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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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Cadenza

(Rockliffe, #6)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian – 1778)

Cover Blurb:

The performance finished in a flourish of technical brilliance and the young man rose from the harpsichord to a storm of applause.

Julian Langham was poised on the brink of a dazzling career when the lawyers lured him into making a catastrophic mistake. Now, instead of the concert platform, he has a title he doesn’t want, an estate verging on bankruptcy … and bewildering responsibilities for which he is totally unfitted.
And yet the wreckage of Julian’s life is not a completely ill wind. For Tom, Rob and Ellie it brings something that is almost a miracle … if they dare believe in it.

Meanwhile, first-cousins Arabella Brandon and Elizabeth Marsden embark on a daring escapade which will provide each of them with a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The adventure will last only a few weeks, after which everything will be the way it was before. Or so they think. What neither of them expects is for it to change a number of lives … most notably, their own.

And there is an additional complication of which they are wholly unaware.
The famed omniscience of the Duke of Rockliffe.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

After five books in her fabulous Rockliffe series, Stella Riley is finally (and sadly) bringing the series to a close.

But what a swan song!  CADENZA has two compelling love stories at its centre. And who knew that, as well as being an historian (English Civil War – more about that later) of some considerable repute, she is also a knowledgeable and talented musician who has quite simply astounded me with her scholarship, research, and personal knowledge of the world of classical music, and in particular, the harpsichord? 

I am a huge fan of this author who is both an eloquent and creative writer, and each time we are treated to a new book there is never any danger of repetition. Cadenza is a feast for the senses and it’s a treat worth waiting for – from the first page to the last. Each book in the Rockliffe series is quite unique, apart from the ever-present, but fascinating characters who have each had their own stories told in preceding books and who are always in evidence and add something extra special as the series progresses.

Cadenza centres around the world of music with the main character, Julian Langham, being a gifted and supremely talented, harpsichordist – a virtuoso in fact. Julian’s character is unlike any other I have ever encountered in Historical Romance. Since he was old enough to reach a keyboard, he has studied and played almost to the exclusion of all else and was destined to be a musician. At the age of twenty-eight and just teetering on the brink of his career, his world of playing and composing is brought to an abrupt halt by a disreputable firm of lawyers who con him into putting his career on hold ‘briefly’ and leaving Vienna to return to the country of his birth to take responsibility for a crumbling, debt ridden estate, and an earldom he neither wants nor even knew he was heir to, so obscure was his claim.

Having lived in the world of music for most of his life, suddenly being faced with the reality of being responsible for his predecessor’s three feral illegitimate offspring and his bewildered tenants, and with debts and problems he cannot ever hope to meet or solve, has the effect on him of being doused by a bucket of cold water, especially when he realises there is no going back. The only tiny (and it is minute) light is a badly abused harpsichord which has been left in a sadly neglected state and is in pieces in the library. At the end of each long, hard day toiling on the estate, Julian begins to painstakingly restore it. Not only is Stella Riley a musician, but she has also carefully researched – with quite remarkable understanding – the inner workings of this instrument which shows in the terminology she uses as she describes Julian slowly beginning to restore it to working order.

Julian may be gentle and slightly vague but he has an honestness, as rigid as a streak of iron, running through his backbone and, although he may not know what to do, he can’t be faulted for failing to do his best – rolling up his sleeves and working alongside his tenants – all the while slowly dying inside without his beloved music to sustain him. His obvious integrity and his determination not to increase rents, even though he desperately needs the money, earns him the respect of the locals and his tenants, not least the local doctor and his wife who befriend and help him as he flounders from one crisis to another. The children, whom he has tracked down and ensconced in the dilapidated nursery, are in turns angry and mistrustful, apart from the youngest, Ellie, who simply accepts him at face value. Tom and Rob are older, and Tom in particular – the twelve-year-old, self-elected protector of the threesome – doesn’t trust his motives. Why should Julian want them? No one has ever cared or wanted them before. Watching him win the boys’ trust, especially Tom’s, is heart-warming. Julian doesn’t employ artifice, he doesn’t know how to – he’s simply himself. In fact, it is his wholly innocent and sincere attitude in his dealings with the children which highlights the kind of man he truly is.

The doctor and his wife realise that Julian needs help, especially with the children and the running of his home, so they propose he employs a housekeeper-cum-governess and set about advertising for a suitable candidate. Elizabeth (Lizzie) Marsden, who wishes to help her family out financially, applies and, after some correspondence, in which she infers a greater age and experience than she has, is offered the position for a trial period. No-one could predict the outcome this action precipitates – a series of events, which once set into motion, escalates and forever changes Julian’s life and those of the children.

Meanwhile another drama is playing out at the home of Arabella Brandon, youngest of the four siblings at Brandon Lacey, where Arabella (Belle) has received the news that she has been jilted, after a three-year betrothal to her soldier fiancé who has not returned from the Colonial wars, instead marrying and settling in America. Her family, in particular her mother, want her to go to London for the season and she is reluctant to do so. She’s far from broken-hearted by the blow her ex-fiancé has dealt her, but, for reasons of her own, is not interested in husband hunting at present. Her closest friend, Lizzie, who happens to be her first cousin, would love a season in London but her clergyman father forbids it, even though the Duke of Rockliffe, a distant cousin of the girls’ mothers’, is happy to sponsor both of them with the aid of his Duchess. Lizzie, a dutiful daughter, realises the futility of trying to persuade her father and has instead begun the process of finding suitable employment.

Belle is the most outgoing and vivacious of the two cousins and I was drawn to her immediately. She is, of course, the one who proposes the outrageous plan which will benefit both of them – she will take up the position Lizzie has just been offered as housekeeper/governess to the children of the Earl of Chalfont and Lizzie will travel to London as the guest of the duke and duchess. The only fly in the ointment being that they must take on the guise of each other. Of course, neither girl gives much thought to the cause and effect of their actions, although to be fair it takes some persuading on Belle’s part. But, eventually realising that it will give Belle some much-needed breathing space, Lizzie agrees and at least she will get her season. After their adventure, the girls will simply return to their old lives – not quite so simple, as we discover.

All goes to plan to begin with. The girls swap clothes, prime Belle’s reluctant lady’s maid and set off together. They part ways some distance from Brandon Lacey as agreed and each travel to their respective destination. Matters start to go awry when Belle arrives at Chalfont and the doctor who meets her is surprised to see how much younger she is than her letter indicated. Even worse, Julian is horrified as she is ‘far too pretty’ and he considers sending her packing. The doctor talks him into giving her a trial period, as she has already won him over with her forthright and practical manner. Julian has had limited experience with the opposite sex and is, quite frankly, terrified of women. He initially appears rude although Belle later realises, with some surprise, that he is simply painfully shy. The truth is that Julian is deeply affected by Belle, much to his consternation. He is the one who thinks her ‘far too pretty’, whereas most people, including the doctor, think her ‘passably pretty’. A clear case of ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’. Not only is she ‘much too pretty’ but her warm, infectious laugh ‘does something to his insides’. I loved this and it is mentioned quite a few times throughout the story – he finds himself aware of her laugh and waits for it – it lifts his spirits and he is always affected in the same way. Of course, as a musician with a highly developed sense of hearing, he would notice such a thing whereas most others wouldn’t. The spark between them is definitely there, and Ms. Riley grows it slowly and sensitively until both are equally smitten with the other. Belle has grown up with three handsome brothers and is therefore not immediately taken in by Julian’s undeniable gorgeousness. But he has something rare which she’s drawn to – he’s totally unaware of his own physical appeal. He never attempts to dress up, in fact, most of the time, he’s downright scruffy, his hair overlong and untidy. She is impressed by his innate kindness, gentleness and thoughtfulness and moved by his complete disregard for what others may think of his taking in three illegitimate children and more – actually loving them.

When Belle realises the extent of his musical talent and what the lack of performing is doing to him, she is resolved to do something for him. It doesn’t take her long to learn that he will shrivel up and die emotionally if he is denied his music. She sets her mind to thinking of ways to help him with the estate. Having grown up at Brandon Lacey observing her brothers using tried and tested methods, set in motion during the English Civil War by their Great-Great-Grandfather, Gabriel, she is resolved to beg her eldest brother’s assistance. Extremely astute, Belle realises that to perform – as he must – Julian needs an estate running in the black to free him for what life intended for him. Belle is on a mission and that’s because she’s finally in love. Eventually the two share a kiss, no more, but it is sensual and loving and both realise that something monumental has occurred. Stella Riley does this so well – she can imply sensuality and sexuality without the need for explicit bedroom scenes.

As Belle is settling into Chalfont, Lizzie has a roadside catastrophe when her coach is damaged and she narrowly avoids serious injury obliging her to accept help from a passing traveller. Ralph, Earl of Sherbourne, isn’t too pleased that his journey has been interrupted by a dripping wet maiden in distress. But, being the consummate gentleman, he does what he must. In the end, with the roads impassable because of heavy rain, Lizzie is forced to spend two nights in his company. All goes well and nothing of importance happens, other than Lizzie becoming more and more intrigued by Ralph’s dark and brooding attractiveness, but he is uncommunicative, preferring to read his Greek copy of the Iliad than converse, except when he must. He does nothing that Lizzie could take an exception to. In short, he does not compromise her other than unwittingly and unwillingly having to escort her to safety. Lizzie is unaware that Ralph has a scandalous past and, without warning, it rises up to bite both of them. They are seen by two ladies travelling in the opposite direction who have stopped for refreshments at the same inn; these ladies put two and two together and come up with five. Sparks fly, especially as one of them quite evidently knows him well.

Stella Riley has set herself quite a task, Ralph Sherbourne is not a character I thought to be redeemable. In Hazard he treated his half-sister, Genevieve, quite abominably. However, there is so much more to him than meets the eye and the circumstances surrounding the reasons why society shunned him are revealed, although only in confidence to Rockliffe who consequently has a new respect for him. Plus, against the odds, Lizzie likes him and refuses to believe badly of him. It is this unadulterated acceptance of him which surprises and sees him start to thaw from the austere, unapproachable man he has always been. I sensed his deep, black loneliness, keenly. I felt deeply sorry for him, especially when we see him with the Rockliffe ‘gang’ and he secretly envies the camaraderie they share, something he has never experienced. From detesting him in Hazard, I now wanted him to be happy and it seems that vicarage bred Lizzie could be the one so this was quite a turnabout. Ms. Riley couldn’t make everyone love him – that would have been totally implausible, but she’s done an excellent job in at least beginning his redemption with the help of Lizzie. He is understandably bitter – no one has ever believed in him, especially without knowing the facts of his duel and the reasons for it, which when revealed are quite shocking. I certainly didn’t see it coming. There is one particular scene, which again I can’t go into, but which had me rooting for Lizzie and Ralph as she nails her colours to the mast – superb! Ms. Riley at her best.

By now the fat is in the fire for both girls – their subterfuge has been discovered – how could it not? Rock is omniscient and never misses a trick. Once they are unmasked, there is so much to be sorted out to avoid irreversible damage to the reputations of both girls. I won’t go into how, where or what, as this is such a complex story and so deliciously different. And you, dear reader, need to absorb and enjoy! Let’s just say that, as usual Rock is a ‘rock’. His humour, dry wit and urbanity steal the show (I know I say this in every review, but it’s so true and Ms Riley didn’t name this series Rockliffe for nothing).

I promised earlier to mention the Brandon Lacey connection. Fans of Stella Riley will most probably have read her English Civil War series. If not – please do – you will not be disappointed. I myself have only just completed Garland of Straw in which Gabriel and Venetia Brandon are the hero and heroine of that amazing story and are the Great-Great-Grandparents of the current younger generation and I absolutely adored it. My point is, however, that Gabriel was almost bankrupt himself and, using his common sense, set in motion a method of farming which was highly successful and has by the time of Cadenza been used for generations. Belle persuades her brother, Max, to help Julian. I found the connection fascinating and, if I hadn’t read Garland, would probably have just skirted over it. And, by the way, having just mentioned Belle’s eldest brother Max… oh my! Please, please, Ms. Riley, having given us a taste of this gorgeous man – we need more!

Two compelling romances – although my favourite was Julian and Belle, only because they are a couple like no other. And just wait until you see Julian in musical action. I can say no more, other than, gone is the awkward, self-deprecating man and I can honestly guarantee that your heart will melt.

I believe the author intends to develop the Brandon connection (there are three unmarried brothers). I do hope so because I’m not ready to say goodbye to Rock and co. yet.

MY VERDICT: Another amazing story in this memorable series and one I shall read/listen to over and over and never tire of. Highly recommended.


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Rockliffe series (for further details click on the book covers):

The Parfit Knight (Rockliffe, #1) by Stella Riley The Mésalliance by Stella Riley The Player by Stella Riley The Wicked Cousin (Rockcliffe, #4) by Stella Riley Hazard by Stella Riley Cadenza by Stella Riley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Momentary Marriage

(Montclair-de Vere #2)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

James de Vere has always insisted on being perfectly pragmatic and rational in all things. It seemed the only way to deal with his overdramatic, greedy family. When he falls ill and no doctor in London can diagnose him, he returns home to Grace Hill in search of a physician who can—or to set his affairs in order.

Arriving at the doctor’s home, he’s surprised to encounter the doctor’s daughter Laura, a young woman he last saw when he was warning her off an attachment with his cousin Graeme. Alas, the doctor is recently deceased and Laura is closing up the estate, which must be sold off, leaving her penniless. At this, James has an inspiration: why not marry the damsel in distress? If his last hope for a cure is gone, at least he’ll have some companionship in his final days, and she’ll inherit his fortune instead of his grasping relatives, leaving her a wealthy widow with plenty of prospects.

Laura is far from swept off her feet, but she’s as pragmatic as James, so she accepts his unusual proposal. But as the two of them brave the onslaught of shocked and suspicious family members, they find themselves growing closer. They vowed, “until death do us part”…but now both are longing for their marriage to be more than momentary in this evocative romance, perfect for fans of Sabrina Jeffries and Mary Balogh


♥♥♥♥♥♥

It has been some years since I last read a book by Candace Camp and I had forgotten what a superb writer she is. Not only is A Momentary Marriage a perfect blend of humour, wit, suspense and romance, but I was also intrigued by the original working of one of my favourite tropes – the marriage of convenience.

James is a cold, cynical and practical man who regards love as a maudlin sentimentality for understandable reasons revealed later in the story. He has little time for his money-grasping relatives and the tight control he exercises over the family finances is a source of bitter resentment and anger among the family members. His affection only extends to his cousin Graeme and his faithful dog Demosthenes (Dem).

James appears stoical about his impending death but there are moments revealing his vulnerability that were really heart-breaking – the way he still clings to a glimmer of hope that Dr. Hinsdale might be able to help, and when Laura tells him about her father…

She could not help but remember when she told him her was father was not there and for a brief moment his face had been unguarded – and utterly hopeless.

Laura is beautiful, sensible, kind and has real strength of character. Despite her dislike of James, she is realistic enough to appreciate that marriage to him offers her a home and a secure future.

She would have liked to throw his offer back in his face , just to thwart him. But she was all too aware of the hard, lonely future that awaited her and, admittedly, too pragmatic to let annoyance rule her.

I love how she is not afraid to speak her mind and stands up to both James and his family. Her kindness and compassion shines through in her genuine determination to take care of James and do whatever she can to ease his pain and fears.

I knew that James could not possibly die. After all, this is a romance and we readers demand a happy ending. But Ms. Camp depicts his suffering so vividly that there were times when I was certain he could not survive.

He’d hardly heard what the  estate manager had told him, distracted by the slant of light coming through the window and the way it sent an arrow of pain into his eyes and straight through his brain.

Laura’s discovery that someone is trying to poison James and his slow road to recovery moves the story in a different direction. Now they have to come to terms with the fact that their marriage is no longer the temporary one they both believed it to be, and also discover the identity of the person who wants James dead.

The romance is tender, poignant, sensual and laced with witty banter that provides some lighter moments. Ms. Camp builds their relationship slowly, showing their feelings for each other gradually changing and allowing the romance to flourish in a natural way.

The thing was…he enjoyed waking up with her in his arms. He’d liked turning over in the night and feeling her beside him.

Laura stared, shocked by the way her body had reacted to his touch, his smile. For the moment she had wanted to lean down and kiss him, to feel his arms around her again, his heat pouring through her.

James comes to admire Laura’s intelligence and wit, as well as enjoying her company and he knows that she is someone he can trust. I love how fiercely protective he is when his brother-in-law, Salstone, insults her. Laura knows James can be cynical, pragmatic and controlling but she has also seen another James behind the cool façade he presents to the world. A man who can be gentle and kind. A man who loves his dog. A man who makes her laugh with his dry, witty sense of humour.

I enjoyed seeing the genuine friendship between Laura and Abigail, Graeme’s wife and was amused by James’ jealousy when he misconstrued the reason for Laura’s visits to Abigail’s. I love the scene where he discovers the real reason! I like how, later in the story, Laura is instrumental in making James see that he has always kept himself emotionally closed off from his family and it was heartening to see him heed Laura’s words and take tentative steps towards a reconciliation with them.

The mystery of who is trying to kill both James and Laura was intriguing enough to keep me guessing right up until the culprit’s identity is revealed in a dramatic, surprise revelation.

This is the second book in the Montclair-de Vere series and, although I have not read the first book, A Perfect Gentleman, it did not in any way affect my enjoyment of A Momentary Marriage. I have already sent for a copy of A Perfect Gentleman as I am keen to read Graeme and Abigail’s story.

MY VERDICT: For those looking for a well-crafted, witty, heart-warming romance, with a refreshingly different premise, likeable characters and an interesting mystery, I can definitely recommend A Momentary Marriage.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Montclair – de Vere series (click on the book covers for more details):

 A Perfect Gentleman by Candace Camp A Momentary Marriage by Candace Camp

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Forever Remain

(Roxton Family Saga#, 5.5)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian)

Cover Blurb:

This second volume of previously unpublished letters from the private correspondence of the Roxton family spans a twenty-year period, from the 1760s to the late 1780s, and includes extracts from the diaries of Antonia, Duchess of Kinross, and her younger son Lord Henri-Antoine Hesham. Also included are letters by the 5th Duke of Roxton, written in the final stages of his illness, and addressed to his youngest son Lord Henri-Antoine. The volume concludes with a letter by the latter’s wife, Lady Henri-Antoine Hesham, to her mother-in-law, the Duchess of Kinross, while abroad on her bridal trip. These letters complement the later chronology of the award-winning Roxton Family Saga: Dair DevilProud Mary, and Satyr’s Son. With a foreword by a late-Victorian descendant, Alice-Victoria, 10th Duchess of Roxton.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

FOREVER REMAIN is a companion to Lucinda Brant’s Dair Devil, Proud Mary and Satyr’s Son and therefore it is necessary to have read these books first. However, I cannot recommend this series highly enough and would urge anyone who loves an ongoing family saga with compelling characters, spine tingling romance and superbly researched history to read (or listen to) all the books, preferably in order.

Many historical romance writers try to please a modern market and consequently their books do not ring true. Lucinda Brant, however, transports us back into the time, the hearts and the minds of her characters – this is Georgian England and she refuses to compromise on the detail. We may not agree with the opulent way the privileged lived 300 years ago, but Ms. Brant deals in meticulous research and therefore her writing is based on fact and we are treated to unadulterated accuracy. Her characters are so real that I find myself believing in them to the point that I think about them as if they are people I actually know. Their homes, belongings, clothing, shoes, hair, even the lace and embroidery on their clothes are researched down to the finest detail. To appreciate the author’s attention to detail, visit her Pinterest boards and be prepared to be astounded by the extent of the work and research that goes into each and every story. She is not only a superb writer but also a perfectionist and unable to deliver anything but her best interpretation of how life was for the people in her Georgian world – rich and poor – behaved and lived.

As readers of this series know, Ms. Brant took a chance when she wrote very sensitively about one of our favourite characters dying. This is life – I myself have suffered this devastating loss and can speak with experience on what she has achieved here. In an ideal world we all live happily ever after, but of course this is not an ideal world. Nevertheless, because of Ms. Brant’s sensitive approach, we are not left unhappy with the loss of this character – rather she has dwelt on the positives whilst showing us that the world does keep turning and life does go on. The grieving process is handled with great empathy, and astutely she hasn’t written off this fascinating character; instead he is still very much in the background and talked of (and to) with love. Again, I agree with the way she has achieved this because when we have children our loved ones are never truly gone from this world and of course our memories can never be erased. Ms. Brant is a realist. Yes, she writes Historical Romance, but throughout the series she has constantly mirrored life – people die, they behave badly, they fall in love, often with ‘unsuitable’ people, and they sometimes have illnesses or long-term conditions which cannot be cured.

She has thought of everything and, when this volume of letters is ‘published’ by Alice-Victoria, 10th Duchess of Roxton, the time has obviously moved on and the family inhabits Victorian England where people and their values have changed, becoming more prudish and judgemental. So, when the letters are ‘released’, the translators have doctored and suppressed certain words and phrases in case they offend the reader of the time. For instance, in a letter sent from Mr Martin Ellicott (the fifth duke’s valet and trusted friend) to his godson Julian, he talks of his classic and rare, but risqué art collection. In another, from Theo Fitzstuart to his son Dair, he tries to explain why his marriage to Charlotte, Dair’s mother, went so horribly wrong. I must admit to wishing I could take a peek at the author’s notes to see exactly what had been ‘suppressed’!

Ms. Brant uses this volume of letters and diary entries to fill in some gaps in her stories. One such gap that always puzzled me, which I briefly mentioned above, began in Noble Satyr. Charlotte and Theo, soon to become the Earl and Countess of Strathsay and later the parents of Dair, Charles and Mary, were a young, innocent, courting couple in that book. By the time we reach Dair Devil, book 3 in the series, matters had obviously gone badly wrong. Charlotte is by now a spiteful, unloving mother and embittered woman, while Theo is living on a Caribbean island running a sugar plantation. He has not seen his legitimate family for many years and talks openly of his new love and illegitimate children. This couple were secondary characters and, quite obviously, their story would not have pleased readers, but it was important to know what had gone wrong and the letter from Theo to Dair explains all. Again, the author is reflecting life with its ups and downs – not all marriages are happy ones, not then and not today.

The letters are a wonderful addition to the books and are so exquisitely written that I cannot read (or listen) to some of them without a box of tissues handy. The most memorable for me are those written by Renard to his youngest son; oh, my goodness, these letters are beyond exquisite. The few examples I have used are only a small snapshot of this compelling volume and the letters have the effect of confusing my brain further into thinking…these people actually lived. I’m pretty sure Ms, Brant felt the same when she was writing them, because it is quite obvious she has poured her heart and soul into every word she has written.

I can only imagine how Alex Wyndham felt whilst reading the letters, but then he is a consummate performer and reads each letter from the heart. In each one, he adopts the same voice, tone and nuances for the characters (now the letter/diary writer) that he used when narrating the audio books and each one is easily recognisable. I wonder if he needed his tissues, too? With the depth of feeling imbued I would imagine so. I particularly appreciated his portrayal of the sick and dying Renard, 5th Duke of Roxton. In fact, I sniffed constantly! The reformed rake has, since his marriage, become a loving family man. He feels his children’s pain, especially his younger son who suffers with the debilitating ‘falling sickness’ (or epilepsy as we now know it). The duke is anxious to help his beloved Henri-Antoine manoeuvre his way through the obstacles he knows are inevitable with his affliction and is also all too aware that his own time is running out. He therefore sets out to lovingly guide Harry from beyond the grave with a series of letters to be opened at certain points in his life. Alex Wyndham adopts a slower paced, slightly gravelly voice for the sickly Renard whilst still retaining recognisable remnants of the younger Renard we first heard in Noble Satyr. I found the reading of these letters/diary entries profoundly moving and one of this actor’s finest performances of my experience.

MY VERDICT: The second volume of letters is the perfect companion to Dair Devil, Proud Mary and Satyr’s Son and one I can highly recommend.


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

 

Roxton Family Saga (for more 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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The Winter Bride

(Chance Sisters, #2)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency – 1816)

Cover Blurb

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

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

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

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

♥♥♥♥♥♥

After being somewhat disappointed by THE AUTUMN BRIDE, I LOVED this book. Beautifully written, emotional, romantic and funny, it was a total delight from beginning to end.

I absolutely adored Freddy. In The Autumn Bride, he is seemed nothing more than a handsome, charming, entertaining, frivolous rake who has no interest in marriage and avoids ‘muffins’ – eligible young ladies who are constantly trying to trick him into marriage – like the plague. However, as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Freddy’s carefree lifestyle is a carefully cultivated façade to hide the guilt he feels over his brother’s death and the hurt caused by his parents’ indifference and insults. He is an honourable man who proves to be a loyal friend to Max, a valued and shrewd business partner to Flynn and a man who inspires the love and loyalty of his servants.

I truly felt for Damaris whose mother died when she was twelve, leaving her to be brought up by her missionary father who only believed in duty and obedience not love. He instilled in Damaris a belief that she had inherited her mother’s wanton nature. Forced to flee China after her father is murdered and his mission burnt, she manages to escape to England. What happened during that journey is her terrible secret; one which has convinced her that she will never marry and one which she has never shared with anyone. I could not help but be moved by her longing for a life she knew she could never have.

Did they think she didn’t want to be loved, didn’t want to have someone whose business—no, whose pleasure it would be to take care of her, protect her? And who would let her take care of him and love him in return?

Ms. Gracie builds the relationship between Freddy and Damaris slowly making the romance both believable and emotionally satisfying. As they come to know and understand each other, during the pretend betrothal, their tentative attraction gradually blossoms into love.

London society sees Freddy as nothing more than the ‘frivolous fellow with not a serious thought in his head’ but Damaris sees beyond that façade to the kind, charming, clever, loyal, thoughtful, funny man who deserves to be loved. Damaris has captured Freddy’s heart with her beauty, serenity, stubbornness, courage, understanding and laughter.

I love the scene where Damaris shows real courage when she defends Freddy and gives his parents a good tongue-lashing, refusing to be intimidated by them.

“The entire time I’ve been here all you’ve done is make cutting remarks about him to me—and I’m his betrothed. I’ve heard nothing but criticism, disparagement and negativity. I cannot credit it. You are his mother and you, his father. He is your son—your only son.” Her eyes prickled with angry, frustrated tears. “What kind of parents are you? You lost one son, but you threw the other away.”

When Damaris reveals her secret to Freddy, I love his reaction…

“You did the only thing you could. No one would blame you. I certainly wouldn’t.”

and his willingness to risk his life to slay dragons for her.

The love scene in the cottage is so beautifully written, full of warmth, humour and passion. I love the lengths Freddy is willing to go to allay Damaris’ fears, especially his own paticular interpretation of certain Biblical stories!

He picked up her hand and kissed it. “Enough of that, insatiable creature. I’m explaining something to you and it’s very important. God’s plan.”
“Oh. Yes?” she said vaguely.
“Yes. The pleasure men and women receive from lying together. Without the pleasure, it would happen far less frequently, and then where would we be? Would we be so happy about going forth and multiplying, as we’re told to do in the Bible?”
She stretched languorously and didn’t answer.
He went on. “Stop distracting me and listen. No, we wouldn’t. So the pleasure is all part of God’s plan and it is your sacred duty to enjoy it to the best of your ability. The future of the human race depends on it.”

There is a colourful cast of secondary characters including:

  • the indomitable Lady Bea of whom Freddy says – God, but the old lady was a tricky piece. He felt like he’d gone three rounds in a verbal boxing ring. 
  • Mrs Jenkins, Damaris’s employer, who is always warning her about ‘headin’ down the Road to Roon’ 
  • Captain Patrick Flynn, a lapsed Irish Catholic, with a penchant for bright colours and earrings and a desire to marry a fine young English lady. 
  • The experimental Chinese swimming pigs (to know more, I’m afraid you will have to read the book)

 Max and Abby (The Autumn Bride) and Jane and Daisy are also there to provide aid and support to Freddy and Damaris, and those who like a delightful Epilogue will not be disappointed.

 MY VERDICT: A charming, heart-warming romance with characters who will steal your heart. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

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

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

 

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