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Archive for the ‘Wendy’s Favourites’ Category

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.

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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.

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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.

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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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(Simply Quartet, #2)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh returns to the elegance and sensuality of Regency England as she continues the enthralling story of four remarkable women–friends and teachers at Miss Martin’s School for Girls. At the center of this spellbinding novel is Anne Jewell, a teacher haunted by a scandalous past…until she meets a man who teaches her the most important lesson of all: nothing is simple when it comes to love.…

She spies him in the deepening dusk of a Wales evening–a lone figure of breathtaking strength and masculinity, his handsome face branded by a secret pain. For single mother and teacher Anne Jewell, newly arrived with her son at a sprawling estate in Wales on the invitation of an influential friend, Sydnam Butler is a man whose sorrows–and passions–run deeper than she could have ever imagined.

As steward of a remote seaside manor, Sydnam lives a reclusive existence far from the pity and disdain of others. Yet almost from the moment Anne first appears on the cliffs, he senses in this lovely stranger a kindred soul, and between these two wary hearts, desire stirs. Unable to resist the passion that has rescued them both from loneliness, Anne and Sydnam share an afternoon of exquisite lovemaking. Now the unwed single mother and war-scarred veteran must make a decision that could forever alter their lives. For Sydnam, it is a chance to heal the pain of the past. For Anne, it is the glorious promise of a future with the man who will dare her to reveal her deepest secrets…before she can give him all her heart.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Every time I read a Mary Balogh novel, new or old, I am struck anew by how much I love her work. She has covered every conceivable subject/scenario in her long and highly successful career with empathy and a deeply insightful understanding of human nature. In Simply Love, the second in her highly acclaimed Simply Quartet she highlights the issues and prejudices surrounding a single mother and her illegitimate child in Regency England. With great understanding, Ms.Balogh immerses us in the life of Anne Jewell, her nine year old son, David, and that of Sydnam Butler, a horrifically scarred veteran of the peninsula wars.

Anne and David are invited to spend a month on the south west coast of Wales in company with members of the powerful Bedwyn family. This unconventional family, with a duke at its head, thumbs its collective nose at the restrictions under which most aristocrats are obliged to live. Kind and thoughtful all, they welcome Anne and David to share their family holiday without reservation. Whilst walking the coastal path on the first evening, Anne happens upon the dreadfully scarred Sydnam Butler, and flees from him in fright. Sydnam is employed by the duke as steward of his estate, and is attempting to carve a life out for himself away from his own overprotective and loving family; he is a man completely lacking in self-pity and understands the picture he presents on first sight.

So expertly drawn is Mary Balogh’s description of this tragic but gorgeous man, that I shed more than one tear on his behalf. Anne is appalled at her own crass behaviour and apologises to him at the first available opportunity. Friendship flowers over the course of the month long holiday further developing into affection, and finally into something more sensual. The traumatic events that led to David’s conception, and the ten years following it, have left Anne emotionally scarred. Sydnam too has scars that run far deeper than the obvious surface ones; it is therefore understandable that two people – starved of physical love and affection, and who have cocooned themselves against further hurt – will find comfort in each other.

Anne and Syndam are wonderful characters – to be honest, if I could hug each of them, I would! They feel so real; their sorrow, their hurt, their lack of confidence, even their prickliness; they belong together, and the tentative progress of their love affair is movingly beautiful. Of course, to quote Shakespeare…‘The course of true love never did run smooth’…they have a lot of soul searching to do before either of them can begin to feel really complete once more. Luckily, they have each other to help in their respective rehabilitation. Their traumatic journey is SO worth the reading or in this case the listening.

The supremely talented Rosalyn Landor gives a stupendous performance in this audiobook, bringing this tremendously poignant story with its large and varied cast of complex characters to three dimensional radiance. I loved all four books in this series but Simply Love is, in my opinion, by far the most emotionally charged. The very fact that this is such a heart-rending story makes the performing of it more difficult, but Ms. Landor handles each character with individuality, consummate skill, aplomb and downright brilliance.

I adored the audio version of Simply Love and it is not necessary to have read or listened to the first in the series, as Ms. Balogh gives us plenty of background information. However, we do meet many old favourites from other series; in my case, from books read years ago. I was surprised how vividly I remembered the characters. Such is the power of a great and memorable author.

MY VERDICT: This is highly recommended and a must read for all lovers of Historical Romance.


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

Read June 2016

 

Simply series (click on the book cover for further details):

Simply Unforgettable (Simply Quartet #1) by Mary Balogh Simply Love (Simply Quartet #2) by Mary Balogh Simply Magic (Simply Quartet #3) by Mary Balogh Simply Perfect (Simply Quartet #4) by Mary Balogh

 

This review was originally posted on the Romantic Historical Reviews

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(Rockliffe, #3)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian, 1776)

Cover Blurb:

Tragedy drove him into unwilling exile. Death demands his reluctant return.

In the decade between, he has answered to many names and amassed a variety of secrets.

Now the actor known to Paris as L’Inconnu must resume his real identity and become Francis Adrian Sinclair Devereux, Earl of Sarre … a man he no longer knows how to be and whose name, thanks to the malice of a friend turned enemy, remains tarnished by an old scandal.

Revenge, so long avoided, slithers temptingly from the shadows.
Grand-daughter of a wealthy wool-merchant, Caroline Maitland is not finding her Society debut either easy or enjoyable … but, to Marcus Sheringham, she is the perfect solution to his crushing mountain of debt.

Knowing she will be married for her money, Caroline never believed she would find love; but neither did she bargain for a certain charming French highwayman … and a surprising turn of events.

The stage is set, the cast assembled and the Duke of Rockliffe waits for the curtain to rise.

In the wings, Lord Sarre prepares to make his entrance.

He doesn’t expect to be greeted with applause.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Having just completed another listen/read of Stella Riley’s THE PLAYER, third in the Rockliffe series, I am, as always, left wondering what I can say that hasn’t already been said about this author’s exceptional writing skill. From the first word to the last Ms. Riley has me enthralled; whether it’s with this, her Georgian historical romance series or with her meticulously researched and fascinating Civil War series, to which I am addicted.

Ten years ago Frances Adrian Sinclair Devereux was unfairly banished by his father. With his father now deceased and his younger brother having been killed in a riding accident, Adrian (as he prefers to be known) has reluctantly returned from the continent. Tragedy and scandal sent him into exile and he has returned a closed and unreadable man; his outlook on life coloured by his family’s betrayal and lack of faith in him. The easy going and popular young man he was at age twenty-one, forever gone. Whilst in exile Adrian has discovered he has some quite exceptional and unique talents which have enabled him to make a more than adequate living. The first is a skill at card playing but the second, and by far the more important, is an ability to act which brings him great pleasure. In fact, he finds he can metamorphose into anyone he chooses on the stage or off it. He astounds audiences at the Comédie-Française with characters so diverse that they are unaware that they are being entertained by a handsome, English aristocrat in his prime.

Before his flight to France, he had led the life of a privileged aristocrat although, as a fairly serious young man, he had never taken that life for granted. Since his banishment, he has stubbornly refused to accept any financial help from his father, preferring to make his own way and learning many hard lessons along the way. Thus, on his arrival back in England, Adrian, now the Earl of Sarre, is in possession of a healthy fortune for which he owes thanks to no one but himself. His unusual talents will serve him well on his re-emergence into the upper echelons of society as, thanks to his gaming talents, he is now also a partner in a successful gentleman’s gambling club. From the moment Adrian sets foot on English soil, he slips into ‘character’ so well that his French batman/friend, Bertrand Didier, has to remind Adrian that he is constantly talking about himself in the third person. The persona he adopts for Sarre is cool and reserved, exquisitely clothed in austere, elegant, French tailoring. His only concession to individuality is his vividly decorated waistcoats; maybe they reveal a little of the man hiding beneath the myriad of characters he portrays. He is so used to acting on the stage, but also in life, that he can no longer remember how to be himself. Perhaps it’s a coping mechanism; a way of avoiding further hurt, because there is no doubt that the gorgeous, tender-hearted Adrian has been deeply hurt, and I wasn’t too far into the book before I felt his bone deep sense of isolation and sadness.

The only real friend Adrian has left from those long ago, carefree days, is Nicholas Wynstanton (younger brother of the Duke of Rockliffe). However, he reckons without the help and influence the incomparable Rock wields. He answers to no man and is, as always, with just a look or gesture, in charge of every situation. The duke makes his appearance early on in the story and, with barely a word, calmly accepts Adrian’s appearance as if he has not been missing for a decade. I just adore the character of the charismatic Duke of Rockliffe; for me he will always be the star of this series. His acceptance of Sarre, without question, opens the necessary doors. There are those who would prefer to cut him if they dared, choosing to believe the old and unproven rumours, but Rockliffe, like the wise man he is, keeps his own council. Rock reappears once more near the end of the story, and again steals the show with his je ne sais quoi, perfect timing, utmost integrity and downright gorgeousness.

Marcus Sherringham, Adrian’s nemesis, and the man ultimately responsible for his banishment, is determined to carry on with his persecution of him. Sherringham, broke and desperate, has his sights set on Caroline Maitland, a young heiress making her come-out. Regardless of the fact that her relatives are common and her money comes from trade, he is determined to have her. Adrian is equally determined to throw a spanner in the works. Caroline is mostly ignored because of her lack of style and appalling dress sense. But still waters run deep and she is no fool and knows that the angelically handsome Sherringham only wants her fortune. She is not impressed by his elegant good look but instead mistrusts him and his motives.

Adrian wanting to discover what kind of young woman Sherringham has in his sights, sees only the reserved and gauche young woman the rest of society sees. He therefore does what he does best and slides into character, this time as a romantic highwayman named Claude Duval… and holds up her coach. He is enchanted by her levelheadedness and lack of fear. But later he is hoisted by his own petard when forced to jump in and out of character several times in order to protect her from Marcus Sherringham. Then the unthinkable happens – the practical and down to earth Caroline begins to fall in love with the fictitious Claude.

Caroline continues to hold Sherringham at bay after promising to think about accepting a proposal of marriage from him. Her social climbing mother is pressuring her into accepting him; she plays for time – but time is something that the desperate Marcus no longer has as his creditors close in.

Adrian has always believed that he will never love again after his first and tragic foray into the emotion ten years previously, but in spite of this finds himself becoming intrigued with the gauche but likeable Caroline. At first, his interest in her is anything but altruistic; he wants to stop her marrying Sherringham at any cost, but later having met her in his disguise as Claude, it is on her own account – and his – that he wishes to stop a match between them. With his astute actor’s eye for detail, he sees beneath the crass and vulgarly dressed exterior, created by her loving and well-meaning relatives, to the very straightforward and desirable young woman beneath.

The talented Alex Wyndham once more brings his phenomenal and versatile acting skills into play, as he gets to grip with Stella Riley’s vast and diverse cast of characters. He has the added layers of inner dialogue to contend with (which I loved) and also Adrian in his many guises. He cleverly conveys, without explanation, when Adrian has slipped between characters and, with a subtle change in intonation, the listener knows that Adrian is now Sarre or vice versa. I loved the scene where Caroline is deeply moved by an act of kindness performed spontaneously by Adrian. It moved me to tears. The scene was tenderly written and beautifully portrayed by Alex Wyndham and this was the moment she fell for him, the real Adrian… kind, thoughtful, deeply honourable and stripped of all artifice. My God, I fell for him myself! There is no doubt that Alex Wyndham has played a blinder in his brilliant portrayal of Stella Riley’s fantastic story, “The Player’.

Stella Riley is a gifted and original writer and there are few who can rival her. She writes clever, moving, poignantly sad, dramatic, witty, and laugh-out-loud-funny moments. such as when Marcus Sherringham makes his addresses to Caroline…this is hilarious. The snotty nosed Marcus is called upon to explain his pedigree to Caroline’s mother with the question ‘exactly what kind of lord are you’? His utter disgust and effrontery at her cheek is perfectly captured by the combined writing/performing talents of Ms Riley and Alex Wyndham.

MY VERDICT: I’m hoping that the author will be behind her writing desk again soon and, in due course, we will be treated to another great story from this fabulous writer. Highly recommended!


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

The Rockliffe series so far (click on the book covers or more details):

The Parfit Knight Volume 1 (Rockcliffe) by Stella Riley The Mésalliance Volume 2 (Rockliffe) by Stella Riley The Player by Stella Riley


**I received this audiobook free from the author in return for an honest review. **

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