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My Once and Future Duke.jpg

(The Wagers of Sin, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance  (Regency 1807 & !819)

Book Blurb (Amazon):

What happens at the infamous Vega Club…

Sophie Campbell is determined to be mistress of her own fate. Surviving on her skill at cards, she never risks what she can’t afford to lose. Yet when the Duke of Ware proposes a scandalous wager that’s too extravagant to refuse, she can’t resist. If she wins, she’ll get five thousand pounds, enough to secure her independence forever.

Stays at the Vega Club…

Jack Lindeville, Duke of Ware, tells himself he’s at the Vega Club merely to save his reckless brother from losing everything, but he knows it’s a lie. He can’t keep his eyes off Sophie, and to get her he breaks his ironclad rule against gambling. If he wins, he wants her—for a week.

Until now.

A week with Jack could ruin what’s left of Sophie’s reputation. It might even cost her, her heart. But when it comes to love, all bets are off . . .

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Recently, I have been thinking about the authors whose books first encouraged my love of Historical Romance. Regrettably some of these authors, such as Caroline Linden, seem to have fallen by the wayside as new authors came along to capture my interest. MY ONCE AND FUTURE DUKE, the first book in her new The Wagers of Sin series, provided the perfect opportunity to rediscover this talented author.

Orphaned at the age of twelve, when both her beloved parents died of consumption, Sophie Graham was left under the guardianship of her grandfather, Viscount Makepeace. Having disowned Sophie’s father when he ran off and married a French opera singer, Makepeace wanted nothing to do with his granddaughter, a sentiment Sophie fully reciprocated. Anxious to be rid of his unwanted burden, her grandfather enrolled Sophie in Miss Upton’s Academy For Young Ladies, agreeing to pay her tuition fees until her eighteenth birthday – then she would be on her own.

I loved Sophie’s courage and resilience in the face of such life changing events. She does not wallow in self-pity and knows that the only person she can rely on is herself. She could have accepted a position at the academy teaching mathematics but I admired her determination to pursue her Grand Plan in the wider world and to forge a better life for herself.

It was a simple plan, really. Once she had secured her independence, she would be mistress of her own fate and able to chart her own course.

A legacy from her late employer and a small amount of personal savings enable Sophie to travel to London, posing as the widowed Sophie Campbell. Having learned several card games from her father and dicing from the stable boys at the academy, gambling is the one skill Sophie can use to gain the necessary funds to achieve her ultimate goal of marrying a respectable gentleman who could give her the security and family she longs for.

…everything had been proceeding according to that plan . . . until Jack.

At the age of twenty-four, Jack Lindeville’s carefree lifestyle ended abruptly when his father, the Duke of Ware, died after a boating accident. Jack was neither ready nor prepared to assume the heavy burden of responsibilities that came with the dukedom. During the past seven years, Jack has devoted his life to fulfilling his duties, earning him a reputation for being dour and aloof.

I had a lot of sympathy for Jack who, as a young man, had expected to have many more years of freedom before being weighed down with ducal responsibilities, which also included looking after the widow and daughter of his father’s best friend, who had also died in the accident. I hated his mother who constantly showed a preference for her younger son, Philip, making excuses for his excesses while constantly drumming into Jack the need be above reproach in all things, and even resorting to emotional blackmail if he did not do as she wished.

Jack has worked too hard over the years to continue settling his brother’s gambling debts. He has agreed to pay Philip’s latest debt on the condition that he refrains from gambling for a month, and learns to moderate his gambling. However, whilst at the Vega Club to settle said debt, Jack is furious to see his brother there, but his attention is captured by the woman in crimson with whom Philip is gambling. He has not had such a powerful reaction to a woman in years and it leads to him doing something he vowed he would never do — gamble.

Worst of all, he was breaking his own vow to avoid gambling—at hazard, the game designed to beggar a man as speedily as possible. But there was something about this woman that provoked and entranced him beyond all reason.

Ms. Linden writes a tender and sensual romance and I enjoyed the time Jack and Sophie spend alone together at Alwyn House. Although it is only a few days, their relationship blossoms in a natural way that never seems rushed. Alwyn House has always been Jack’s retreat from his relentless duties – a place where he can relax and be himself. I could feel Sophie’s attitude towards Jack softening as they spend time together and she discovers that, beneath that cold, haughty exterior, Jack is a charming, warm-hearted man with a dry sense of humour and a willingness to laugh at himself.

…when he smiled and let down his guard. That flicker of humor and humanity turned him from a cold, haughty duke into an irresistibly attractive man.

Sophie is clever and funny and nothing like the scheming charlatan he had thought her to be. She is clever and funny and the first woman who has ever made him feel like a man, not simply a duke.

As the days pass, it is obvious they have both fallen hopelessly in love and can no longer deny their desire for each other.

His expression was fierce, his eyes burning. “I want to make love to you, Sophie, so badly I can hardly bear it.”
His heart was hammering; she could feel it beneath her palms. Her blood was running just as hot, and she looked him right in the eyes and said, “Yes. Yes.”

But their idyll has to come to an end and, although I knew that their happy ending was never in doubt, there were enough impediments to overcome to keep me turning the pages. My only complaint is the unnecessary drama towards the end and Sophie’s reaction which seems out of character, but this is only minor point and didn’t spoil my overall enjoyment of the story.

I was touched by the scene in the attics at Alwyn House where Sophie is surrounded by decades of Jack’s family history, something she had never had in her own life but secretly craves. So I was delighted when she discovers that she does have a genuinely kind relative who is keen to get to know her.

I liked Miss Eliza Cross and Lady Georgiana Lucas, Sophie’s best friends and future heroines. I was also intrigued by Nicholas Dashwood, the enigmatic owner of the Vega Club, and I’m hoping he might get his own book one day.

The Epilogue is not only charming but also provides a teaser for An Earl Like You (Eliza’s story), the second book in the series.

MY VERDICT: I’m so glad to have rediscovered Ms. Linden’s books and I can definitely recommend MY ONCE AND FUTURE DUKE.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

 The Wagers of Sin series (click on the book covers for more details):

My Once and Future Duke (The Wagers of Sin, #1) by Caroline Linden An Earl Like You (The Wagers of Sin, #2) by Caroline Linden When the Marquess Was Mine (The Wagers of Sin, #3) by Caroline Linden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Guilty Pleasures.jpg

(Guilty #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Late Regency – 1830)

Book Blurb (Amazon):

One of Daphne Wade’s guilty pleasures is to watch the Duke of Tremore as he works, shirtless, on the excavation site of his ducal estate. Anthony Courtland is by far the most exciting and handsome man she has ever known, and she dreams of one day being able to speak with him without getting tongue tied.

Anthony, meanwhile, only sees Daphne as a hard worker on his excavation team. He considers her a plain young lady and says so in a careless remark to a friend, unaware that Daphne is outside the library door, her heart shattering to pieces. So Daphne decides she will not be so silly any longer. She begins to be tutored in the social graces, forcing Anthony to see the beauty who has been right in front of his eyes.

Kindle Publication: 8th July 2008 

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This book had the honour of being the recipient of the Romantic Times Award for Best European Historical Romance of 2004. It was also the first book I read by Laura Lee Guhrke and it established her as a firm favourite of mine and, over the years, I have read and loved many of her books.

I adore Daphne because it is easier to relate to someone who is plain, wears spectacles and, by the standards of the time, is firmly on the shelf at the age of twenty-four. She had an unconventional upbringing, having lived and worked abroad all her life assisting her father Sir Henry Wade, one of the foremost Roman antiquarians in the world, on his excavations. After her father dies suddenly, she is left all alone, unwanted by her mother’s family in England, and virtually penniless. Her decision to travel to England and take her father’s place shows real courage and I also love her response when Anthony questions her suitability for the position.

“I am the daughter of Sir Henry Wade, and he was the best. I was trained by him, and now that he is gone, there is no one more qualified for this post than I. “

Anthony is arrogant inconsiderate, selfish and, in typical ducal fashion, expects to be obeyed without question, and whenever he wants anything particularly difficult or unreasonable done, he can be persuasively charming. His cynical attitude to love and marriage does not sit well with his sister, Viola, but Anthony is adamant that he intends to marry someone who will make no emotional demands on him

I did admire him for the sympathetic way he treats his estate workers who are unable to pay their rent, and for his determination that the museum should be for everyone, not just the wealthy.

It wasn’t hard to believe that a quiet, shy young woman like Daphne, who had spent all her life around excavations, without any social interactions, would develop an infatuation for someone like Anthony. I really felt her heartbreak when she hears his derogatory comments, but I admired the way she refuses to wallow in self-pity. She has always tried to please other people, first her father and then Anthony, but now she is determined to decide her own future and enjoy life, with encouragement from Anthony’s sister, Viola, who has offered to introduce Daphne into society.

Expecting everyone to cow-tow to his every command, I enjoyed seeing Anthony’s outraged reaction when Daphne tells him she is resigning and his usual coolness and self-possession totally deserts him. And I love the way she stands up to him and is not afraid to speak her mind.

“You may be a duke, but you are not the sun around which the world revolves. In fact, you are quite the opposite, for you are the most selfish man I have I have ever known.”

Now Anthony must find a way to persuade Daphne to stay long enough to finish his project. It was fun watching the various bargains Anthony contrives to gain extra time from Daphne – verbal duels, midnight dances, kisses – and the camaraderie that develops between them as they dance, flirt and laugh together seems so believable. Their witty repartee was enjoyable too.

“Contrary to certain reports, I have been known to be kind on occasion.” Laugh lines appeared at the corners of his eyes, though he did not smile. “But I confess I am not being kind just now.”
“Yes, I know, and it is not going to work.”
He tried to look innocent. “What is not going to work?”
“This blatant attempt to trick me into staying with charm and—and other such tactics.”
“I know you are far too intelligent to be fooled by charm or trickery, Miss Wade. Can we not just say I am using the only weapon I have?”
“”Persuasion?”
“Temptation. If I can tempt you with the fruits of my garden of Eden, you might stay.”

I applaud Ms. Guhrke for not transforming Daphne into some ravishing beauty. She remains the same person she always was, but Anthony begins to see the real Daphne beneath the drab clothes, tight bun and spectacles  – a woman who is intelligent, funny, tender-hearted and passionate.

It is clear that the circumstances surrounding Anthony’s father’s death and having to shoulder the burden of ducal duties at such a tender age have had a profound effect on him, and have clearly shaped him into the man he has become. Having seen first-hand the tragic consequences of love, he has always been master of his emotions, never letting his heart rule his head until Daphne comes into his life. I love how he uses the language of flowers to court her, his determination not to give up and how he finally opens up his heart to Daphne.

There is such a charmimg ending which left me with a lovely warm glow.

“What does a duchess do, exactly?”
He took a step toward her. “Love the duke. Love him with all the passion she hides within her, love him each and every day of her life.”

MY VERDICT:  I still love this book as much as I did the first time of reading it. A delightful, entertaining and romantic love story which I can highly recommend.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

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

Guilty Pleasures (Guilty, #1) by Laura Lee Guhrke His Every Kiss (Guilty, #2) by Laura Lee Guhrke The Marriage Bed (Guilty, #3) by Laura Lee Guhrke She's No Princess (Guilty, #4) by Laura Lee Guhrke

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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beyond scandal and desire

(Sins for All Seasons, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian – London 1840 and 1871)

Book Blurb:

At birth, Mick Trewlove, the illegitimate son of a duke, was handed over to a commoner. Despite his lowly upbringing, Mick has become a successful businessman, but all his wealth hasn’t satisfied his need for revenge against the man who still won’t acknowledge him. What else can Mick do but destroy the duke’s legitimate son—and woo the heir’s betrothed into his own unloving arms . . .

Orphaned and sheltered, Lady Aslyn Hastings longs for a bit of adventure. With her intended often preoccupied, Aslyn finds herself drawn to a darkly handsome entrepreneur who seems to understand her so well. Surely a lady of her station should avoid Mick Trewlove. If only he weren’t so irresistible . . .

As secrets are about to be exposed, Mick must decide if his plan for vengeance is worth risking what his heart truly desires.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This is the first book in Lorraine Heath’s new Sins for All Seasons series and she weaves an emotional, captivating and sensual love story with a totally unexpected twist at the end.

There’d never been anything gentle in his life. Everything he’d experienced had been hard, harsh and challenging.

Raised in poverty in the Rookeries, Mick had clawed his way up to become wealthy, successful, self-assured and powerful. He is stubbornly obsessed with wreaking revenge on his father, the Duke of Hedley, for his refusal to acknowledge Mick as his illegitimate son; a father who tossed him away like a piece of garbage. Mick has no qualms about ruthlessly using his father’s legitimate son, the Earl of Kipwick, and his ward, Lady Aslyn Hastings, in his revengeful plans.

As first, Mick seems hard and ruthless but I soon saw a very different side to him. He cares deeply for his family and knows that he owes his ‘mother’, Ettie Trewlove, a debt he can never repay and does everything he can to make her life comfortable. They may not be related by blood, but he loves all his siblings and would die for each of his brothers without hesitation. He is protective towards his sisters but also willing to fulfil their wishes, whether it be shopping for a parasol for one sister or buying a tavern for the other. I admire his genuine altruistic desire to improve the lives of those in the poorest areas of London by providing homes, and shops that will provide jobs.

Aslyn has been the Duke of Hedley’s ward since her parents died in a railway accident when she was a girl. Beautiful and dignified, she has led a confined and sheltered life, always being the perfect lady, only too aware that her life has been planned out for her as Kip’s wife and a future duchess. But, deep down, she longs for independence and excitement.

Aslyn longed for more: the independence afforded those who weren’t expected to make a suitable match, the carefree moments enjoyed by those not shackled by duty, the excitement offered within the shadows of the night.

I love how Ms, Heath really takes the time to develop the relationship between Mick and Aslyn. The initial meetings engineered by Mick and their secret assignations allow them to talk and get to know each other in a way that feels real and natural. I could see how they compliment each other and felt that they are truly meant to be together.

I enjoyed seeing Mick’s plans begin to unravel as the seducer becomes the seduced…

His purpose was to draw her in while keeping himself at a distance. Instead, she’d managed to entice him into a maelstrom of emotions and sensations, needs and desires, that were foreign to him.

I love his protectiveness, his kindness and the fact that he actually talks to Aslyn and encourages her to be herself. He finds himself longing for her smiles, her laughter, the lilt of her voice and just enjoying being with her. One of the most poignant moments is when he says…

“Never in my life have I longed to be legitimate more so than I do at this very moment.”

Aslyn has never met a man like Mick. He instils in her a desire to break free of the pampered and stifling existence she has led and makes her aware of herself as a woman with needs that go beyond the strict rules of society.

What was it about the man that had such wicked thoughts bursting forth as though they were perfectly normal?

Her feelings for Mick also make her question her relationship with Kip and their suitability, because he has never made her feel alive as she does when she’s with Mick. I love how she never looks down on Mick or his family and regards him as extraordinary for having achieved such success, despite the stigma of his birth. I really respect Aslyn for her courage, determination, compassion and her willingness to stand up for injustice.

I knew that their idyll could not last because Aslyn would eventually learn of Mick’s scheme, and when she does I could feel her anger, her sense of betrayal and her heartbreak, knowing that he would seek to destroy those she loved. When the mystery surrounding Mick’s birth is finally revealed, the twist is one I never expected. I can’t say more other than it is truly heartbreaking and it changes everything that Mick believed to be true. But his actions reveal what an honourable and compassionate man he is, even though it means giving up the woman he loves. When all seems lost, it is Aslyn who finds a solution and ensures their Happy Ever After.

All his life he’d been searching for acceptance, and here it was in the form of a woman with a tilted-up nose and crooked smile.

I like how Ms. Heath highlighted the practice of baby farming in the late Victorian era, a practice that often meant death for the unfortunate illegitimate or unwanted babies handed over to such women.

We meet Mick’s intriguing siblings, each with their own stories to tell in future books, and I was delighted to see Dr. Graves (the hero of The Last Wicked Scoundrel, the final book in Ms, Heath’s Scoundrels of St. James series) in a cameo appearance. There is also a heart-warming Epilogue which left me with a smile on my face.

MY VERDICT: An excellent start to her new series and Ms. Heath delivers everything I look for in historical romance. Highly recommended.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Sins for All Seasons series so far (click on the book covers for more details):

Beyond Scandal and Desire (Sins for All Seasons, #1) by Lorraine Heath When a Duke Loves a Woman (Sins for All Seasons, #2) by Lorraine Heath The Scoundrel in Her Bed (Sins for All Seasons, #3) by Lorraine Heath – 26 February 2019

 

 

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confessions of an arranged marriage

(The Burgundy Club, #4)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1822)

Book Blurb (Goodreads):

They couldn’t be more different—but there’s one thing they agree on…

In London after a two-year exile, Lord Blakeney plans to cut a swathe through the bedchambers of the demimonde. Marriage is not on his agenda, especially to an annoying chit like Minerva Montrose, with her superior attitude and a tendency to get into trouble. And certainly the last man Minerva wants is Blake, a careless wastrel without a thought in his handsome head.

The heat and noise of her debutante ball give Minerva a migraine. Surely a moment’s rest could do no harm… until Blake mistakes her for another lady, leaving Minerva’s guests to catch them in a very compromising position. To her horror, the scandal will force them to do the unthinkable: marry. Their mutual loathing blazes into unexpected passion but Blake remains distant, desperate to hide a shameful secret. Minerva’s never been a woman to take things lying down, and she’ll let nothing stop her from winning his trust . . . and his heart.

Kindle publication: 27th March 2012

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Do you know the feeling when you read a book and love it and think of it fondly, then go back to re-read it, perhaps years later, and discover it really wasn’t that good? I was afraid I’d feel that way about Confessions from an Arranged Marriage by the late Miranda Neville. I’ve read many books by other authors since first reading it – my first by this author – and have become far more discerning in my reading habits since then. There are many books I’ve rated highly which would not now earn the rating I originally awarded them. However, I’m pleased to say that I wasn’t disappointed, in fact, having read Confessions from an Arranged Marriage with my far more critical eye and expecting to be disappointed, I still loved it. I’ve read reviews on Goodreads which are mediocre to say the least, but I stand by my original, and now latest opinion, that this is a damn good read.

I originally downloaded it not knowing anything about the author or her work, only that the title appealed and it was a Kindle offer, so what could I lose? I have to say at this point, that had it been on a book shelf I would not have picked it up, because the cover is just dreadful. It doesn’t have any bearing on the story and is in no way period appropriate, so maybe an example of don’t judge a book by its cover.

I was pleased to learn that Miranda Neville was British born and bred and had originally been a journalist and editor. In my opinion, her earlier occupation showed in her intelligent writing style and correct use of the English language; there are no Americanisms or modernisms which are pet hates of mine when a story is set in historical England. This is not to say –  I hasten to add – that I consider only British authors to be intelligent as I have many favourites of all nationalities. One of my favourite books of all time was written by American author Anya Seton, and her exceptionally researched Historical Fiction/Romance novel about the true story of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, set in medieval England, has been my go-to comfort read for many years. I didn’t discover that Miranda Neville was English until after I had read Confessions from an Arranged Marriage, but it answered a lot of questions for me as to why I didn’t have one single criticism apropos of my previously mentioned pet-hates. Miranda Neville has quite obviously written a story about a subject and place she knew and in a language she knew. She emigrated to America and was extremely popular with her fans, here in the UK and in the USA.

I joined the series half way through so it can obviously be read as a standalone since I had no problem following the storyline. In fact, I’m glad I read the series in the order I did because I may well have been deterred from reading Confessions from an Arranged Marriage by the hero, the Marquis of Blakeney (aka Blake), who isn’t shown as a particularly likeable character in the preceding books in the series.

I’m not going into the story too deeply because there’s a lot happening. Suffice to say that there is an extremely attractive and intelligent young heroine, Minerva, who has a rather high opinion of herself and her intellect. She aspires to become a political hostess and sees herself as ‘the power behind the throne’ of who knows? Maybe even the Prime Minister one day, with her help from behind the scenes, of course, and a politically motivated husband who will listen to her own, quite radical views on the voting systems and rights of the common people – even women – although she knows that this is a step too far for the times.

Instead, Minerva’s aspirations are dashed (or so she believes) when she is caught in a compromising situation with her nemesis Blake, heir to a dukedom. He’s absolutely gorgeous to look at and a formidable sportsman, but apparently as dim as Miranda is brilliant. She is by no means the perfect wife for him as far as his family is concerned, but as she is their neighbour and was compromised in their home by their drunken son, and they are the very epitome of the adjective honourable, she knows she has no choice but to marry Blake, a man she has always detested. And he’s stuck with a girl ten years his junior who makes him feel even more stupid than he already secretly feels.

This is such a mixture of a story; there are moments of such heart-breaking sadness which touched me deeply, but Miranda Neville was extremely witty and, as well as being terribly saddened by Blake’s predicament, there were also moments of such hilarity that I literally laughed out loud. Blake insists on calling Minerva, Minnie – quite obviously this budding, political hostess is not impressed by the immature nom de plume. As the story progresses and Minerva tries to make the best of a bad job, she begins to see the vulnerability behind the man she has married and protests less and less; at one point even missing it when something happens to stop his use of the nickname. I was also very touched by Blake’s determination to earn ‘Minnie’s’ respect.

It would be quite easy to dislike Minerva, and indeed that’s exactly what some reviewers have said, but I liked her once I’d got to the bottom of her character. I particularly like how she begins to see beyond Blake’s brittle and supposedly couldn’t-care-less, outer shell. She starts to fall for the man he really is – rather loveable actually, and one who is covering up a massive lack of inner self-esteem with an outer show of bravado. Miranda Neville grows their relationship from enemies-to-friends-to-lovers using a credible series of events which unfold as the story progresses. Blake’s dark secret has led to him being victimised and blackmailed for a large part of his life and, as his clever wife begins to follow the clues and consequently unravels her man, I felt more and more invested in their growing romance and loved how Minerva becomes as fierce as a lioness in her protectiveness towards him.

Miranda Neville has set her story in the political arena of the time, taking a subject which could bore the hell out of the reader but which instead had me fascinated by ‘rotten boroughs’ and what it all meant.  There is a point at which Minerva finds herself out of her depth and not quite as clever as she believed herself to be. She is obliged to throw herself on Blake’s mercy and he in turn, rather than enjoying her discomfort, charges in rescuing her like a knight in shining armour. Quite, quite heart-warming. His piece de resistance where he shows, perhaps not his political acumen (as his words are Minerva’s), but his integrity and mettle as a man, with not only the power of the dukedom behind him, but the support of his (by now) beloved ‘Minnie’, is just bone melting; in fact, their developing love story is believable and endearing and Miranda Neville has taken two opposites and shown that it is not only possible for there to be love under these circumstances but also that two people may love and compliment each other as long as they have a common goal.

One last point which I particularly liked and which rarely crops up in Historical Romance. The ‘wedding night’ was not a great success and Minerva wasn’t impressed with ‘the act’ and the way the experience is described is plausible. Of course, matters improve and there are, eventually, explicit scenes. Minerva is not one to do anything by halves, but I did not find this aspect cringeworthy; in fact, I liked that she grew to welcome Blake’s embraces, eventually even seducing him – much to his surprise and pleasure.

MY VERDICT:
This is a lovely story – sad, surprising, witty, funny, romantic and intelligently and sensitively written. I’m happy to say that I was not wrong, and Confessions from an Arranged Marriage will remain a favourite of mine. The author doesn’t attempt to magically sort out the underlying problem but instead finds ways of working around it. I had the great pleasure of meeting Miranda Neville on one of her visits home to the UK; we discussed this book and she was pleased to know how much I had loved it. I’m even more pleased that we met and had this discussion given that we lost this lovely lady to cancer in 2018. I count myself privileged to have met her and am saddened that she was taken from her family, friends and readers before her time.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

RSENSUALITY RATING: HOT

 

The Burgundy Club series (for further details click on the book covers):

The Wild Marquis (The Burgundy Club, #1) by Miranda Neville The Dangerous Viscount (The Burgundy Club, #2) by Miranda Neville The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton (The Burgundy Club, #3) by Miranda Neville Confessions from an Arranged Marriage (The Burgundy Club, #4) by Miranda Neville

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Eleven Scandals

(Love by Numbers, #3)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1823)

Cover Blurb:

She lives for passion.

Bold, impulsive, and a magnet for trouble, Juliana Fiori is no simpering English miss. She refuses to play by society’s rules: she speaks her mind, cares nothing for the approval of the ton, and can throw a punch with remarkable accuracy. Her scandalous nature makes her a favorite subject of London’s most practiced gossips . . . and precisely the kind of woman The Duke of Leighton wants far, far away from him.

He swears by reputation.

Scandal is the last thing Simon Pearson has room for in his well-ordered world. The Duke of Disdain is too focused on keeping his title untainted and his secrets unknown. But when he discovers Juliana hiding in his carriage late one evening—risking everything he holds dear—he swears to teach the reckless beauty a lesson in propriety. She has other plans, however; she wants two weeks to prove that even an unflappable duke is not above passion.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

After being slightly disappointed by Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord, I really loved this final book in the Love by Numbers series. The ‘opposites attract’ storyline is one of my favourites and Sarah MacLean pulls it off brilliantly by pairing the fiery Juliana with the oh-so-proper Duke of Leighton.

This is Simon Pearson, the 11th Duke of Leighton, and, like his forebears before him, he has led an exemplary life – his reputation untarnished. Cold, arrogant and domineering, his aloofness and contempt for those he considers beneath him has earned him the title, Duke of Disdain.

Duke of Leighton

This is Juliana Fiori, the daughter of an Italian merchant and a disgraced English marchioness. Beautiful, bold, unconventional and passionate, Juliana refuses to bow to the dictates of London society. Both her exploits and her scandalous family have become fodder for the gossipmongers.

Juliana

I must admit that after reading Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord, it was hard to like the unfeeling, haughty Duke of Leighton, but gradually I came to understand why he believed that honour and duty came before anything else. All the previous ten generations of dukes had been raised with one rule – ‘Let nothing besmirch the name’ – and he saw it as his duty to live an unblemished life. Being raised by a cold, unloving mother had only further reinforced these beliefs and shaped him into the man he had become.

And there it was, in the cool, unmoving tenor of his mother’s words. Get it done. The demand . . . the expectation that a man like Simon would do whatever it took to ensure the safety and honor of his name.

It made Simon a far more sympathetic character and one I was rooting for.

I could see the vulnerability that lurks beneath Juliana’s boldness. While she gives the impression that she cares nothing for society’s censure, secretly she longs to be accepted. My heart went out to her because, no matter how hard she tries, she can never escape the legacy of her mother’s scandal and society’s expectations that Juliana is destined to be just like her.

Your mother’s daughter. The words were a blow she could never escape. No matter how hard she tried.

With a family scandal involving his younger sister Georgiana looming, Simon decides that marriage to a lady of impeccable character will overshadow the scandal.  But Juliana has turned Simon’s orderly world upside down and, although he knows she is totally unsuitable, he can’t seem to resist her. While I enjoyed the sizzling chemistry between Simon and Juliana, I also enjoyed seeing them discover the real person behind the facade that they each present to society. Simon sees that Juliana is not only mesmerisingly beautiful but also charming, intelligent, quick-witted and committed to those she loves. He also realises that she is as much a victim of circumstances as he is. Juliana discovers that, lurking beneath that the arrogant, oh-so-proper Simon is a charming, teasing, passionate man. Even though I was often frustrated by his misguided determination to resist the inevitable, I enjoyed watching Simon finally come to realise what he truly wants.

…you taught me that everything I believed, everything I thought I wanted, everything I had spent my life espousing—all of it . . . it is wrong. I want your version of life . . . vivid and emotional and messy and wonderful and filled with happiness.

It was heart-warming to see how determined Simon is to love, protect and support his niece so that she would never have to experience the same pain that Juliana had. He also realises how much he had failed his sister when she needed him the most.

I did enjoy Juliana’s amusing habit of using the wrong words:

“He called me a pie!” she announced, defensively.
There was a pause. “Wait. That’s not right.”
“A tart?”
“Yes! That’s it!”

♥♥♥

 “I am not an invalid, Simon, I still have use of all my extremes.”
“You do indeed—particularly your extreme ability to try my patience—I believe, however, that you mean extremities.”

Gabriel and Nick St. John and their respective wives, Callie and Isabel, characters from the previous books, are on hand to help or, in some cases, hinder Juliana and Simon’s journey to their Happy Ever After. I particularly enjoyed the rather volatile scenes between Simon and Gabriel!

MY VERDICT: This was a perfect end to an excellent series which I can definitely recommend.

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

Love by Numbers series (click on the book covers for more details):

9 Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean Ten Ways to be Adored When Landing a Lord (Love by Numbers) by Sarah MacLean Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart (Love By Numbers, #3) by Sarah MacLean 

(UK covers)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Holiday by Gaslight

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian, 1861)

Book Blurb:

A Courtship of Convenience

Sophie Appersett is quite willing to marry outside of her class to ensure the survival of her family. But the darkly handsome Mr. Edward Sharpe is no run-of-the-mill London merchant. He’s grim and silent. A man of little emotion—or perhaps no emotion at all. After two months of courtship, she’s ready to put an end to things.

A Last Chance for Love

But severing ties with her taciturn suitor isn’t as straightforward as Sophie envisioned. Her parents are outraged. And then there’s Charles Darwin, Prince Albert, and that dratted gaslight. What’s a girl to do except invite Mr. Sharpe to Appersett House for Christmas and give him one last chance to win her? Only this time there’ll be no false formality. This time they’ll get to know each other for who they really are.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This was such a charming, heart-warming romance – just the perfect start to my Christmas reading. 

Sir William Appersett is virtually bankrupt, having squandered most of the family fortune, together with his eldest daughter Sophie’s dowry, on modernisations to Appersett House. With no male heir, he regards the house as his only enduring legacy. Now he and his wife have brought Sophie and her younger sister, Emily, to London in the hope of finding them wealthy husbands.

Edward (Ned) Sharpe, a draper’s son, is a highly successful and wealthy factory owner. For the past twelve months, he has been considering marriage, but it is only when he sees Sophie Appersett that he seriously contemplates getting married and approaches her father for permission to court her

He’d wanted her from the first. Had known as soon as he looked at her that she was someone worth having in his life, no matter the cost.

Sir William is more than agreeable to Edward courting his daughter because he fully expects that Edward will provide the necessary funds for the next phase of his modernisations. Sophie is not averse to marrying Edward, hoping that, given time, he would come to care for her or even love her. But, after two months of courtship, she can no longer contemplate spending her life with a man who is so solemn, unemotional and lacking in conversation and calls off the courtship.

He never betrayed his feelings with a look or a word. And when it came to conversation, silence was, by far, his favorite subject.

Being unfamiliar with all the rules governing courtship among the upper classes, Edward had turned for advice to the Gentleman’s Book of Etiquette…not very sound advice as it turns out. It seems he has burnt his bridges as far as Sophie is concerned and is most surprised when the lady in question turns up at his office. Sophie has reconsidered and is willing to continue the courtship…perhaps if they talk openly and really get to know each other, she might find she was wrong about them being ill-suited. So, Sophie invites Edward to spend Christmas at Appersett House in Derbyshire.

Sophie and Ned are such appealing characters and the Christmas festivities provide the perfect setting for their romance to flourish. Ned is a man who rarely shows his emotions but feels things deeply, which is evident in his reactions after Sophie calls off the courtship. I enjoyed seeing him slowly emerge from behind that stern appearance and reveal something of his real self to Sophie; the way he treats his parents with respect and shows kindness to her mother, and even to her spoilt sister, Emily; his patience and attentiveness; how, when he smiles, there was a sparkle in his eyes that made her catch her breath; how he surprises her by teasing and flirting!

”…unless you very strenuously object, I intend to kiss you this Christmas.”
Sophie stared at him, her mouth suddenly dry. It took all of her strength of will to compose herself. To moisten her lips and formulate words more substantial than a breathless squeak. “Under the mistletoe, I presume.”
“Under the mistletoe. Under the gaslight. Under the stars.” Ned bent his head close to hers. “Perhaps all three.”

I admire Sophie for her loyalty to her family, even though her profligate father and spoilt sister hardly deserve it. She has shouldered the responsibility for trying to keep the family from financial ruin and I love how Ned is willing to shoulder this burden for her, while he is in Derbyshire, with no strings attached and the freedom to choose what happens afterwards.

Sophie is intelligent, strong, gracious, warm and kind, qualities that Ned recognises and values, unlike her father, and I love how he views marriage as a partnership where they will be equals.

“A partner,” Sophie repeated. “Is that how you think of me?”
He made a soft sound of assent as he enfolded her back into his embrace. “Not very romantic, is it? But I don’t want you to feel powerless with me. I value your intelligence and your strength. I’d rather you stood at my side than in my shadow.”

This was a time of great change both socially and economically and I like how Ms. Matthews explores the theme of adaptation to change by referencing Darwin’s work, which Sophie and Ned discuss, and in comments Sophie makes to her sister.

“We’re part of the modern age,” Sophie tells her sister. “We must change along with it or be left behind in the dust.”

The author’s love for and knowledge of the Victorian era is perfectly reflected in the historical details, the social commentary, and how she captures the essence of a Victorian Christmas.

MY VERDICT: This is a lovely, entertaining and heart-warming novella and the perfect accompaniment to the festive season.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: KISSES

 

 

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Dair Devil - audio

(Roxton Family Saga, #3)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian – 1777)

Book Blurb:

1770s London and Hampshire.

Alisdair ‘Dair’ Fitzstuart, hero of the American Revolutionary war and heir to an earldom, known by all as a self-centred womanizing rogue. But his dashing and rugged façade hides a vulnerable man with a traumatic past. He will gamble with his life, but never his heart, which remains his own.

Aurora ‘Rory’ Talbot, is a spinster and pineapple fancier who lives on the periphery of Polite Society. An observer but never observed, her fragile beauty hides conviction and a keen intelligence. Ever optimistic, she will not be defined by disability.

One fateful night Dair and Rory collide, and the attraction is immediate, the consequences profound. Both will risk everything for love.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Alisdair (Dair) Fitzstuart’s reputation for refusing to take life seriously and forever being up for a prank or wager has always preceded him. On top of which, he’s pretty gorgeous so there’s quite often a bevy of young ladies swooning over him. For nine years, he served his country in the American Colonies as an army officer with the Dragoons. His neck-or-nothing-lead-from-the-front attitude inspired unquestioning loyalty in his subordinates and his attitude has earned him the moniker of ‘Dair Devil’, but also censure from some members of society.

In Autumn Duchess, the previous book in the Roxton series, he upsets his cousin Julian, Duke of Roxton, by acting the buffoon (or so it seemed) during a boat race in which Roxton’s young son almost drowned. Dair carried on rowing at break neck speed, apparently only intent on crossing the finishing line in first place. However, appearances can be deceptive and in Dair Devil, the fourth in Lucinda Brant’s addictive Roxton series, we get a more accurate insight into Dair’s serious side and the reasons why he behaves the way he does. It’s an eye opener and my views of Dair changed drastically within the first few chapters as, of course, the author intended. The moral of this story could be… don’t always take someone at face value.

Dair Devil begins with Dair inebriated and in outrageous mode. But, little does he know that he is about to meet his destiny, and in the most unlikely of places. He, and one of his two closest friends, have dressed as American Indians, with faces painted, upper bodies bare and lower bodies covered only by skimpy loin cloths. Their mission is to storm the studio of the renowned portrait painter Signore Romney, who is in the process of immortalising a bevy of beautiful, skimpily clad dancers of dubious morals in a Greek allegory for an aristocratic client. Dair is simply play acting; one of his friends is out to impress the prima ballerina by ‘saving’ her from the marauding interlopers and will arrive later brandishing a sword, while the other ‘Red Indian’ wishes to embarrass his detestable brother-in-law. The whole charade has been carefully planned even down to the arrival of the militia at a pre-ordained time. The dancers are in on the joke too and have been primed to scream and run for maximum effect on the arrival of the miscreants. What Dair and his companions are not aware of is that, as he is climbing through a window into the painter’s studio, unexpected visitors are being admitted via the front door. The prank is doomed to go horribly wrong! As the situation escalates out of control, Dair ends up wrapped in draperies and falling down the back of the stage in the arms of one of the unexpected visitors – a rather attractive young woman whose identity he is unaware of, but whom he initially mistakes for one of the dancers.

Aurora (Rory) Talbot, having been born with a club foot, has been sheltered and protected for her twenty-two years by her grandfather, England’s Spy Master General, Lord Shrewsbury. Obviously unable to dance, Rory spends much of her time at balls on the side-lines in the company of the matrons and wallflowers; as a result, her observational and listening skills are highly honed. So, although Major Lord Fitzstuart may not have noticed her, she has most certainly noticed him. Therefore, to find herself in a situation like this one is a dream come true – for in what possible circumstances could she ever have hoped to find herself in such close proximity to Dair? Protected and cosseted she may be, but Rory is no shrinking violet, so takes full advantage of the situation she finds herself in and thoroughly enjoys the closeness and unexpected passionate kiss Dair shares with her.

Dair is captivated by the delicate beauty in his arms; he calls her ‘Delight’, knowing immediately that she is different, although he doesn’t have the time or inclination to wonder why he should think so. The militia arrives and pandemonium ensues with events rapidly escalating out of control. Dair gives Rory one last quick kiss, tells her to go to a certain house where he will later find and make provision for her. He then leaves Rory behind the stage and joins in the ensuing fight with gusto.

Rory does not see Dair again until the following morning, by which time her grandfather has been apprised of the facts, although he is not aware to what extent his granddaughter was involved – only that she was there. Mindful of Rory’s reputation, Shrewsbury orders Dair to ‘forget’ the whole incident. Rory unwittingly interrupts the two in conversation and is bewildered when Dair shows no sign of recognition. For his part, Dair is distressed to learn of Rory’s identity and even more distressed that he must now pretend not to remember her.

Of course, much must be resolved before the would-be lovers can be re-united. Suffice to say that we are not to be disappointed. If Lucinda Brant has a ‘most romantic’ book in this series then Dair Devil has to be high in the running order as rarely have I enjoyed such a heart-warming and chivalrous story. The couple were immediately attracted to one another once they were given the opportunity to meet, albeit under such unorthodox circumstances. But this story is so much more than a romance. Rory is disabled and Dair couldn’t care less about her affliction once he is made aware of it. He sees only her, although there are some who prefer to misinterpret his actions and feelings. Stunningly handsome, heir to an earldom and with a lineage that can be traced back to royalty, Dair is highly eligible husband material. But he has never shown any interest in, nor seemed to want love or marriage until he meets Rory who , although ethereally pretty, is otherwise quite unremarkable – until one actually gets to know her – and I loved that he recognised his soul mate almost immediately.

Dair is a far more complex character than we were initially led to believe; plus he is the product of a broken marriage which has affected him far more deeply than most of his family and peers realise. Rory helps him to see that not all marriages are unhappy. She is the perfect mate for him, wise and non-judgemental, and the unadulterated love of this sweet, intelligent and unaffected young woman finally reveals the man he is beneath the superficial face he prefers to show the world.

However, to begin with, the course of true love does not run smoothly, although the love Dair and Rory feel for each other never wavers. But there are obstacles to overcome which neither could possibly have anticipated. In fact, they never learn the truth, but we, the readers are privy to Antonia’s timely intervention and the secrets she reveals. The scene where this feisty, beautiful, magnificent little duchess sweeps in and dramatically puts one of the most powerful men in the land firmly in his place is simply spectacular and one of my favourite scenes in any book I have read… ever.

Alex Wyndham, as usual, treats us to a superstar performance, and during the scene I’ve just mentioned, it is his consummate acting skills, coupled with Lucinda Brant’s clever mind and artful prose, which kept me completely riveted and on the edge of my seat until I learned the shocking truth. It’s very satisfying to see someone who is arrogantly confident and sure they can’t be bested knocked down to size. The scene is long and troubling, emotions are high and one of the protagonists is an older male with a huskier, sarcastic tone to his voice, which has to be maintained over a long period. The other, an extremely outraged (at times) female with a strong accent. Alex Wyndham has this highly emotional duologue to perform and I can honestly say that, so lost was I in his magnificent performance, that I was no longer listening to an audio book but enjoying a play… or even witnessing the interaction taking place. Take a bow Ms. Brant and Mr. Wyndham because your combined talents are masterful.

MY VERDICT: DAIR DEVIL is full of fascinating detail and intriguing facts that the author has meticulously researched. Lucinda Brant doesn’t just stick a date on the first page – she literally transports us into her Georgian world. A wonderfully romantic, superbly researched story with an added twist I would never have guessed in a million years. Highly recommended.

 

 REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

 

Roxton Family Saga series (for further details click on the book covers):

Noble Satyr (Roxton Family Saga, #0) by Lucinda Brant Midnight Marriage (Roxton Family Saga, #1) by Lucinda Brant Autumn Duchess (Roxton Family Saga, #2) by Lucinda Brant Eternally Yours Roxton Letters Volume One A Companion To The Roxton Family Saga by Lucinda Brant Dair Devil (Roxton Family Saga, #3) by Lucinda Brant Proud Mary (Roxton Family Saga, #4) by Lucinda Brant Satyr's Son (Roxton Family Saga, #5) by Lucinda Brant Forever Remain Roxton Letters Volume Two (Roxton Family Saga Book 7) by Lucinda Brant

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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