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Archive for the ‘Historical Romance’ Category

Mistletoe and the Major

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1815)

Cover Blurb:

 Previously published in the anthology Under the Kissing Bough. 

The Major is home from the wars at last… 

Edmund Sherritt, Major Lord Canforth, has devoted eight tumultuous years to fighting Napoleon. Finally, Europe is at peace, and he can retire to his estates and the lovely wife he hasn’t seen since their brief, unhappy honeymoon. The innocent girl he loved from the first moment he saw her, but who shied away from him on their wedding night.

The beautiful woman who greets him at Otway Hall on Christmas Eve is no longer the sweet ingénue he remembers. This new and exciting version of his beloved countess is strong, outspoken, and independent, and she’s willing to stand up for what she wants. The question is—does she want the husband who returns to her arms more as a stranger than a spouse?

Now the real battle begins. 

Felicity, Lady Canforth, has had eight long years to regret that she sent her husband from a cold marriage bed to face brutal combat, danger and hardship. The only child of elderly parents, Felicity came to marriage innocent and ignorant, and unable to conceal her shock at the sensual power of the earl’s caresses. Before she found the nerve to offer Canforth a more generous welcome, he was called away to war. The Major left behind a countess who was a bride, not a wife; a woman unsure of her husband’s feelings, and too timid to confess how fervently she desires the man she wed.

Fate has granted an older, wiser Felicity a second chance to win her husband’s heart. Now nothing will stop her from claiming victory over the famous war hero. This Christmas, she’ll deploy every ounce of courage, purpose and passion to seize the life and love she’s longed for, ever since Canforth left to serve his country. Whatever it costs, whatever it takes, she’ll lure the dashing Major back into her bed, where she means to show him he’s the only man she wants as her lover—and her love.

After years of yearning and separation, will a Christmas miracle heal the wounds of the past and offer the earl and his bride a future bright with love? 

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I started my Christmas reading early this year with a lovely, heart-warming second-chance short story from Anna Campbell.

It was love at first sight for Edmund and Felicity (Flick), but they had only been married for two weeks when Edmund received orders to join his regiment. In their short, awkward time together, they had never felt at ease enough with each other to openly discuss their true feelings and were still little more than strangers when Edmund left. After eight long years, Edmund is finally able to return home and is determined to build a real marriage.

Even within the constraints of a short story, Ms. Campbell can still pack a real emotional punch. She made me feel Edmund and Flick’s initial feelings of uncertainty, regret and fear after their long separation. The years running the estate have given Flick a degree of confidence lacking in her younger self. The only child of elderly parents, she was shy and inexperienced when she married and regrets not having been braver and more responsive to her husband’s lovemaking. I like how she is determined to seize this second chance.

Edmund has his own fears. War has changed him, and he is uncertain of the welcome he will receive from Flick, but she sees that he is still the same kind, considerate man she remembers. I like the scene involving the ‘burnt letters’, when Flick’s misunderstanding of the situation leads them to finally talk openly about their feelings for each other and confess their love.

MY VERDICT: A delightful start to my Christmas reading.


REVIEW RATING: 4/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

**I received a complimentary copy from the author for the purposes of an honest review. **

 

 

 

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Satyr's Son

(Roxton Family Saga, #5)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian, 1786)

Cover Blurb:

Roxton Family Saga Book 5: Henri-Antoine and Lisa’s Happily Ever After 

London, 1786. Lord Henri-Antoine has returned from the Grand Tour to a life of privilege and excess. A vast inheritance allows him every indulgence, free from responsibility. Yet, Henri-Antoine maintains a well-ordered existence, going to great lengths to conceal an affliction few understand, and many fear.

Miss Lisa Crisp is a penniless orphan who relies on the charity of relatives to keep her from the poorhouse. Intelligent and unflappable, Lisa will not allow poverty to define her. She leads a useful life working among the sick poor.

Under startling circumstances, Henri-Antoine and Lisa meet. There is instant attraction. When they find themselves attending the same wedding in the country, Henri-Antoine offers Lisa a scandalous proposition, one she should refuse but yearns to accept. Following her heart could ruin them both.

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This is final book in Ms Brant’s outstanding Roxton Family Saga and, although all the other books in the series are fabulous, there is just something special about this one that captured my heart and I totally fell in love with Henri-Antoine and Lisa’s story.

Lord Henri-Antoine (Harry) Hesham is the second son of the late Renard, fifth Duke of Roxton, and his much younger, beloved wife Antonia. Handsome, arrogantly self-assured and rich, Harry can have any woman he fancies, and his licentious behaviour with actresses and other men’s mistresses suggest that he is following in the footsteps of his late father whose scandalous exploits, before marrying Antonia, were legendary. However, Harry has suffered from the ‘falling sickness’ (epilepsy) since birth, something which is a closely guarded secret known only to his immediate family and his best friend Sir John (Jack) Cavendish. At the age of 25, Harry still suffers seizures, although they are less frequent, and he has tried to convince his family that he is cured. To maintain this deception, he employs a group of loyal and trusted servants – “the lads” – to look after him in the event of a seizure and ensure that he is safe and well away from public view. Although Harry professes not to be the marrying kind, Jack genuinely believes that he will one day find his soul mate.

“I believe there is someone out there for you, and that she will be the great love of your life because that is what you need, Harry. And it is what you deserve. And because you are a romantic I know that when you fall in love you’ll well and truly fall, as if off a cliff. And when that happens, don’t fight it; embrace it.”

Since being orphaned at the age of nine, Lisa Crisp has lived with Dr Warner, an eminent physician, and his wife, Minette, Lisa’s cousin, but is largely ignored.

To the Warners, Lisa was simply there, like a piece of furniture, or a scullery maid, and thus rarely thought of at all.

Intelligent and capable, Lisa assists in Dr Warner’s dispensary, which provides services for the sickly poor, giving aid and comfort to the patients and writing letters for those who can read but not write. She has earned a reputation for being trustworthy and calm in a crisis. Lisa’s ability to remain cool in an emergency plays an important part in her unconventional, first meeting with Harry. Lisa knows from experience that he is having a seizure and, although Harry is a total stranger, she cares for him ensuring that no-one sees him in such a vulnerable state until help arrives in the form of “the lads”.

Having heard what happened from Jack, Harry is intrigued by the young woman who remained so calm and capable and totally unfazed by his condition and wants to see her himself. Lisa is surprised when he arrives at Dr Warner’s to thank her in person and a definite spark of mutual attraction flares between them. When Harry returns to present Lisa with a beautiful writing box as a ‘token’ of his gratitude for all she did for him, the discovery that they are both attending a friend’s wedding has them both wondering if they might be attending the same wedding.  In fact, Lisa’s aunt had been chief lady in waiting to Harry’s mother, Antonia, who had sponsored Lisa ‘s attendance at Blacklands, an exclusive boarding school. Whilst there, Lisa developed a close friendship with Miss Theodora Charlotte (Teddy) Cavendish but, when Lisa was expelled from school for scandalous behaviour, the two girls lost touch with each other. Lisa is therefore surprised but thrilled to receive an invitation to Teddy’s wedding to Sir John Cavendish.

Their romance blossoms against the background of Teddy and Jack’s wedding celebrations, but can a duke’s son and a penniless orphan, with ink-stained fingers, have a fairy tale happy ending?

I think Harry is the most complex of all the heroes in this series. At face value, it would be easy to dislike him because, at times, his behaviour is reprehensible, but dig deeper and beneath that arrogant, overbearing veneer, there is a vulnerable man beset by fears and insecurities. In the poignant scene where he talks to Lisa about his father, there is a sense of the deep loving bond between father and son and how devastated the twelve-year-old Harry felt when he died. He has never fully recovered from that loss and, when he thinks that he is losing Lisa, it is anger, frustration and fear that makes him lash out and say cruel and hurtful things to the two people he loves the most. It also makes him feel insecure about himself.

…if he’d not had position and wealth, what was he, and how wanted would he be?

Harry has the added burden that he knows the falling sickness carries a great social stigma, not only for the sufferers but their families too, and has always been determined that his family would not be subjected to scandal and ridicule.

Like Lisa, I discovered that Harry is kind, generous, caring and loving. With the large inheritance he received from his father, he set up the Fournier Foundation to fund dispensaries providing free medical help for the poor, medical research and scholarships for students from poor backgrounds who showed great potential. I like how loyal and generous he is to Jack and truly wants to see him happy.

Lisa’s calmness and capability are definite advantages when dealing with Harry and I like her confidence and directness which he finds so disconcerting. She actually has the nerve to rebuke him at one point:

She had rebuked him, then dismissed him as a lackey. A girl in a plain gown and scuffed shoes, whose fingers were ink stained, thenails short, the skin rough from work, and whose family were possibly one step up from the gutter, had dared to reproach him, the son of a duke, the brother of the most powerful duke in the kingdom.

and later shocks him by kissing him first!

She also sees the real man behind the arrogant mask and comes to understand him in a way that others have failed to, and I like how she realises the significance of his walking stick. I can understand her willingness to become his mistress because she loves him deeply and if this is the only way she can be with him, then so be it. I also admire her unselfish reasons for not accepting Harry’s proposal of marriage. She does not want to bring scandal to his family or drive a wedge between him and his brother, Julian.

As with all Ms. Brant’s books, the romance is beautifully written; sweet, tender, romantic and sensual, without being overtly explicit. I particularly love the scene in the Neptune’s Grotto where Harry and Lisa finally consummate their love which reflects all these qualities. Although he would never admit it in a hundred years, Harry is a romantic at heart and I love the notes he leaves in the secret compartments of Lisa’s writing box.

I loved Teddy in Proud Mary and was hoping she would get her Happy Ever After with Jack. They are a delightful couple and Jack’s calm affability is the perfect foil for Teddy’s exuberant nature.

The rest of the extended Roxton family play an important role in the story especially.

  • Antonia, the matriarch of the family, always wise and loving, but still able to reduce her 40 year-old-son to a whining four-year-old!
  • the female members of the family who show genuine warmth and kindness to Lisa, something that had been sadly lacking in her life.
  • Antonia’s husband Jonathon who is always a tower of strength and there when Lisa needs him the most and offering some sound advice.
  • Elsie, Antonia and Jonathan’s adorable daughter, who strikes up a friendship with Lisa and whose interactions with her brother Harry, reveal how much he loves his little sister.

I admire Michel Gillet, Harry’s major domo, for realising that Lisa has a rare inner beauty and is willing to risk the formidable Duke of Roxton’s wrath by telling him so. I also like Dr Warner who shows how much he cares for Lisa and appreciates all the work she has done for him.

How I Imagine Harry

Satyr's Son - Harry

How I Imagine Lisa

Satyr's Son - Lisa

I am sad to say goodbye to all these wonderful characters whose stories I have loved so much but I hope that perhaps, one day, Ms. Brant might decide to revisit them.

MY VERDICT: A wonderful ending to this superb series. HIGHLY RECOMMMENDED.


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

 

Roxton Family Saga (click on the book covers for more details):

 Noble Satyr Midnight Marriage Autumn Duchess Dair Devil Proud Mary Satyr's Son

**I received a complimentary copy from the author for the purposes of an honest review. **

 

 

 

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Angel Comes to Devil's Keep

(Twins’ Trilogy, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1819)

Cover Blurb:

Huntington McLaughlin, the Marquess of Malvern, wakes in a farmhouse, after a head injury, being tended by an ethereal “angel,” who claims to be his wife. However, reality is often deceptive, and Angelica Lovelace is far from innocent in Hunt’s difficulties. Yet, there is something about the woman that calls to him as no other ever has. When she attends his mother’s annual summer house party, their lives are intertwined in a series of mistaken identities, assaults, kidnappings, overlapping relations, and murders, which will either bring them together forever or tear them irretrievably apart. As Hunt attempts to right his world from problems caused by the head injury that has robbed him of parts of his memory, his best friend, the Earl of Remmington, makes it clear that he intends to claim Angelica as his wife. Hunt must decide whether to permit her to align herself with the earldom or claim the only woman who stirs his heart—and if he does the latter, can he still serve the dukedom with a hoydenish American heiress at his side?

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I have regularly followed her blog with its fascinating and informative posts but ANGEL COMES TO THE DEVIL’S KEEP is the first book I have read by Regina Jeffers and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I like Hunt for wanting to do more than just being the heir apparent to the Duke of Devilfoard. He takes real pride in the secretive work he does for the Home Office which gives him an additional purpose in life and an element of independence too.

It was not much, this bit of public duty he performed, but Hunt took a certain pride in doing more than being the Duke of Devilfoard’s heir apparent–more than being the Devil’s cub.

His father is pushing him to marry Lord Sandahl’s daughter, Lady Mathild, but while fully aware of his responsibilities to the dukedom, Hunt refuses to marry some green girl straight from the schoolroom; he wants a woman who will love him wholeheartedly and share his passion for life, learning and adventure.

I like Angel who is intelligent, independent, outspoken and with a real zest for life – a perfect match for Hunt. She doesn’t suffer fools lightly, as gentlemen of the ton, intent on pursuing her for her beauty and large dowry alone, soon discover.  Despite her distaste for ‘a bland lifestyle wrapped in formality’, her determination to succeed in society for her father’s sake shows her love and concern for him.

The image of her father’s worried brow and the knowledge of his declining health drove her response. She must succeed in London’s Society for her father to know peace. 

I was rather cautious about the amnesia plot line, but Ms. Jeffers uses it effectively. Hunt’s memory loss and Angel’s ignorance of his true identity allows their attraction to flourish, unfettered by any preconceptions or prejudices, as they spend time with the Wendts while Hunt recovers. It also reveals Angel’s caring and compassionate nature. She risks her own life to rescue a stranger and refuses to desert him, and believing him to be either a gentleman farmer or a man of business, she even considers asking her father to offer him a position.

When Hunt’s brother, Harry, and his friend, Lord Remmington, find him and he discovers his real identity, it’s natural that he feels angry, hurt and disappointed, believing that the woman who had stolen his heart connived to take advantage of  him. I was pleased that Ms. Jeffers did not prolong this misunderstanding and Harry and Lord Remmington soon convince Hunt that he is wrong about Angel and she only had his interests at heart.

Despite Hunt’s marriage proposal, Angel is practical enough to know that she could never be the sort of duchess his position requires. My heart ached for them when they are forced to accept that they can never be together.

He wanted to be this woman’s everything–to turn the sun back four and twenty hours and reclaim the anticipation of knowing her intimately. To be her first. Her last. It was a lovely fantasy, one upon which reality would too soon intrude.

“There will be more than enough time to relive each moment of the past few days. A whole lifetime to know your ideal match does exist. He will simply belong to another.”

There are many trials and tribulations before their Happy Ever After seems assured, including poisoning, murder, intrigue, long-hidden family secrets and a rival for Angel’s affections in the form of Hunt’s best friend, Lord Remmington. I like how it is Hunt’s father who gives him a ‘good kick up the backside’, figuratively speaking.

I thought Ms. Jeffers portrayed Hunt’s reactions to his amnesia in a realistic way. I sensed his fears and uncertainties and how vulnerable he feels.

…he had yet to recognize one servant or family portrait or even the house’s furnishings. He remained a first time guest in his childhood home. The tightness in his chest had nothing to do with his injury and everything to do with his vulnerability.

I also liked how she doesn’t have Hunt miraculously regaining his complete memory, but certain things trigger a particular memory.

The plotline called for a large number of secondary characters and, at times, I found it difficult to keep a track of everyone and the various family relationships. I was intrigued by Lord Remmington whose story is told in book 2, The Earl Claims His Comfort. I liked Angel’s father, a congenial man, but not when it comes to protecting his family.

Ms. Jeffers’s tightly woven mystery certainly kept me guessing, with plenty of red herrings, some unexpected twists and turns and the revelation of long-hidden family secrets. The unmasking of the true villain certainly came as a big surprise.

MY VERDICT: An extremely enjoyable story with appealing characters, suspense, intrigue and a heart-warming romance.


REVIEW RATING: 4/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Twins’ Trilogy so far (click on the book cover for more details):

Angel Comes to the Devil's Keep by Regina Jeffers The Earl Claims His Comfort by Regina Jeffers

 

**I received a complimentary copy from the author for the purposes of an honest review. **

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Duke of Desire

(Maiden Lane, #12)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian, 1742)

Cover Blurb:

A LADY OF LIGHT

Refined, kind, and intelligent, Lady Iris Jordan finds herself the unlikely target of a diabolical kidnapping. Her captors are the notoriously evil Lords of Chaos. When one of the masked-and nude! Lords spirits her away to his carriage, she shoots him . . . only to find she may have been a trifle hasty.

A DUKE IN DEEPEST DARKNESS

Cynical, scarred, and brooding, Raphael de Chartres, the Duke of Dyemore, has made it his personal mission to infiltrate the Lords of Chaos and destroy them. Rescuing Lady Jordan was never in his plans. But now with the Lords out to kill them both, he has but one choice: marry the lady in order to keep her safe.

CAUGHT IN A WEB OF DANGER . . . AND DESIRE

Much to Raphael’s irritation, Iris insists on being the sort of duchess who involves herself in his life-and bed. Soon he’s drawn both to her quick wit and her fiery passion. But when Iris discovers that Raphael’s past may be even more dangerous than the present, she falters. Is their love strong enough to withstand not only the Lords of Chaos but also Raphael’s own demons?

PUBLICATION DATE: 17th October 2017

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This is the final full-length book in Elizabeth Hoyt’s fabulous Maiden Lane series but there are two novellas to come – ONCE UPON A MAIDEN LANE (14th November) and ONCE UPON A CHRISTMAS EVE (5th December).

From the moment he made his first appearance in Duke of Pleasure, I was intrigued by the scarred Raphael de Chartres, Duke of Dyemore, who recently returned to England to claim the dukedom, following the death of his estranged father, former leader of the evil Lords of Chaos, Mystery surrounds Raphael’s whereabouts during his years of absence and rumours abound concerning how he acquired the scar on his face. It quickly becomes clear that he is driven by a relentless determination to destroy the Lords of Chaos.

Raphael was obsessed with the Lords. He let nothing stand in the way of his revenge.

Lady Iris Jordan has been a widow for five years and although her late husband, twenty years her senior, had been a good and kind man, their three-year marriage had been a miserable one for her.

He’d never loved her, never cherished her, and never spoken to her as an equal.

She has lived with her older brother and his wife since her husband’s death but longs to be part of a family with children of her own. She has always hoped to remarry for love but is willing to settle for affection provided the gentleman enjoys the same things she does.

Throughout this series, I have admired Ms. Hoyt’s ability to pair the most improbable heroes and heroines and create the perfect couples, as she does here. Iris’s warmth, intelligence, patience, caring and quiet strength are the perfect foil for the dark, autocratic, unsmiling, stubborn Raphael.

I think Raphael is the most tormented and complex of all the heroes in this series. It is not only revenge that drives his obession to destroy the Lords of Chaos but also a deep sense of guilt. In all the years since he left England, he never tried to stop his father or eradicate the society, even knowing the evil they perpetrated. Raphael fears that, carrying his father’s blood in his veins, he will one day become a monster just like him and has vowed that the bloodline will end with him, but Iris will test this resolve. He has never met anyone as pure as Iris before and needs her to bring light into his dark world of despair, but is determined to distance himself from her rather than see Iris tainted in any way.

He’d vowed that he wouldn’t corrupt her, and he’d keep that vow no matter what it cost him.

I love how Iris refuses to allow Raphael to dictate the terms of their marriage and is resolved to try to make it a real marriage, with or without sex. Realising that he keeps all his thoughts and emotions carefully hidden, she is determined to break through his ‘frozen exterior’ and discover the real man beneath. I love how she refuses to give up on him no matter what he says or does.

When Raphael tells Iris of the traumatic events that happened all those years ago when he was twelve years old, it was so heart-wrenching knowing what he had endured and how it had left him so emotionally damaged. When Raphael fears that Iris will be repulsed by him, I love how she believes in him and convinces him that he could never be like his father.

“You are not a demon or a beast. You are my beloved husband. I know you, and you are not your father. You are good and kind and valiant. You are stubborn and intelligent and sometimes very witty. You will never hurt a child of ours, I promise.

I felt that the romance was somewhat overshadowed by the prominence of the darker elements in the book and found it difficult to feel the all-important emotional connection between Iris and Raphael. The love scenes tended to be raw and earthy and perhaps I was looking for something with a little more warmth and tenderness, although the lovely Epilogue did go a long way to appeasing me.

I liked Raphael’s brave and loyal Corsican servants who were willing to defend Iris with their lives. I also adored his Aunt Donna Pieri who had rescued Raphael from his father’s clutches and obviously loved her nephew. With various twists and turns, Ms. Hoyt kept me guessing as to the identity of Dionysus, the leader of the Lords of Chaos, and the final reveal definitely came as a surprise. 

MY VERDICT: DUKE OF DESIRE is a worthy addition to the superb Maiden Lane series. This series is a MUST read for anyone who loves unforgettable characters, compelling plots and sensual romances.


REVIEW RATING: 4/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

 

Maiden Lane series (click on the book cover for more details):

Wicked Intentions (Maiden Lane, #1) by Elizabeth Hoyt Notorious Pleasures (Maiden Lane, #2) by Elizabeth Hoyt Scandalous Desires (Maiden Lane, #3) by Elizabeth Hoyt Thief of Shadows (Maiden Lane, #4) by Elizabeth Hoyt Lord of Darkness (Maiden Lane, #5) by Elizabeth Hoyt Duke of Midnight (Maiden Lane, #6) by Elizabeth Hoyt Darling Beast (Maiden Lane, #7) by Elizabeth Hoyt Dearest Rogue (Maiden Lane, #8) by Elizabeth Hoyt Sweetest Scoundrel (Maiden Lane, #9) by Elizabeth HoytDuke of Sin (Maiden Lane, #10) by Elizabeth Hoyt Once Upon a Moonlit Night (Maiden Lane, #10.5) by Elizabeth Hoyt Duke of Pleasure (Maiden Lane, #11) by Elizabeth Hoyt Duke of Desire (Maiden Lane, #12) by Elizabeth Hoyt Once Upon a Maiden Lane (Maiden Lane, #12.5) by Elizabeth Hoyt Once Upon a Christmas Eve (Maiden Lane, #12.6) by Elizabeth Hoyt

 

 

**I received a complimentarycopy of this book from Grand Central Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. **

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Not Quite a Husband 2

(The Marsdens, #2)

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian – North-West Frontier of India and England 1897)

Cover Blurb:

Their marriage lasted only slightly longer than the honeymoon—to no one’s surprise, not even Bryony Asquith’s. A man as talented, handsome, and sought after by society as Leo Marsden couldn’t possibly want to spend his entire life with a woman who rebelled against propriety by becoming a doctor. Why, then, three years after their annulment and half a world away, does he track her down at her clinic in the remotest corner of India?

Leo has no reason to think Bryony could ever forgive him for the way he treated her, but he won’t rest until he’s delivered an urgent message from her sister—and fulfilled his duty by escorting her safely back to England. But as they risk their lives for each other on the journey home, will the biggest danger be the treacherous war around them—or their rekindling passion?

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After reading NOT QUITE A HUSBAND, I wasn’t surprised that it won the RITA Award for Best Historical Romance in 2010.  I LOVED it and was totally swept away by this intensely emotional, second-chance love story.

I understood the importance of the Prologue in revealing Bryony as a woman who feels deeply, and not the cold, unfeeling and often unlikable person she appears to be in the story. Without this glimpse of Bryony’s vulnerability, it would have been hard for me to empathise with her. I also understood how Bryony’s childhood experiences shaped the person she became; not quite two when her mother died, she knew nothing but neglect from her absentee father and desperate loneliness. That all changed with the arrival of her stepmother, Toddy, who became her friend and companion and…

…her fairy godmother who’d dispelled loneliness and breathed magic into her life.

I could only imagine how devastated Bryony was when her beloved Toddy died in childbirth but, later in the story, Toddy’s daughter, Callista, provides some idea of how it affected Bryony.

“All your emotions were so intense—your anger like daggers, your unhappiness a poisoned well. Even your love had such sharp corners and dark alleys.

Eventually, Bryony left home to focus on becoming a doctor with a cool, impersonal dedication and, by the age of 28, she has had an illustrious career, although most of society disapprove of her occupation considering it, or any employment, as inappropriate for a gentleman’s daughter.

Leo is a handsome, charming, witty and extremely popular – a veritable Adonis. He is also greatly admired as a mathematical genius, a budding playwright and an explorer. From the first moment Bryony meets Leo, she falls hopelessly in love with him and can’t believe that such a gorgeous man could be interested in a spinster like herself. What she doesn’t realise is that Leo, who lived on the neighbouring estate, has been in love with her since he was a boy of eleven, 4 years her junior, but she had never even noticed him. When she proposes to Leo, it is the happiest moment of his life but, after the marriage, it is obvious that something is terribly wrong.  Bryony becomes cold, frigid and indifferent to Leo, eventually locking him out of her bedroom. Leo has no idea what the problem is and does everything he can to please Bryony but to no avail, and when Bryony asks for an annulment, Leo agrees.

In the intervening 3 years, after working in various parts of the world, Bryony is running a clinic in the North-West Frontier region of India. The last person she expects to see in this remote part of the world is Leo. Callista has sent him to escort her back home because her father is ill. During the arduous and dangerous journey, Ms. Thomas gradually reveals their past in flashbacks woven into the fabric of story, and these finally shed light on the reason for Bryony’s dramatic change of attitude towards Leo. I felt heartbroken for Bryony discovering that the man she idolized and loved was ultimately flawed. Forgiveness is not in her nature. Toddy had become the yardstick by which she measured everyone and Bryony couldn’t accept anyone who was less than perfect.

I felt Leo’s shame and self-loathing when he finally discovers the real reason for the deterioration of their marriage; knowing that his stupid youthful decision had shattered everything between them and caused Bryony such pain and heartache. But Leo more than redeemed himself in my eyes, because of his continuing love for and his to devotion to Bryony; following her around the world to ensure that she had someone close by if she ever needed help.

Each love scene is beautifully crafted and perfectly reflects Bryony and Leo’s emotional state and I especially love the ‘tub’ scene which is deliciously erotic.

It is obvious that these two still love each other but it is only when they are facing possible death that they are finally able to talk openly and honestly for the first time and realise that they both need to face their fears head on and put their trust in each other.

 She rested her head against the bedpost and gazed at him. “Your trust gives me courage.”     He understood her perfectly. “And your courage gives me faith.”
   She smiled a little. “Do you trust me?”
“Yes,” he answered without any hesitation.
“Then trust me when I say that we will be all right.”
He trusted her. And he knew then that they would be all right, the two of them. Together.

The North-West Frontier of British India provides an unusual setting for the story, and I feel it adds an additional and fascinating layer to the story.  The difficult and dangerous journey seems almost to mirror Bryony and Leo’s turbulent relationship.

Having read the fascinating story behind the book, which Ms. Thomas features on her website, I appreciated her extensive research into the various regions traversed during their journey, the costumes, the culture, the politics and the various factions competing for control in the region. I would recommend visiting Ms. Thomas’s website (link below) before starting the book, because there are various photos including ones of the places mentioned on the journey together with a map.

http://sherrythomas.com/not-quite-a-husband.php

I absolutely love Ms. Thomas’s beautiful, emotive and evocative prose and here are just a few of my favourite quotes.

 To look upon her and know that he’d lost her through his own misdeed—love had become a thing of nails and spikes, every breath a re-impaling, every pulse a bright, sharp pain.
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She glowed. There was no other word for it, as if the walls around her heart had at last crumpled enough to reveal her hidden capacity for joy, for life. And what a radiant thing it was.
♥♥♥ 

“You were the moon of my existence; your moods dictated the tides of my heart.”
 ♥♥♥ 

She wanted them to grow old together, to gaze into each other’s clouded eyes and peck each other on the cheeks with lips sunken over toothless gums.
♥♥♥

The Epilogue provides one on those lovely moments when I knew that Bryony and Leo are assured of a well-deserved Happy Ever After.

On Sunday afternoons, rain or shine, Professor and Mrs. Marsden take a walk along The Backs, and treasure growing old together.

MY VERDICT: Complex, flawed characters, emotional intensity, powerful sexual chemistry and a fascinating historical backdrop all combine to make this an outstanding second chance love story. Highly recommended.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT


The Marsdens
series (click on the book cover for more details):

Delicious by Sherry Thomas Not Quite a Husband by Sherry Thomas

 

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The Duchess Deal

(Girl Meets Duke, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

When girl meets Duke, their marriage breaks all the rules… 

Since his return from war, the Duke of Ashbury’s to-do list has been short and anything but sweet: brooding, glowering, menacing London ne’er-do-wells by night. Now there’s a new item on the list. He needs an heir—which means he needs a wife. When Emma Gladstone, a vicar’s daughter turned seamstress, appears in his library wearing a wedding gown, he decides on the spot that she’ll do.

His terms are simple:
– They will be husband and wife by night only.
– No lights, no kissing.
– No questions about his battle scars.
– Last, and most importantly… Once she’s pregnant with his heir, they need never share a bed again.

But Emma is no pushover. She has a few rules of her own:
– They will have dinner together every evening.
– With conversation.
– And unlimited teasing.
– Last, and most importantly… Once she’s seen the man beneath the scars, he can’t stop her from falling in love…

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Whenever I pick up a Tessa Dare book, I know that I’m going to be enchanted by a story rich in warmth, emotion and humour; one that is romantic, sexy and full of endearing characters. THE DUCHESS DEAL, the first book in her new Girl Meets Duke series, certainly didn’t disappoint

Ash is an ill-tempered, brooding, cynical man, convinced that no woman could ever want an embittered, scarred wretch like him; something he has every reason to believe to be true, as I discovered later in the story. However, beneath his gruff exterior lies an honourable and caring man which is evident in his genuine concern for those people who work on his estate and in his need to protect and care for Emma. I love the scene where Ash puts the fear of God into Emma’s father and I totally agree with Ash’s opinion of the sanctimonious vicar – “You crusty botch of nature. You poisonous bunch-backed toad.”

So often the hero’s father is cruel or abusive and it was a refreshing to know that Ash’s father was such wise and loving father whom Ash wanted to emulate. My heart ached for Ash when he says he would not want to see his own son or want his son to see him because he fears he could never be like his own father.

Ash’s son could never admire him the way Ash had worshipped his own father. His father had been unfailingly wise, good-natured and patient. Not ill-tempered and bitter, as Ash had become.

I adore Emma for her courage and resilience. Despite being thrown out by her father for a youthful discretion, with nothing but the clothes she stood up in, she walked all the way to London in the height of winter and succeeded in building a life for herself as a seamstress to society ladies. I also admire her genuine compassion for and desire to help her friend, Davina Palmer, because she doesn’t want another young woman to face the sort of rejection she had.

Emma hadn’t landed in Miss Palmer’s delicate situation, but she, too, had been punished for the simple crime of following her heart.  The memories still pained her – and the thought of watching the same cruel fate befall another young woman? It made her quake with anger at the injustice of it all.

Emma and Ash have such wonderful chemistry and their romance is funny, poignant, romantic and sexy. I love how Emma more than holds her own against Ash and even challenges his ‘house ’ rules with ones of her own. The banter between them sparkles and I love how Emma refuses to call him Ashbury or Duke and keeps coming up with pet names which Ash hates.

“If I choose to make a darling of you, there is nothing you can do about it.”
   “Of course, there’s something I can do about it. I can have you sent to an institution for the feebleminded and insane.”
She shrugged. “If you say so, cherub.”

Ash’s habit of cursing in Shakespearean quotes was priceless and this is my favourite, aimed at the ‘hellion cat’.

“Do you hear me? Get out. ‘Thou art a boil, a plague-sore, an embossed carbuncle.’ King Lear, Act Two.”

I love how Emma gradually captures Ash’s heart with her warmth, wit and passion. She sees beyond his scars to the person he truly is behind the gruff exterior – someone funny, patient and passionate. In Emma, Ash sees a woman who doesn’t shy away from his scars; a woman who ‘touched him, kissed him, made him feel human and wanted and whole’.

I love the ballroom scene towards the end of the book where Ash makes such a memorable entrance with the words:

 “Yes, I know,” he said impatiently, turning the scarred side of the face to the room. “Faulty rocket at Waterloo. You have precisely three seconds to move past it. One. Two. Right. Now where is my wife?”

Ash’s long-suffering servants are hilarious with their mad-cap plots to throw Emma and Ash together in the hope that they will fall in love.

There is a colourful cast of secondary characters including…

  • Penelope, Nicola and Alexandra, the unusual trio of ladies who befriend Emma and Ash, and are, I’m sure, future heroines of this series.
  • Khan, Ash’s devoted butler, who isn’t afraid to give him a good rollicking…
    “You’re going to lose her. And when you do, you are losing me too. I’ve served your family for thirty years. I’m due a pension, and I’m not enabling this self-pitying codswallop any further. I wish you all happiness living alone and growing old with your twenty cats.”
  • Trevor, the young lad whom Ash meets on his nocturnal sorties around London
  • Last, but not least, Emma’s cat, Breeches

The charming Epilogue is just a delicious topping on this delightful confection.

VERDICT: Tessa Dare continues to captivate me with her heart-warming stories, endearing characters and sparkling humour and I’m looking forward to reading the other books in this series. Highly recommended.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

 

Girl Meets Duke series so far (click on the book covers for more details):

The Duchess Deal (Girl Meets Duke, #1) by Tessa Dare

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More Than a Mistress

(Mistress Trilogy, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

An arrogant duke does the unthinkable-he falls in love with his mistress.

She raced onto the green, desperate to stop a duel. In the melee, Jocelyn Dudley, Duke of Tresham, was shot. To his astonishment, Tresham found himself hiring the servant as his nurse. Jane Ingleby was far too bold for her own good. Her blue eyes were the sort a man could drown in-were it not for her impudence. She questioned his every move, breached his secrets, touched his soul. When he offered to set her up in his London town house, love was the last thing on his mind….

Jane tried to pretend it was strictly business, an arrangement she was forced to accept in order to conceal a dangerous secret. Surely there was nothing more perilous than being the lover of such a man. Yet as she got past his devilish facade and saw the noble heart within, she knew the greatest jeopardy of all, a passion that drove her to risk everything on one perfect month with the improper gentleman who thought love was for fools.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

I loved this book! Mary Balogh captivated me from the start with this unusual, intelligently written, emotional and sensual love story. 

When we first meet Jocelyn, he is arrogant, cynical, bad-tempered and domineering and revels in his rakish reputation even when it is undeserved. He treats lesser individuals with disdain including his long-suffering servants.

Joselyn jerked impatiently on the bell rope beside his bed and vented his irritability on his vale, who had not brought his shaving water up.
  ‘I thought you would wish to rest this morning, your grace, ‘he said.
‘You thought! Do I pay you to think, Barnard?’
‘No, your grace,’ his man replied with long-suffering meekness.

Despite the desperate situation she finds herself in, Jane is a strong-willed, clever and independent woman who isn’t afraid to speak her mind, their verbal sparring providing some delightful dialogue. I love how Jane refuses to be intimidated by Joselyn, even at his most toplofty, and it brought a smile to my face when Jocelyn’s brother, Ferdinand, receives a scolding from Jane regarding the duel, prompting the following observation from Jocelyn…

‘She comes equipped with a mind, you see, Ferdinand,’ Jocelyn explained with studied boredom, ‘with a double-edged tongue attached.’

I love how Ms. Balogh develops the relationship between Jocelyn and Jane and I could feel their attraction and the growing sexual tension as they spend time together during Jocelyn’s convalescence. When Jane discovers Jocelyn playing the piano one night, she sees a sensitive and artistic side he has kept hidden from the world. I felt a subtle change in their relationship when Jocelyn confides in Jane that his father had considered his artistic talent effeminate and had been determined to beat it out of him, and Jocelyn discovers that Jane has a beautiful singing voice. It creates an intimate moment between them leading to their first kiss.

As the end of Jocelyn’s convalescence draws near, Jane does not want to leave any more than Jocelyn wants her to leave. Jocelyn’s solution is to ask her to be his mistress in his typical autocratic way.

‘I am offering you a proposition, a business one, if you wish. You need a home and a source of income beyond what you already have. You need some security and someone to take your mind off your loan state, I daresay. You are a woman with sexual needs, after all, and you are sexually drawn to me. And I need a mistress…’

I like how Jane still gets the last word by stipulating that there would be a contract drawn up between them.

I love how Jane describes the house that Jocelyn provides for her as sleaze and fluff and sets about making the house a home.  The time they spend in Jane’s ‘den’ is my favourite part of the book. Jocelyn sees the den as a haven where they can be themselves; where he can do all those things that he longed to do as a boy. I loved the charming picture Ms. Balogh creates of Jane embroidering and Jocelyn playing the piano and painting in companionable silence. Jocelyn confides his innermost secrets to Jane and I could understand how they had shaped him into the man he became and tainted his life.  Jane sees behind the mask to a vulnerable man in need of friendship, acceptance and love.

I could feel how deeply in love they were but Jane still harbours a secret but, before she can tell Jocelyn the truth, he discovers her real identity. I could understand his anger and sense of betrayal; he had trusted her enough to confide his innermost most self and she had shared nothing of herself but most of all…

She had taken everything from him, even the love of which he had though himself no longer capable.
He hated her for fooling him into hoping that after all life was worth living.

My one criticism is that I found the ending rather confusing, as though something was missing. When I discovered that the editor had suggested that certain scenes be deleted to provide a more effective ending, I bought a copy of Now a Bride, in which Mary Balogh has provided readers with the three missing scenes. I understand the element of surprise the editor was aiming for but, having read the deleted scenes, personally I feel that the book would have benefited from the emotional punch of The Proposal scene where Jocelyn finally expresses his feelings for Jane.

I liked Jocelyn’s sister, Angeline, a veritable whirlwind of chatter, with terrible dress sense and an even worse taste in bonnets and his carefree, charming younger brother, Ferdinand, with his penchant for wagers. I also enjoyed the banter between Jocelyn and his circle of friends.

MY VERDICT: As always, Mary Balogh delivers a beautifully written, emotionally satisfying, character driven romance. Highly recommended.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Mistress Trilogy (click on the book covers for more details):

More Than a Mistress (Mistress Trilogy #1) by Mary Balogh No Man's Mistress (Mistress Trilogy #2) by Mary Balogh The Secret Mistress (Mistress Trilogy #3) by Mary Balogh

Now a Bride (Mistress Trilogy #2.5) by Mary Balogh – Contains never-before-published scenes from More than a Mistress and No Man’s Mistress — plus Mary Balogh’s new epilogue for the series.

 

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