Saturday, December 29, 2018

PJ's Best Books of 2018

It's that time of year again. I enjoy compiling my "best of" list every year because it gives me the opportunity to look back and reflect upon all the great books I read during the previous twelve months. I also dread writing this post because how the heck am I supposed to narrow down that list of titles to only ten?!? Some years it just can't be done. So, for better or worse, and in no particular order, here are my (slightly more than) top ten favorite books of 2018.

THE PRINCE by Katharine Ashe
(Read Janga's review)

This is my favorite Katharine Ashe novel and, in my opinion, her best work to date. It's been seven months since I read this book and I'm still thinking about Libby and Ziyaeddin.  Janga reviewed THE PRINCE for the blog and her thoughts mirrored my own. From Janga's review: "Ashe gives readers an emotionally intense story of two complex people who are more than the labels others would use to define them. This is a love story that involves the head and the heart as well as the libido." "If you like historical romance that makes you feel, makes you think, and leaves you considering how soon you can plan a reread, I highly recommend The Prince. I have added it to my best-of-the-year list."  

(Read Hellie's Top Dish review)

What a fun book! These characters! Alyssa Cole's orphaned grad student and prince-in-disguise kept me up reading way too late and were my first thought when I awoke the next morning. I dove back into the story before I even thought about breakfast - a rare occurrence, believe me.  

I've been hearing about Cole for the past year but this was the first of her books that I had read. I loved the fun and flirty banter, the freshness of the story, the appeal of the characters, the exploration of friendship, the emotional growth of Naledi and Thabiso, and the twists that kept me wondering until the very end. 

(Read PJ's review)

His Duchess at Eventide, a full-length historical romance that's sweeping in scope and stunning in emotional intensity is, for me, Wendy LaCapra's best writing to date. Penelope and Cheverley drew me into their story as well as their hearts, allowing me to experience their anger, fear, joy, anguish, yearning, and hope with a full investment in their happiness. LaCapra's eloquent prose brings it all to life, keeping me reading late into the night and leaving me with the reassurance that some bonds, though stretched beyond imagination, cannot be broken, that evil foes can be vanquished, that love wins. More than two months after reading this book, the characters and their story still linger in my mind. 

THE VIXEN by Christi Caldwell

This emotional, sometimes heart-wrenching, historical romance is, in my opinion, the best book this talented writer has delivered to date. Keep the tissues handy for this one. You'll need them as Connor and Ophelia's journey unfolds, then need a few more when their hard-won love, and happiness, are finally claimed. Mystery, danger, rapid-fire banter, an atypical hero and heroine, storytelling that will immerse you in the gritty underworld of Regency London and the darker side of nobility, gut-wrenching heartache, and the honor and sacrifice of deep, unconditional love make The Vixen a book that should be on every romance lover's must-read list.

 TOO WILDE TO WED by Eloisa James

Not since Julia Quinn's Bridgertons have I fallen in love so quickly or completely with a family as I have with the Wildes. I adored this couple and their second-chance story. The sheer yearning between North and Diana that had my heart clutching, the witty banter, humor that left me chuckling, sparks that fly when they go toe-to-toe, and the sweetness that flows between them in the quiet moments of the darkest hours of the night have made Too Wilde to Wed a favorite Eloisa James novel and landed it on my Best of 2018 list. 

BAD TO THE BONE by Roxanne St. Claire

I've been reading Roxanne St. Claire's books for several years and in that time many of her titles have made their way to my keeper shelves but none has touched me as deeply as Bad to the Bone. All of the books in St. Claire's The Dogfather series are keepers but this one is extra special. Molly, Trace, and their teen daughter, Pru are all characters with depth, layers, vulnerability, and loyal hearts (Trace's rescue dog, Meatball, too!). I was emotionally exhausted by the time I finished their book but it was so worth it. I've since read it a second - and third - time, along with their wedding short story (sign up for St. Claire's newsletter for access), used up another half a box of tissues (Did I mention it's emotional?), and love them more each time I revisit. 

HELLO STRANGER by Lisa Kleypas

This is the deeply romantic Lisa Kleypas storytelling that I fell in love with years ago. I liked Ethan and Garrett individually but really loved them as a couple. They bring out the best in one another, complementing each other's strengths and weaknesses. They're strong individually but stronger together. Neither is diminished by the other and while there are times in the story when Garrett is rescued by Ethan, there are others where Garrett does the rescuing. Their love is deep and enduring but they also like, admire, and desire one another and, in the end, they save one another. Hello Stranger is my favorite book so far in the Ravenels series and ranks high on my list of all-time Kleypas keepers.   

by Julie Anne Long

When I turned the final page of First Time at Firelight Falls all I wanted to do was go back to the beginning and read it all over again. Exquisitely crafted by Long, this is a story filled with humor, romance, sizzle, emotion, family, community, and the reveal of a long-held secret. I can honestly say I never imagined I'd be lusting after a grade school principal hero but when that hero is Gabe Caldera? Let's just say Gabe makes my internal engine hum very nicely indeed. Gabe and Eden are one of my favorite JAL couples and their story, a keeper. You won't want to miss this one.

by Janna MacGregor

I love a redeemed villain turned hero and MacGregor's Paul Barstowe, Duke of Southart is one of the best. In fact, he's my favorite redeemed bad boy since Lisa Kleypas's Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent. And who better to pair him with than his former best friend - and current enemy's - younger sister, right? MacGregor really hits her stride with this story, bringing us this unlikely couple who are just so right for one another. It was pure pleasure to watch Daphne recapture her sense of self and the adventurous spirit she'd kept firmly in check since her sister's death. She really keeps Paul on his toes. Their banter sparkles, the chemistry is off the charts, his tenderness with her is sigh-worthy, her defense of him, cheer-worthy, and the bond formed in their youth, while stretched to its limits, remains strong and unbroken, a solid foundation for a lifelong love. 

by Maggie Robinson

Robinson launches her 1920's British cozy mystery series with an expertly crafted whodunit that's an absolute delight from beginning to end. The story flows beautifully, with impeccable timing and perfectly placed twists and turns to keep readers guessing until the big reveal. If you're in the mood for a roaring-twenties cozy mystery set in the bucolic English countryside with sparkling wit and banter, a well-crafted mystery, a likable protagonist, a charming but meddlesome ghost, a handsome inspector, and a house filled with potential murderers, then this is the book for you. It has my enthusiastic recommendation. 


I added this book to my Best of 2018 watch list the second week of January and after almost twelve months and numerous books, its place on the list remains secure. Jessie and Zach's story is everything I want in a contemporary romance, full of humor, heart, romance, friendship, and fun. It has all the feels! Catching up with Zach's Maine Crew friends was fun and watching the threads of friendship extended to - and accepted by - Jessie, someone who has felt isolated her entire life, both poignant and satisfying. I adore this group of friends with their off-the-wall games and wagers; how they give each other grief but always have one another's backs. Tagging along on Zach and Jessie's journey to love and watching all six of the main characters (two and four legged alike) bond into a loving, forever family was such a joy. Every Dog Has His Day has a special place on my keeper shelf. I've already read it twice and can pretty much guarantee I'll be doing so again. 

by Lily Blackwood

Lily Blackwood brings the medieval highlands of Scotland to life in this third book of her Highland Warrior series. Cull and Derryth are characters who engaged my heart, my mind, and my romantic soul. Their bond is so deep, so complete that I was certain their love would conquer any obstacle in their path and Blackwood throws more than a few their way. Blackwood's characters are fully dimensional, with depths that draw me in and encourage me to cheer for their happy endings...or just punishments, as the case may be. Her words paint pictures, allowing me to visualize life in the highlands as it would have been, and her storytelling brings me along on a sometimes emotional, sometimes frightening, sometimes sensual, and, ultimately, celebratory journey. In this book, I didn't just read about Cull and Derryth's journey, I traveled that journey with them, and that's what a good book should do. 


I thought hot flashes were in my rear view mirror. Then I read this newest book in Jordan's Devil's Rock contemporary romance series. Holy mother of hotness! Cruz and Gabby: so sweet, so sexy, so you-do-not-want-to-miss-this-book awesome! Jordan’s characters and their against all odds journey touched my heart, fired up my libido, and left me cheering for happy endings. I read the book in one sitting. If it hadn’t been 2:00 am when I finished I would have gone back to page one and started all over again. 


I've been reading - and loving - Tessa Dare's books since her debut. Most of her titles have places on my keeper shelf yet even among all those beloved stories, for me, The Governess Game shines as one of her best. I loved the sizzling chemistry between Chase and Alexandra, the witty banter, sensuality, and heartfelt emotion. I adored the two orphaned girls for whom Chase is responsible and appreciated the fact that they are not wallpaper but fully developed, essential characters with key roles in the evolution of Chase and Alexandra, both individually and as a couple. Dare's trademark humor also shines throughout this story, with many laugh-out-loud scenes. If you're looking for feel-good historical romance with plenty of humor, sizzle, and heartfelt emotion, this is a book that should be on your must-read list. 


I loved this book so much. From beginning to end, it grabbed my heart and never let go. I wasn't sure if Quinn could ever create a hero who could rival Tristan MacGregor (Seduced by a Highlander), in my affections. It seems fitting that Lachlan MacKenzie, the man who gives his heart to Tristan's beloved daughter, Mairie should also be the hero to equal Tristan in mine. I loved the push and pull between Lachlan and Mairie, the snappy banter, the reluctant attraction, and the fact that even when she pushes him to his limits he never snaps but always treats her with care. As with Quinn's previous books, there's a fair amount of humor in this story as well as heartfelt emotion. The poignancy of Lachlan's interactions with the orphaned Will and Lily in the face of his own losses brought me to tears more than once. Mairie is a wonderful heroine and exactly what I would expect of Tristan and Isobel's daughter. Her confidence, compassion, intelligence, humor, bravery, and fierce protectiveness of those she holds in her heart make her a true MacGregor and a perfect match for Lachlan. I adored them. 

by Sarah MacLean

How does she do it, time after time? A dark, sexy hero and one of my all-time favorite heroines in a story that went straight to my keeper shelf. MacLean takes readers into the gritty underbelly of London in this first book of her new Bareknuckle Bastards series, pairing a bastard smuggling king bent on revenge with a spinster wallflower who's far from the pushover he expects. Mystery, emotion, danger, and sizzling sensuality make this a page-turner I couldn't put down. 

There were also three novellas that knocked my socks off this year.

DIAMOND FIRE by Ilona Andrews

Set within Andrews' magical, Hidden Legacy world in Texas, this story is a brilliantly executed transition from Nevada's (heroine of first HL trilogy) journey to Catalina's (heroine of next trilogy). I've fallen in love with this world, the characters, and stories that are fast-paced, action-packed, suspense-filled, and full of betrayal, intrigue, magic, and humor. I love how Andrews uses humor to balance the darker elements of the series. The story stands well on its own and I highly recommend it to both fans of the Hidden Legacy series as well as those new to this world. 


A special treat for fans of St. Claire's heartwarming The Dogfather contemporary romance series, this Christmas story has all the feels. Whether you've read the earlier books in this series or not, this is a short, heartwarming story that celebrates family, the joy of the season, the unconditional love to be found in a four-legged companion, and the absolute necessity of kindness. Pru and Gramma Finnie's adventure made me laugh, cry, and fall in love with the Kilcannon family all over again.     

MALCOLM & ISABEL (Pennyroyal Today)
by Julie Anne Long

This story, which begins in the epilogue of Long's historical romance, The Legend of Lyon Redmond, pushed every single one of my happy buttons. At 145 pages (not including previous epilogue), it's longer than most novellas but short enough to be an easy one-day read. If you're like me, though, you'll want to take your time and savor each perfectly placed word of this charming contemporary romance. Long is brilliant at evoking emotion while bringing stories and characters to vivid life through the imagery created by her beautiful mastery of words.   


So, there you have it. My favorite romances of 2018. Tell me about the books that made your "best of" list this year.

Four randomly chosen people who post a comment before midnight, New Year's Eve will each receive a package of books. (U.S. addresses only)

Friday, December 28, 2018

Review - - The Secret of the Irish Castle

By Santa Montefiore
Deverill Chronicles - Book 3
Publisher: William Morrow (Harper Collins)
Release Date: August 14, 2018
Reviewed by Hellie

An epic historical set during World War II Ireland, THE SECRET OF THE IRISH CASTLE follows the winding and dramatic twists of the Deverill, Doyle, and O’Leary families. The Deverills are under a curse: all the heirs who pass on are doomed to remain in limbo until an O’Leary is restored to the castle and to their rightful owners. Of course, while everyone knows of the Deverill curse, the still-living family members are much too busy with the daily drama of their lives, which include affairs with chambermaids, married men, or footmen; past crimes as part of the IRA; past crimes as on the run from the American Mafia; and stolen babies sold to American families looking to adopt babies of well-born ladies.

This story is chock-full of rather unlikeable characters--which add a lot of color to the drama (to be fair), like Bridie Doyle’s husband, the Count who isn’t actually a count, who constantly cheats on his beleaguered wife and gambles away her fortune, and her son, Leopoldo, who is spoiled, mean, and self-serving at every turn. (He does fortunately get his comeuppance at the end which was lovely and satisfying on many levels.) There are also very likeable characters, like JP and Martha, who you are set up to root for but soon find yourself in an “ewwww” situation much like Flowers in the Attic. The story itself goes between a number of live characters and then occasionally to the ghosts’ POV, which explains some of the background which has not been revealed yet, offering some sense and understanding to the behavior and motivations of certain characters. (The ghosts were some of my favorite characters.)

The author’s voice is very readable, but the plot felt very complicated and confusing (I constantly flipped to the front of the book to see the family trees because at times I thought I was reading a cast of thousands--I would not do well in a Tolstoy book.) Because there were so many characters, the POV at times felt a bit more surface than I typically enjoy--and as such, the book was much easier for me to put down. For those who enjoy very twisty, complicated storylines and shifting POV, the descriptions of Ireland and the historical setting of World War II will likely be much more enjoyable. The ending of the book was my favorite part--and I do think the author did a great job of tying up all the loose ends and resolving situations with characters (likeable and unlikeable) in a satisfactory manner. It was an okay read for me. 

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Review - - Kill the Queen

Kill the Queen
By Jennifer Estep
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release Date: October 2, 2018
Reviewed by Nancy

The first volume in a new fantasy series, Kill the Queen follows Lady Everleigh Saffira Winter Blair, a poor relation of the Queen of Bellona. Everleigh, who prefers to be called Evie, grew up in the royal palace after her parents were murdered. Queen Cordelia takes little notice of her, and her cousin Crown Princess Vasilia loves to put her in her place. For friendship, Evie turns to one of the cooks and to the royal jeweler, to whom she is apprenticed.

Evie’s life consists of keeping her head down, negotiating the hazardous palace politics, and performing the jobs no one else in the royal family wants to do, like baking pies for dignitaries.  The story opens as she’s baking pies for the Andvarian royal family, who are visiting because one of their princes is marrying Vasilia.

The gala where the pies are served doesn’t quite go according to plan.  Vasilia assassinates her betrothed and her mother and murders the royal family and all the guests. Thanks to Evie’s minor, or mutt, magic and to the greater gift she keeps secret, she survives the catastrophe in a way that leaves Vasilia believing she’s dead. On the run, desperate for a haven, she follows the queen’s last order to her and seeks out Serilda Swanson, owner of the Black Swan gladiator troupe.

Evie keeps her true name secret lest anyone betray her or try to use her. Working as a cook for the gladiator troupe gives her a haven but also forces her to train in the combat arts. Gradually, she develops friendships in the group. There’s a strong attraction between her and magier (or mage) Lucas Sullivan, the somewhat aloof swordmaster.

As Evie travels with the gladiators, the social skills of her old life come in handy. So does the magic she still tries not to reveal. When a crisis forces the revelation of Evie’s name and heritage, the gladiators are initially stung that she concealed herself but then rally around her. Serilda Swanson was once in Queen Cordelia’s guard.  She and her troupe are loyal to the late queen, not to the woman who usurped the throne. They vow to help Evie kill Queen Vasilia, who means to start a war with Andvari at the behest of her lover and his allies. If they succeed, Evie will take the throne.

Performing at the coronation lets them get close to Vasilia, but they know she has set a trap for them. Vasilia is aware of the ties between her mother and Serilda. She won’t risk having someone as dangerous as Serilda at large and sees this as a chance to eliminate her and the troupe. Evie has one chance to kill her cousin, who has always been more powerful than she is. Can she throw off the mental chains of the past, bring every skill she has to bear, and save the realm?

The characters are well drawn and sympathetic, and Evie’s evolution into a formidable woman from one who has few skills and is largely overlooked is deftly handled.  Each of the minor characters who matter has at least one notable trait that makes him or her stand out. Lucas, the Andvari swordmaster, is a complex and interesting character with problems and secrets of his own.  There are romantic elements in the story, but they play a minor role in the overall plot.

The worldbuilding is excellent, with unique magic systems, and the pace moves well. There was one point where the usefulness of Evie’s old social skills seemed a bit too coincidental, but that’s a small complaint.

Highly recommended. 4.5 stars

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Winners - - His Duchess at Eventide

The three randomly chosen winners of a Kindle copy of

His Duchess at Eventide by Wendy LaCapra are:


Patricia B

cheryl c

Please send your email address to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

Winner - - Shana Galen

The randomly chosen winner from the Shana Galen

Unmask Me if you Can review and Q&A is:

Natasha Persaud

Please send me your mailing address (print) or 

email address (digital) and choice of 

one of the books listed below to 

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

Third Son's a Charm
No Earls Allowed
An Affair With a Spare

Winner - - Susanna Craig

The randomly chosen winner of a copy of 

The Companion's Secret by Susanna Craig is:

Karen H

Please send your email address (if choosing e-book) 
or postal address (if choosing print) to:

theromancedish (at) gmail (dot) com

Print copies are restricted to U.S. addresses only.

Review - - Highland Defender

Highland Defender
by Julie Johnstone
Renegade Scots - Book 2
Publisher: Darbyshire Publishing
Release Date: December 26, 2018
Reviewed by PJ

To protect herself, she’ll deny her powers. To save her, he’ll break every rule he’s vowed to live by.

Lillianna de Burgh knows all about the legend surrounding the women in her family—that true love awakens the gift of sight within them. But given the horrific betrayals the power has brought her ancestors, she wants no part in true love or the supposed gift. Avoiding her fate seems simple enough since men have proven time and again that they wish to use her, not cherish her, even her own kin. Thankfully, when she flees England to escape her evil uncle, she finds herself in the company of a seemingly hardhearted Highlander who thinks the legend nothing more than a myth. As they travel together, she comes to discover that behind Angus's cold facade lies a fierce and honorable protector, whose mere touch ignites the passion within her. Yet, the more she tries to resist it, the more she seems to fall.

Renowned Highland warrior Angus MacLorh lives by three principles: put country above self, protect family at all costs, and never become entangled with a lass—not again. So when his future king needs him to accompany the far-too-lovely Lillianna to safety, Angus agrees, confident he can keep her at a distance, as he does all women. Yet the gentle, fiercely determined lady intrigues and tempts him at every turn, and when his greatest enemy captures her, he finds himself breaking all his rules to save her.

As the fight for the Scottish throne embroils Lillianna and Angus deep in danger, enemies near and far hunt them, threatening their very lives. When the truth of the legend finally comes to light, can a woman determined to escape her destiny and a Highlander bent on facing his future alone overcome the barriers they’ve created and trust in their hearts to lay claim to the most glorious of loves?

My thoughts:

I have no doubt that I would not have enjoyed living in  medieval times yet it's one of my favorite time periods to lose myself in within the pages of a romance novel and Julie Johnstone is one of my favorite authors who bring it to life. 

Once again, Johnstone uses meticulous research and vivid descriptions to immerse readers in the tumultuous struggles between Scotland and England during the 1300s. She then creates complex characters who engage my emotions, bringing me along on dangerous adventures of body and heart. I found myself almost immediately intrigued by Angus (I do love a strong and protective Scot) and Lillianna (such a joy to watch her grow into a strong and confident woman), both individually and as a couple. As they grew closer and their thoughts, fears, strengths, and vulnerabilities were slowly revealed, I became even more deeply invested in their journey and hopeful for their eventual happiness. Secondary characters are also introduced who I'm hopeful we will see more of in future books in the series. 

Fair warning: there's plenty of action, deep emotion, intrigue, betrayal, and unexpected twists to keep you riveted to this story from beginning to end. Once I began reading, Angus and Lillianna refused to turn me loose until I reached the end. That's the mark of a Julie Johnstone book. 


Do you enjoy medieval romance as much as I do?

Have you read any of Julie Johnstone's books? 

One person who posts a comment before 11:00 PM, December 27, 2018 will receive an e-book of Highland Defender

Barnes and Noble:
Apple Books:
Google Play:

Friday, December 21, 2018

Review - - Dirty Little Secret

Dirty Little Secret
By Jennifer Ryan
Wild Rose Ranch - Book 1
Publisher: Avon
Release Date: December 18, 2018
Reviewed by PJ

Noah Cordero is a modern-day cowboy who loves three things: ranching, his younger sister, and his step-father. John Cordero groomed Noah to take over the Montana spread where he learned to ride and work the land. But when John unexpectedly dies, he leaves half the ranch to a woman Noah doesn’t even know.
Roxy shares Noah’s last name, but not his blood. Estranged from her father, haunted by regrets, and eager to escape her notorious mother’s past, she is forced to fulfill her father’s last wishes. Inheriting means sharing a home with infuriating, challenging, and oh-so-tempting Noah. But John didn’t just make her owner of his ranch and guardian to her sister, his hidden sideline is her worst nightmare—she’s the new owner of the notorious Nevada brothel called Wild Rose Ranch where she grew up.
As their strictly business relationship starts to turn to true love, Roxy begins to wonder, what will happen when Noah discovers her dirty little secret?

My thoughts:

I discovered Jennifer Ryan a few years ago and have devoured her gritty, western-set, contemporary romantic suspense novels. I expected this first book in her new Wild Rose Ranch series to be of the same ilk but it takes a bit of a turn from previous series. It's still set (primarily) in Montana, features a hot cowboy, strong heroine and has plenty of heat and heart. But while there's heavy focus on the gritty, suspense aspect of previous books, in Dirty Little Secret it has a small role near the end of the book. This is primarily a contemporary romance that reeled me in and held me captive from beginning to end. 

Enemies-to-lovers is one of my favorite romance tropes and Roxy and Noah certainly have good reason to not trust - or like - one another very much. Roxy's father abandoned her to an abusive life with her drug-addicted, prostitute mother while showering his two adopted children (Noah and Annabelle) with love, support, and a stable, secure life on his Montana ranch. Roxy has always known her father chose Noah over her while Noah, who has poured his heart into the ranch and had every expectation of inheriting it, didn't even know Roxy existed until the reading of John's will. You want conflict? We've got conflict. Add in an unwanted attraction between Noah and Roxy and the fun's just beginning.

I had a hard time putting this book down. Ryan created flawed characters who deserve a happy ending but keep getting in their own way then gave them a story that would test them at every turn. Roxy, in particular, captured my heart. I wanted to open my arms, give her a big hug, and tell her that I see her but that would be awkward for a woman who has never known physical affection given in kindness and love. I want her to know that when I look at her I don't see the outer Marilyn Monroe body and make incorrect assumptions but, rather, the smart, educated, hard-working woman within. I see the woman who continually gives to others, never expecting kindness in return because, in her life, it's never been given. I see a woman who, even though she looks like her mother, is nothing like her in thought or deed. I see a woman who is deserving of love even though every experience in her life has tried to teach her the opposite. I see a character worthy of my affection, admiration, and trust.

Noah, on the other hand, is a character I needed time to warm up to. He makes mistakes, he makes assumptions, and he's a bit of a jerk at the beginning. But, at heart, he's a good man, his world also has been turned upside down, and he's looking for someone to blame since the man who set all this in motion is now out of reach. In short, he's human. I enjoy characters with layers, with flaws, and with the ability to grow and learn and make amends. He won me over in the end.

If you enjoy a western-set, enemies-to-lovers story with rich characterization, sizzling chemistry, a bit of suspense, and a happy ending, I recommend Dirty Little Secret by Jennifer Ryan. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Review, Q&A, and Giveaway - - The Duke's Suspicion

The Duke's Suspicion
by Susanna Craig
Rogues and Rebels - Book 2
Publisher: Lyrical Press
Release Date: December 18, 2018
Reviewed by PJ

An English war hero must unlock the secrets of an Irish beauty’s heart . . .
Named for the heather in her native Ireland, botanist Erica Burke dreams of travel—somewhere she won’t be scorned for her scientific interests. Instead, a storm strands her with cool and commanding Major Tristan Laurens, the Duke of Raynham.

An unexpected heir, Tristan is torn between his duties as an intelligence officer and his responsibilities as a duke. A brief return to England to set his affairs in order is extended by bad weather and worse news—someone is after the military secrets he keeps. Could the culprit be his unconventional Irish guest? He needs to see her journal to be sure, and he’ll do what he must to get his hands on it . . . even indulge in a dangerous intimacy with a woman he has no business wanting. 
Erica guards her journal as fiercely as she guards her heart, fearing to reveal a side of herself a man like Tristan could never understand. But though she makes Tristan’s task infernally difficult, falling in love may be all too easy . . .

My thoughts:

A second son, Tristan Laurens neither expected nor wanted to become the Duke of Raynham, instead finding both his purpose and joy in service to his country as a Major in the English Army. It's a life that fits his need for control and order well. He's reluctantly returning home to put the dukedom in capable hands then plans to return to his duties in France.

The younger sister of Irish rebels, Erica Burke dreams of having the freedom to become a respected botanist. As someone who lives with what today would be known as ADHD, order and control are concepts with which she struggles and becoming entangled with a reluctant duke was never in her plans. But fate has other plans for both of them.

I adored these two. They pulled me into their world from the beginning pages, securing my interest and my emotions. I love that Craig allows the story - and the characters - to slowly unfold, giving readers the opportunity to experience the journey, as well as the evolution of the characters, through their actions. She excels at show, not tell, and with Erica, in particular, showing was critical to give readers the opportunity to fully understand - and appreciate - this atypical character. She's one of my favorite heroines I've read this year. Tristan has hurdles to overcome as well. I enjoyed his growth over the course of the book. I especially appreciated how he supports and encourages Erica, even when he isn't sure if she's actually an Irish spy. The surrounding cast is richly portrayed as well, playing pivotal roles in the growing relationship between Tristan and Erica as well as the mystery of a possible spy in their midst. Craig kept me guessing on that end right up until the reveal. 

A new Susanna Craig novel is always cause for excitement with this romance-loving reader. Her historical detail, wonderful characters, created with depth and complexity, and the journeys upon which she guides them never fail to engage both my mind and my heart. 


Welcome back, Susanna!

Thanks so much, PJ! It’s always a pleasure to be here.

The Duke’s Suspicion is the second book in your Rogues and Rebels series. What should readers expect from this book? 

The Rogues & Rebels books tell the stories of the Burke siblings around the time of the 1798 Rebellion in Ireland; they’re all interconnected in that way, but each story stands on its own. In The Duke’s Suspicion, middle sister Erica Burke, a botanist, is stranded with Tristan Laurens, a British military intelligence officer and reluctant heir to a dukedom. Her closely-guarded journal and rather erratic behavior, combined with being Irish, make him suspect she might be a spy. I hope readers will enjoy a fresh take on some favorite tropes, seasoned with just a dash of the board game “Clue.”

I adored Erica. She’s much more complex than appears at first glance. Am I correct in assuming that she has what, today, we would call ADHD? What inspired you to create a heroine with her particular characteristics?

You are correct! As a teacher, I’ve seen firsthand how structured places like the classroom can pose challenges to people with ADHD, and it got me thinking. We all love an unconventional heroine in historical romance, but I think we sometimes forget how miserable “unconventional” people have been made to feel in the past. What would it have been like for a young woman in the eighteenth century whose mind (and body) worked differently, in ways not consistent with so-called “ladylike” behaviors? So, in addition to research in botany and history, I spent a lot of time learning about ADHD and strategies for success, such as the bullet journal (on which I modeled Erica’s journal).

A storm leads more guests than he would like to shelter at Tristan’s home indefinitely. If weather stranded you with a small group of people (real or fictional and in a beautiful home, of course), with whom would you choose to ride out the storm?

My husband says I should be honest and say “the cast of Poldark,” and ok, there would surely be worse things than being stranded with Aidan Turner. But what I’d really love would be to spend that time as a kind of writers’ retreat with some of my author friends, brainstorming, commiserating, and chatting. Oh, and the spirit of Jane Austen would pay us an inspirational visit too!

At first glance, a man who values control and a woman who struggles for control seem an unlikely match. What convinced you that Tristan and Erica were destined to be together?

Mostly, I wanted to create a couple whose strengths and weaknesses balanced one another, without judgment. Tristan helps Erica remember to stop and take a breath, not to rush headlong into trouble, while Erica encourages Tristan to be a little more spontaneous, not to take himself so seriously all the time.

There are so many wonderful scenes in this book. Which was your favorite to write? Which was the most difficult?

This book was a lot of fun to write. I enjoyed imagining the space (and scents and sounds) of the glasshouse. A few of the early scenes, with the mud and the horse, made me snicker a bit as I worked. I think my favorite might be the scene with Erica and Tristan in the kitchen, because we get to know more about both of them in that quiet moment. The most difficult scene to write was definitely the unmasking of the spy because there’s so much going on!

Christmas is almost upon us. How do you envision Erica and Tristan celebrating the holiday?

Erica would wander through the snowy woods searching for mistletoe, pine boughs, and a yule log, while Tristan patiently carries whatever she gathers and listens to her explanation of their botanical properties. Afterward, back at the house, they’d enjoy mulled wine and kisses in front of a crackling fire.

Tristan’s stepmother doesn’t fall prey to the stereotype but is, rather, a genuinely kind and loving woman deserving of happiness. Any chance we’ll see Guin again?

She has a cameo in the next Rogues & Rebels book, but now that you mention it, it would be fun to write her an HEA of her own! Hmmm….

I’m currently elbow deep in holiday baking. Does your family have a favorite holiday treat that you make every year? Would you share the recipe?

I don’t make Cinnamon Pecans every year, but my husband just requested them, so I’ll be whipping up a batch this week. 

Beat one egg white and 1 tablespoon water in a bowl until frothy. 
Add 1 pound pecan halves. 
In a ziplock bag, combine 1 cup sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and 3/4 teaspoon salt (you can add 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper if you’re feeling spicy!). 
Pour the wet pecans into the bag to coat with cinnamon-sugar mixture. 
Spread nuts in a shallow pan and bake for one hour at 250 degrees, stirring every 15 minutes. 
Seriously addictive, and a great gift (if you don’t eat them all yourself!)

Mmmmm...  This may end up being one of those Merry Christmas to me gifts! 

What’s next?

Paris Burke meets his match in The Lady’s Deception, out in October 2019.

Thank you for visiting with us, Susanna! Do you have anything else to add? Would you like to ask our readers a question?

Thanks again for having me! I want to wish everyone the joy and peace of this wonderful season. I’d love to hear about everyone’s favorite holiday traditions (especially book related ones!)

One randomly chosen person who leaves a comment before 11:00 PM, December 20, 2018 will receive a copy of the first Rogues and Rebels book, The Companion's Secret in e-book or print (U.S. only for print).