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Book reviews: Utahns weave clean romances from steampunk in England, spies in Greece and U.S. wild West

From a Victorian steampunk setting to spies on a Greek island to military forts on the Western U.S. frontier, these historical love stories by Utah authors or authors with Utah ties share a variety of adventures and clean romance.

BEAUTY AND THE CLOCKWORK BEAST: A Steampunk Proper Romance,” by Nancy Campbell Allen, Shadow Mountain, $15.99, 313 pages (f)

“Beauty and the Clockwork Beast” is a historical romance and mystery that mixes in vampires, ghosts, werewolves and other shifters in a steampunk world — a 19th-century era where steam-powered technology has advanced and goggles and gears are fashionable.

Lucy Pickett, a rising botanist, goes to Blackwell Manor, the estate of Lord Miles Blake, to care for her cousin, Kate, who recently married Miles’ younger brother, Jonathan. The ordinarily healthy Kate is becoming sicker by the day, and Lucy is well aware of the rumors around the recent death of Miles’ wife, Clara, and his sister, Marie.

During her stay, a ghost seems to be targeting her. As Lucy figures out what the ghost wants, she finds fewer answers and more questions. Miles takes steps to protect her, but he finds himself attracted to the woman who refuses to relent — even for her own safety.

Utah author Nancy Campbell Allen weaves a mystery with several tangled threads and potential suspects as she unravels it in a climactic end. Allen shares vivid descriptions of the steampunk world, from the fashions to the programmable automatons, and adds a unique twist to this entertaining and engaging installment of Shadow Mountain’s Proper Romance series.

The described romance doesn’t go beyond kisses. There is no foul language, but there are some general descriptions of violence.

— Christine Rappleye

THE HEIR OF BROWNLIE MANOR,” by Anita Stansfield, Covenant Communications, $16.99, 282 pages (f)

Thomas Quincy Fitzbatten has returned home to Brownlie Manor from the Napoleonic War with a medical discharge as “The Heir of Brownlie Manor” opens.

His parents, who are away on a trip, had an untraditional attitude among their class toward their estate ownership and treated their servants well. Thomas is feeling aimless in the first few weeks after his return and when his butler receives a message that the butler's niece, Ruth Dawson, is unwed and expecting, Thomas offers to help.

But when he meets her, he decides to take a different approach — to marry her. As they go to the family’s coastal home, they get to know each other and trust each other, and their love begins to find root and grow. It also gives Ruth time to adjust to her pregnancy as they try to figure out how to explain their situation to their parents.

Later, Thomas receives a letter with a plea for help from a fellow solider and friend. As he heads off to help, it becomes apparent that there is a greater conspiracy at work — one where his life is targeted.

Anita Stansfield’s latest has the making of a memorable love story with a twisted mystery at the end. However, there are parts of the plot where the timeframe is governed by a pregnancy and at some points, the timing lags.

There isn’t any swearing or foul language. There are a few references to sex in the context of married couples and pregnancy, and it’s tastefully done. There is some generally described violence.

— Christine Rappleye

"THE SHERIFFS OF SAVAGE WELLS: A Proper Romance" by Sarah M. Eden, Shadow Mountain, $15.99, 317 pages (f)

Sheriff Cade O’Brien is a renowned lawman throughout the West, but he is tired of killing and craves a more peaceful life. He’s heard that Savage Wells, Wyoming, needs a sheriff, so he takes off to secure the job.

Paisley Bell thinks she’d be the perfect sheriff to ensure peace in her quirky town. But first, she’ll have to surmount the popular belief that law enforcement is a man’s job. As they vie for title of sheriff, all while bantering back and forth, Cade and Paisley become more than mere competitors.

Meanwhile, several nefarious individuals are bent on taking advantage of the quiet seclusion of Savage Wells. When Cade and Paisley uncover a lucrative plot, they use the idiosyncrasies of the townspeople to stop the lawlessness.

Author Sarah Eden’s delightful new novel has romance that doesn’t stray beyond kissing. There are a few Western-style shootouts, but nothing gory or overly descriptive. With clean language, this book is a great read for those who delight in laughing through guilt-free romance.

— Elizabeth Reid

A PLACE FOR MISS SNOW,” by Jennifer Moore, Covenant Communications, $14.99, 215 pages (f)

An impulsive decision puts Diana Snow’s life far from her position as a prim and proper chaperone and in the middle of feuding Greek families and an underground revolution against the ruling Turks in “A Place for Miss Snow.”

Alexandros “Alex” Metaxas, whose family members were victims of the Turks, is working to recruit and solidify support to eventually overthrow the empire’s rule. As he works to secretly meet with contacts, he’s followed by Diana and has to think fast to save both of them.

As Diana, who grew up in an orphanage, is assigned to help a large Greek family, including teaching English, she learns about love, loyalty, commitment and patience. Alex continues to spy for the underground revolution, but he and Diana find themselves fighting an attraction. And it’s those lessons and her quick thinking that unexpectedly changes the odds when an outside force threatens those she loves.

Utah author Jennifer Moore’s detailed descriptions of Greek life, scenery and culture gives “A Place for Miss Snow” depth and provides a unique twist on a Regency novel that’s away from England’s ballrooms.

There is no swearing. There are general descriptions and allusions to violence. The described relationships don’t go beyond kissing.

— Christine Rappleye

TO SUIT A SUITOR,” by Paula Kremser, Sweetwater Books, $8.99, 248 pages (f)

Julia North is feeling pressure from her widowed mother to get married in “To Suit a Suitor,” part of Cedar Fort's Pure Romance series. But every time Julia feels that she is getting close coming to an arrangement, the man always finds someone else to interest him. This is especially trying when another suitor loses interest at the ball where the engagement of her younger sister, Harriet, is announced.

When a cousin on her late father’s side of the family asks that Julia’s mother come be her companion for two months, Julia decides to go instead and finds that she is enjoying the break from London and gets along well with cousin Martha. Martha warns her against falling in love with Henry Chamberlain, who will inherit his family’s estate. However, his fiancée died in a carriage accident three years earlier and he isn’t sure when or if he will heal from it.

As Julia spurs his interest and tries to spurn his creative attempts to get them together, circumstances around them become increasingly complicated due to miscommunication and the arrival of Julia’s mother and sister along with Harry’s almost-brother-in-law.

It’s a delightful, clean love story about learning to follow one’s heart, despite others’ expectations.

There is no swearing or described violence, and sexual content is kept to flirting and kissing.

— Christine Rappleye

"THE EARL'S BETROTHAL," by Karen Tuft, Covenant Communications, $16.99, 264 pages (f)

“The Earl’s Betrothal” by Brigham Young University and University of Utah graduate Karen Tuft is a novel that every avid regency romance reader is looking for — steeped in the time period but chock full of heart-melting love scenes.

Anthony, or Lord Halford, has miraculously returned from the Napoleonic War in Spain after his family thought him dead. His older brother tragically died in a horse riding accident, and so Anthony is now the heir to the estate with intense pressure to marry and produce an heir.

Amelia Clarke, Anthony’s mother’s companion, is a penniless orphan and practically a spinster at 24.

The two are instantly drawn to each other, but when they are publicly caught in each other’s arms, Anthony is honorable enough to protect the reputation of Miss Clarke by declaring them engaged.

Now the two only need to decide if they actually love each other and aren’t just marrying to save face. There also happens to be a duke who is practically out to kill Miss Clarke as revenge for Lord Halford marrying her instead of the duke’s daughter.

There is no objectionable language, no sexual content beyond kissing and only minimally described violence.

— Michelle Garrett Bulsiewicz

WILLOWKEEP,” by Julie Daines, Covenant Communications, $15.99, 270 pages (f)

Charlotte Darby is barely hanging on to the tiny home in the rough seaport town of Hull for her and her younger sister, Susie, who has special needs, in the Regency era clean romance “Willowkeep.” Her late mother was cut off from her genteel family when she married a sailor. After the death of his wife and several children, he didn’t return from a voyage, leaving Charlotte and Susie alone.

When Charlotte inherits her late uncle’s estate, Willowkeep, she’s unprepared to navigate the social structure of the upper class and relies on the estate’s steward, Henry Morland, to help her. They become close, but he is well aware of his place and station in life.

Then there’s her uncle’s wife and her dashing son, Hurst Hardwick, from a previous relationship, whose sincerity is difficult to ascertain as he pursues Charlotte.

With various schemes in play and Charlotte’s rocky entry into society, she finds that some of her skills are suited to the situation at hand.

It’s easy to root for Charlotte and Henry as they navigate painful family decisions.

There is no swearing or sexual content beyond kissing. There is some minor violence, which is generally referred to.

— Christine Rappleye

FOR THIS WE ARE SOLDIERS: Tales of the Frontier Army,” by Carla Kelly, Sweetwater Books, $9.99, 240 pages (f)

From a soldier’s bride making a new home on the U.S. frontier at Fort Laramie, Dakota Territory, to Corporal of the Day Theodore Sheppard trying to solve who milked the surgeon’s cows and stole the milk at Fort Buford in Dakota Territory, the seven short stories in Carla Kelly’s compilation “For This We are Soliders: Tales of the Frontier Army” share a slice of life at the military outposts.

One story is of a soldier reminiscing and wondering about the fate of a single washerwoman with children in “Mary Murphy.” In “Break a Leg,” the longest story in the collection, and “A Leader of his Troops,” a surgeon and a sergeant, respectively, must creatively navigate both the army’s protocol and matters of the heart to be with the women they care for.

In “A Season for Heroes,” the grown daughter of a captain remembers Ezra Freeman and what he meant for her family while they were stationed in Tucson, Arizona.

Kelly weaves vivid characters and settings as she shares stories about life, at times behind the scenes, at these frontier military bases.

There is no swearing, and sexual content is kept to flirting and kissing. Any violence happens off-scene and is generally described.

— Christine Rappleye