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Archive for the ‘Historical Romance’ Category

Lady Joy and the Earl

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1815)

Book Blurb:

They have loved each other since childhood, but life has not been kind to either of them. James Highcliffe’s arranged marriage had been everything but loving, and Lady Joy’s late husband believed a woman’s spirit was meant to be broken. Therefore, convincing Lady Jocelyn Lathrop to abandon her freedom and consider marriage to him after twenty plus years apart may be more than the Earl of Hough can manage. Only the spirit of Christmas can bring these two together when secrets mean to keep them apart.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This was both a heart-breaking and heart-warming second chance love story, made all the more satisfying by the Christmas setting.

I really felt so desperately sad for the young James and Jocelyn (Joy, as he calls her) and how their hopes and dreams of a life together were destroyed by their respective fathers. Neither arranged marriage was a happy one and, now they are both widowed, James is determined to marry Joy, the woman he has never stopped loving. However, he discovers that Joy is no longer the vibrant, happy girl he remembers. Instead, he finds a sad, bitter, resentful woman who seems to blame him for her unhappiness.

The abuse that Joy suffered at her husband’s hands was truly heartrending and she still bears the physical and emotional scars. Since her husband’s demise, under unusual circumstances, she has been determined to control her own life, building defences around herself, and never letting anyone close. Her sons have become her world and her love for them and her need to protect them is paramount. She also has secrets which she has never revealed, even to her own family.

Joy’s feelings of bitterness and anger towards James are understandable because, for all these years, she believed that he had simply married someone else, leaving her broken-hearted. It is only when she learns the true nature of his marriage does Joy realise how much James had suffered too, in a different way.

James treats Joy with such patience and kindness, and I love his determination to restore her love of life, even though he faces an uphill struggle. When Joy’s secrets are finally revealed, James is there for her and it is heartening to see how supportive Joy and James’ families are.

I like the fact that Ms. Jeffers does not have Joy suddenly recovering from the years of abusive marriage. It will take time to dispel those terrible memories but, with James’ love, she can gradually replace them with joyful ones. The final scenes, at the end of the book, convey the love they share so beautifully and left me with a warm glow, knowing that their future held the happiness that had so long been denied to them.

MY VERDICT: An emotional, poignant and heart-warming Christmas novella – just perfect for curling up with on a dark, winter’s evening.


REVIEW RATING: 4/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

**In the interests of full disclosure, I received a copy of this book from the author with no strings attached. It is my personal choice to write this review and these are my honest thoughts about the book.** 

 

 

 

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The Laird's Christmas Kiss

(The Lairds Most Likely, #2)

 Genre: Historical Romance (Regency – 1818)

Book Blurb:

Down with love! 

Ever since she was fifteen, shy wallflower Elspeth Douglas has pined in vain for the attentions of dashing Brody Girvan, Laird of Invermackie. But the rakish Highlander doesn’t even know she’s alive. Now she’s twenty, she realizes that she’ll never be happy until she stops loving her brother’s handsome friend. When family and friends gather at Achnasheen Castle for Christmas, she intends to show the world that’s she’s all grown up and grown out of silly crushes on gorgeous Scotsmen. So take that, my gallant laddie!

Girls just want to have fun… 

Except it turns out that Brody isn’t singing from the same Christmas carol sheet. Elspeth decides she’s not interested in him anymore, just as he decides he’s very interested indeed. In fact, now he looks more closely, his friend Hamish’s sister is pretty and funny and forthright – and just the lassie to share his Highland estate. Convincing his little wren of his romantic intentions is difficult enough, even before she undergoes a makeover and becomes the belle of Achnasheen. For once in his life, dissolute Brody is burdened with honorable intentions, while the lady he pursues is set on flirtation with no strings attached.

Deck the halls with mistletoe! 

With interfering friends and a crate of imported mistletoe thrown into the mix, the stage is set for a house party rife with secrets, clandestine kisses, misunderstandings, heartache, scandal, and love triumphant.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

I have read and enjoyed several of Anna Campbell’s Christmas stories and this delightful novella was no exception.

For the past year, Brody has been unhappy; his hedonistic lifestyle had begun to pall and he is feeling aimless and lost when he arrives at Achnasheen Castle for Christmas. I love how, for the first time, he actually sees Elspeth. To her family she is a ‘wee mouse’, but to Brody she is intelligent, interesting and pure of heart and he is perceptive enough to notice her beauty and charm. I love how his actions reveal an honourable man when he steps up to offer marriage because he believes he has compromised Elspeth’s reputation.

Elspeth may appear dull and mousy but when she makes up her mind to do something, nothing  deters her. I saw this in her determination to forget her childish infatuation for Brody and enjoyed seeing a more mature and confident Elspeth emerging. It was satisfying to see her turn the tables on Brody by indulging in a no strings attached flirtation with him and discover what it felt like to be pursued by a rake, when she held all the cards.

Poor Brody has his work cut out convincing Elspeth that his love is sincere, given his past reputation. His friends, Elspeth’s brother, Hamish, and her cousin, Diarmid, certainly don’t help matters because they don’t seem to regard him as a worthy suitor for Elspeth.

I enjoyed seeing Brody and Elspeth discovering things about each other but also about themselves during the course of the story. They are such a likeable couple and I was rooting for them. There maybe trials and tribulations but the spirit of Christmas prevails and love wins through in the end.

“Oh, Brody, you make me so happy. This morning, I thought I’d never be happy again.”
He stared into her face, recognizing her as his destiny. “I’ll do my best to make ye happy for the rest of your life.”
Her lips curled in a smile that expressed a universe of joy. For the first time, he genuinely believed that she did love him.
“I’d love that.
“I love you.”
“And I love you.”
“So?”
She laughed, and the warm sound rippled down his backbone and settled in his heart. “Of course I’ll marry you, Brody.”

I love Marina for the way in which she supports and encourages Elspeth, unlike her mother who is more interested is gaining influence as a political hostess than her daughter’s happiness. I hate how she denigrates Elspeth at every opportunity.

Having met Fergus and Marina in this novella, I definitely want to read their story in The Laird’s Willful Lass, the first book in the series. I am also looking forward to seeing Hamish and Diarmid brought to their knees by love and sincerely hope that Brody and Elspeth get the chance to gloat!

MY VERDICT: A real holiday treat from one of my favourite authors.

 

REVIEW RATING: 4/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

The Lairds Most Likely series so far (click on the book covers for more details):

 The Laird's Willful Lass (The Lairds Most Likely, #1) by Anna Campbell The Laird’s Christmas Kiss (The Lairds Most Likely, #2) by Anna Campbell

 

**In the interests of full disclosure, I received a copy of this novella as a gift from the author. It is my personal choice to write this review and these are my honest thoughts about the story.** 

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Holiday by Gaslight

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian, 1861)

Book Blurb:

A Courtship of Convenience

Sophie Appersett is quite willing to marry outside of her class to ensure the survival of her family. But the darkly handsome Mr. Edward Sharpe is no run-of-the-mill London merchant. He’s grim and silent. A man of little emotion—or perhaps no emotion at all. After two months of courtship, she’s ready to put an end to things.

A Last Chance for Love

But severing ties with her taciturn suitor isn’t as straightforward as Sophie envisioned. Her parents are outraged. And then there’s Charles Darwin, Prince Albert, and that dratted gaslight. What’s a girl to do except invite Mr. Sharpe to Appersett House for Christmas and give him one last chance to win her? Only this time there’ll be no false formality. This time they’ll get to know each other for who they really are.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This was such a charming, heart-warming romance – just the perfect start to my Christmas reading. 

Sir William Appersett is virtually bankrupt, having squandered most of the family fortune, together with his eldest daughter Sophie’s dowry, on modernisations to Appersett House. With no male heir, he regards the house as his only enduring legacy. Now he and his wife have brought Sophie and her younger sister, Emily, to London in the hope of finding them wealthy husbands.

Edward (Ned) Sharpe, a draper’s son, is a highly successful and wealthy factory owner. For the past twelve months, he has been considering marriage, but it is only when he sees Sophie Appersett that he seriously contemplates getting married and approaches her father for permission to court her

He’d wanted her from the first. Had known as soon as he looked at her that she was someone worth having in his life, no matter the cost.

Sir William is more than agreeable to Edward courting his daughter because he fully expects that Edward will provide the necessary funds for the next phase of his modernisations. Sophie is not averse to marrying Edward, hoping that, given time, he would come to care for her or even love her. But, after two months of courtship, she can no longer contemplate spending her life with a man who is so solemn, unemotional and lacking in conversation and calls off the courtship.

He never betrayed his feelings with a look or a word. And when it came to conversation, silence was, by far, his favorite subject.

Being unfamiliar with all the rules governing courtship among the upper classes, Edward had turned for advice to the Gentleman’s Book of Etiquette…not very sound advice as it turns out. It seems he has burnt his bridges as far as Sophie is concerned and is most surprised when the lady in question turns up at his office. Sophie has reconsidered and is willing to continue the courtship…perhaps if they talk openly and really get to know each other, she might find she was wrong about them being ill-suited. So, Sophie invites Edward to spend Christmas at Appersett House in Derbyshire.

Sophie and Ned are such appealing characters and the Christmas festivities provide the perfect setting for their romance to flourish. Ned is a man who rarely shows his emotions but feels things deeply, which is evident in his reactions after Sophie calls off the courtship. I enjoyed seeing him slowly emerge from behind that stern appearance and reveal something of his real self to Sophie; the way he treats his parents with respect and shows kindness to her mother, and even to her spoilt sister, Emily; his patience and attentiveness; how, when he smiles, there was a sparkle in his eyes that made her catch her breath; how he surprises her by teasing and flirting!

”…unless you very strenuously object, I intend to kiss you this Christmas.”
Sophie stared at him, her mouth suddenly dry. It took all of her strength of will to compose herself. To moisten her lips and formulate words more substantial than a breathless squeak. “Under the mistletoe, I presume.”
“Under the mistletoe. Under the gaslight. Under the stars.” Ned bent his head close to hers. “Perhaps all three.”

I admire Sophie for her loyalty to her family, even though her profligate father and spoilt sister hardly deserve it. She has shouldered the responsibility for trying to keep the family from financial ruin and I love how Ned is willing to shoulder this burden for her, while he is in Derbyshire, with no strings attached and the freedom to choose what happens afterwards.

Sophie is intelligent, strong, gracious, warm and kind, qualities that Ned recognises and values, unlike her father, and I love how he views marriage as a partnership where they will be equals.

“A partner,” Sophie repeated. “Is that how you think of me?”
He made a soft sound of assent as he enfolded her back into his embrace. “Not very romantic, is it? But I don’t want you to feel powerless with me. I value your intelligence and your strength. I’d rather you stood at my side than in my shadow.”

This was a time of great change both socially and economically and I like how Ms. Matthews explores the theme of adaptation to change by referencing Darwin’s work, which Sophie and Ned discuss, and in comments Sophie makes to her sister.

“We’re part of the modern age,” Sophie tells her sister. “We must change along with it or be left behind in the dust.”

The author’s love for and knowledge of the Victorian era is perfectly reflected in the historical details, the social commentary, and how she captures the essence of a Victorian Christmas.

MY VERDICT: This is a lovely, entertaining and heart-warming novella and the perfect accompaniment to the festive season.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: KISSES

 

 

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Dair Devil - audio

(Roxton Family Saga, #3)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian – 1777)

Book Blurb:

1770s London and Hampshire.

Alisdair ‘Dair’ Fitzstuart, hero of the American Revolutionary war and heir to an earldom, known by all as a self-centred womanizing rogue. But his dashing and rugged façade hides a vulnerable man with a traumatic past. He will gamble with his life, but never his heart, which remains his own.

Aurora ‘Rory’ Talbot, is a spinster and pineapple fancier who lives on the periphery of Polite Society. An observer but never observed, her fragile beauty hides conviction and a keen intelligence. Ever optimistic, she will not be defined by disability.

One fateful night Dair and Rory collide, and the attraction is immediate, the consequences profound. Both will risk everything for love.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Alisdair (Dair) Fitzstuart’s reputation for refusing to take life seriously and forever being up for a prank or wager has always preceded him. On top of which, he’s pretty gorgeous so there’s quite often a bevy of young ladies swooning over him. For nine years, he served his country in the American Colonies as an army officer with the Dragoons. His neck-or-nothing-lead-from-the-front attitude inspired unquestioning loyalty in his subordinates and his attitude has earned him the moniker of ‘Dair Devil’, but also censure from some members of society.

In Autumn Duchess, the previous book in the Roxton series, he upsets his cousin Julian, Duke of Roxton, by acting the buffoon (or so it seemed) during a boat race in which Roxton’s young son almost drowned. Dair carried on rowing at break neck speed, apparently only intent on crossing the finishing line in first place. However, appearances can be deceptive and in Dair Devil, the fourth in Lucinda Brant’s addictive Roxton series, we get a more accurate insight into Dair’s serious side and the reasons why he behaves the way he does. It’s an eye opener and my views of Dair changed drastically within the first few chapters as, of course, the author intended. The moral of this story could be… don’t always take someone at face value.

Dair Devil begins with Dair inebriated and in outrageous mode. But, little does he know that he is about to meet his destiny, and in the most unlikely of places. He, and one of his two closest friends, have dressed as American Indians, with faces painted, upper bodies bare and lower bodies covered only by skimpy loin cloths. Their mission is to storm the studio of the renowned portrait painter Signore Romney, who is in the process of immortalising a bevy of beautiful, skimpily clad dancers of dubious morals in a Greek allegory for an aristocratic client. Dair is simply play acting; one of his friends is out to impress the prima ballerina by ‘saving’ her from the marauding interlopers and will arrive later brandishing a sword, while the other ‘Red Indian’ wishes to embarrass his detestable brother-in-law. The whole charade has been carefully planned even down to the arrival of the militia at a pre-ordained time. The dancers are in on the joke too and have been primed to scream and run for maximum effect on the arrival of the miscreants. What Dair and his companions are not aware of is that, as he is climbing through a window into the painter’s studio, unexpected visitors are being admitted via the front door. The prank is doomed to go horribly wrong! As the situation escalates out of control, Dair ends up wrapped in draperies and falling down the back of the stage in the arms of one of the unexpected visitors – a rather attractive young woman whose identity he is unaware of, but whom he initially mistakes for one of the dancers.

Aurora (Rory) Talbot, having been born with a club foot, has been sheltered and protected for her twenty-two years by her grandfather, England’s Spy Master General, Lord Shrewsbury. Obviously unable to dance, Rory spends much of her time at balls on the side-lines in the company of the matrons and wallflowers; as a result, her observational and listening skills are highly honed. So, although Major Lord Fitzstuart may not have noticed her, she has most certainly noticed him. Therefore, to find herself in a situation like this one is a dream come true – for in what possible circumstances could she ever have hoped to find herself in such close proximity to Dair? Protected and cosseted she may be, but Rory is no shrinking violet, so takes full advantage of the situation she finds herself in and thoroughly enjoys the closeness and unexpected passionate kiss Dair shares with her.

Dair is captivated by the delicate beauty in his arms; he calls her ‘Delight’, knowing immediately that she is different, although he doesn’t have the time or inclination to wonder why he should think so. The militia arrives and pandemonium ensues with events rapidly escalating out of control. Dair gives Rory one last quick kiss, tells her to go to a certain house where he will later find and make provision for her. He then leaves Rory behind the stage and joins in the ensuing fight with gusto.

Rory does not see Dair again until the following morning, by which time her grandfather has been apprised of the facts, although he is not aware to what extent his granddaughter was involved – only that she was there. Mindful of Rory’s reputation, Shrewsbury orders Dair to ‘forget’ the whole incident. Rory unwittingly interrupts the two in conversation and is bewildered when Dair shows no sign of recognition. For his part, Dair is distressed to learn of Rory’s identity and even more distressed that he must now pretend not to remember her.

Of course, much must be resolved before the would-be lovers can be re-united. Suffice to say that we are not to be disappointed. If Lucinda Brant has a ‘most romantic’ book in this series then Dair Devil has to be high in the running order as rarely have I enjoyed such a heart-warming and chivalrous story. The couple were immediately attracted to one another once they were given the opportunity to meet, albeit under such unorthodox circumstances. But this story is so much more than a romance. Rory is disabled and Dair couldn’t care less about her affliction once he is made aware of it. He sees only her, although there are some who prefer to misinterpret his actions and feelings. Stunningly handsome, heir to an earldom and with a lineage that can be traced back to royalty, Dair is highly eligible husband material. But he has never shown any interest in, nor seemed to want love or marriage until he meets Rory who , although ethereally pretty, is otherwise quite unremarkable – until one actually gets to know her – and I loved that he recognised his soul mate almost immediately.

Dair is a far more complex character than we were initially led to believe; plus he is the product of a broken marriage which has affected him far more deeply than most of his family and peers realise. Rory helps him to see that not all marriages are unhappy. She is the perfect mate for him, wise and non-judgemental, and the unadulterated love of this sweet, intelligent and unaffected young woman finally reveals the man he is beneath the superficial face he prefers to show the world.

However, to begin with, the course of true love does not run smoothly, although the love Dair and Rory feel for each other never wavers. But there are obstacles to overcome which neither could possibly have anticipated. In fact, they never learn the truth, but we, the readers are privy to Antonia’s timely intervention and the secrets she reveals. The scene where this feisty, beautiful, magnificent little duchess sweeps in and dramatically puts one of the most powerful men in the land firmly in his place is simply spectacular and one of my favourite scenes in any book I have read… ever.

Alex Wyndham, as usual, treats us to a superstar performance, and during the scene I’ve just mentioned, it is his consummate acting skills, coupled with Lucinda Brant’s clever mind and artful prose, which kept me completely riveted and on the edge of my seat until I learned the shocking truth. It’s very satisfying to see someone who is arrogantly confident and sure they can’t be bested knocked down to size. The scene is long and troubling, emotions are high and one of the protagonists is an older male with a huskier, sarcastic tone to his voice, which has to be maintained over a long period. The other, an extremely outraged (at times) female with a strong accent. Alex Wyndham has this highly emotional duologue to perform and I can honestly say that, so lost was I in his magnificent performance, that I was no longer listening to an audio book but enjoying a play… or even witnessing the interaction taking place. Take a bow Ms. Brant and Mr. Wyndham because your combined talents are masterful.

MY VERDICT: DAIR DEVIL is full of fascinating detail and intriguing facts that the author has meticulously researched. Lucinda Brant doesn’t just stick a date on the first page – she literally transports us into her Georgian world. A wonderfully romantic, superbly researched story with an added twist I would never have guessed in a million years. Highly recommended.

 

 REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

 

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

Noble Satyr (Roxton Family Saga, #0) by Lucinda Brant Midnight Marriage (Roxton Family Saga, #1) by Lucinda Brant Autumn Duchess (Roxton Family Saga, #2) by Lucinda Brant Eternally Yours Roxton Letters Volume One A Companion To The Roxton Family Saga by Lucinda Brant Dair Devil (Roxton Family Saga, #3) by Lucinda Brant Proud Mary (Roxton Family Saga, #4) by Lucinda Brant Satyr's Son (Roxton Family Saga, #5) by Lucinda Brant Forever Remain Roxton Letters Volume Two (Roxton Family Saga Book 7) by Lucinda Brant

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Ten Ways

(Love by Numbers, #2)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1823)

Cover Blurb:

“Lord Nicholas is a paragon of manhood. And his eyes, Dear Reader! So blue!” Pearls & Pelisses, June 1823

Since being named ‘London’s Lord to Land’ by a popular ladies’ magazine, Nicholas St John has been relentlessly pursued by every matrimony-minded female in the ton. So when an opportunity to escape fashionable society presents itself, he eagerly jumps – only to land in the path of the most determined, damnably delicious woman he’s ever met!

The daughter of a titled wastrel, Lady Isabel Townsend has too many secrets and too little money. Though she is used to taking care of herself quite handily, her father’s recent passing has left Isabel at sea and in need of outside help to protect her young brother’s birthright. The sinfully handsome, eminently eligible Lord Nicholas could be the very salvation she seeks.

But the lady must be wary and not do anything reckless and foolish . . . like falling madly, passionately in love.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

I absolutely loved Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake, the first book in this series, and had high expectations of Ten Ways to be Adored When Landing a Lord. I have to say that, although it was good, it did not quite live up to my expectations. But, to be fair, Nine Rules was always going to be a tough act to follow.

What can I say about Nicholas? He is just gorgeous! He is not only devastatingly handsome, intelligent, charming and super sexy but also a genuinely good man. Given how his mother’s desertion had destroyed his father and his own betrayal at the hands of a woman, I could fully understand his attitude towards love – to be avoided at all costs. He has his own rules when it comes to amorous affairs…

No mistresses. No regular assignations. And, most definitely, no wife.

But we all know that rules are meant to be broken, as Nicholas (Nick) discovers when he meets Lady Isabel Townsend. He cannot resist a lady in distress, even if she is the most intriguing, infuriating and secretive woman he has ever known. He is also drawn to her combination of strength and vulnerability.

I love how honest and forthright Nick is with Isabel and how he does everything he can to protect not only Isabel but also her ten-year-old brother, James, now Earl of Reddich, and the women of Minerva House.

“I am not perfect. I cannot promise you that I will not do things that will hurt you.” He paused, his scar a pale line against his darkened skin. “But I will do everything in my power to protect you and James and these girls.”

I also adore how Nick takes James under his wing and becomes like a surrogate father to him. The scenes between them are quite charming such as this one.

Nick turned. “Would you like me to teach you?”
The boy’s eyes lit up. “Would you mind very much?”
“Not at all.” Nick removed the strip of linen from his person and placed it around James’s neck. Turning the boy to the looking glass, he walked James through the movements until the cravat was a fair approximation of the knot Nick had created earlier.

Isabel’s life has not been easy. Her late father had always neglected his wife and children, leaving them in the country, while he went off to London to enjoy a profligate and scandalous life. I admire Isabel’s courage in rising to the difficult challenge of running the estate and her resolve to provide a safe haven for the women at Minerva House and give them a fresh start in life. She is also determined to ensure that her brother, James, receives an upbringing and education befitting his position as earl. Those around her believe that she can face any challenge but are unaware that she is just as afraid and uncertain as they are. but hides it behind an air of confidence. Seeing this vulnerability in Isabel made her more relatable.

Poor Nick! I felt so sorry for him because it is obvious how deeply he loves Isabel but she continually pushes him away.

How many times had he worked to regain her trust, to prove his worth? And how many times had Isabel rejected him?

I can understand Isabel’s initial reluctance to trust Nick. After all, her father’s irresponsible actions would hardly have convinced her that men were trustworthy, and the plight of those women who sought refuge in Minerva House would only have reinforced that opinion. But her constant refusal to trust Nick, even after he proves himself over and over again, was just so irritating. I wanted to grab her and shake her for not having faith in him. Luckily, she finally comes to her senses and it is refreshing to see the heroine forced to do some grovelling, rather than the hero.

The romance between these two is quite steamy and Ms. MacLean certainly knows how write the most sensual scenes. One that particularly comes to mind is the scene between Nick and Isabel in the statuary. A cold shower is definitely recommended after reading it!!

There is a sweet secondary romance between Lara, Isabel’s cousin, and Durukhan (Rock), Nick’s companion and friend, which plays out in the background and forms a nice contrast to the more passionate one between Nick and Isabel.

I enjoyed the scenes involving the ladies of Minerva House, particularly the one at the beginning of the book when, in male disguise, they are helping Isabel to get rid of yet another man to whom her father has promised her hand in marriage, in payment for his latest gambling debt. I grinned all the way through it.

He turned on Isabel. “What’s this, then?”
The stable master slapped her coiled horsewhip against one thigh, the thwack of the leather causing Asperton to flinch. “We do not like you raising your voice to a lady, sir.”
Isabel watched as the angled notch at his thin throat quivered. “I—I am …”

I enjoyed catching up with Gabriel and Callie (Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake) and I’m looking forward to the arrogant, rude and overbearing Duke of Leighton meeting his match in the final book of the series, Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke’s Heart.

MY VERDICT: A most enjoyable story with interesting characters, a passionate and sensual romance and delightful touches of humour.


REVIEW RATING: 4/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

 

Love by Numbers series (click on the book covers for more details):

Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake (Love By Numbers, #1) by Sarah MacLean Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord (Love By Numbers, #2) by Sarah MacLean Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart (Love By Numbers, #3) by Sarah MacLean

 

 

 

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Cadenza

(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.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

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 his 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 later 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 an 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, 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. yet.

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


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

 

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

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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A Momentary Marriage

(Montclair-de Vere #2)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

James de Vere has always insisted on being perfectly pragmatic and rational in all things. It seemed the only way to deal with his overdramatic, greedy family. When he falls ill and no doctor in London can diagnose him, he returns home to Grace Hill in search of a physician who can—or to set his affairs in order.

Arriving at the doctor’s home, he’s surprised to encounter the doctor’s daughter Laura, a young woman he last saw when he was warning her off an attachment with his cousin Graeme. Alas, the doctor is recently deceased and Laura is closing up the estate, which must be sold off, leaving her penniless. At this, James has an inspiration: why not marry the damsel in distress? If his last hope for a cure is gone, at least he’ll have some companionship in his final days, and she’ll inherit his fortune instead of his grasping relatives, leaving her a wealthy widow with plenty of prospects.

Laura is far from swept off her feet, but she’s as pragmatic as James, so she accepts his unusual proposal. But as the two of them brave the onslaught of shocked and suspicious family members, they find themselves growing closer. They vowed, “until death do us part”…but now both are longing for their marriage to be more than momentary in this evocative romance, perfect for fans of Sabrina Jeffries and Mary Balogh


♥♥♥♥♥♥

It has been some years since I last read a book by Candace Camp and I had forgotten what a superb writer she is. Not only is A Momentary Marriage a perfect blend of humour, wit, suspense and romance, but I was also intrigued by the original working of one of my favourite tropes – the marriage of convenience.

James is a cold, cynical and practical man who regards love as a maudlin sentimentality for understandable reasons revealed later in the story. He has little time for his money-grasping relatives and the tight control he exercises over the family finances is a source of bitter resentment and anger among the family members. His affection only extends to his cousin Graeme and his faithful dog Demosthenes (Dem).

James appears stoical about his impending death but there are moments revealing his vulnerability that were really heart-breaking – the way he still clings to a glimmer of hope that Dr. Hinsdale might be able to help, and when Laura tells him about her father…

She could not help but remember when she told him her was father was not there and for a brief moment his face had been unguarded – and utterly hopeless.

Laura is beautiful, sensible, kind and has real strength of character. Despite her dislike of James, she is realistic enough to appreciate that marriage to him offers her a home and a secure future.

She would have liked to throw his offer back in his face , just to thwart him. But she was all too aware of the hard, lonely future that awaited her and, admittedly, too pragmatic to let annoyance rule her.

I love how she is not afraid to speak her mind and stands up to both James and his family. Her kindness and compassion shines through in her genuine determination to take care of James and do whatever she can to ease his pain and fears.

I knew that James could not possibly die. After all, this is a romance and we readers demand a happy ending. But Ms. Camp depicts his suffering so vividly that there were times when I was certain he could not survive.

He’d hardly heard what the  estate manager had told him, distracted by the slant of light coming through the window and the way it sent an arrow of pain into his eyes and straight through his brain.

Laura’s discovery that someone is trying to poison James and his slow road to recovery moves the story in a different direction. Now they have to come to terms with the fact that their marriage is no longer the temporary one they both believed it to be, and also discover the identity of the person who wants James dead.

The romance is tender, poignant, sensual and laced with witty banter that provides some lighter moments. Ms. Camp builds their relationship slowly, showing their feelings for each other gradually changing and allowing the romance to flourish in a natural way.

The thing was…he enjoyed waking up with her in his arms. He’d liked turning over in the night and feeling her beside him.

Laura stared, shocked by the way her body had reacted to his touch, his smile. For the moment she had wanted to lean down and kiss him, to feel his arms around her again, his heat pouring through her.

James comes to admire Laura’s intelligence and wit, as well as enjoying her company and he knows that she is someone he can trust. I love how fiercely protective he is when his brother-in-law, Salstone, insults her. Laura knows James can be cynical, pragmatic and controlling but she has also seen another James behind the cool façade he presents to the world. A man who can be gentle and kind. A man who loves his dog. A man who makes her laugh with his dry, witty sense of humour.

I enjoyed seeing the genuine friendship between Laura and Abigail, Graeme’s wife and was amused by James’ jealousy when he misconstrued the reason for Laura’s visits to Abigail’s. I love the scene where he discovers the real reason! I like how, later in the story, Laura is instrumental in making James see that he has always kept himself emotionally closed off from his family and it was heartening to see him heed Laura’s words and take tentative steps towards a reconciliation with them.

The mystery of who is trying to kill both James and Laura was intriguing enough to keep me guessing right up until the culprit’s identity is revealed in a dramatic, surprise revelation.

This is the second book in the Montclair-de Vere series and, although I have not read the first book, A Perfect Gentleman, it did not in any way affect my enjoyment of A Momentary Marriage. I have already sent for a copy of A Perfect Gentleman as I am keen to read Graeme and Abigail’s story.

MY VERDICT: For those looking for a well-crafted, witty, heart-warming romance, with a refreshingly different premise, likeable characters and an interesting mystery, I can definitely recommend A Momentary Marriage.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Montclair – de Vere series (click on the book covers for more details):

 A Perfect Gentleman by Candace Camp A Momentary Marriage by Candace Camp

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