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Posts Tagged ‘2015 Read’

the-winter-crown

(Eleanor of Aquitaine Trilogy, #2)

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

 Cover Blurb:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE


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

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


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

 

This review was originally posted on Romantic Historical Reviews:

VIRTUAL TOUR: The Winter Crown by Elizabeth Chadwick

 

 

 

 

 

 

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(Comrades in Arms, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

The truth behind the hero.

Officer Jack Trestain may have been one of Wellington’s most valued code-breakers but since Waterloo, he’s hung up his uniform. If only he could just as easily put aside the tortured memories he carries deep within…perhaps enchanting French artist Celeste Marmion might be the distraction he so desperately craves.
Except Celeste harbours secrets of her own and questions that she needs Jack’s help to solve! With Celeste’s every touch an exquisite temptation, how close can Jack get without revealing his darkest secret of all?

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The Soldier’s Dark Secret (Comrade in Arms #1) is an inspirational read from the talented pen of one of my favourite authors. Marguerite Kaye never disappoints and I am constantly amazed by her creative, captivating and original story lines. We could never accuse her of being boring, as no two books are the same and each one is better than the last.

Jack Trestain is an ex intelligence officer, one of Wellington’s most valued code breakers, a brave one too, mentioned in dispatches and a truly honourable man with a conscience. He has a secret – a dark, dangerous secret, one that conjures up terrifying, tortuous nightmares, night after night, leaving him sleep deprived. Jack is a desperate to find peace but unable to, believing himself unworthy of love or forgiveness.

His salvation arrives in the form of an enchanting and beautiful French woman. Celeste Marmion has been commissioned by Jack’s elder brother Charlie to paint some landscapes of their ancestral grounds and gardens. She has used this opportunity to travel to England in search of some answers to a devastating secret of her own. Their first meeting is unorthodox to say the least. Unable to sleep, Jack is in the habit of swimming in the lake in the early morning – without clothing. Celeste, on an early morning reconnaissance of the grounds, spots the intriguing Jack, and to begin with simply enjoys, with an artist’s eye, the beauty of the man. Soon, however, she is aware that what she is doing could be interpreted as spying; indeed, she is also aware that she is actually enjoying the spectacle, that is until Jack turns an anguished face to the sky and Celeste sees the torment and suffering written on his face and makes an attempt to escape this deeply private moment…and fails.

The two get off to a bad start, but it doesn’t take long before they become reluctant friends, with a burning attraction developing between them. Celeste is unafraid of Jack’s black moods and, unlike his family, she stands her ground, challenging him and beginning to pick away at his defences. He is rattled by her ability to get beneath his skin, afraid to let her see his suffering, but still physically and mentally attracted to this beguiling young woman. Eventually Celeste confides, at least part of her story to Jack and it is with relief he is able to turn his mind to what he does best, unravelling secrets and breaking codes. Helping Celeste to search for the answers she has travelled to England for is something his analytical, if troubled mind, CAN do. He has a purpose again, not only will he be able to help Celeste – and he desperately wants to – but he can also discourage her from delving into his own deeply disturbing thoughts.

I love the way Ms. Kaye slowly builds the attraction between her characters – sensuously, sizzling and oh so sexy! Nothing too physical happens until well into Jack and Celeste’s story but the air is electric and when it does happen it jumps off the page.

The sheer amount of historical research that has gone into this novel is breath-taking; a fascinating but never boring history lesson (which I love) wrapped up in a beautifully sensitive love story. I have no doubt that the facts about Waterloo and the enigmatic, if egotistical Wellington, are as accurate as Marguerite Kaye’s thorough research can make them. Jack is obviously suffering from PTSD. Again I can only guess at the amount of reading Ms. Kaye did in order to make his condition as authentic as possible, without being able to tell us what it is he is suffering from, a condition undiagnosed at that time in history. The plot is intricate, clever, and interesting; the soldier really DOES have a dark secret and Celeste’s tale is fascinating and the unravelling of it all intelligently and ingeniously achieved.

Altogether we have accurate history, scintillating romance and mystery and the artwork on the cover is perfect; a dark, brooding soldier in a red military uniform, I’m not sure if the jacket is absolutely correct but quite honestly I don’t care, he looks the part and he looks like Jack.

MY VERDICT: A perfectly wonderful novel and I loved it…5 stars and highly recommended.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

Read January 2015


Comrades in Arms series (click on the book cover for further details):

The Soldier's Dark Secret by Marguerite Kaye The Soldier's Rebel Lover (Comrades in Arms, #2) by Marguerite Kaye

 

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

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(The Hellions of Havisham, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian)

Cover Blurb:

In the first in a dazzling new series, New York Times bestselling author Lorraine Heath introduces the Hellions of Havisham—three charismatic rogues destined to lose their hearts…

After six unsuccessful Seasons, Miss Minerva Dodger chooses spinsterhood over fortune-hungry suitors. But thanks to the Nightingale Club, she can at least enjoy one night of pleasure. At that notorious establishment, ladies don masks before choosing a lover. The sinfully handsome Duke of Ashebury is more than willing to satisfy the secretive lady’s desires—and draws Minerva into an exquisite, increasingly intimate affair.

A man of remarkable talents, Ashe soon deduces that his bedmate is the unconventional Miss Dodger. Intrigued by her wit and daring, he sets out to woo her in earnest. Yet Minerva refuses to trust him. How to court a woman he has already thoroughly seduced? And how to prove that the passion unleashed in darkness is only the beginning of a lifetime’s pleasure?

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I think I am in danger of repeating myself here when I say that this is another beautifully written and deeply emotional love story from Lorraine Heath. Over the many years that I have been reading Ms Heath’s books, I have never once been disappointed.

Orphaned when their parents are killed in a train crash, the Duke of Ashebury, the Duke of Greyling and his twin brother, Edward, are taken under the guardianship of the Marquess of Marsden in the forbidding Havisham Castle. Since losing his beloved wife, Marsden has become unstable and is considered by many to be mad. He keeps himself to himself, rarely having anything to do with his wards or his own son, Locke. As a result, they have been allowed to run wild, earning the name of Hellions of Havisham. As adults, they have spent much of their time travelling abroad, having adventures and generally raising hell, if rumours are to be believed. Falling in Bed With a Duke is the Duke of Ashebury and Minerva Dodger’s story.

If you have read the preceding series, The Scandalous Gentleman of St. James, you will know that Minerva Dodger is the daughter of Jack Dodger, who was raised on the streets but rose to become the rich, powerful owner of London’s most famous, exclusive gentleman’s club. As a result, Minerva has had an unconventional upbringing, her parents allowing her the freedom to choose what she wants to do with her life.

Minerva is smart, outspoken and with a head for business inherited from her father.These are not the qualities a gentleman wants when seeking a demure and biddable wife but her immense dowry has ensured plenty of offers. Minerva wants a man who loves her for herself and not for her money; someone who will respect and value her opinions. She wants the sort of deep love and passion that her mother and father and her brother and his wife, Grace, her dearest friend, share and is unwilling to accept anything less. She has chosen spinsterhood rather than a loveless marriage, but is determined to experience the passion that exists between a man and a woman.

I admire Minerva for refusing to compromise when it comes to what she wants from life and for her courage and daring in going to the Nightingale Club. I could also relate, on a personal level, to her insecurities about her herself. She neither sees herself as pretty nor believes that men could be attracted to her in a sexual way.

Men don’t find me appealing in that way. They don’t have improper thoughts or consider me alluring.

I love Ashe…such a complex character. On the surface, he’s handsome, charming and devil-may-care but, over the years, he has been haunted by his final hurtful words to his parents on the day they died. To try to dispel the nightmarish images of his parents’ horrific deaths, he has visited the Nightingale Club in the hope of finding a woman who is willing to fulfill his special needs. At this point, I have to applaud Ms Heath for making his special needs unique and not at all what I expected.

I also like how Ms Heath tackles serious issues in her books. Ashe is suffering from what we now call dyscalculia, a difficulty in making arithmetical calculations. This would certainly not have been diagnosed in Victorian times and I can understand why Ashe feels ashamed and never tells anyone about it.

Put a series of numbers in front of him, expect him to make sense of them, and it was as though his brain considered them to be little more than colorful ball to be juggled around.

His secret will have repercussions later in the story.

Ms Heath builds the relationship between Minerva and Ashe slowly which makes their romance both believable and emotionally satisfying. I love how Ashe sees Minerva’s true worth…

She’s bold, courageous, goes after what she wants. She’s unlike any woman I’ve ever encountered. Why I failed to notice her before is beyond me. Why no man has taken her to wife simply demonstrates the foolhardiness of men. She is remarkable.

and Minerva realises that with Ashe she can be herself.

With him, she had a sense of equality that she had never experienced with anyone outside of her family and closest of friends.

There is conflict when Minerva believes Ashe to be a fortune hunter but it’s soon resolved and I love the scene between Ashe and her fearsome father, Jack Dodger.

Edward intrigued me. He seems like a man hell-bent on nothing but pleasure but I feel there is something deeper going on with him.

MY VERDICT: Once again, Lorraine Heath delivers a beautiful and deeply emotional love story. Highly recommended!


REVIEW RATING: 5/5

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

Read November 2015


The Hellions of Havisham series so far (Click on the book covers for further details):

Falling Into Bed with a Duke (The Hellions of Havisham, #1) by Lorraine Heath The Earl Takes All (The Hellions of Havisham, #2) by Lorraine Heath

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Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

What do you get when you have four despairing mamas with four unwed daughters? A very matchmaker Christmas, of course! This delightful holiday anthology features 4 novellas written by 4 authors, all revolving around the same fun plot involving a Regency holiday house party and hijinks aplenty!

Her Christmas Rogue by Christi Caldwell

Lady Winifred Grisham has been in love with her brother’s best friend Lord Trent Ballantine more years than she can remember. The only problem is, Trent is a notorious rogue who doesn’t dally with the respectable. Except, Winnie doesn’t want a dalliance–she wants his heart.

To Make a Perfect Scandal by Danelle Harmon

Tristan St. Aubyn, the Earl of Weybourne, is a driven man. Haunted by the bad decisions he made in his youth, his life is all about work … working to restore his fortunes, working to rebuild the herd of unique racehorses that were his late father’s legacy, working to forget just how lonely he really is. Lord Weybourne isn’t looking for a wife … but when a saucy young lady dressed as a lad finds her way into his stable and charms the most irascible colt in the barn, Tristan can’t help but be intrigued …

To Win a Quiet Heart by Renee Bernard

Suffering from crippling shyness, Nicodemus Chesterfield, the Earl of Athmore, would rather battle an army of demons than put one toe inside the treacherous social waters of a holiday house party. But sometimes, a man just has to face his fears—and when Jane Pemberly is the surprisingly beautiful and fantastically charming prize at the opposite end of the gauntlet—it seems there is nothing a man won’t do to sidestep scandals and win her love.

To Tempt a Saint by Valerie Bowman

What happens when a saint is tempted by a sinner? Prudence Carmichael is the epitome of well, prudence. But when a rumored pirate—with whom she just might have had a secret scandalous interlude years ago, that she’s been beating herself up about ever since—appears at Lady Weston’s Christmastide house party and charms the innocent young lady again, can Prudence resist her first and greatest temptation?

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Each story in this anthology may be written by a different author but I like how all the stories share a continuity in the setting and the way in which many of the characters appear in more than one story, but the same events are seen from a very different perspective.


REVIEW OF HER CHRISTMAS ROGUE BY CHRISTI CALDWELL

This charming story features one of my favourite tropes – the older brother’s friend/little sister pairing.

Trent is constantly fighting his desire for Winnie, not only because of his friendship with her brother, James, but he also believes that she deserves someone better than a roguish second son. But Winnie is no shrinking violet but a spirited young woman who knows just who she wants and is determined to make Trent admit his love – and desire – for her.

I enjoyed the scene in the billiard room where, in order to get him to herself, Winnie persuades Trent to give her billiard lessons. Who would have thought a billiard lesson could be so sensual!

Her squirming brought her shapely buttocks flush against the vee of his thighs and Trent gulped.

Poor Trent is sure that with all the wicked thoughts he is having, there is only one destination for him – hell!

I love how protective and caring Trent is towards his blind sister and, at that moment, Winnie sees him as both honourable, kind and worthy of love.

I love how he braves one very angry brother to declare his love for Winnie before everyone.

Ms Caldwell brings her own brand of warmth and charm to this story.

REVIEW RATING: 4/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

REVIEW OF A PERFECT SCANDAL BY DANELLE HARMON

This is a delightful story of a workaholic hero and a bold heroine who find they might share more than just a passion for horses.

I understood Tristan’s shame at having made such a terrible error of judgement and his desire to restore his father’s legacy. He hates Christmas because seeing the happiness of his sister’s family only underscores everything missing in his own life…someone to share his life with, someone who shared his passion for horses.

Lettie teeters between respectability and scandal. She is bold, confident and independent and it is these very qualities that draw Tristan to her as well as her passion for horses. They are obviously a perfect match but have hurdles to overcome in the form of Lettie’s interfering mother, her over-protective brother, Simon, and the imminent arrival of a certain Mr Homer Trout, her prospective husband if her mother has her way.

New-to-me author, Danelle Harmon charmed me with her engaging writing style and I was delighted to discover that I have more of her books on my Kindle.

REVIEW RATING: 4/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

REVIEW OF TO WIN A QUIET HEART BY RENEE BERNARD

This story of a painfully shy hero and an accident prone, outspoken heroine has a slightly darker tone.

Although intelligent and well-read, Nick is virtually tongue-tied when it comes to social gatherings. Rarely venturing from his estate, he experiences the world through his beloved books, maps and the journals and sketches of explorers and adventurers. Ms Bernard captures so well Nick’s fears and anxieties when he is forced to confront a room of strangers.

Jane is pretty, confident and witty but her tendency to be accident prone has resulted in two disastrous seasons. It doesn’t help matters that she is intelligent and outspoken, qualities in a woman which are frowned on my Society.

When Nick meets Jane (under rather unusual circumstances), he immediately feels a kinship with her and is comfortable in her presence.

“Do you ever wish the floor would just open up and swallow you whole?” she whispered through the blades of her fingers.
“All the time,” he replied softly.
She spread her fingers slightly to peek at him miserably. “Really?”
He nodded.

Nick’s sister, Constance, is nothing more than vicious, bitter, manipulative bitch and I wanted to put my hands around her neck and squeeze. I love Nick for being willing to forfeit his happiness to save Jane’s reputation and protect her from his sister’s cruelty. Luckily, Jane is made of sterner stuff and I enjoyed seeing her foil Constance’s evil plans.

I love the letter that Nick writes to Jane…so romantic.

This is an emotional, poignant and heart-warming story from one of my favourite authors.

REVIEW RATING: 4/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

 

REVIEW OF TO TEMPT A SAINT BY VALERIE BOWMAN

This is a spicy story of a hero who would tempt a saint and a saintly heroine who refuses to be tempted.

Prudence’s internal thoughts, when she literally stumbles across Christopher in the conservatory, and her tendency to counteract Christopher with appropriate Biblical verses are amusing.

Christopher is hampered by rumours that he is an infamous pirate but help in resolving this problem comes from a rather surprising source.

It was fun watching the to-and-fro between Prudence and Christopher. Prudence is determined to avoid Christopher and pursue Lord Beesley, who does not inspire her to sin at all. Christopher sees a woman trying to deny her passionate nature. He understands her as no one else does.

Prudence might want to seem like an angel but he’d seen her passionate side. She was trapped behind Bible verses and rules.

Luckily Prudence comes to her senses, after unburdening herself to a rather surprisingly sympathetic mother, and what follows is one of my favourites scenes in the anthology.

“You’ll want to keep your eyes open, milady,” William warned. “It’s easier if you see where you’re going.”
“That may be a matter of opinion, “ Pru informed him. “I’m not sure I want to witness my own demise”.

This is a charming and fun story from Valerie Bowman.

REVIEW RATING: 4/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING:  WARM

 

MY VERDICT: Overall, an entertaining anthology and the perfect accompaniment to the festive season.

Read December 2015

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(A Happy Christmas, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian)

Cover Blurb:

A mysterious key to an attic that cannot be found…
A ghost with good but overly ambitious intentions…
And a forgotten wager that is about to turn Miss Barrington’s life into a holiday mess.

Are you ready for the outrageously funny and Happy Christmas Series?
WARNING: THERE IS A LOT OF MAGIC AND ROMANCE IN THIS BOX.

London, England – Winter of 1860
When all the ladies of London realize that handsome and refined gentleman, the Duke of Ainsley, is formally looking for a wife, only weeks before Christmas, a mad dash to claim him begins. Miss Barrington knows her chances with the duke are incredibly good given what her close gypsy friend had once foretold, but a forgotten wager with her greatest nemesis, American millionaire, Mr. Redstone, is about to bring on complications and…chaos.

Will she claim the dashing and respectable duke once foretold by the stars? Or will she fall for Mr. Redstone and go against destiny? Only the days leading up to Christmas will tell!

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THE CHRISTMAS WAGER has everything I love about Delilah Marvelle’s books…emotive and evocative writing, an innovative story, richly drawn characters, sparkling dialogue, a sensual love story and delightful humour plus that extra touch of Christmas magic.

I adored Maxwell and his sheer zest for life. After a near fatal accident at the age of twelve (he still carries the bullet), his parents expect him to become overly cautious, but Maxwell is even more determined to live life to the full. He indulges in all sorts of mad-cap adventures and pranks which find him constantly in trouble with the law but he doesn’t care because…

He was alive and worth three and a half million! Life was good.

The only thing missing is a woman to share his life with…one who isn’t after his money and doesn’t think he’s a lunatic.

I loved Felicity too. After being abandoned by her mother, she spent the first 16 years of her life in a foundling home…years that have made her tough.

She had made such a reputation for herself the boys always scattered the moment they saw her coming.

Her life changes drastically when she is given a home by the wealthy uncle she never knew existed and the events her gypsy friend, Marigold, foretold begin to unfold.

It is obvious from the moment they meet that Maxwell and Felicity are destined for each other. How they reach that destination when Marigold, Felicity’s gypsy friend, foretells that she will marry a duke or there will be dire consequences, is what makes this book so enjoyable.

In fact, there is never a dull moment and I loved:

– the memorable first meeting between Maxwell and Felicity with its great dialogue:

“I may be a foundling , but I’m repectable. So don’t expect us to do things in said attic.”

His mouth twisted wryly. “At your age, dearest, you wouldn’t know how. So pull your claws in, will you? If you don’t touch my buttons, I won’t touch your hooks.

– Felicity’s drunken verbal attack on that jezebel, Mrs Mastin

– All the crazy things Maxwell does to win Felicity’s approval (I love a hero in hot pursuit of the heroine and Maxwell is nothing if not determined)

– the hair-raising sleigh ride

to mention just a few.

I don’t usually like paranormal elements in historical romances but, in this story, they work perfectly with the Christmas theme. There are plenty of twists and turns, some surprises and poignant moments, like the scene between Felicity and her mother’s ghost which reminded me of the movie “Ghost”.

There is a teaser for Marigold’s book which appears to be next, and I’m hoping that the Duke of Ainsley and Felicity’s Uncle Cedric will get there Happy Ever Afters as well. Perhaps there could even be a Christmas miracle for the self-serving Baroness Arlington.

This is the first book in Ms Marvelle’s A Happy Christmas series and, according to the Foreword, there are a further nine to come. So I’m sure of one delightful present to open each year!

MY VERDICT: An enchanting and entertaining story full of romance and the magic of Christmas. A veritable holiday treat.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

Read December 2015


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

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Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

There’s a pirate in the manor house!

What is vicar’s daughter Bess Farrar to do when the dashing new earl, the man gossip paints as a ruthless pirate, kisses her the day they meet? Why, kiss him right back, of course! Now Lord Channing vows to claim the lovely firebrand, despite interfering villagers, a snowstorm, scandal, and a rascally donkey. The gallant naval captain’s first landlocked Christmas promises mayhem – and a lifetime of breathtaking passion

Pursued by the pirate…

Bess Farrar might be an innocent village miss, but she knows enough about the world to doubt Lord Channing’s motives when he kisses her the very day they meet. After all, local gossip insists that before this dashing rake became an earl, he sailed the Seven Seas as a ruthless pirate.

Bewitched by the vicar’s daughter…

Until he unexpectedly inherits a title, staunchly honorable Scotsman Rory Beaton has devoted his adventurous life to the Royal Navy. But he sets his course for tempestuous new waters when he meets lovely, sparkling Bess Farrar. Now this daring mariner will do whatever it takes to convince the spirited lassie to launch herself into his arms and set sail into the sunset.

A Christmas marked by mayhem.

Wooing his vivacious lady, the new Earl of Channing finds himself embroiled with matchmaking villagers, an eccentric vicar, mistaken identities, a snowstorm, scandal, and a rascally donkey. Life at sea was never this exciting. The gallant naval captain’s first landlocked Christmas promises hijinks, danger, and passion – and a breathtaking chance to win the love of a lifetime.

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What a lovely Christmas treat this novella was! Anna Campbell has penned a delightful, entertaining and fun romance with the perfect snow-covered village setting.

Rory is such a likeable hero… a handsome, witty, charming and flirtatious Scotsman, with just a hint of devilment in his green eyes. Bess is managing, independent and capable, qualities that should annoy a man like Rory, but instead he finds himself both charmed and intrigued by her and deeply attracted. It was refreshing to find a hero who, despite having an unhappy childhood, hadn’t given up on love, although he has never believed in love at first sight until he meets Bess.

This woman was meant for him. He wasn’t sure yet what he felt about it, but the conclusion was inescapable.

At first, Bess readily believes the rumours about Rory. After all, he precisely fits her image of a pirate, wicked seducer, and reckless adventurer. However, there is something compelling about him that threatens to shatter her hitherto tranquil but lonely life.

There was something breathtakingly compelling about the new earl. A crackle of energy that Bess only now realized had been missing from her life.

Gradually, she comes to respect and admire him. when she sees how he treats the villagers with respect and wins them over with his charm and intelligence. It’s heart-warming to see how Rory puts down roots for the first time as he comes to accept the village as his home and positively embraces the responsibilities that come with his title.

Rory paused in the doorway to savor a sensation he’d never before experienced. That this was home and these were his people and he belonged here.

I enjoyed the developing romance between Rory and Bess with its delightful mixture of witty banter, delicious sexual tension and heated kisses. I love Rory’s noble action in not wanting Bess’s first time to be “some hole-in-corner seduction”. He treats her with such respect (much to Bess’s disappointment) and wants to cherish her.

The secondary characters all add depth to the story; Edward White, Rory’s secretary, butler, cook , bailiff and shipmate for twenty years; the matchmaking residents of Penton Wyck, and a certain stubborn, music-loving donkey called Daisy.

MY VERDICT: Full of warmth, fun and romance, this was the perfect start to my holiday reading. I recommend you find a comfy chair, grab your favourite tipple and enjoy!


REVIEW RATING: 4/5 STARS

SENSUALTY RATING:  WARM

Read November 2015


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

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(Alex Halsey Mystery, #3)

Genre: Historical Mystery (Georgian)

Cover Blurb:

Winter 1763: Alec, Lord Halsey is sent on a diplomatic mission to Midanich, imperial outpost of the Holy Roman Empire, to bargain for the freedom of imprisoned friends. Midanich is a place of great danger and dark secrets; a country at civil war; ruled by a family with madness in its veins. For Alec it is a place of unspeakable memories from which he barely escaped and vowed never to return. But return he must, if he is to save the lives of Emily St. Neots and Sir Cosmo Mahon.

In a race against time, Alec and the English delegation journey across the icy wasteland for the castle fortress where Emily and Cosmo are imprisoned. The severe winter weather is as much an enemy as the soldiers of the opposing armies encamped along the way. And as members of Alec’s party begin to disappear into the night, he begins to suspect it is not the freezing conditions but that a murderer lurks amongst them. Awaiting him at his destination is the Margrave and his sister, demanding nothing less than Alec’s head on a pike.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Where to begin – bloody marvellous is a good start!

The story begins with a death scene -“The bed chamber was darkened and airless. The odour of stale urine, bloody phlegm, and medicinal, pervasive“- which sets the stage for a witty, intriguing and atmospherically dark tale, rounded off with a soul deep romance.

Deadly Peril, the third in the Alec Halsey series, is an incredibly well written Georgian historical mystery, with an accompanying romance. Set in the mid 1700’s, the story begins in London and moves across the sea to the Germanic principality of Midanich, a country in the midst of a debilitating civil war. The new Margrave Prince Ernst’s right to govern is being challenged by his younger half-brother, Prince Viktor. Many at Midanich’s court are unhappy with Prince Ernst’s succession to the throne because of his increasingly odd behaviour, and the control his disgraced twin sister Princess Joanna (rumoured to be mad) exerts over him. The younger charismatic Prince Viktor, barred from the succession because his mother is a commoner, is nevertheless seen by many at court as the future of Midanich, and he has the support of the people.

Into this civil war, steps our amateur sleuth, Alec Lord Halsey. He had vowed never to return to Midanich, but return he must to save the lives of his best friend Sir Cosmo Mahon  and Emily St. Neots, beloved granddaughter of Alec’s godmother, who are being held prisoners. Ten years earlier, as secretary to the British Ambassador to the Court of Midanich, a young footloose and fancy free Alec, handsome and charismatic, became the object of a singular passionate obsession. This, and a very public affair, led to his disgrace and imprisonment. To disclose more would be to spoil the story and readers are advised to unfold the story layers for themselves.

This is a multi-layered story with interwoven plots and many surprises and shocks throughout. All are plausible and exciting and culminate in one mind boggling scene which I thought I had guessed correctly, but was wrong footed by the wily minded Ms. Brant at the last minute.

I am in awe of the author’s scholarship as she apparently takes a year to research and write each novel. I’m not surprised because the geographical content alone is awe inspiring.  Midanich, the country she has created, is so realistic it is hard to believe it is fiction. If a description is particularly well done, I find I unintentionally conjure up memories; this time (and I show my age here) of Omar Sharif with Julie Christie by his side, fur coats, hats and muffs, in the 1965 British film, Dr Zhivago! The freezing, desolate scenery and sledges skimming over frozen landscape – I can recall vividly! That’s what came to mind while reading Ms. Brant’s descriptions of the vast, icy marshlands of Midanich’s northern provinces. What I call “painting a picture with words”.

I can’t even begin to fully articulate my appreciation of Ms.Brant’s extensive historic knowledge, and the incredibly detailed information she incorporates seamlessly into the story – the embroidery on a gentleman’s frock coat and the travelling tea set, left to Alec by his Mother, intricately and meticulously described in the finest detail. A wonderful feast of information woven into the lives and loves of her living, breathing characters.

In the previous books, Alec had seemed almost God-like, romantic liaisons – yes, likeable – certainly but, in this novel, I particularly liked the way it was revealed he hadn’t always made the right decisions. He comes across as even more delectable with his feet-of-clay image; not perfect, just a man. And those “wire-rimmed spectacles” – Lucinda Brant takes the mundane and ordinary and with a few words – voilà – it’s sexy!

His best friend Sir Cosmo Mahon is developed further too. Previously slightly foppish, albeit endearing and kind, we now see a different man, one with more depth and character.  I would really like to see him get his HEA eventually. As usual Alec’s Uncle, Plantagenet Halsey provides comic relief. He is hilarious in his outspokenness and the interactions between him and Olivia, Duchess of Romney-St. Neots is priceless. We even get a glimpse into their past, where it is hinted that they might have, at one time, been attracted to one another – another romance? Now wouldn’t that be fun? Ms. Brant is ever adventurous in playing around with the ages of her characters so who knows? There was another romance hinted at – maybe – but nothing from me on that score as I wish to stay away from the plot to let any readers ,yet to sample this fab offering from Lucinda Brant, the chance of unwrapping it for themselves. Alec and Selina finally get their HEA , after all of their ups and downs, in the most deliciously, romantic way – again nothing further to say on that topic except… sniff!

I must add too that I love the way Lucinda Brant puts so much of herself into her writing. Apart from her obvious love of history and geography, there is the addition of her favourite breeds of dogs. Alec has two greyhounds, Cromwell and Mazarin and, in her Roxton series, the Duke has two whippets, a special little personal touch, one close to her heart, I know.

MY VERDICT: This is yet another fabulous novel from Lucinda Brant and it is hard to grade her books when each one is better than the last and I’ve given 5 stars to all! Simply wonderful – and now I wait impatiently for Alex Wyndham to add his magic touch.

 

REVIEW RATING:  5/5 STELLAR STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

Read November 2015

 

Alec Halsey Mystery series (Click on the book covers for more details):

Deadly Engagement A Georgian Historical Mystery (Alec Halsey Mystery, #1) by Lucinda Brant Deadly Affair A Georgian Historical Mystery (Alec Halsey Mystery, #2) by Lucinda Brant Deadly Peril A Georgian Historical Mystery (Alec Halsey Mystery, #3) by Lucinda Brant

 

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(Roxton Series, #2)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian)

Cover Blurb:

Set in the opulent world of the 18th century aristocracy and inspired by real events, Midnight Marriage is the standalone second book in the acclaimed Roxton family saga.

Two noble teenagers are married against their will. Drugged, Deb has no recollection of events. Disgraced, Julian is banished to the Continent. Nine years later, Deb falls in love with a wounded duelist, only to later discover it is her husband returned incognito! Can Deb forgive his cruel deception? Can their marriage survive beyond seduction? Meanwhile, Julian’s nemesis plots to destroy them both…

♥♥♥♥♥♥

What an amazing introduction to the world of audiobooks this was! The combination of writer Lucinda Brant and narrator Alex Wyndham was definitely a match made in heaven.

This is the second book in the series and Ms. Brant certainly captured my attention with the hasty, secretive marriage of the title. It left me intrigued to know the “whys and wherefores” surrounding this mysterious event and so I had to keep reading. As the story unfolds there are various twists and turns, with hidden secrets, deception, heartbreak, passion and old enmities.

Julian is charming, caring and witty but, as son and heir to the powerful Duke of Roxton, he has also inherited the Roxtons’ arrogant streak. His reputation as a libertine is widely known but sometimes things aren’t always what they seem. Sorry to be rather cryptic here but I don’t want to spoil the story for anyone. His relationship with his father has never been an easy one for reasons we discover later in the story and I found this a very interesting facet of the story.

As cousin to the 5th Duke of Devonshire, Deborah is well-connected. However, her reputation was severely tarnished when, at the age of sixteen, she went to Paris to care for her sick brother, Otto. He is the black sheep of the family having married a gypsy. Deborah only compounded things by bringing Otto’s son, Jack home to live with her after both his parents died. Deborah cared more for her brother and her nephew than society’s censure and I admired her for that.

The idyllic time Julian and Deborah spend together before she discovers his true identity make the subsequent events more heart-breaking.  Julian thought he would be able to just smooth things over and Deborah would simply forgive him…foolish man! Deborah has a mind of her own and, although I might question her reaction given how much she loves him, Julian’s subsequent cruel and harsh treatment of her had me sympathising with her. There is a lot of anger and hurt to overcome plus a very dramatic finale before these two can finally share a Happy Ever After together.

The secondary characters all add depth to the story and I will definitely be listening to Noble Satyr, the story of Julian’s parents, the Duke of Roxton and his younger wife, Antonia.

Ms Brant really made me feel as though I was stepping back in time to the Georgian world of powdered wigs, panniers and sedan chairs.

Alex Wyndham is a superb narrator and I was totally swept away by his deep, rich voice. Each character is pitched perfectly – male or female, old or young, noble or servant – and I was amazed at his ability to sustain such a wide range of characters’ voices throughout the book. I found it easy to distinguish between narrative and dialogue and I knew instantly which character was speaking.

MY  VERDICT: Ms Brant weaves an intricate and compelling story which Alex Wyndham brings superbly to life. Highly Recommended!


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

Listened to November 2015

 

Roxton Series (click on the book cover for more information):

Noble Satyr (Roxton Series #1) by Lucinda Brant Midnight Marriage (Roxton Series #2) by Lucinda Brant Autumn Duchess (Roxton Series #3) by Lucinda Brant Dair Devil (Roxton Series #4) by Lucinda Brant

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

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Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

The tiny village of Hemshawe is the sort of place where nothing ever happens…until a handsome ex-soldier and his matchmaking sister let the imposing manor house at the edge of town. The friendly Londoners shake up the staid people of Hemshawe, and villagers see each other in a new and oh-so-appealing light.

Suddenly long-sparring enemies become lovers, a town festival heralds a new start for a fallen woman and a dandy, and a man who has given up on love gets a second chance with the woman he never forgot. And the matchmaker herself? She won’t rest until she finds her own happily-ever-after…

A Madness in Spring by Kate Noble

Adam Sturridge has made Belinda Leonard’s blood boil since childhood, and the feeling is mutual. But when a would-be matchmaker arrives in the village of Hemshawe, she’d determined to erase the thin line between love and hate. Now, Belinda and Adam are faced with falling for someone they’ve always considered an enemy — can they overcome old prejudices and discover how to rub each other the right way?

The Summer of Wine and Scandal by Shana Galen

When viscount’s son and dandy Peregrine Lochley is temporarily exiled from London to the country for his misdeeds, the last thing he expects is to encounter an intriguing woman. But Caroline Martin has a secret to hide, and it just might be too scandalous for even this debauched rogue.

Those Autumn Nights by Theresa Romain

Ten years ago, wealthy Eliza Greenleaf broke lowly soldier Bertram Gage’s heart—but the last decade brought changes in fortune to them both. Now that he’s made his mark on the world, a twist of fate brings the Greenleaf family under his power. Will this war-hardened officer triumph over his former lover…or will Bertie and Eliza give love a second chance?

The Season for Loving by Vanessa Kelly

Miss Georgie Gage, matchmaker extraordinaire, is resigned to life as a spinster—almost. When notoriously aloof bachelor Fergus Haddon arrives from Scotland to spend Christmas with the Gage family, Georgie thinks she’s finally found her own perfect match—if, that is, she can get the handsome Highlander to agree!

♥♥♥♥♥♥

REVIEW OF MADNESS IN SPRING BY KATE NOBLE

This is a delightfully entertaining enemies-to-lovers romance and Belinda and Adam are such an engaging couple. Their journey to a happy ever after is fun to watch and Ms Noble writes with wit and charm.

“Yes, do tell me more about the house I grew up in,” Adam drawled.
“I need no reminder that you grew up here. You are littered across my memory like horse manure on a path.”

REVIEW RATING: 4/5
SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

REVIEW OF THE SUMMER OF WINE AND SCANDAL BY SHANA GALEN

This is an emotive story of forgiveness and redemption. The foppish Peregrine turns out to be a wonderful hero and it is heart-warming to see how he champions Caroline in front of everyone at the village fair.

“If there is a woman who is close to perfection, I would have to say it is Miss Martin.”

I also love how Caroline’s father never judges his daughter for her mistake which is in sharp contrast to Peregrine’s father.

REVIEW RATING: 4/5
SENSUALITY RATING: KISSES

 

REVIEW OF THOSE AUTUMN NIGHTS BY THERESA ROMAIN

This is a poignant second-chance story in which Ms Romain captures Bertie and Eliza’s feelings of regret, forgiveness and renewed love beautifully.

Was this only a kiss? It drew forth his whole body, entrancing and enchanting him. The taste and scent, the sweet little sound she made as she rose onto her tiptoes to kiss him more firmly.

New-to-me author Ms Romain impressed me with her writing and I’m eager to read more of her books.

REVIEW RATING: 4/5
SENSUALITY RATING: KISSES

 

THE SEASON FOR LOVING BY VANESSA KELLY

Sweet, kind, matchmaking Georgie Gage finds her own happy ending with dour Scot, Fergus Haddon. They are a perfect complement for each other and I love how Georgie changes Fergus’s life in so many ways.

She was everything he wanted- generosity, acceptance, and love. Everything he’d convinced would be forever denied to him.

This is a lovely, heart-warming romance enhanced by some colourful secondary characters.

REVIEW RATING: 4/5
SENSUALITY RATING: KISSES

 

MY VERDICT: Overall, four well-written, entertaining and romantic stories which are perfect reading for the approaching holiday season.

Read November 2015

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

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(Maiden Lane, #9)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian – 1741)

Cover Blurb:

SHE’S TAKING CHARGE

Prim, proper, and thrifty, Eve Dinwoody is all business when it comes to protecting her brother’s investment. But when she agrees to control the purse strings of London’s premier pleasure garden, Harte’s Folly, she finds herself butting heads with an infuriating scoundrel who can’t be controlled.

HE’S RUNNING THE SHOW

Bawdy and bold, Asa Makepeace doesn’t have time for a penny-pinching prude like Eve. As the garden’s larger-than-life owner, he’s already dealing with self-centered sopranos and temperamental tenors. He’s not about to let an aristocratic woman boss him around . . . no matter how enticing she is.

BUT LOVE CONQUERS ALL

In spite of her lack of theatrical experience-and her fiery clashes with Asa-Eve is determined to turn Harte’s Folly into a smashing success. But the harder she tries to manage the stubborn rake, the harder it is to ignore his seductive charm and raw magnetism. There’s no denying the smoldering fire between them-and trying to put it out would be the greatest folly of all.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This is the ninth book in the excellent Maiden Lane series and each time I marvel at Elizabeth Hoyt’s ability to make every book such an outstanding read.

At the age of nineteen, Asa was disowned and disinherited by his sanctimonious father for wanting to work at Harte’s Folly. Luckily he found a home with the kindly Sir Stanley Harte who was more like a father than his own father ever was. Even after his father’s death, he no longer feels he fits in with the rest of the family and rarely visits his brothers and sisters. Now owner and manager of Harte’s Folly, it has become the most important thing in his life, leaving no room for anything else.

It was his life’s work, his soul and heart.

The illegitimate daughter of a duke, Eve was raised in her father’s house but is constantly haunted by terrifying events from her childhood; events which have convinced her that she could never enjoy a normal relationship with a man.

She knew that she would never feel “nice” with a man.
It would never be beautiful for her.

She has never had any friends and the only people she really cares about are her half-brother, Valentine, to whom she owes so much, and her loyal servants.

Pairing the big, crude, hot-headed, virile Asa with the plain, prim, naïve Eve seems like a recipe for disaster but, once again, Ms Hoyt takes the most unlikely couple to create an unforgettable romance. The romance builds slowly with the inevitable clashes at first.  Asa sees Eve as “one of those harbingers of doom that were always lurking about some hapless hero of classical myths”, and Eve regards Asa as “proud, bombastic and very, very annoying.” Gradually Asa becomes intrigued by Eve’s mixture of outspokenness, courage and vulnerability she tries so hard to hide. He’s certain that behind that cool exterior lies a passionate woman. Although she hates and fears Asa’s savage, unrestrained nature, he stirs an excitement in her and makes her feel alive for the first time.

I love Asa – such a larger than life character – and I soon discovered that, beneath that fierce exterior, he has many unexpected sides to him; to quote Eve – a lover of opera, fighter of highwaymen, saviour of stray dogs.

Despite her traumatic childhood experience which was truly terrifying, Eve still has an innocent inquisitiveness about sexual matters; one Asa is more than happy to satisfy in both words and deeds! This leads to some highly charged and explicit scenes, but ones which I feel are totally in keeping with Asa’s blatantly sexual nature.

He had no shame. No, more: he reveled in shamelessness.

I love their conversation about the castrato in which Asa’s words alone leave Eve “wide-eyed and breathless”. She wasn’t the only one left breathless!! When they first make love, Asa is so tender and considerate and his asking “May I?” before he removes each item of her clothing is so endearing. I also adore how he calls her “his little harpy” and would do anything to keep her safe, including murder.

A happy ending is never in doubt, but I love an author who can keep me on tenterhooks until the very last minute. I cheered Eve for not being willing to accept anything but a man who loved her above all else and there were frustrating moments when I wanted to knock some sense into Asa until he realises what is truly important to him.

As always in this series, the secondary characters play a major role in the story and I particularly like Eve’s friend and bodyguard, Jean-Marie. When Eve persuades Asa to visit his brothers and sisters, it’s an opportunity to catch up with many of the characters from the previous books, who certainly have their hands full when the family gathering doesn’t go exactly to plan!

We learn that Bridget Crumb, the Duke of Montgomery’s housekeeper, has an agenda of her own and there are also a few surprising revelations about the duke himself. The scene towards the end of the book certainly has me anticipating their story in Duke of Sin!

MY VERDICT: Another wonderful addition to this superb series and one  which ranks among my other favourites, Scandalous Desires and Thief of Shadows. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALTY RATING: HOT!

 

Read November 2015

The Maiden Lane series so far (click the book cover for more details):

Wicked Intentions (Maiden Lane, #1) by Elizabeth Hoyt Notorious Pleasures (Maiden Lane, #2) by Elizabeth Hoyt Scandalous Desires (Maiden Lane, #3) by Elizabeth Hoyt Thief of Shadows (Maiden Lane, #4) by Elizabeth Hoyt Lord of Darkness (Maiden Lane, #5) by Elizabeth Hoyt Duke of Midnight (Maiden Lane, #6) by Elizabeth Hoyt Darling Beast (Maiden Lane, #7) by Elizabeth Hoyt Dearest Rogue (Maiden Lane, #8) by Elizabeth HoytSweetest Scoundrel (Maiden Lane, #9) by Elizabeth Hoyt

 

**I received a free copy of this book from Grand Central Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. **

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