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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.

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

♥♥♥♥♥♥

I recently read a review of a Lucinda Brant novel which said that reading her books is like eating chocolates…you just can’t stop at one. That’s it in a nutshell for me because I love every book she has ever written and wait with eager anticipation for a new addition to her list, in this case PROUD MARY, book five in her acclaimed and addictive Roxton Family Saga.

Ms. Brant’s holistic approach is quite unique. Her books are wonderfully romantic but her stories are also very family orientated, a style which really appeals to me, and which I feel reflects life. Once that first flush of all-consuming, instalust/romantic love has waned then there must be something solid to build a life and family upon, and I like how she reflects that in this series. I’m also a sucker for a good epilogue and, with such a long, continuing saga, we have been privy to an epic one! With the Roxton family, Lucinda Brant has created a wonderfully complex Georgian aristocratic family whose story develops over a period of more than thirty years. The love and support they feel for each other is evident in every book throughout the series. Her remarkable talent for creating living, breathing people, who we remember vividly and with great affection, is where I feel Ms. Brant excels over so many others writing in this genre. I can think of only one other favourite author who has achieved this in an ongoing saga, with characters I adore and remember vividly.

Each book could be read and enjoyed individually but, quite honestly, I wouldn’t recommend it. This series is such a feast and so much of the pleasure of reading it comes from following her fascinating characters – experiencing their mistakes, loves, their growing families and their progress and maturing in later life. I also admire her skill in making her readers feel as though we are all members of the intriguing and loveable Roxton family.

In Proud Mary, it is the turn of the utterly gorgeous, Squire Christopher Bryce and Lady Mary Cavendish to find love and happiness within the Roxton clan. Having originally met eight years earlier, it was love-at-first-sight for Christopher but an over-bearing, unloving mother who had denigrated and bullied her all her life, a father who deserted her and marriage to the odious, sycophantic and obsequious, Sir Gerald Cavendish, have left Mary with a sad case of lack-of-self-esteem. It’s therefore difficult for her to believe that a man such as Christopher could find her attractive. Although secretly very attracted to him – who wouldn’t be? – she would never have considered showing it. So, the two have just worshipped each other from afar for eight years, even after Mary is widowed. The three components for love and a life together – the right person, the right place, the right time -were not initially aligned, but with the sudden appearance of a mysterious ‘ghost’ comes the catalyst for that alignment and the flame of Christopher’s and Mary’s secret love is finally ignited and is all the better for the waiting.

Ms. Brant is known for her subtlety in her ‘bedroom scenes’ but, in Proud Mary, she allows us a little more than a glimpse of the beautifully sensual connection between two people who deserve to find love. However, the course of true love seems unlikely to run smoothly because, although Christopher is a wealthy and innovative businessman and the much-respected local Squire, albeit with a few shocking secrets yet to be revealed, he is also Mary’s social inferior, as she is the daughter of an earl and the cousin of a duke. In addition, under Sir Gerald’s will, Christopher has been appointed to the lowly position of steward of the estate and lands held in trust for Sir Gerald’s underage heir, Jack Cavendish. He spends a couple of days per fortnight at the estate, which has been almost bankrupted by Sir Gerald’s excesses. Mary and her ten-year-old daughter, Teddy (Theodora) live on the estate under strict economies as Christopher works to increase and repair its fortunes. For spiteful reasons, Sir Gerald has also stipulated that Teddy becomes his steward’s ward, in effect denying Lady Mary any real control over her daughter, and he has also decreed that Teddy may not visit her Roxton relatives. This, however, has made little difference in Teddy’s world as she adores her ‘Uncle Bryce’ and likes to be nowhere better than in her corner of the Cotswolds and preferably with him.

Enter Antonia, arriving like a whirlwind as usual and making her presence known. She is the common thread that runs throughout the Roxton series and I just adore her character. In the first book of the series, Noble Satyr, Antonia is an intelligent but precocious seventeen-year-old, setting her cap at the dissolute Duke of Roxton, twenty years her senior, and her success in that quest is apparent in the ensuing books in the series. Over a period of thirty years, she has loved, lost, suffered and loved again and is still an incredibly beautiful, vivacious, fifty-year-old who is beloved by all and who loves fiercely in return. At some point in the series, pretty much every family member has sought her wise council and, as she puts her mind to resolving Mary and Christopher’s conundrum, we see her in all her splendid glory.

I do marvel at Ms. Brant’s clever and devious mind, because an apparently throwaway remark made a few books earlier in the series will suddenly take on great significance. I’ve had more than one light bulb moment when a character I vaguely remember suddenly becomes important. Christopher’s Aunt Kate is one such character and, if I hadn’t read the previous books, her significance would have been lost to me. I have wondered on more than one occasion how the author keeps everything straight in her mind – the intricate plotting and the intertwining lives of her characters. I think this is one reason why re-reading (or re-listening with the talented Alex Wyndham) her books is even more enjoyable because there is always something I’ve missed. Her books are great ‘keepers’ and much loved additions to my book shelves.

I must mention darling little Teddy, Lady Mary’s daughter, one of the stars of Proud Mary. She is such a beautifully developed and compelling little character who steals the show on more than one occasion. She has been encouraged by her mother and her beloved ‘Uncle Bryce’ to be a free spirit. She is never happier than when climbing trees or roaming the glorious Cotswolds hills and dales with Christopher’s dog, and Ms. Brant’s earlier career as a teacher in a girls’ school is very apparent in the intuitive way she brings Teddy’s character to life. There are some amusing moments when, in the way of a child who has heard or seen something they aren’t meant to, she unwittingly drops her guilelessly stored ‘bomb’ into a conversation with adults, causing havoc and often throwing those around her into uproar or helpless laughter while naively tucking into her dinner, completely unaware of the impact her innocent comments have made.

Lucinda Brant’s research is phenomenal, with nothing left to guess work, even down to the Blue Coat school Christopher attended as a boy which is only briefly mentioned but which Ms. Brant has researched extensively. I live in the Cotswolds where this story is set and now look at it with new eyes after reading Proud Mary. Perhaps I previously took it all for granted, but I can certainly confirm that Ms. Brant has perfectly captured the beauty and essence of this gorgeous area of the British Isles. As always, the sumptuous fashions and furnishings of the Georgian period are described in exquisite detail, bringing the opulence of this captivating period in British history to sparkling life. Ms. Brant’s Pinterest Boards contain all her research and they are works of art in themselves.

MY VERDICT: I shall be very sad when Lucinda Brant brings this series to a close and I know that time is looming. But I reassure myself with the fact that it’s all on my kindle, book shelves and audio library to reach for whenever I need a-love-and-fuzzy-feeling fix! I am so looking forward to SATYR’S SON which is a very apt title to bring this superb series full circle. 


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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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…

♥♥♥♥♥♥

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.

 

♥♥♥♥♥♥

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.

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.

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

♥♥♥♥♥♥

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):

 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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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…

♥♥♥♥♥♥

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?

♥♥♥♥♥♥

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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