Nine Ladies Dancing: Clinging to Youth


It’s frightening to grow up. Taking on responsibilities, leaving old habits behind, speaking of childhood in the past tense—it’s no wonder so many people take their time, whether or not they realize it. The world is a scary place, after all.

I believe this message was the strongest theme for Nine Ladies Dancing, the fourth novella in the Belles of Christmas collection, which I have been enjoying thoroughly.

Add to my above list the future inheritance of a grand estate and title. It’s no wonder the male protagonist, Matthew, has not yet grown up, seeking comfort in the things that make him feel free…such as horses. His parents have noticed, though, that he isn’t getting any younger, and neither are they.

With this in mind, his mother strikes a deal with him: he must get to know nine ladies before Twelfthnight. If he does not fall in love with any of them, she will finally stop telling him what to do with his life. To make the deal sweeter, his father promises him a new horse if he doesn’t fall for any of them.

As a reader, I laughed quite a bit at the horse detail. He prefers a horse to true love! But, back to the review.

It sounds easy to not fall in love, so Matthew accepts the deal with his mother. The catch, which he does not realize until several embarrassing incidents later, is that he was already in love…but with the last person he could have imagined. Meg does love him, though, and puts up an admirable fight.

Too bad he’s so obsessed with the new horse that, eventually, Meg gives up. When Meg gives up fighting for him—well, something doesn’t feel quite right with his head…or is it his heart?…he cannot decide. Suddenly, though, he’s far more interested in her and what she’s doing—and the gentlemen she’s talking to.

Eventually, the horse is no longer so enticing.

My heart ached many times over the course of this book for Meg and for silly Matthew. It’s a well known truth that you do not know what you have until you lose it; however, this book has a happy ending, which soothed that ache. Matthew finally does grow up.

I waited eagerly for this book to release, and finished it in a day. All of the novellas in this collection have me enchanted, and I’ll be sad when there are no more. Also, I think the cover for Nine Ladies Dancing is the most beautiful of the five. However, they all make me dream.

I’m already reading the final novella, A Duke for Lady Eve. Thankfully, there are more sweet Regency novels from these authors, and I won’t have to say good-bye to the magic that is in this collection. I am so glad to have found it; every book was worth the read!

Q&A With Author Martha Keyes


img_4797Goodwill for the Gentleman is one of the warmest stories I’ve read this year. If you want to know why, check out my review here. It is an amazing joy to have contacted the author, Martha Keyes, with questions about this charming Christmas story that had me believing in happy endings again.

I believe that speaking with the author and seeing their view of the world adds depth to a story, and the answers to these questions certainly did that. If you have not yet started the Belles of Christmas collection, I highly suggest you do so; each of these tales will leave you with a light heart and a great deal of hope.

Be sure to check out Martha’s new novel, Cecilia, which was released this weekend. I can’t wait to get lost in it!

Without further ado, here are the questions!


1. What was the inspiration for Goodwill for the Gentleman?

A few factors played into this, actually. Because the book is part of a multi-author series, we had to decide a few ground rules at the beginning. One of those was the year the story was taking place. The year we chose (1813) was a very, very cold winter in England. They had very intense winter weather, and I thought about that quite a bit as I tried to decide on a story. Interestingly, I decided upon a title before anything else. I had been brainstorming things we associate with Christmas—words, phrases, smells, etc.—and I came upon the word “goodwill” and the phrase “good will toward men/man” from a couple of well known Christmas songs. I thought that was an interesting concept if I just changed it to “goodwill for the gentleman.” And from that, the beginnings of the story were born!

IMG_9452.12. Is there a message you want readers to learn from it?

I really wanted readers (and myself) to think about the way we view the people around us. We are always operating with limited information as we make judgments and assumptions about others, just as Emma is in the book. She has taken the behavior of Hugh in jilting her sister and kind of assumed the worst of him. As she comes to know him, she realizes that there is so much more to him than the one thing she has judged him on and that even that action wasn’t as selfish as it appeared. I am a religious person, and I find that Christmas is a wonderful time of year for us to reevaluate any grudges we are holding and try to do for others what Christ does for each of us—believe in us and the believe the best of us. I hope that those things come through a bit in the story.

3. Do you have a nice Christmas memory or tradition you would like to share?

I grew up in a family that focused heavily on music, and one of our Christmas Eve traditions is for each of us to choose our favorite Christmas song or hymn to sing together while my mom plays the piano. There are eight kids in my family (plus a number of spouses), so it actually takes quite awhile to do this, but I think it brings a special spirit that only music can. Over the past five or so years, we have shifted things a bit to where we don Santa hats and go caroling to a few of our neighbors who are home-bound or elderly, bringing along a bag of caramels to gift them. I live in Utah, and we often have snowy Christmases, so we are all ready to cozy up when we get back from doing this. I love bringing a bit of Christmas cheer to people who might otherwise spend Christmas Eve alone.

Goodwill for the Gentleman: Emma & the Beast


The second novel in the Belles of Christmas collection, Goodwill for the Gentleman by Martha Keyes was a delight. It tugged at my heart in all the right ways; it was a balance of sadness and romance that kept me hooked.

I love to read about tormented characters, and this book had just that. Lieutenant Hugh has returned home from war to a house where his family has thought him dead, because he has not written to them in a long time.

Why did he stay away for so long that they thought him dead? The answer is simple: matters of the heart. Love can make us do things that we regret; thankfully, in fiction, there are happy endings.

He left for the war after refusing to marry a woman he did not feel he loved enough. The decision to set her free, though well meaning, made him the beast in the eyes of society—including in the eyes of the woman he truly loves, Emma Caldwell.

To complicate matters, Emma is the sister of the young lady he turned down. Can love get more complicated? Well…yes.

When at last Hugh returns home, he finds that none other than Emma has come over to visit, and she is not pleased to see him. Can it get more complicated? Yes—because a snowstorm kicks in, making the roads unmanageable and trapping them under the same roof for Christmas.

Not wanting to spoil the family reunion, Emma suggests a truce: they will pretend to get along for the benefit of his mother, who is happy for the first time since he left. How long will their truce last? How long before they are no longer pretending to be kind to each other, but gentle words come from the heart?

I waited impatiently for Emma’s heart to melt; I felt Hugh’s pain when he sensed no one needed him. By the end of the book, I was an emotional wreck, but it was worth it.

This collection of Christmas themed stories has not been a disappointment; I cannot wait for the third, which I will start tomorrow. What a warm, cozy way to settle into the holiday spirit!

Unmasking Lady Caroline & Building the Christmas Spirit


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Hoping to feel the Christmas spirit early this year while easing into my genre, I’ve been looking for Christmas-themed regency books. Imagine my delight when I found a collection exists of Christmas stories which bring to mind the smell of pinecones and the splendor of Downton Abbey! It’s called Belles of Christmas, and I have to say the covers alone are beautiful.

Of the five novels, three have been released, and two remain for pre-order. The three available are Unmasking Lady Caroline, Goodwill for the Gentlemen and The Earl’s Mistletoe Match. To find the books, click here!

Naturally, I began the series with Unmasking Lady Caroline. I could not put it down. Lady Caroline is a spinster; her mother seems convinced there is no hope left for her. I felt sad for Caroline. Though she played a silly game that could have cost her her happiness, I cannot judge.

When, at a masquerade, she spots a friend she’s always had feelings for, she keeps on her mask and does not tell him her name. Instead, she keeps her secret and adopts the alias of Miss Tree. Drawn to her and frustrated, her friend, Peter, is determined to find Miss Tree and win her heart.

He does not realize for a long time that Miss Tree is his friend, Lady Caroline, with whom he played as a child. He hasn’t seen Caroline in ten years, having spent that time traveling to escape a scandal; now that he’s returned and she’s grown into a woman, everything about her has changed, including his feelings for her.

It amused me that he became so taken by the anonymous Miss Tree while obviously harboring feelings for Caroline, but we all know that the heart does strange things. There’s a happy ending in this book: he finds his Miss Tree, but not without a roller coaster of trouble and emotion.

What struck me about this story is the personal growth of Lady Caroline. She’s been told for so long that she’s not needed that she’s grown to believe it. I think that’s why she chose to hide as Miss Tree, why she held on to that alias until circumstance pulled it away.

She never thought someone could fall in love with her; for Christmas, she was proven wrong.

A clean and short read, I finished Unmasking Lady Caroline in a day. It’s a page turner. The minor characters are endearing, and the description is so well done that I could smell snow and feel the trees when they went into the forest.

Lovers of historical fiction must give this charming novel a try. Meanwhile, I’m eager to get to the second book in the collection, Goodwill to the Gentlemen.

Discovering The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley



This week, I am reading The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. It is another book I found at the thrift store, and I found to my delight that the writing is bold as the woman’s red hair on the cover.

Kearsley paints pictures so perfectly in my imagination that I am disconcerted when I need to put the book down.

Writing this blog post feels like a premature book review, but I need to talk about how I feel. I am fond of stories such as this, where the main character is an author; it’s fun to recognize problems in the writing process, storytelling quirks, and the determination of a writer to tell a tale.

It’s a book where the characters speak to their author. I wonder if my own characters speak to me as loudly and I do not hear. I find that, especially in the winter, it’s difficult to keep my mind clear enough to listen, in particular when I lack motivation. It must be something that comes with practice.

It breaks my heart when I find half-finished books at thrift stores. Whoever owned this copy of The Winter Sea before me read half of it and then gave up. I can tell because there’s a clean fold in the middle; the pages in the second half look fresh from a bookstore, while the first have dog-eared corners.

I’m glad to give it the love it didn’t receive from its first owner, using pencil to underline sentences I find lovely (something I would only do with a used book; I could not bear to write in a brand new novel). Some of those phrases wind up as quotes on my Instagram, because works of art should be admired, even if only a sentence out of five hundred pages.

Persistent as a cold winter breeze, the story soaks through me. It’s creeping into my list of favorite books. In it, historical fiction and romance balance like in ballet. The last time I felt this way about a book was for Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, another thrift store find that someone had abandoned half-finished.

Perhaps I’m noticing a pattern. Let the half-finished books come to me: I seem to fall in love every time.

The Captain’s Daughter by Jennifer Delamere + Author Q&A!


Captains-Daughter-3D-trimmed-209x300I enjoy it when historical fiction books are written in different settings. So many seem to take place during the Season or inside of country houses. Though these books are enjoyable, a different setting ensures that I will remember the story.

The Captain’s Daughter by Jennifer Delamere provided a new setting. A good deal of the novel takes place backstage at a theater! Before reading this book, I hadn’t pondered how playwrights enchanted their audiences. How did they produce the special effects? It was no small feat!

The novel follows two characters involved in theater. First, we meet Rosalyn who, having fled a sticky situation, finds herself alone in London. Her hope was to join her sisters in Bristol, but when she is robbed of her belongings, it becomes clear she’ll need to work to keep a roof over her head. That is when she is hired by a theater to help with the costumes.

The second character, Nate, is a soldier. Having been injured in battle, he’s waiting at home for the wound to heal. He blames the accident on having been reckless and in love, and has sworn never to fall again, convinced it only weakens the judgment. Much to my delight, his conviction wavers when he meets Rosalyn.

If you’re looking for clean, entertaining historical fiction, The Captain’s Daughter is bold and unique! I finished it in a day!

Author Jennifer Delamere was kind enough to answer some questions about her novel. She offers words of encouragement for writers like me who might see the writing process with apprehension. I’m sure they will help you, too. To learn more about Jennifer, visit her website–and read her books!


While researching, did something surprise you about the time period? Why?

I was surprised to discover that London’s Underground Railway (now generally referred to as the Tube), was the first in the world—and that it was opened in 1863! I had always thought subways were a much later invention. However, I should not have been surprised, as the Victorians were at the vanguard of so many engineering feats, from railroads to massive city sewer works. The first underground trains used steam engines, making the ride smoky, as you might imagine. They were not electrified until the early 20th century. For books two and three of this series (The Heart’s Appeal and The Artful Match), I enjoyed being able to set scenes on the London Underground.

What are some old customs you would like to see return to fashion?

I would love to see more etiquette in our dealings with one another. Today our social interactions are somewhat of a free-for-all. Although often dismissed as stuffy and constraining, I think having agreed-upon standards could actually make people more comfortable instead of less so. They would know what to do instead of wondering or feeling clueless. And I’d love to see a return of real dancing! From English reels to waltzes to the foxtrot. Very few people seem to know how to dance today, but it used to be a common pastime. Seems like it made courtship a lot more interesting, too!

As a historical fiction author, which titles would you recommend to fans of the genre?

There are too many good ones to name! And of course, it depends on reader preferences. I can recommend the website for the Historical Novel Society (historicalnovelsociety.org), where anyone looking for a great read can search the reviews by genre (romance, mystery, thriller, western, etc.) and by time period. You might even find yourself stretching a bit by choosing a novel set in a time period or place that you haven’t read about before.

Do you have words of encouragement for the author struggling through the writing process?

Yes – keep at it! Do all you can to learn more about the craft. This includes reading books on writing, attending workshops, and considering feedback from fellow authors. While doing all this, keep writing. It takes time and application of what you’re learning to really digest the information you find in other sources, and then to figure out what to keep and what to set aside. Certain things, such as good story structure, are fairly immutable. Learn those rules well before trying to break them. Other things, such as writing style or how to write your drafts (outlining vs. not outlining, for example), you can refine as you discover what works for you. Ultimately your writing process will not be exactly like anyone else’s. So embrace that! Enjoy the discovery process of how you write as well as what you write. Also remember that no one’s first draft is perfect. Even the best authors have to edit and rewrite. So don’t get discouraged. Just keep writing.

Netherwood by Jane Sanderson



Netherwood was a side read to space out my 2019 Classic Novel Challenge. Like The Lady and the Gent, it is historical fiction. Though they share a genre, these novels are delightful in their own ways.

Netherwood is more sober than The Lady and the Gent. It’s the story of a widow named Eve and her struggle to survive following the death of her husband at a coal mine. Urged to make a living doing what she’s good at, she starts baking and selling pies from her own home.

Eve’s business soon becomes so popular that there are too many customers for her to manage. Wanting to help this remarkable widow, the Earl of Netherwood gives her a building to transform into a bakery. Soon she is called to bake her pies for parties at aristocratic houses. Her work even delights the king.

The story is told from multiple points of view. We see Eve’s world through the eyes of love interests, enemies, friends and her children, giving the story layers. Each character is strong because they are flawed; each has a lesson to learn, and we feel sympathy for them.

In my opinion, Netherwood’s strength is that it’s a story about a woman surviving on her own. Unlike Margaret in The Lady and the Gent, Eve is not thinking about love. She is too busy keeping customers happy in order to feed her children. Though she does fall in love towards the end, it isn’t because she needs someone. It’s because she finally found a person who could made her smile.

Jane Sanderson’s writing style is a delight. She crafts whole characters, dialect and all, and knows how to describe emotion in a way that tugs at my heart. Setting, dialogue, character—these things are what win me over, and Netherwood excelled in them. I hope one day I can spin a story with that much skill!

What have you been reading?

The Lady and the Gent by Rebecca Connolly


Last week, I took a break from my strict 2019 Reading Challenge and searched for some historical fiction to provide a quick, happy read. Three books by Rebecca Connolly caught my eye, and in two days I had finished the first, The Lady and the Gent. The book did not disappoint; I was smiling by the time I reached the epilogue.

Wealthy and lively Lady Margaret has had three London seasons to no avail; for some reason, she fails to catch any man’s eye. At twenty-two, she is now considered old. Facing the possibility of their daughter becoming a spinster, her parents take matters into their own hands. They suggest finding her a husband in the continent.

However, Lady Margaret loves England and wants to stay. She convinces them to let her try for one more season; meanwhile, they return to the continent, scouting out potential suitors. None of them will do for her, though; she has already given her heart to a man she has never spoken to. She only sees him for ten seconds a day while on the streets.

It is perhaps not a new plot, but something about Margaret’s questionable taste struck a chord in me. I am a daydreamer; I would do the same thing. Margaret knows nothing about this man, but he is so mysterious that she cannot forget him. He is everywhere and nowhere; though he always finds her, she cannot find him.

He is a spy called The Gent by those who know him, and he is London’s best and worst kept secret. He is friends with gypsies and orphan children and all sorts of undesirables. He seems too perfect to be real, but I believe that’s why I enjoyed this story. We see his darker side when he is forced to choose between love and work, leading to disaster. When I reached the point where I wondered if even The Gent could fix it, I knew the book had hooked me.

The Lady and the Gent is a love story with a happy ending. I think we all need those every now and then. Whether or not the plot is realistic, our hearts want to believe that there is the chance of love prevailing. We want to believe two people can fight for it against all odds, risking work and reputation, always choosing each other.

This book was the highlight of my week, and I recommend it to fans of romance and historical fiction. I have Connolly’s other two books and will be reading them soon. These days I can’t help but long for stories that take me back in time.

I am also reading The Pickwick Papers, and predict at least two blog posts about it. The first will come in the next week or so. I always have a lot to say about work by Charles Dickens, and Mr. Pickwick’s crowd have given me much laughter.

Movie Review: Walt Before Mickey


Storytellers learn so much researching those who came before us. From them, we learn there’s never an easy path to getting an audience; tears will be shed, friends lost, and there’ll be moments in which we’re tempted to give up.

I have a book about Walt Disney in my towering TBR pile; it will no doubt be a wonderful read, when I get around to it. I’ve already been inspired by his story because of the movie Walt Before Mickey. Stories are told in film as well as books; storytellers ought to pay attention to both.

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Walt Before Mickey follows Disney’s life before the creation of Mickey Mouse. It’s a movie that shows there’s genius in failure; it doesn’t only bask in the cartoonist’s success. There were powerful scenes showing Disney penniless and alone on the streets.

In those scenes, it’s difficult to imagine him fulfilling his dream.

This movie also shows moments of grand determination. Disney has a dream, and he’s going to work himself to the bone until it comes true. He won’t buckle under pressure from his family. He keeps going, showing willpower I can only hope to have one day.

It’s inspiring because it shows that hard work pays off. Not only that, Walt Before Mickey celebrates things he did achieve before his greatest success. It shows that, even if we’re not where we want to be yet, the journey can be lovely.

The setting was beautiful, costume and dialog making me want to travel by train or write on a typewriter. I could almost smell the cigarette smoke; these scenes evoked a sense of being in the story.

Chasing a dream is never easy, and it’s often tempting to give up when we’re almost there! Walt Disney’s story shows that the greatest artists have felt disheartened. However, they persevered—and to this day, their dreams survive.

Walt Before Mickey reminds us success might be sitting before our very eyes. In the movie, Walt finds a mouse on his desk and keeps it as a pet for a while. In the last scene, after the premiere of the first Mickey film, he encounters another mouse in an alley.

The movie is great for people who enjoy historical fiction; it will inspire any dreamer going through rough times. Like Walt’s mouse, success might be looking right at you; harness your passion and work hard, until you can make it happen!

Book Review: The Paris Winter by Imogen Robertson


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The Paris Winter leaves a proper chill in your soul after you finish reading it. It is the haunting story of Maud Heighton, an English painter who takes art classes in Paris, all the while struggling to get her daily meal.

Her situation doesn’t go unnoticed at the academy, especially when she starts to lose weight and ration meals. A fellow student from Russia named Tanya has sources; she takes Maud to find a job that’ll help her survive the winter.

Maud is employed as companion to the sister of wealthy, mysterious Mr. Morel. She is to teach Sylvie to draw, something she can do easily. It seems she’s finally found stability—she’s eating proper meals and sleeping in a warm room.

It was all too good to be true, however. The Morels had a sinister fate planned for her all along. They did not count on her surviving it, but she wakes with anger in her heart and a desire for revenge.

She’s been used in a scheme the Morels planned for months. When Christian Morel blames her for stealing the Countess’s tiara, she becomes a thief to society. He throws her in the river and claims she committed suicide, so she wakes up not only a thief but dead.

They could not have done more to destroy her reputation.

From childhood, Maud has learned to fight. They might have killed her in the eyes of society, but desire for revenge leaves her very much alive. With the help of her friends, she plans a comeback.

She works with the help of both Tanya and Yvette. A model from the academy, it was Yvette who noticed how thin she’d been getting. Roughened by a life on the streets, she’s courageous enough to stand by Maud to battle injustice.

Friendship is important in this novel. There’s no romance for Maud; as a main character, her strong relationships are with friends. They stand by her when she becomes the ghost of herself in pursuit of revenge.

This emphasis on friendship made the book unique. These women are there for each other in the face of horrific things. I wish more books focused on the strength one can in find a good friend.

Though Maud gets her justice, the ordeal changes her for life. She returns to England with Yvette, hard of heart and angry with life—but driven to start anew as an artist, respected and alive.

This will join my collection of Paris books as a favorite, having caught my attention from the start. Not only does it have a beautiful cover, it’s got an intense plot and strong relationships.

I recommend The Paris Winter to people who, like me, devour any book set in the City of Light. It is also great for fans of historical novels and thrillers. You will be satisfied by the ending; I am sure you’ll find a new favorite in it, as well.

Review: The Earl of Brass by Kara Jorgensen


untitledIn The Earl of Brass we enter a well-imagined, satisfyingly dark Steampunk London where airships and corsets exist simultaneously. We follow two complex characters as their eyes are opened to the possibility of a different world.

Eilian Sorrell doesn’t want to be an Earl. He wants to be an archaeologist, uncovering stories of cultures long gone. His family’s disapproval makes this difficult; when the airship he’s on crashes and he loses an arm, it seems his dream’s gone up in flames.

Now he must struggle to live life with one hand, relearning basic things such as eating or riding a bicycle. I enjoyed watching his spirits lift as he made progress, accepting the challenges and beating them.

When he gets a prosthetic arm, everything takes a more adventurous turn.

Hadley has watched her elder brother craft the arm in his final hours, wrestling with his sickness. Their family business makes things such as mechanical toys and prosthetic limbs for people like Eilian. When her brother dies before the arm’s completed, it falls on her to finish the project.

She plunges headfirst into the family business. In the scene where Hadley delivers the arm to Eilian, I smiled. She wasn’t afraid to show her disdain; after all, this was the arm her brother was working on in his final hours. She thinks the effort weakened him.

The prosthetic arm becomes more of a burden than help, especially when it falls off during a family meeting. On the verge of spiraling, Eilian resolves to wear it as little as possible.

But things are about to change: Hadley, who’s been hiding her genius because it isn’t proper in a woman, has found her older brother’s plans for an arm that could be moved at the wearer’s will, welded to the body. She needs someone to test the invention on.

Eilian agrees to be the test subject. When the operation is a success, his dreams of archaeology spring to life again. Friendship blossoms between him and Hadley despite their social differences, and he invites her to join him on an expedition, where she chooses to disguise herself as a man so they won’t treat her like glass.

Their expedition kicks up the tension and excitement. This book is rich with betrayal, and secrecy—but most of all freedom, newly discovered by two people who’ve lived their lives trapped by social stigma. Now they will return home knowing life has more magic when you break past the barriers.

The Earl of Brass was not what I expected, but I’m so glad I gave it a read! Not only did the plot keep me going, the writing was beautiful. Jorgensen has a way with words that would have kept me reading, even if I hadn’t enjoyed the story—but I did.

This book is great for lovers of Steampunk, Historical Fiction, and characters who aren’t afraid to break the rules.

Review: The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin


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The American Heiress is reminiscent of Downton Abbey, described as a book for you to read while waiting on the next season. It follows the story of Cora Cash, a wealthy American whose mother is willing to do anything to get to the top of the social ladder.

The thing is, most of what Mrs Cash does to get her daughter a place in society seem to be for Mrs Cash’s own benefit; when readers realize this, we understand Cora even though she’s spoiled and obnoxious. She didn’t have freedom as a girl, and even when she marries a Duke she’s sealed into a different kind of imprisonment.

Caught with the gossiping upper class, Cora’s looked upon as different for being an American in English society. Even though she charms people, there’s something that keeps her inferior. She’s made it to the top, but those born with titles won’t fully accept her as one of them.

After marrying the Duke, Cora starts to break down; without her mother to make decisions, she’s left alone in a world where few respect her and even her husband behaves strangely.

The relationships were compelling; I found the settings engrossed me. Daisy Goodwin’s writing style is musical! It got me through the slower scenes because I wanted to read more of her words.

This book follows an “American princess.” We see her stumble through an enormous lifestyle change and promptly get back to her feet. By the end of The American Heiress we applaud Cora’s strength as she reasserts her dignity.

It’s a book I will read again; I’m won over by lovely writing. I enjoyed watching Cora grow from an obnoxious girl into a woman fighting a battle. I’d recommend it to those who love complicated romance, and those who seek novels in historical settings.