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Publication date: 30th March 2017

Proud Mary

(Roxton Family Saga, #5)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian, 1777)

Cover Blurb:

The Roxtons are back! Romance. Drama. Intrigue. Family secrets. There’s never a dull moment for the 18th Century’s first family…

Widowed and destitute, Lady Mary Cavendish is left with only her pride. Daughter of an earl and great-granddaughter to a Stuart King, family expectation and obligation demands she remarry. But not just any man will do; her husband must rank among the nobility. Falling in love with her handsome and enigmatic neighbor is out of the question. As always, Mary will do her duty and ignore her heart.

Country squire Christopher Bryce has secretly loved his neighbor Mary for many years. Yet, he is resigned to the cruel reality they are not social equals and thus can never share a future together. Never mind that his scandalous past and a heartbreaking secret make him thoroughly unworthy of such a proud beauty.

Then into their lives steps a ghost from Mary’s past, whose outrageous behavior has Mary questioning her worldview, and Christopher acting upon his feelings, and for all to see. The mismatched couple begin to wonder if in fact love can prevail—that a happily ever after might just be possible if only they dare to follow their hearts.

Mary and Christopher’s story can be read as a standalone and fans of the series will delight in being reacquainted with the fascinating, always surprising and never ordinary members of the Roxton family.

Stand-alone fifth book in the highly acclaimed ROXTON FAMILY SAGA
152,000 words, about 600 standard pages (not including bonus material)
Non-explicit, mild sensuality

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This is the 5th book in Lucinda Brant’s superb Roxton Family Saga series and, once again, I was totally captivated by Christopher and Mary’s tender and beautiful love story. While this book can be read as a standalone, I know reading the previous books in the series will not only enhance your enjoyment of PROUD MARY,  but they are all wonderful books in their own right and shouldn’t be missed.

I always lose myself in one of Ms. Brant’s books, because she writes such intelligent and intricately layered stories with finely-drawn characters, and always makes me feel as if I am stepping back in time and experiencing life  through her characters’ eyes.

I invariably fall in love with her heroes and Christopher is no exception. Apart from being handsome and sexy, he is also kind, generous, sincere and fair. You see this in the benevolent way he treats his tenants and workers; the way he compliments Mary on her skill at embroidery and as an artist, something no one else has ever done; the positive way he treats Teddy while her father was dismissive because she wasn’t a boy.

When the eighteen-year-old Christopher discovers the truth surrounding his birth, I could understand the anger and sense of betrayal he feels towards the two people he loved and trusted.  He sees himself as ‘a bastard, the ill-begotten fruit of an illicit affair between two adulterers.’  His answer is to run away, something that youngsters with problems still do today. I couldn’t condemn him for his choice of employment whilst abroad. Alone and destitute, he uses the only assets he has. He knows that while his position is perfectly respectable in Italian society, it would be deemed scandalous by English society. It is no surprise that, once he returns home and assumes his position as Squire Christopher Bryce, he wants to keep his family secret and scandalous past well hidden.

Mary is such a sympathetic character. No wonder she is so docile and lacking in confidence given her rigid upbringing; a childhood spent with an overbearing mother who constantly drummed into her the correct social rules; a mother who still dominates her life. Then, marriage to the odious, self-centred Sir Gerald not only compounded her insecurities, but also left her believing she is emotionally and physically cold and incapable of enjoying intimacy.

Mary is a wonderful mother and her love for Teddy shines through, and I admire her determination to give her daughter a very different childhood to her own.

…if climbing trees and riding astride and being outdoors all day made Teddy happy, then she, as her mother, would do her best to see that she could do those things

As with all Ms. Brant’s books, the romance is beautifully written; tender, romantic and sensual, without being overtly explicit. I love how Christopher and Mary each let down their guards and confide in each other about their pasts and how Mary is willing to accept Christopher’s past and sees only the man he is now.

 “I truly do not mind about your past; it is who I see before me that matters.”

The unexpected return of someone, thought long dead, provides a definite obstacle to the romance or, perhaps not!

It is heart-warming to see Mary’s new-found confidence, happiness and contentment knowing that she is truly loved.

She looked confident and content, and it radiated. He smiled to himself as he sipped his tea, at the small part he had played in her new-found self-assurance and happiness.

One of my favourite scenes is where Mary finally stands up to her appalling mother and I was positively whooping when Julian, as head of the family, gives Lady Fitzstuart an ultimatum!

I applaud Ms. Brant for not making the issue of their differing social status conveniently disappear like a puff of smoke, but she deals with it in a realistic way. Mary is aware that she will no longer be accepted by certain elements of society, but she and Christopher are content to live in the depths of Gloucestershire, and, as their marriage is accepted and supported by the Roxton family, that is all that matters.

I adore the tomboyish Teddy and how she loves Uncle Bryce as much as her true uncles. There is one very poignant scene where she gives Christopher’s Aunt Kate, who is virtually blind, a personally embroidered pocket for her handkerchief.

I hated Sir Gerald for so cruelly using his daughter as a means of gaining revenge on the Duke of Roxton (Julian).

Poor Julian is often misunderstood and so I was pleased that Christopher immediately sees him as a good and honest man, one he would willingly trust with his life. I love the unlikely friendship that develops between the two men, but perhaps it is not so surprising as Mary observes…

…both were sticklers for exactness and truthfulness, both were honorable and honest, and both could be frustratingly pedantic at times.

I enjoyed all the secondary threads running through the story, the twists and surprises and the welcome appearance of familiar members of the Roxton family, especially Antonia, who seems to steal every scene she graces.

To my delight, there is also a charming Epilogue and is it possible that Teddy and Jack might get a book in the future? I do hope so.

MY VERDICT: Another superb book to add to an equally superb series. If you have not yet read this series, then you have many hours of wonderful storytelling to look forward to. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.


REVIEW RATING:  STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE


Roxton Family Saga
– series so far (click on the book covers for more details):

Noble Satyr (Roxton Series #1) by Lucinda Brant Midnight Marriage (Roxton Series #2) by Lucinda Brant Autumn Duchess (Roxton Series #3) by Lucinda Brant Eternally Yours Roxton Letters Volume One A Companion To The Roxton Family Saga Books 1–3 by Lucinda Brant Dair Devil (Roxton Series #4) by Lucinda Brant Proud Mary A Georgian Historical Romance (Roxton Family Saga Book 5) by Lucinda Brant

 

 **I received a complimentary copy from the author in return for an honest review**

 

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A Splendid Defiance - audio

Genre: Romantic Historical Fiction (English Civil War, 1644-1646)

Cover Blurb:

Justin Ambrose, dashing cavalier and close companion to Prince Rupert, was bored with life in the Royalist garrison in Banbury, until he met the sister of a local merchant. Famous for his romantic conquests, Justin had never before let a woman touch his heart.

But Abby was no ordinary woman. She was beautiful and she was brave. She was also young and terrified of her brother, a religious fanatic and self-sworn enemy of all Royalists.

When the rebel army unleashed its might on the castle, Justin fought tirelessly to break the siege. But even his closest friends did not know what tormented him. And Abby, as she sat with the rebel commanders at her brother’s table, dreamed of a man she could not, must not love…

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It’s fair to say that I’m a huge fan of Stella Riley. She can do no wrong in my eyes and I’m running out of superlatives to adequately describe or do justice to her writing. Nevertheless, I will try my best to initiate new readers/listeners and show what an absolute treat they have in store with this superbly performed version of A SPLENDID DEFIANCE.

If you are an historical fiction or historical romance fan, then you must read or listen to Stella Riley’s work, and a good place to start is A Splendid Defiance. It was this story and another of the author’s books, The Marigold Chain, that initially piqued my interest in this turbulent period in England’s history. Both books are superbly researched, standalone stories and each is eminently enjoyable. I couldn’t imagine improving on my enjoyment of the original print version of A Splendid Defiance but, by employing the superbly talented actor, Alex Wyndham, to narrate her powerful story, Ms. Riley has done just that. Mr. Wyndham brings her exciting, historically accurate, wonderfully romantic, feast of a book to multi-dimensional life.

Captain Justin Ambrose has been banished following an ill-advised comment he made about one of the King’s favourites, which unfortunately reached that officer’s ears. Justin is now moodily kicking his heels at the Royalist controlled garrison of Banbury Castle in Oxfordshire, apparently indefinitely. A career soldier of considerable experience, he has earned a formidable reputation and naturally feels resentful at being stuck in the Puritan backwater of Banbury. His generally acerbic and sarcastic tongue is even more prominent as the prolonged inactivity begins to take its toll on his temper.

Abigail Radford (Abby) is a young, sweet and innocent seventeen-year-old when this story begins. She lives and works, along with her mother, younger brother, Sam, and sister-in-law, Rachel, in the home and drapery shop of her elder brother, Jonas. But this is no happy household, for Jonas is an autocratic, over-bearing bully of a man, whose hatred of the Cavaliers at the castle is topped only by his religious fanaticism.

Justin is a man of integrity, honesty and honour and a Royalist to the core. Completely dedicated to his King and cause, there is no room in his life for love and marriage. In his first encounter with Abby – during which he saves her from being ravished by a couple of his subordinates – he doesn’t even see her as more than a terrified girl. It takes several more encounters before he even remembers her and then only fleetingly. It takes several more unplanned meetings before he notices that, beneath the extreme plain clothing and, unflattering white cap, there is a rather sweet and attractive young woman. Any possible developing of interest on Justin’s part – for Abby is already clumsy and tongue-tied in his presence – is further delayed by the arrival of a large Roundhead contingent, the senior officers of which take up residence at the home of Jonas, being the most prominent Banbury citizen and the first siege of the castle begins.

I admire the way Stella Riley grows her love stories in all her novels, but particularly in this one, where it is understated and plausible and entirely in keeping with unfolding events. The historical aspect of the story is all important; Banbury castle was a strategic holding and central to the Royalist cause. Three hundred and fifty men held Banbury castle against almost impossible odds, nearly starving in the process.

After the first siege is over, the Parliamentarians ousted, and on the run after Royalist re-enforcements arrive, the Garrison can breathe again and life returns to some semblance of order. Ms. Riley then continues to develop the interaction and slowly growing attraction between Justin and Abigail, throwing them together in various situations which further advances their apparently ill-fated friendship. For how can two people on opposing sides of a civil war ever have a chance at mutual happiness?

Justin is a multi-layered character with many deep, dark secrets; even his closest friends know little about him, other than he has a well-deserved reputation with the ladies. He is such a believable character, especially when you find yourself getting cross with him because he’s given Abby an undeserved tongue lashing, upsetting her to the point that it feels as if he’s kicked a puppy. But then, conversely, you find yourself going all gooey over him when he’s being particularly charming – and my goodness, he can certainly turn it on when he chooses!  Then it’s clear to see what a terrific job Stella Riley has done in bringing us the very memorable Captain Justin Ambrose because he’s gorgeous – seriously flawed -but still gorgeous, and we love and castigate him in turns.

Abby’s character grows over the course of the story from a timid Puritan to an attractive young woman with a lot more oomph than she had to begin with. Justin sets out initially – not entirely altruistically – to help her stand up to and defy his nemesis, the odious Jonas. In the end, however, he is hoist with his own petard as he finds himself drawn more and more to her quiet, unassuming and undemanding presence. Eventually, Justin realises that she is the only person in his life who has ever cared for him or gives a damn what happens to him, and refreshingly requiring nothing from him in return. Their eventual acceptance of the love between them is heart-warmingly tender and all the better for the waiting. As is the norm with Stella Riley, she doesn’t need to resort to explicit love scenes. Instead, sensuality and tenderness is the order of the day, and I was left with a warm glow as she found a way to bring these two lovely characters together against all of the odds.

As usual, Alex Wyndham’s performance is stupendous. There are few performers who could tackle such a varied and wide cast of characters and fool the listener into feeling as if they are listening to a rather superior radio play, rather than one man’s narrative of a story. Obviously, as this is a story set in war time, it is top heavy with a large cast of men who are often in a multi-character conversation. This holds no difficulty for Mr. Wyndham who switches between a variety of accents, tones and timbres, giving each character a distinct interpretation. Artistically, his performance is faultless, and there is really nothing I could criticise in his portrayal of Stella Riley’s fabulous cast of characters, male or female. While listening to his performance, I discovered that Alex Wyndham has another interesting addition to his repertoire…a very pleasing, rich baritone singing voice. Rarely have I experienced a voice actor/narrator able to perform in this way and certainly none so well.

MY VERDICT: I cannot recommend this audio book highly enough because it has everything that I look for in an historical romance; living, breathing people and so well does Stella Riley blend her fictitious and non-fictitious characters, that it is impossible to see the seams; atmospheric, superbly researched historical content and spine tingling romance. A SPLENDID DEFIANCE is a Stellar 5 stars for both content and narration and another winner for this phenomenal writer/narrator team. 


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Devil in Spring

(The Ravenels, #3)

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian)

Cover Blurb:

An eccentric wallflower…

Most debutantes dream of finding a husband. Lady Pandora Ravenel has different plans. The ambitious young beauty would much rather stay at home and plot out her new board game business than take part in the London Season. But one night at a glittering society ball, she’s ensnared in a scandal with a wickedly handsome stranger.

A cynical rake…

After years of evading marital traps with ease, Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent, has finally been caught-by a rebellious girl who couldn’t be less suitable. In fact, she wants nothing to do with him. But Gabriel finds the high-spirited Pandora irresistible. He’ll do whatever it takes to possess her, even if their marriage of convenience turns out to be the devil’s own bargain.

A perilous plot…

After succumbing to Gabriel’s skilled and sensuous persuasion, Pandora agrees to become his bride. But soon she discovers that her entrepreneurial endeavors have accidentally involved her in a dangerous conspiracy-and only her husband can keep her safe. As Gabriel protects her from their unknown adversaries, they realize their devil’s bargain may just turn out to be a match made in heaven…

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Like every other Lisa Kleypas fan, I was so excited when I discovered that the hero of this book is Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent, the son of one of her most beloved couples, Sebastian and Evie from DEVIL IN WINTER. My expectations were obviously high and I’m happy to say that, apart from a couple of niggles, I loved it.

The Prologue was just delightful and it was wonderful seeing Sebastian and Evie still so in love even after 30 years of marriage and Sebastian has lost none of his devilment.

“The rest of the world can wait,” Sebastian said firmly. “I’m going to debauch you for the ten thousandth time, Evie – and for once, I want you to pay attention.”

“Yes, sir,” she said demurely, and looped her arms around her husband’s neck as he carried her to their bedroom.

Gabriel has clearly inherited traits from both his parents; handsome, witty, astute, charming and worldly like his father and kind, understanding and compassionate like his mother. As heir to a dukedom, he takes his responsibilities seriously, having assumed management of many of the family’s business interests at a young age.   He is well aware of the expectations of others and carries the constant burden of having to maintain the perfect image. However, there is another side to him…his darker sexual appetites which his married mistress is more than happy to fulfil.

For the past two years, Nola had fully indulged Gabriel’s every desire, their encounters unhindered by morals or inhibitions. She always knew when to push the limits farther, coming up with new tricks to spark his interest and satisfy his complex desires

One of my niggles is that Ms. Kleypas never explores this aspect of Gabriel’s character in any real depth and, to me, it seemed like a contrived way of making Gabriel seem less than perfect.

By having Pandora suffering from ADHD, Ms. Kleypas has created a delightfully quirky, adorable heroine who is impulsive, spirited, creative and ambitious. A conventional life has no appeal at all for her and marriage is not on the cards. Pandora plans to support herself and live independently by becoming a business woman and marketing her new board game. I love her habit of making up words, such as calling the elaborate wooden curls and twists carved into the back of the settee, in which she gets her dress caught, swirladingles.

Pandora and Gabriel seem the most unlikely couple but Ms. Kleypas makes the romance work so beautifully. It is such a captivating blend of witty banter, heated kisses and tender, sensual love scenes. I love how Ms Kleypas imbues their romance with lovely touches of humour and this is one of my favourites exchanges:

“Are you thinking about the Queen?” he heard Pandora ask eventually, while the engorged length of his shaft throbbed vehemently between them. “Because if you are, it’s not working.”   

Gabriel’s lips twitched at the helpful observation. He replied with his eyes still closed. “With you sitting on me in that sweet little nightdress, it wouldn’t matter if the Queen were standing in this room with a contingent of guards in full uniform.”

I also love it when Gabriel is whispering all the things he wants to do to Pandora but he’s whispering into her bad ear and she can’t hear him!

I loved meeting Sebastian and Evie’s other children and Ms. Kleypas portrays the loving relationship between the family so well. I was especially intrigued by Gabriel’s caustic older, widowed sister, Phoebe, and do hope she gets a Happy Ever After. Dr.  Garrett Gibson and detective Ethan Ransome, who were both in Marrying Winterborne, make an appearance. I also loved seeing my favourite Wallflower hero, Westcliff, in a cameo role.

My other niggle concerned the dramatic event in the last quarter of the book. It seemed totally unrelated to the rest of the story and more like a plot device to highlight a possible future hero and heroine. However, my niggles in no way spoiled my enjoyment of the book.

MY VERDICT: Enchanting, romantic, sexy and funny – a winning combination.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

The Ravenels series to date (click on the book covers for more details):

Cold-Hearted Rake (The Ravenels, #1) by Lisa Kleypas Marrying Winterborne (The Ravenels, #2) by Lisa Kleypas Devil in Spring (The Ravenels, #3) by Lisa Kleypas

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the-highlander

 (Victorian Rebels, #3)

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian)

Cover Blurb:

Can the fiercest master of battle conquer a woman’s heart?

They call him the Demon Highlander. The fearsome Lieutenant Colonel Liam MacKenzie is known for his superhuman strength, towering presence, and fiery passion in the heat of battle. As Laird to the MacKenzie clan, the undefeated Marquess has vanquished his foes with all rage and wrath of his barbaric Highland ancestors. But when an English governess arrives to care for his children, the master of war finds himself up against his greatest opponent… in the game of love.

Defying all expectations, Miss Philomena is no plain-faced spinster but a ravishing beauty with voluptuous curves and haughty full lips that rattle the Laird to his core. Unintimidated by her master’s raw masculinity and savage ways, the headstrong lass manages to tame not only his wild children but the beast in his soul. With each passing day, Liam grows fonder of Miss Mena—and more suspicious. What secret is she hiding behind those emerald eyes? What darkness brought her to his keep? And how can he conquer this magnificent woman’s heart… without surrendering his own?

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Once again, I was completely immersed in the dark, intense and compelling world of Kerrigan Byrne’s Victorian Rebels and the passionate love story between Liam and Mena.

The story opens with a powerful Prologue that had me totally riveted to the pages. Ms. Byrne does not shy away from depicting the harrowing events of Liam’s youth and how his violent, abusive, sadistic father tried to shape Liam in his own image. It isn’t easy reading but it gave me a real understanding of Liam’s character; his fear that the same tainted blood runs through his veins and that he would one day become a monster just like his father; the decision he is forced to make to protect is brothers; his belief that by becoming a soldier he could expunge his violent tendencies on the battlefield but all the violence and bloodshed only serves to confirm his belief that he is unworthy of peace or happiness.

The scars he carried upon his soul were horrid and deep as those on his back. Some of the wounds remained open and bleeding, poisoning his chances at happiness or peace.

Mena’s life has been hellish too. Mentally and physically abused by her husband for the past five years, he has now had her committed to an asylum (the reason forms part of the plot of the previous book, The Hunter, and, for those who haven’t yet read that book, I am avoiding spoilers). Once again, Ms. Byrne conveys the chilling reality of Mena’s suffering and abuse in graphic realism and it is not for the faint hearted. These scenes are a powerful indictment of Victorian society, where those without a voice could be committed to such a terrible fate without redress.

I love the scene where Mena is on her way to Ravencroft Keep, Liam’s home, and the carriage wheel fractures. The driver sets off to the keep to get help and, in the meantime, a group of dirty, bedraggled highlanders appear. Liam demands she open the door but Mena refuses point blank, not believing for one minute that he is the marquess. Their exchanges are so funny but, more than anything, I  love how Mena has the courage to refuse to do as Liam says, particularly as he shows every sign of exploding at any moment!

“Do you happen to have any proof of your lordship or nobility?” she suggested, blinking pleased, expectant eyes at him as though she’d offered some sort of foolproof plan. “A signet ring, perhaps, or a seal of—”

  “The fact that I havena torn this carriage apart with my bare hands is proof enough of my nobility,” he growled through lips drawn tight over his teeth. “Now open the bloody door.” 

“I’m sorry, but no.” She shut the window.

It’s obvious that Liam loves his children and has done everything he could to protect them but, after such a long absence, he doesn’t know to relate to his grown-up son and daughter. I love the scenes between Mena and Liam’s children, especially the one where she has a rather clever way of persuading Andrew to read the three classics. I also enjoyed seeing the loving relationship flourishing between Liam and his children.

I like how Ms. Byrne builds the romance slowly. Yes, there is lots of sizzling sexual tension, desire and passion…

The moment they’d met had been like the whisper of a storm kissing a hot, humid day with a blessed chill. The promise of something dark and exciting gathered on the horizon, and Mena had watched that storm rumble closer with every instant they’d spent together. Every time she’d banked the fires that blazed in his eyes. Every time he’d ignited heat into her cold heart.

but they also get to know each other and share their tragic pasts. I love how two such mismatched people are so perfect for each other. Mena finds a man she can trust who will protect and cherish her and allow her to be strong, while Liam finds a woman who accepts him for who he is and offers him the chance to protect rather than hurt and finally find peace.

I liked the secondary characters especially Jani, Liam’s Indian valet, Liam’s children and Liam’s brother, Gavin St. James, Earl of Thorne, whose story will be told in THE SCOT BEDS HIS WIFE (October 3rd 2017). I was also intrigued by the references to the Duke of Trewyth and look forward to reading his story in THE DUKE.  

While the main focus of the story is the romance, there is an element of drama in the form of a malevolent force within the keep and Mena’s husband’s attempt to institutionalize Mena again. Dorian Blackwell (The Highwayman) and Christopher Argent (The Hunter) prove their worth as allies for Liam and this fearsome trio show no mercy when exacting revenge on those who have harmed Mena.

MY VERDICT: Another superb addition to this darkly compelling series. Highly recommended.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

 

Victorian Rebels series to date (click on the book covers for more details):

The Highwayman (Victorian Rebels, #1) by Kerrigan Byrne The Hunter (Victorian Rebels, #2) by Kerrigan Byrne The Highlander (Victorian Rebels, #3) by Kerrigan Byrne The Duke (Victorian Rebels, #4) by Kerrigan Byrne The Scot Beds His Wife (Victorian Rebels, #5) by Kerrigan Byrne – October 3rd 2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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duke-ever-after

(Duke’s Club, #5)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

A Duke With A Scandalous Secret:
The Duke of Aston has always been the talk of the ton. Wild, passionate, and eccentric, women fall at his feet and gentlemen won’t dare to meet him on the dueling ground. But the duke has a secret. A secret that could destroy his family. While the world sees him as a prince of the realm, he knows that in truth, he’s worthless. So, when Lady Rosamund enters his life demanding he teach her the artful ways of seduction, he’s happy to oblige until he realizes she is the best woman he has ever known and therefore a woman he can never have.

A Lady Who Won’t Be Intimidated:
Lady Rosamund, only sibling of the Duke of Blackburn, is lonely. Raised in the remote glens of the Western Highlands, Rosamund has lived a sheltered life where only books and long walks have relieved her isolation. When she meets the Duke of Aston near her home, a man as delicious as the heroes she’s read about, the passion that sparks between them in undeniable. Adventurous spirit that the duke is, Rosamund knows he’s the man for her. But as she grows closer to the duke, opening her heart to him, his own heart closes.

Can she teach this tortured duke that he is worthy of love or will his past drive them apart forever?

♥♥♥♥♥♥

I have enjoyed all the books in Eva Devon’s Duke’s Club series and DUKE EVER AFTER is no exception. Her stories are always entertaining, emotional, romantic and sensual.

The handsome, scandalous, fun loving Duke of Aston was a loveable secondary character in the earlier books who seemed to have everything.  Now we discover that behind this jovial mask is a man burdened with a family secret which he is determined to keep at all costs. His bon vivant air, a love for life, and a desire for all things mad-capped tend to keep people at bay and his secret secure. The only person who truly knows him is his illegitimate son, Tony.

Rosamund loves her Scottish home but, since the death of their profligate father, her brother, Duncan, has become a rigid, dour man…the epitome of everything that is proper. He is no longer the laughing, teasing brother she once knew and Rosamund is discontented with her lonely, unfulfilled life and craves adventure.

As she stared out at the towering bens that were a beautiful boundary she’d only escaped through books, she couldn’t help wishing she could step foot over them once. Just once.

I love how in all the books in this series, the hero and heroine’s first meeting has been unconventional and most memorable. No ballrooms or soirees for Ms Devon. No indeed. In fact, Derek and Rosamund meet while each is swimming naked in a Scottish loch.

She then grinned a most gamine grin, her lips, due to the cold, a striking red against her pale skin. “Lovely day for a swim!”
And with that, she struck off, her feet leaving a froth of water in her wake.
Aston gaped as she swam rapidly away
.

Rosamund is kind, good humoured but also obstinate and headstrong which makes her the perfect match for Derek.  I love how she refuses to be intimidated by him and isn’t afraid to pursue the man she wants. She is the only one to see through his carefully constructed façade and is determined to uncover the real Derek beneath.

She seemed to sense the cracks in his facade and she wasn’t content to just look at them. Oh no. She wanted to know him. And to know him, she’d have to pry at those cracks and break through to the man he was underneath.

Derek has always distanced himself from everyone since childhood, but he finds he has feelings for Rosamund and is totally at sea when it comes to dealing with them. His genuine fear is that, once she knows his secret, she will see him as unworthy of her. I understood Derek’s fears given the nature of the secret he has carried all these years and the way his father succeeded in destroying Derek’s sense of self-worth. However, I was frustrated by his constant refusal to confide in Rosamund but this was tempered by her heart-warming words when he finally reveals the truth.

“From the moment I saw you in the loch, I knew you were the man for me. Not the duke. Not the privileged, titled, legitimate son of some powerful peer. You were the man I wanted. The man who saw into my soul and I saw yours.”
A tear slipped from Derek’s eye. With a groan, he pulled himself into a sitting position. “Then you’ll have me?”
She smiled. A smile so wide and true it almost hurt. “Today. Tomorrow. Every day. Until we are old and wrinkled.”

Derek’s determination to protect his mother’s memory and his overwhelming love for his son, Tony, reveals what an honourable and caring man he is.

I adore Tony with his boyish charm and such a wise head on young shoulders. I enjoyed seeing the rapport between him and Rosamund, who regards him as a younger, cheeky brother.  I like how Tony sees his father as a great duke and a great man but isn’t afraid to stand up to Derek if the occasion arises.

Duncan, Rosamund’s brother, and fellow members of the Duke’s Club cause some problems for Derek and Rosamund before everything is sorted out so they can marry, and the Epilogue promises them a long and happy ever after.

It is worth pointing out that Duncan and Imogen’s story (Wish Upon a Duke) runs concurrently with Derek and Rosamund’s.

MY VERDICT: A thoroughly entertaining romance which I can definitely recommend.


REVIEW RATING: 4/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Duke’s Club series (click on the book cover for more details):

Once Upon a Duke (Duke's Club, #1) by Eva Devon Dreaming of the Duke (Duke's Club, #2) by Eva Devon Wish Upon A Duke (Duke's Club, #3) by Eva Devon All About the Duke (Duke's Club, #4) by Eva Devon Duke Ever After (Duke's Club, #5) by Eva Devon Not Quite A Duke (Duke's Club, #6) by Eva Devon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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unmasking-miss-appleby

(Baleful Godmother, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Late Georgian, 1805)

Cover Blurb:

She’s not who she seems…

On her 25th birthday, Charlotte Appleby receives a most unusual gift from the Faerie godmother she never knew she had: the ability to change shape.

Penniless and orphaned, she sets off for London to make her fortune as a man. But a position as secretary to Lord Cosgrove proves unexpectedly challenging. Someone is trying to destroy Cosgrove and his life is increasingly in jeopardy.

As Charlotte plunges into London’s backstreets and brothels at Cosgrove’s side, hunting his persecutor, she finds herself fighting for her life—and falling in love…

♥♥♥♥♥♥

I was a little nervous when I saw the synopsis for this book as I’m not a big lover of historical romance with paranormal elements. However, having read a number of excellent reviews from trusted friends, I decided to take the plunge and I wasn’t disappointed. I loved this imaginative, intelligently written and delightful romance.


The Story

It’s the day of Charlotte Appleby’s 25th birthday, but her life is not the one she had dreamed of. Orphaned when her father died, she has lived with her uncle and aunt for the past 8 years. Treated as little more than a servant, Charlotte longs to be independent and earn her way in life, but her uncle has made it clear that if she leaves, she can never return. Charlotte appreciates that at least she has a home, safety and security and has resigned herself to a life of drudgery. However, her life changes that evening when a strange and slightly scary woman appears, claiming to be a faerie and offers her the choice of one magical gift. After considering the various gifts offered, Charlotte chooses the ability to transform herself into any human or animal but still retaining her own mind. Now, as Christopher Albin, she secures the position of secretary to Marcus Langford, the Earl of Cosgrove.

Someone is waging a hate campaign against the Earl of Cosgrove – his windows have been repeatedly broken and night soil left on his doorstep. Now he has suffered a physical attack in which his secretary, Lionel, has been badly injured and is recuperating in the country. Marcus knows  it could be politically or personally motivated and there are plenty of potential suspects. As an active supporter of the abolition of the slave trade, Marcus has political enemies among the Anti-abolitionists. In his private life, his beautiful wife was known to be an adulteress and there are rumours that Marcus’s ill-treatment of her may have driven her to commit suicide or he may even have murdered her. His brother-in-law makes no bones about the fact that he hates Marcus, blaming him for his sister’s death.  Then there’s his spineless, drunken heir who expects Marcus to pay his debts and fund his profligate lifestyle. Marcus needs a new secretary to help him uncover who is responsible and, although Christopher Albin isn’t the ideal candidate, he is the only one who doesn’t balk when warned of the potential danger.


My Thoughts

I have read books where the heroine dresses as a man but I have never read a book where the heroine actually becomes a man. I feel Charlotte’s reactions to adjusting to the physical aspects of being a man are realistically portrayed by Ms. Larkin. I could imagine having difficulty tying a cravat properly like Christopher or finding it strange to write with overlarge hands.

She watched her fingers wield the quill—large, blunt-tipped, male—and the dizzying sense of wrongness came again: her hand was too large, the quill too small. The letters came out lopsided and awkward, like a child learning to write.

As would be the case for most unmarried ladies of that era, Charlotte knows virtually nothing about men and her ignorance of how a man’s body works and her naivety about sexual matters provide for some humorous moments, especially in relation to one particular appendage or “pego” as Charlotte calls it, and in the brothel scene.

In her role as a man, Charlotte has independence and the freedom to do things and go to places that would have been forbidden to her as a woman. I like it when authors make subtle social comments within a story.

She could do things she’d never been able to do, go places that had been forbidden, grab opportunities no one would ever offer a woman.

A genuine friendship develops between Marcus and Christopher and I love how Marcus feels a genuine sense of responsibility and protectiveness towards Christopher whom he sees as ‘green as an unbreeched babe’.  As Christopher, Charlotte gets a real insight into Marcus’s character. He seems to have everything – looks, wealth and a title – but his life is far from a happy one. I admire Marcus for his stance against the slave trade, not only in words but also in deeds.

I was glad that Charlotte only uses her gift to aid Marcus in his search or when they are threatened with violence.  I also like the fact that when she changes, it takes time for her to adapt and it isn’t all plain sailing or flying in this case.

Charlotte veered away in a wild swoop, losing height. The floor lunged up at her. She cheeped in terror, clawed at the air with her wings, found herself plunging upwards.
    It took two lurching circuits of the bedchamber before she found her balance in the air. Dip of wing, flap of wing, became natural and effortless.

The ability to become any animal she wishes enables Charlotte to search for evidence in circumstances which would prove impossible for humans, and is therefore an important element in the plot. I thought Marcus’s response to discovering Christopher’s magic ability was realistic given the circumstances. He couldn’t deny what he had seen with his own eyes.

Faerie magic. It was ludicrous. Preposterous. Impossible. And yet I see it with my own eyes.

I like how Ms. Larkin explores Charlotte’s growing attraction for Marcus (which causes some problems when a certain part of her anatomy insists on standing to attention) and how she creates a believable way for Marcus to meet Charlotte as herself. Their romance develops during a series of meetings, awkward at first, but gradually with a growing sense of warmth, tenderness and intimacy.

I understood Marcus’s initial angry reaction when he discovers Charlotte’s deception, because he sees it as yet another betrayal by someone he trusted. It takes a life-threatening situation, a letter and a journey to bring him to his senses and make him realise that he loves Charlotte.

I found the plot kept my interest throughout and the denouement was quite shocking, not at all what I expected. 


MY VERDICT: A charming romance with a touch of
magic and an intriguing mystery. Highly recommended and I will definitely be reading the rest of the series.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

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

Prequel – The Fey Quartet by Emily Larkin Unmasking Miss Appleby (Baleful Godmother, #1) by Emily Larkin Resisting Miss Merryweather (Baleful Godmother, #2) by Emily Larkin Trusting Miss Trentham (Baleful Godmother, #3) by Emily Larkin Claiming Mister Kemp (Baleful Godmother, #4) by Emily Larkin Ruining Miss Wrotham (Baleful Godmother, #5) by Emily Larkin

 

 

 

 

 

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a-splendid-defiance

Genre: Romantic Historical Fiction (English Civil War, 1644-1646)

Cover Blurb:

Justin Ambrose, dashing cavalier and close companion to Prince Rupert, was bored with life in the Royalist garrison in Banbury, until he met the sister of a local merchant. Famous for his romantic conquests, Justin had never before let a woman touch his heart.

But Abby was no ordinary woman. She was beautiful and she was brave. She was also young and terrified of her brother, a religious fanatic and self-sworn enemy of all Royalists.

When the rebel army unleashed its might on the castle, Justin fought tirelessly to break the siege. But even his closest friends did not know what tormented him. And Abby, as she sat with the rebel commanders at her brother’s table, dreamed of a man she could not, must not love…

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Since reading her fabulous Rockliffe series, Stella Riley has become one of my top favourite authors and it’s no surprise that I was eager to read more of her books.

In A Splendid Defiance, set during The English Civil War between the Royalists (Cavaliers) and the Parliamentarians (Roundheads), Ms. Riley weaves a wonderful story of love blossoming between a sarcastic, cynical Royalist captain and a young, innocent Puritan girl.

The story takes place in the town of Banbury in Oxfordshire where, while the town itself overwhelmingly supports the Parliamentarians, Banbury Castle is held by a small garrison of 360 Royalists, including Captain Justin Ambrose. One of Prince Rupert’s top cavalry officers, Justin has been ‘exiled’ to Banbury Castle as punishment for criticising a Royal favourite. He deeply resents not being in the thick of the action, which often makes him short-tempered and sarcastic.

The war was being won or lost elsewhere while Justin dealt in bread and coin and barrels of powder; a merchant, a carrier and sometimes a thief –but only infrequently a soldier.

However, he’s also honourable, loyal and trustworthy with a deep sense of duty. Secretive about his past,  it becomes evident, during the course of the story, that something happened that hurt him deeply.

Abigail (Abby) Radford lives a joyless existence.  Every aspect of her life is controlled by her fanatically religious older brother, Jonas, even to choosing the man she will marry – a man who makes her skin crawl.  She is constantly criticised and lectured by Jonas’ overbearing wife, Rachel

‘Well?  What are you waiting for?  There’s the table to be set for supper and Betty to be watched if she is not to burn the meat.  Do I have to tell you everything?’

Her only friend is her younger brother, Samuel (Sam) who has always been her closest companion.

I love how Ms. Riley takes the time to build the romance between Justin and Abigail showing the gradual changes in their relationship and making their falling in love seem natural and believable. There is no great spark when they first meet; Justin treats her with polite indifference and Abigail has no wish to linger with this shameless Cavalier. Gradually an unlikely friendship develops between them and they meet secretly once a week.  I like how they talk and enjoy each other’s company but there is a growing sense that this is more than just friendship and I could feel the deep attraction and growing sexual tension between them.

Initially, Justin’s motive is to encourage Abigail in small acts of defiance against Jonas whom he dislikes intensely but…

…their Tuesdays had become a part of his life –a part he looked forward to –and he didn’t want them to end.

Strong emotions have never been part of his life, but he finds he has a compulsion to protect Abigail and the thought of her being hurt by her bully of a brother is unbearable.

In her earlier meetings with Justin, Abigail sees beyond the irascibility and cursing to a man who is kind, trustworthy and makes her feel safe.  He is also attractive, witty and very sexy, a combination any woman would find hard to resist.

He was attractive and dangerous and he had the power to completely shatter her peace of mind.

It’s a journey of self-discovery for both of them. Justin shows Abigail a world beyond the rigid confines of a life controlled by her brother and gives her the courage to defy him and pursue her own life. Even if she never experiences it again, she has known what love feels like.

Abigail has given Justin – the kind of peace and warmth he had not known in twenty years and had not thought he needed. But she had shown him the myth of that.

It is difficult to see how they can ever find happiness when so much conspires against them -the war and its aftermath, Jonas’ religious zeal and a dark secret from Jonas’ past that threatens Abigail’s life. There is a heart-breaking scene where it seems that their happiness hangs in the balance until Justin realises…

However honourable, sensible or right, he could not bring himself to part with the only good thing life had brought him in a decade; a warm, beautiful girl who, incredibly it seemed, wanted nothing but him and who he loved beyond anything he had ever imagined.

This is a wonderful blend of history and romance and Ms. Riley’s extensive research is evident in the realism she brings to the story. I felt as if I was there in Banbury, experiencing the emotions of the townspeople and what it was like to be one of the defenders in the besieged castle.

Fire-hooks and buckets!’ he yelled.  ‘If the next one hits, it could –’
‘I know.’  Justin gestured curtly to where his troopers were already drenching the thatch of the outbuildings.  ‘But I’ll wager a bottle of claret that the next one is –’ His words were drowned by a whining crescendo that culminated in a deafening, earth-shaking blast.

Many of the secondary characters really existed but the fictional characters are so well drawn that it was difficult to distinguish the real from the fictional.

MY VERDICT: A beautifully written romance with fascinating characters and an engrossing story, rich in historical details. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

 

REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

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