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Just Like Heaven - Julia Quinn

SMYTHE-SMITH QUARTET SERIES ( #1)

Setting: England 1824

Honoria Smythe-Smith is:
A) a really bad violinist
B) still miffed at being nicknamed “Bug” as a child
C) not in love with her older brother’s best friend
D) all of the above

Marcus Holroyd is:
A) the Earl of Chatteris
B) regrettably prone to sprained ankles
C) not in love with his best friend’s younger sister
D) all of the above

Together they:
A) eat quite a bit of chocolate cake
B) survive a deadly fever and the world’s worst musical performance
C) fall quite desperately in love

It’s Julia Quinn at her best, so you know the answer is …
D) all of the above

★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩

Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series is a great favourite of mine and anyone who’s read the series will be familiar with the Smythe-Smith quartet. For those readers who haven’t read the Bridgerton books, the quartet of three sisters and a cousin gives an annual musical performance which can only be described as a discordant cacophony of sounds! So I was delighted to discover that Ms Quinn’s new series features the young ladies of this quartet. The first book, JUST LIKE HEAVEN, is a delightful story full of romance, charm and humour.

Feeling down? Well this book is the ideal cure! It has no great conflict, no heartrending angst and no threatening villains but I loved escaping into the cosy world Ms Quinn has created with an enchanting friends-to-lovers story.

I adore Marcus and Honoria because neither of them conforms to the typical hero and heroine you find in so many books. Marcus is not one of those drop dead gorgeous rakes whom every woman drools over. In fact, he’s shy, not particularly handsome, and hates being the centre of attention. Honoria is very down to earth, honest, loves getting together with her cousins just to chat and longs for a husband, her own home and a big family. I found it easy to relate to them because they seemed so much like real people.

Marcus’s illness provides the impetus for them to recognise that their feelings for each other are something more than friendship. Some reviewers have complained that Ms Quinn devotes an inordinate amount of the book to Marcus’s illness but I feel that these scenes are integral to the story. They reveal Honoria and Marcus’s innermost thoughts about each other and move their relationship forward to the next level. They also serve to highlight Honoria’s single-mindedness and courage in the face of adversity.

Ms Quinn also manages to blend in touches of her trademark humour as well. I love Honoria’s chatter to Marcus, even though he can’t hear her:

“I am thinking that when you are better you should come to London.” Honoria went on, fixing her voice back into a facsimile of good cheer. “If nothing else, you will need a new pair of boots. Maybe something of a looser fit. It’s not the style, I know, but perhaps you can set a new trend.”

I’d probably be just like Honoria, babbling a lot of trivialities, if I were sick with worry!

Marcus’s laudanum induced hallucination is also very funny:

He might have slept for a bit. He rather hoped he was sleeping, because he was quite certain he’d seen a six-foot rabbit hopping through his bedchamber, and if that wasn’t a dream, they were in big trouble.

I love how Ms Quinn emphasises the importance of family and friends, something that seems sadly missing in our 21st century society. Marcus values his friendship with Daniel and the sense of family he finds with the Smythe-Smiths because he’d never experienced either before. For Honoria, family means everything, and although she knows how truly dreadful they are, upholding the tradition of the musical performance is very important to her. She regards her cousins as friends as well as family and loves the rehearsals because it gives her the opportunity to simply chat with them.

Their first kiss seems such a natural progression and in perfect harmony with the story. Honoria is so happy to see Marcus recovered that she’s sobbing and naturally throws her arms around him and then:

“Honoria”, he whispered, looking down at her as if he’d never seen her before. His eyes were warm, chocolaty brown and rich with emotion. Something flared in their depths, something she didn’t quite recognise, and slowly, ever so slowly, his lips dipped to meet hers.

So romantic!

Marcus has always found Honoria’s ‘lucky red shoes’ a turn on and it is these shoes that ultimately move the story towards the big love scene which is really worth waiting for! Ms Quinn doesn’t do steamy but her scene is both tender and poignant with lovely touches of teasing between them.

The Smythe-Smith Quartet themselves provide some really funny moments with their friendly bickering and it‘s a bonus to meet some familiar faces from the Bridgerton series including my favourite Colin Bridgerton and the indomitable Lady Danbury.

If you’re in the mood for a tender romance with endearing characters, sparkling dialogue and delightful touches of humour, JUST LIKE HEAVEN is simply perfect. I’m now looking forward to reading the other books in this series but will be sure to have my earplugs at the ready!

RATING : ★★★★★

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

Read September 2011

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HIGHLAND PLEASURES #3

Setting: London, England 1882, Scotland 1882, Paris 1882,  Monaco 1882

He is a man of simple tastes – and complex pleasures…

Cameron Mackenzie is a man who loves only horses and women – in that order – or so his mistresses say.

Ainsley Douglas is a woman with a strong sense of justice and the desire to help others – even if that means sneaking around a rakish man’s bedchamber.

Which is exactly where Cam finds her – six years after he caught her the first time. Only then, she convinced Cam she was seeking a liaison, but couldn’t go through with it because of her husband. Now a widow, she’s on a mission to retrieve letters that could prove embarrassing to the queen. Cam has no interest in Ainsley’s subterfuge, but he vows to finish what they started those many years ago. One game, one kiss at a time, he plans to seduce her. And what starts out as a lusty diversion may break Cam’s own rules – and heal the scars of a dark and damaging past…

★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★

Who can resist a Scotsman in a kilt? Not me! So I’m thrilled that those deliciously sexy Mackenzie brothers are back! THE MANY SINS OF LORD CAMERON, the third book in Jennifer Ashley’s popular Highland Pleasures series, tells Cameron Mackenzie’s story.

Jennifer Ashley has a gift for creating intriguing and vibrant characters like Cameron and Ainsley who stay in your imagination long after you’ve closed the book.

If anyone is in need of the tender loving care from a special woman, it’s definitely Cameron Mackenzie. Reading how he suffered both mental and physical abuse at the hands of his deranged first wife, Elizabeth, in order to protect his baby son, was so heartrending. Even after her suicide, Elizabeth still haunts Cameron as there is speculation that he murdered her. When Ainsley says – “I do hope it is hot where you are Lady Elizabeth Cavendish, Very, very, hot.” – my sentiments exactly!

Cameron’s physical scars may have healed but his emotional scars have not. He is living a grey existence and only feels alive when he’s with his horses. He certainly isn’t short of female company but never offers any long-term commitment. He has a deep mistrust of women, never wishing to marry again and who can blame him? But Ainsley sees the pain and loneliness he hides and is determined heal his tormented soul with her love, tenderness and compassion:

…her tenderness wrapped him and eased every hurt in his soul.

Ainsley has suffered her own heartbreak in the past and I understand why she is reluctant to give her heart to any man again. At first she does try to resist Cameron but stands no chance against such a skilled seducer:

He was a man who knew how to make women yearn to give him what he wanted. Ainsley, for all her seeming recklessness, had learned to be cautious – everything done for a reason, every risk calculated against its reward. But with Cameron, the old reckless Ainsley reared up, wanting him to undo her bodice down to her waist and take what he pleased.

Jennifer Ashley certainly knows how to seduce her reader, just as Cameron seduces Ainsley. The continuing game Cameron plays with Ainsley of how many buttons will you undo for me? and the erotic scene in the darkened opera box help to create an atmosphere of anticipation. She even achieves it with just a few words:

She jerked Cameron’s handkerchief from his pocket and started dabbing his lips. “You have lip colour on your face.”
Cameron gave her a hot smile. “I want to see it all over my body.”

My mind was working overtime trying to imagine how that scene would play out! Ultimately the love scenes are a wonderful combination of sensual imagery, dialogue and touches of humour.

I like Cameron’s son, Daniel, who seems to have a wise head on such young shoulders. He is astute enough to recognize that Ainsley is just what his father needs and he knows what he wants to do in life and goes after it. I love his reply when Cameron says he’s been a terrible father:

“All you got was a dad who beat his sons and was jealous of them too. I have a dad who tries to do the right thing, even if he mucks it up most of the time.”

Ian and Beth and Mac and Isabella from the two previous books all make welcome reappearances and the scene involving Hart Mackenzie and Lady Eleanor Ramsay provides an intriguing teaser for their book, The Duke’s Perfect Wife, the next in the series.

All you lassies out there who have not yet discovered the seductive world of the Mackenzie brothers, what are you waiting for? This series is a treat not to be missed!

Cameron Mackenzie – a huge man, sculptured in muscle

VERDICT: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

RATING: ★★★★★

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

Read August 2011

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LONDON’S GREATEST LOVERS #1

Official Blurb

Known throughout for his prowess in the bedroom, Morgan Lyons, the eighth Earl of Westcliffe, cannot forgive an unpardonable affront to his honor. Discovering his young bride in the arms of his brother was a staggering blow–so he banished the beautiful deceiver to the country and devoted himself to the pursuit of carnal pleasure.

Claire Lyons was an innocent, frightened girl on her wedding day, seeking chaste comfort from a childhood friend. Now, years later, she has blossomed magnificently and has returned to London with one goal in mind: the seduction of her notorious husband. Unskilled in the sensual arts, she burns nonetheless for the kisses too long denied her. And she has but one Season to win back the heart of the rogue she betrayed.

They are masters of seduction, London’s greatest lovers. Living for pleasure, they will give their hearts to no one . . . until love takes them by surprise

★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩★✩

Lorraine Heath is one of a select number of authors whose books are auto-buys. PASSIONS OF A WICKED EARL, the first book in her series London’s Greatest Lovers, is a deeply emotional story of two people who must look beyond their feelings of hurt, fear and betrayal to discover trust and ultimately love.

Oh, how I hated Westcliffe at first! He’s arrogant, callous and his response to Claire’s plea for forgiveness is cruel and hurtful.

“You are never a consideration. Quite honestly, Claire, from the moment I delivered you to Lyons Place, I’ve not given a single thought to you.”

But I soon realised to understand Westcliffe, I needed to understand why the marriage to Claire had been so important to him. His family relationships were fraught with difficulties; his mother showered love on his younger brothers, Stephen and Ainsley, whilst remaining distant with him and, because his father had left only debts, he was forced to go cap in hand to Ainsley whenever he needed funds. Not something a proud man like Westcliffe would relish. Marriage to Claire, with her substantial dowry, promised him complete financial independence and, on a personal level, he was attracted to Claire with her warmth and laughter, things sadly missing in his life.

He’d anticipated marriage to her to her as he’d anticipated nothing else in his life before or after.

So her betrayal completely devastated him and it was hard to hate this lonely, unfulfilled man.

Westcliffe’s small acts of kindness made me see him in a whole a new light; making Beth’s first ball so memorable (even to the extent of bribing all the young bucks to dance with her!) and giving Beth and Claire a beautiful bracelet each as a memento of their first ball. Not the acts of someone uncaring. Westcliffe believes he’s incapable of love but the scene where he’s sitting on the floor in the kitchen with his faithful old dog, Cooper, trying to get him to eat, is so moving. He’s been Westcliffe’s only companion for so long – the one creature with whom he’d shared all his secrets, his disappointments, his dreams – and Westcliffe shows so much love and compassion for his dying friend. I think it’s probably the moment Claire falls in love with him and I know he finally found a place in my heart as well.

I admire him for admitting he has never considered the affect his various affairs have had on Claire. When he discovers how humiliated she has been by the malicious gossip, he tries to make amends by doing everything in his power to protevt her from further gossip.

I sympathise with Claire. At seventeen, she was too young and naive to cope with the emotional turmoil of having to marry and be intimate with a virtual stranger. She wanted to be courted and get to know Westcliffe first but, in his arrogance, he assumed she would fawn over him as every other woman and he didn’t need to woo her. Turning to her only friend, Stephen, she had fallen in with his plan, not realising what it involved and, by the time she did, it was too late. I appreciated how much she has matured in the intervening years. It takes a great deal of courage to approach Westcliffe about Beth’s season knowing the reception she will receive but she cares very much for her family. I admire her for being willing to accept how her actions on their wedding night hurt Westcliffe so deeply.

For the first time she thought she might finally know what he’d experienced on that long-ago night. It shamed her that she’d been so young and self-centred not to have realised it immediately.

Their relationship develops slowly and their continuing conflict creates great sexual tension. I love the little things Westcliffe notices about Claire; her sweet rose fragrance, her delicate features, her freckles, the faint scars on her brow. It’s as though he is really seeing her for the first time. Claire finds Westcliffe darkly appealing and the way in which he exudes power, influence and confidence is more intoxicating than wine. As always with Ms Heath, we are treated to some hot and sensuous love scenes conveying the characters’ feelings and emotions so well.

These moments were nothing like her aunt had described. There was no lying back while he lifted the hem of her nightgown. It was constant moving, constant stroking. It was giving and receiving pleasures. It was groaning while he growled, whimpering while he moaned. It was joy and satisfaction.

I love the secondary characters; Ainsley, who demonstrates a maturity beyond his years; the scandalous Duchess of Ainsley and her much younger lover, Leo; Stephen, still as irresponsible as ever and Beth full of youthful exuberance.

My only complaint is the extra drama at the end which seemed unnecessary given the earlier scene in the conservatory but this is only minor point and didn’t spoil my overall enjoyment of the story.

Full of powerful emotions and unforgettablel characters, PASSIONS OF A WICKED EARL is highly recommended.

RATING: ★★★★½

(Read August 2011)

Books in the London’s Greatest Lovers Series ~

Passions of a Wicked Earl #1
Pleasures of a Notorious Gentleman #2
Waking Up With the Duke #3

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Heiress in Love (Ministry of Marriage, #1)

MINISTRY OF MARRIAGE #1

Official Blurb

When the Ministry of Marriage arranges a match, all that matters is power, wealth and prestige. In the business of marriage, there is no room for love. But even the most prudent plans can go awry…

Jane, Lady Roxdale, has endured one marriage of convenience decreed by the Ministry of Marriage. While she deeply regrets her late husband’s death, she is relieved to be free at last. But when a dissolute rake threatens everything Jane holds dear, she must contemplate marrying a second time…

Disgraced libertine Constantine Black inherits his cousin Roxdale’s land and title—while Roxdale’s prim widow is left all the wealth. Constantine is not a marrying man, but wedding Jane is the only way to save the estate from ruin. Jane resists the smoldering heat between them, desperate not to fall in love with an unrepentant rake. But for the first time ever, Constantine wants more than seduction. He wants all of her—body, heart, and soul…

★✩★✩★✩★✩★

“Clever, lush and lovely – an amazing debut!” – Suzanne Enoch

“One of the most compelling heroes I’ve read in years.” – Anna Campbell

 
With such praises from two of the most respected authors of the genre, HEIRESS IN LOVE certainly piqued my interest. It’s my first book by Christina Brooke and, although there were some flaws, overall I really enjoyed it.

WHAT I LOVED

I love very character-driven romances and this book really scores in that respect. Constantine and Jane and their growing relationship are always the central focus of the story. Constantine has such depth to his character. His reputation suggests he’s a complete scoundrel with no thought in his head save the next faro bank, the next wench, the next bottle of wine. But, behind this mask, he hides bitter memories. Memories of how, as a young man of twenty, he found himself betrayed and forced to make a choice that would alter the course of his life. The scandal that ensued left him shunned by decent society and even disowned by his own family. Only his younger brother, George, stood by him over the years. He has never been able to forget the pain of knowing his father believed him capable of the dishonourable act of which he was accused.

I enjoyed watching him emerge from his self-imposed prison to reveal the man he truly was; honourable, hard-working, warm-hearted, caring and courageous. I love the way he takes Jane’s son, Luke under his wing when he sees how much the boy needs a man’s influence in his life. This is one of my favourite scenes because it shows the warm and caring side of Constantine that he rarely reveals to the outside world.

Constantine looked like a sultan or a pasha lying there on the carpet, completely at his ease. Exotic treasures lay scattered around him like the spoils of war or offerings from foreign princes eager to win his favor. In the midst of all this paraphernalia, he and Luke seemed to be engaged in some sort of game.

At first, I didn’t warm to the prudish and opinionated Jane.  Like Constantine, her life hasn’t been easy. After her frightening experiences as a little girl and the years spent in a loveless, arranged marriage with an unfaithful husband, it is easy to appreciate why she finds it difficult to trust people. Constantine is everything she despises in a man and her attitude of icy disdain is understandable. A very different Jane emerges when she’s with those she loves and trusts, her son, Luke and her cousins, Rosamund and Cecily. I enjoyed watching her gradually shed that protective shell and liked the warm, loving and passionate woman she became.

From the moment Jane and Constantine meet, it’s obvious that these two flawed people are perfect together. I liked the way their romance develops slowly, making their growing trust and love for each other seem natural and believable.  Ms Brooke’s love scenes are full of emotion and passion and I liked that Jane doesn’t overcome her fears of intimacy and self-doubt as a woman too soon. In each love scene, she steps that little bit closer to embracing her passionate nature in full but each time the spectre of past hurt and humiliation pulls her back. I’m glad she finds the courage to bury the past and make the move to finally consummate their relationship. I loved the way Constantine understands all her self-doubts and is so determined to show her just how beautiful and desirable she is. The scene involving the cheval mirror is definitely one of my favourites!

She swayed, and he steadied her, his hands closing over her breasts. “Watch us, Jane,” he whispered into her ear. “Look how beautiful you are.”

We are introduced to some of Jane’s cousins in this book; the beautiful and kind-hearted Rosamund, the outspoken Cecily and the solid and reliable Earl of Beckenham (aka Becks). Of course, we are also introduced to the major players in the Ministry of Marriage; the Duke of Montford, its founder, Lady Arden and Oliver deVere. Montford really intrigued me because he appears cold and ruthless on the outside but it’s obvious he cares for his six wards more than he will admit. I’m also speculating about his relationship with Lady Arden. Is there more going on with them than meets the eye? Then there’s Adam Trent, Jane’s devious neighbour. He obviously has designs on Jane and claims to know more scandalous secrets about Constantine.

WHAT BUGGED ME

I did have some issues with this book which prevented it from being a 4 star read.

I really wanted to know more about Jane’s earlier years spent in the sordid boarding house before Montford rescued her. They were obviously very traumatic but Ms Brooke glosses over this period in her life.

The final argument between Jane and Constantine seemed very contrived. Jane’s belief in the lies that the devious Adam Trent tells her about Constantine seemed totally out of character. She knows that Constantine to be a man of honour and integrity and trusts him. Above all, she loves him! Why would she believe a man of questionable character who has been hell bent on discrediting Constantine in her eyes? I can understand Constantine’s reaction because he sees Jane’s willingness to believe the worst of him as history repeating itself. At least, Jane has to step up and do the grovelling which was a refreshing change from the usual scenario of the hero grovelling!

Overall,  HEIRESS IN LOVE is an enjoyable read and I will certainly be looking out for the other books in this series.

 Rating: ★★★½

Note

 I did find a scarcity of background information about the Ministry of Marriage in the book but I have included a link to Ms Brooke’s website where she has a dedicated Ministry of Marriage page.

http://www.christina-brooke.com/the-ministry-of-marriage/

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TEXAS TRILOGY BOOK 1

She was his brother’s wife…

Arriving on the Fort Worth train, Miss Amelia Carson, mail-order bride, had never met Dallas Leigh, the Texan she promised to marry. The tall cowboy at the station wasn’t Dallas. He was Houston, Dallas’s brother, sent to escort her on the rugged three-week trek to the ranch where Dallas waited. Brought up in war-ravaged Georgia, Amelia thought Dallas’s letters made Texas sound like heaven, a place for her dreams to grow with the right man beside her.

And his only love…

By all appearances, Houston Leigh would hardly be considered the “right man.” The war he survived had scarred him inside and out, and he was little competition for his handsome brother. But from the moment Houston met Amelia, he knew she possessed the courage this wild land needed. She had eyes that could see past his wounded face to his soul. And he would fight any man—except his brother—for her heart. Now he and Amelia were riding down dangerous trails, sleeping under the stars, and God help them, they were falling in love.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Occasionally, a book comes along that has such an emotional impact, I find myself thinking about it long after I’ve finished reading it. This beautiful and poignant love story, is definitely one such book.

I absolutely loved Houston and Amelia! How could I not fall for such a vulnerable, tender, tortured hero or adore such a beautiful, sweet, compassionate heroine? They’re just meant to be together!

I loved watching their relationship slowly change as they drew closer to each other. It was easy to believe that they would fall in love when Amelia’s beauty, warmth, and courage captivate Houston:

That sparkle that lit up her eyes was enough to blind a man. And her smile. Her laughter. Dear God, but a man could start to believe in heaven and angels and an eternity of peace.

and Amelia comes to recognize the tender man hidden beneath Houston’s surly exterior.

“You don’t see the man you’ve become, you only see the boy you were.”

Ms Heath brings all the discomforts and dangers of the journey to vivid life. I felt that I was sharing all the hardships with Houston and Amelia.

Both have suffered the horrors of war but have chosen to deal with them in different ways. Houston has retreated into himself, any dreams he had for his future destroyed on the battlefield all those years ago. It’s hard to believe he was only fifteen years old when he suffered the terrible injuries that changed his life forever but this really brought it home to me:

…Houston had never had the opportunity to shave his whole face; he’d never flirted with girls, wooed women, or danced through the night. He’d never loved.

Amelia has tried to put all the terrible memories behind her by being cheerful and optimistic. I love how she always tries to find something to be grateful for in any situation. She’s courageous in taking a chance on marrying a man she has never met to fulfill her dreams of marriage and a family. She makes Houston realize that raising horses is his dream, a dream he has never before acknowledged.

My heart broke for him when Houston has to hand over the woman he loves to his brother. He knows he’s honour bound to accept Dallas’s prior claim on Amelia. He truly wants what’s best for her and knows that Dallas can give her everything he can’t. Although I knew there would be a happy ending for Houston and Amelia, Ms Heath still managed to keep me on tenterhooks at the very end.

The only other main characters are Houston’s brothers, Dallas and Austin. Dallas seems such a cold fish, completely obsessed with building a ranching empire and having a son to share it with. I imagined his wife coming second to his ambitions. Austin is the youngest brother and provides some amusing moments when he keeps using inappropriate language around Amelia and is constantly admonished by his older brothers.

I’m looking forward to reading Texas Glory (Dallas) and Texas Splendor (Austin).

TEXAS DESTINY is an unforgettable love story with a hero and heroine who will melt your heart.

RATING: ★★★★★

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ABANDONED AT THE ALTAR SERIES BOOK 2

ONE TRYST WAS ALL SHE WANTED …

From their very first meeting, Julia knew that Aidan Carr, the oh-so-proper Duke of Trathen, had a bit of the devil in him, a devil who secretly yearned for what he could not have, a devil who harbored a desire for her. So when she needed to be caught in a compromising situation, Aidan was the answer to her prayers.

ONE TRYST JUST WASN’T ENOUGH …

Aidan is supposed to be looking for a bride, yet his scandalous liaison with Julia is all he can think about. Hot, erotic memories of kissing her skin, falling into her bed, pulling her naked body on top of his own continue to torment and tempt him. What is it about this brazen seductress that he finds so hard to resist? And how can he stop himself from falling into her bed a second time?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I loved this book!   It’s such a compelling and emotionally satisfying love story with a hero and heroine who simply captured my heart.

Having been introduced to Julia and Aidan in Wedding of the Season, the first book in this series, I was  intrigued to see how Ms Guhrke would bring two such dissimilar people together. Julia is brash, impudent, immoral, dances until dawn, smokes and drives too fast. Aidan is a gentleman, honorable, kind, understanding and always striving to do the right thing. Not exactly a match made in heaven! However, there’s far more to Julia than meets the eye and Aidan’s thoughts are not always honorable.

Julia is such a complex and fascinating character. As her secrets are gradually revealed, it’s like fitting the parts of a jigsaw puzzle together and, only when the last piece is in place, does the real Julia emerge. You see beyond the woman scandalizing society with her outrageous behaviour and numerous affairs, to the vulnerable woman desperately trying to escape a hellish marriage, which has left her emotionally scarred.

I love her strength, resilience and courage in choosing to fight back rather than be a victim of her husband. When she finally reveals the truth about her marriage to Aidan, it puts all her actions into perspective and I totally sympathized with her plight. It also reveals the prevailing attitude towards women and divorce. Yardley’s behaviour wasn’t considered grounds for divorce by the lawyers of the day and, if Julia had tried to reveal publicly what he was like, she would have been condemned for her lack of discretion because wives aren’t supposed to air their dirty linen in public. It does make you glad to be living in the 21st century!

I adore Aidan! Probably something to do with that handsome face and those warm, steady eyes that Julia was always drawn to. He’s honorable, honest and trustworthy with a deep sense of duty. In fact, he’s the epitome of a gentleman with only one weakness – his desire for Julia. In flashbacks, we learn how they first met each other when they were both seventeen and how Julia made such an impression on Aidan.

He’d never before been given a view like this – a view of shapely calves, delicate ankles and slender feet boldly displayed in broad daylight. Adolescent lust began coursing through his body in the space of two heartbeats, a sudden, powerful wave that disconcerted him, embarrassed him, and robbed him of the ability to think or even breathe.

Although their lives go in very different directions, when they meet again many years later, Aidan fears that when it came to Lady Yardley, he was in fact hopelessly depraved. I love how he thinks he can discipline himself in mind and body to conquer his desire for Julia but fails completely.

The final love scene between them is such a wonderful combination of eroticism, sensuality and tenderness. Aware of Julia’s inherent fears, I adore Aidan for wanting to make everything as pleasurable as possible for her. He constantly coaxes her into saying what she’s feeling so he knows what pleases her and this makes for some very steamy moments! Ultimately, it’s an emotional and sexual healing process for Julia and I love the way she expresses how she feels afterwards.

She was awake and alive, and the world was full of new beginnings and glorious possibilities. She was still a bit wobbly and weak like a colt trying to walk on shaky legs. But with Aidan’s arms around her, she didn’t mind any of that, because for the first time in over twelve years she was truly free. She was free, she was beautiful and she had just made love with a man for the very first time.
Julia let the tears fall.

I do have a soft spot for Julia’s ill-mannered, belligerent, man-hating bulldog, Spike, who provides some funny moments in the book. My favourite is where Aidan is determined to prove that Julia is attracted to him, despite her denials, and challenges her to meet him in the maze at midnight and prove she can resist his advances. What he doesn’t count on is for her to arrive with Spike in tow! What follows is an hilarious moment when Aidan suddenly takes on the unsuspecting Spike.

With a savage sound that caused Julia to jump back in alarm, Aidan moved. Within the blink of an eye, he’d taken Spike by the muzzle and hip and pushed him down onto his side in the grass and using his superior body weight, he kept the animal firmly pinned. “No,” he said in a calm, firm voice. “No, Spike”.

What a picture that conjured up !

SCANDAL OF THE YEAR is a beautifully crafted love story.  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

RATING: ★★★★★

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ABANDONED AT THE ALTAR SERIES BOOK 1

The duke may have returned, but she has no intention of falling back into his arms…

Abandoned at the altar…

Lady Beatrix Danbury had always known she would marry William Mallory. She’d loved him forever, and she’d never doubted he loved her, too. But when she made him choose between their life together or his lifelong dream, Will chose the latter…and left two weeks before their wedding.

Return of the duke…

Will has no illusions that Beatrix would welcome him back with open arms, but six years did not dim his love or desire for her. The only problem is, she’s about to marry someone else. Someone safe and predictable…the complete opposite of Will. But can he stop the wedding of the season and win Beatrix back, or is it just too late?

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WEDDING OF THE SEASON, the first book in Laura Lee Guhrke’s ‘Abandoned at the Altar’ series,  is a charming ‘second chance on love’ story.

I love the early Edwardian setting for this book. It’s a time of far-reaching social and economic changes when the role of women in society is evolving and the balance of power is moving away from the landed aristocracy to the nouveau riche industrialists. Ms Guhrke captures this changing world perfectly and having the story set in the picturesque village of Babbacombe, South Devon, rather than the hurly-burly of London, is so refreshing.

Six years ago, Trix and Will had conflicting dreams that drove them apart. Will wanted adventure and travel and not the life he was born to:

“Yes, there was my whole life laid out before me before I was even out of short pants. Can you blame me when a life I’d only dreamed of opened up?”

while Trix wanted security and stability:

“I want marriage and a home of my own. That precious excavation site of yours didn’t even include a house. I wanted children. Just where was I supposed to have them? In a tent?”

Neither was willing to compromise on their dreams, and when they meet again, this conflict still proves to be a stumbling block.

At first, Will’s determination to go to Egypt seems selfish and irresponsible.  But in reality he realises the British aristocracy is in decline and, in order to keep his estate solvent,  he needs to either earn money or marry into money.  So he invests his inheritance in finding Tutankhamen’s tomb knowing success will bring a secured income for life. He considers this preferable to leading a life of pointless duties and silly social rituals. Even though it’s risky, I can’t help but admire his forward thinking.

He’s honest in admitting he’s never stopped loving Trix and in his determination to win her back – “I want to win you back. I want you in my arms, in my bed, in my life.” Even if he doesn’t succeed this time, he’s determined to keep coming back in the hope of changing her mind.

Trix’s reluctance to venture beyond the realm of duty and tradition can be laid squarely at her father’s door. Her mother ran away to Paris when Trix was very young, and her father became became overprotective in an effort to ensure she never left him. After her father’s death, she does show a little more independence but only after encouragement from her scandalous cousin, Julia, Baroness Yardley.

She’s determined not to let Will back into her life. After all he broke her heart and left her with only shattered dreams. In her new fiancé, Aidan, Trix sees someone who is the total opposite of Will, dependable and considerate and able to provide her with the kind of stable life she wants. It may be a passionless marriage, but she’s more than willing to accept a marriage based on affection, mutual respect and shared aspirations for their future.

I love the whole idea of Will persuading Trix to go on a series of adventures with him, just as they did when they were children, in order to regain her trust. These childhood reminiscences really provide a wonderful background to the story and add depth to the characters. These adventures certainly heighten the sexual tension between the two.  I love the scene where Will suddenly turns up at Pixy Cove, where Trix is drawing, and starts to strip to go bathing and Trix can’t stop staring at his body!

His shoulders and chest were wide, tanned by the hot Egyptian sun and shaped by years of hard excavation into a bronze wall of muscle and sinew. His chest tapered down to an absolutely flat stomach, and his trousers were slung low on his lean hips, revealing the deep indent of his navel and the shadowy hint of dark hair below it. Her gaze dropped another notch, she gave a choked sound and hastily forced her gaze back up, but only managed to get as far as the flat brown disks of his nipples.

I know there are varying opinions about the ending but it really worked for me. Of course, the happy-ever-after is never in any doubt but I loved the wonderful will they/won’t they moment and finally closed the book with a satisfied sigh.

If you are looking for a charming love story with a more unusual setting, then look no further than WEDDING OF THE SEASON.

RATING: ★★★★½

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