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The Black Madonna audiobook.jpg

(Roundheads and Cavaliers, #1)

 Genre: Romantic Historical Fiction (17th Century – Genoa 1636 & 1646, English Civil Wars 1639-1645)

 Cover Blurb (Amazon):

As England slides into Civil War, master-goldsmith and money-lender, Luciano Falcieri del Santi embarks on his own hidden agenda.

A chance meeting one dark night results in an unlikely friendship with Member of Parliament, Richard Maxwell. Richard’s daughter, Kate – a spirited girl who vows to hold their home against both Cavalier and Roundhead – soon finds herself fighting an involuntary attraction to the clever, magnetic and diabolically beautiful Italian.

Hampered by the warring English and the quest itself growing daily more dangerous, Luciano begins to realise that his own life and that of everyone close to him rests on the knife-edge of success … for only success will permit him to reclaim the Black Madonna and offer his heart to the girl he loves.

From the machinations within Parliament to the last days of the King’s cause, The Black Madonna is an epic saga of passion and intrigue at a time when England was lost in a dark and bloody conflict.

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The Black Madonna is a sweeping, epic tale of love, betrayal, loyalty, intrigue, and a family’s determination to support each other throughout the bloody ravages of a civil war, into which their country has been plunged.

I loved every minute of this truly sumptuous and scintillating saga of triumph over adversity – firstly in the written word, and now in more than twenty-two glorious hours of audio, performed by the highly talented actor, Alex Wyndham.

As usual with this author, her characters are quite unique. Luciano Falcieri del Santi is an Italian master-goldsmith and usurer (money lender); he has imperfectly matched shoulders and a burning ambition to find out, not only the truth, but also to punish the men who, when he was only a boy of twelve, had perjured themselves in order to have his innocent father executed for treason in England.

He has worked hard to succeed at his craft and also has a natural flair for finance, which has enabled him to persuade his uncle to loan him a large amount of money. Luciano offers The Black Madonna as surety – a simple but serenely beautiful figurine, much treasured by Luciano’s family. It is all he has to bargain with, but such is the reverence with which the figurine is held that his uncle agrees.

Luciano’s occupation as a much despised money lender, his slight, but nevertheless fairly obvious, physical deformity, and his single minded and determined quest for revenge and justice would not immediately conjure up a romantic figure. But, somehow, in her usual inimitable way, Stella Riley has created just that – an enigmatic, brilliant and quite dazzlingly beautiful young man whom Kate Maxwell, much to her own initial disgust, is secretly in thrall to from their first meeting. She is fascinated to realise that he is the epitome of a painting of Lucifer, the fallen Angel, on the ceiling of her family’s chapel. Luciano dominates the story from the first page and eventually earns the friendship and trust of Richard Maxwell, an honourable and well-respected member of Charles the first’s doomed parliament, and the father of Kate and Eden, the two eldest Maxwell siblings, who figure predominately in this story.

It’s unnecessary to go into the politics and tragedies of the English Civil Wars in great depth in the review, because this talented historian and writer has done the hard work for us to enjoy. In fact, I am in awe of the daunting task she set herself when she began researching and writing this series more than twenty five years ago… without the benefit of the internet. Suffice to say that not only The Black Madonna but every book in this series, plus its companion A Splendid Defiance and The Marigold Chain, set in the Restoration period, are all masterpieces in their own right. Many of Stella Riley’s fictitious characters throughout the series make repeat appearances – some with stories of their own – such as Gabriel Brandon, Venetia Clifford, Eden Maxwell, Francis Langley and Justin Ambrose. So well-drawn and developed are these characters that they are almost indistinguishable from the nonfictional, historical military and political characters with whom they interact. Under the author’s clever hand, these nonfictional personalities are no longer just figures on canvases in art galleries or names in dusty archived records. Seen through the eyes of the author, they are living, breathing men who had difficult decisions to make and worries to contend with.

One thing Ms. Riley does particularly well is to show both sides of the argument in a fair and unbiased way. There was one particular conversation between two friends that jumped out at me. It clearly and succinctly explained how and why families and friends found themselves on opposing sides, and highlighted the sheer futility and difficulties faced by such families and friends in this situation. Eden Maxwell and Francis Langley have been friends since boyhood and discuss their differing beliefs on Parliament versus King. Neither allows their opinions to affect their long standing friendship but simply agree to differ. Obviously, once the first war begins in earnest, they do not actively pursue their friendship, although throughout the series, they occasionally meet up and continue to be friends. The two are also inextricably linked by Eden’s marriage to Francis’s sister, Celia, which in itself has its own problems, because she, like her brother, is a royalist. The tension in the Maxwell household, as the war gathers momentum, is tangible and has long reaching consequences for all of them.

The waters are further muddied by the differing religions of political leaders, officers and soldiers fighting on both sides. Complicated and difficult it may be to understand, but the author again explains the different reasons and factions in a way that can be understood by the layman. All in all, a mix of differing religious beliefs and fears only added to the almost impossible task of uniting a country and increased the problems of an already hopeless war which tore families and communities asunder.

Luciano relentlessly pursues his quarry, finding and dealing with each culprit in turn, until only one is left. At the same time, he is fighting a losing battle against his obvious love for Kate (aka Caterina) Maxwell, until eventually he can no longer deny his feelings, even though he fears his love may place her in danger.  The story hurtles towards its emotional and heart-rending culmination, an ending the author has plucked, in part, from the historic archives – the final falling of the long besieged Cavalier stronghold, Basing House – merciless, bloody and horrific- she cleverly intertwines it with the last piece of Luciano’s puzzle. In fact, the final 25% of the book, as all the threads come together, is truly nail-biting stuff. Stella Riley ratchets up the tension and emotion, drawing graphic pictures of the horrors of war to the point where one can almost smell the gunpowder and witness the horror and terror of the participants. At its centre is Luciano, his formidable Turkish man servant, Selim, his beloved Caterina, and the last man who must face Luciano’s reckoning.  Here I must add that, as much as I loved reading it, the narration by master-of-his-craft, Alex Wyndham, adds another dimension to an already fabulous book which, were it a play, would certainly earn a standing ovation.

Surely The Black Madonna must be an actor’s dream to perform – for perform it Mr. Wyndham does, with quite outstanding success. I can only imagine the challenges he faced with such a huge cast of characters of both sexes. Knowing this story well, having read it at least three times, I had pre-conceived ideas on how I thought the characters would sound, and I wasn’t disappointed. Luciano’s voice is ‘like warm silk’, to quote the author, and it’s at its silkiest best when he talks to his Caterina. Luciano has a multifaceted nature, one side of which – his inherent aloneness – I felt very keenly and Mr. Wyndham portrays this facet of his character with sensitivity. Okay, Luciano deliberately cultivates it in order to stay safe, and of course as a money lender was reviled by the very people who were in debt to him, and he had learnt to trust very few people. Nevertheless, at times, I felt sad for him. He shrouds himself in an aloofness and, on occasions, adopts a quiet, deadly insolence, which is reserved for those people he holds in contempt. Alex Wyndham captures the many facets of Luciano’s character to perfection; the subtle nuances of his moods – silky smooth, deadly dangerous and insolence.

There are far too many individuals to mention separately, but a few characters really stand out for me in Alex Wyndham’s portrayal of them.

  • Richard Maxwell – a quiet likeable man with oodles of integrity
  • Eden Maxwell – a no-nonsense career soldier who begins by being quietly happy with his lot but, as a result of betrayal, becomes embittered and morose, which shows in his voice
  • Celia Maxwell, Eden’s wife – a querulous and waspish woman who is easy to dislike
  • Francis Langley – the languid, long-haired, elegantly attired, devil-may-care, Cavalier officer, who would rather read poetry than go to war
  • Gianetta, Luciano’s little sister – highly strung, excitable and volatile
  • Finally the Irish Catholic patriot, Liam Aherne – quiet and stern but with a delightful, lilting Irish accent

These are only a handful of the diverse cast Alex Wyndham juggles with.

Each time I hear this performer, I wonder anew how on earth he’ll do it, but I’m never disappointed with his performance. A consummate and professional actor with a voice like ‘warm silk’, to quote the author again in her description of Luciano, but which also fits Alex Wyndham to a tee.

The Black Madonna is another triumph for Stella Riley and her narrator, Alex Wyndham. A magnificent blend of historical fiction and historical romance, with the emphasis on the thoroughly and accurately researched history. The plotting is first rate – intriguing and plausible, and the romance is slow developing – deep and abiding.

MY VERDICT: A heart-warming and romantic saga of family, love and war. Simply not to be missed!  We can only hold our breath and hope that Ms. Riley is able to have the rest of the series recorded. 

 

REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

NARRATION RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Roundheads and Cavaliers series (click on the book covers for more details):

 The Black Madonna (Roundheads and Cavaliers, #1) by Stella Riley Garland of Straw (Roundheads and Cavaliers, #2) by Stella Riley The King's Falcon (Roundheads and Cavaliers, #3) by Stella Riley Lords of Misrule (Roundheads and Cavaliers, #4) by Stella Riley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Genre: Historical Romance (17th century – 1666)

Cover Blurb:

It is 1666 – the year when people who take prophecy seriously believe that the world is going to end.

For Chloe Herveaux – twenty years old, half-French and practical – marriage to wild, unpredictable Alex Deveril offers escape from a home she hates. For Alex, it is a refuge of a different kind. But while the marriage remains in name only and both, for reasons of their own, agree to seek an annulment, other forces are gathering.

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

Chloe, meanwhile, navigates the malice and scandal of Charles 11’s licentious Court and plots a course of her own aimed at financial independence. But as the surprising facets of Mr Deveril’s personality are gradually revealed to her, the long-awaited annulment becomes a double-edged sword.

Absorbed in his search for a traitor, Alex spares little thought for his bride – until a hot June night on the Falcon Stairs when he and Chloe stand united by tragedy.

As the flames of the Great Fire sweep over London, Alex and Chloe face their ultimate test. Their world is at risk … their choices may save it.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

I’m delighted to have been pointed in the direction of Stella Riley by one of her biggest fans, and now I’m going to be on a SR binge as she has a lovely long, re-published list available on kindle. Any writer who can keep me awake into the early hours is worthy of great respect. How on earth did I miss her the first time around?

Alex Deveril – who by the way is utterly gorgeous – is out on a drinking spree one night, having been rejected by the woman he believes he loves. He and Chloe Herveaux end up married in less than auspicious circumstances. In the cold light of day, Chloe is convinced that she has taken unfair advantage of Alex in her haste to escape the household of her step brother.  She reluctantly comes to the conclusion that she should have refused his drunken proposal, no matter how enticing the prospect. They discuss the matter and decide that eventually they will pursue an annulment; however, neither is in a hurry, so for the time being their marriage-in-name-only, suits both of them.

It is 1666, England is still recovering from the austere life imposed by Cromwell. Charles II is on the throne and again the Country is at war, this time with the Dutch. I know little of this period in our history but Stella Riley has now piqued my interest. She writes eloquently and with great knowledge, and her extensive research and love of her subject is obvious in the captivating and confident way in which she tells her story.

Alex Deveril is a complex character. He has been a soldier for the past 15 years yet still only 30 – imagine that? He was a boy yet he fought like a man, alongside men, and earned their respect. It is a hardly believable phenomenon that a youth, little more than a child, could achieve such distinction…yet such were the times. He can be charming when he chooses but is also reckless, unpredictable and wild, and is always up for the most outrageous escapades. A series of events outside of Alex’s control have left him bitter, cold and acerbic, at least on the outside. He has a close group of friends who, on the whole, forgive him his digressions and ignore his biting sarcasm. Alex appears unable to stop pushing those closest to him away and this includes Chloe. Despite this, she is very attracted to him and has been since their first meeting. She knows she mustn’t let this show if she is to avoid derision, but more importantly not to make him feel trapped.

Stella Riley has a tremendous talent for developing her cast of characters into loving, breathing beings. I was thoroughly entertained by the way the young and innocent Chloe had the men in Alex’s circle completely enamoured and protective of her in no time. Chloe achieves this without use of guile or affectation – just by being herself. The only man unaffected, it seems, is Alex. Ms. Riley grows the relationship between the two in very slow degrees; they become friends, and in time, confidantes.  Alex soon comes to realise that Chloe is intelligent and undemanding and so he begins to trust her and seek her council. She, very astutely, gets his measure and goes to some lengths to bring about a reconciliation between Alex and his close friend Giles, after one of the former’s particularly cutting remarks causes a rift between them. She achieves this in a risky and humorous way, reluctantly earning Alex’s respect. On another occasion, she takes steps to stop Alex doing something she is convinced he will later regret. Again, he is less annoyed than she expects him to be with her unconventional methods.

Despite the fact that Alex has many flaws of which he is well aware but unrepentant, he is highly intelligent, loyal, ingenious and discerning and also respected for his previously proven military prowess by Prince Rupert, cousin to King Charles and Commander of the Naval Fleet. Together with his friend Giles Beckworth, he is contracted to covertly search for a traitor in their midst, who is costing the British Navy ships and lives. This wonderfully meaty tale just gets better as the two, along with Matt, Alex’s trusted retainer, start their search and by a series of clever eliminations, a fair amount of deviousness, smart code breaking on Alex’s part, and some unwitting help from Chloe, finally get their man.

Stella Riley covers so much in this feast of a tale – a snapshot of the tactics and horror of death and injury on board his Majesty’s ships during wartime; the Great Fire of London, where we see through her eyes, the cramped wooden buildings in their narrow lanes, the fire eating it’s way relentlessly through London and the despair of her inhabitants as they fight fruitlessly to save their homes; then the final devastating toppling of St. Paul’s. There is also the licentious, gluttonous and fashion-obsessed court of the womanising but shrewd and enigmatic Charles II, and the despair of his wife as he flaunts his mistresses – all brought so vibrantly to life by this talented author.

For me though, the intensely beautiful love story between the delectable Alex and the endearing Chloe tops all. It’s almost non-existent to begin with but then develops so slowly, it creeps up on the reader in the most deliciously romantic way. Alex’s constant quoting that had me googling and thinking ‘oh that’s so lovely’; their camaraderie, which at times borders on the hilarious, so well did they interact and understand each other; Alex’s eventual realisation of his love and then his attempts to convince Chloe of it were sooooo!!! … words just fail me!

This was a wonderful first for me by novelist/historian, Stella Riley. I absolutely adored it and, for anyone out there who knows little about this period in our history, I cannot recommend a more entertaining or better way to learn! An unmissable Stellar 5 stars!

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STELLAR STARS

 SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

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THE GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED

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(Fiery Tales # 4.5)

Genre: Erotic Historical Romance (17th century France)

Official Blurb

From bestselling author Lila DiPasqua comes a scorching new historical romance novella in the acclaimed Fiery Tales series! An emotional, erotically charged retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl.

As childhood friends, Leopold d’Ermart and Suzanne Matchet were inseparable. One unforgettable Christmas Eve, their relationship changed from the best of friends…to lovers. But the heir of the Duke of Mont-Marly isn’t supposed to fall in love with the daughter of his family’s physician. Or vice versa.

Is this a second chance at first love? 

Years later, Suzanne is dreading her first Christmas without her father. The heartbreak Leo caused when he left seven years ago is a distant memory. And she prefers to keep it that way. The last thing Suzanne expects is for tall, dark, and sinfully seductive Leo d’Ermart to show up at her door and announce he wants her back in his life. And in his bed. Worse, the now celebrated libertine is even more devastating to a woman’s senses than ever before…

Or are they playing with fire? 

The only woman Leo, Duke of Mont-Marly, has ever yearned for is the adorably unconventional, intelligent beauty who got away. He discovers Suzanne creating and selling matchsticks, elixirs for the ill…and is still so damned alluring. Leo is determined to show her the depth of his desire, win back Suzanne’s heart. And give her a Christmas beyond her wildest imagination…

Available from:

Amazon | Barnes & Noble

iBooks | Smashwords

All Romance Ebooks

EXCERPT

Apparently, the mighty Leo d’Ermart simply woke up one morning and decided to reappear in her life, bold as could be— and sent his personal secretary to deliver his offer, no less. How very thoughtful. The man’s gall was outrageous. How very thoughtful. The man’s gall was outrageous. Tamping down her ire, she gave Gaspard another pat. He purred contently. “I’m not worried about coin. There’s no need to be.” Suzanne cast Lucille a reassuring smile over her shoulder. Since her father’s death, she’d managed just fine.

“But… But… I just don’t understand it,” Lucille continued, unrelenting. “He has plenty of wealth. You make concoctions for so many others. Why not make the perfumes he’s requesting? He is willing to pay a vast sum. An offer from a duc does not come around every day!”

Because his offer is nothing but a ruse.

She was no fool. The generous funds Leo was offering her to create perfumes for his two sisters— meant to be gifts— had a condition: she was to come to Montbrison to create them.

The offer was bogus. A mere pretense to get her to his château.

She wanted nothing more to do with him.

Knowing the unscrupulous rake as well as she did, his true motives were without a doubt of a disreputable nature. She refused to be duped by his little ploy. She’d experienced his stinging trickery before.

It had taken a long time for her heart to mend and harden against Leo d’Ermart. It had been years before she’d finally managed to wrestle him out of her daily thoughts. And heart. She resented it that yesterday he’d intruded into her mental peace once more— thanks to Gilles’s visit.

The best thing a woman could do was to stay far away from the notorious roué.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Lila DiPasqua is a multi-published, national bestselling author of historical romance with heat. Her novels are published by Penguin/Berkley, as well as having self-published works. She is best known for her critically acclaimed Fiery Tales series. Her books have been featured on Doubleday and Rhapsody Book Clubs. She lives with her husband and three children in Canada and is a firm believer in the happily-ever-after.

If you’d like to learn more about Lila and her books, please visit her Website:
http://www.liladipasqua.com/index.htm

And follow her on:

Facebook :https://www.facebook.com/LilaDiPasquaAuthor

Twitter : @LilaDiPasqua

GIVEAWAY

Lila will be giving away 5 copies of either UNDONE or THE DUKE’S MATCH GIRL in ebook (readers’s choice) and one of these lucky readers will also receive this beautiful Christmas key ornament.

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The Giveaway is open worldwide and will run until midday (GMT) on Saturday 14th December.

To enter simply leave a comment.

MY REVIEW

(THE DUKE’S MATCH GIRL is part of Lila DiPasqua’s Fiery Tales series but can easily be read as a standalone.)

**5 Delightfully Wicked Stars**

I LOVED this novella! It was romantic, steamy and funny and kept me totally entertained from the first page to the last.

Here are the things I loved about this novella:

The story combines two of my favourite tropes…friends to lovers and second chances. I adored Leo… his willingness to admit how much he had hurt Suzanne and his sheer determination to prove how much he truly loves her. Suzanne is still feeling the pain caused by the death of her beloved father and wants nothing to do with the man who broke her heart. I love that she refuses to trust him even though she still feel the strong attraction. In fact, she leads him a merry dance. I love the letter she sends him when he asks her to spend Christmas with him at the Château Montbrison.

Your Grace,
Your man has informed me of your offer. He was quite uncomfortable about relaying my response. It is for his ease that I put it to you here in writing. As to your offer— and I say this with the utmost sincerity— you may take it, and insert it into your exalted posterior.
Sincerely,
Suzanne

Oh boy! Leo wasn’t going to give up at the first hurdle and I was in awe of his ingenuity, especially when he uses a little bribery to enlist the whole town in his schemes. Everyone in the town bombards Suzanne with reasons why she should go with Leo. I loved this exchange between the innkeeper and Suzanne…

“Well, perhaps you should consider that he is a wealthy man.”
“I’m aware of that.”
“With much power and influence.”
“I’m aware of that, too.”
“What about his enormous manhood?”
That stopped her dead in her tracks. She turned. “Pardon?”

Then there is the episode involving Gaspard…

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and the delightful picture of Suzanne’s two employees, Rosalie and Lucille, surreptitiously eavesdropping on her conversation with Leo.

Suzanne is my sort of unconventional heroine.  She has a brilliant mind and a great passion for science and I adore Leo for being proud of her abilities and loving her adorable little quirks and oddities.

Of course, this is Lila DiPasqua…so expect wickedly delicious, sizzlingly sexy, toe-curling love scenes with some dirty talk from Leo…definitely not for prudish ears!  There is a pretty hot scene in the carriage on the way to Château Montbrison and Leo does luscious things with ice cream!

I’m a sucker for a sigh-worthy ending and this has a real heart-melting one. I won’t spoil it for you other than to say that Suzanne’s matches play a significant part and Leo…his words are totally swoon-worthy!  There is even an added bonus of a charming Epilogue.

THE DUKE’S MATCH GIRL is a fun and steamy novella and so curl up with a glass of wine and your favourite chocolates and enjoy!

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SIZZLING

Read December 2013

Fiery Tales series to date (click on the book cover for more details):

Awakened by a Kiss  (Fiery Tales, #1) The Princess in His Bed  (Fiery Tales, #2) A Midnight Dance (Fiery Tales, #3) Undone (Fiery Tales, #4) The Duke's Match Girl - A Fiery Tale Novella (Fiery Tales, #4.5)

My sincere thanks to Lila for sending me a copy of this novella in return for an honest review. It was a pleasure!

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