takes some interesting turns and sets us all up for the finale in the last novel. And, I ADORE the brief glimpses of Lord Hadley as a dad.

Remembering Jamie

Remembering Jamie is one of those books I’m joyous and sad to have finished, because it perfectly caps off a fantastic series! This book has been 4 in the making already, with each previous book hinting at and setting up its events. It happens to be my favorite of the series because of that!

Kieran is an absolutely DEVOTED hero — he loves Eilidh with a selfless, sacrificial approach, yet he remains a devastating flirt through it all. And Eilidh, she’s so brave and it was wonderful to see her transform under Kieran’s safe watch, to see her grow and realize her strength and embrace her past, the joy and grief of life, finally. ❤

Have you read any of this series? Do you have a favorite book by Nichole? Do you enjoy Regency series with an adventure thread? I’d love to gush with you over these books in the comments.

Book Review: “The Brilliance of Stars” by J’Nell Ciesielski

Hello blog readers! Thanks for taking the time to read my (mostly bookish) thoughts. I’m sharing today about a book I LOVED and finished a few weeks ago… life is just getting the way of my reviews 🙂 .

The Brilliance of Stars by J’nell Ciesielski is the best kind of historical romance with lots of adventure and spies. And, it’s book 1 in a duology, so another book next year will bring even more intrigue.

About the Book

Amid the chaos of the Great War, two master assassins risk it all for love.

Washington DC, 1914. Ivy Olwen knows how to survive on the streets without two coins to rub together. But when she finds herself whisked into a secret society that seeks to maintain the balance of good and evil in the world, she can’t believe there’s more to life than just surviving. In the hallowed and historied halls of Talon, she learns European languages and ballroom dancing, as well as demolitions and sharpshooting—in short, everything a spy and assassin will need to survive in the field.

The first day Jack Vale meets Ivy, he knows she is not to be underestimated. The second day, he knows his heart will belong to no one else. Between sparring bouts and constellation gazing, Jack takes Ivy under his wing, and the two form a bond that soon turns to love.

While the rest of the world tumbles into war, the two embark on an official mission to take down a madman who has left a trail of blood and murder across Russia. Little do they know the unfathomable peril waiting in the wings of a chaotic Europe.

When Jack and Ivy are thrust into encounters each more terrifying than the last, Ivy must determine how far she will go to save the man she loves. Equal parts historical fiction and adventure novel, Ciesielski’s epic tale of espionage and romance will leave readers both enchanted and thrilled.

The first book of an epic duology from bestselling author J’nell Ciesielski, The Brilliance of Stars incorporates her signature blend of thrilling adventure, glamorous espionage, and sweeping romance. 

Goodreads | Amazon

Review

I want to allocate ALL the stars for Jack and Ivy and their night-sky romance in The Brilliance of Stars. Oh, and there’s a secret noble society, assassins, and a trek across Eastern Europe and Russia to root out a sinister organization, all during the upheaval of WWI. In short, all things that make this a story after my heart, and a must read.

As author Ciesielski states, this tale imagines what would happen if the Marvel character Bucky Barnes AKA The Winter Soldier fell in love. And, this is clearly seen in the spin of the story if you are familiar with the Marvel persona, with nods to Bucky and his BFF, Captain America, seen in Jack’s life and in his compatriot Phillip’s part. This is book 1 in a duology, so it sets up some of these elements to continue to book 2, To Free the Stars, which I am highly anticipating.

The ROMANCE of Jack and Ivy is truly unique, with them sparring one chapter, or fighting out of a life and death situation, then kissing and sharing a truly emotional moment in the middle of a battle or a quiet moment on a rooftop in the next chapter. Ciesielski’s authorial voice shines in this tale, uniting her typical historically detailed premise with two protagonists whose romance unfolds in the most unlikely circumstances within a plot likened to the best kind of action movie.

Thank you to Netgalley for the review copy. I voluntarily purchased a paperback copy. This is my honest review.

Recommended Reading: Literary Influenced Fiction

Hello friends! It has been a while since I shared a Recommended Reading post. Also, in the past, I’ve shared lists of Reading for Janeites and 10 Favorite Jane Austen-Esque Romances, so in keeping with that sentiment, I’m sharing some more books influenced by classic literature. These go beyond Austen’s influence and draw from other classic novelists, sometimes subtly or directly.

Laura’s Shadow by Allison Pittman | The Laura of the title is, in fact, Laura Ingalls Wilder of Little House fame, and the setting of the book includes De Smet and the tangential influence Laura had on a pupil, then later that child’s granddaughter.

Once Upon a Wardrobe by Patti Callahan | The wardrobe in question is that of C. S. Lewis’ Narnia chronicles, and Lewis appears as a character in this fictional story of siblings, hope, and grief.

Lost in Darkness by Michelle Griep | This story pays homage to the classic Frankenstein and Mary Shelley and tells a tale of sibling connection alongside a Regency romance.

John Eyre: A Tale of Darkness and Shadow by Mimi Matthews | As the title indicates, this is a gothic retelling of Brontë’s Jane Eyre and *spoiler alert* elements of Dracula. It flips the genders and expectations of the classic tales, telling a story of bravery, allies and romance, and the battle between light and darkness.

The Belle of Belgrave Square by Mimi Matthews | Combining elements of the fairytale Beauty and the Beast with aspects of The Blue Castle by L. M. Montgomery, this wonderful bookish tale has a swoony romance and a perfect HEA.

Bloomsbury Girls by Natalie Jenner | While I can’t pick one author that has obvious connections to this fictional story, at its center is a book store and literature in many forms plays a big role in the story. An earlier, related book by Jenner, The Jane Austen Society, has closer ties to that prominent lady.

The Curse of Morton Abbey | An updated twist on The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett with adult characters instead of young ones, this story also has some influence from Jane Eyre within its mystery elements.

Before Time Runs Out and Only Time Will Tell by Amy Matayo | Both of these are part of her “Charles and Company Romance” series, as in Charles Dickens. They combine a few time shifting plot devices that allow the characters to travel back to Dickens’ London (book 1) and to trade places in life/circumstance in present day (book 2).

Isabelle and Alexander by Rebecca Anderson | While the influence of a classic is more subtle in this romance, as a fan of North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, I was quick to note the similarities in setting and the personality contrast of the hero and heroine.

Your turn! Do you have any favorite stories influenced by classics? Have you read any of these books or authors?

Book Review, Blog Tour & Giveaway: “The Belle of Belgrave Square” by Mimi Matthews

It’s no secret around here that I love Mimi Matthews’ novels. Today I’m happy to be taking part in a blog tour for her new release, The Belle of Belgrave Square, the second book in her Belles of London series. Read on for more about the book + how to connect with Mimi, and stick around for my review and a fantastic tour-wide giveaway.

About the Book

A BookBub Best Romance of 2022

A London heiress rides out to the wilds of the English countryside to honor a marriage of convenience with a mysterious and reclusive stranger.

Tall, dark, and dour, the notorious Captain Jasper Blunt was once hailed a military hero, but tales abound of his bastard children and his haunted estate in Yorkshire. What he requires now is a rich wife to ornament his isolated ruin, and he has his sights set on the enchanting Julia Wychwood.

For Julia, an incurable romantic cursed with a crippling social anxiety, navigating a London ballroom is absolute torture. The only time Julia feels any degree of confidence is when she’s on her horse. Unfortunately, a young lady can’t spend the whole of her life in the saddle, so Julia makes an impetuous decision to take her future by the reins—she proposes to Captain Blunt.

In exchange for her dowry and her hand, Jasper must promise to grant her freedom to do as she pleases. To ride—and to read—as much as she likes without masculine interference. He readily agrees to her conditions, with one provision of his own: Julia is forbidden from going into the tower rooms of his estate and snooping around his affairs. But the more she learns of the beastly former hero, the more intrigued she becomes…

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE | BOOK DEPOSITORY | BOOKSHOP | GOODREADS

Review

I absolutely adore this novel! It’s an enchanting spin on a bit of a Beauty & the Beast situation with a little influence from another favorite classic, The Blue Castle (L. M. Montgomery). Matthews is a master at combining tropes and charms and spinning a story uniquely stamped with her style. This one shines with its marriage of convenience setup, a Victorian setting, the only-one-bed trope, a bit of flair from the aforementioned classics, three impish children, and character cameos from earlier books.

Julia and Jasper are a new favorite fictional couple of mine. Their romance is equal parts tender, swoony, and steadfast. Their journey to each other is not an idealized fairytale, though Julia’s bookish habits set off events for him to sweep her off her feet. Seeing her find agency, encouragement, and belonging with Jasper, and them both finding footing with his children, are things I particularly enjoyed.

Which brings me to Jasper. #swoon He’s a brooding, serious hero who is a romantic at heart and HE. FALLS. FIRST. He blushes and shows unflinching patience when it comes to romancing Julia. His backstory coming to light proves him all the more worthy of admiration for his integrity and of Julia’s affection. This is, perhaps, the most tender romance Matthews has written, skilfully balanced with a hint of sensuality that makes the reader swoon at the simple detail of a touch or endearment between Julia and Jasper.

I appreciate the slight unconventionality of this story in its genre, especially the way the characters seek to give little weight to society’s opinions. In subtle ways, the issue of a female’s role and limited ability to make independent choices are a part of the story. So, too, are bigger themes of loyalty, honesty, and justice.

Content note for my usual blog audience: this is a general market romance with a few era-fitting mild expletives and a closed door romance.

Thank you to the publisher for the advance ebook copy. I purchased the paperback for my shelves. This is my honest review.

Mimi Matthews photo: Mimi standing next to a horse

USA Today bestselling author Mimi Matthews writes both historical nonfiction and award-winning proper Victorian romances. Her novels have received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Booklist, and Kirkus, and her articles have been featured on the Victorian Web, the Journal of Victorian Culture, and in syndication at BUST Magazine. In her other life, Mimi is an attorney. She resides in California with her family, which includes a retired Andalusian dressage horse, a Sheltie, and two Siamese cats.

WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK | PINTEREST | BOOKBUB | GOODREADS

VICTORIAN READING ROOM

Join Mimi at her Victorian Reading Room Facebook Group for exclusive access as she shares her love of writing, historical romance, Victorian fashion, brooding heroes, independent heroines, and of course, her beloved pets!

READ AN EXCLSUIVE INTERVIEW WITH MIMI MATTHEWS

Discover intriguing insights into The Belle of Belgrave Square and Mimi’s writing life in this exclusive interview at austenprose.com.

Mimi has generously offered a fabulous giveaway for this book tour!

Giveaway period: October 3 – October 30

Terms & Conditions:

Giveaway hosted by Mimi Matthews. No Purchase Necessary. Entrants must be 18 years or older. Open to US residents only. All information will remain confidential and will not be sold or otherwise used, except to notify the winner and to facilitate postage of the book to the winner. Void where prohibited.

Giveaway Details:

1 winner (selected at random by Rafflecopter) receives a paperback copy of The Belle of Belgrave Square, signed and annotated by the author with personal comments, underlining of her favorite lines, and other highlights by Mimi Matthews.

Giveaway is open from 12:01 am Pacific time 10/03/22 until 11:59pm Pacific time on 10/30/22.

The winner will be announced on Mimi’s blog on 10/31/22.

Click here to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway!

Review & Blog Tour: “Millstone of Doubt” by Erica Vetsch

Thanks for visiting my stop on the blog tour for Erica Vetsch’s historical romance and mystery, Millstone of Doubt, book 2 in her Thorndike and Swann Regency Mysteries series.

About the Book

A Bow Street Runner and a debutante in London Society use their skills to find the killer of a wealthy businessman, but the killer’s secrets aren’t the only ones they will uncover.

Caught in the explosion of the Hammersmith Mill in London, Bow Street runner Daniel Swann rushes to help any survivors only to find the mill’s owner dead of an apparent gunshot–but no sign of the killer.

Even though the owner’s daughter, Agatha Montgomery, mourns his death, she may be the only one. It seems there are more than a few people with motive for murder. But Daniel can’t take this investigation slow and steady. Instead, he must dig through all the suspects as quickly as he can because the clock is ticking until his mysterious patronage–and his job as a runner–comes to an abrupt and painful end. It seems to Daniel that, like his earthly father, his heavenly Father has abandoned him.

Lady Juliette Thorndike is Agatha’s bosom friend and has the inside knowledge of the wealthy London ton to be invaluable to Daniel. She should be in a perfect position to help with the case. But when her trusted instructor in the art of spy craft orders her to stay out of the investigation, Lady Juliette obeys. That is, until circumstances intervene, and she drops right into the middle of the deadly pursuit.

When a dreadful accident ends in another death on the mill floor, Daniel discovers a connection to his murder case–and to his own secret past. Now he and Juliette are in a race to find the killer before his time runs out.

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE | BOOK DEPOSITORY | BOOKSHOP | GOODREADS

Erica Vetsch is a New York Times best-selling author and ACFW Carol Award winner and has been a Romantic Times top pick for her previous books. She loves Jesus, history, romance, and watching sports. This transplanted Kansan now makes her home in Rochester, Minnesota.

WEBSITE | FACEBOOK | BOOKBUB | INSTAGRAM GOODREADS |  NEWSLETTER

Review

Millstone of Doubt by Erica Vetsch continues the escapades of Lady Juliette Thorndike and Daniel Swann as they make an unlikely pairing in solving a mystery. It exhibits the Regency era with flair, showcasing elements of society, class, adventure, LADIES’ ARCHERY (which was particularly fun!), crime, and a bit of romance. While this is the second in a series and follows the same main protagonists as the first book, The Debutante’s Code, I think it could be read as a standalone as it does a good job filling in many events of book 1.

The mystery is one that kept me interested and guessing for most of the story, with many what-ifs and possibilities complicating the facts and setting up the reader for a romp of a final reveal. Returning side characters make the story more colorful and interesting, too, and I particularly like the cameos of the Duke of Haverly, a beloved hero from another one of Vetsch’s series.

I appreciate the relationship between Juliette and Daniel as it establishes a rapport between them, delving deeper into their friendship and connection already established. It furthers the romance and portrays it as a slow-burn type pairing, especially considering their class divide of the time period. With a few more secrets revealed about Daniel’s benefactor, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the next installment!

Thank you to the publisher for the review copy of this novel. This is my honest review.