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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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the-harlot-and-the-sheikh

(Hot Arabian Nights, #3)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

A defiant woman in a desert king’s world!

After inheriting a broken kingdom, Prince Rafiq made a vow to restore its pride by winning a prestigious horse race. To ensure success, he hires an English expert. But even notoriously controlled Rafiq is shocked when his new employee is introduced as Miss Stephanie Darvill!

Stephanie is determined to leave her shameful past and broken dreams behind she will prove to Rafiq she deserves his trust! But this hard-hearted desert sheikh calls to Stephanie in the most primal of ways Dare she give in to her wildest desires?

(Released on January 17th 2017 in the USA)

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Once again, Ms. Kaye transported me to the exotic setting of Arabia for this third book in her Hot Arabian Nights series.

Rafiq al-Antarah, Prince of Bharym
blog-post-rafiq-al-antarah-prince-of-bharym

The sixteen-year-old Rafiq watched his father make a reckless wager on the prestigious Sabr endurance horse race, losing not only his legendary Arabian thoroughbreds, but also the honour of the family name and the national pride of his people. The next six years saw his father’s gradual terminal decline mirrored by a decline in the kingdom’s fortunes and, on inheriting the throne, Rafiq vowed to restore the family name and Bharym’s pride and honour. However, despite all the changes, improvements and renovations he introduced…

Nothing mattered save the restoration of the Sabr, the tangible symbol of Bharym’s pride and honour.

Determined to make good on his vow, Rafiq entered a bargain which was to have a tragic consequence, one which ultimately strengthened his resolve to win the Sabr race. However, when he starts losing his precious Arabian racehorses to a mysterious illness, Rafiq is desperate to find a cure and sends for Robert Darvill, renowned veterinary surgeon attached to the Seventh Hussars. What Rafiq is not expecting is a ‘petite female glowering up at him, her big brown eyes defiantly challenging’ who says she is Robert Darvill’s daughter, Stephanie.


Stephanie Darvill
blog-post-stephanie-darvill

Stephanie worked with her father from an early age, learning all about horses, their ailments and treatments. For the past year, she has been working at one of England’s largest stud farms near Newmarket racecourse, but a disastrous affair with an army officer causes a scandal destroying her reputation. With the army expected to go into battle against Napoleon, her father cannot leave his regiment and suggests that Stephanie go to Arabia in his place. Knowing how much pain she has caused her parents, Stephanie sees it as an opportunity of putting the past behind her and taking charge of her own life and a sceptical Prince Rafiq is not going to deter her.

“I am not my father, but I am here with his blessing, I am an excellent veterinarian, and I promise you I will do my utmost to help you. So why don’t you forget that I’m a woman and permit me to attend to your sick horses?”

I enjoyed the steady development of the romance. There is a definite spark of attraction and, as they talk and work together, their relationship soon develops into a physical one and I like that Stephanie is willing to explore the passion between them despite her previous unsatisfactory experience. I find Ms. Kaye’s love scenes are so well-written – full of emotion, tenderness and passion.

His mouth slanted over hers, shaping hers, and he kissed her again. She had never been kissed in this way, with such gentleness generating such blazing heat inside her, with tongue and lips, lips and tongue, so she could not tell what was one kiss and what was another.

I like Stephanie’s boldness and it this very quality that first impresses Rafiq. Women usually fawn over him and he is not used to being questioned and challenged as Stephanie does. Surrounded by people who only tell him what he wants to hear rather than the truth, he also finds Stephanie’s honesty refreshing.

‘Every day you surprise me.’ ‘By being insubordinate and disrespectful and…’ ‘With your refreshing honesty. And your novel slant on the world. 

Rafiq is a man of integrity and I love how he respects Stephanie and values her abilities and is not judgemental when she tells him about her past and, in fact, he does not blame her at all; his anger is reserved for the man who seduced her.

“The man lied and cheated to steal your innocence. He deserves to be whipped. There can be no excuses for what he did, Stephanie. You are not at fault.”

I like how Stephanie forces Rafiq to confront his past and realise he was not wholly responsible for what happened. It allows him to put the past to rest and realise that he has emerged a stronger, better man – honourable and caring. Similarly, because of the scandal, Stephanie gained the freedom to travel to Bharym and prove to herself that her father’s faith in her was not misplaced.

I love Ms Kaye’s evocative writing which appeals to all the senses and brings to life the sights, sounds and smells of the exotic Arabian setting. Reading the Historical Note at the end of the book made me appreciate the depth of Ms. Kaye’s research.

Although this is part of a series, the books are only vaguely connected and can easily be read as standalones.

MY VERDICT:  An emotive, romantic and sensual love story with the appeal of an exotic setting. Highly recommended.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

Hot Arabian Nights series to date (click on the book covers for details)

The Widow and the Sheikh (Hot Arabian Nights #1) by Marguerite Kaye Sheikh's Mail-Order Bride (Hot Arabian Nights #2) by Marguerite Kaye The Harlot and the Sheikh (Hot Arabian Nights #3) by Marguerite Kaye Claiming His Desert Princess (Hot Arabian Nights #4) by Marguerite Kaye


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

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a-gentleman-undone
(Blackshear Family, #2)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

A seductive beauty turns the tables on a gentleman gaming for the guiltiest of pleasures in this rich and sensual Regency romance from beloved newcomer Cecilia Grant.
 
Lydia Slaughter understands the games men play—both in and out of the bedroom. Not afraid to bend the rules to suit her needs, she fleeces Will Blackshear outright. The Waterloo hero had his own daring agenda for the gaming tables of London’s gentlemen’s clubs. But now he antes up for a wager of wits and desire with Lydia, the streetwise temptress who keeps him at arm’s length.

A kept woman in desperate straits, Lydia has a sharp mind and a head for numbers. She gambles on the sly, hoping to win enough to claim her independence. An alliance with Will at the tables may be a winning proposition for them both. But the arrangement involves dicey odds with rising stakes, sweetened with unspoken promise of fleshly delights. And any sleight of hand could find their hearts betting on something neither can afford to risk: love.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

After reading A Lady Awakened, I knew I had found an author who wasn’t afraid to push the recognised boundaries of Historical Romance with her daring, unique stories and unconventional, flawed characters. I found A Gentleman Undone just as original and engrossing.

I admire Ms. Grant for her unflinching and gritty characterisation of Lydia, whose very flaws make her such a complex, unconventional and fascinating heroine. I admit that it is difficult to like the bold, ruthless, cold-hearted, sexually aggressive woman we see at the beginning of the book; a woman who has no time for tenderness or emotion.

Tenderness was a rat whose neck she wrung with her own hands before hurling it over the hedge to rot with feelings.

I love how Ms. Grant shows the subtle changes in Lydia, as fractures begin to appear in the walls she has built around herself, and I saw a softer Lydia emerging. For me, one moment in particular illustrates the change in Lydia more than any other. It is when she gives Mrs Talbot the money which will secure not only that lady’s financial security but also a place of her own. In doing this, Lydia is willing to relinquish her own chance of financial security and her response to Mrs Talbot’s reaction is a far cry from the woman devoid of all feelings.

It was wonderful, one of the most wonderful things Lydia had ever seen. Her foolish heart felt like a teacup into which someone had forgot to stop pouring.

The key to understanding Lydia lies in her past and, as her darkest secrets are revealed, I saw a vulnerable woman desperate to expunge the guilt she feels over her parents’ death. She had tried to destroy herself layer by layer but when that failed, she found the will, the strength and the ruthlessness to survive.

Out of the ashes of catastrophic misfortune she’d reinvented herself as something formidable, honed and tempered by each disaster she weathered.

Will has his own demons, having returned from the Napoleonic Wars burdened with a deep sense guilt over the death of Talbot, one of his men. Plagued by black moods, he sometimes feels that he has lost the ability to enjoy himself.

Let them come, the sorrow and anger and bleakness and oh, the tireless self-recrimination that swirled up from the pit of his stomach like plumes of coal dust. He was nothing if not accustomed to their company.

He resists his sister’s attempts to draw him back into the family circle, in the hope of restoring him to the carefree brother she once knew.

Although he believes otherwise, Will is essentially a good and honourable man as shown in his determination to ensure that Talbot’s wife and child are financially secure and independent of the relations she currently lives with. He is patient and understanding and protective of those he cares for, even though his willingness to be Lydia’s knight in shining armour does not exactly provoke the right response!

“I’m not some bedraggled kitten for you to rescue from a ditch.”

I love how Will comforts Lydia when she has nightmares and wants to discover the real Lydia behind the belligerent stranger he has come to care for. I love how he defends Lydia and the choices she was forced to make and is willing to suffer estrangement from his family rather than abandon her.  I also like his reference to the double standards of society.

“I cannot seem to find my place any longer in a society where to keep a woman in sin is a more respectable path than to give her my hand and my name.”

Ms Grant took me on an emotional roller-coaster of a journey. Their romance is passionate with lots of sizzling sexual tension. At times, the sex scenes are raw, earthy and explicit but reflect Lydia’s belief that she is unworthy of tenderness and that rough, impersonal sex is a way of making her forget the guilt she feels over the death of her parents…a way of punishing herself.

The fact that Lydia continues to consort with Edward, her protector, at the same time as her relationship with Will is developing might be unacceptable to some readers. However, I saw it as realistic because Will could not afford to keep Lydia as his mistress and, if she was no longer under Edward’s protection with no way to support herself, she would most likely find herself back in a brothel.

Will and Lydia have to fight every step of the way for their Happy Ever After but I felt that their love would endure.

Happiness still felt, at odd moments, like something with which she oughtn’t to be trusted. A delicate and costly music box put into the hands of a maladroit child. Yet happiness felt, too, like a prize she and Will had fought for and seized. An edifice they’d built with their own bare hands out of the scrap heap of mistake and misadventure.

I like how Martha, Will’s sister, and her husband, Mirkwood, (A Lady Awakened) are sympathetic towards Lydia and Will because Martha knows from her own experience that people in desperate circumstances do what they must and she also married a “black sheep” whom her family disapproved of.

I was quite fascinated by the card-playing aspects of the book, probably because I played vingt et un (or twenty one as we called it) in my much younger days.

Once again, I loved Ms. Grant’s beautiful, evocative writing.

She would lay waste to him tonight. To herself as well. She would hurl herself against him like a wave breaking over a rock. She would claw her way to oblivion as many times as she must, until no fragment of human feeling remained.

♥♥♥

Here after all was their condition, perched on their separate wind-whipped summits, in view of each other, but too distant to reach.

♥♥♥

He was a man, for Heaven’s sake. Men liked bedsport wherever they could get it. Why the devil should his plain statement of the fact make her insides race and wheel about like a frantic flock of swallows? 


MY VERDICT: Another outstanding book from Cecilia Grant. Highly recommended.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

 

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

A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong (Blackshear Family, #0.5) by Cecilia Grant A Lady Awakened (Blackshear Family, #1) by Cecilia Grant A Gentleman Undone (Blackshear Family, #2) by Cecilia Grant A Woman Entangled (Blackshear Family, #3) by Cecilia Grant

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