Lily McGhee

The holidays are a time to celebrate the future and to think back on the past. What more delicious way to honor the Ghost of Christmas Past than with a trio of romances set in days gone by?

RENOVATION ROMANCE
It takes a strong woman to hold on to what belongs to her. No one knows this better than Thomasina Thorne, steward of Enderley and heroine of A Duke Changes Everything, the latest title from Christy Carlyle. Miss Thorne has a comfortable life at the estate she loves—unless a certain handsome scoundrel can snatch it away from her.

Mina Thorne is proud of the role she’s played as protector and caretaker of her beloved Enderley estate. However, in the eyes of the men around her, Mina’s bravery and discipline count for nothing given her gender. So when she receives word that the new Duke of Tremayne is coming to take over the estate, signaling her imminent dismissal, she is bound and determined to keep things the way they always have been, with her trusted staff close to her and the duke far away. Unfortunately, the newly christened Tremayne may find a way to get closer than Mina ever imagined.

In truth, the new duke, Nicholas Lyon, isn’t any happier with his new post than Mina is. All Nick really wants is to run his already-successful gentlemen’s club and see it grow. He’d also like to keep his past where it belongs, in the past. But when his brother dies and burdens him with a dukedom he never wanted, Nick’s demons aren’t the only surprise waiting for him at Enderley. Entering Mina’s home means surrendering to her world. When all is said and done, it may not be his only surrender.

Christy Carlyle, it seems, was born to write historical romance. In a former life, she studied and taught history herself, and professes that she’s happiest when imagining the worlds of her stories. She pens lush, delicious stories about love amongst the Victorians, and Nick and Mina are a stunning pair. Writing strong characters comes with the risk of making them too strong and ending up with one character being off balance. Not so in A Duke Changes Everything. Nick and Mina hold their own when they must, but they bend, too. Mina treats Nick’s painful family memories with compassion and understanding, and Nick strives always to be Mina’s equal, never dominating or submitting to her strong personality more than he should.

Think you know every story Victorian romance has to offer? Pick up A Duke Changes Everything this winter. I promise, you’ll never be happier to be wrong.

AN ACCIDENTAL KIDNAPPING
At first glance, being kidnapped by pirates does not exactly sound like a dream come true. In fact, for Poppy Bridgerton—the brash, beautiful captive in question—it is a nightmare. Can she survive two weeks aboard a ship sailing far from home? For another matter, can she manage not to strangle the handsome, infuriating ship’s captain who kidnapped her?

Poppy, the heroine of Julia Quinn’s newest novel The Other Miss Bridgerton, is headstrong, sharp-tongued and trapped aboard a privateer’s ship after wandering into the wrong cave during an afternoon walk. She misses her family, there is constant bickering between herself and the captain, the voyage itself is dangerous and the goal is high-stakes. Will Poppy ever see her home again?

Captain Andrew James Rokesby, is, if possible, in an even worse predicament than his beautiful prisoner. For starters, she is a Bridgerton, daughter of a high and prestigious family (not to mention a family his own noble house is closely connected to). Add to this that he must now bring her home safely from a secret mission he’s not even sure that he’ll survive, and it’s a (ship) wreck of a situation. Besides, he’s not sure why, but he is more and more drawn to Poppy by the day.

Julia Quinn’s novels are a staple of the historical romance genre. She has written dozens of lush, heart-warming stories, all with her unique brand of humor and whip-smart writing. It’s appropriate, seeing as how Quinn’s mission as an author is to prove that smart women can both read and write romance—a philosophy that’s evident in every quip and tightly paced chapter.

Speaking of smart women, Poppy is an utter delight. She is witty, headstrong (not simply in a cute, rescue-me sort of way), and fiercely protective of the weak around her and her loved ones. Andrew falls for her exactly as she is, flaws and all, and it’s clear that their relationship is built on mutual admiration rather than simply desire. However, do you want some sexual tension? Julia Quinn will give you tension. It’s a relationship as thoughtfully crafted as the book’s impeccable plot and pacing. If winter has you longing for warm days at the beach, immerse yourself in The Other Miss Bridgerton for the most delicious pirate (er, privateer) story on the shelves.

AN AMERICAN IN LONDON
What do you get when you combine a happily single young heiress, her handsome partner-in-matchmaking and a duke with the absolute worst intentions? Well, this winter you get The Girl with the Sweetest Secret, Betina Krahn’s newest romance.

Frankie Bumgarten has had it with the men of London. As a sensible American girl, Frankie loathes the idea of marrying a stuck-up nobleman, much to the dismay of her mother. She’ll settle for finding her younger sister a match, with the help of a young English nobleman known as the Fox. Soon, however, Frankie finds herself caught between her growing attraction to the Fox and the attention of an ominous foreign duke who’ll do anything to have her. There’s more to her dilemma than meets the eye, and she’s determined to find out exactly what.

Reynard Boulton earned the nickname “the Fox” because of his sharp mind, talent for collecting secrets and shady dealings in the underworld of London. Reynard has sworn to his best friend that he will protect the Bumgarten girls, and that means keeping Frankie out of the grasping hands of a certain Prussian duke. Although he swears indifference to eligible young women and their charms, he must admit that Frankie’s strong will and stunning beauty have begun to catch his eye.

The words you could use to describe Krahn’s books are the same words you would use to talk about a sunbeam. Her stories glow with charm, sweetness and warmth. It should also be noted that the bright quality of her stories never comes at the expense of their excitement, suspense and rich characters. She continues to rise above the rest of her genre (historical and otherwise) with the sparkling, optimistic novels we all deserve.

There’s nothing I love better than a fabulous romance that has more on its mind than just the central relationship. Those that deliver a sumptuous love story alongside real suspense and intrigue are the pride and joy of their genre. And oh boy, does this one deliver. Sweetest Secret gives readers true villains, complex issues to solve and two lead characters who really do keep you wondering if they will ever manage to end up together. It’s a richly dimensional story that will, I’m sure, stand the test of time.

As Christmas approaches, it’s good to take a break from the hustle and the grey skies that surround our favorite holiday. You’ll find no better shelter than the pages of The Girl with the Sweetest Secret.

 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our Q&A with Christy Carlyle about A Duke Changes Everything.

The holidays are a time to celebrate the future and to think back on the past. What more delicious way to honor the Ghost of Christmas Past than with a trio of romances set in days gone by?

Surprising absolutely no one who’s ever been sucked into a show on HGTV, romances with a home-improvement plot have been a steadily growing little subgenre in recent years. Christy Carlyle’s A Duke Changes Everything hits all those beats, but with a Victorian gothic twist. Mina Thorne is the steward of Enderley, a crumbling country estate that just passed to the new duke, Nicholas Lyon. Nick has always hated Enderley, and fled years ago to run a gentlemen’s club in London. But Mina’s passion for the property and devotion to the people whose livelihoods depend on it make Nick reconsider his plans to sell as soon as he and Mina have completed their renovations. We talked to Carlyle about her love of the Victorian era and what her characters have taught her.

You clearly have a passion for history—I see that you got your bachelor’s degree on the subject. When did the 19th century steal your heart and start to inspire you? What was it that caught your eye?
My grandfather had a big influence on my interest in history. He loved books and introduced me to lots of 19th-century literary classics—Dickens, the Brontes, Austen, Eliot—and that led me to explore and find new favorites like Stoker and Le Fanu. When I entered college and chose history as my major, it felt natural to gravitate toward that era where so many of my favorite stories had been set. I’m continually intrigued with the cultures, fashion, technology and history of the period.

You’ve been magically transported to the world of one of your series! Which one would you choose?
That’s a great question! I think I’d choose my Romancing the Rule series. It’s set in the late 19th century, in the 1880s and ’90s, and that’s probably my favorite period of the era. So many technological advances had sprung up and were altering Victorian lives. I love the way fashion had changed during that era to allow for more natural skirt shapes and tailored waists and even the big poofy sleeves on gowns.

Which do you enjoy writing more: shy wallflowers or bold temptresses?
I like writing bold wallflowers! I like writing heroines who are unexpected and who end up surprising even themselves with their tenacity and drive. They may seem like a wallflower or a shy young woman, but I enjoy writing their journey to discovering they are much more.

What is one life-changing lesson or writing technique you’ve learned from your own characters?
My characters have definitely helped me push past the fear of putting emotion on the page. Writing is a revealing endeavor, and I sometimes find it hard to be vulnerable on the page, but truly wounded characters like Nick, Duke of Tremayne in A Duke Changes Everything have forced me to explore emotion in new ways.

You’ve said that you’re a lifelong learner—what’s your go-to source for knowledge? And is there an author, a former teacher or a character that you cite for inspiration?
I’m a constant reader, not only many types of fiction but history and biographies, too. Books are where I tend to go for my knowledge. This may sound odd, but when I was younger I read a multivolume biography about Percy Shelley, and his thirst for knowledge inspired me. He was constantly reading multiple books on a variety of subjects, and did so on purpose in order to expand his mind. As a teacher, I always viewed myself as much as an instructor as a co-learner with my students. I think it’s vital to stay curious.

Would you rather travel in America or Britain?
I’d have to say Britain. I’ve done a fair bit of traveling in the U.S., but there are many places in Britain I still haven’t explored. I’ve never been to Wales or Scotland, for instance. Both are high on my travel wish list.

If you were to write about a different cultural or time period (besides Victorian times or the Regency period), what would it be? How do you think it would change your writing?
Actually, I’m working on a Gilded Age story set in Chicago, and though it’s essentially still the Victorian era, it has a distinctly different flavor. American history was on its own trailblazing track, and there were lots of unique cultural differences.

I’ve also toyed with the idea of writing science fiction, and that is a whole new level of world building that intrigues me. I’d like to flex those writing muscles and imagine that the process of creating new worlds would enhance my historical writing, too.

How do you get into your writing zone? You’ve said you think about your characters constantly, but what do you do to focus up when it’s time to put pen to paper?
Mostly I try to lose myself in the story world. I usually refer to notes and images (often saved on a Pinterest board) when I start writing, but once I’m into the draft of a book, I read over previous scenes to get back into the motivations and emotions of the characters. Then most of all, I try to turn off my internal editor and just get the story down as honestly as I can.

You’ve done a little work in supernatural tale telling with Enchanted at Christmas. Any plans to do more of that?
I am always a sucker for a good ghost story, and I’m also a longtime fan of gothic romance. I’d love to explore those spooky supernatural elements in a future book.

As a former teacher, what’s the one lesson you would impart to a timid writer afraid to add to such a vast, developed genre as romance?
As a confirmed bookworm, I’d definitely advise someone wishing to write romance to reads lots of them. But I’d also encourage them not to be frightened, to dig in and put their own spin on old tropes. It’s a beloved genre, but definitely one that’s still full of new possibilities.

Surprising absolutely no one who’s ever been sucked into a show on HGTV, romances with a home-improvement plot have been a steadily growing little subgenre in recent years. Christy Carlyle’s A Duke Changes Everything hits all those beats, but with a Victorian Gothic twist.

Dive deep into the story of a public proposal gone wrong, rebounds and good rosé with The Proposal, the latest offering from Jasmine Guillory.

The magical moment where two people agree to spend their lives together is a deeply personal thing—unless it happens in front of thousands of people. When writer Nikole Paterson accompanies her boyfriend to a Dodgers game on his birthday, the last thing she expects (or wants) is a proposal. It’s way too soon into their relationship, and he’s kind of a loser. Her rejection does not go over well with the masses who witness it, and Nik is trapped until a handsome doctor by the name of Carlos Ibarra comes to her rescue. After her brush with forever, Nik is in no place to fall in love. But the more time she spends with Carlos, the more she realizes cutting ties isn’t always so easy.

Carlos really just wanted to help out the poor woman in the stadium who looked like she was in a tight spot. Although if you were to press him, yes, he noticed her looks as well. And then her sense of humor, and then her intellect. One thing leads to another, and soon their good-natured, sexy fun turns into something he’s not sure he wants to stop.

Guillory is a relative newcomer to the romance scene, but she’s made her mark in a big way. Her debut novel The Wedding Date was an enormous success, and The Proposal is already a New York Times bestseller. Both novels are marked by their sparkling humor, painfully relatable characters and absorbing plotlines. Speaking of relatable, there have never been two people—real or fictional—more right for each other than Carlos and Nik. Their relationship is genuine, healthy and flawed in some very real ways. They live their own lives apart from one another but shine all the brighter when they are together. Often, lovers of romance novels find themselves getting sick of, well, romance, or at least the sappy, hyper-dramatized kind. The lack of clichés and unnecessary turmoil make this novel a breath of fresh air in the genre. Plus, Carlos gets big bonus points for being a true feminist. He loves the women in his life and he respects them, from his sister to his aunt and even Nik’s friends. He’s a rare, excellent example of the man we all want to fall for.

If cold weather and stale genre staples have you down this winter, pick up The Proposal. It’s the perfect pick to warm your heart and light up your smile.

Dive deep into the story of a public proposal gone wrong, rebounds and good rosé with The Proposal, the latest offering from Jasmine Guillory.

One of the charms particular to the romance genre is the gorgeous sense of escape offered by good love stories. This especially applies to historical romances with a dash or two of danger, like Once a Scoundrel by Mary Jo Putney and For the Duke’s Eyes Only by Lenora Bell. These two fast-paced titles offer searing romance alongside dangerous plots in times gone by and faraway places. If you like your romance novels to leave you breathless in more ways than one, give these two a try.

STAKE YOUR CLAIM
Who doesn’t love a romance with an extra layer or two? Stories you have to excavate—pun intended—are the ones that keep you on the edge on your seat till the last page, or up late into the night. For lovers of these stories, I recommend For the Duke’s Eyes Only.

Lady India Rochester is a woman who knows what she wants. Her career as an archeologist means everything to her, and she is hell-bent on advancing that career, no matter what the Duke of Rochester, her childhood best friend and present mortal enemy, has to say about it. But when the Rosetta Stone itself is stolen, India may just have to square with the fact that two heads, and perhaps two hearts, are better than one.

The duke, on the other hand, may not be the monster India thinks he is. Daniel has spent his entire adult life carefully cultivating his public image as a womanizer and a rogue, all to cover up his relentless pursuit of a traitor to the Crown. This pursuit has cost him everything, even India. Although he still craves her, body and soul, he must put aside his feelings to solve a mystery with worldwide consequences.

What makes this novel exceptional is its masterful mix of red-hot seduction and earnest, respectful, good-hearted love with a strong foundation. My first thought after finishing this book was, “This couple really is the complete package.” Daniel and Indy share a past, a strong teamwork dynamic and a real friendship alongside their insane chemistry, making For the Duke’s Eyes Only a rare and essential title for any romance lover’s library.

SEDUCTION ON THE HIGH SEAS
Romance novels with a pirate theme have a delicate line to walk: They must be better than the offensive bodice-rippers of the past, but still provide readers with a high-stakes story. Once a Scoundrel manages both beautifully.

Lady Aurora “Rory” Lawrence is the very definition of a free spirit. She bucks her parents’ ideas of an advantageous marriage and spends most of her time gallivanting across the globe with her cousin. Her escapades land her in hot water (literally) when she is captured by Barbary pirates and held for ransom. Even though a young, dashing captain comes to her rescue, moving forward with her feelings for that captain may put her heart in a tougher situation than the one her life is in.

Gabriel Hawkins has hit a low point. Although he hails from a proud Naval legacy, he has very effectively managed to get himself cut off and disgraced. With nothing left to lose, he accepts the mission to rescue Rory. But if rescuing a headstrong lady is a feat, bringing their budding romance back to England will be the mission of a lifetime.

The third title in the Rogues Redeemed series, Once a Scoundrel is yet another product of Putney’s prolific romance career. Her books have graced numerous national bestseller lists and are known for their complexity and unflinching willingness to confront serious topics like substance abuse and domestic violence. Once a Scoundrel is no less bold of a story. Taking on human trafficking (or the threat thereof) is no easy task, but it makes the love story that blossoms from such a horrid situation that much more endearing. Gabriel is an ideal romantic protagonist. At one point, Rory praises him, saying, “You listen. A lot of men don’t listen much to women.” It’s commendation enough for any reader weary of big, strong, overly assertive fictional men.

Come for the adventure, stay for the romance. It’s a winning formula for both Once a Scoundrel and For the Duke’s Eyes Only.

One of the charms particular to the romance genre is the gorgeous sense of escape offered by good love stories. This especially applies to historical romances with a dash or two of danger, like Once a Scoundrel by Mary Jo Putney and For the Duke’s Eyes Only by Lenora Bell. These two fast-paced titles offer searing romance alongside dangerous plots in times gone by and faraway places. If you like your romance novels to leave you breathless in more ways than one, give these two a try.

If there’s one type of man beloved by the romance genre, it’s the cowboy. Known for being tough, hard working, muscular and generally sexy in every way, cowboys make perfect leading men.

What they are not, typically, is sensitive and committed to going the extra mile for the happiness of total strangers. Unless said cowboy is the protagonist of Cowboy Charm School, an endearing new novel by Margaret Brownley.

Brett Tucker is a sexy, skilled Texas Ranger on a mission he is determined to see through to the end—even if it means breaking into the wedding of an infamous outlaw, guns drawn. Once he realizes that he’s got the wrong man, and that his less-than-tactful interruption has caused a rift between the bride and groom, he sets out to make it right. But making amends means spending an awful lot of time with Kate Denver, the bride in question, and each moment between them only serves to weaken his resolve, and to strengthen their growing bond.

Kate Denver has exactly zero patience for her fiancé’s jealous outburst after their aborted nuptials, and she calls the wedding off without hesitation. However, the more her erstwhile groom tries to win her back, the more she begins to see that maybe finding what she wants isn’t as simple as she had imagined.

What makes Cowboy Charm School particularly unique and precious is its unexpected hero. While Brett Tucker is a man’s man and a Ranger, he’s also a guy with tremendous integrity and empathy. He works tirelessly and genuinely to set Kate’s torn relationship right, even once he realizes that he’s falling for her. He meshes perfectly with the equally determined and self-assured Kate, and their chemistry all but sizzles off the page.

Devoid of the often-predictable elements common to Western romances, Cowboy Charm School is a rare, refreshing tale that is as pure at heart as it is irresistibly sexy and engaging. Pick up Margaret Brownley’s latest masterpiece for the feel-good story of the season.

Devoid of the often-predictable elements common to Western romances, Cowboy Charm School is a rare, refreshing tale that is as pure at heart as it is irresistibly sexy and engaging. Pick up Margaret Brownley’s latest masterpiece for the feel-good story of the season.

Looking for something deeper than the whirlwind of love at first sight? Delve into two romances between already established couples—reunited childhood sweethearts in Sally MacKenzie’s What Ales the Earl, and an already engaged pair in Alyson McLayne’s Highland Betrayal.

A LIGHT-HEARTED BREW
Most lovers of historical romance know the cardinal rule of Regency society: marry among your own class. A servant does not marry a lord, and an earl certainly does not marry a farmer’s daughter.

Penelope Barnes couldn’t care less about the gossip among the high-society members of the ton. She has enough on her plate. Between raising her young daughter, tending to the hopyard at the brewery and trying to attract a suitable husband to sustain her family, Pen has left behind all memory of intrigue or romance—until the new Earl of Darrow sweeps back into her orbit.

Harry Graham couldn’t be less enthused about the part of his duties that require choosing a wife and having an heir. Unfortunately, the last taste of real desire he had was shared with Pen nearly a decade prior, before his military service tore them apart. When business brings Harry to Pen’s little town and they are reunited, he falls for her harder than ever. With their different worlds looming between them, can he convince Pen to accept the love—and the lifestyle—he offers her?

What Ales the Earl marks the tantalizing beginning of MacKenzie’s new Widow’s Brew series. With so many titles in the Regency genre, it takes a singular kind of story to hook readers and keep them rapt till the resolution. What Ales the Earl presents its fleshed-out characters with stakes that are high but realistic and relatable to the audience. Pen is both strong and fallible, and she loves her daughter every bit as much (or more) as she does the man who pursues her. For his part, Harry is passionate about Pen but deeply respectful. He grows as a man, and his family supports him and his happiness in every way possible.

If you happen to be seeking a romance with uncomplicated sex appeal, a life-affirming message and a lot of well-brewed beer, What Ales the Earl is sure to quench your thirst.

BETTER TOGETHER
If you’re after a romance with a tough-as-nails heroine writing her own destiny, check out the Scottish historical subgenre. And if you’re looking for the best of the best this category has to offer, pick up Highland Betrayal, the newest title in Alyson McLayne’s red-hot series The Sons of Gregor MacLeod.

Laird Callum MacLean has been lucky—he is betrothed to Maggie MacDonnell, papers signed and promise sealed. And it is more than a political arrangement, as Callum and Maggie are drawn together by forces stronger than a written agreement. But when Callum’s father dies under mysterious circumstances and Maggie ends their betrothal, he fights his instincts to go to her and stays with his clan to investigate his father’s death.

Maggie misses Callum very much—more than she expected to—but when she uncovers a dark plot that threatens herself and her betrothed, she takes her fate in her own hands and runs away from home. She soon finds herself right back where she started, staring down Callum MacLean and faced with the decision to trust him or look only to herself. With so much violence and betrayal surrounding them, Maggie and Callum are forced to work together for the good of their people, and perhaps their union.

Although strong, no-nonsense heroines are trendy in the romance genre at the moment, Maggie is unlike any other character you’ll come across. She wields daggers along with a sharp tongue and a strong resolve, and she is as capable in strategy or combat as Callum. This does wonders for their chemistry, and it makes every moment between them as intoxicating to the reader as it is to the couple.

Besides that, the intrigue and danger put to the protagonists feels real and visceral. While reading one of the scenes wherein the lovers are attacked while vulnerable, I audibly gasped and scared the life out of my cat. Prepare to be drawn in deeply.

Looking for something deeper than the whirlwind of love at first sight? Delve into two romances between already established couples—reunited childhood sweethearts in Sally MacKenzie’s What Ales the Earl, and an already engaged pair in Alyson McLayne’s Highland Betrayal.

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