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The Winter Bride audio

(Chance Sisters, #2)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1816)

Cover Blurb

Award-winning author Anne Gracie delivers the second in her enticing new series about four young women facing a life of destitution—until a daring act changes their fortune and turns them each into a beautiful bride…

Damaris Chance’s unhappy past has turned her off the idea of marriage forever. But her guardian, Lady Beatrice Davenham, convinces her to make her coming out anyway—and have a season of carefree, uncomplicated fun.

When Damaris finds herself trapped in a compromising situation with the handsome rake Freddy Monkton-Coombes, she has no choice but to agree to wed him—as long as it’s in name only. Her new husband seems to accept her terms, but Freddy has a plan of his own: to seduce his reluctant winter bride.

Will Damaris’s secrets destroy her chance at true happiness? Or can Freddy help her cast off the shackles of the past, and yield to delicious temptation?

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Wonderful Anne Gracie. I adored your amusing, witty dialogue, and engaging cast of loveable characters. Freddy and Damaris, secondary characters from The Autumn Bride, are the star players, well supported by the rest of this delightful mishmash of a ‘family’, especially the outspoken and outrageous Aunt Bea. Lady Beatrice can turn any situation to her own advantage or to the advantage of her beloved adopted ‘nieces’. Nothing will stand in the way of their happiness as far as she is concerned; no bending of the truth is unacceptable.

She has decided that Freddy Monkton-Coombes, her nephew Max’s oldest friend, will meet her girls and she orchestrates this meeting shamelessly. Freddy is a confirmed bachelor and avoids what he refers to as, ‘muffins’’- young women intent on trapping a chap into marriage –  like the plague.  He has skilfully sidestepped this terrible fate for many years but, from the moment he comes face to face with the quietly serene and beautiful Damaris, he is hooked even though he doesn’t realise it at the time.

Whilst he is away on his honeymoon with Abby, Aunt Bea’s eldest ‘niece’, Max, whose story was told in The Autumn Bride, has coerced Freddy into acting as guardian/chaperon to the girls and his aunt. Although initially extremely reluctant, Freddy eventually agrees and takes his promise very seriously. Naturally, it throws him into regular contact with Damaris, and the die is cast as he begins to enjoy her company and she his. At this point, I must add that whilst The Winter Bride can be read and enjoyed as a standalone, I recommend reading The Autumn Bride first as there is quite a complicated back story and the relationship between Aunt Beatrice and her ‘nieces’ is explained in credible detail.

Freddy’s parents have decided that it is high time he settles down and produces an heir, and have therefore arranged a house party where hordes of these ‘muffins’ will be waiting to pounce. Damaris is just as set against marriage as Freddy and so he comes up with an idea which will keep them both free of a leg shackle. When he eventually persuades Damaris to his way of thinking, the two enter into a mutually agreeable pact. They will announce a fake betrothal which will serve the dual purpose of placating both his parents and Aunt Bea.  While Aunt Bea is intent on arranging a season for her, Damaris’ only ambition is to live quietly in the country in a little cottage with a few chickens and a vegetable garden. Here she hopes to have the peace and quiet to forget the past tragedies and horrific memories which plague her. On the face of it, this arrangement suits both Freddy and Damaris and, in return for her wholehearted compliance, Freddy sets about the task of arranging the purchase of a country cottage for Damaris.

Damaris’s peace is to be shattered, however, by the elegantly beautiful Freddy as he unwittingly worms his way into her life. He has worked very hard to present a rakish, devil-may-care appearance to the ton but behind this façade is a man with a keen business brain who is also kind, thoughtful and, most importantly, honourable with oodles of integrity. As the story unfolds, it emerges that he suffered a boyhood tragedy which has left him deeply traumatised and apparently, as a result of this tragedy, unloved by his parents. His outward devil-may-care persona is a carefully manufactured one, behind which he hides in their presence, and his self-deprecating manner and refusal to explain or defend himself to his cold and unloving parents only seems to perpetuate their annoyance and disregard for him even more. Observing all this on a visit to his family, Damaris intuitively sees how very unhappy he is whilst in their company. She is appalled by their treatment of their only son and sets out to get to the bottom of the rift between them and, in the process, show them how very wrong they are about him. There are a few amusing but bitter-sweet moments where she takes Freddy’s autocratic parents to task, and he is both touched and amazed by her courage, having only previously seen the quiet, gentle side of her nature. This is where we see the real Freddy Monkton-Coombes, as Damaris determinedly begins to strip away the layers of his past and hidden turmoil…. sniff!

Freddy begins to see that Damaris is no ‘muffin’ and comes to the astounding realisation that he is not against marriage at all with the right girl, and that girl is Damaris. But how to persuade her? To this end, he sets out to make their betrothal fact rather than fiction. Freddy is such a darling man, that even his seduction and compromising of Damaris is somehow honourably achieved, especially as it’s done after she has confessed her distressing secret. And what a touchingly tender but sensual scene it is, and throughout Ms. Gracie maintains her legendary wit and humour, without undermining the love, affection and sheer sexiness which has grown between them. It’s one of those very memorable scenes that leaves the reader with a warm, fuzzy feeling.

Anne Gracie’s references to Jane Austen’s works add yet more humour and wit, especially in the scene where Freddy, initially horrified at being obliged to attend Aunt Bea’s literary society – deviously organised by her to introduce her ‘nieces’ to the young men of society – quotes the opening lines from Pride and Prejudice:

‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a fortune must be in want of a wife.’ …he shudders….”What about the poor fellow’s wants, eh? Do they matter? No. Every female in the blasted story was plotting to hook some man for herself or her daughter or niece. If you don’t call that horror, I don’t know what is.

The serious underlying issues for both protagonists, which each eventually helps the other to overcome, make this so much more than just a fluffy romance and it is definitely my favourite of the Chance Sisters series, although I love them all. Both characters are utterly loveable and I have never forgotten Freddy’s character even though I initially read the book on its publication three years ago – a fair indication of how much of an impression this book and his lovely character made on me.

As previously mentioned, I read and loved this book when it was originally published and when I spotted that the audio version was at last available in the UK, I jumped at it, and immediately downloaded the whole series, especially when I realised that it had been recorded by the acclaimed actress and comedienne, Alison Larkin. Ms. Larkin is a special favourite of mine and her name on an audio book is always guaranteed to attract my attention. When I saw that she was in collaboration with Anne Gracie, there was never any doubt in my mind that this would be a wonderfully satisfying listen. In my opinion, Ms. Larkin is the perfect choice to perform this witty and charming series with its Austen quotes. I always think (and say it whenever I review one of her audio books) that she has a ‘smile’ in her voice, which, in this case, perfectly captures the humour always present in Anne Gracie’s novels.

In addition, her considerable acting skills are evident when dealing with the deeper, more serious issues. This is especially true when Damaris reveals her heart-breaking secret and Freddy’s childhood trauma emerges, and then the more serious side to his nature. Alison Larkin handles these revelations with supreme sensitivity.

As I have already mentioned, Freddy initially gives the impression of superficiality, seeming to prefer avoiding not only confrontation but responsibility too. But this impression is dispelled as we learn more about him and Alison Larkin sheds his light-hearted persona and exaggerated, slightly foppish accent as she subtly builds up the tension, especially during the scene towards the end of the book where Freddy, by this time devoid of all levity, is moved to violence. Between them, the author and narrator show his hidden mettle as he squares up to his opponent in defence of his love.

Alison Larkin’s rendition of Aunt Bea is also particularly clever as this manipulative but kindly, elderly lady, who is guilty of telling the biggest whoppers, is a tremendous character and a difficult one to capture with credibility I would imagine. However, Ms. Larkin gives a faultless performance, worthy of any West End stage, as she portrays this indomitable lady with her decidedly imperious upper crust accent, using just the right amount of intonation and nuance to indicate her age and air of entitlement.

I can’t praise Alison Larkin’s performance highly enough as she brings Anne Gracie’s lovely, tear-jerking, feel-good story to sparkling life with her accomplished interpretation of it. I would LOVE to hear Ms. Larkin perform The Perfect Rake by Anne Gracie (another of my favourite books) which I believe has yet to be recorded…. hint to the audio company and publisher!

MY VERDICT: I highly recommend THE WINTER BRIDE for both content and narration and, as I have all four books in my audio library, I look forward to many more hours of listening pleasure. 

RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

Chance Sisters series (click on the book covers for more details):

The Autumn Bride (Chance Sisters, #1) by Anne Gracie The Winter Bride (Chance Sisters, #2) by Anne Gracie The Spring Bride (Chance Sisters, #3) by Anne Gracie The Summer Bride (Chance Sisters, #4) by Anne Gracie

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A Warriner to Protect Her.jpg

(Wild Warriners, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1813)

Cover Blurb:

 An heiress in distress and an earl in disgrace… 

When heiress Violet Dunston escapes from an abduction, she finds an unlikely protector in Jack Warriner–a member of one of England’s most infamous families. Ensconced with mysterious Jack behind his manor’s walls, soon escape is the last thing on Letty’s mind!

Jack may be an earl, but his father’s exploits have left him with nothing to offer except a tarnished name. He’s turned his back on the ton, but with Letty tempting him day and night, he finds himself contemplating the unthinkable–a society marriage!

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Having recently read and enjoyed Her Enemy at the Altar, I was keen to read more of Virginia Heath’s books.  I have a fondness for family orientated books and so I was delighted to discover that her new Wild Warriners series features four brothers. Jack, the eldest, is a proud man used to hard work and being in control; Jamie, a former soldier, has been left both physically and emotionally scarred; Joe, whose dream is to be a doctor; roguish Jacob, the youngest, who has a penchant for the ladies and reading society gossip columns. A Warriner to Protect Her is Jack’s story.

…history is peppered with infamous, and decidedly slippery, Warriners.

Jack’s father, The Earl of Markham, only compounded that reputation by being a violent, morally corrupt, drunken, vile scoundrel, who never paid his debts. On his death, the twenty-year-old Jack inherits a crumbling manor house, a run-down estate, crippling debts, a tarnished title, and a family reputation further debased by his father’s dishonourable behaviour. During the seven years since his father’s death, Jack assumed responsibility for raising his three younger brothers and, virtually penniless, they have been forced to work the land themselves, just earning enough money to keep a roof over their heads.  Jack’s attempts to rebuild the family’s reputation among the locals have met with little success and he fears that, even if they had the money to pay their wages, none of the villagers would ever trust a Warriner.

20-year-old Violet (Letty) Dunston is the darling of society, both beautiful and wealthy…a diamond of the first water. Her parents were killed in a carriage accident three years earlier, and the huge fortune the Dunston family made as tea importers was left in trust until she reaches her 21st birthday in just over a month’s time.  After her parents’ death, her uncle became her legal guardian and, although she has never been very close to her him, she always believed he had her best interests at heart, only to discover just how wrong she was. Her uncle is determined to marry her off to the odious Earl of Bainbridge, a gambler and a man old enough to her grandfather. The two men then intend to share her fortune and will go to any lengths to ensure Letty complies with their plans. When she refuses Bainbridge’s marriage proposal, Letty finds herself drugged, bound, gagged and in a carriage on the way to Gretna Green. Knowing that they will not hesitate to kill her once they get what they want, Letty makes a daring escape…

Instinct made her curl into a ball before she hit the ground, to protect her head and her limbs. Still the impact was sheer agony, pushing all of the air out of her lungs and blinding her with pain. Sharp stones embedded themselves in her skin as she rolled; muddy water shot up her nose and seeped through her closed eyelids, stinging them mercilessly.

Ms. Heath certainly captured my attention from the very start with Letty’s dramatic escape from the Earl of Bainbridge and my fondness for unconventional first meetings between the hero and heroine was more than satisfied.

Almost like a ghost, the woman appeared out of the trees. Her skin eerily pale in the flimsy moonlight, hair and thin dress plastered to her body, eyes as wide as saucers as she stared back at him. Then she fled, wet skirts and a pronounced limp hampering her progress.

Of course, Jack’s innate sense of responsibility comes to the fore; he rescues Letty, takes her home and, with Joe’s help, he nurses her back to health. On learning her story, he vows to protect her until it’s time for Letty to return to London to take control of her inheritance.

Although Jack and Letty share a strong attraction, they also have misconceptions about each other. Jack believes that an ‘incomparable’, like Letty, used to beautiful clothes, balls and parties, would never be interested in a country farmer with nothing to offer but a neglected manor house and a family name steeped in notoriety.

Letty had queues of eager, solvent suitors and would never look twice at a humble Warriner for anything more than necessary protection. She was so far out of his league he would need a stepladder to reach her. Perhaps twenty stepladders.

Jack’s overbearing attitude convinces Letty that he sees her as nothing more than a charming, vapid society lady, but this is not who she truly is. Since losing her parents at the age of seventeen, she has effectively been alone in the world, but all society sees is the self-assured heiress, not the lonely, unhappy girl beneath that façade.

Everybody believes I live this charmed existence. It never occurs to them that I am lonely or that Violet Dunston is a character I play in public. Nobody wants to see the reality of who I actually am

Her inheritance will give Letty the independence she longs for; a means of escaping her present life and helping those less fortunate than herself.

When she inadvertently insults Jack, Letty is determined to show him that she is not simply a frivolous, spoiled heiress. So, she toils, cleaning and polishing the neglected rooms and learning how to cook decent meals for the brothers. Now, at this point, I was willing to suspend disbelief and accept that Letty could become both a proficient housekeeper and accomplished cook in such a short space of time, mainly because of how she describes her first effort at cooking –

Far from being in a sea of thick, delicious sauce, her fowl à la Braise was now floating in a stagnant pond in the middle of a heatwave.

and the deliciously sensuous ‘chandelier incident’.

I enjoyed seeing their misconceptions gradually dispelled. Letty sees Jack’s strength, determination and self-sacrifice in not abandoning his brothers, while Jack recognises Letty’s courage, resilience, kindness and how her presence has made Markham Hall a real home.

Ms. Heath successfully builds the sexual tension throughout story,and it is only on their journey to London that Jack and Letty finally make love, in a scene that is both tender and sensual.

I adore the Warriner brothers and the love they share is evident to see. They are fiercely loyal and protective of each other and, when danger threatens, they will always be there for each other, as the villains find out to their cost.

“Did the fools not realise? When you mess with one Warriner, you mess with us all.”

I love how Letty captures the hearts of the brothers, especially Jamie.  I have a soft spot for troubled heroes and was immediately drawn to Jamie and it is lovely to see the rapport between Letty and this normally taciturn man, and I also enjoyed the way Jamie teases Jack about Lettie. Obviously, I am looking forward to reading Jamie’s story in A Warriner to Rescue Her.

MY VERDICT: A WARRINER TO PROTECT HER is a delightful, witty, entertaining and romantic story and a great start to what promises to be an excellent series. Highly recommended.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Wild Warriners series so far (click on the book cover for more details):
A Warriner to Protect Her (Wild Warriners #1) by Virginia Heath A Warriner to Rescue Her by Virginia Heath

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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Happily Bedded Bliss

(The Rakes of Cavendish Square, #2)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Bedding Proposal comes a seductive new novel about the most devilishly dangerous men in London…

When Lady Esme Byron happens upon a gorgeous naked man sleeping beside a secluded country lake, she can’t resist the impulse to sketch him. But when her highly improper drawing is mistakenly revealed at a party, she finds her once-pristine reputation in tatters.

Gabriel, Lord Northcote, may be a notorious rakehell, but he is still stunned to find himself accused of despoiling a duke’s sister—especially since he’s never set eyes on her. When Esme’s six irate brothers demand a hurried trip down the aisle, he has no choice but to comply. He thinks he can forget about his inconvenient bride but Esme Byron is no ordinary woman and Gabriel is about to learn just how unforgettable she can be.

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I really enjoyed this second book in Tracy Anne Warren’s Rakes of Cavendish Square series, which features one of my favourite tropes where two strangers end up being compromised and are forced to marry under less than auspicious circumstances.

Lady Esme Byron is the youngest of the Byron siblings and her family have always supported her unconventional lifestyle, allowing her the freedom to pursue her love of drawing and painting as well as her penchant for rescuing and caring for sick and wounded animals. She also chooses not to eat meat.

All her siblings, bar one, are happily married and they want the same for Esme but she has no intention of marrying for a long time yet. However, one impulsive act is about to change everything. While out one day, she comes across a mysterious, naked man asleep by her neighbour’s lake and simply has to draw him, never imagining that her drawing will become the source of a public scandal.

The sketchbook flew out of Esme’s grasp, pages fluttering wide before the book spun and skidded to a halt on the floor.

She bent quickly to retrieve it, but Lettice Waxhaven’s loud gasp let her know it was already too late. Everyone else was turning and looking too. Breath froze in her chest, her thoughts tumbling wildly one over the other as she tried to think exactly how to explain the page with the gloriously bare, unforgettably gorgeous male specimen lying open for all to see.

Now her fate is sealed – marriage to a stranger.

The subject of her drawing is Gabriel Lansdowne, Viscount Northcote, an inveterate rake infamous for his debauched lifestyle and scandalous erotic art collection. He is at a total loss when six angry Byron brothers, including his next-door neighbours, Leo and Lawrence Byron, invade his house and threaten him. Having no idea what they are talking about, he proceeds to antagonise them even more but, eventually he convinces them that he has never actually met their sister, but unfortunately the die is cast and he has no choice but to marry Esme.

I love how the focus of the story is on Gabriel and Esme’s developing relationship. No distracting mystery to solve, just two people on a journey of discovery about themselves and each other and ultimately falling in love. During their honeymoon at Gabriel’s house in Cornwall, they enjoy each other’s company and their compatibility extends to the bedroom too. Esme had few expectations for the marriage but…

…day by day she fell deeper under his spell, enjoying more than his touch, but his company as well. His clever mind and his sharp wit. His unexpectedly generous nature and his willingness to share—everything, that is, but almost nothing about his past or his family, whereas he knew practically everything about her own.

Gabriel has never known the love and loyalty of a family like Esme’s. Knowing details of how he was abandoned, abused and betrayed by the people who should have loved and protected him made it easy to understand how those experiences shaped the man he became…a cynical man who is afraid of love.

Love was weakness and he would drive its nascent tendrils from his soul before it had a chance to dig in and take root.

So, when an old friend observes that he is in love with his wife, Gabriel realises that he is coming to care for Esme but fears becoming emotionally involved because he knows from experience it can only lead to heartbreak. So, he panics and, after leaving Esme at Ten Elms, his estate in Derbyshire, he heads for London.

He needed space, a bit of separation between them, so he could get his emotions under proper control again. This thing between them—whatever it might be—was dangerous and had to be stopped.

Although, at first, justifiably angry and hurt, I love Esme’s determination to get her husband back. She knows that Gabriel is a good man who hides his true self beneath a cynical façade.  She sees it in the kindness he shows his servants and his acceptance of her menagerie of animals and she feels it in his kisses and touches. She knows that he is capable of love but she must earn his trust first and I like how she compares Gabriel to one of her wounded animals.

She had worked with enough wounded animals in her time to know that you couldn’t smother and push them too fast to accept you or they would remain wary of even the most tender care. Gentle, consistent handling and affection were the keys to their hearts. She just prayed they would prove the keys to Gabriel’s heart as well.

Just as a HEA seems within their grasp, there is another obstacle to overcome. At this point, I wanted to shake some sense into Gabriel  when the fool believes Esme would betray him with another man, but I love how Esme stands up for herself and matters come to head, forcing Gabriel to finally admit his love for her.

I love the scene where a bold Esme sends Gabriel’s despicable uncle packing and gives his servant spies their marching orders. There is also a very poignant and emotional scene where Esme gives Gabriel a gift of a rare Cornish silver pocket watch which has special significance for him.

I enjoyed the humorous interactions between Gabriel and the Byron brothers, especially Leo and Lawrence.

MY VERDICT: Although not quite as good as the previous book, this is still a delightful, witty, entertaining and romantic story. 

 

REVIEW RATING: 4/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

The Rakes of Cavendish Square series (click on the book covers for more details):

The Bedding Proposal (The Rakes of Cavendish Square, #1) by Tracy Anne Warren Happily Bedded Bliss (The Rakes of Cavendish Square, #2) by Tracy Anne Warren Bedchamber Games (The Rakes of Cavendish Square #3) by Tracy Anne Warren



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The Bedding Proposal

(The Rakes of Cavendish Square, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

From New York Times bestselling author Tracy Anne Warren, the first of a new trilogy about the most dashingly dangerous men in London.

Pay a call to the most seductive address in London and meet the Rakes of Cavendish Square…

Lord Leo Byron is bored with the aristocratic company he keeps; he needs a distraction, preferably in the form of a beautiful new female companion. So when he sets eyes on fascinating and scandalous divorcée Lady Thalia Lennox, he’s determined to make her intimate acquaintance. But the spirited woman seems to have no intention of accepting his advances no matter how much he chases—or how hard he falls…

Once a darling of Society, Thalia Lennox now lives on its fringes. The cruel lies that gave her a notoriously wild reputation have also left her with a broken heart and led to a solemn vow to swear off men. Still, Leo Byron’s bold overtures are deliciously tempting, and, for the first time, she finds herself wondering whether it just might be worth the risk to let the attractive rake into her life—and her bed…

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Tracy Anne Warren is an author whose books I have wanted to read for some time and her new series, The Rakes of Cavendish Square, seemed like the perfect opportunity. I certainly wasn’t disappointed after reading THE BEDDING PROPOSAL, the first book in the series, which I loved.

Lord Leopold (Leo) Byron is the fifth son of a duke and, although he has studied law like his twin brother, Lawrence, he prefers living the life of a gentleman, while Lawrence became a barrister. Sound investments have provided sufficient monies to fund Leo’s lifestyle but, at the age of 25, his life has no real purpose other than the pursuit of pleasure.

“You’re five-and-twenty now. You could do with some purposeful direction.”
“The only direction I need is to be pointed toward a fresh glass of wine,” Leo said, tossing back the last of his champagne. “That and a proper bit of entertainment.”

A new mistress could be on the agenda but Leo wants someone unique; a woman who other men would go to any lengths to possess. So, when he sets eyes on the infamous Lady Thalia Lennox, he is determined to make her his mistress despite Lawrence’s warnings.

“…she uses men like toys and discards them once they’re broken, to say nothing of the fact that she’s several years your senior.”
Leo couldn’t repress a slowly forming grin as he turned to his twin. “Just look at her. She can’t be that much older, even if she has been married and divorced. As for her using me like a toy, I look forward to being played with. Anywhere. Anytime.”

Lady Thalia Lennox was the darling of the Ton until six years ago when her husband divorced her after a much-publicised affair. Left homeless and penniless, a small legacy from her maternal grandmother, consisting of a furnished town house and sufficient money to maintain it, meant she could live in a decent part of London. Since the divorce, she has been a social outcast, living on the periphery of polite society, and rumours abound of numerous affairs but the reality is very different.

No, she was quite alone and quite lonely.
Ironic, she mused, considering the constant parade of lovers she supposedly entertained—at least according to the gossip mavens and scandal pages that still liked to prattle on about her. Given their reports of her behavior, one would imagine her town house door scarcely ever closed for all the men going in and out—or perhaps it was only her bedroom door that was always in need of oil for the hinges.

Feeling lonely and with the only two friends who stuck by her after the divorce away at their husbands’ country estates, she accepts an invitation to a party. There, she meets the outrageous and arrogant Lord Leopold Byron who seems unable to take no for an answer.

Initially, Leo is annoyingly persistent in his pursuit of Thalia but I could understand his belief that she would welcome his overtures given her reputation. Thalia is her own woman, independent and self-sufficient and has no intention of yielding to him because…

For as charming and persuasive as Leopold Byron might be, she had no illusions about the fact that he considered her a prize to be won.

I enjoyed the battle of wills, the banter and the fact that Thalia is just as stubborn as Leo is. She successfully thwarts him at every turn and I love the prank she plays on him (the scene is so funny) although it doesn’t turn out exactly as she planned. Leo discovers that Thalia is brave, resourceful and clever and realises that he wants to know all about this beautiful, mysterious woman. He begins to doubt everything he believed about her when they first met.

What a puzzle she was. A beautiful, mysterious conundrum that demanded to be solved. The longer he knew her, the less about her he really understood.

Thalia’s story is so heart-breaking and I empathised with her feelings of hurt and betrayal. No wonder she had trust issues; Everyone, even her relatives, accepted her husband’s side of the story without question and she was never allowed to tell her side until Leo asks the question no one else had ever asked – “Tell me the truth. Your truth.” – and believes her. I love that this was the catalyst for Leo and Thalia to finally make love because it felt right. The love scene is beautifully done…tender, romantic and sensual.

A tear slid from the corner of her eye, but it was a tear of happiness.
Of healing.
As if this were her first time all over again and he the only lover she had ever known.
And would ever know again.

I couldn’t help but fall in love with Leo, especially when he gives Thalia the Meissen box, knowing how much it means to her, and replaces her great-grandmother’s pearls which her husband had sold. It warmed my heart to see Leo’s growing feelings for Thalia and how her outward beauty reflects an inner beauty. His love for and devotion to her is so heart-warming.

I enjoyed the banter between Leo and his twin brother, Lawrence, and meeting the other members of the Byron family. I also loved the way all the family members accepted Thalia (not surprising as they were scandal prone themselves).

But the Byrons had been all gentle smiles and shared commiseration. None of them had questioned her presence. Not one had treated her with anything but respect.

If I have one niggle, it’s that the main obstacle to Leo and Thalia’s HEA is resolved rather too conveniently but this wasn’t enough to prevent me from giving it 5 stars.

MY VERDICT: A well-written, emotionally satisfying, character driven love story. Highly recommended.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

The Rakes of Cavendish Square series (click on the book covers for more details):

The Bedding Proposal (The Rakes of Cavendish Square, #1) by Tracy Anne Warren Happily Bedded Bliss (The Rakes of Cavendish Square, #2) by Tracy Anne Warren Bedchamber Games (The Rakes of Cavendish Square #3) by Tracy Anne Warren

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When the Marquess Falls

(The Hellions of Havisham, #3.5)

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian)

Cover Blurb:

The long-anticipated and utterly extraordinary tale of the Mad Marquess that proves love truly does last forever

The Marquess of Marsden always follows the rules. Expected from birth to adhere to decades of tradition, he plans to marry a proper young woman from a good family. But when a beautiful, and completely unsuitable, woman snags his heart, he begins to realize that to get what you want, sometimes you have to break the rules.

Linnie Connor dreams of the independence of running her very own bakery. And while she may be allowed to be a marquess’ childhood companion, the baker’s daughter never ends up with the handsome nobleman. Determined to achieve at least one of her dreams, Linnie makes plans to leave her sleepy village for London, intent on purging him from her heart. And yet, when an invitation to the Marsden annual ball arrives, she can’t refuse her one chance to waltz in his arms.

It will be a night that stirs the flames of forbidden desires and changes their lives forever.

 

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This novella tells the beautiful but bittersweet love story of George, Marquess of Marsden and his beloved Linnie and, having read The Viscount and the Vixen, I knew it was going to be an emotional rollercoaster of a journey. 

George and Linnie are childhood friends who fell in love and, despite their very different social positions in life, it is obvious they are meant to be together. I admire how George respects and protects Linnie and I can see why he falls in love with her. She is such a lovely person – optimistic, courageous, caring, kind and just plain fun. It wasn’t hard to believe that, in time, she would have won over the Ton.

Throughout the series, George has always been considered mad, but often his actions are far from those of a madman, especially in his relationships with his charges and his son. He has not only raised them but helped each one in various ways.

Seeing the depth of his love for Linnie, and his intense feelings of grief and despair when he lost her, made me think that perhaps he wasn’t mad at all but suffering from bouts of depression. I like to believe that Linnie did watch over him through the years as she promised, and it was heart-warming to see a kinder, gentler, happier George in The Viscount and the Vixen.

The story is so emotionally moving and, even now, thinking about certain scenes brings tears to my eyes. I think it is a testament to Ms. Heath’s writing that she can evoke such strong feelings.

I love how she made me believe in an everlasting love that transcends even death and gave me a Happy Ever After which, although unconventional, left me with a tearful smile on my face.

Note:  I do recommend that you read The Viscount and the Vixen before reading his novella.

MY VERDICT: Such a beautiful, emotional story that will tug at your heartstrings.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Hellions of Havisham series (click on the book covers for more 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 The Viscount and the Vixen (Hellions of Havisham, #3) by Lorraine Heath When the Marquess Falls (Hellions of Havisham, #3.5) by Lorraine Heath

 

 

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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.

 

♥♥♥♥♥

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. 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):

 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 Noble Satyr (Roxton Series #1) by Lucinda BrantProud 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…

♥♥♥♥♥♥

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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