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Archive for the ‘Wendy’s Favourites’ Category

The Winter Bride audio

(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?

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Wonderful Anne Gracie. I adored your amusing, witty dialogue, and engaging cast of loveable characters. Freddy and Damaris, secondary characters from The Autumn Bride, are the star players, well supported by the rest of this delightful mishmash of a ‘family’, especially the outspoken and outrageous Aunt Bea. Lady Beatrice can turn any situation to her own advantage or to the advantage of her beloved adopted ‘nieces’. Nothing will stand in the way of their happiness as far as she is concerned; no bending of the truth is unacceptable.

She has decided that Freddy Monkton-Coombes, her nephew Max’s oldest friend, will meet her girls and she orchestrates this meeting shamelessly. Freddy is a confirmed bachelor and avoids what he refers to as, ‘muffins’’- young women intent on trapping a chap into marriage –  like the plague.  He has skilfully sidestepped this terrible fate for many years but, from the moment he comes face to face with the quietly serene and beautiful Damaris, he is hooked even though he doesn’t realise it at the time.

Whilst he is away on his honeymoon with Abby, Aunt Bea’s eldest ‘niece’, Max, whose story was told in The Autumn Bride, has coerced Freddy into acting as guardian/chaperon to the girls and his aunt. Although initially extremely reluctant, Freddy eventually agrees and takes his promise very seriously. Naturally, it throws him into regular contact with Damaris, and the die is cast as he begins to enjoy her company and she his. At this point, I must add that whilst The Winter Bride can be read and enjoyed as a standalone, I recommend reading The Autumn Bride first as there is quite a complicated back story and the relationship between Aunt Beatrice and her ‘nieces’ is explained in credible detail.

Freddy’s parents have decided that it is high time he settles down and produces an heir, and have therefore arranged a house party where hordes of these ‘muffins’ will be waiting to pounce. Damaris is just as set against marriage as Freddy and so he comes up with an idea which will keep them both free of a leg shackle. When he eventually persuades Damaris to his way of thinking, the two enter into a mutually agreeable pact. They will announce a fake betrothal which will serve the dual purpose of placating both his parents and Aunt Bea.  While Aunt Bea is intent on arranging a season for her, Damaris’ only ambition is to live quietly in the country in a little cottage with a few chickens and a vegetable garden. Here she hopes to have the peace and quiet to forget the past tragedies and horrific memories which plague her. On the face of it, this arrangement suits both Freddy and Damaris and, in return for her wholehearted compliance, Freddy sets about the task of arranging the purchase of a country cottage for Damaris.

Damaris’s peace is to be shattered, however, by the elegantly beautiful Freddy as he unwittingly worms his way into her life. He has worked very hard to present a rakish, devil-may-care appearance to the ton but behind this façade is a man with a keen business brain who is also kind, thoughtful and, most importantly, honourable with oodles of integrity. As the story unfolds, it emerges that he suffered a boyhood tragedy which has left him deeply traumatised and apparently, as a result of this tragedy, unloved by his parents. His outward devil-may-care persona is a carefully manufactured one, behind which he hides in their presence, and his self-deprecating manner and refusal to explain or defend himself to his cold and unloving parents only seems to perpetuate their annoyance and disregard for him even more. Observing all this on a visit to his family, Damaris intuitively sees how very unhappy he is whilst in their company. She is appalled by their treatment of their only son and sets out to get to the bottom of the rift between them and, in the process, show them how very wrong they are about him. There are a few amusing but bitter-sweet moments where she takes Freddy’s autocratic parents to task, and he is both touched and amazed by her courage, having only previously seen the quiet, gentle side of her nature. This is where we see the real Freddy Monkton-Coombes, as Damaris determinedly begins to strip away the layers of his past and hidden turmoil…. sniff!

Freddy begins to see that Damaris is no ‘muffin’ and comes to the astounding realisation that he is not against marriage at all with the right girl, and that girl is Damaris. But how to persuade her? To this end, he sets out to make their betrothal fact rather than fiction. Freddy is such a darling man, that even his seduction and compromising of Damaris is somehow honourably achieved, especially as it’s done after she has confessed her distressing secret. And what a touchingly tender but sensual scene it is, and throughout Ms. Gracie maintains her legendary wit and humour, without undermining the love, affection and sheer sexiness which has grown between them. It’s one of those very memorable scenes that leaves the reader with a warm, fuzzy feeling.

Anne Gracie’s references to Jane Austen’s works add yet more humour and wit, especially in the scene where Freddy, initially horrified at being obliged to attend Aunt Bea’s literary society – deviously organised by her to introduce her ‘nieces’ to the young men of society – quotes the opening lines from Pride and Prejudice:

‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a fortune must be in want of a wife.’ …he shudders….”What about the poor fellow’s wants, eh? Do they matter? No. Every female in the blasted story was plotting to hook some man for herself or her daughter or niece. If you don’t call that horror, I don’t know what is.

The serious underlying issues for both protagonists, which each eventually helps the other to overcome, make this so much more than just a fluffy romance and it is definitely my favourite of the Chance Sisters series, although I love them all. Both characters are utterly loveable and I have never forgotten Freddy’s character even though I initially read the book on its publication three years ago – a fair indication of how much of an impression this book and his lovely character made on me.

As previously mentioned, I read and loved this book when it was originally published and when I spotted that the audio version was at last available in the UK, I jumped at it, and immediately downloaded the whole series, especially when I realised that it had been recorded by the acclaimed actress and comedienne, Alison Larkin. Ms. Larkin is a special favourite of mine and her name on an audio book is always guaranteed to attract my attention. When I saw that she was in collaboration with Anne Gracie, there was never any doubt in my mind that this would be a wonderfully satisfying listen. In my opinion, Ms. Larkin is the perfect choice to perform this witty and charming series with its Austen quotes. I always think (and say it whenever I review one of her audio books) that she has a ‘smile’ in her voice, which, in this case, perfectly captures the humour always present in Anne Gracie’s novels.

In addition, her considerable acting skills are evident when dealing with the deeper, more serious issues. This is especially true when Damaris reveals her heart-breaking secret and Freddy’s childhood trauma emerges, and then the more serious side to his nature. Alison Larkin handles these revelations with supreme sensitivity.

As I have already mentioned, Freddy initially gives the impression of superficiality, seeming to prefer avoiding not only confrontation but responsibility too. But this impression is dispelled as we learn more about him and Alison Larkin sheds his light-hearted persona and exaggerated, slightly foppish accent as she subtly builds up the tension, especially during the scene towards the end of the book where Freddy, by this time devoid of all levity, is moved to violence. Between them, the author and narrator show his hidden mettle as he squares up to his opponent in defence of his love.

Alison Larkin’s rendition of Aunt Bea is also particularly clever as this manipulative but kindly, elderly lady, who is guilty of telling the biggest whoppers, is a tremendous character and a difficult one to capture with credibility I would imagine. However, Ms. Larkin gives a faultless performance, worthy of any West End stage, as she portrays this indomitable lady with her decidedly imperious upper crust accent, using just the right amount of intonation and nuance to indicate her age and air of entitlement.

I can’t praise Alison Larkin’s performance highly enough as she brings Anne Gracie’s lovely, tear-jerking, feel-good story to sparkling life with her accomplished interpretation of it. I would LOVE to hear Ms. Larkin perform The Perfect Rake by Anne Gracie (another of my favourite books) which I believe has yet to be recorded…. hint to the audio company and publisher!

MY VERDICT: I highly recommend THE WINTER BRIDE for both content and narration and, as I have all four books in my audio library, I look forward to many more hours of listening pleasure. 

RATING: STELLAR 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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Proud Mary

(Roxton Family Saga, #5)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian, 1777)

Cover Blurb:

The Roxtons are back! Romance. Drama. Intrigue. Family secrets. There’s never a dull moment for the 18th Century’s first family…

Widowed and destitute, Lady Mary Cavendish is left with only her pride. Daughter of an earl and great-granddaughter to a Stuart King, family expectation and obligation demands she remarry. But not just any man will do; her husband must rank among the nobility. Falling in love with her handsome and enigmatic neighbor is out of the question. As always, Mary will do her duty and ignore her heart.

Country squire Christopher Bryce has secretly loved his neighbor Mary for many years. Yet, he is resigned to the cruel reality they are not social equals and thus can never share a future together. Never mind that his scandalous past and a heartbreaking secret make him thoroughly unworthy of such a proud beauty.

Then into their lives steps a ghost from Mary’s past, whose outrageous behavior has Mary questioning her worldview, and Christopher acting upon his feelings, and for all to see. The mismatched couple begin to wonder if in fact love can prevail—that a happily ever after might just be possible if only they dare to follow their hearts.

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I recently read a review of a Lucinda Brant novel which said that reading her books is like eating chocolates…you just can’t stop at one. That’s it in a nutshell for me because I love every book she has ever written and wait with eager anticipation for a new addition to her list, in this case PROUD MARY, book five in her acclaimed and addictive Roxton Family Saga.

Ms. Brant’s holistic approach is quite unique. Her books are wonderfully romantic but her stories are also very family orientated, a style which really appeals to me, and which I feel reflects life. Once that first flush of all-consuming, instalust/romantic love has waned then there must be something solid to build a life and family upon, and I like how she reflects that in this series. I’m also a sucker for a good epilogue and, with such a long, continuing saga, we have been privy to an epic one! With the Roxton family, Lucinda Brant has created a wonderfully complex Georgian aristocratic family whose story develops over a period of more than thirty years. The love and support they feel for each other is evident in every book throughout the series. Her remarkable talent for creating living, breathing people, who we remember vividly and with great affection, is where I feel Ms. Brant excels over so many others writing in this genre. I can think of only one other favourite author who has achieved this in an ongoing saga, with characters I adore and remember vividly.

Each book could be read and enjoyed individually but, quite honestly, I wouldn’t recommend it. This series is such a feast and so much of the pleasure of reading it comes from following her fascinating characters – experiencing their mistakes, loves, their growing families and their progress and maturing in later life. I also admire her skill in making her readers feel as though we are all members of the intriguing and loveable Roxton family.

In Proud Mary, it is the turn of the utterly gorgeous, Squire Christopher Bryce and Lady Mary Cavendish to find love and happiness within the Roxton clan. Having originally met eight years earlier, it was love-at-first-sight for Christopher but an over-bearing, unloving mother who had denigrated and bullied her all her life, a father who deserted her and marriage to the odious, sycophantic and obsequious, Sir Gerald Cavendish, have left Mary with a sad case of lack-of-self-esteem. It’s therefore difficult for her to believe that a man such as Christopher could find her attractive. Although secretly very attracted to him – who wouldn’t be? – she would never have considered showing it. So, the two have just worshipped each other from afar for eight years, even after Mary is widowed. The three components for love and a life together – the right person, the right place, the right time -were not initially aligned, but with the sudden appearance of a mysterious ‘ghost’ comes the catalyst for that alignment and the flame of Christopher’s and Mary’s secret love is finally ignited and is all the better for the waiting.

Ms. Brant is known for her subtlety in her ‘bedroom scenes’ but, in Proud Mary, she allows us a little more than a glimpse of the beautifully sensual connection between two people who deserve to find love. However, the course of true love seems unlikely to run smoothly because, although Christopher is a wealthy and innovative businessman and the much-respected local Squire, albeit with a few shocking secrets yet to be revealed, he is also Mary’s social inferior, as she is the daughter of an earl and the cousin of a duke. In addition, under Sir Gerald’s will, Christopher has been appointed to the lowly position of steward of the estate and lands held in trust for Sir Gerald’s underage heir, Jack Cavendish. He spends a couple of days per fortnight at the estate, which has been almost bankrupted by Sir Gerald’s excesses. Mary and her ten-year-old daughter, Teddy (Theodora) live on the estate under strict economies as Christopher works to increase and repair its fortunes. For spiteful reasons, Sir Gerald has also stipulated that Teddy becomes his steward’s ward, in effect denying Lady Mary any real control over her daughter, and he has also decreed that Teddy may not visit her Roxton relatives. This, however, has made little difference in Teddy’s world as she adores her ‘Uncle Bryce’ and likes to be nowhere better than in her corner of the Cotswolds and preferably with him.

Enter Antonia, arriving like a whirlwind as usual and making her presence known. She is the common thread that runs throughout the Roxton series and I just adore her character. In the first book of the series, Noble Satyr, Antonia is an intelligent but precocious seventeen-year-old, setting her cap at the dissolute Duke of Roxton, twenty years her senior, and her success in that quest is apparent in the ensuing books in the series. Over a period of thirty years, she has loved, lost, suffered and loved again and is still an incredibly beautiful, vivacious, fifty-year-old who is beloved by all and who loves fiercely in return. At some point in the series, pretty much every family member has sought her wise council and, as she puts her mind to resolving Mary and Christopher’s conundrum, we see her in all her splendid glory.

I do marvel at Ms. Brant’s clever and devious mind, because an apparently throwaway remark made a few books earlier in the series will suddenly take on great significance. I’ve had more than one light bulb moment when a character I vaguely remember suddenly becomes important. Christopher’s Aunt Kate is one such character and, if I hadn’t read the previous books, her significance would have been lost to me. I have wondered on more than one occasion how the author keeps everything straight in her mind – the intricate plotting and the intertwining lives of her characters. I think this is one reason why re-reading (or re-listening with the talented Alex Wyndham) her books is even more enjoyable because there is always something I’ve missed. Her books are great ‘keepers’ and much loved additions to my book shelves.

I must mention darling little Teddy, Lady Mary’s daughter, one of the stars of Proud Mary. She is such a beautifully developed and compelling little character who steals the show on more than one occasion. She has been encouraged by her mother and her beloved ‘Uncle Bryce’ to be a free spirit. She is never happier than when climbing trees or roaming the glorious Cotswolds hills and dales with Christopher’s dog, and Ms. Brant’s earlier career as a teacher in a girls’ school is very apparent in the intuitive way she brings Teddy’s character to life. There are some amusing moments when, in the way of a child who has heard or seen something they aren’t meant to, she unwittingly drops her guilelessly stored ‘bomb’ into a conversation with adults, causing havoc and often throwing those around her into uproar or helpless laughter while naively tucking into her dinner, completely unaware of the impact her innocent comments have made.

Lucinda Brant’s research is phenomenal, with nothing left to guess work, even down to the Blue Coat school Christopher attended as a boy which is only briefly mentioned but which Ms. Brant has researched extensively. I live in the Cotswolds where this story is set and now look at it with new eyes after reading Proud Mary. Perhaps I previously took it all for granted, but I can certainly confirm that Ms. Brant has perfectly captured the beauty and essence of this gorgeous area of the British Isles. As always, the sumptuous fashions and furnishings of the Georgian period are described in exquisite detail, bringing the opulence of this captivating period in British history to sparkling life. Ms. Brant’s Pinterest Boards contain all her research and they are works of art in themselves.

MY VERDICT: I shall be very sad when Lucinda Brant brings this series to a close and I know that time is looming. But I reassure myself with the fact that it’s all on my kindle, book shelves and audio library to reach for whenever I need a-love-and-fuzzy-feeling fix! I am so looking forward to SATYR’S SON which is a very apt title to bring this superb series full circle. 


RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS 

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE


Roxton Family Saga – series so far (click on the book covers for more details):

 Midnight Marriage (Roxton Series #2) by Lucinda Brant Autumn Duchess (Roxton Series #3) by Lucinda Brant Eternally Yours Roxton Letters Volume One A Companion To The Roxton Family Saga Books 1–3 by Lucinda Brant Dair Devil (Roxton Series #4) by Lucinda Brant Noble Satyr (Roxton Series #1) by Lucinda BrantProud Mary A Georgian Historical Romance (Roxton Family Saga Book 5) by Lucinda Brant

 

 **I received a complimentary copy from the author in return for an honest review**

 

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pride-and-prejudice-audiobook

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

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 Most Jane Austen fans will have read all her work and probably have their favourite amongst them. Almost certainly, one of the greatest favourites will be Pride and Prejudice and one of the reasons for this, I suspect, is the popularity of the 1995 BBC adaptation. There is no doubt that Colin Firth fixed a delicious wet and brooding Mr. Darcy in our minds (although Andrew Davies certainly took some liberties here because Mr. Darcy did NOT come face to face with Lizzie dripping wet!). Then there’s Adrian Lukis, aka Mr. Wickham, the naughty but loveable rogue with a twinkle in his eye, whose character most of us have a secret bad-boy soft spot for.

It’s years since I read Pride and Prejudice but I recently watched the BBC adaptation again (for about the tenth time in the past twenty years). Soon afterwards, I was lucky enough to receive the audio version performed by Alison Larkin, and all I can say is WOW! This one-woman show is simply outstanding and I’m so glad I was able to watch and listen within a short period of time, enabling me to make a fair comparison. For pure spine tingling romance (with no important bits missed out), humour, wit, satyr and astute dialogue, the Alison Larkin audio version wins hands down.

There is no point in reviewing the book in detail… a) because of the above and… b) because it’s the most well-known of this author’s work and has already been reviewed hundreds of times. I will, however, mention some of the characters, but that’s mainly in relation to the narrator’s performance of them.

For instance, Alison Larkin’s execution of the oily, obsequious Mr Collins is sheer genius. Hilariously funny but excruciatingly cringeworthy, it had me chuckling like a loon! He actually has a much larger part in the book but much of the brilliant mordacious dialogue was lost in the screen adaptation.

The venom, jealousy and downright meanness of Mr. Bingley’s sister, Caroline, is so well executed that I clearly felt her antipathy towards Lizzie and her hypocritical, lets-be-friends attitude to Jane.

The difference between the two elder Bennet sisters is well done too; Jane, gullible and believing the best of everyone – even the vitriolic Caroline – and all the while keeping her own emotions well hidden. It was clear to me why Mr. Darcy thought her feelings were not engaged in respect to his great friend, Bingley, which, of course, was the beginning of the big misunderstanding.

Then there’s bright, vivacious Lizzie whose character I have always loved. She sees people and their actions with eyes wide open, and is brought to sparkling life by this talented performer.

Even after reading/listening /watching Pride & Prejudice on numerous occasions and knowing what the contents of the letter contained, I still felt the deep emotion as Alison Larkin movingly reads – in her Darcy voice – that man’s explanation of his actions regarding Jane and Bingley, and his very justified (as it turns out) treatment of Wickham.

There is a fair amount of inner dialogue throughout, which is clearly and concisely conveyed. A good example is Lizzie’s crumbling prejudices and her changing attitude to Darcy, mostly conveyed through her inner musings. Her interest in him grows by degrees as she sees and learns more about the man and her feelings change, first to reluctant liking, then admiration and finally to bone-melting love. It takes an extraordinary performing talent to differentiate between verbal dialogue and inner dialogue without a need for explanation and Alison Larkin has that talent in spades.

When the five sisters are together and in conversation, she conveys with subtle nuances and tone exactly who we are listening to. Amusing and witty, we could be sitting at the dining table with them, listening to their gossip and being asked to “pass the potatoes”. Finally, with regard to individual characters, one of the stars of the show is, in my opinion, the outrageously silly, Mrs Bennett. She has lost the love and respect of her indolent husband in the early years of their marriage and consoles herself with one-upmanship over her female neighbours, especially in her quest to see her five daughters well married. There is a certain bitter sweetness to her character because, although she means well, she goes about it in such a ridiculous manner that she only earns her husband’s further derision and embarrasses her two eldest daughters. This is one of the areas where Alison Larkin’s outstanding talent shines because she artfully conveys the sadness beneath the silliness in a way that it’s possible for the listener to feel sorry for Mrs Bennett whilst still wishing she would just shut-up!

It’s hard to believe that Jane Austen wrote her books two hundred years ago, and therefore we are seeing Regency life through the eyes of someone who actually lived it. She was a satirist and an extremely tongue-in-cheek observer of people and her funny, witty and insightful outlook on life is only really captured in the complete unabridged version of the book. Add into the mix the extraordinary voice and talent of Alison Larkin and we have a recipe for success. If she’d been here to choose, I reckon that Ms. Austen would have selected Ms. Larkin to perform her wonderful stories. For anyone out there who has only ever watched the (even shorter) films or the abridged BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, read the book or even listened to another audio version, I urge you to experience this superior rendition. I promise that you will not be disappointed.

The three Regency songs added to the end give us a taste of what it would have been like to be actually in attendance and listening in the drawing room while genteel young ladies entertained us and their regency audiences. Alison Larkin has a pleasing singing voice to add to her many talents and I very much enjoyed this addition and we are also treated to her comedic talents as she cheekily propositions Mr. Darcy in between songs. I must say – as it always strikes me when listening to this narrator – that she has a ‘smiley’ voice and always sounds as though she is enjoying herself immensely, which is quite infectious and always makes me smile.

MY VERDICT: There is a reason why Alison Larkin has been selected for the ambassadorship of Jane Austen’s work and, after you have listened to her, it will become abundantly clear why. Highly recommended.  


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: KISSES

 

**I received a free copy of this audio book in return for an honest review. ** 

 

 

 

 

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persuasion-audio-book

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Goodreads Summary:

Twenty-seven-year old Anne Elliot is Austen’s most adult heroine. Eight years before the story proper begins, she is happily betrothed to a naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but she precipitously breaks off the engagement when persuaded by her friend Lady Russell that such a match is unworthy. The breakup produces in Anne a deep and long-lasting regret. When later Wentworth returns from sea a rich and successful captain, he finds Anne’s family on the brink of financial ruin and his own sister a tenant in Kellynch Hall, the Elliot estate. All the tension of the novel revolves around one question: Will Anne and Wentworth be reunited in their love?

Poems

Austen did not take herself seriously as a poet but she did write occasional, mostly comic verses to entertain family and friends. Selected and introduced by award-winning narrator Alison Larkin, the poems range from lines found on a piece of paper inside a tiny bag she gave to her niece to When Winchester Races a poem she wrote just three days before she died.

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PERSUASION, as far as I am concerned, is the best of Jane Austen novels. Her last, and written when she was close to dying, it demonstrates a maturity and deep understanding of relationships, betrayal, loyalty and love. Ms. Austen’s ability for ironic and comic observation, her knowledge of the social etiquette and customs of the period are incomparable and of course we have the bonus of knowing that she lived in these times and therefore her observations, albeit tongue in cheek, are a faithful account. Just as today there are silly, giddy, self-absorbed people, so there were in that period of history. Nothing has changed and I love her descriptions of the gossipy women and the preening and posturing of some of the gentlemen, also their shallow preoccupation regarding the wealth and looks of their peers.

The young Anne Elliot had rejected Frederick Wentworth, a Naval Officer, on the misguided advice of her friend Lady Russell, and forever regrets her decision. Captain Wentworth returns eight years later, a successful sea Captain who has acquitted himself with honour and made his fortune into the bargain and the tables have turned. Anne’s family are now on the brink of financial ruin and it is she who is not considered a suitable match for him, being penniless, and at 27, almost past marriageable age. Anne still admires and loves Captain Wentworth and, in the eight years following their separation, she has never shown any interest in other men nor been tempted to accept or encourage any proposal of marriage. She is also accepting of her fate, believing that she has thrown away her only chance of happiness with the man she loves

Wentworth is now considered an excellent match for her – if he were at all interested. However, he is still bitter at her rejection – at least to begin with. They politely circle each other being often thrown into the same social circle and Frederick slowly begins to realise that Anne is the same girl he loved and admired so much – worthy, sensible, dignified and without guile.

He overhears Anne having a discussion with a friend on the merits of fidelity and love, professing that men are more able to move on than women after a disappointment in love. ‘The letter’ – oh that letter written in response to this overheard discussion, is so beautiful and eloquent and would melt the most hardened of hearts, certainly mine anyway! Surely one of the most romantic moments in any of Ms. Austen’s wonderful novels.

Bittersweet, given that this was Ms. Austen’s last completed novel before her death at the age of only forty-one, this mature and beautifully crafted love story encapsulating a perfectly painted picture of genteel life in the nineteenth century, is nevertheless a fitting end to her career.

In this 200th anniversary edition, there are the added poems of Jane Austen. Most are light comic verses, for example I’ve A Pain In My Head, others are moving and more serious such as the one she wrote for her dear friend and neighbour four years after her death, To The Memory of Mrs. Leroy. Her last piece When Winchester Races, written in July 1817, just three days before she died, was about a furious Saint who threatens to bring rain upon his subjects for choosing to go to the races rather than honouring him. To me this epitomises Jane Austen’s character; she took life as it came and even when dying chose to be witty and entertaining instead of wallowing in self-pity.

The bonus to my enjoyment of this anniversary edition of my favourite Jane Austen novel is the performance (for she is far more than just a narrator) of the talented actress Alison Larkin. Ms. Larkin’s voice is perfectly suited to Jane Austen’s work – light, amusing, stuffy, pompous, or when called for serious and her range is phenomenal. She handles the vast cast of characters with aplomb and we are never left in any doubt as to who is talking at any given time, even in a multi character conversation. I particularly like how she handles the slightly lowered tones of some of the ‘strictly-in-confidence’ conversations especially when there’s a fair amount of genteel bitchiness going on! Alison Larkin has a lovely ‘smiley’ voice, it’s so pleasant to listen to. A terrific performance and one I wholeheartedly recommend.


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: KISSES

 

**I was voluntarily provided this free review copy audiobook for an honest review. **

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the-winter-crown

(Eleanor of Aquitaine Trilogy, #2)

Genre: Historical Fiction (12th Century – London, 1154)

 Cover Blurb:

 As Queen of England, Eleanor has a new cast of enemies—including the king.

Eleanor has more than fulfilled her duty as Queen of England—she has given her husband, Henry II, heirs to the throne and has proven herself as a mother and ruler. But Eleanor needs more than to be a bearer of children and a deputy; she needs command of the throne. As her children grow older, and her relationship with Henry suffers from scandal and infidelity, Eleanor realizes the power she seeks won’t be given willingly. She must take it for herself. But even a queen must face the consequences of treason…

In this long-anticipated second novel in the Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy, bestselling author Elizabeth Chadwick evokes a royal marriage where love and hatred are intertwined, and the battle over power is fought not with swords, but deception.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

The Winter Crown is the second instalment in Elizabeth Chadwick’s trilogy of books about Eleanor of Aquitaine, and I devoured it! Ms. Chadwick weaves a rich tapestry of life in medieval England and France under the early Plantagenets – love them or hate them, they shaped English history in a manner that is far-reaching, fascinating and shocking, starting with the large, dysfunctional family of Henry and Alienor (as she was actually known).

The story opens in Westminster Abbey in December 1154 with the coronation of the new king and queen. Already, Alienor has proven her worth in the short period of time she has been Henry’s wife, with one boy child and another in her womb at the time of her crowning – her position is secure. Alienor is Duchess of Aquitaine in her own right, and has brought her young, powerful husband, wealth and additional power through their dynastical marriage. However, he has no intention of allowing her any input into the governance of their lands, and instead keeps her firmly in what he believes to be her place – carrying a child most of the time. They had eight in all, seven of whom live, which was quite a rare feat in those days of high infant mortality.

Ms.Chadwick’s novels are richly character driven, and The Winter Crown is no exception. The intriguing relationship between Henry and Thomas Becket grows through Becket’s Chancellorship to his eventual position as the highest primate in the land – Archbishop of Canterbury. Henry wheels and deals and is eventually hoist by his own petard when his devious, self-serving plan to have Becket holding both offices simultaneously flounders, much to his chagrin. Henry’s intention to stop the church interfering in state business fails so spectacularly that far from being his ally, Becket becomes his enemy and the two men are eventually at loggerheads.

Alienor is depicted as an intelligent and discerning woman with a keen eye and quick brain, more than able to understand the workings of the politics and intrigue of the times; and more importantly, was usually one step ahead in working out her husband’s controlling machinations. A loving and caring mother to her brood, she was nevertheless pragmatic, even if she was not always happy that her children must be sold off in marriage to increase and ensure the continuing fortunes and power of the dynasty. As her family grew into young adulthood she had great influence in their lives, especially in that of her her sons – and most particularly Richard, whom she adored and was the heir to her Duchy. This influence was eventually to be the root cause of her downfall.

Henry is portrayed as being devoid of deep feeling, or at the very least unable or unwilling to show it. There was a powerful, almost animalistic passion between Henry and Alienor in the early days of their marriage, which inevitably burned out as quickly as it had begun. I can see how Elizabeth Chadwick reached her assumption that this was lust and duty as opposed to love; no tender lover would treat his wife and the mother of his children as abominably as Henry did Alienor, especially in his eventual cruel incarceration of her. It is also reasonable to assume that Henry was capable of more, if not love, then at least tenderness, as was shown in his long relationship with Rosamund Clifford.

Ms. Chadwick sets the scene for the emergence of William Marshal as a man to be watched – from his first appearance he is seen as a man of honour and unwavering loyalty. For anyone reading this who has not yet had the pleasure of reading The Greatest Knight you are in for a treat!

All in all, the author’s research into the background and real people in this richly decadent time is impressive. She captures the time and place so perfectly that the characters leap to life before our eyes. Ms. Chadwick’s careful and thorough historical investigation reveals itself in the detail, for instance:

…the tiny bone needle case, exquisitely carved out of walrus Ivory… a length of narrow red ribbon was tucked down the side of the case, and when drawn out, proved to be embroidered with tiny golden lions. It was skilled and beautiful work. One needle was threaded with gold wire mingled with strands of fine honey-brown hair.

Alienor finds this needle case in Henry’s chamber, and throws it into the fire in a fit of temper – the natural reaction of a woman scorned. It adds that touch of understanding and hurt that, despite her regal and dignified bearing, she would have felt when faced with the evidence of her husband’s paramour in his private chambers. And the seamless introduction of this historic artefact, obviously discovered during Ms. Chadwick’s extensive research, is just another way in which this author excels and delights.

MY VERDICT:  If only our children could be taught history in the way that Elizabeth Chadwick tells it – we would have a generation of young people growing up with a thirst for knowledge. The Winter Crown is highly recommended.


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE


Eleanor of Aquitaine Trilogy (click on the covers for more details):

The Summer Queen (Eleanor of Aquitaine, #1) by Elizabeth Chadwick The Winter Crown (Eleanor of Aquitaine trilogy) by Elizabeth Chadwick The Autumn Throne (Eleanor of Aquitaine, #3) by Elizabeth Chadwick


**I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest view.**

 

This review was originally posted on Romantic Historical Reviews:

VIRTUAL TOUR: The Winter Crown by Elizabeth Chadwick

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Katherine - Anya Seton

Genre: Historical Romance (England 1366-1403)

Cover Blurb:

This classic romance novel tells the true story of the love affair that changed history—that of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the ancestors of most of the British royal family. Set in the vibrant 14th century of Chaucer and the Black Death, the story features knights fighting in battle, serfs struggling in poverty, and the magnificent Plantagenets—Edward III, the Black Prince, and Richard II—who ruled despotically over a court rotten with intrigue. Within this era of danger and romance, John of Gaunt, the king’s son, falls passionately in love with the already married Katherine. Their well-documented affair and love persist through decades of war, adultery, murder, loneliness, and redemption. This epic novel of conflict, cruelty, and untamable love has become a classic since its first publication in 1954.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Anya Seton’s Katherine has pride of place on my bookshelf. Its hard-backed cover is tatty and falling apart; I ‘borrowed’ it from a communal bookshelf in my WRNS quarters when I was a seventeen year-old girl and herewith confess my crime – I never returned it. It’s THAT book, that ONE book that one never forgets, the one that started my fascination with the Plantagenet dynasty and John of Gaunt in particular, and it is a fascination that has never faded. It says a lot about a book when it has rarely been out of print in over sixty years and whose heroine has her own followings, FB groups and associations.

Katherine Swynford was a living, breathing person and her love affair with one of the most powerful men of his time is unforgettable. Obviously Anya Seton ‘padded-out’ the story of this insignificant girl and the glorious Duke of Lancaster but there can be little doubt that this golden god of a man, third son of Edward III, actually loved the woman whom he eventually married.

Anya Seton became intrigued by the story of this little known medieval woman after reading mention of her in a biography about the poet and writer Geoffrey Chaucer, to whom Katherine’s sister, Phillippa was married. She is the ancestor of not one but FOUR great Royal houses, and luckily for us, Ms. Seton travelled to England from America to carry out her research and to tell what I believe to be one of the most beautiful love stories of all time.

Katherine de Roet was the daughter of a Flemish herald and although beautiful (so we’re told by Chaucer and other contemporary sources) was as poor as a church mouse and as insignificant as one too, especially in comparison to the courtiers of Edward III’s entourage. At that time she would have been well below the notice of the great John of Gaunt who had married for dynastically advantageous reasons, as was most often the case with the nobility. Blanche of Lancaster was both beautiful and well dowered, in riches and lands. The sixteen-year-old Katherine was married off to Sir Hugh Swynford, a lowly knight in Lancaster’s retinue and was sent off to live at his run-down Manor House in Lincolnshire – the gatehouse of which still stands today. Blanche of Lancaster bore the Duke three children, including the future Henry IV, but she died at an early age of the plague, and it is believed that Katherine Swynford nursed her until her death, or, at least, this is how Anya Seton explains Katherine becoming known to the Duke. At some point after Blanche’s death and later Hugh Swynford’s too, Katherine and John of Gaunt became lovers and she bore him four illegitimate children over a period of approximately ten years, who became known as the Beauforts.

John still had his duty to perform and whilst carrying on his affair with Katherine, he married Constanza of Castille who bore him one child, a girl, Catherine, who was to become the ancestor of the Royal Line of Spain.

These were hard times in England and Richard II, just a boy when he inherited the throne following the premature demise of his father, the Black Prince, was supported by his rich, powerful though unpopular uncle, The Duke of Lancaster. After this tumultuous period in British history, Katherine and John’s affair appears to have ended and there were no more recorded children. He devoted himself to his Spanish wife and child and although generally unpopular with the people of England, nevertheless continued to be the right hand-man of his nephew, King Richard II. After her high profile as the Duke’s mistress, Katherine disappeared from public view with her children by Hugh Swynford and her brood of illegitimate children. It is believed that Katherine retired to care for her children, her deceased husband’s estate and most importantly, to repent of her/their sins which had had a bad effect on the popularity of both herself and the duke.

To me though, the most compellingly romantic aspect of the story is how John reacted after his second wife died. At the age of fifty five, he was at last relatively duty-free and able to follow his heart; he returned to marry his Katherine, and the king legitimised their four Beaufort children, by then all fully grown. This was quite an unprecedented move, and the family went on to became very powerful and rich. Their descendants fought for power amongst themselves, a result of which was the Wars of the Roses. Eventually from these family traumas, the Royal lines of Tudor, Stuart, Hanover and Windsor were born. Quite a woman, our Katherine! From nobody to Royal Duchess and the ancestress of so many great and powerful people. My favourite trope in an historical romance is a rags-to-riches story and this one has to be the most spectacular of all, and not a figment of the imagination either as history shows…“Thou shalt get kings though thou be none.”

If anyone has the opportunity to see Katherine’s final resting place, it’s in beautiful Lincoln Cathedral, surrounded by Cathedral Close, where she often stayed and where the local people took her to their hearts as I took her to mine. She died in 1403 and is interred with her daughter, Joan Beaufort/Neville, Countess of Raby.

MY VERDICT: For anyone out there who has not read Katherine and is a lover of romance and dazzlingly vibrant, well-researched history, I urge you to read this fantastic novel about one of the greatest love stories of all time. 


REVIEW RATING:  STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

Read May 2016

 

This review was originally posted on Historical Romance Reviews:

RETRO REVIEW: Katherine by Anya Seton

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Lords of Misrule

(Roundheads and Cavaliers, #4)

Genre: Historical Romance (17th Century – London 1653, 1654)

 Cover Blurb:

 Still tied to his desk in the Intelligence Office, Colonel Eden Maxwell has become increasingly disenchanted with both Oliver Cromwell and his own daily existence; and with the advent of new Royalist conspiracies, he despairs of ever getting away.

Then a brick hurled through the window of a small workshop sets in motion a new and unexpected chain of events. After all, who would want to hurt Lydia Neville – a young widow, giving work and self-respect to maimed war veterans considered unemployable elsewhere? But when the assaults in Duck Lane escalate, threatening the life and remaining limbs of some of Eden’s former troopers, finding the culprit becomes personal.

At their first meeting, Lydia finds Colonel Maxwell annoying; by their second, having discovered that he had arrested and questioned her brother in connection with the Ship Tavern Plot, she mistrusts his motives.  On the other hand, it swiftly becomes plain that she needs his help … and has difficulty resisting his smile.

Solving the increasingly hazardous mystery surrounding Lydia is not Eden’s only task.  Between plots to assassinate the Lord Protector and a rising in Scotland, he must also mend the fences within his own family and get to know his son. Life suddenly goes from mind-numbing boredom to frenetic complexity.

With reckless Cavaliers lurking around every corner and a government still struggling to find its way, Lords of Misrule is set against a time of national discontent and general failure. But readers of the previous books in the series can look forward to catching up with old friends as well as meeting new ones … while, against all the odds, Eden and Lydia find danger and reward in equal measure.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

It’s always difficult to come to a series of books part-way through, so when I knew I was going to review Lords of Misrule, I decided to quickly acquaint myself with some of the background information of the series and about the English Civil War, my knowledge of which was sketchy to say the least. I was advised to read The Black Madonna (first in the Roundheads and Cavaliers series) and was very glad I did, as it’s here that we first meet Eden Maxwell, who is the hero of Lords of Misrule.

Married young to a woman who was completely wrong for him, his early experience of love and marriage has left Eden deeply mistrustful, embittered and unable to show love to his son and resentful of the little girl he realises he did not father. He rarely returns home even though his wife disappears with her lover soon after discovery, and his continuing absence drives a wedge between himself and his family although it is not what he wishes. A decade later, older and wiser, he has vowed never to trust love and absolutely never to marry again. By now a confident and battle-scarred soldier, Eden is also a man who does not suffer fools or trust easily. I adored the tetchy, vulnerable, overprotective, charismatic character that Eden has become – and then there’s that devastating smile!

These are serious times and England has been in the grip of civil war for well over a decade. Families are split, the Country is short of money and the anointed King has been executed. Oliver Cromwell has been named Lord Protector – king in all but name – and parliament is attempting to bring some order to a divided country. Eden Maxwell has become a discontented and disenchanted man, and, owing to his inborn integrity and sense of justice, is finding himself frequently in sympathy with both sides. Employed as an Intelligence officer and code breaker at the Tower of London, Eden reports directly to Cromwell’s Secretary of State, John Thurloe. Eden is first and foremost a soldier, and having fought in and survived three civil wars, is not happy with his current role as paper pusher and glorified errand boy.

When a brick is hurled through a window of recently widowed Lydia Neville’s workshop in a seemingly random attack, she is thrown into the orbit of Colonel Eden Maxwell and he instantly becomes interested. Lydia, an entrepreneur and philanthropist, has continued with the work she began with her now deceased husband. They had intuitively recognised a need to provide opportunities for honest employment for wounded and disabled soldiers, casualties of both sides of the war, and also for the widows of soldiers who are left with families to care for. At first Lydia and Eden strike sparks off of each other. He is overbearing, cynical and dismissive while she is independent, feisty and not about to allow any man to control her or her actions. Worthy adversaries both, it isn’t long before their antipathy turns to reluctant attraction, drawn to each other firstly by their joint empathy for Lydia’s workforce and then by the threats and intimidation levelled at Lydia herself.

The challenge presented by the ever increasing threats to Lydia and her workforce is something that Eden relishes and embraces with enthusiasm, as well as bringing out his inborn desire to protect. The romance, which develops slowly over the entire story, sends shivers down the spine, but in Stella Riley’s inimitable style is never allowed to take-over, this being very much a historical romance with the emphasis on ‘historical’. Ms. Riley’s characters are superbly well drawn and they quickly become our friends. We love them, admire them, feel for them and worry for them. It’s something the author does incredibly well. She incorporates actual people, who lived and contributed to the past, but so well developed are her fictitious personalities, that it’s easy to forget which are historical and which are figments of her very fertile imagination.

Stella Riley’s story has encompassed everything; fantastically well researched and richly described historic detail, characters to love and swoon over and an incredibly well devised plot that had me guessing until the end. It’s intricate, plausible and intelligent, displaying her unique talent for ratcheting up the drama until we’re left gasping from the sheer ingenuity and thrill of it all. As is always the case with any story written by this author, the relationships between her characters, especially the men, are sensitively and tenderly developed; their camaraderie often moving but, at other times, extremely funny. Ms. Riley has a very dry wit and some of the scenes between Eden and his brother, Tobias, are especially touching and amusing in turns.

What a fascinating period the seventeenth century was, and since embarking on my Stella Riley binge, I am continuously asking myself how I could have failed to be interested in this vital period in English history. Ms. Riley’s scholarship is incredible; this is such a complicated period to get to grips with and her descriptions, knowledge and quite obvious love for it shines through. How can we, the reader, fail to be infected by this author’s hard work, enthusiasm, knowledge and outstanding writing skill?

MY VERDICT: I cannot recommend the Roundheads and Cavaliers series highly enough and fully intend to go back and read Garland of Straw and The King’s Falcon because they are not to be missed.


REVIEW RATING:  STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

Read May 2016

 

Roundheads and Cavaliers series to date (click on the book covers or more details):

The Black Madonna (Civil War, #1) by Stella Riley Garland of Straw (Civil War, #2) by Stella Riley The King's Falcon by Stella Riley Lords of Misrule by Stella Riley

**I received a complimentary copy of this book from the author in return for an honest review. **

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