Book Review: Strangers At the Altar by Marguerite Kaye

Strangers at the AltarWell Harlequin M&B, I do often love your historical covers but this felt rather Christmassy, considering the story is not. That aside, I have never been left disappointed by Marguerite Kaye’s stories and this is no exception.

The hero and heroine of this one as the title suggests are strangers at the start of the book, and each for their own fairly desperate reasons agree to a marriage of convenience. Ainsley and Innes can do each other a great service by saving Innes’s family home from a trust and giving Ainsley a home and some financial security after her late, unlamented husband lost everything they had.

The book starts in the city (Edinburgh) in 1840, so if you are looking for a Regency novel, it’s outside of that time. It doesn’t stay long in the city however, as our couple hastily marry and move to Innes’s country home (castle) of Strone Bridge, Argyll – somewhere, as a self made man (do like that in a hero) he hasn’t been for many years.

Ainsley is by no means passive in all of this, she has her security to gain, if only for a while in a marriage in name only – but not only that – she has been making money by writing for a ladies magazine as advice columnist Madame Hera. Love that name, and love the letters – they did make me chuckle.

The magic of Strone Bridge works with this hastily matched couple so that as Innes tries to decide on what to do with the family home that in the middle of the nineteenth century is not really fit for modern purpose, he also struggles with his dark past. Ainsley and Innes grow closer as they work to unite this community that has been long left by Innes’s family but is it real?

I enjoyed the idea of Ainsley having a profession and attempting to offer marriage and relationship advice to women, who, in this period had very little information to go on and places that could help. Innes proved to be a surprise, whom I was expecting to be a slightly more rough around the edges character was surprisingly good at being a ‘lord of the manor’ at least in his care for the people. He was also remarkably calm about Ainsley’s work! Her closeness and passions shared with Innes enable her to enrich her responses as an agony aunt, even if they do complicate her life and the deal she made. Innes needs to be honest with her and with the people of Strone Bridge before they can continue a life together. To this end there are also some sensual scenes.

I also was intrigued by Ainsley’s friend Felicity Blair, who is living what we might refer to as a very modern life, with a job and a lover – retaining her independence. What has she been up to with Eoin I wonder…

This is a calmer novel from Marguerite Kaye than I have read of late, perhaps in part due to a rural location and a more mature hero and heroine. This is not criticism but difference to me, and is always refreshing.

Guest Post: Book Reviews a Survivor’s Guide by Incy Black

I’m thrilled to be hosting the fabulous Incy Black today, who has not only kindly written a guest post for the blog, she has also bought her new book along – Hard to Forget – but more about that later.  Without further ado, here she is…

Amazon, Goodreads, blogs and websites, all littered with opinion, some loving, some harsh.  Do book reviews matter? Who knows? Who cares?  Well, the début (and most likely the seasoned) author cares.  From experience, I can assure you the review process is akin to slow-streaking your Rubenesque, less than well-honed naked body down Bond Street crowded with the taut and gorgeous.  In other words, putting your book out there takes blind courage, or probably more accurately, pure 100% proof, drunken nerve.

So, does letting it all hang out in there in public, flaws and all, merit a medal for bravery?  Hardly, in a crowded market place (over-saturated when it comes to books published), success rests on exposure, and good or bad, that’s what reviews garner for the author, exposure.  Example: Fifty Shades of Grey was pilloried, but no one can argue with the sales results.  E.L James laughed all the way to the bank.  But that doesn’t mean the criticism didn’t sting, that it doesn’t continue to gnaw at her confidence.  What it does prove is that a public slicing is survivable if:

  1. You grow a remarkably thick skin (think rhino-hide tough).
  2. You accept the review as ‘an opinion’, and therefore, subjective.  What some love, others will abhor.  Differences in opinion stimulate debate. And, with public debate comes, yes, that Holiest of Grails from a writer’s perspective: exposure.
  3. You read the negative reviews, those one and two star trouncings.  There is gold to be found in criticism. If a sufficient number of critics echo the same point, well, chances are they have a point.  Learn, improve, move forward.
  4. You accept reviews can be bought, arm-wrestled or secured by blackmail.  Shocking, I know, but that’s the reality.  Don’t be intimidated by a competitor with 500 reviews—they may just have more friends and a larger family than you.  10 solid ‘reader’ (i.e. purchaser) reviews will always be more impartial, and therefore more honest, and readers and prospective buyers are rapidly learning to tell the difference.
  5. You react and spit-the-dummy IN PRIVATE.  Don’t go public with a vitriolic counter-attack to a poor review.  Some arguments can’t be won, and an over-zealous defence or calling to account, will come across as an author throwing a tantrum.  Entertaining, but somewhat lacking in dignity.


Incy Black is the author of recently released Hard to Forget, Book 2 in the Hard to… series, featuring hard bastard, rule-breaking heroes, ripe for redemption, and strong, ‘no surrender’ heroines who bring that redemption about.

HARD TO FORGET can best be summed up with two quotes:

He didn’t want her forgiveness. What the hell would he do with it?  Jack Ballentyne

Protective Custody? What’s that a euphemism for, exactly?   Lowry Fisk.

Full details…blurb, buy links, even a free sample (Chapter 1) can be found here

And you are heartily welcome to connect with Incy Black here:



Twitter @IncyBlack

Thank you for popping by Incy!  Words certainly for me, to consider carefully as I send my writing out into the world.

As I mentioned earlier, today is release day for the second book in Incy’s series Hard to Forget – and I was lucky enough to read an advance review copy.

Hard to Forget For a start, what an opening to a book!  Incy Black doesn’t disappoint if you’re looking for a piece of romantic suspense that will have you on the edge of your seat the whole way through.  Unlike the previous novel, Hard to Hold, I did not feel confused about the setting and could relax into the story straight away.  Also, like the previous novel, this story does not shrink from depicting violence necessary to the story and I will confess I read the first part through my fingers when considering the attack on Lowry.  I won’t go into too much detail here as it is a big part of the story and if you are of a particularly sensitive disposition you have been warned.

Jack and Lowry.  Well yes, I did wave my mental pom-poms for them in order to get their HEA.  Commander Jack Ballentyne is so stubborn and infuriatingly dense when it comes to Lowry I did threaten to emasculate him on several occasions.  As her ex-boss (and when he was her boss) it seemed like he did everything to make matters worse, and he doesn’t make a great start here.  One tough SOB he works for the same government agency that Lowry once did and her father is currently the head of, awkward.

Former Special Agent Lowry Fisk is clever and tough, with an upbringing that would make anyone so, but in order to survive the ordeal that she went through attempting to do her duty she is damaged whether she likes it or not.  Even she would have to agree that if she wasn’t crazy at any stage, she certainly looked like it.  Coming out the other side of this she is carving a new career as an artist with a bunker that no-one should be able to enter (really).  Unfortunately for her – her attacker has recognised her and this time he means to end her.

This is an intense book and a very intense relationship – so expect fireworks when there are scenes between the two of them, there are also some sensual scenes sensitively dealt with.

What I loved about this book and very nearly gained it a hard won 5 stars (4 1/2) was it was a much more confident read than the first book.  The settings were clearer in my mind as were the hero and heroine, even the secondary characters felt more confident and interesting.  The story moves along satisfyingly fast, and boy does Incy Black write one hell of a chilling villain.  I also loved the country house setting and Jack’s family.  Very intriguing, especially the brothers and Will, yes Will is here!  In general the characters felt much more rounded.  Plus the twist (where I DID work out the villain, first time for everything.)

What I didn’t like so much and what was slightly confusing is that this book takes place before Hard to Hold, so Nick Marshall is working alongside Jack.  This did mess with my head a little to begin with until I realised, and I do wonder why this book wasn’t released first?  Also, while for the most part I felt that Lowry’s PTSD was dealt with well, there were some areas that gave me some cause for concern.  I realise though, that everyone is different but if Lowry was going to be on the road to recovery and at the point of moving forward I felt that sometimes she had gone way back to what she must have been at the time of her trauma, and this didn’t feel right.

To be honest these things feel slightly minor at this point and as I say I very nearly gave this book 5 stars.  I look forward to the next instalment, and WILL NEEDS TO BE THE HERO OF IT, OK?!

Hard to Forget is out today via ebook from Entangled:Ignite.  A copy of this review can also be found on my Goodreads page.

Book Review: A Time for Scandal duo – The Undoing of Daisy Edwards & The Awakening of Poppy Edwards by Marguerite Kaye

Daisy EdwardsThe Undoing of Daisy Edwards

I received an advance review copy of this book in return for an honest review. I’m rating it between 3-4 stars, because it is a special book and my review is slightly complicated!

First of all I love books set in the 1920s, in fact I love the 1920s so I was really happy to review this book and its sequel about Daisy’s sister Poppy Edwards, which I’ll be reviewing next. I had a feeling that after reading Marguerite Kaye’s book Never Forget Me set during WWI that the emotion would overrun into these novels and I was not wrong. In fact I found these far more emotional that the stories in that books.

What is important to note first of all is that the story is written in the perspective of the heroine, Daisy, and the hero Dominic Harrington (I loved Harrington btw, as it’s a family name – not that Marguerite knew this one!). So I did find it a little challenging that I had to be directly in the heads of each of them and as the story moved between the two of them it was marked with their names. To be honest though it was well written and cleverly done I personally found that I did not enjoy this and found it a little irritating. I did not let it stop me enjoying the story though.

This story is so much worth the telling – and the opportunity for a romance of redemption for both the characters which is always the sweetest. Dominic has survived WWI against the odds and lost so many people he loves. He has tried to make a new life for himself while leaving things like the family home to rot as he struggles to move forward. Daisy is another thing entirely. She is extremely traumatised by the death of her husband also in the war. So much so she seeks pleasure to continue to numb herself and associates with some of the Bright Young Things and takes drink and as we meet her has injected herself with drugs. Although Daisy is an actress it is almost like she is frozen and not really acting on stage, but acting some kind of existence instead.

Despite the trauma surrounding them they cannot fight the attraction and there are sensual scenes from early on. There are also scenes whereby the past has to be dealt with by both which are particularly emotional and I did find this book hard to read. Please don’t think that I disliked this story however, I found it very worth the while – unfortunately having recently suffered a bereavement it did touch a bit of a nerve. It is not a light read, but it is a romance and love does much to heal in this book.
Poppy EdwardsThe Awakening of Poppy Edwards

This is the sequel to The Undoing of Daisy Edwards and again for me fell between 3-4 stars in rating. It is also written in the first person perspective of the hero/heroine like the previous book with their names given as it changes between the two.

I have to say while it is a very minor thing I found the hero’s name a struggle to say and it was a wee bit of a distraction!

The heroine Poppy, sister of Daisy is also an actress in this book but she has fled WWI and its effects by moving to Hollywood to further her career. The hero, Lewis Cartsdyke also works in the business though more for Broadway and he comes across Poppy who is moonlighting while singing in a club. 

While she is an actress the talkies haven’t come into play yet she sings when she can as it seems that it is her first love. Lewis wants not only to work with her, but the sexual chemistry between the two sends them to the bedroom early on.

While I found the first book poignant I found this story less riveting and I didn’t like Poppy all that much. She dealt with her sister’s pain by running away to the US, and while we can’t blame her for that it was almost as if she had her head in the sand and had a fabulous career thank you very much without worrying too much about her sister and any sympathy wore thin quickly.

The sexual freedom and methods of early Hollywood wasn’t all that pretty either, and it was harder to feel the romance in this story. It was a nice touch to bridge the gap between the two sisters at the end though and to have both of them take a look at their lives and careers as a new beginning.

I did enjoy seeing stories set during the early twentieth century and it would be interesting to see more experimentation in this area.

Both of these reviews can also be found on my Goodreads page.

Book Review: Never Forget Me by Marguerite Kaye

I was given an advance copy of this book in return for an honest review. My version has the UK cover with the heroine wearing a gorgeous red coat – in my head it’s the characters Sheila and Luc!  Unfortunately I don’t have an image available to post of the cover here yet.

I always knew that this book would be an emotive read by its very subject it has to be. Marguerite Kaye has managed to do this and to show us the horrors of war without it being a history lesson or over dwelling on the horrors – oh they are there and they are done well – but these three stories are romances after all.

The three interlinked stories are: A Kiss Goodbye from 1914 which begins ‘our’ war in 1914 with Flora a young lady from the great house who meets the hero Geraint when he arrives with the army after her family’s home is requisitioned. I was very happy to see the hero’s surname and you’ll have to ask me if you want to know why! I enjoyed all of the stories, but this one is my least favourite I think. Perhaps as I was almost anticipating how awful the war would get before the stories concluded and although I liked Flora and Geraint I felt I connected more the the later couples and their struggles. Flora in this story has to find her own place in this terrible new world as a nurse or VAD and Geraint has to come to terms with his past and decide upon his future – if they have one. This story is all set in Scotland.

The second part is Dearest Sylvie, and picks up with the hero Robbie, Flora’s brother as he serves in France and meets his heroine Sylvie in 1916 at the peak of a series of now infamous battles across Europe. Sylvie is working in a bar to support herself but is by no means selling herself if you know what I mean. Her actions when meeting a tired and wounded Robbie are therefore more unexpected. After connecting at the bar they subsequently begin a sexual relationship that neither expected or really knows what to do with. Is there more between them or was it a mistake to act upon their attraction in the middle of a war? This story connects us to the hero and heroine by their letters a common practice at the time which is cleverly used to move the story forward as they see and miss each other over a period of time. This story is set in France and the will they/won’t they is very strong as the war rages on. Sylvie has a very tragic past due to the suffering that regions of France had in wartime and Robbie cannot know whether he will even survive the war. I really liked this couple, but my favourite were part of the final story of the three.

Forever With Me takes us full circle to 1918 and after briefly showing us the celebrations of the end of war in Europe via France while Sheila, friend and former servant of Flora and Robbie and Glen Massan House who left early on to become a VAD and has now experienced a taste of freedom that servants let alone women could never have dreamed of meets an attractive man when celebrating the end of the war. This of course turns out to be surgeon Luc who is not only her hero but is destined to run the new hospital at Glen Massan for badly injured soldiers and we are returned to Scotland and not a little awkward. Along with freedom Sheila has had her fingers burned and Luc has lost his wife to the war and is wary of opening his heart too. Should they and could they be together? The war is no longer keeping people apart, but society. Women’s freedom has again become curtailed and even should they want to a relationship between co-workers surely cannot be sanctioned…

I would give the final story 5 stars for the last few pages alone, which are extremely emotionally charged and 4 for the others as all are well and sensitively written and well researched. Don’t be put off by the subject, these are great stories and all of us, even now can still feel the emotional after effects of this terrible war to end all wars. All of the stories contain at least some sensual scenes. Marguerite Kaye takes a tough period in our history and does a great job with it – as she also did with her Titanic set story, which these remind me of a little. You may want to try that story next if you enjoyed these ones.

A copy of this review can also be found on my Goodreads page.

Book Review: The Couple in the Dream Suite by Marguerite Kaye

This is a short historical novella which is part of the Chatsfield continuity series which I understand the majority of are contemporary. I was given an advance copy by the author in return for an honest review.

I love the period of the 1920s but don’t often read in this period strangely. I’m glad I read this one though – and I also read it around the same time as Marguerite’s WWI trilogy of short stories thus making it an even more emotional experience for me. But I’ll come back to that.

We meet the hero Justin Yorke at the launch of the hotel with his friend Dexter. A journalist, he is hardened yet made vulnerable by his experiences in the war. His friend is about to leave and arranges that Justin meet the heroine Vera Milton-Kerr who is actually part of that night’s entertainment. Vera also has had a life where her experiences are as tragic as Justin’s but a much tougher, brittle exterior.

It turns out that Dexter is leaving for America and as a parting gift to them both he gives them the key to the Dream Suite, the most magnificent room in the hotel. Does Dexter know them better than they know themselves? 

They are interested in each other and certainly attracted but I don’t think either believe that they’ll necessarily use it. But they do – and it’s not all about them going off to have sex, they do become very passionate as are these scenes, but during the night they spend together their secrets and pasts are revealed, including very painful ones and it becomes a distinct possibility that they may even have a future together.

To be honest it was short but rather beautiful and emotional and after reading the love stories set in WWI (which I’ll review next) it seemed like a progression and an overspill of the heightened emotions of those times. Catharsis. 

I really enjoyed this book, though have yet to read any others in the series. I do hope we get to see more of Justin and Vera, and I must try some more of the stories!

I haven’t included a copy of the cover in this review as I thought it was a little dull and didn’t do the story justice.

A copy of this review can also be found on my Goodreads page.

Book Review: The Secrets of Ghosts by Sarah Painter

The Secrets of GhostsI received a copy of this ebook via Netgalley from the author in return for an honest review.  I read this book back at the end of February/early March but this is my full review for the blog.

It was great to be back to revisit Katie and Pendleford, but if you’ve already read Sarah Painter’s début – don’t expect it to follow on with the happy endings!

Magic packs a bigger punch in this novel, and life is moving on for all those we revisit, even briefly. Katie, the daughter of Gwen’s sister (the heroine of the first book) has now reached 21, and is working at a local hotel. Her parents with a daughter now grown are pursuing their own lives and we don’t catch up with Gwen and Cam straight away.

Katie has more of a spark than Gwen and is very funny. After her early experiences with magic in the first book she is still waiting to see if she will have any power that comes to the Harper women witches. It is while working at the local hotel that things begin to happen – connected to the ghosts of the title – which makes Katie believe that her power may make itself known at last. The unexpected problem with this is that her Aunt Gwen to whom she has always gone for advice is having problems of her own along with Cam, and Katie feels that she cannot approach her about it.

Max is another great character as Katie’s love interest. He is a very tricky character indeed, but I still felt I liked him immensely and that there was no harm to Katie through him – he was certainly very intriguing! 

Dealing with the ghosts was a nice touch, and there was more to them as there is much, much more to Katie – this I liked very much about the book as there were enough surprises to make it engaging. However, I did not feel I loved it quite so much as Gwen’s story – perhaps because I found Katie slightly less easy to sympathise with though I did not dislike her.

I did enjoy this story, and await any further instalments with interest. Is Katie as powerful as we may think?

A copy of this review can also be found on my Goodreads page.

Book Review: Hard to Hold by Incy Black

Hard to Hold by Incy BlackI was given an ARC of this book in return for an honest review on its publication date, 28 April 2014 via ebook on Entangled:Ignite.  I have also followed this writer’s progress and am very pleased to review her début book.

First of all, nice cover, mmm.  Ahem:

Hard to Hold is a novel of romantic suspense, and I’m pretty sure the hero and heroine tell you from the get go just who they are, and what they’re all about!  For a start – the heroine is Anna Key Marshall – did anyone else think ‘anarchy’ or was it just me (say her first two names out loud)?  She’s smart and she can take care of herself.  She’s also made the choice to become a mum via an anonymous sperm donor since her divorce and is an extremely successful business woman in her own right.

Unfortunately for Anna, a seeming accident which puts her in hospital right at the beginning of the book is about to send her on a collision course with her ex…

Nick Marshall is a Black Ops Specialist for the British Intelligence and is one tough son of a…well you know.  Mind you, they strike sparks off each other as they’ve both needed to be tough to survive.  In fact they know each other from childhood, which we learn as their characters develop.  The hero and heroine are both strong leads in which we are privileged to discover softer sides, but in finding these it didn’t sacrifice any of the spark that they had by the conclusion of the story.  But when we meet him he is not a happy bunny with Anna and is not someone who forgives easily.

The danger and tenuous situation that Anna finds herself in is a tough subject and I didn’t know whether or not I would enjoy reading about it, but the relationship between the h/h is strong enough that the dark parts are worth bearing with to reach the end with them.  It certainly is a fresh modern twist on current topics.

What I loved in particular was the dialogue between the h/h, very sassy.  I liked that it was set in England and not abroad elsewhere for a change.  I also enjoyed many of the other secondary characters, but particularly Will – who I hope to see again but not sure about that one!  Oh and the baddie – very creepy.

What I did not enjoy so much certainly at the beginning was the introduction of many Americanisms such as Police Department, when the setting was London and at least two of the characters talking were British born.  It was very confusing and I felt like I should be in New York at times.  Even Anna’s home made me think of there.  As the story moved on and the characters moved about this was dispelled for the most part however.

This is a really enjoyable début covering some meaty subjects along with some sensual scenes and a satisfying relationship between the hero and heroine – giving the reader characters we can care about and a story that will keep you guessing.

This author has a strong voice which I look forward to seeing develop even further with her next novels very soon.

A copy of this review will also appear on my Goodreads page in due course.

Book Review: Unwed and Unrepentant by Marguerite Kaye

uauI received an ARC of this book from the author in return for an honest review.  This novel is the final volume of the Armstrong Sisters books and the heroine is Lady Cordelia Armstrong, the hero – a working class Scot – Iain Hunter.  Both are unusual business people with very strong opinions, despite their diverse backgrounds!

As in the previous books, Cordelia’s father has a hand in arranging a marriage for her whether she likes it or not.  The difference being in this book is that she had previously escaped his clutches by running away with her lover as a young debutante, a worthless rake, and their relationship fizzles out relatively quickly leaving Cordelia to find her own way in the world still unmarried and with a ruined reputation.  Don’t feel you have to feel sorry for her though, as this does not bother her in the least – all she misses are her sisters which by extension to her father she is also estranged from.

Iain by contrast comes from a very poor family and is self-made, a ship builder who by his business talents is useful to Lord Armstrong who wants to use them in Arabia the home of his two eldest daughters and their powerful husbands.  By ‘chance’ bringing the hero and heroine together, he believes he can manipulate a partnership in marriage between the two.  What he does not know is that they have already had one passionate night together, and the spark between them hasn’t gone away in the ensuing years…

What I liked was a slightly later setting (1837), the chance to return to Arabia to revisit two of the sisters and a sparky self-made hero (and the way he attempts to protect the heroine) and heroine, surprisingly the hero to me appeared to have the softer heart and the slightly easier time of it allowing himself to fall in love – Cordelia took quite some time to do that.

What I didn’t like so much was that despite the plenty of opportunity on the journey to Arabia, there was very little time spent with the two oldest Armstrong girls/women – hardly anything at all – and we didn’t get to hear from Cassie except via her sister.  Lord Armstrong did get his comeuppance from his wife you might say, and she got what she wanted out of her marriage in the end, but this seemed small satisfaction for Bella, and Lord A. still seemed to me to get away with being downright cruel at times.  It would have been nice to see all his older children together finally showing how they had triumphed without him.

I did enjoy this book though, and it rounds out the series well – each of the girls finding their own distinct personalities and happiness in their own ways.  I would probably recommend that if you could only pick one of the books going for Rumours that Ruined a Lady (Caroline).

Oh, and another lovely cover (but the fashion is all wrong M&B, and what’s the house for?)

A copy of this review can also be found on my Goodreads page.