Keira Soleore

In Gina Conkle’s sharp, brilliant Georgian romance A Scot Is Not Enough, a Scottish Jacobite forever changes the trajectory of an upright English barrister’s life.

Alexander Sloane is undersecretary to the undersecretary of the Duke of Newcastle. Precision runs in his veins, discovering the truth is his raison d’être and he’s on the cusp of getting a promotion he’s been working toward for years. His attempt to decode a ledger used by the Jacobites, a Scottish group intent on deposing the Protestant kings of England and restoring the Catholic House of Stuart to the throne, leads him to Cecelia MacDonald, a known Jacobite sympathizer. Hoping to uncover the Scottish traitors, Alexander begins to tail Cecelia through London.

After her clan was defeated and their homes were ransacked by the English during the Jacobite uprising of 1745, Cecelia came to London with a league of women on a mission to retrieve their clan’s treasures. As the league’s de facto leader, Cecelia’s job is to recover their chief’s ancient ceremonial dagger, the sgian-dubh.

Cecelia’s carmine lips, free-flowing laughter and penchant for sexual innuendo convince Alexander that she is a demirep, a historical term for a women of questionable reputation. But even as she is mired in intrigue, Cecelia helps feed poor Scottish and Irish immigrants. Alexander attempts to covertly surveil her in order to square the two sides of this free-spirited siren, but unfortunately, subterfuge does not come naturally to him: Cecelia finds him stuck in a barrel behind her house. So begins the seduction.

A Scot Is Not Enough throbs with sexual tension from the very first page. Alexander and Cecelia’s unrelenting fascination with each other, their need to uncover what drives the other person, propels their relationship. While both characters want to trust their hearts, their minds are warning them that there is no logical reason to do so. Conkle expertly employs subtle, minute emotional details that track the evolution of their relationship and individual perspectives.

A Scot Is Not Enough is a spellbinding tale of political adversaries who are beguiled with each other in spite of everything pulling them apart. The mystery of the sgian-dubh adds intrigue, but it is Conkle’s prose and character work that make this romance so compelling.

A Scot Is Not Enough is the story of a spellbinding Georgian romance between political adversaries who are completely beguiled with each other.

Mary Balogh’s fabulous Westcott series boasts some of the most memorable characters in her oeuvre and her latest installment, Someone Perfect, is a fitting addition. Despite coming from very disparate backgrounds, two people connect at an unanticipated and deeply emotional level in this historical romance. 

Lady Estelle Lamarr was horrified when her close confidant, Maria, was banished to a smaller estate upon the death of her father and her estranged half-brother, Justin Wiley, inherited his title and property. Maria was brought up to view Justin as a despicable ogre, a thief and a liar by her mother, a reputation Estelle accepts as fact. 

Brought up in love as the apple of his parents’ eyes, Justin was shocked when, after his mother passed away, his beloved father remarried a much younger woman. For reasons Balogh does not at first reveal, Justin left home at the age of 22 and had to earn a living. His accent and background earned him rough words and rougher treatment, but he survived and thrived and made friends for life, with whom he still keeps in touch even after becoming an earl.

When Justin returns to the estate after his stepmother’s death and invites Maria to live with him, Estelle accompanies her for companionship. Estelle and Justin come from dissimilar backgrounds: he, a stone quarry laborer; she, a gently reared lady. She finds him huge and intimidating. (Even his dog is huge and intimidating.) He finds her far above his touch. What could they possibly have in common? And out of this, Balogh crafts a masterful romance.

Someone Perfect is a wonderful example of a connection based on trust, fairness and honesty. There is certainly an attraction between Estelle and Justin, but more importantly, there is a meeting of minds. Their relationship develops through frank, heart-to-heart conversations, a good example of which is when, early on in the book, Justin proposes to Estelle, thinking she would make a suitable countess, and she refuses. As their relationship moves along, they open up their hearts to each other, revealing things from their pasts they have never shared with another soul. They want to believe the best of each other, both realizing that kindness and thoughtfulness lie underneath their hard, protective exteriors. 

Even beyond its well-drawn main couple, Someone Perfect hums with joy, with the feeling of life unfolding on the page. It is an intimate tale, rich in detail and images, the sort of book to be read in one long, breathless sitting.

Even beyond its well-drawn main couple, Someone Perfect hums with joy, with the feeling of life unfolding on the page.

Denise Williams follows up her spectacular debut, How to Fail at Flirting, with the even better The Fastest Way to Fall, a soul-stirring novel that delves deep into the psyche of a woman struggling with body image and sense of self.

Britta Colby is an editorial assistant at the lifestyle magazine Best Life, and a curvy Black woman who refuses to allow being fat to define her. And yet, rejection by a crush due to her size causes her to doubt herself. She turns that disappointment into a step toward her goal of becoming a staff writer, and teams up with a coworker to write dueling blog posts about their experiences with two competing fitness apps. Britta signs up for FitMe, a hugely popular and body-positive app, with the goal of looking and feeling good naked.

Through its clever algorithm, FitMe matches each client with a professional coach, but there’s one cardinal rule: the client and coach can’t interact outside the confines of the text-based app. However, when Britta’s emotionally charged crash dieting and over-exercising cause her to put out a frantic call for help, her coach, Christopher “Wes” Lawson, breaks confidentiality to rush her to the hospital. Unbeknownst to Britta, Wes is actually the CEO of FitMe. He’s been feeling restless and inadequate despite the app’s success, and decided to start individual coaching again to rediscover the passion that led him to create FitMe in the first place. 

Britta and Wes’ transition from talking in the app to in-person coaching and hanging out in the evenings feels like a natural progression of their professional relationship, even given the confidentiality rule. From the beginning, Britta has to continually remind herself that Wes is her coach, since talking to him feels just like chatting with a friend. And Wes has to continually tell himself to think of Britta as his client and not act on his strong attraction to her. Their relationship continues to evolve, and Williams authentically portrays their increasing mutual trust and emotional connection. However, they are still keeping secrets from each other: Britta doesn’t know Wes is a CEO, and Wes doesn’t know Britta is a journalist reviewing his app.

The Fastest Way to Fall is not a story about weight loss, but about learning to love who you are and about falling in love with someone who helps you feel strong. Britta’s triumph over her former insecurities concerning her body, her goals and her job are transcendent moments thanks to Williams’ sensitive and masterful storytelling.

Denise Williams’ sensitive and masterful romance The Fastest Way to Fall delves deep into the psyche of a woman struggling with body image and sense of self.

Following her stellar debut, The Widow of Rose House, Diana Biller returns with The Brightest Star in Paris, a stunning novel of tender emotions amid harsh circumstances.

This Victorian romance is set in 1878 France, seven years after the horrific events of the siege of Paris and the Paris Commune. It’s an unusual setting for a romance, full of great strife and turmoil, and Biller provides readers with a fabulous immersion into that place and time.

Amelie St. James is a prima ballerina with the Paris Opera Ballet, regularly dancing lead roles at the opulent Palais Garnier. Beloved by Parisians, she has adopted a pious and sweet public persona, earning the nickname “St. Amie.” Life has taught her to keep a tight hold on her emotions and strive to be perfect at everything she does. Amelie is compelling as both her public and private selves, and Biller thoroughly explores her inner thoughts and worries over earning a living by dancing, managing the debilitating pain in her hip, taking care of her 11-year-old sister and stuffing the grief and anger at her mother’s death from syphilis deep down into her heart.

But hidden behind Amelie’s public persona is a chilling truth: She is haunted by spirits, just like her mother was. The ghosts bring Amelie pain and trouble, but they also provide her with a sense of purpose and confidence in helping others. The subplot of the ghosts’ lives and Amelie’s interactions with them could have thrown the entire romance off balance, but these moments are superbly depicted, whether she is healing one ghost’s relationship with their mother or bringing justice to a dancer Amelie knew when she was alive.

Amelie’s delicate balance between her public and private selves is threatened by the return of Dr. Benedict Moore, a gifted neurologist with whom she had a brief but meaningful romance 12 years ago. Ben almost died of malaria during the American Civil War and was still dealing with PTSD when he met Amelie. She brought him back from the dark despair he had sunk into, and he has never forgotten her. Now that he is back in Paris for a conference, the tender feelings between them are rekindled.

While The Brightest Star in Paris is more focused on Amelie’s inner journey than Ben’s, Biller is such a skilled storyteller that readers will  feel deeply for both protagonists as she beautifully unfurls this delicate second-chance romance. Ben is uncomplicatedly and wholly in love with Amelie, whereas Amelie is continually conflicted. On one hand, she loves him immensely, yet she feels she does not deserve his love and the happiness it brings. Furthermore, her mother’s life as a courtesan has taught her that she must keep on striving independently rather than lean on a man for support. Ultimately, The Brightest Star in Paris is the story of how St. Amie transforms back into Amelie, a woman free to choose the life she wants.

In the gorgeously written The Brightest Star in Paris, Biller provides a fascinating view into the psychological makeup of two haunted lovers.

In this gorgeously written romance, Diana Biller provides a fascinating view into the psychological makeup of two haunted lovers.

Anne Gracie’s excellent new romance, The Scoundrel’s Daughter, accomplishes the tricky task of telling two love stories within one book.

It begins with a goose, which Gerald Paton, Viscount Thornton, almost crashes his curricle to avoid running over. However, it is the goose girl who truly raises his ire by lecturing him on his reckless driving.

The goose girl, Lucy Bamber, has always been left behind with friends or distant relatives of her destructive, deviant father, Octavius. Deadened by constant rejection and resentment, she is immature and surly with everyone. After multiple unfortunate experiences with high and mighty (or, even worse, handsy) lords, she sees nothing wrong with taking Gerald down a peg.

Lucy and Gerald’s paths would never have crossed again if not for Octavius, who returns to Lucy’s life and ropes her into his latest scheme. He’s come into possession of some scandalous letters that could ruin Alice, Lady Charlton’s life. The widowed Alice has been forced to sell her household goods in order to pay off the debts of her selfish, profligate but thankfully dead husband. Lucy’s father threatens the already-vulnerable Alice with the release of her husband’s scandalous letters to his mistress unless she agrees to not only bring Lucy out into society, but to get her married to a lord.

As it turns out, Alice is Gerald’s aunt, and when she turns to him for help, he realizes that his aunt’s new charge is the goose girl who cost him his latest race. At first, Gerald believes that Lucy is a fraud who is preying on his beloved aunt. But as he gets to know Lucy, he quickly realizes that she is as much a victim in this scheme as anyone. His protective instincts roused, Gerald turns to his former commanding officer, James, Lord Tarrant, for help.

Both of the love stories in The Scoundrel’s Daughter are compelling, but Alice and James’ hesitant, hard-won romance is especially moving. Alice brimmed with life before her marriage, but her husband ruined her confidence and self-esteem by cruelly deriding her and flaunting his relationship with his mistress. The widowed father of three young girls, James has resigned his commission in the army to dedicate himself to his daughters. Gracie makes it clear from the very beginning that his take-charge attitude has been tempered with deep empathy. James’ patience allows him to see beyond Alice’s prickly demeanor, and he is consistently understanding of her fears surrounding matrimony.

The Scoundrel’s Daughter viscerally examines how cruel actions and words from Lucy’s father and Alice’s husband destroyed their young minds and hearts. Gracie carves out space in both romances to demonstrate how both women’s personalities blossom because of the love and respect they’re shown from the new men in their lives and because of their friendship with one another. This only makes The Scoundrel’s Daughter’s balancing act all the more impressive: Within these two love stories, Gracie paints a beautiful portrait of two women becoming fuller, happier versions of themselves.

Anne Gracie’s excellent new romance, The Scoundrel’s Daughter, accomplishes the tricky task of telling two love stories within one book.

A Duke Worth Fighting For, the final book in Christina Britton’s Isle of Synne series, is a classic "Beauty and the Beast"-esque tale. Margery Kitteridge, the circumspect widow of a soldier who died at the battle of Waterloo, is challenged with aiding Daniel Hayle, the battle-scarred and socially inept Duke of Carlisle, with his matrimonial prospects.

Margery has received an anonymous blackmail note accusing her husband of cowardice and desertion. Desperate to preserve her beloved’s posthumous reputation, Margery is scrambling to come up with the funds to pay the blackmailer. She hits upon the idea of a trade with Daniel: She will help him find a bride in exchange for 100 pounds.

Daniel’s nights are ravaged by guilt, sorrow and nightmares from his experiences in the Napoleonic wars. His days are ravaged by pain and despair, both from his terrible scars and from the fact that he’s now unable to walk without aid. In one especially moving scene, he swims for the first time since Waterloo, and in the water, his body moves beautifully without pain or hindrance. Daniel cries in joy, relief and a whole host of other emotions. As Daniel and Margery spend more and more time together, it becomes clear that she is his perfect counterpart: stable and supportive, a secure sanctuary for a battered soul. Despite her still-present devastation and grief, Margery and Daniel start to build a relationship.

While aspects of A Duke Worth Fighting For evoke the "Beauty and the Beast" fairy tale and its recent adaptations (for example, there is a dashing, yet dastardly villain a la the Disney films' Gaston character), Britton imbues her novel with a gravitas and poignancy all its own. She sensitively explores how Daniel’s bodily injuries pale in comparison to those inflicted on his soul, balancing darker elements with his growing resiliency and Margery’s inspiring loyalty to the people she loves. A Duke Worth Fighting For is a truly worthy end to the Isle of Synne series.

A Duke Worth Fighting For, the last book in Christina Britton’s Isle of Synne series, is a classic Beauty and the Beast tale.

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