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The Rake

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb (Amazon):

A man’s past doesn’t have to map his fate, especially when a woman holds the key to his destiny in this timeless novel by New York Times bestselling author and legend in historical romance Mary Jo Putney.

Disinherited and disgraced, Reginald Davenport’s prospects cried for a dire end. But fate has given him one last chance at redemption–by taking his rightful place as the heir of Strickland, his lost ancestral estate. Davenport knows his way around women, yet nothing prepares him for his shocking encounter with Lady Alys Weston.

Masquerading as a man in order to obtain a position as estate manager of Strickland, Alys fled a world filled with mistrust and betrayal. She was finished with men–until Strickland’s restored owner awakens a passion she thought she would never feel. A passion that will doom or save them both…if only they can overcome their pasts…

(Note: This book was originally published in 1989 as The Rake the Reformer and then revised and republished as The Rake in 1998)

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I read that THE RAKE is regarded as one of the most popular, most beloved historical romances ever written and I can now understand why, because I loved this book and it will definitely find a place among my all-time favourites.

At the age of thirty-seven, Reggie is the archetypal rake – his life having been spent in a continual round of womanising, gambling and hard drinking. But, as details of past events in his life are revealed, I appreciated how much these have shaped his current lifestyle. I like the fact that he does not blame his present circumstances on anyone but himself; he chose the path he took and admits to making unwise decisions. (I could not help thinking how different Reggie’s life might have been had he inherited Strickland all those years ago, and not been denied his birth right by his unfeeling uncle.)

Unlike so many other hard-drinking rakes who regularly grace the pages of Historical Romances, Reggie is an alcoholic, although he has yet to recognise the fact. It is only when he starts to suffer memory losses, which are becoming more frequent and longer in duration, does he accept that his current way of life is slowly killing him. Blaming his excessive drinking, Reggie believes that he can control the habit but…

…somehow his resolution always dissolved once he swallowed his first drink.

Ms. Putney handles Reggie’s alcoholism with compassion and sensitivity, but does not gloss over the harsh reality of his struggles to stop drinking. There is one particular scene where a horrified Alys finds Reggie drinking in the library and he runs out into the night as though the demons of hell are at his heels. It is one of the most heart-rending scenes I have ever read and the moment when Alys finds him is so moving.

He stretched out his hand. She took it, her fingers far warmer than his, her clasp light and sure. Linking his fingers with hers, he brought their joined hands to his chest, against the beat of his heart. The tide of hope was running stronger now.

I like how Ms. Putney does not fall into the trap of having Reggie redeemed by the love of a good woman. He wants to overcome his alcoholism for himself alone.

He hadn’t gotten sober for Allie’s sake, or to live up to his parents’ hopes, or for anyone else. He had done it for himself.

Having a soft spot for unconventional heroines, how could I not love a heroine who is a magnificent Amazon (Reggie’s description) with mismatched eyes and has managed to hide the fact that A E Weston, who has been the highly successful steward at Strickland for four years, is not a man but a woman? The reforms she has undertaken at Strickland have made the estate prosperous and earned her the respect of all those around her. She has also created a loving family home for her three wards.

Alys may be strong and independent but deep down she is beset by insecurities. Something in her past made her flee her former life and has left her believing she is unattractive and no man would ever want her.

I enjoyed the steady development of the relationship between Reggie and Alys, and it is Ms Putney’s ability to convey the emotional connection between them that makes this unlikely pairing work so beautifully. There is an initial attraction but, more importantly, a genuine friendship is forged based on their mutual liking, respect and trust. The love scenes are not overly explicit but rather tender, sensual and romantic.

 “I am beginning to believe that you are not at all the wicked care-for-nobody that your reputation claims.”

Just like Alys, I discovered that beneath the sarcastic, rakish exterior, Reggie is intelligent, charming, fair-minded, honest and witty. He also shows a remarkable knowledge of farming and is willing to ‘muck in’ with the sheep-dipping, earning him the respect and acceptance of the estate workers. It made me see that this is the real Reggie and I was rooting for him to overcome his addiction.

Reggie admires Alys’ ability, honesty and generosity of heart, and her wit is as sharp as his own. He treats her as an equal and is always willing to listen to her ideas. Not having been a member of a loving family for so many years, it was heart-warming to see him enjoying the family dynamics between Alys and her wards and  even starts wondering what it would be like to have children of his own.

I love how Alys is a true friend to Reggie and is always there to support him whenever he needs it.,

If she could not even try to help, she was unworthy to be anyone’s friend.

When Alys reveals her secrets to Reggie, I thought his actions revealed how noble and unselfish he is. I also like the scene where Alys convinces a reluctant Reggie that they are meant to be together.

There is an interesting cast of secondary characters including:

  • Richard, Earl of Wargrave – genuinely wants to help his cousin, Reggie, and I was was so happy to see the friendship that developed between them.
  • Meredith (Merry) Spencer – Alys’ eldest ward, who is delightful and wise beyond her years.
  • Junius Harper- the priggish, self-righteous vicar
  • The Honourable Julian Markham – Reggie’s young friend who falls for Meredith.
  • Mac Cooper – Reggie’s valet, groom, butler and footman

Amid the darker elements of the story, there is also humour such as the confrontation between Reggie and Junius Harper, which almost ends in a brawl; the hilarious scene where Reggie cleverly manipulates Lord Markham into allowing his son to marry Merry and agree to Julian’s plan for the management of his estate; the various antics of Attila, Alys’ cat, and the long-suffering Nemesis, Reggie’s dog.

I loved the charming Epilogue where the various characters react to the news of Reggie and Alys’ marriage and I will let Reggie have the final word…

“And, my beloved, you have performed the miracle of your reforming career in changing me from a care-for-nobody rakehell into a faithful, adoring husband.”

MY VERDICT: What more can I say other than this is a must read!


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

 SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

 

A Duke in the Night

(The Devils of Dover, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1819)

Cover Blurb (Amazon):

Duke. Scoundrel. Titan of business. August Faulkner is a man of many talents, not the least of which is enticing women into his bedchamber. He’s known-and reviled-for buying and selling companies, accumulating scads of money, and breaking hearts. It’s a reputation he wears like a badge of honor, and one he intends to keep.

Clara Hayward, the headmistress of the Haverhall School for Young Ladies, on the other hand, is above reproach. Yet when she’s reunited with August all she can think of is the way she felt in his arms as they danced a scandalous waltz ten long years ago. Even though her head knows that he is only back in her life to take over her family’s business, her heart can’t help but open to the very duke who could destroy it for good

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Since reading and loving her Seasons for Scandal series, Kelly Bowen has joined my list of auto-read authors and I have been looking forward to A DUKE IN THE NIGHT, the first book in her new The Devils of Dover series. Once again, she captivated me with an innovative story, interesting characters and a sensual romance.

As a debutante ten years ago, Clara Hayward had all the attributes that should have had numerous suitors falling at her feet – beauty, poise and family wealth. But she had one fatal flaw – her extensive education. No husband wanted a wife whose intelligence and education was superior to his own. This gave Clara the freedom to pursue her ambition of becoming a teacher and, for many years, she has been headmistress of the most expensive and prestigious finishing school in London – Haverhall School for Young Ladies, which she inherited from her mother. Secretly, Clara runs exclusive summer school programmes at Avondale in Dover, leased from the Earl of Rivers, for those young women who have ambitions beyond society’s expectations and the courage to defy convention.

However, after their parents died two years ago, Clara, her younger sister, Rose, and her brother, Harland, now Baron Strathmore, were shocked to discover that their father had left large debts. They had all done whatever they could to keep their heads above water but with Strathmore Shipping, the family business, in jeopardy, Clara takes the decision to sell her beloved school, but is still determined to continue with her summer schools.

Kelly Bowen always writes great heroines and Clara is no exception. She is intelligent, strong and confident – a woman who fully embraces her individuality and has the courage of her own convictions. She is a natural teacher and I admire her progressive and unique teaching methods. I love how she nurtures her students and offers them practical experience in their chosen fields even though it might only be for a short time.

August Faulkner was never destined to be the Duke of Holloway. At the age of fifteen, he was fending for himself on the dangerous streets of London after his inveterate gambler of a father was thrown into debtors’ prison, where August’s younger sister, Anne, had lived too. His driving force was to pay off his father’s debts, have his family released and restore their fortunes and their family reputation.

Over the next fifteen years, through hard work, determination and a keen business mind, August had clawed his way up to become a wealthy and successful self-made man. In his business of buying up failing companies and turning them around into profitable concerns, he had a reputation for being ruthless and determined. Even his unexpected rise to the peerage five years ago has done nothing to curb his ambitions, other than working anonymously through intermediaries to make his purchases.

I understood how those years of struggle and deprivation had shaped August into the man he has become. He is determined to safeguard both himself and his sister from ever having to endure such hardship again, and no amount of money is ever going to be enough.

August understood survival. He had done and continued to do what he needed to so that he would never have to go back. Back to a time when hunger and cold had been enemies.

It is obvious how much he loves his sister and will do anything to make her happy, but stubbornly fails to see that Anne has ambitions of her own beyond just the material things in life.

It’s improbable that, after only one dance together ten years ago, August and Clara would have been so affected that they had never forgotten each other. But Ms. Bowen develops such a tangible chemistry between the two that I never once felt that they were not meant to be together. August sees what a fascinating and extraordinary woman Clara is and respects and admires her. Clara constantly challenges his opinions and I love that he is willing to listen and question his own motives and ambitions as he has never done before.

The truth of the matter was that he didn’t recognize himself any longer. Every vow he’d made to himself, every driving ambition he’d pursued with a single-minded determination sat uncomfortably on his skin now. His old self didn’t seem to fit quite right.

With all the pent-up longing and desire, it is inevitable that they will eventually succumb to their feelings for each other and it’s refreshing to see the heroine taking the lead and seducing the hero.

His heart might have stopped momentarily before it resumed, thundering in his ears with the same rhythm that was pulsing through the rest of him. The sound obliterated everything around him, his eyes riveted on her fingers, which were now trailing over the slope of her left breast, coming to circle her dark nipple, hard and pebbled under her touch. She was watching him watching her, and he had never been as aroused as he was then.

It is patently obvious that they love each other but I knew that Clara would eventually find out that August had bought Haverhall and his proposals for it. I could feel her pain and heartbreak, believing that she had meant nothing to him and was simply a means to an end. It is only through her sister Rose’s intervention that Clara discovers just how wrong she is about August and how much he loves her. For once, I did not even miss an Epilogue because the ending was so beautifully done, and August’s gift to Clara and its significance just bought tears to my eyes.

“You asked me once when enough is enough. You are my enough. You are my everything.”

I really admired August’s sister, Anne, who might have become a beautiful and poised lady but the time spent in debtors’ prison had given her a core of pure steel. A potential romance between Anne and her brother’s man of business, Duncan Down, is hinted at and I hope to see more of them in later books.

Clara’s siblings are both intriguing; Rose is a gifted artist who has been hurt in the past and Hartland, although a baron, is also a practising doctor and obviously has a few secrets. I am definitely looking forward to reading their stories.

Ms. Bowen manages to imbue the story with some delightful humour such as the scene where August is spying on Clara and her pupils from behind a wall, only to be discovered by Lady Tabitha (Tabby) and Lady Theodosia (Theo), the Earl of Rivers’ sisters, who obviously know exactly what he is doing!

“He might have been an apothecary,” Lady Theo suggested to her sister. “Collecting plants and herbs and whatnot.”
“True. Or a biologist,” Tabby mused. “Looking for crickets.”
“Or fossils.”
“Or perhaps examining animal leavings.”

or the scene in the studio where August enters without knocking to discover…I won’t spoil it for you!

MY VERDICT: A great start to what promises to be an excellent series. Definitely recommended.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

The Devils of Dover series so far (click on the book covers for more details):

A Duke in the Night (The Devils of Dover, #1) by Kelly Bowen Last Night with the Earl (The Devils of Dover, #2) by Kelly Bowen A Rogue by Night (The Devils of Dover, #3) by Kelly Bowen

Not Quite a Husband

(The Marsdens, #2)

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian – North-West Frontier of India and England 1897)

Cover Blurb:

Their marriage lasted only slightly longer than the honeymoon—to no one’s surprise, not even Bryony Asquith’s. A man as talented, handsome, and sought after by society as Leo Marsden couldn’t possibly want to spend his entire life with a woman who rebelled against propriety by becoming a doctor. Why, then, three years after their annulment and half a world away, does he track her down at her clinic in the remotest corner of India?

Leo has no reason to think Bryony could ever forgive him for the way he treated her, but he won’t rest until he’s delivered an urgent message from her sister—and fulfilled his duty by escorting her safely back to England. But as they risk their lives for each other on the journey home, will the biggest danger be the treacherous war around them—or their rekindling passion?

(First published in May 2009)

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This was my second Sherry Thomas book and I became a firm fan of this author who has a very real and deep understanding of the complexity of the human psyche.

On the face of it, Leo Marsden and Bryony Asquith are a most unlikely pair; he an Adonis, beautiful, popular, outgoing, and a favourite with his family and peers alike; she cold, aloof, serious, a confirmed spinster by choice, and wedded to her work until she meets Leo. The two have been acquainted from childhood, although Bryony is four years his senior and barely noticed the child on the adjoining estate. He, on the other hand, has always been aware of Bryony, secretly watching and admiring the silent, withdrawn girl from afar; infatuated even before he knows the meaning of the word.

It is not until Bryony comes across Leo socially in London that she becomes aware of the incredible young man he has become. She is now twenty-eight years old, unmarried and still an innocent, although in every other way she is anything but, being a surgeon and physician of some repute and a well-respected woman in a man’s profession and world. At twenty-four, Leo has some remarkable achievements under his belt – a brilliant mathematician, an expedition to Greenland, and even a published and performed play. He is popular, well-loved and the darling of everyone who knows him. Bryony finds herself completely smitten and follows him around London while he gives intellectual lectures on subjects about which she knows little – happy to just gaze at him and listen to his voice.

Eventually, he becomes aware of her once more and his own infatuation is rekindled. This time, with the passing of years, they are on a more equal footing. So smitten is Bryony that it is she who does the chasing and eventually, in her forthright way, proposes marriage. A lady of black and white with no grey areas, not capable of any sort of subterfuge herself, she does not allow for any sort of human flaws in the object of her complete devotion; therein lies her downfall – put someone on a pedestal and they are likely to topple.

From the moment of their marriage, even during the ceremony, they are on a downward track. Leo is at a loss; he tries his hardest to make her happy and cannot understand why she eventually denies him her bed, having only just tolerated his advances. The locking of her door against him is the final blow in their brief, tumultuous marriage and Bryony makes the decision to ask Leo for an annulment and he agrees.

Bryony flees the country, eventually ending up in the far reaches of India. After three years, Leo appears after a long trek, to summon her back to London as her father is ill and Bryony’s sister, Calista, has persuaded Leo to find and bring her home. It is during the journey back to England, with a series of enlightening flashbacks, that the story begins to emerge. It is obvious that Leo and Bryony have never stopped loving each other, but the ‘problem’ which becomes apparent and is the reason for Bryony’s sudden change and appalling treatment of Leo, appears insurmountable, I really did not see it coming.

After fleeing a marauding mob, they eventually reach the relative safety of a British fort and land bang in the middle of large-scale tribal unrest against the British, initiated by the Pathan tribesmen along the North-West Frontier of India. Here Bryony’s skills as a surgeon and Leo’s talent with a firearm are much needed. In the terrible days that follow they become closer and begin to put their differences behind them, although the trust on both sides is a different matter.

At the start, it is hard to like Bryony as she is so cold, withdrawn and unforgiving, but, as her own story emerges, my sympathy for her grew. While I didn’t agree with her attitude and actions towards the thoroughly delectable Leo, I did understand. But if she had not behaved the way she did, we wouldn’t have the story, and the story is beautiful, angsty, compelling and utterly romantic.

Sherry Thomas writes in a unique and unusual way. I love her flashback method of telling the story from each point of view, drip feeding the reader and slowly, layer by layer, revealing the reasons and emotions behind Bryony and Leo’s actions. Watching Bryony and Leo rekindling the love that neither had ever lost for the other and, more importantly, regaining the trust necessary for their healing process to begin was so emotionally rewarding.

MY VERDICT: It is a lovely moment when one discovers a writer so in tune with one’s own taste and Ms. Thomas is a talented writer with a unique style that really appeals to me. With a writer of such calibre, I can overlook a few modern slips.

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

 

The Marsdens series (click on the book cover for more details):

Delicious (The Marsdens, #1) by Sherry Thomas Not Quite a Husband (The Marsdens, #2) by Sherry Thomas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yours Until Dawn

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1806)

Cover Blurb: 

Gabriel Fairchild’s valor during battle earns him the reputation of hero, but costs him both his sight and his hope for the future. Abandoned by the fiancée he adored, the man who once walked like a prince among London’s elite secludes himself in his family’s mansion, cursing his way through dark days and darker nights.

Prim nurse Samantha Wickersham arrives at Fairchild Park to find her new charge behaving more like a beast than a man. Determined to do her duty, she engages the arrogant earl in a battle of both wit and wills. Although he claims she doesn’t possess an ounce of womanly softness, she can feel his heart racing at her slightest touch. As Samantha begins to let the light back into Gabriel’s life and his heart, they both discover that some secrets — and some pleasures — are best explored in the dark …

First published in July 2004

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This review was originally posted back in September 2012 shortly after Rakes and Rascals first went live and it’s possible that many of you who have followed the blog since may not have seen the review or read this book.

REVIEW

I first read YOURS UNTIL DAWN several years ago and it has remained one of my all time favourite historical romances. Warm, funny, heartrending, tender and sensual, re-reading it is one of my guilty pleasures.

Gabriel definitely fulfills my penchant for tormented, brooding heroes. He is a man without hope living in a dark and lonely world where the trappings of civilized behaviour no longer matter. He hides his vulnerability behind a show of arrogance and biting retorts such as his reply when Samantha tells him she’s there to help him adjust to his new circumstances:

“What if I don’t want to adjust? What if I just want to be left the bloody hell alone so I can rot in peace.”

Ms Medeiros provides a real insight into the problems of being blind, things which I had never appreciated before. When Gabriel suddenly wakes up, he has no way of knowing whether it is day or night and when Samantha takes him to task for not using a knife and fork, he explains that they are difficult to manage because if he can’t feel the food, he can’t find it. All things a sighted person takes for granted.

The battle of wills between Samantha and Gabriel provides for some sharp and really funny dialogue. Here are a couple of my favorites:

“Good morning, my lord,” Samantha said smoothly, sliding into a chair well out of his reach. “You’ll have to forgive Mr. Beckwith. He obviously had some pressing duties.”
Scowling, Gabriel settled back in his chair, “Let’s hope they include forging some letters of reference and packing his bags. Then the two of you can return to London together.”

“So tell me Miss Wickersham, as my new nurse, which duty would you like to assume first? Would you like to feed me?”
Eyeing the wolfish white flash of teeth as they tore another hunk of meat off the chop, Samantha said, “Given your…um…unbridled enthusiasm for your victuals, I’d be a little worried about getting my fingers that close to your mouth.”

I love Samantha because she is just what Gabriel needs to jolt him out of his apathy. At first, Beckwith, Mrs Philpot and the other servants refuse to disobey their master’s orders but Samantha has no such qualms. She re-arranges the furniture to make it easier for Gabriel to navigate through the house and throws open the windows. She only falters once when Gabriel comes up with another scheme to rid himself of her by constantly ringing a bell day and night and having her do all sorts of mundane things such as fluffing his pillow. I love Gabriel’s reaction when she finally says she’s had enough of his ridiculous demands and is resigning:

“Miss Wickersham, get back here this instant! That’s an order!”
” I quit,” she tossed back over her shoulder, savage glee coursing through her veins. “I’m not obliged to take your orders anymore!” Ignoring his spluttering, Samantha marched out the door slamming it behind her with grim satisfaction.

I like the way Ms Medeiros slowly develops the relationship between Samantha and Gabriel which makes it more realistic. My favourite scene is the one in the ballroom because it is both romantic and sensual. I could really feel the passion between them:

Suddenly she was the beggar at the feast – a feast of the senses her body had been denied for so long. She wanted to gorge herself on him, sate her every craving with the fulsome delight of his kiss.

Ms Medeiros paints such memorable and vivid pictures but it is the little details which seem to linger in my mind: Beckwith and Mrs Philpot trying to push Samantha out of the French windows before the approaching Gabriel enters the room; Gabriel’s indelicate table manners; Samantha running a fingertip along the scar on Gabriel’s face; Gabriel lounging in bed wearing only a rumpled cravat; the game of blind man’s bluff; the ultimate in romantic epilogues.

The secondary characters all add depth to the story and I have to mention Sam, the little terrier, who captured my heart with his antics. This book has a really surprise twist which I certainly didn’t see coming when I first read it. On subsequent readings, I found clues were there but I had simply been too engrossed in the story to interpret them correctly.

MY VERDICT: A wonderful love story with unforgettable characters, YOURS UNTIL DAWN is pure magic; a treat that no lover of historical romance should miss!

 

REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

Black Sheep Audio

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb (Goodreads):

With her high-spirited intelligence and good looks, Abigail Wendover was a most sought-after young woman. But of all her high-placed suitors, there was none Abigail could love. Abigail was kept busy when her pretty and naive niece Fanny falls head over heels in love with Stacy Calverleigh, a good-looking town-beau of shocking reputation and an acknowledged seductor. She was determined to prevent her high-spirited niece from being gulled into a clandestine marriage with handsome Stacy, a plausible fortune-hunter. The arrival to Bath of Stacy’s uncle seemed to indicate an ally, but Miles Calverleigh is the black sheep of the family.

Miles Calverleigh had no regard for the polite conventions of Regency society. His cynicism, his morals, his manners appalled Abigail. But he turns out to be her most important ally in keeping her niece out of trouble. He also turned out to be the most provoking creature Abigail had ever met – with a disconcerting ability to throw her into giggles at quite the wrong moment. Yet she was irresistibly drawn to his knowing smile. But how could she persuade her wealthy, respectable family to accept this unconventional, unsuitable man?

First published in 1966

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Witty and laugh-out-loud funny – Black Sheep is priceless. Having read all of Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances in my youth, I’m now revisiting, where possible, some of my favourites in audio version. A talented narrator/actor adds a lot to a well-written story, especially when it is peppered with eccentric and out-of-the ordinary characters. This is one such story and I’d forgotten how much I loved it. Definitely a comfort read/listen, if one needs a pick-me-up.

This has to be one of Georgette Heyer’s best novels. Abigail Wendover is a sparkling, witty young woman with an outrageous sense of the ridiculous. Never having experienced lasting love, she believes herself to be immune and firmly ‘on the shelf’, and has become a prop for her nervous, hypochondriac elder sister, and de facto ‘mother’ to orphaned niece Fanny, on whom the story hinges.

Fanny is 17 years old, beautiful but romantic and unworldly – perfect pickings for an older, handsome, glib-tongued man-about-town who is on the hunt for an heiress, in this case Mr. Stacy Calverleigh. Abby is absolutely determined that her niece will not fall foul of such a man.

The first couple of chapters are perfectly captured by accomplished actress Barbara Leigh-Hunt who flawlessly characterises the neurotic Selina, witty Abby, and slightly silly, but sweet Fanny. The fun really begins, however, when the incomparable Miles Calverleigh enters the fray. Abby confronts Mr. Calverleigh after hearing him addressed as such, not realising that there are two – uncle and nephew. What follows must be one of the most comical and entertaining dialogues between two characters that I’ve ever read/heard! Mr. Calverleigh senior is carelessly dressed and sadly lacking in tonnish manners, but so enigmatic and laid back that it is impossible to rile him, no matter how hard she tries. It becomes apparent, after a witty, lengthy exchange, where they are hilariously talking at cross purposes, what Miles is being berated for; but not having had any intercourse with his nephew for twenty or so years, he has no wish to now. He does, however, drag out the conversation for the fun of it, and because of the instant attraction he feels between himself and Abby. This attraction is obvious, although Ms. Heyer doesn’t say so, she simply conveys it by clever words and innuendo.

The ingenious way Miles contrives to separate the would-be lovers, without appearing to be interested in his nephew’s actions, is brilliantly executed and obviously done to please Abby. Unlike most other novels of Ms. Heyer’s, Miles declares his love quite early on in the story but the obstacles of his early disreputable life, which led to him being banished to India in the first place, and other familial circumstances of Abby’s, appear to be insurmountable. Although aware of his tarnished youth and less than salubrious reputation, Abby could not care less and realises that she loves this funny, apparently capricious but honourable man. However, she cannot see any way they could ever have a Happy Ever After. But Miles has other ideas!

I loved this funny, romantic tale and, in my opinion, Miles is one of Heyer’s most endearing heroes and is definitely up there with Hugo (The Unknown Ajax) for his wit and humour. He’s an engaging character and proof positive that a man does not have to be handsome, rich or dressed to perfection to engage a lady’s heart.

Barbara Leigh-Hunt is an actress of some repute and, if I have any reservations about her reading of Black Sheep, it is because her rather unforgettable voice conjures up other forceful characters she has portrayed. She has, however, captured the fun and wit of this extraordinarily charming tale almost to perfection.

MY VERDICT: I loved it and Highly challenge you, dear reader/listener, not to adore Miles as much as I did.


BOOK REVIEW RATING:STELLAR 5 STARS

NARRATION RATING: 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: KISSES

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

 A past dispute …

 When the irascible Lord Darracott’s eldest son dies unexpectedly, the noble family must accept their estranged Yorkshire cousin as heir apparent. They are convinced he will prove to be a sadly vulgar person, but nothing could have prepared the beleaguered family for the arrival of Major Hugo Darracott.…

A present deception…

His clever and beautiful cousin Anthea is sure there’s more to the gentle giant than Hugo’s innocent blue eyes and broad Yorkshire brogue would lead one to believe. But even she doesn’t guess what he’s capable of, until a family crisis arises and only Hugo can preserve the family’s honor, leading everybody on a merry chase in the process.…

(First published in paperback in 1959)

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A five star story and a five star plus audio experience. The extraordinary narration by Daniel Philpott brings this clever, funny, witty tale to life.

Major Hugo Darracott is summoned to Darracott House by his controlling, autocratic, manipulative grandfather. The old man has always known of his grandson’s existence, although the rest of the dysfunctional family do not. His son married a poor common Yorkshire weaver’s daughter against his wishes … or maybe, unbeknown to him, not so poor, or so common. Following the death of his sons and a grandson, Hugh is next in line and, despite his best efforts, Lord Darracott cannot disinherit him.

Hugo is a large amiable man with a determined streak and, despite all outward appearances, he is clever and wily, and very quickly recognises that his aristocratic family thinks him a gormless, cloddish, country bumpkin. And so he deliberately proceeds to live up to their expectations by pulling the wool over their eyes. He exaggerates a broad Yorkshire accent – with hilarious results. One of his cousins, the indolent, sarcastic Vincent, unkindly nicknames him Ajax after the blockish meathead in one of Shakespeare’s plays, Troilus and Cressida. Vincent particularly resents Hugo’s turning up as he himself would have been once removed from inheriting without the appearance of this, never before heard of cousin.

How Hugo induces this eclectic mix of, “up their own backsides” relatives, to like and respect him is clever, funny and endearing. His grandfather has decided that Hugo will marry another cousin, Lady Anthea Darracott, for the dual purposes of bringing him some respectability and also marrying off his granddaughter, who will continue to keep the clod up to snuff and not embarrass the family. Both Anthea and Hugo appear to be against this idea when it is first suggested. However, it doesn’t take long, before Hugo realises that marriage is exactly what he would like to happen. How he goes about convincing Anthea to not only like him, but to care for him….well, I thought it rather lovely.

Other reviewers have commented that this is not a very romantic tale but I think it is – and sweetly so. It is also funny and farcical but has a cleverly written plot. Hugo is a most likeable character – large and apparently guileless – but, of course, he is not, being a well-educated Major, recently of a cavalry regiment, and definitely nobody’s fool. With some skill, he has the entire Darracott family doing exactly what he wishes. The females in the family are the first to recognise this fact.

I loved the wonderful narration by Daniel Philpott; he pitches his voice for each character so perfectly that male and female, young and older are entirely believable and recognisable. Hugo’s Yorkshire accent is plausible when he is laying it on thick to appear cloddish, or when he reverts to his well-educated self with a commanding demeanour and just a very slight Yorkshire burr. Mr. Philpott manages to turn Georgette Heyer’s excellent story into a fabulous one.

MY VERDICT: I highly recommend the audio version to any lover of Ms. Heyer’s work or why not just become a convert? Devotees of Regency Historical Romance won’t be disappointed.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

NARRATION RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: KISSES

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lady in Red.jpg

(Season for Scandal, #3.5)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1818)

Cover Blurb (Amazon):

A lady with secrets, a man with a burning desire, a love that breaks all the rules…

Lady Charlotte Beaumont has spent her whole life being ignored. By her parents, her brother, even the servants. So she was secretly able to develop her talent for painting well beyond the usual watercolors. Too bad no one will let her actually use it—women are rarely accepted into the Royal Academy. But when a connection at the Haverhall School for Young Ladies gets Charlotte her dream commission, she’ll do whatever it takes to make it work. Including disguising herself as “Charlie.”

Flynn Rutledge has something to prove. His lowly upbringing is not going to stop him from achieving his artistic dreams. This commission is the key to his future, and his partner, an unknown youth in oversized clothes who is barely old enough to shave, doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. But Charlie does inspire Flynn’s artistic passion—something he worried he might have lost forever. For all his street smarts, nothing can prepare Flynn for the shock of Charlie’s true identity. He doesn’t care that she’s a woman, but a lady of the ton is a different matter altogether.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This is the final instalment in the excellent Seasons for Scandal series which neatly ties into Ms. Bowen’s new Devils of Dover series and, despite the constraints of a novella, she succeeds in creating a deeply emotional story.

I don’t usually comment on covers but this one is extremely misleading because the heroine never wears a red dress and it’s certainly not a Christmas themed story, although the Christmas tree in the background would suggest otherwise.

Ms. Bowen excels in writing strong, determined and smart heroines and Charlotte is no exception. No longer willing to let life pass her by, I admire her determination to pursue her dreams of becoming a recognised artist. Desperate to secure one of two important commissions to paint church murals, but knowing that, as a woman and a lady, normal avenues are closed to her, Charlotte courageously approaches the enigmatic and infamous King. She is aware of his dangerous reputation, but he is not only a connoisseur of fine art, but also a man who can secure anything, for a price – a price she is willing to pay.

There was no white knight thundering to her rescue, ready to sweep her away and make her dreams come true. That was on her. And no matter the cost, it would be worth it, ten times over.

Recognising her exceptional artistic skills, King strikes a bargain with Charlotte and she finds herself at the Haverhall School for Young Ladies. To the outside world, it appears no more than an exclusive finishing school but secretly it runs exclusive summer programmes for those young women who are both willing and are courageous enough to defy convention and…

“To do things denied to them, not by ability or acumen but by gender. Architects. Doctors. Solicitors. Artists.”

So disguised as a young man, Charlie Beaumont, Charlotte sets off to take the first step towards fulfilling her dreams.

Born into poverty, Flynn Rutledge has worked hard to achieve recognition as a talented artist. His ultimate goal is to have his work hanging in the Royal Academy. His late mother had always given him her unconditional love and had always believed in him and this had been her dream for him. The commission is important to him because it will give him access to the people with the means and power to help him achieve his ambitions. But, five years ago, an affair with a noblewoman had ended disastrously, leaving him humiliated, bitter and angry, with a deep distrust of titled women. Worse still, he no longer finds joy or inspiration in his painting.

I like how Ms. Bowen handles the development of the relationship between Flynn and Charlie. Long before Flynn discovers that Charlie is a woman, an honest friendship is forged between them based on their mutual passion for art. Flynn recognises what a gifted artist Charlie is and makes ‘him’ believe in ‘himself’, while Charlie’s words of wisdom, kindness and generosity restore Flynn’s sense of purpose.

…he realized he had found his way back. Righted his ship and recharted his course with the most unlikely of allies.

Even when Flynn discovers that Charlie is really Charlotte (under dramatic circumstances), he isn’t angry because he understands and respects her. Their romance feels like a natural progression of the closeness they shared.

I could understand Flynn’s feelings of anger when he discovers that Charlotte is in fact Lady Charlotte, given his previous experience with a noblewoman and everything he and Charlotte had shared.

Every whispered promise, every shared confidence, every piece of what he had believed to be real had been built on a foundation of lies. He had been played the fool. Again.

Charlotte tries hard to explain but it falls on death ears and the special gesture she makes to prove her love for Flynn leads to such a moving scene and a well-deserved Happy Ever After.

“I love you. All of you. Charlotte, Charlie, Lady Charlotte. Whatever you wish to call yourself, it matters not to me.”
“Yours,” she whispered. “I want to call myself yours”

The artistic setting forms a unique backdrop to the story and I am intrigued to learn more about the Haverhall School for Young Ladies, which is the focus of the Devils of Dover series. There are some interesting secondary characters including Clara Hayward, headmistress of the school, and her sister Rose, and the mysterious King, who appeared in the Season for Scandal series. I can’t wait for his book to see him brought to his knees by love!

MY VERDICT: This novella has everything wrapped up in a small package – emotive and evocative writing, an innovative story, intelligent dialogue, and richly drawn characters. Highly recommended.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Marigold Chain.jpg

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

Cover Blurb:

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

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

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

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

♥♥♥♥♥♥

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

 

 

Cadenza Audiobook.jpg

(Rockliffe, #6)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian – 1778)

Cover Blurb:

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

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

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

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

 ♥♥♥♥♥♥

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

NARRATION RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

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

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

My Once and Future Duke.jpg

(The Wagers of Sin, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance  (Regency 1807 & !819)

Book Blurb (Amazon):

What happens at the infamous Vega Club…

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

Stays at the Vega Club…

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

Until now.

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

♥♥♥♥♥♥

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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