Carrie Sessarego

Fans of Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic are sure to enjoy The Witches of Cambridge by Menna van Praag, a gentle story about a group of women with supernatural gifts and a bevy of romance problems.

This is an ensemble story that touches on the lives of five women, all witches: Amandine, Noa, Cosima, Kat and Helena. Amandine, a professor at Cambridge University, can feel other people’s emotions, as well as divine what artists felt while making a work of art. Amandine has always had a close and happy relationship with her husband, but she can sense that he has a secret, and it's threatening to drive them apart. Noa, a student at the University, can read people’s secrets. Unfortunately for her, she also feels compelled to blurt them out, a habit that plays havoc with her social life. Noa falls madly in love with a painter who offers to cure her of magic, but as their relationship progresses, she finds herself giving up her dreams to advance his own. Cosima, a baker, uses kitchen magic to bring people luck or love, and despite life-threatening health problems, she attempts to use magic to become pregnant against the advice of her sister, unlucky-in-love mathematics professor Kat. Amandine’s mother, Heloise, a recent widow, can see the future, but her magic has faded following the death of her husband. Her story begins as she emerges from crippling grief and depression, and she soon develops an interest in a fellow widower.

The characters tend to find that their magic is a liability rather than an asset when it comes to matters of the heart. Van Praag’s writing is lyrical and the story sweetly affirming. A running theme through this novel is the importance of honesty—Noa’s characteristic of candor that she so loathes is crucial to healing the various wounds of the women. Like one of Cosima’s confections, The Witches of Cambridge attempts to comfort rather than challenge the reader, and it has a lulling—but never boring—quality. 

Fans of Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic are sure to enjoy The Witches of Cambridge by Menna van Praag, a gentle story about a group of women with supernatural gifts and a bevy of romance problems.

Jessica Sims’ Between a Vamp and a Hard Place is a silly, sexy novel about an antiques dealer who discovers a vampire sleeping in an ancient coffin. Lindsey and her best friend, Gemma, are trying to build their business, and when Gemma gets a lead on an abandoned apartment in Venice, they pack their bags and discover a treasure trove of valuable antiques.

They also discover a vampire, Rand FitzWulf. The ancient Rand wants Lindsey to help him navigate the modern world and defeat his enemies. Lindsey initially finds Rand to be infuriating and—quite frankly—scary, but gradually she finds herself falling in love with him. But can Lindsey build a future with a medieval vampire? And will either of them survive the confrontation with Rand's nemesis?

This book has a fun, light tone even when things are at their worst for Rand and Lindsey. They have a relationship that, given the circumstances, develops somewhat realistically—Rand gradually comes to appreciate Lindsey’s kindness and intelligence, and Lindsey progresses from feeling sorry for the misplaced Rand to truly loving him.

This book is fun urban fantasy—it's not intended to be terribly realistic. It's a well-written story that involves art, gelato, pasta, mayhem and lots and lots of garlic. There's a solid mix of humor and angst, and the reader truly roots for Rand and Lindsey as a couple. While Lindsey is physically outclassed by the vampires, she's a better strategist than Rand, and it's gratifying to see Lindsey and Gemma use their smarts to outwit the enemy. Overall, this novel has a great blend of sisterhood, paranormal menace and romance.

Jessica Sims’ Between a Vamp and a Hard Place is a silly, sexy novel about an antiques dealer who discovers a vampire sleeping in an ancient coffin.

Daniel's True Desire, the second book in Grace Burrowes’ True Gentleman series, is a charming Regency romance about a vicar with a troubled past who falls in love with a woman who has resigned herself to spinsterhood due to her own past heartbreaks.

Daniel Banks is the son of a vicar and a vicar himself. He grew up, as he puts it, "only nominally a gentleman." Upon becoming vicar for the village of Haddondale, he promptly falls in love with Lady Kirsten Haddonfield. Lady Kirsten is the sister of an Earl, but she is far more comfortable supervising the cleaning and repairing of the vicarage than she is pouring tea. As she says, "Perhaps I am only nominally a lady." The sharp-tongued but extremely practical Lady Kirsten and the gentle Daniel fall very much in love, but Daniel has a tie from his past that could keep them apart.

Burrowes deftly mixes angst (both Daniel and Kirsten have tragedy in their past lives) and humor (Daniel is tasked with running a boys' school and the mischievous students provide constant comic relief) in this novel. Watching Daniel and Kirsten work as a team is deeply satisfying—they have fabulous chemistry and engage in witty banter and honest conversations while co-running the vicarage and school.

The use of language in Daniel's True Desire is lovely, the characters are fun and interesting, and the setting bucolic. It's a lovely book to escape into, in which problems are overwhelming and yet all are satisfyingly solved—perhaps a bit too miraculously—through the combined forces of romantic love, friendship, family and the machinations of several small boys and their collection of runaway toads. 

Daniel's True Desire, the second book in Grace Burrowes’ True Gentleman series, is a charming Regency romance about a vicar with a troubled past who falls in love with a woman who has resigned herself to spinsterhood due to her own past heartbreaks.

Forever Your Earl, the first in the Wicked Quills of London series, is a delightful Regency romance from Eva Leigh, who also writes science fiction, steampunk and fantasy romance under the name Zoë Archer. Forever Your Earl has a classic Regency premise—a woman from the working class falls in love with an Earl—but Leigh shakes up the formula by giving us a heroine in her 30s who is financially independent and experienced in the ways of the world. The book is filled with an abundance of witty banter and dry humor, along with high emotional and sexual chemistry between the two leads, who are on equal footing despite their class differences.

Eleanor Hawke owns and runs a printing press that publishes a scandal sheet called The Hawk's Eye, which reports on the secret lives of London’s elite. Daniel Balfour, the infamous Lord Ashford—one of Hawke’s most gabbed about subjects—invites Eleanor to shadow him on some of his more rakish adventures for reasons of his own. In order to pull this off, Eleanor must dress as a man (and on one occasion, like a woman of "questionable reputation"). Through Hawke’s journalistic endeavors, readers are treated to a glimpse of life at a Regency-era chophouse, a masquerade ball, Vauxhall Gardens, a gambling hell and many more fascinating London locales. Daniel is under pressure to marry a noblewoman and produce an heir, but he finds the headstrong Eleanor quite intriguing. However, even as the pair is drawn closer together, Daniel is desperate to keep one important secret from the very disarming Eleanor.

This book has two standout pleasures. First, for Regency fans, Eleanor’s guided tour through a rake's life is great fun, and second, the sharp, funny—but often heartfelt—banter between the characters is a delight. These two characters start off on a footing of mutual interest that rapidly becomes mutual respect. Both Eleanor and Ashford are clear communicators, and although they both have secrets, they avoid easily preventable understandings. Theirs is an adult romance in the sense that the sex is explicit and hot, and it's adult in the sense that the characters are flawed but emotionally mature. Forever Your Earl is a light read with enough emotional substance to keep the stakes high.

Read Eva Leigh's guest post about Forever Your Earl.

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Forever Your Earl, the first in the Wicked Quills of London series, is a delightful Regency romance from Eva Leigh, who also writes science fiction, steampunk and fantasy romance under the name Zoë Archer.

The Highlander’s Bride, the first in Amanda Forester’s Highland Trouble series, has all the trappings of an old-fashioned romance with some delightfully feminist twists thrown in. The heroine is a sheltered noblewoman, and the hero is a Scots warrior who offends her tender sensibilities with his strong legs and his disregard for her possessions. However, the Lady is no delicate flower, and the Scotsman is no domineering alpha.

Highland warrior Gavin Patrick is given the job of escorting Lady Marie Colette from her home in France to the home of her husband-to-be in Scotland. Along the way, he must protect her from the English, bandits and a storm at sea. However, the greatest danger they face lies in their attraction to each other, since Collette has to marry the man of her father's choosing, as he has promised to send her father badly needed soldiers in exchange. If she fails to marry, it affects her people, not just her own social standing.

Forester has brought together an exciting setting and period in history, fabulous clothing and hairstyles, and an action-filled plot, but the greatest joy of The Highlander’s Bride lies in the relationship between the two lead characters. They are both honest and forthright, and they cut through potential misunderstandings like true adults. Colette is not an action heroine, but she's intelligent and resourceful, and Gavin never attempts to dominate her.

The addition of some orphaned children is perhaps a bit too adorable, but if you are willing to go along with it, you will be treated to some wildly entertaining scenes and happy endings all around. This is not a terribly serious book, but Forester is able to embrace sillier elements and ground them in a very realistic relationship between Colette and Gavin in a way that is sexy, funny and emotionally touching.

 

The Highlander’s Bride, the first in Amanda Forester’s Highland Trouble series, has all the trappings of an old-fashioned romance with some delightfully feminist twists thrown in. The heroine is a sheltered noblewoman, and the hero is a Scots warrior who offends her tender sensibilities with his legs and his disregard for her possessions. However, the Lady is no delicate flower, and the Scotsman is no domineering alpha.

If He's Noble, the latest in Hannah Howell’s Wherlocke series, is a historical romance with a kind and honorable hero, a feisty but sweet heroine and an over-the-top evil villainess bent on destruction. The story weaves in paranormal elements, and Howell is able to make several comments on the ridiculous double standards of Regency society, all while developing a fine romance. Although the writing style is sometimes a bit awkward, the story contains many elements that are sure to be irresistible to fans of Regency romance.

When Sir Bened Vaughn comes across Lady Primrose in the woods, he realizes that she is in trouble. While Primrose is no helpless damsel, she is certainly in distress—she's searching for her missing brother and is on the run from her aunt, who is trying to force her into marriage. Bened insists on helping Primrose, and they discover that Primrose's aunt may be a murderer many times over. They also discover that they are quite attracted to each other. With no reputation to lose (thanks to her solo travels in search of her brother), Primrose must decide whether to trust Bened with her body and her heart, and Bened must decide if he is worthy of Primrose, who is socially far above him.

This book has highly relatable, likeable characters and includes a large supporting cast of relatives. The characters are not particularly well-rounded—the bad guys are especially one-dimensional—however, the book’s cast is an entertaining group to spend time with. The book is filled with dry humor, with an especially funny scene involving Primrose’s puppy.

The major weakness in this novel is Howell’s insistence on telling as opposed to showing; reading about every thought and emotion of the characters becomes tedious. This being said, many readers will find the combination of humor, fun characters and the charming historical setting to compensate for any stylistic missteps. 

If He's Noble, the latest in Hannah Howell’s Wherlocke series, is a historical romance with a kind and honorable hero, a feisty but sweet heroine and an over-the-top evil villainess bent on destruction. The story weaves in paranormal elements, and Howell is able to make several comments on the ridiculous double standards of Regency society, all while developing a fine romance. Although the writing style is sometimes a bit awkward, the story contains many elements that are sure to be irresistible to fans of Regency romance.

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