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Archive for the ‘Historical Romance’ Category

The Marigold Chain.jpg

Genre: Historical Romance (17th Century – Restoration England, 1666)

Cover Blurb:

England, 1666; the year when people who take prophecy seriously believe that the world is going to end.

For  Chloë Herveaux, marriage to wild, unpredictable Alex Deveril offers escape from a home she hates. For Alex, waking up with an epic hangover, the discovery that he has acquired a bride is an unwelcome shock. But while the marriage remains in name only, other forces are gathering.

England is once again at war with the Dutch and Prince Rupert suspects that sabotage is at work within the fleet. Instructed to find and stop the traitor, Alex enters a dark labyrinth of intrigue – where no life is safe, and nothing is what it seems.

Chloë, meanwhile, navigates the shark-infested waters of Charles the Second’s Court and plots a course of her own aimed at financial independence. But as the intriguing facets of Mr Deveril’s personality are gradually revealed to her, Chloe’s mock-marriage becomes fraught with difficulties – the greatest of which is Mr Deveril himself.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Whenever I pick up a book by Stella Riley, I anticipate reading an engrossing, well-written story with diverse, in-depth characters, witty dialogue and a meticulously researched historical setting. The Marigold Chain definitely fulfilled all my expectations.

I admire Ms. Riley for creating such a flawed and fascinating hero. Alex is unpredictable, provoking, intolerant and not even his friends are immune to his acerbic tongue.

“You can chew on my failings till you choke – but not here. I don’t want sympathy, brotherly love or nauseating bloody morality…”

It would have been so easy to dislike Alex but Ms. Riley skilfully balances his negative qualities with positive ones. He is attractive, intelligent, charming, witty, brave, loyal, and a superb swordsman and horseman, with an appealing habit of quoting classical poetry. It’s impossible not to fall under his spell just as Chloë does.

I also appreciated how much past events have contributed to his current state of mind. Soldiering has been his life since the age of fifteen when, together with his father, he fought for the Royalist cause at the Battle of Worcester. Following the Royalist defeat, Alex was forced into exile and, during those years, he made his living as a mercenary. Following the restoration of Charles II, a much-hardened Alex returned to England, only to discover that his devious cousin, Simon, had deprived him of his birth-right. Even the King lacked the power to restore what was rightfully his, leaving Alex a very angry and bitter man. No longer able to ply the only trade he knows, boredom soon set in and Alex has become increasingly unpredictable, indulging in ludicrous and often dangerous wagers and bouts of heavy drinking. Matters have only deteriorated further when he discovers that the woman he believes himself to be in love with is nothing more than a conniving, ‘selfish little bitch’.

Half-French, practical, intelligent and kind, Chloë is such a delightful heroine. Since her father died, she has been living with her step-brother James, a loathsome man, who treats Chloë as an unpaid housekeeper and spends all the money on drinking, gambling and whores. Recently, she has had to bolt her bedroom door at night for fear of his lecherous advances. When James stakes Chloë in the card game, she sees it as a chance to get away from her odious stepbrother and the drudgery of her life.

She may be naive in many ways but Chloë is no wilting lily and I admire the way she is more than a match for Alex and isn’t afraid to speak her mind.

 “It’s a pity everybody tiptoes round your feelings. It gives you the idea you can do what you like.”

Her tendency to interfere in Alex’s life is always done with the best of intentions such as when she cleverly schemes to secure a reconciliation between Alex and his friend Giles. Despite being sensible and practical, Chloë has no defence against Alex’s charm and magnetism. She is hopelessly in love with him but has no illusions that he could ever offer her anything but friendship. I think it is a sign of the depth of her love for him that she could never trap Alex in a marriage he did not want.

…though she knew he did not love her and almost certainly never would, she also knew that her heart was given irrevocably–and that he must never know it.

I enjoyed seeing Chloë not only capture the affection of Alex’s friends but also his old retainer Matthew.

Alex’s epiphany creeps up on him very slowly. At first, he treats Chloë in the same manner as everyone else around him, but then there are moments when he does something quite unexpected like laughing himself silly over the disaster in the kitchen; giving her the marigold chain [Marigold is his pet name for her) which he has obviously chosen with great care; knowing exactly what to say to comfort a distraught Chloë when tragedy affects their lives. When he finally realises that he is head over heals in love with her, he reflects on all the mistakes he has made over the past eight months – all of them waiting now, like snares to trap him – and fears that it might be too late. I admit that it was satisfying to see Alex completely out of his depth when it comes to telling Chloë that he loves her.

The plot to discover and identify the traitor within the Naval service allows Alex to break out of the state of boredom he has fallen into. Now we see a man who is focused, cunning and brave, whose expert swordsmanship is put to good use.

The story is laced with Ms. Riley’s trademark humour such as the marvellous description of the food laid out for the Grand Banquet…

Sirloins of beef lay flanked by cheeses and jellies; the hams jostled the syllabubs and the lobsters lay cheek by jowl with strawberries and quails; roasted geese looked down on oysters and custards and a suckling pig, its mouth full of apple, glared balefully at a panoplied peacock

and the hilarious Masque, complete with a jocular commentary from Alex.

All the secondary characters are so well drawn – Alex’s faithful manservant, Matthew Lewis; his long-suffering but loyal friends, Giles Beckwith and Daniel Fawsley; his scheming cousin, Simon Deveril; the malicious, self-absorbed Lady Sarah Courtney. Ms. Riley also effortlessly weaves a number of real personages into the story, including a perceptive Charles II and his wife Catherine of Braganza, Prince Rupert and Samuel Pepys, who all add depth to the rich tapestry of the story.

I always find myself totally immersed in Ms. Riley’s books whatever the historical setting, whether it is the Georgian era, the English Civil War or the Restoration period, as in The Marigold Chain. She brings everything vividly to life with her evocative writing and immaculate research.

 MY VERDICT: Another superb book from Ms. Riley which I have no hesitation in recommending.


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

 

 

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Cadenza Audiobook.jpg

(Rockliffe, #6)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian – 1778)

Cover Blurb:

The performance finished in a flourish of technical brilliance and the young man rose from the harpsichord to a storm of applause.

Julian Langham was poised on the brink of a dazzling career when the lawyers lured him into making a catastrophic mistake. Now, instead of the concert platform, he has a title he doesn’t want, an estate verging on bankruptcy … and bewildering responsibilities for which he is totally unfitted.
And yet the wreckage of Julian’s life is not a completely ill wind. For Tom, Rob and Ellie it brings something that is almost a miracle … if they dare believe in it.

Meanwhile, first-cousins Arabella Brandon and Elizabeth Marsden embark on a daring escapade which will provide each of them with a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The adventure will last only a few weeks, after which everything will be the way it was before. Or so they think. What neither of them expects is for it to change a number of lives … most notably, their own.

And there is an additional complication of which they are wholly unaware.
The famed omniscience of the Duke of Rockliffe.

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After five books in her fabulous Rockliffe series, Stella Riley is finally (and sadly) bringing the series to a close.

But what a swan song!  CADENZA has two compelling love stories at its centre. And who knew that, as well as being an historian (English Civil War – more about that later) of some considerable repute, she is also a knowledgeable and talented musician who has quite simply astounded me with her scholarship, research, and personal knowledge of the world of classical music, and in particular, the harpsichord? 

I am a huge fan of this author who is both an eloquent and creative writer, and each time we are treated to a new book there is never any danger of repetition. Cadenza is a feast for the senses and it’s a treat worth waiting for – from the first page to the last. Each book in the Rockliffe series is quite unique, apart from the ever-present, but fascinating characters who have each had their own stories told in preceding books and who are always in evidence and add something extra special as the series progresses.

Cadenza centres around the world of music with the main character, Julian Langham, being a gifted and supremely talented, harpsichordist – a virtuoso in fact. Julian’s character is unlike any other I have ever encountered in Historical Romance. Since he was old enough to reach a keyboard, he has studied and played almost to the exclusion of all else and was destined to be a musician. At the age of twenty-eight and just teetering on the brink of success in his chosen career, his world of playing and composing is brought to an abrupt halt by a disreputable firm of lawyers who con him into putting his career on hold ‘briefly’ and leaving Vienna to return to the country of his birth to take responsibility for a crumbling, debt ridden estate, and an earldom he neither wants nor even knew he was heir to, so obscure was his claim.

Having lived in the world of music for most of his life, suddenly being faced with the reality of being responsible for his predecessor’s three feral illegitimate offspring and his bewildered tenants, and with debts and problems he cannot ever hope to meet or solve, has the effect on him of being doused by a bucket of cold water, especially when he realises there is no going back. The only tiny (and it is minute) light is a badly abused harpsichord which has been left in a sadly neglected state and is in pieces in the library. At the end of each long, hard day toiling on the estate, Julian begins to painstakingly restore it. Not only is Stella Riley a musician, but she has also carefully researched – with quite remarkable understanding – the inner workings of this instrument which shows in the terminology she uses as she describes Julian slowly beginning to restore it to working order.

Julian may be gentle and slightly vague but he has an honestness, as rigid as a streak of iron, running through his backbone and, although he may not know what to do, he can’t be faulted for failing to do his best – rolling up his sleeves and working alongside his tenants – all the while slowly dying inside without his beloved music to sustain him. His obvious integrity and his determination not to increase rents, even though he desperately needs the money, earns him the respect of the locals and his tenants, not least the local doctor and his wife who befriend and help him as he flounders from one crisis to another. The children, whom he has tracked down and ensconced in the dilapidated nursery, are in turns angry and mistrustful, apart from the youngest, Ellie, who simply accepts him at face value. Tom and Rob are older, and Tom in particular – the twelve-year-old, self-elected protector of the threesome – doesn’t trust his motives. Why should Julian want them? No one has ever cared or wanted them before. Watching him win the boys’ trust, especially Tom’s, is heart-warming. Julian doesn’t employ artifice, he doesn’t know how to – he’s simply himself. In fact, it is his wholly innocent and sincere attitude in his dealings with the children which highlights the kind of man he truly is.

The doctor and his wife realise that Julian needs help, especially with the children and the running of his home, so they propose he employs a housekeeper-cum-governess and set about advertising for a suitable candidate. Elizabeth (Lizzie) Marsden, who wishes to help her family out financially, applies and, after some correspondence, in which she infers a greater age and experience than she has, is offered the position for a trial period. No-one could predict the outcome this action precipitates – a series of events, which once set into motion, escalates and forever changes Julian’s life and those of the children.

Meanwhile another drama is playing out at the home of Arabella Brandon, youngest of the four siblings at Brandon Lacey, where Arabella (Belle) has received the news that she has been jilted, after a three-year betrothal to her soldier fiancé who has not returned from the Colonial wars, instead marrying and settling in America. Her family, in particular her mother, want her to go to London for the season and she is reluctant to do so. She’s far from broken-hearted by the blow her ex-fiancé has dealt her, but, for reasons of her own, is not interested in husband hunting at present. Her closest friend, Lizzie, who happens to be her first cousin, would love a season in London but her clergyman father forbids it, even though the Duke of Rockliffe, a distant cousin of the girls’ mothers’, is happy to sponsor both of them with the aid of his Duchess. Lizzie, a dutiful daughter, realises the futility of trying to persuade her father and has instead begun the process of finding suitable employment.

Belle is the most outgoing and vivacious of the two cousins and I was drawn to her immediately. She is, of course, the one who proposes the outrageous plan which will benefit both of them – she will take up the position Lizzie has just been offered as housekeeper/governess to the children of the Earl of Chalfont and Lizzie will travel to London as the guest of the duke and duchess. The only fly in the ointment being that they must take on the guise of each other. Of course, neither girl gives much thought to the cause and effect of their actions, although to be fair it takes some persuading on Belle’s part. But, eventually realising that it will give Belle some much-needed breathing space, Lizzie agrees and at least she will get her season. After their adventure, the girls will simply return to their old lives – not quite so simple, as we discover.

All goes to plan to begin with. The girls swap clothes, prime Belle’s reluctant lady’s maid and set off together. They part ways some distance from Brandon Lacey as agreed and each travel to their respective destination. Matters start to go awry when Belle arrives at Chalfont and the doctor who meets her is surprised to see how much younger she is than her letter indicated. Even worse, Julian is horrified as she is ‘far too pretty’ and he considers sending her packing. The doctor talks him into giving her a trial period, as she has already won him over with her forthright and practical manner. Julian has had limited experience with the opposite sex and is, quite frankly, terrified of women. He initially appears rude although Belle soon realises, with some surprise, that he is simply painfully shy. The truth is that Julian is deeply affected by Belle, much to his consternation. He is the one who thinks her ‘far too pretty’, whereas most people, including the doctor, think her ‘passably pretty’. A clear case of ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’. Not only is she ‘much too pretty’ but her warm, infectious laugh ‘does something to his insides’. I loved this and it is mentioned quite a few times throughout the story – he finds himself aware of her laugh and waits for it – it lifts his spirits and he is always affected in the same way. Of course, as a musician with a highly developed sense of hearing, he would notice such a thing whereas most others wouldn’t. The spark between them is definitely there, and Ms. Riley grows it slowly and sensitively until both are equally smitten with the other. Belle has grown up with three handsome brothers and is therefore not immediately taken in by Julian’s undeniable gorgeousness. But he has something rare which she’s drawn to – he’s totally unaware of his own physical appeal. He never attempts to dress up, in fact, most of the time, he’s downright scruffy, his hair overlong and untidy. She is impressed by his innate kindness, gentleness and thoughtfulness and moved by his complete disregard for what others may think of his taking in three illegitimate children and more – actually loving them.

When Belle realises the extent of his musical talent and what the lack of performing is doing to him, she is resolved to do something for him. It doesn’t take her long to learn that he will shrivel up and die emotionally if he is denied his music. She sets her mind to thinking of ways to help him with the estate. Having grown up at Brandon Lacey observing her brothers using tried and tested methods, set in motion during the English Civil War by their Great-Great-Grandfather, Gabriel, she is resolved to beg her eldest brother’s assistance. Extremely astute, Belle realises that to perform – as he must – Julian needs an estate running in the black to free him for what life intended for him. Belle is on a mission and that’s because she’s finally in love. Eventually the two share a kiss, no more, but it is sensual and loving and both realise that something monumental has occurred. Stella Riley does this so well – she can imply sensuality and sexuality without the need for explicit bedroom scenes.

As Belle is settling into Chalfont, Lizzie has a roadside catastrophe when her coach is damaged and she narrowly avoids serious injury obliging her to accept help from a passing traveller. Ralph, Earl of Sherbourne, isn’t too pleased that his journey has been interrupted by a dripping wet maiden in distress. But, being the consummate gentleman, he does what he must. In the end, with the roads impassable because of heavy rain, Lizzie is forced to spend two nights in his company. All goes well and nothing of importance happens, other than Lizzie becoming more and more intrigued by Ralph’s dark and brooding attractiveness, but he is uncommunicative, preferring to read his Greek copy of the Iliad than converse, except when he must. He does nothing that Lizzie could take the exception to. In short, he does not compromise her other than unwittingly and unwillingly having to escort her to safety. Lizzie is unaware that Ralph has a scandalous past and, without warning, it rises up to bite both of them. They are seen by two ladies travelling in the opposite direction who have stopped for refreshments at the same inn; these ladies put two and two together and come up with five. Sparks fly, especially as one of them quite evidently knows him well.

Stella Riley has set herself quite a task, Ralph Sherbourne is not a character I thought to be redeemable. In Hazard he treated his half-sister, Genevieve, quite abominably. However, we learn that there is so much more to him than meets the eye and the circumstances surrounding the reasons why society shunned him are revealed, although only in confidence to Rockliffe who consequently has a new respect for him. Plus, against the odds, Lizzie likes him and refuses to believe badly of him. It is this unadulterated acceptance of him which surprises and sees him start to thaw from the austere, unapproachable man he has always been. I sensed his deep, black loneliness, keenly. I felt deeply sorry for him, especially when we see him with the Rockliffe ‘gang’ and he secretly envies the camaraderie they share, something he has never experienced. From detesting him in Hazard, I now wanted him to be happy and it seems that vicarage bred Lizzie could be the one so this was quite a turnabout. Ms. Riley couldn’t make everyone love him – that would have been totally implausible, but she’s done an excellent job in at least beginning his redemption with the help of Lizzie. He is understandably bitter – no one has ever believed in him, especially without knowing the facts of his duel and the reasons for it, which when revealed are quite shocking. I certainly didn’t see it coming. There is one particular scene, which again I can’t go into, but which had me rooting for Lizzie and Ralph as she nails her colours to the mast – superb! Ms. Riley at her best.

By now the fat is in the fire for both girls – their subterfuge has been discovered – how could it not? Rock is omniscient and never misses a trick. Once they are unmasked, there is so much to be sorted out to avoid irreversible damage to the reputations of both girls. I won’t go into how, where or what, as this is such a complex story and so deliciously different. And you, dear reader, need to absorb and enjoy! Let’s just say that, as usual Rock is a ‘rock’. His humour, dry wit and urbanity steal the show (I know I say this in every review, but it’s so true and Ms Riley didn’t name this series Rockliffe for nothing).

I promised earlier to mention the Brandon Lacey connection. Fans of Stella Riley will most probably have read her English Civil War series. If not – please do – you will not be disappointed. I myself have only just completed Garland of Straw in which Gabriel and Venetia Brandon are the hero and heroine of that amazing story and are the Great-Great-Grandparents of the current younger generation and I absolutely adored it. My point is, however, that Gabriel was almost bankrupt himself and, using his common sense, set in motion a method of farming which was highly successful and has by the time of Cadenza been used for generations. Belle persuades her brother, Max, to help Julian. I found the connection fascinating and, if I hadn’t read Garland, would probably have just skirted over it. And, by the way, having just mentioned Belle’s eldest brother Max… oh my! Please, please, Ms. Riley, having given us a taste of this gorgeous man – we need more!

Two compelling romances – although my favourite was Julian and Belle, only because they are a couple like no other. And just wait until you see Julian in musical action. I can say no more, other than, gone is the awkward, self-deprecating man and I can honestly guarantee that your heart will melt.

I believe the author intends to develop the Brandon connection (there are three unmarried brothers). I do hope so because I’m not ready to say goodbye to Rock and co.

I would imagine that Cadenza has been Alex Wyndham’s biggest challenge to date in so far as Ms. Riley’s books are concerned. The slow and intense emotional build-up in The Mésalliance and the complexities of Adrian’s character in The Player, both of which are particular favourites of mine, held that distinction for level of difficulty and performance brilliance until now, because Cadenza has also been awarded a special place in my heart; it has both intense emotional build-up and complexity on so many different levels.

Alex Wyndham has performed Stella Riley’s large cast of characters, accumulated over the six books in the series, to perfection. Keeping track would have taxed a less talented performer. He, however, makes it appear effortless.  I wondered how he would deal with the many facets of Julian Langham’s character – not that I doubted, of course – I just wondered and waited… with anticipation, and I was not disappointed. This is one book that is definitely improved by its conversion into audible, but only because of this actor’s consummate skill. The musical content in particular is brought to vibrant vivacity by him and I wondered as I listened – enthralled – how many readers may have missed the brilliance of the author’s writing if their preference is reading and not listening. Her wit and talent is also superbly highlighted; Arabella’s pert and cheeky, lady’s maid, Sherbourne’s valet, with his outrageous remarks and innuendoes, who quite obviously knows how far he can push his apparently formidable employer, and the incomparable Sebastian Audley, whose cat calls and cheeky remarks, which are so much a part of his character created in The Wicked Cousin, are interspersed throughout the latter part of the story. Clever Mr. Wyndham for so perfectly interpreting the author’s intentions for her characters and her eloquent and witty narrative.

I have reviewed Alex Wyndham’s narrating performances on many occasions and am always struck anew by his talent –  and he only gets better. His portrayal of Julian – a man who has so many different and complex traits, is sublime, all of which traits completely steal the show – no pun intended. The books in this series all flow perfectly without any repetition in plot, the only common denominator being the ‘gang’ who have come to mean so much to us, and whose voices and characterisation are all perfectly replicated throughout each book by this extremely talented performer, without any deviation from the original.

MY VERDICT: Another amazing story in this memorable series and one I shall listen to over and over and never tire of. Highly recommended.


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Rockliffe series (click on the book covers for more details):

The Parfit Knight (Rockliffe, #1) by Stella Riley The Mésalliance by Stella Riley The Player by Stella Riley The Wicked Cousin (Rockcliffe, #4) by Stella Riley Hazard by Stella Riley Cadenza by Stella Riley

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My Once and Future Duke.jpg

(The Wagers of Sin, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance  (Regency 1807 & !819)

Book Blurb (Amazon):

What happens at the infamous Vega Club…

Sophie Campbell is determined to be mistress of her own fate. Surviving on her skill at cards, she never risks what she can’t afford to lose. Yet when the Duke of Ware proposes a scandalous wager that’s too extravagant to refuse, she can’t resist. If she wins, she’ll get five thousand pounds, enough to secure her independence forever.

Stays at the Vega Club…

Jack Lindeville, Duke of Ware, tells himself he’s at the Vega Club merely to save his reckless brother from losing everything, but he knows it’s a lie. He can’t keep his eyes off Sophie, and to get her he breaks his ironclad rule against gambling. If he wins, he wants her—for a week.

Until now.

A week with Jack could ruin what’s left of Sophie’s reputation. It might even cost her, her heart. But when it comes to love, all bets are off . . .

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Recently, I have been thinking about the authors whose books first encouraged my love of Historical Romance. Regrettably some of these authors, such as Caroline Linden, seem to have fallen by the wayside as new authors came along to capture my interest. MY ONCE AND FUTURE DUKE, the first book in her new The Wagers of Sin series, provided the perfect opportunity to rediscover this talented author.

Orphaned at the age of twelve, when both her beloved parents died of consumption, Sophie Graham was left under the guardianship of her grandfather, Viscount Makepeace. Having disowned Sophie’s father when he ran off and married a French opera singer, Makepeace wanted nothing to do with his granddaughter, a sentiment Sophie fully reciprocated. Anxious to be rid of his unwanted burden, her grandfather enrolled Sophie in Miss Upton’s Academy For Young Ladies, agreeing to pay her tuition fees until her eighteenth birthday – then she would be on her own.

I loved Sophie’s courage and resilience in the face of such life changing events. She does not wallow in self-pity and knows that the only person she can rely on is herself. She could have accepted a position at the academy teaching mathematics but I admired her determination to pursue her Grand Plan in the wider world and to forge a better life for herself.

It was a simple plan, really. Once she had secured her independence, she would be mistress of her own fate and able to chart her own course.

A legacy from her late employer and a small amount of personal savings enable Sophie to travel to London, posing as the widowed Sophie Campbell. Having learned several card games from her father and dicing from the stable boys at the academy, gambling is the one skill Sophie can use to gain the necessary funds to achieve her ultimate goal of marrying a respectable gentleman who could give her the security and family she longs for.

…everything had been proceeding according to that plan . . . until Jack.

At the age of twenty-four, Jack Lindeville’s carefree lifestyle ended abruptly when his father, the Duke of Ware, died after a boating accident. Jack was neither ready nor prepared to assume the heavy burden of responsibilities that came with the dukedom. During the past seven years, Jack has devoted his life to fulfilling his duties, earning him a reputation for being dour and aloof.

I had a lot of sympathy for Jack who, as a young man, had expected to have many more years of freedom before being weighed down with ducal responsibilities, which also included looking after the widow and daughter of his father’s best friend, who had also died in the accident. I hated his mother who constantly showed a preference for her younger son, Philip, making excuses for his excesses while constantly drumming into Jack the need be above reproach in all things, and even resorting to emotional blackmail if he did not do as she wished.

Jack has worked too hard over the years to continue settling his brother’s gambling debts. He has agreed to pay Philip’s latest debt on the condition that he refrains from gambling for a month, and learns to moderate his gambling. However, whilst at the Vega Club to settle said debt, Jack is furious to see his brother there, but his attention is captured by the woman in crimson with whom Philip is gambling. He has not had such a powerful reaction to a woman in years and it leads to him doing something he vowed he would never do — gamble.

Worst of all, he was breaking his own vow to avoid gambling—at hazard, the game designed to beggar a man as speedily as possible. But there was something about this woman that provoked and entranced him beyond all reason.

Ms. Linden writes a tender and sensual romance and I enjoyed the time Jack and Sophie spend alone together at Alwyn House. Although it is only a few days, their relationship blossoms in a natural way that never seems rushed. Alwyn House has always been Jack’s retreat from his relentless duties – a place where he can relax and be himself. I could feel Sophie’s attitude towards Jack softening as they spend time together and she discovers that, beneath that cold, haughty exterior, Jack is a charming, warm-hearted man with a dry sense of humour and a willingness to laugh at himself.

…when he smiled and let down his guard. That flicker of humor and humanity turned him from a cold, haughty duke into an irresistibly attractive man.

Sophie is clever and funny and nothing like the scheming charlatan he had thought her to be. She is clever and funny and the first woman who has ever made him feel like a man, not simply a duke.

As the days pass, it is obvious they have both fallen hopelessly in love and can no longer deny their desire for each other.

His expression was fierce, his eyes burning. “I want to make love to you, Sophie, so badly I can hardly bear it.”
His heart was hammering; she could feel it beneath her palms. Her blood was running just as hot, and she looked him right in the eyes and said, “Yes. Yes.”

But their idyll has to come to an end and, although I knew that their happy ending was never in doubt, there were enough impediments to overcome to keep me turning the pages. My only complaint is the unnecessary drama towards the end and Sophie’s reaction which seems out of character, but this is only minor point and didn’t spoil my overall enjoyment of the story.

I was touched by the scene in the attics at Alwyn House where Sophie is surrounded by decades of Jack’s family history, something she had never had in her own life but secretly craves. So I was delighted when she discovers that she does have a genuinely kind relative who is keen to get to know her.

I liked Miss Eliza Cross and Lady Georgiana Lucas, Sophie’s best friends and future heroines. I was also intrigued by Nicholas Dashwood, the enigmatic owner of the Vega Club, and I’m hoping he might get his own book one day.

The Epilogue is not only charming but also provides a teaser for An Earl Like You (Eliza’s story), the second book in the series.

MY VERDICT: I’m so glad to have rediscovered Ms. Linden’s books and I can definitely recommend MY ONCE AND FUTURE DUKE.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

 The Wagers of Sin series (click on the book covers for more details):

My Once and Future Duke (The Wagers of Sin, #1) by Caroline Linden An Earl Like You (The Wagers of Sin, #2) by Caroline Linden When the Marquess Was Mine (The Wagers of Sin, #3) by Caroline Linden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Guilty Pleasures.jpg

(Guilty #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Late Regency – 1830)

Book Blurb (Amazon):

One of Daphne Wade’s guilty pleasures is to watch the Duke of Tremore as he works, shirtless, on the excavation site of his ducal estate. Anthony Courtland is by far the most exciting and handsome man she has ever known, and she dreams of one day being able to speak with him without getting tongue tied.

Anthony, meanwhile, only sees Daphne as a hard worker on his excavation team. He considers her a plain young lady and says so in a careless remark to a friend, unaware that Daphne is outside the library door, her heart shattering to pieces. So Daphne decides she will not be so silly any longer. She begins to be tutored in the social graces, forcing Anthony to see the beauty who has been right in front of his eyes.

Kindle Publication: 8th July 2008 

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This book had the honour of being the recipient of the Romantic Times Award for Best European Historical Romance of 2004. It was also the first book I read by Laura Lee Guhrke and it established her as a firm favourite of mine and, over the years, I have read and loved many of her books.

I adore Daphne because it is easier to relate to someone who is plain, wears spectacles and, by the standards of the time, is firmly on the shelf at the age of twenty-four. She had an unconventional upbringing, having lived and worked abroad all her life assisting her father Sir Henry Wade, one of the foremost Roman antiquarians in the world, on his excavations. After her father dies suddenly, she is left all alone, unwanted by her mother’s family in England, and virtually penniless. Her decision to travel to England and take her father’s place shows real courage and I also love her response when Anthony questions her suitability for the position.

“I am the daughter of Sir Henry Wade, and he was the best. I was trained by him, and now that he is gone, there is no one more qualified for this post than I. “

Anthony is arrogant inconsiderate, selfish and, in typical ducal fashion, expects to be obeyed without question, and whenever he wants anything particularly difficult or unreasonable done, he can be persuasively charming. His cynical attitude to love and marriage does not sit well with his sister, Viola, but Anthony is adamant that he intends to marry someone who will make no emotional demands on him

I did admire him for the sympathetic way he treats his estate workers who are unable to pay their rent, and for his determination that the museum should be for everyone, not just the wealthy.

It wasn’t hard to believe that a quiet, shy young woman like Daphne, who had spent all her life around excavations, without any social interactions, would develop an infatuation for someone like Anthony. I really felt her heartbreak when she hears his derogatory comments, but I admired the way she refuses to wallow in self-pity. She has always tried to please other people, first her father and then Anthony, but now she is determined to decide her own future and enjoy life, with encouragement from Anthony’s sister, Viola, who has offered to introduce Daphne into society.

Expecting everyone to cow-tow to his every command, I enjoyed seeing Anthony’s outraged reaction when Daphne tells him she is resigning and his usual coolness and self-possession totally deserts him. And I love the way she stands up to him and is not afraid to speak her mind.

“You may be a duke, but you are not the sun around which the world revolves. In fact, you are quite the opposite, for you are the most selfish man I have I have ever known.”

Now Anthony must find a way to persuade Daphne to stay long enough to finish his project. It was fun watching the various bargains Anthony contrives to gain extra time from Daphne – verbal duels, midnight dances, kisses – and the camaraderie that develops between them as they dance, flirt and laugh together seems so believable. Their witty repartee was enjoyable too.

“Contrary to certain reports, I have been known to be kind on occasion.” Laugh lines appeared at the corners of his eyes, though he did not smile. “But I confess I am not being kind just now.”
“Yes, I know, and it is not going to work.”
He tried to look innocent. “What is not going to work?”
“This blatant attempt to trick me into staying with charm and—and other such tactics.”
“I know you are far too intelligent to be fooled by charm or trickery, Miss Wade. Can we not just say I am using the only weapon I have?”
“”Persuasion?”
“Temptation. If I can tempt you with the fruits of my garden of Eden, you might stay.”

I applaud Ms. Guhrke for not transforming Daphne into some ravishing beauty. She remains the same person she always was, but Anthony begins to see the real Daphne beneath the drab clothes, tight bun and spectacles  – a woman who is intelligent, funny, tender-hearted and passionate.

It is clear that the circumstances surrounding Anthony’s father’s death and having to shoulder the burden of ducal duties at such a tender age have had a profound effect on him, and have clearly shaped him into the man he has become. Having seen first-hand the tragic consequences of love, he has always been master of his emotions, never letting his heart rule his head until Daphne comes into his life. I love how he uses the language of flowers to court her, his determination not to give up and how he finally opens up his heart to Daphne.

There is such a charmimg ending which left me with a lovely warm glow.

“What does a duchess do, exactly?”
He took a step toward her. “Love the duke. Love him with all the passion she hides within her, love him each and every day of her life.”

MY VERDICT:  I still love this book as much as I did the first time of reading it. A delightful, entertaining and romantic love story which I can highly recommend.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

 Guilty series (click on the book covers for more details):

Guilty Pleasures (Guilty, #1) by Laura Lee Guhrke His Every Kiss (Guilty, #2) by Laura Lee Guhrke The Marriage Bed (Guilty, #3) by Laura Lee Guhrke She's No Princess (Guilty, #4) by Laura Lee Guhrke

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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beyond scandal and desire

(Sins for All Seasons, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian – London 1840 and 1871)

Book Blurb:

At birth, Mick Trewlove, the illegitimate son of a duke, was handed over to a commoner. Despite his lowly upbringing, Mick has become a successful businessman, but all his wealth hasn’t satisfied his need for revenge against the man who still won’t acknowledge him. What else can Mick do but destroy the duke’s legitimate son—and woo the heir’s betrothed into his own unloving arms . . .

Orphaned and sheltered, Lady Aslyn Hastings longs for a bit of adventure. With her intended often preoccupied, Aslyn finds herself drawn to a darkly handsome entrepreneur who seems to understand her so well. Surely a lady of her station should avoid Mick Trewlove. If only he weren’t so irresistible . . .

As secrets are about to be exposed, Mick must decide if his plan for vengeance is worth risking what his heart truly desires.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This is the first book in Lorraine Heath’s new Sins for All Seasons series and she weaves an emotional, captivating and sensual love story with a totally unexpected twist at the end.

There’d never been anything gentle in his life. Everything he’d experienced had been hard, harsh and challenging.

Raised in poverty in the Rookeries, Mick had clawed his way up to become wealthy, successful, self-assured and powerful. He is stubbornly obsessed with wreaking revenge on his father, the Duke of Hedley, for his refusal to acknowledge Mick as his illegitimate son; a father who tossed him away like a piece of garbage. Mick has no qualms about ruthlessly using his father’s legitimate son, the Earl of Kipwick, and his ward, Lady Aslyn Hastings, in his revengeful plans.

As first, Mick seems hard and ruthless but I soon saw a very different side to him. He cares deeply for his family and knows that he owes his ‘mother’, Ettie Trewlove, a debt he can never repay and does everything he can to make her life comfortable. They may not be related by blood, but he loves all his siblings and would die for each of his brothers without hesitation. He is protective towards his sisters but also willing to fulfil their wishes, whether it be shopping for a parasol for one sister or buying a tavern for the other. I admire his genuine altruistic desire to improve the lives of those in the poorest areas of London by providing homes, and shops that will provide jobs.

Aslyn has been the Duke of Hedley’s ward since her parents died in a railway accident when she was a girl. Beautiful and dignified, she has led a confined and sheltered life, always being the perfect lady, only too aware that her life has been planned out for her as Kip’s wife and a future duchess. But, deep down, she longs for independence and excitement.

Aslyn longed for more: the independence afforded those who weren’t expected to make a suitable match, the carefree moments enjoyed by those not shackled by duty, the excitement offered within the shadows of the night.

I love how Ms, Heath really takes the time to develop the relationship between Mick and Aslyn. The initial meetings engineered by Mick and their secret assignations allow them to talk and get to know each other in a way that feels real and natural. I could see how they compliment each other and felt that they are truly meant to be together.

I enjoyed seeing Mick’s plans begin to unravel as the seducer becomes the seduced…

His purpose was to draw her in while keeping himself at a distance. Instead, she’d managed to entice him into a maelstrom of emotions and sensations, needs and desires, that were foreign to him.

I love his protectiveness, his kindness and the fact that he actually talks to Aslyn and encourages her to be herself. He finds himself longing for her smiles, her laughter, the lilt of her voice and just enjoying being with her. One of the most poignant moments is when he says…

“Never in my life have I longed to be legitimate more so than I do at this very moment.”

Aslyn has never met a man like Mick. He instils in her a desire to break free of the pampered and stifling existence she has led and makes her aware of herself as a woman with needs that go beyond the strict rules of society.

What was it about the man that had such wicked thoughts bursting forth as though they were perfectly normal?

Her feelings for Mick also make her question her relationship with Kip and their suitability, because he has never made her feel alive as she does when she’s with Mick. I love how she never looks down on Mick or his family and regards him as extraordinary for having achieved such success, despite the stigma of his birth. I really respect Aslyn for her courage, determination, compassion and her willingness to stand up for injustice.

I knew that their idyll could not last because Aslyn would eventually learn of Mick’s scheme, and when she does I could feel her anger, her sense of betrayal and her heartbreak, knowing that he would seek to destroy those she loved. When the mystery surrounding Mick’s birth is finally revealed, the twist is one I never expected. I can’t say more other than it is truly heartbreaking and it changes everything that Mick believed to be true. But his actions reveal what an honourable and compassionate man he is, even though it means giving up the woman he loves. When all seems lost, it is Aslyn who finds a solution and ensures their Happy Ever After.

All his life he’d been searching for acceptance, and here it was in the form of a woman with a tilted-up nose and crooked smile.

I like how Ms. Heath highlighted the practice of baby farming in the late Victorian era, a practice that often meant death for the unfortunate illegitimate or unwanted babies handed over to such women.

We meet Mick’s intriguing siblings, each with their own stories to tell in future books, and I was delighted to see Dr. Graves (the hero of The Last Wicked Scoundrel, the final book in Ms, Heath’s Scoundrels of St. James series) in a cameo appearance. There is also a heart-warming Epilogue which left me with a smile on my face.

MY VERDICT: An excellent start to her new series and Ms. Heath delivers everything I look for in historical romance. Highly recommended.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Sins for All Seasons series so far (click on the book covers for more details):

Beyond Scandal and Desire (Sins for All Seasons, #1) by Lorraine Heath When a Duke Loves a Woman (Sins for All Seasons, #2) by Lorraine Heath The Scoundrel in Her Bed (Sins for All Seasons, #3) by Lorraine Heath – 26 February 2019

 

 

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confessions of an arranged marriage

(The Burgundy Club, #4)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1822)

Book Blurb (Goodreads):

They couldn’t be more different—but there’s one thing they agree on…

In London after a two-year exile, Lord Blakeney plans to cut a swathe through the bedchambers of the demimonde. Marriage is not on his agenda, especially to an annoying chit like Minerva Montrose, with her superior attitude and a tendency to get into trouble. And certainly the last man Minerva wants is Blake, a careless wastrel without a thought in his handsome head.

The heat and noise of her debutante ball give Minerva a migraine. Surely a moment’s rest could do no harm… until Blake mistakes her for another lady, leaving Minerva’s guests to catch them in a very compromising position. To her horror, the scandal will force them to do the unthinkable: marry. Their mutual loathing blazes into unexpected passion but Blake remains distant, desperate to hide a shameful secret. Minerva’s never been a woman to take things lying down, and she’ll let nothing stop her from winning his trust . . . and his heart.

Kindle publication: 27th March 2012

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Do you know the feeling when you read a book and love it and think of it fondly, then go back to re-read it, perhaps years later, and discover it really wasn’t that good? I was afraid I’d feel that way about Confessions from an Arranged Marriage by the late Miranda Neville. I’ve read many books by other authors since first reading it – my first by this author – and have become far more discerning in my reading habits since then. There are many books I’ve rated highly which would not now earn the rating I originally awarded them. However, I’m pleased to say that I wasn’t disappointed, in fact, having read Confessions from an Arranged Marriage with my far more critical eye and expecting to be disappointed, I still loved it. I’ve read reviews on Goodreads which are mediocre to say the least, but I stand by my original, and now latest opinion, that this is a damn good read.

I originally downloaded it not knowing anything about the author or her work, only that the title appealed and it was a Kindle offer, so what could I lose? I have to say at this point, that had it been on a book shelf I would not have picked it up, because the cover is just dreadful. It doesn’t have any bearing on the story and is in no way period appropriate, so maybe an example of don’t judge a book by its cover.

I was pleased to learn that Miranda Neville was British born and bred and had originally been a journalist and editor. In my opinion, her earlier occupation showed in her intelligent writing style and correct use of the English language; there are no Americanisms or modernisms which are pet hates of mine when a story is set in historical England. This is not to say –  I hasten to add – that I consider only British authors to be intelligent as I have many favourites of all nationalities. One of my favourite books of all time was written by American author Anya Seton, and her exceptionally researched Historical Fiction/Romance novel about the true story of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, set in medieval England, has been my go-to comfort read for many years. I didn’t discover that Miranda Neville was English until after I had read Confessions from an Arranged Marriage, but it answered a lot of questions for me as to why I didn’t have one single criticism apropos of my previously mentioned pet-hates. Miranda Neville has quite obviously written a story about a subject and place she knew and in a language she knew. She emigrated to America and was extremely popular with her fans, here in the UK and in the USA.

I joined the series half way through so it can obviously be read as a standalone since I had no problem following the storyline. In fact, I’m glad I read the series in the order I did because I may well have been deterred from reading Confessions from an Arranged Marriage by the hero, the Marquis of Blakeney (aka Blake), who isn’t shown as a particularly likeable character in the preceding books in the series.

I’m not going into the story too deeply because there’s a lot happening. Suffice to say that there is an extremely attractive and intelligent young heroine, Minerva, who has a rather high opinion of herself and her intellect. She aspires to become a political hostess and sees herself as ‘the power behind the throne’ of who knows? Maybe even the Prime Minister one day, with her help from behind the scenes, of course, and a politically motivated husband who will listen to her own, quite radical views on the voting systems and rights of the common people – even women – although she knows that this is a step too far for the times.

Instead, Minerva’s aspirations are dashed (or so she believes) when she is caught in a compromising situation with her nemesis Blake, heir to a dukedom. He’s absolutely gorgeous to look at and a formidable sportsman, but apparently as dim as Miranda is brilliant. She is by no means the perfect wife for him as far as his family is concerned, but as she is their neighbour and was compromised in their home by their drunken son, and they are the very epitome of the adjective honourable, she knows she has no choice but to marry Blake, a man she has always detested. And he’s stuck with a girl ten years his junior who makes him feel even more stupid than he already secretly feels.

This is such a mixture of a story; there are moments of such heart-breaking sadness which touched me deeply, but Miranda Neville was extremely witty and, as well as being terribly saddened by Blake’s predicament, there were also moments of such hilarity that I literally laughed out loud. Blake insists on calling Minerva, Minnie – quite obviously this budding, political hostess is not impressed by the immature nom de plume. As the story progresses and Minerva tries to make the best of a bad job, she begins to see the vulnerability behind the man she has married and protests less and less; at one point even missing it when something happens to stop his use of the nickname. I was also very touched by Blake’s determination to earn ‘Minnie’s’ respect.

It would be quite easy to dislike Minerva, and indeed that’s exactly what some reviewers have said, but I liked her once I’d got to the bottom of her character. I particularly like how she begins to see beyond Blake’s brittle and supposedly couldn’t-care-less, outer shell. She starts to fall for the man he really is – rather loveable actually, and one who is covering up a massive lack of inner self-esteem with an outer show of bravado. Miranda Neville grows their relationship from enemies-to-friends-to-lovers using a credible series of events which unfold as the story progresses. Blake’s dark secret has led to him being victimised and blackmailed for a large part of his life and, as his clever wife begins to follow the clues and consequently unravels her man, I felt more and more invested in their growing romance and loved how Minerva becomes as fierce as a lioness in her protectiveness towards him.

Miranda Neville has set her story in the political arena of the time, taking a subject which could bore the hell out of the reader but which instead had me fascinated by ‘rotten boroughs’ and what it all meant.  There is a point at which Minerva finds herself out of her depth and not quite as clever as she believed herself to be. She is obliged to throw herself on Blake’s mercy and he in turn, rather than enjoying her discomfort, charges in rescuing her like a knight in shining armour. Quite, quite heart-warming. His piece de resistance where he shows, perhaps not his political acumen (as his words are Minerva’s), but his integrity and mettle as a man, with not only the power of the dukedom behind him, but the support of his (by now) beloved ‘Minnie’, is just bone melting; in fact, their developing love story is believable and endearing and Miranda Neville has taken two opposites and shown that it is not only possible for there to be love under these circumstances but also that two people may love and compliment each other as long as they have a common goal.

One last point which I particularly liked and which rarely crops up in Historical Romance. The ‘wedding night’ was not a great success and Minerva wasn’t impressed with ‘the act’ and the way the experience is described is plausible. Of course, matters improve and there are, eventually, explicit scenes. Minerva is not one to do anything by halves, but I did not find this aspect cringeworthy; in fact, I liked that she grew to welcome Blake’s embraces, eventually even seducing him – much to his surprise and pleasure.

MY VERDICT:
This is a lovely story – sad, surprising, witty, funny, romantic and intelligently and sensitively written. I’m happy to say that I was not wrong, and Confessions from an Arranged Marriage will remain a favourite of mine. The author doesn’t attempt to magically sort out the underlying problem but instead finds ways of working around it. I had the great pleasure of meeting Miranda Neville on one of her visits home to the UK; we discussed this book and she was pleased to know how much I had loved it. I’m even more pleased that we met and had this discussion given that we lost this lovely lady to cancer in 2018. I count myself privileged to have met her and am saddened that she was taken from her family, friends and readers before her time.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

RSENSUALITY RATING: HOT

 

The Burgundy Club series (for further details click on the book covers):

The Wild Marquis (The Burgundy Club, #1) by Miranda Neville The Dangerous Viscount (The Burgundy Club, #2) by Miranda Neville The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton (The Burgundy Club, #3) by Miranda Neville Confessions from an Arranged Marriage (The Burgundy Club, #4) by Miranda Neville

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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cadenza

(Rockliffe, #6)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian – 1778 )

Book Blurb:

Julian Langham was poised on the brink of a dazzling career when the lawyers lured him into making a catastrophic mistake. Now, instead of the concert platform, he has a title he doesn’t want, an estate verging on bankruptcy … and bewildering responsibilities for which he is totally unfitted.

And yet the wreckage of Julian’s life is not a completely ill wind. For Tom, Rob and Ellie it brings something that is almost a miracle … if they dare believe in it.

Meanwhile, first-cousins Arabella Brandon and Elizabeth Marsden embark on a daring escapade which will provide each of them with a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The adventure will last only a few weeks, after which everything will be the way it was before. Or so they think. What neither of them expects is for it to change a number of lives … most notably, their own.

And there is an additional complication of which they are wholly unaware.
The famed omniscience of the Duke of Rockliffe.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Cadenza is the sixth and sadly the final book in the superb Rockliffe series and, as I have come to expect from Stella Riley, I was totally enchanted by this beautifully written story.

In this series, Ms. Riley has created some of the most memorable heroes and Julian definitely belongs to their exalted ranks. He is such a complex character and surely one of the most refreshingly unusual heroes to grace the pages of a Historical Romance. He is gentle, kind and shy, with a sweet smile, guaranteed to pierce even the stoniest heart. But what a dramatic transformation when he plays the harpsichord – gone is the hesitant, socially awkward young man and, in his place, is someone who is relaxed, confident and totally in command.

Music is paramount in Julian’s life and he would willingly have given up the earldom to fulfil his musical ambitions. So, it speaks volumes for the man he is – honourable, compassionate and selfless – when, despite being totally out of his depth, he refuses to turn his back on the estate workers, even working alongside them when they are shorthanded, or to abandon his predecessor’s three illegitimate children. It is heart-warming to see how everyone around Julian has such affection for him. As Max, Arabella’s brother, comments…

“The children idolise him; his servants and the villagers think the sun shines out of him; Belle’s totally besotted and Mother wants to adopt him. How does he do it?’

I put it down to Ms. Riley’s ability to create such an endearing character who effortlessly steals your heart by just being himself.

The romance between Julian and Isabella (Belle) develops slowly which makes it feel natural and believable. Young ladies like Belle have always terrified Julian, leaving him tongue-tied and feeling like a fool. Initially he is wary of her, but soon discovers that Belle is not like the other ladies he has known with their lingering, speculative glances. He finds that he can talk to her without feeling clumsy and foolish and her warm, melodic laugh is like music to his ears.

…a laugh which made his insides uncurl and yearn to hear it again in order to recapture the elusive phrase it had brought to mind. A rondo in a bright key, he decided. G major, perhaps?

I love Belle and she is the perfect match for Julian with her cheerfulness, determination, resilience and obstinate streak. When she sees him struggling to keep the impoverished estate going, she tries to help in practical ways and recognising that, without his music, there will always part of Julian missing, she is determined to help him achieve his dream of becoming a concert performer.

Ms. Riley’s eloquent writing conveys their growing feelings for each other so beautifully.

His arms went round her automatically and for perhaps three seconds, they remained perfectly still, startled green eyes locked with grey ones in which laughter was fading into confused awareness.

In the second his mouth touched hers, the entire world was full of music … rare, elusive and utterly compelling. A melody more beautiful that any he had ever either heard or even imagined.

Again, we are treated to two romances running concurrently, the other being a secondary romance between Elizabeth (Lizzie) and Ralph Harcourt, Earl of Sherbourne. Those who have read Hazard will remember Sherbourne as Genevieve’s loathsome brother and it was hard to imagine how Ms. Riley could possibly redeem him. It is a mark of her skill as a writer that she redeems him without changing his intrinsic character. The gradual revealing of his past is masterfully done and the truth surrounding the duel was an unexpected twist and one I would never have suspected. I found myself not only sympathising with Ralph but also rooting for his Happy Ever After.

Lizzie is beautiful, honest, modest and warm-hearted. I admire her for refusing to take Ralph at face value and seeing something behind his chilly exterior that makes her believe he is not as black as he is painted. She believes in him and trusts him which means so much to Ralph because no one else ever has. She is also aware of his intense loneliness and the way he has walled off his emotions and one of the loveliest moments is when she says…

“But impeccable manners are your shield and armour, aren’t they?’
‘What?”
“And very effective they are, too.”
She rose to face him, hoping she looked calmer than she felt. “But you don’t need them with me. I could quite easily love the man they are hiding if only you would let me know him.”

I thought it was realistic that Aristide and Genevieve were never going to suddenly forgive Ralph, given his actions in Hazard, but I was pleased to see the hint of a possible future reconciliation.

Ms. Riley’s secondary characters always add richness and depth to her stories, whether they be much-loved characters from previous books or new characters. Tom, Rob and Ellie (not forgetting Figgy), the children whom Julian ‘adopts’, are just delightful and watching him gain their trust, loyalty and love, by just being himself, is so touching. I really like Max Brandon who is the sort of elder brother every girl should have and with a great sense of humour as well.

As always, the all-seeing, all-powerful Rockliffe is there to take charge and deal with the consequences of Belle and Lizzie’s deception in his inimitable way. I love how, beneath that ducal exterior, lies a man who can be kind, unbiased, generous and loyal to a fault when it comes to those he cares for. We see these qualities in the way he bestows his patronage on Julian and his belief in and support for Sherbourne. Oh, and I also love his dry wit.

“Pomp and magnificence? Do we have some of that?”
“You have a great deal of it”, grinned his wife.
“Really? How gratifying.”

Ms. Riley’s musical background and her in-depth research really show in her detailed descriptions of both the harpsichord, its workings and Julian’s repertoire. I love how she makes you feel as if you are in the room listening to him play and experiencing all the emotions his audience are. Under ‘Extras’ on her website, Ms. Riley has provided full details of the repertoire and, so readers can experience Julian playing, there is an opportunity to hear one of the pieces played by Jean Rondeau, a young, French harpsichord virtuoso. Now, that is what I call going above and beyond the call of duty for her readers!

I have yet to read Garland of Straw, the second book in Ms. Riley’s Roundheads and Cavaliers series, but I was interested to see in the Author’s Note that Arabella’s great-great-grandparents are Gabriel and Venetia, the hero and heroine of that book.

While I am sad to see this wonderful series end, I am waiting with relish for whatever Ms. Riley pens next.

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


REVIEW RATING:  STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

 Rockliffe series (click on the book covers for more details):

The Parfit Knight (Rockliffe, #1) by Stella Riley The Mésalliance by Stella Riley The Player by Stella Riley The Wicked Cousin (Rockcliffe, #4) by Stella Riley Hazard by Stella Riley Cadenza by Stella Riley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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