Time for another romance round-up. Recent releases include the conclusion of a fantasy-action series, the latest historical tale from a celebrated author, and a touching installment of a Regency series.
Heart on Fire
By Amanda Bouchet
416 pp. $7.99.
Heart on Fire is the conclusion of Amanda Bouchet's thrilling Kingmaker Chronicles trilogy. Bouchet mixes magic and Greek mythology against a backdrop of royal intrigue and war.
Catalia "Cat" Fisa has a special power: She can divine the truth through lies people tell, making her "the most coveted diplomatic weapon in the realms . . . the Kingmaker."
Cat's mother rules the kingdom of Fisa and raised her children by the family motto: Kill or be killed. Not caring about physical or mental harm to the children as long as she can use them to gain ever more power, she ruthlessly trains them from childhood to use weapons and their own innate magic to fight off power bids from scheming relatives. She wants to exploit Cat's special power, so the daughter runs away.
Cat may have escaped her mother, but not her destiny. She learns she has been favored by the gods of Olympus to help overthrow local corrupt rulers and unite the kingdoms.
Only Cat doesn't feel like a confident heroine at all. She can barely get her other magic abilities to work. She is sarcastic, wary, and hot-tempered. But she is completed by the powerful warlord Griffin Sinta. He is cool-headed and confident, and they can't fight their feelings for each other.
In Heart on Fire, the kingdoms are at war, with everything pointing to a final confrontation with Cat's mother. Bouchet doesn't bog down her books with long recaps of what happened in the previous volumes. The second book of the series, Breath of Fire, takes up right where the first book left off, and this continues with the latest. So readers will want to start reading about Cat's struggles from the first book, A Promise of Fire.
Bouchet has created a remarkable romance heroine. Cat is smart, resourceful, strong-willed, and deadly. But she is also flawed and full of self-doubt, making her believable and relatable. The action scenes have you on the edge of your seat, wondering when Cat will break through her self-doubt and finally come into the full breadth of her untapped power.
A Duke in Shining Armor
By Loretta Chase
405 pp. $7.99.
Loretta Chase is the author of Lord of Scoundrels, often on critics' lists of the best romance books. Known for her witty dialogue, strong female leads, and heartfelt romance, her historical tales are eagerly awaited. Her latest, A Duke in Shining Armor, does not disappoint. It is the first book in her Difficult Dukes series.
Olivia Hightower is betrothed to the Duke of Ashmont, much to her and the rest of society's surprise. The duke is one of the three Dis-Graces - handsome, rich, and notorious rakes. Olivia is bookish, bespectacled, and has been overlooked by suitors for the last seven seasons, in which she has been voted the Most Boring Girl each year. But she happens to save Ashmont from being run over by a carriage, and he is smitten by her.
Olivia knows she may never get another offer of marriage and her family isn't rich, so she accepts his proposal. But on her wedding day, a few sips of brandy to steady her nerves lead to imbibing more than she should, and she decides to bolt.
Hugh Philemon Ancaster, the Duke of Ripley, has promised to stay sober and supervise his friend Ashmont's wedding, which is a good thing, because Ashmont shows up tipsy. When Ripley goes to check on the bride, he finds her climbing out a window. Cursing himself for making his promise, he goes after her into the rain. Olivia is bent on making a getaway, and Ripley decides for once to do the honorable thing and watch over her until she sobers up and comes to her senses.
A series of amusing misadventures and strokes of bad luck leave them far from London and traveling together. During their journey, Olivia discovers she is not really boring but is quite naughty. Ripley finds that his longtime label of libertine chafes. And during their travels together, despite their bickering, they realize their attraction. But Olivia is still betrothed to Ripley's best friend, a quick-tempered man and veteran of several duels.
Someone to Wed
(A Westcott Novel)
By Mary Balogh
400 pp. $7.99.
Someone to Wed broke my heart, but in a good way. The Regency romance by Mary Balogh continues the series about the Westcott family, whose lives have been turned upside down by the revelation that a woman brought up in an orphanage is the legitimate heir of the Earl of Riverdale and that the children raised in wealth and privilege are in fact illegitimate.
Wren Hayden is a wealthy heiress and astute businesswoman. She was lovingly raised by her aunt and uncle, and after their deaths, she took control of their successful glassworks business. But as a recluse nearing 30 years of age, she realizes she is lonely and wants a husband and children. She makes a bold plan to invite a few eligible bachelors who live nearby for a chat and tea. If one proves to be a good candidate, she will make an offer of marriage.
The new Earl of Riverdale, Alexander Westcott, has inherited a title he never wanted and a run-down country estate he can't afford. Wren invited him because she knows a rich heiress is something he desperately needs to rescue his failing estate.
Alexander believes he is there for a social call. He is taken aback when he meets Wren. She is polite yet aloof, and disconcertingly forthright. She also is seated and veiled throughout the meeting.
After a few uncomfortable minutes chatting, he is shocked when she makes her offer: "In my own person I am not marriageable, but I do have money. And you do not."
Alexander protests that he has not even seen her face. Wren removes her veil to show a beautiful face in profile, but then turns her head to reveal a purple birthmark that covers the left side of her face. Despite his dismay, Alexander proposes a period of getting to know each other better. Something about Wren touches Alexander, and he eventually agrees to marry her.
The courage Wren shows in making this big step and the care Alexander shows as he helps her come out of her shell are just beautifully heart-rending. Sometimes Wren's courage falters, and sometimes Alexander pushes too hard, but as their mutual respect and affection deepen, you root for the couple to make their marriage a full love match.