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Archive for the ‘Historical Romance’ Category

The Winter Bride

(Chance Sisters, #2)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency – 1816)

Cover Blurb

Award-winning author Anne Gracie delivers the second in her enticing new series about four young women facing a life of destitution—until a daring act changes their fortune and turns them each into a beautiful bride…

Damaris Chance’s unhappy past has turned her off the idea of marriage forever. But her guardian, Lady Beatrice Davenham, convinces her to make her coming out anyway—and have a season of carefree, uncomplicated fun.

When Damaris finds herself trapped in a compromising situation with the handsome rake Freddy Monkton-Coombes, she has no choice but to agree to wed him—as long as it’s in name only. Her new husband seems to accept her terms, but Freddy has a plan of his own: to seduce his reluctant winter bride.

Will Damaris’s secrets destroy her chance at true happiness? Or can Freddy help her cast off the shackles of the past, and yield to delicious temptation?

♥♥♥♥♥♥

After being somewhat disappointed by THE AUTUMN BRIDE, I LOVED this book. Beautifully written, emotional, romantic and funny, it was a total delight from beginning to end.

I absolutely adored Freddy. In The Autumn Bride, he is seemed nothing more than a handsome, charming, entertaining, frivolous rake who has no interest in marriage and avoids ‘muffins’ – eligible young ladies who are constantly trying to trick him into marriage – like the plague. However, as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Freddy’s carefree lifestyle is a carefully cultivated façade to hide the guilt he feels over his brother’s death and the hurt caused by his parents’ indifference and insults. He is an honourable man who proves to be a loyal friend to Max, a valued and shrewd business partner to Flynn and a man who inspires the love and loyalty of his servants.

I truly felt for Damaris whose mother died when she was twelve, leaving her to be brought up by her missionary father who only believed in duty and obedience not love. He instilled in Damaris a belief that she had inherited her mother’s wanton nature. Forced to flee China after her father is murdered and his mission burnt, she manages to escape to England. What happened during that journey is her terrible secret; one which has convinced her that she will never marry and one which she has never shared with anyone. I could not help but be moved by her longing for a life she knew she could never have.

Did they think she didn’t want to be loved, didn’t want to have someone whose business—no, whose pleasure it would be to take care of her, protect her? And who would let her take care of him and love him in return?

Ms. Gracie builds the relationship between Freddy and Damaris slowly making the romance both believable and emotionally satisfying. As they come to know and understand each other, during the pretend betrothal, their tentative attraction gradually blossoms into love.

London society sees Freddy as nothing more than the ‘frivolous fellow with not a serious thought in his head’ but Damaris sees beyond that façade to the kind, charming, clever, loyal, thoughtful, funny man who deserves to be loved. Damaris has captured Freddy’s heart with her beauty, serenity, stubbornness, courage, understanding and laughter.

I love the scene where Damaris shows real courage when she defends Freddy and gives his parents a good tongue-lashing, refusing to be intimidated by them.

“The entire time I’ve been here all you’ve done is make cutting remarks about him to me—and I’m his betrothed. I’ve heard nothing but criticism, disparagement and negativity. I cannot credit it. You are his mother and you, his father. He is your son—your only son.” Her eyes prickled with angry, frustrated tears. “What kind of parents are you? You lost one son, but you threw the other away.”

When Damaris reveals her secret to Freddy, I love his reaction…

“You did the only thing you could. No one would blame you. I certainly wouldn’t.”

and his willingness to risk his life to slay dragons for her.

The love scene in the cottage is so beautifully written, full of warmth, humour and passion. I love the lengths Freddy is willing to go to allay Damaris’ fears, especially his own paticular interpretation of certain Biblical stories!

He picked up her hand and kissed it. “Enough of that, insatiable creature. I’m explaining something to you and it’s very important. God’s plan.”
“Oh. Yes?” she said vaguely.
“Yes. The pleasure men and women receive from lying together. Without the pleasure, it would happen far less frequently, and then where would we be? Would we be so happy about going forth and multiplying, as we’re told to do in the Bible?”
She stretched languorously and didn’t answer.
He went on. “Stop distracting me and listen. No, we wouldn’t. So the pleasure is all part of God’s plan and it is your sacred duty to enjoy it to the best of your ability. The future of the human race depends on it.”

There is a colourful cast of secondary characters including:

  • the indomitable Lady Bea of whom Freddy says – God, but the old lady was a tricky piece. He felt like he’d gone three rounds in a verbal boxing ring. 
  • Mrs Jenkins, Damaris’s employer, who is always warning her about ‘headin’ down the Road to Roon’ 
  • Captain Patrick Flynn, a lapsed Irish Catholic, with a penchant for bright colours and earrings and a desire to marry a fine young English lady. 
  • The experimental Chinese swimming pigs (to know more, I’m afraid you will have to read the book)

 Max and Abby (The Autumn Bride) and Jane and Daisy are also there to provide aid and support to Freddy and Damaris, and those who like a delightful Epilogue will not be disappointed.

 MY VERDICT: A charming, heart-warming romance with characters who will steal your heart. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

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

The Autumn Bride (Chance Sisters, #1) by Anne Gracie The Winter Bride (Chance Sisters, #2) by Anne Gracie The Spring Bride (Chance Sisters, #3) by Anne Gracie The Summer Bride (Chance Sisters, #4) by Anne Gracie

 

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The Autumn Bride

(Chance Sisters, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency – 1805 and 1816)

Cover Blurb

Governess Abigail Chantry will do anything to save her sister and two dearest friends from destitution, even if it means breaking into an empty mansion in the hope of finding something to sell. Instead of treasures, though, she finds the owner, Lady Beatrice Davenham, bedridden and neglected. Appalled, Abby rousts Lady Beatrice’s predatory servants and—with Lady Beatrice’s eager cooperation—the four young ladies become her “nieces,” neatly eliminating the threat of disaster for all concerned!

It’s the perfect situation, until Lady Beatrice’s dashing and arrogant nephew, Max, Lord Davenham, returns from the Orient—and discovers an impostor running his household…

A romantic entanglement was never the plan for these stubborn, passionate opponents—but falling in love may be as inevitable as the falling of autumn leaves…

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Having previously read and loved THE PERFECT RAKE, I had high expectations of this book, the first in Anne Gracie’s Chance Sisters series. However, while there were aspects of the book I really loved, there were others I found disappointing.

I really liked Abigail. She is such a warm and caring person and you see that in her love for her younger sister, Jane, as well as her willingness to take in Damaris and Daisy. I also admired her courage and resourcefulness in rescuing Jane from the brothel and Lady Beatrice from the clutches of her dishonest and neglectful servants.

Max is an honourable man who is determined to work to pay off his late uncle’s debts and restore the family fortunes, and he also reveals a caring nature in his genuine love and concern for his Aunt Beatrice. While I liked Max, I did find him a rather lacklustre hero, possibly because he was overshadowed by more vibrant and memorable characters like Lady Beatrice and Freddy Monkton-Coombes.

I loved seeing the unbreakable bond that develops between the four girls and the loving relationship that grows between them and Lady Beatrice, who is definitely one of the highlights of the book. She’s such a colourful and larger than life figure who is outspoken and delights in flaunting the stuffy rules of society, even claiming the Chance sisters as her ‘nieces’. I love the scene where she regales Lady Beddington with the scandalous story of her fictitious half-sister, Griselda, her nieces’ mother, much to Max’s annoyance. I adored Max’s best friend, Freddy Monkton-Combes, who brought some lovely humour to the story with his talk of ‘muffins’ (and I don’t mean the edible kind).

While I appreciated that this was the first book in a new series and setting up the bond between the ‘sisters’ and establishing their relationship with Lady Beatrice were important elements of the story, I did not feel that it allowed enough time to fully develop the romance between Abby and Max. For me, there was no steady development of their relationship and I did not sense the deep emotional connection between them. However, some of my criticisms were softened by the charming Epilogue.

The touch of mystery surrounding Jane’s abduction added an interesting layer to the story but I felt that the opportunity to introduce a dramatic resolution to the plot line was sadly missed. Everything is neatly resolved off page with Max and Daisy relating details of what happened to the others. A clear case of telling rather than showing.

MY VERDICT: Despite my reservations, overall I enjoyed THE AUTUMN BRIDE and will definitely be reading the other books in the series to see Jane, Damaris and Daisy get their Happy Ever Afters.


REVIEW RATING: 4/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM


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

The Autumn Bride (Chance Sisters, #1) by Anne Gracie The Winter Bride (Chance Sisters, #2) by Anne Gracie The Spring Bride (Chance Sisters, #3) by Anne Gracie The Summer Bride (Chance Sisters, #4) by Anne Gracie

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(UK cover)

(Scandal and Scoundrel, #3)

Genre: Historical Romance (late Regency – 1834 and 1836)

Cover Blurb:

The one woman he will never forget…
Malcolm Bevingstoke, Duke of Haven, has lived the last three years in self-imposed solitude, paying the price for a mistake he can never reverse and a love he lost forever. The dukedom does not wait, however, and Haven requires an heir, which means he must find himself a wife by summer’s end. There is only one problem—he already has one.

The one man she will never forgive…
After years in exile, Seraphina, Duchess of Haven, returns to London with a single goal—to reclaim the life she left and find happiness, unencumbered by the man who broke her heart. Haven offers her a deal; Sera can have her freedom, just as soon as she finds her replacement…which requires her to spend the summer in close quarters with the husband she does not want, but somehow cannot resist.

A love that neither can deny…
The duke has a single summer to woo his wife and convince her that, despite their broken past, he can give her forever, making every day The Day of the Duchess.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

I absolutely loved this book and was totally swept away by the beautiful, compelling, intensely emotional and deeply romantic, second chance love story – a story that really touches the heart.

For the past two years and seven months, Malcolm Bevingstoke, Duke of Haven, has searched the world for his estranged wife, Seraphina, without success. There has never been a single moment in all that time when he has not regretted everything he said and did that caused her to leave.

Would there ever be a time when he stopped thinking of her? Ever a date that did not remind him of her? Of the time that had stretched like an eternity since she’d left?

He longs to find her. To win her back. To start afresh.

It is the last day of the Parliamentary session and, as soon as he leaves the House, he intends to continue his search, because no matter how long it takes, he will find her. Then, there she is standing boldly before the assembled lords announcing…

“I am Seraphina Bevingstoke, Duchess of Haven. And I require a divorce.”

Seraphina is no longer the frightened, broken girl who fled, but a strong woman with a purpose. She has forged a new life for herself but, to secure that future, she requires a divorce from her husband.

Malcolm has no intention of granting Seraphina a divorce but needs time in which to woo her back. On the spur of the moment, he comes up with a mad plan – he will agree to a divorce as long as Seraphina agrees to spend six weeks at his country estate, Highley, to find him a replacement for her. Seraphina is reluctant but, if this is the only way to obtain her divorce, so be it. After all, she will not be alone. She has reinforcements in the form of her formidable sisters, who hate Malcolm as much as she does!

This book had such a profound emotional impact on me. I lived every moment of Mal and Sera’s heart-rending story – the regret, the anger, the guilt, the pain and the shattered dreams. It was hard to imagine that they would ever find each other again. This is why I love second-chance stories because, however difficult the journey, I know that there will be a happy-ever-after and it will be all the more rewarding.

I like how Ms. MacLean uses flashback chapters in the early part of the book, gradually revealing the events that led up to their marriage falling apart. She makes Mal and Sera seem very human. I think we have all made mistakes in our lives which we later come to regret. So, it was easy to relate to Mal and Sera, however misguided their decisions, which were to have terrible consequences. Despite everything that happened, I could feel their deep yearning for each other.

I know that many reviewers had already formed a very negative opinion of Mal from events that occurred at the beginning of A Rogue Not Taken, the first book in the series. I think that not having read that book myself was an advantage because it allowed me to judge Mal more objectively. He had seen first-hand his parents’ disastrous marriage (his own mother had trapped his father into marriage) and I could understand him lashing out at Sera, believing that she had never cared for him, only his title. That does not mean I can excuse his words and actions but I felt Mal’s pain, remorse and shame, knowing that he had been so blinded by his feelings of betrayal and anger that he had shattered everything between them. Mal redeemed himself in my eyes because of his willingness to admit his mistakes, his enduring love for Sera and his determination to fight for her, even though he fears she no longer feels the same about him.

He had left her because he’d thought she cared for his dukedom more than she cared for him.
By the time he’d discovered that it mattered not a bit why she’d landed him – only that she’d landed him at all – she’d been gone.

It was heart-breaking to see Sera so alone and broken when she left. All she ever wanted was Mal, not his title but, unwisely, she listened to her mother’s advice. Now, she is like a Phoenix risen from the ashes – stronger, wiser and determined to live her own independent life. She soon realises that, despite everything that had happened between them, she has never stopped loving Mal but is afraid that she will never be enough for him.

I love the scene in the underwater ballroom (yes, there really is one at Whitley Park in Surrey) where Mal draws a parallel between himself and Sera and the story of the Pleiades, as a way of conveying his own feelings for Sera. It was so romantic and I felt so much sympathy for Mal. The love scene that follows carries all the years of longing and is beautifully written that it bought tears to my eyes, because Sera is too afraid to believe there is a future for them.

The scene in the little garden when Sera sees the stone angel, dedicated to their daughter, is so moving and, for the first time, they are able to speak openly and honestly about the past and mourn their loss together.

I love Mal for recognising that he needed to give Sera the freedom to choose and his grand gesture is just so sigh-worthy…

“Yes, love. I’m through chasing you. I shall have to be happy with finding you in the stars, at night.” He paused, and she gasped, realizing what he was about to do. “There will never be another for me. But it is not my choice that matters; it is yours.

and the Epilogue left me with a lovely warm glow, seeing Mal and Sera deliriously happy after so much heartache.

I adore the Talbot sisters (aka the Soiled Sisters) who care nothing for Society’s censure.  Outrageous, forthright, loyal, dramatic and convivial, they bring some welcome humour to the story. I love the scene where they are all piled into a carriage, accompanying Sera to Highley. The dialogue between them is so funny. Another hilarious scene, involving the sisters, is the lawn bowls in which they team up with Mal’s prospective brides. I was intrigued by the interactions between Sesily, Sera’s unmarried sister, and Caleb Calhoun, Sera’s American friend, and I believe they will be getting their own book in due course. That promises to be an interesting pairing.

MY VERDICT: If you enjoy a superbly written, compelling, angst-filled romance with unforgettable characters, then I can definitely recommend this book.

REVIEW RATING : 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM


Scandal and Scoundrel
series (click on the book covers for more details):

The Rogue Not Taken (Scandal & Scoundrel, #1) by Sarah MacLean A Scot in the Dark (Scandal & Scoundrel, #2) by Sarah MacLean The Day of the Duchess (Scandal & Scoundrel, #3) by Sarah MacLean

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Hazard audiobook

(Rockliffe, #5)

Genre: Historical Romance (Paris, 1770 and London, 1777)

Cover Blurb:

Hazard: a game of Chance and Luck, made riskier when Fate is rolling the dice.

For Aristide Delacroix, the first throw summons shades from his past. A man he had met, just once, over a card-table … and the lovely girl indirectly responsible for plunging his life into catastrophe.

For Lord Nicholas Wynstanton, tired of waiting for Madeleine Delacroix to make up her mind, it slyly suggests he begin a whole new game with loaded dice; while for Madeleine, it devises a terrifying lesson in missed opportunities and the uncertainty of second chances.

And for Genevieve Westin, hoping widowhood will be happier than marriage, it brings a rude awakening – leaving a single, wild gamble her only option.
A cardsharp turned businessman, a duke’s charming brother, a stubborn, razor-edged beauty and a desperate widow.

Four players in a game of Hazard … all playing for very high stakes.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Stella Riley has kept my interest from the first page of the first book in her Rockliffe series (The Parfit Knight), which was originally written in her earlier life as a traditionally published author. Three years ago, she took up her pen again as an Indie author and I have not only discovered her (how did I miss her the first time around?) but now eagerly await each new release – three so far, and counting (plus of course, an addition to her superb English Civil War series). Both of her two earlier books are now available in e-format, as well as in paperback AND audio, and all the books in this series have been treated to stunning new covers. The Rockliffe series is rapidly becoming a reader’s favourite; a considerable success considering there are some thirty plus years between the first book and the last, and she has seamlessly continued the series as if that large gap never existed.

Hazard (book five), as the name suggests, is set in part against the backdrop of a gaming club. There are four players (as in the game); two equally spine-tingling romances playing out in parallel, and, as always, the enigmatic, all-seeing, all-knowing and utterly delicious, Duke of Rockliffe (aka Rock) is central to the story and its outcome. Each of Ms. Riley’s fabulous cast of characters introduced over the course of the series (some with books of their own), are in evidence, and as I always say, these men and women feel like old friends after five books.

Two of the main protagonists, brother and sister, Madeleine and Aristide Delacroix, get their HEA, and so too does Nicholas Wynstanton, Rock’s younger brother, who has long been smitten with the prickly Madeleine. By the time we reached the end of The Wicked Cousin, Nicholas was becoming more and more frustrated and Madeleine more difficult. However, fans of the series probably knew that Stella Riley would find a way for this unlikely pair to overcome their difficulties. Aristide’s love interest comes from a totally unexpected quarter and ties in nicely with his earlier life and his connection to Adrian Deveraux, Earl of Sarre (The

One of Stella Riley’s greatest strengths lies in her characterisation. The people she ‘creates’ take on a living, breathing persona and, in Hazard, Nicholas Wynstanton, who has been around as a secondary character since the first book, is fully developed into a larger than life, loveable and honourable man. No longer just the happy-go-lucky, younger brother of a duke, he is now a man not to be trifled with as he sets his sights on demolishing the walls Madeleine Delacroix has erected around her heart. Madeleine’s arguments against the match stem from her own insecurities – her earlier life in Paris where she had lived a hand-to-mouth existence with her brother and mother, and the unrequited, girlish infatuation she had briefly felt for her brother’s friend, Adrian Deveraux (The Player). Being the proud young woman, she is, Adrian’s rebuttal was all the more devastating and she has never fully recovered her composure or confidence with the opposite sex resulting in her unfortunate standoffishness.

Her brother, Aristide, is a cool and quiet man and, with a few well-chosen words the author conjures up a man I can see in my mind’s eye…

long blonde hair, eyes the blue of a cloudless winter sky and neatly tailored bones.

He says little but, through his inner musings, we get a great deal of insight into the man he is – suspicious, frustrated and angry – emotions he keeps carefully locked away. Aristide, on the face of it, seems to be calmly and emotionlessly going about his business, but he too has a bruised heart from which he has never fully recovered. His carefully locked away hurt at the way he believes he was treated by his ‘almost love’ comes back to haunt him. Seven years on he is no longer the tender-hearted, kindly young man working hard to care for his teenage sister and ailing mother, but an affluent, respected partner in one of London’s premier gaming/gentleman’s clubs. We see the cool, carefully cultivated aloofness slowly disintegrate before the onslaught of the attraction he discovers he still feels after the intervening years.

Stella Riley has the sibling relationship between Aristide and Madeline just right. Their character traits suggest a familial relationship; both are reserved as a result of brushes with young, unrequited love and both are over sensitive about their humble beginnings. As a result, they are both wary of allowing anyone to scale the walls of their self-erected defences. An intriguing pair and so the final capitulation to their respective loves is all the more satisfying.

Beautiful and sweet Genevieve has erupted back into Aristide’s well-ordered life after seven years. She has suffered much at the hands of her brothers and her now deceased, dissipated husband. She is aware that society views her with distaste by association and, as a result, she is extremely vulnerable and lacking in confidence and self-esteem. In fact, her very vulnerability and suffering is just what the calmly controlled Aristide needs as a salve to the perceived injustices he believes her responsible for in his past life. He is still the kind of man who needs to be needed, and Genevieve Westin certainly fits that bill and so we watch him crumble. It puts me in mind a little of The Mésalliance (although nothing quite compares to the final chapters of that magnificent story) in which we see Rock lose his legendary ‘cool’. I love these hard to read, mysterious men.

There is a plausible plot running throughout the story which involves most of the main characters but has its roots in Paris and Aristide’s earlier life. Rock always strolls in and takes centre stage at just the right moments – urbane and cool-as-cucumber, he steals every scene he is involved in. With just a few carefully selected words designed to defuse, he delivers a set-down, often without the recipient being aware he or she has been insulted. His character is one of Stella Riley’s triumphs, and this series is well named because Rock’s unfailing omniscience and his ability to always be in the right place at the right time is something I have come to look forward to with much anticipation in every book, and I’m never disappointed.

Hazard follows on within weeks of the end of The Wicked Cousin. Cassie and Sebastian are welcomed back into ‘the gang’ after their recent honeymoon and are evidently very-much-in-love newlyweds. They run the gauntlet of the banter and risqué comments of their close friends. Sebastian’s wicked and naughty sense of humour is very much in evidence, another area in which the author excels; her wit and humour are always lurking in the background, adding another dimension to her intriguing characters and expertly researched Georgian world. As we near the end of the series, it is going to be sad to say goodbye…but not yet. Ms. Riley is busy writing another/final book in the series and I am eagerly looking forward to a further intriguing addition to the Rockliffe series, and maybe Ms. Riley will tie off a few loose ends, such as, will Rock get his heir and let Nicholas off the hook?

I’ve read the book and now I’ve listened to the audio version performed by the talented actor Ms. Riley always employs to perform the books in this series (and two of her English Civil War/Restoration books). I’m always struck anew by Alex Wyndham’s versatility – it’s no easy job, after the many books he’s recorded for Ms. Riley and the large cast of characters he has had to keep track of. Yet, he does. Each person is easily identifiable and one excellent example is the Duke of Rockliffe whose smooth, rich voice is quite unique. When Rock appears in any scene he doesn’t need to be announced and Alex Wyndham has him to perfection using a voice and tone like warm treacle trickling down the spine – soft and loving – soft and menacing or simply in conversation with his peers – there’s no mistaking Rock for any other character. During one particular scene in which Madeleine is a guest of the Rockliffe ‘gang’, the ever, all knowing, all seeing Rock immediately recognises her vulnerability, as a result of her actions, and reacts in the most bone melting way. Reading the words had me sniffing but hearing them, well…have your tissues ready is my advice. As I previously remarked, much of Aristide’s thoughts and feelings are revealed to us through his inner musings. To the outside world, he is the proverbial ‘swan’, calm and unruffled, but paddling away furiously out of sight. Alex Wyndham is taxed with making this work and he does so spectacularly. I suspect that some readers may well have missed the ‘real’ Aristide in the written word – so my advice is to listen to this performer’s delectable French accent and fall in love with Stella Riley’s dreamy Aristide.

A new reader/listener to Stella Riley’s books may be a little overwhelmed by the number of characters in Hazard, but this is book five and therefore many have been introduced throughout the previous books. The writing, research and characterisation is, as always, superb and the book could be enjoyed as a stand-alone, but I recommend beginning with The Parfit Knight or, at the very least, it’s important to read/listen to The Wicked Cousin because Hazard follows on immediately from that book, although Cassie and Sebastian’s story is not left hanging.

MY VERDICT: Another stellar five stars read/listen for me. I might have my favourites in this series, but each book is as well written as the last and I can’t penalise the author for making me prefer one character or storyline over another, and besides which, I love them all.


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE


Rockliffe
 series so far (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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

 

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

 

 

Rockcliffe series so far (click on the book cover for more details):

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8EF392F2-6ACA-435D-8B1A-CAF5F93263F7

(Season for Scandal, #3)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency – London, 1820)

Cover Blurb

Their love was always in the cards.
He should have thrown her out. But when club owner Alexander Lavoie catches a mysterious blonde counting cards at his vingt-et-un table, he’s more intrigued than angry. He has to see more of this beauty—in his club, in his office, in his bed. But first he’ll have to devise a proposition she can’t turn down.

Gossip said he was an assassin.
Common sense told her to stay away. But Angelique Archer was desperate, and Lavoie’s club offered a surefire way to make quick money—until she got caught. Instead of throwing her out though, the devil offers her a deal: come work for him. Refusing him means facing starvation, but with a man so sinfully handsome and fiercely protective, keeping things professional might prove impossible.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Kelly Bowen really impressed me with the first two books in her Season for Scandal series. I love her original, engaging and deeply romantic stories, her smart heroines and sexy heroes. This is the third book in the Season for Scandal and definitely my favourite.

I liked Alex in the previous two books but I never anticipated that he would be such a wonderful hero. I found the combination of his roguish charm, intelligence, sex appeal and wit irresistible.

He left her where she stood and retrieved a long, flat box from the back of his office. He returned to place the unwieldy package across the top of his desk.
“What is that?” she asked warily.
“A gown.”
“For me?” Intelligence
“Yes. I’ve discovered the color doesn’t complement my complexion. And the skirts show too much of my ankle. The ladies might riot.”

He is fiercely protective and honourable but his reputation as a dangerous man is well founded when it comes to defending those he loves.

Angelique has such strength of character and I admire her devotion and loyalty to her family, even though I felt her eldest brother, Gerald, was undeserving of it. To conform with society’s expectations, she has hidden her mathematical prowess and I really loved seeing her trounce that obnoxious, bosom-ogling Baron Daventon at vintage-et-un!

“The electricity between them was not to be believed. It was so tangible you could feel it in the air. I knew something was going to come of it.” – a quote about Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall in the ‘To Have and to Hold from the film’s publicist Mickey Seltzer.

This quote perfectly describes how I felt about the chemistry between Alex and Angelique because the air positively sizzles with sexual tension whenever these two are together and the romance is both tender and sensual.

I love the fact that Alex is not only attracted by Angelique’s beauty, but also by her extraordinary intelligence. His reaction when she discusses possible gaming strategies, after he offers her a job in the club at the vingt-et-un table, is priceless. Alex is a man who has never given his heart to a woman and watching him falling deeply in love with Angelique was delightful. Angelique does not trust Alex at first, and I could understand her reasons given her past experience with her former fiancé and Alex’s rumoured reputation as an assassin and spy. However, she cannot help finding him both fascinating and exciting and, as she comes to know him, discovers that he is both a gentleman and honourable.

Their relationship is one I could believe in because that are so well matched in intelligence, wit and passion. They are able to confide their inner most thoughts to each other and, for Alex, who has always been so aloof, it brings a feeling of contentment he has never known before.

He’d revealed more about himself to her than to anyone. Which seemed natural and right, because she had done the same. And instead of the regret and disquiet that he had expected with such exposure, he felt…content

With Alex’s encouragement, I enjoyed seeing Angelique gain in self-confidence and realise that, regardless of her past, she can be whoever she wants to be.

Angelique felt her pulse roaring in her ears, felt the breath slowly being squeezed from her lungs.She had come this far. She would not hide anymore. She needed to step out onto the floor.
“Because this is me.” She gazed around the office. This is what I’m good at. Numbers. Books.

The mystery – a tale of revenge, blackmail and murder – surrounding the missing fortune and who is trying to destroy Angelique’s family and why, was intriguing enough to keep me guessing right up until the culprit’s identity is revealed.  Ivory Moore, her husband, the Duke of Alderidge, the enigmatic King and Gilda, all characters from the previous books, make a welcome return to provide invaluable assistance to Alex in his efforts to solve the mystery. Like so many other reviewers, I do hope King gets his own book.

MY VERDICT: If you love an engrossing story, excellent characterisation and a captivating, sensual romance, then I can definitely recommend this book.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Season of Scandal series (click on the book covers for more details):

Duke of My Heart (Season for Scandal, #1) by Kelly Bowen A Duke to Remember (Season for Scandal, #2) by Kelly Bowen Between the Devil and the Duke (Season for Scandal, #3) by Kelly Bowen The Lady in Red (Season for Scandal, #3.5) by Kelly Bowen

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Someone to Hold
(Westcott, #2)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

A reversal of fortune befalls a young woman in the latest Westcott novel from the New York Times bestselling author of Only a Kiss and Someone to Love.

Humphrey Wescott, Earl of Riverdale, has died, leaving behind a fortune and a scandalous secret that will forever alter the lives of his family – sending one daughter on a journey of self-discovery…

With her parents’ marriage declared bigamous, Camille Westcott is now illegitimate and without a title. Looking to eschew the trappings of her old life, she leaves London to teach at the Bath orphanage where her newly discovered half-sister lived. But even as she settles in, she must sit for a portrait commissioned by her grandmother and endure an artist who riles her every nerve.

An art teacher at the orphanage that was once his home, Joel Cunningham has been hired to paint the portrait of the haughty new teacher. But as Camille poses for Joel, their mutual contempt soon turns to desire. And it is only the bond between them that will allow them to weather the rough storm that lies ahead…

♥♥♥♥♥♥

SOMEONE TO HOLD, the second book in Mary Balogh’s Westcott series, is a beautifully written and emotional story of self-discovery and finding love.

In SOMEONE TO LOVE (book 1), Camille appears downright dislikeable, especially in her hatred towards her half-sister Anna, but such is Ms. Balogh’s skill as a writer that I not only came to like Camille but also sympathise with her.

As a girl, Camille desperately wanted her father’s love, but the Earl of Riverdale was a selfish man and only ever loved one person – himself. It broke my heart to think of the seven-year-old Camille painstakingly embroidering her father’s initials and ‘I love you, Papa’ on a handkerchief, only to find it crumpled on his desk and covered in ink stains, where he had used it to clean his pen. She dedicated herself to becoming the perfect lady in the hope that, at least, he might be proud of her. I think the pain of her father’s rejection had a profound emotional impact on Camille because, in her search for perfection, she has become the prim and proper, haughty Lady Camille Westcott, for whom any show of strong feelings is considered unladylike.

I could understand how devastated Camille feels when she discovers her father’s betrayal. Her well-ordered life has crumbled around her and she no longer knows who she is or what her future will be.

The future yawned ahead with frightening emptiness and uncertainty.

I enjoyed following Camille’s journey of self-discovery and I like how Ms. Balogh doesn’t change Camille; she is still fundamentally the same person but with a different focus in life. She still displays the same strength and determination she applied to becoming the perfect lady, but it is now focussed on forging a new life for herself and a single-minded determination to succeed.

I especially enjoyed the scenes where Camille is teaching the children in the orphanage because they reveal what a tender-hearted, compassionate and intelligent person she is beneath that prickly exterior. I love how, despite her initial fears, she has a real aptitude for teaching and makes her lessons instructive, creative and fun too, capturing the children’s hearts in the process. Watching Camille’s relationship with baby Sarah slowly develop was really touching because she had never allowed herself to form an emotional attachment before.

I like Joel very much. He is good-natured, intelligent, dependable, talented and honest, all qualities I love in a hero. Although raised in the orphanage, Joel has been supported by an anonymous benefactor, thus enabling him to attend art school and pursue his passion for portrait painting. I love how his honesty extends to his portrait paintings. He refuses to flatter his subjects but studies them carefully so that he can capture their true essence on canvas. His unique style has gained him a prestigious reputation and numerous commissions from wealthy clientele. He also teaches art a few afternoons a week at the orphanage. He was in love with Anna and is still heartbroken over her marrying the  Duke of Netherby.

I love the slow building romance and watching Camille and Joel gradually move from dislike and distrust to friendship, attraction and finally falling in love. It seems both natural and believable. I particularly like how, with his artistic eye, Joel is able to see the real person beneath Camille’s protective shell.

“You are an incredibly strong person, Camille,” he said. “But sometimes you build a wall about yourself. You are doing it now. Is that the only way you can hold yourself together?”
She was about to utter an angry retort. But she was feeling weary. Her feet were sore. “Yes,” she said.
His eyes continued to search her face. “Yet behind the wall,” he said, “you are amazingly tenderhearted. And loyal hearted.”

I enjoyed seeing Camille realise that she had previously suppressed everything that made her human and now…

…she wanted to live. And she wanted to love, even if that word was a mere euphemism for desire. She would live, then, and she would enjoy. She would not stop to think, to doubt, to feel.

There is a point, early in the story, where Camille asks Joel to hold her and, when Joel has to cope with life changing events himself, it is Camille to whom he turns for support. This mutual respect and support further convinced me that their love would endure.

The story is very much about family too, because Camille comes to realise that her family’s love is unconditional. I love the poignancy of the moment when Camille finally calls Anna her sister rather than her half-sister.

I enjoyed seeing the other family members especially Avery who always appears cool and aloof, but beneath that facade is someone who takes a keen interest in what’s happening and can demonstrate great kindness. He is always guaranteed to bring a smile to my face with quips like this.

“My dear Camille,” he said, “I hope I never admonish anyone. It sounds as if it would require a great expenditure of energy.”

After receiving a bloody nose courtesy of Avery in SOMEONE TO LOVE, I was delighted to see the odious Lord Uxbury receive a bloody mouth courtesy of Joel’s fist in this book!

MY VERDICT: Once again, Mary Balogh delivers a beautifully written, emotional character driven romance. Highly recommended.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Westcott series so far (click on the book covers for more details):

Someone to Love (Westcott, #1) by Mary Balogh Someone to Hold (Westcott, #2) by Mary Balogh Someone to Wed (Westcott #3) by Mary Balogh Someone to Care (Westcott #4) by Mary Balogh Someone to Trust (Westcott, #5) by Mary Balogh

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The Sins of Lord Lockwood - Meredith Duran

(Rules for the Reckless, #6)

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian – Scotland 1857, England 1861 and the Isle of Rawsey 1869)

Cover Blurb:

Steamy romance sizzles between a resurrected earl and his repentant bride in USA TODAY bestselling author Meredith Duran’s latest historical romance.

BACK FROM THE DEAD, AN EARL SEEKS VENGEANCE…

Liam Devaliant, Lord Lockwood, was born into a charmed life. Charismatic, powerful, and wild, he had the world at his feet—and one woman as his aim. His wedding to Anna was meant to be his greatest triumph. Instead, in a single moment, a wicked conspiracy robbed him of his future and freedom.

…BUT WILL HIS LONG-LOST COUNTESS PAY THE PRICE?

Four years later, Liam has returned from death with plans for revenge. Standing in his way, though, is his long-absent bride. Once, he adored Anna’s courage. Now it seems like a curse, for Anna refuses to fear or forget him. If she can’t win back Liam’s love, then she means at least to save his soul…no matter the cost.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Liam Devaliant, the Earl of Lockwood, Julian’s friend and Emma’s patron in DUKE OF SHADOWS, certainly sparked my interest. I was intrigued by Liam’s mysterious four-year absence from society and the obvious tension between himself and his estranged wife, Anna. Once again, I was totally riveted to every page of this dark, compelling and emotionally charged love story.

While at home on the Isle of Rawsey in Scotland, Anna, Countess of Lockwood, discovers from a newspaper headline that her husband, who abandoned her on their wedding night four years earlier, has been back in London for the last eight months but has never bothered to contact her. Furious, she heads for London.

Liam never abandoned Anna. His jealous, scheming cousin and heir, Stephen, had arranged to have Liam abducted and put on a prison ship bound for a penal colony in New South Wales. Certain that he would never survive, Stephen planned to have Liam declared dead and claim his title. After a hellish three years, with only the thought of revenge to keep him going, Liam escaped with a small band of fellow convicts and returned to England. With the help of his friends, Julian, Duke of Auburn, and Crispin Burke MP, Liam has set in motion his plans to wreak revenge on Stephen. With no direct evidence to implicate Stephen to his abduction, Liam must use devious methods to bring about Stephen’s complete financial and social ruin. Then Liam will kill him.

His wife’s unexpected arrival stirs up feelings he would much rather forget because he is no longer the man she married – that man is dead.

She was looking at him as though she knew him, when in fact the boy she’d married was dead now.

His years in the prison colony have left Liam profoundly changed but he will never tell Anna what really happened on that night – he simply couldn’t bear her pity. So, he does and says everything to convince her that he is nothing more than the uncaring fortune hunter she clearly believes him to be, but if he hopes his attitude will drive Anna away, he is seriously mistaken. As Countess of Forth, a Scottish title she holds in her own right, Anna needs a legitimate heir to the earldom which is something only her husband can give her and she has no intention of leaving.

“I am here. I am certainly staying.”
He blinked several times—seeming confused by how closely she suddenly loomed. For she was not a small woman; on her tiptoes, she was nearly eye level with him, which gave her an opportunity to deliver him a fulminating glower.

I loved the complexity of Liam’s character. The brutality and humiliation he suffered at the hands of his guards have left him profoundly scarred, both mentally and physically. Tormented by dark, harrowing memories, he is convinced that he is mad. Ms. Duran conveys his emotional turmoil with such realism that I could feel his pain, fear, anger and desperation.

Anna is independent and out-spoken but also vulnerable. After her mother’s death, her father could not cope with raising a young daughter and sent her to live with her aunts. She never had real home and the abandonment by her father, whom she loved, left her believing that anyone she loved would leave her. It isn’t difficult to understand why she readily accepted, without question, that Liam had abandoned her just as her father had, especially given the terms of their marriage.

Ms. Duran employs a series of flashback chapters which show how Liam and Anna met, their courtship and gradual falling in love. Neither one was willing to confess their true feelings, pretending that theirs was just a marriage of convenience. We see Liam as a charming, affable young man who manages to capture the heart of the independently minded Anna. These delightful flashbacks provide a poignant contrast to their current painful relationship. It is heart-breaking to know that their lives were irrevocably changed by envy and greed. I think that, without these flashbacks, it would have been impossible to appreciate the extent to which Liam was changed by his experiences and how deeply Anna was affected by Liam’s ‘abandonment’.

It is obvious that Liam and Anna are still very much in love, but Liam’s belief that he is a broken man, his feelings of shame and his thirst for revenge all seem impregnable barriers. But when Anna discovers the truth of what really happened, she becomes a veritable tigress. I love her strength, her unflinching belief in Liam and her determination to show him the man he truly is.

How was it that all the world saw Liam’s courage, his strength and his worth, save he?

He is a survivor; a man who was willing to protect his fellow prisoners regardless of the cost to himself. He promised to take care of those who escaped with him and provide them with a home and work – a promise he keeps. The loyalty and respect this rag-tag band of prisoners show Liam goes a long way to affirm his true worth.

The love scenes are sensual but they also reveal so much of Liam’s and Anna’s emotions, fears, vulnerabilities and their overwhelming desire for each other.

I like how Julian and Emma (Duke of Shadows) both play an important role in Liam and Anna’s story. Borne of their own personal experiences, they are able to offer wise counsel which is so significant in Liam’s journey to healing. But, before he can finally exorcise the past, Liam needs to exact his revenge on Stephen and I love how Ms. Duran handles this scene in a way that leaves Liam and Anna free to find their Happy Ever.

…this was life, his life, like a gift delivered unto him, which he would guard henceforth for her sake, for their family’s sake, for his own sake. This was his. “I love you,” he said into her mouth.

I know Epilogues are an anathema to some readers, but I’m not ashamed to admit that I love them. Revisiting characters, especially ones who have overcome tremendous odds to find happiness, leaves me with a feeling of contentment as I close the final page of the book.

This is the sixth book in the Rules of the Reckless series but I think it can be easily read as a standalone.  However, I would recommend reading Ms. Duran’s debut book, DUKE OF SHADOWS first, because, not only is it a fabulous book in its own right, but I believe it would enhance the reader’s enjoyment of THE SINS OF LORD LOCKWOOD.

MY VERDICT: If you enjoy a superbly written, compelling, angst-filled romance with unforgettable characters, then I can definitely recommend this book.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

 

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

Your Wicked Heart (Rules for the Reckless, #0.5) by Meredith Duran That Scandalous Summer (Rules for the Reckless, #1) by Meredith Duran Fool Me Twice (Rules for the Reckless, #2) by Meredith Duran Lady Be Good (Rules for the Reckless, #3) by Meredith Duran Luck Be a Lady (Rules for the Reckless, #4) by Meredith Duran A Lady's Code of Misconduct (Rules for the Reckless, #5) by Meredith Duran The Sins of Lord Lockwood (Rules for the Reckless, #6) by Meredith Duran

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