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Posts Tagged ‘5 Stars’

After Ben

(Seattle Stories, #1)

Genre: Contemporary Romance (Male/Male)

Cover Blurb (Amazon):

No more kissing a ghost…

A year after the sudden death of his longtime partner, Ben, Theo Anderson is still grieving. The last thing he’s looking for is a new lover, but as Theo discovers, sometimes life has its own plans.

The strength of his attraction to fellow gym member Peter is surprising. So is how compelling he finds Morgan, a new friend he makes online. Morgan is witty and fierce on the internet forum they frequent, while Peter is physically present in a way that’s hard to ignore.

Both men bring Theo closer to acceptance: he needs to lay Ben’s memory to rest if he’s to start afresh with a new lover.

Getting honest about the reasons for his yearlong isolation means confronting why he lost Ben… only just when he’s ready to commit, Theo finds he isn’t the only one haunted by the past.

Whether with Peter or with Morgan, choosing to love again—after Ben—might not be Theo’s toughest challenge.

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I have only recently become a fan of Con Riley’s after a personal recommendation from favourite author, Joanna Chambers, who assured me that I would love Ms. Riley’s writing and particularly After Ben. She wasn’t wrong.  What completely astounded me, and I didn’t discover this fact until after I had devoured the author’s first edition of After Ben, was that this beautiful, insightful story of love after loss was Con Riley’s debut novel.

This novel was first released in 2012 and has recently been given a bit of a face-lift and a wonderful new cover. As far as I’m concerned, and I’ve read both editions, it needed little, if anything, to improve it. As well as the changes the author has made internally, without a doubt she has played an absolute blinder in her choice of the stunning new cover, which perfectly reflects my vision of the kind, charismatic, life embracing Ben de Luca. I have a bit of a ‘thing’ about book covers and titles and, in this case, both are as classy as the writing and the story.

The author opens the story with Ben already deceased. How many writers could pull that scenario off? Well Con Riley does, and to wonderful effect. One year on, Theo Anderson is a grieving, heartbroken man, who had cut himself from friends and family, his love and partner of fifteen years having died of a heart attack at the wheel of his car. The sudden, brutal ending to their life together has left Theo incapable of coping with life other than in an automaton kind of way. Ben had been his everything – lover, friend and homemaker. His death has touched every part of Theo’s life just as his living did, and Theo is floundering without him. He immerses himself in work and pounds the treadmill at the gym feeling nothing but exhaustion. And that’s the way he prefers it – cutting himself off from family and friends is so much easier than caring again after Ben.

And then two things happen that are about to change Theo’s life once again. To help fill his lonely nights during the early days of his ‘annus horribilis’, Theo had joined a local, online political debate forum and it’s here he eventually ‘meets’ angry, argumentative, and quite obviously intelligent Morgan. Theo feels a connection to him/her immediately and I really liked how Con Riley grew this ‘friendship’ from a purely intellectual connection to begin with. And then, during one of his early morning relentless-pounding-of-the-treadmill sessions, he’s befriended by paramedic, Peter Morse, who senses Theo’s desolation – yes, he wants to help him – Peter’s a lovely guy – but his feelings are not completely altruistic – he fancies the pants off of him. These two men, each in their own way, are Theo’s salvation, pulling him back from the edge of not-giving-a-damn to the land of the living once more.

Slowly and painfully Theo begins his rehabilitation, and it is with the help of these two men that Theo starts to ‘listen’ to what Ben would have wanted for him. It soon becomes apparent that Theo will begin his ‘new normal’ with one of them and, oh my goodness, but the thought that only one of them would find happiness with the delectable Theo had me tied up in knots. I loved the characterisation of both Peter and Morgan and really couldn’t choose between them to begin with.

How did Con Riley convince me that it was okay to love again after loss? How did she put it all so perfectly into perspective that I didn’t feel that Theo was betraying the complete and utter love he had felt for Ben? The way I see it is that Theo keeps Ben with him – not a three in a bed kind of relationship –  but rather Ben is accepted by Theo’s new love as someone who has shaped the man he loves and is therefore an integral part of their relationship. I love that Theo can talk about Ben without his ‘new love’ feeling like second best. The author shows us, in her intuitive way, that Theo needs help in order to let Ben go before he can live again.

Ms. Riley, very cleverly, has her remarkable character Ben living and breathing throughout this story. She’s so skilled in the way she keeps him alive that it’s almost impossible to feel sad, revealing that she is quite obviously a caring and thoughtful people watcher, who is able to transfer what she sees around her into her characters to marvellous effect. I find that, as I get older, I really need to feel an emotional depth and caring in my reading; a writer may be technically brilliant but if he/she isn’t ‘kind’ I’m left feeling cheated. Con Riley has this elusive quality in spadesful. She has also captured ‘grief’ in all its intricacies – I’ve been there, felt what she describes, and totally agree.

I know it is a book I shall comfort read regularly. I’ve already read it twice. Ben, Theo, Morgan and Peter are superbly drawn MC’s, and there’s also a fabulous cast of secondary characters who we don’t have to say goodbye to as they reappear in later books in the series, and who help make this memorable story even more unforgettable. Just to whet your appetite, Saving Sean, the second in the Seattle series, also soon to be re-released, sees the lovely man who didn’t capture Theo’s heart find a love of his own.

MY VERDICT: This is a wonderfully emotive and beautiful read and, if you want to go all gooey inside, then I can recommend AFTER BEN wholeheartedly.

 

REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SIZZLING

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Fallen Lady.jpg

(Ladies of Scandal, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1820)

Cover Blurb (Amazon):

Six years ago, to the outrage of her family and the delight of London gossips, Lady Helen Dehaven refused to marry the man to whom she was betrothed. Even more shockingly, her refusal came on the heels of her scandalous behavior: she and her betrothed were caught in a most compromising position. Leaving her reputation in tatters and her motivations a mystery, Helen withdrew to a simple life in a little village among friends, where her secrets remained hers alone.

For reasons of his own, Stephen Hampton, Lord Summerdale, is determined to learn the truth behind the tangled tale of Helen’s ruin. There is nothing he abhors so much as scandal – nothing he prizes so well as discretion – and so he is shocked to find, when he tracks Helen down, that he cannot help but admire her. Against all expectations, he finds himself forgiving her scandalous history in favor of only being near her.

But the bitter past will not relinquish Helen’s heart so easily. How can she trust a man so steeped in the culture of high society, who conceals so much? And how can he, so devoted to the appearance of propriety, ever love a fallen lady?

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This was such a beautifully written and deeply emotional love story and it has definitely made me want to read more of Elizabeth Kingston’s books.

The traumatic events of six years ago left Lady Helen Dehaven ruined in the eyes of society. It also led to an estrangement between herself and her brother, Alex, Earl of Whitemarsh, when he rejected her explanation of what happened as ‘wild, incomprehensible tales.’

Forced to flee her brother’s home, she has built a new life for herself in the rural Herefordshire village of Bartle-on-the-Glen and the rent from the Dower House, inherited from her grandmother, provides enough income to live on. Helen has a small circle of devoted friends and has earned the loyalty and respect of all those around her. But her quiet, unobtrusive life is about to be shattered by the arrival of a stranger.

I admire Helen for her courage and determination in the face of such adversity but she remains haunted by the ghosts of the past. She still feels deeply hurt by her brother’s treatment of her and I couldn’t help but be moved by her yearning for something she believes she can never have…an ordinary life.

Stephen Hampton, the younger son of the Earl of Summerdale, has a gift for discovering other people’s secrets, and his reputation for the upmost discretion has garnered him some influential friends and a position of relative power. Following the death of his elder brother from influenza two years ago and his father’s recently, Stephen is now the earl. In his position, he could easily use his skills for his own benefit, but he has ‘grown to hate tawdry secrets and intrigue’ and wants to get as far away from London as possible. An opportunity arises when the Earl of Whitemarsh, encouraged by his new wife, asks Stephen to approach his sister with a view to seeking a reconciliation, and discovering the truth of what happened six years ago. As Stephen’s Manor House is not far from Bartle-in-the Glen, he accepts.

Stephen is a man who has never really belonged anywhere and it was heart-breaking to see how his own family subjected him to ridicule and scorn. I had a real sense of the depth of loneliness he feels.

The initial meeting between Helen and Stephen does not seem very auspicious but, as they get to know each other, Helen is won over by Stephen’s friendly and easy going manner, and Stephen realises that, with Helen and her friends, he has found somewhere he truly feels he belongs.

For the first time he could remember, he belonged. He was not shut out here.

I like how Ms. Kingston develops their relationship gradually, which not only heightens the sexual tension, but also reveals what a wonderful hero Stephen is – tender, patient, amusing and protective. At the same time, it was heart-rending to see Helen struggle with her deep-seated fears.

It was a monster from the deep, dedicated to pulling her down into the depths and smothering her.

Stephen’s reputation has always been spotless and it is testament to the strength of his love for Helen that he is willing to sacrifice everything by marrying her. So, I was really frustrated by her lack of trust in him.

There are some very emotional twists and turns before they reach their Happy Ever After, which made me enjoy the delightful Epilogue even more.

I loved seeing the close bond of friendship between Helen, Marie-Anne, a woman entirely at ease with her own scandalous reputation, and Maggie, Helen’s small but fierce Irish servant.

Having lived in Herefordshire for several years, I had to grit my teeth every time Bartle-on-the-Glen was mentioned. There are glens in Scotland but not in this particular English county!

MY VERDICT: Elizabeth Kingston weaves such a compelling and intensely emotional love story with complex characters that I truly cared about. Highly recommended.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Ladies of Scandal series (click on cover for more details):

A Fallen Lady (Ladies of Scandal, #1) by Elizabeth Kingston House of Cads (Ladies of Scandal, #2) by Elizabeth Kingston

 

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Genre: Contemporary Romance (Male/Male)

Cover Blurb (Amazon):

Things haven’t been going well for Cam McMorrow since he moved to Inverbechie. His business is failing, his cottage is falling apart and following his very public argument with café owner Rob Armstrong, he’s become a social outcast.

Cam needs to get away from his troubles and when his sister buys him a ticket to the biggest Hogmanay party in Glasgow, he can’t leave Inverbechie quick enough. But when events conspire to strand him in the middle of nowhere in a snowstorm, not only is he liable to miss the party, he’ll also have to ask his nemesis, Rob, for help.

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I’ve only discovered Joanna Chambers in the last couple of years and find I can’t get enough of her writing now.  Once I start one of her books I need to leave myself enough time and a clear run as I find it difficult to put it down, and this has been the case with everything of hers I’ve read and she never disappoints. There’s something special in her way of writing – an innate kindness and compassion that calls out to me. It says a lot about her writing, that because I feel the need to read everything she’s written, I’ve now even begun to enjoy some contemporaries, mostly hers, as well as my usual favourites, historical fiction and historical romance. My first by Joanna Chambers was her utterly fabulous Enlightenment series, which I chose for its compelling synopsis. It had me captivated from page one of the first book and I’ve been a fan ever since.

Rest and Be Thankful would normally have slipped through my reading net as it’s not only a contemporary but also little more than a novella. I’m generally not fond of novellas because I feel the majority of authors can’t tell a plausible story in such a short word count. However, Rest and Be Thankful is 76 pages of pure delight, which I read in one sitting in a coffee shop. I absolutely adored this heart-warmingly romantic and eloquently written little book, which is packed full of love and understanding, and I’m sure I must have had a silly grin on my face as I read the last page.

Cam McMorrow, who having been made redundant from his accountancy firm at around the same time as his relationship failed, has decided to see the positive in the situation and has seized the opportunity to change his life. Discovering that he no longer wants to sit behind a desk and, having always enjoyed the outdoor life, he has used his redundancy money, together with a further loan, to set up an outdoor activity business, which is centred in and around the village in the wilds of Scotland where he has happy memories of the holidays spent there as a child. Looking back through rose tinted glasses, he remembers the carefree time when he’d had no responsibilities, and life with his happy, loving family in their little holiday cottage had seemed like endless fun. Fast forward to adulthood, and now aged thirty, Cam is stony broke; bookings for the spring and summer are good but he hadn’t counted on his business being so seasonal. Consequently, he has no money coming in during the winter months. So, with a loan to repay, food to be bought, and the ancient heating boiler in his parents’ dilapidated holiday cottage having irretrievably broken down, he’s at an all-time low, both mentally and financially.

Cam’s sister, Eilidh, pays him a visit to invite him to a Hogmanay bash in Glasgow and insists they eat lunch together in the cafe owned by local artist, Rob Armstrong. Cam reluctantly agrees to lunch there, and we learn the reason for his reticence as his bright spark of a sister winkles out the truth. When Cam had first arrived in the village a year previously, the two men had begun a tentative friendship, enjoying a pint together in the local pub, but more importantly, there was the stirring of an attraction between them. Both had suffered in their previous relationships for different reasons. And then Cam unwittingly steps on Rob’s toes in the course of his business dealings and ends up having a very angry and public confrontation with Rob. Obviously, after this, the attraction has no chance of developing further and, worse still, Cam imagines that the villagers are taking sides and so withdraws into himself.  I felt Cam’s loneliness very keenly; it was impossible not to, such is the author’s clever and compassionate way with words.

Cam’s natural reticence doesn’t help, manifesting itself in apparent arrogance though in reality he’s far from it.  Both Cam and Rob have since had time to cool down and realise that they both overreacted. Eilidh very astutely sees that there is still something simmering under the surface between the two men. Cam sets out on his much anticipated journey to Glasgow for Hogmanay which doesn’t go to plan and that’s all I’m saying, except that we discover there’s a lot more to both men than meets the eye…

I love Joanna Chambers’ ability to have her characters jump right off the page. They’re real and multi-dimensional, coping with the everyday problems and difficulties we all have to deal with. Her observational skills are phenomenal and she has no problem in transferring them to the written page. It’s so subtle that it seems almost effortless but it’s a rare gift.

This story is eloquently written and wonderfully descriptive, with expertly developed and lovable characters, both central and secondary ones. I was completely invested in the lives of Cam and Rob, their struggles and sadnesses, and the growing attraction between these two gorgeous men who had a way to go to overcome their differences and find each other.

What’s more, Joanna Chambers’ ability to describe a scene, such that I feel as if I am right in the middle of it, is another quality of her writing I am in awe of. Here, she’s talking about a gathering snowstorm:

Already a clutch of sooty storm clouds was scudding across the horizon, bullying the last of the weak, winter daylight away and ushering in a violet-grey dusk. In that strange half-light, the colours of the landscape were oddly intense—the darkly vivid green of the sweeping hillsides, the rusty amber of the dying bracken, the silvery grey of the road itself, meandering through the glen

Can’t you just imagine it? Feel it?

MY VERDICT: This little gem of a book gets 5 stars from me and Joanna Chambers has become an auto-buy author – I’ll read anything she puts her name to. Highly recommended.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Kiss for Midwinter

(Brothers Sinister #1.5)

 Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian)

Cover Blurb (Amazon):

 Miss Lydia Charingford is always cheerful, and never more so than at Christmas time. But no matter how hard she smiles, she can’t forget the youthful mistake that could have ruined her reputation. Even though the worst of her indiscretion was kept secret, one other person knows the truth of those dark days: the sarcastic Doctor Jonas Grantham. She wants nothing to do with him…or the butterflies that take flight in her stomach every time he looks her way.

Jonas Grantham has a secret, too: He’s been in love with Lydia for more than a year. This winter, he’s determined to conquer her dislike and win her for his own. And he has a plan to do it.

If only his plans didn’t so often go awry…

A Kiss for Midwinter is a historical romance Christmas novella in the Brothers Sinister series.

 

First published December 2012

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This was a sweet, clever little novella. So much packed into this heart wrenching, sensitively executed short story.

At the tender age of fifteen, Lydia Charingford is diagnosed as being pregnant by a narrow minded, unsympathetic doctor, who advises her parents to have her put away because she is ruined. In the company of this physician is a young man named Jonas Grantham, about to embark on his medical training and accompanying the elderly doctor to gain experience. Warned to keep his opinions to himself, Jonas feels unable to intervene in the treatment proposed, although he does not agree with the medication prescribed – a decision he forever regrets.

Six years later Jonas returns, now a fully qualified Doctor with some ground-breaking ideas. Young, enthusiastic, tactless, sarcastic and incapable of being anything other than direct and truthful, he is on the lookout for a wife. He draws up a list of eligible young women of which Lydia, whom he does not recognise, is No.11 on said ‘wife list’. Lydia is immediately aware that this tall, good looking young man was present at the moment of her disgrace, and this knowledge puts her on the defensive. She decides she does not like him and, even after Jonas is made aware (by Lydia herself) that it was she six years earlier, Lydia is convinced he thinks her easy and could not possibly be attracted to her.

This is the catalyst for Jonas to decide that no other woman will do and he embarks on a sixteen month pursuit of Lydia, during which, due to the directness of his speech and his inability to lie, she misunderstands every remark he makes to her. To his credit, Jonas will not be turned from his goal and doggedly carries on trying to win Lydia’s heart. As a physician, he recognises that she has not recovered and is really very badly affected by her ordeal six years ago. He patiently tries to help her but his methods and manner of speech do not however endear him to her.

In an era where disgrace of this kind would have, under normal circumstances, completely ruined a young woman, Courtney Milan has tackled a taboo subject in a brave and sensitive manner.  Lydia may have escaped wider censorship with the aid of her friend Minnie and her own caring and loving parents, but she is deeply troubled and hides it with a cheerful and happy disposition. Her own worst critic, she is resigned never to allow herself to find love and is afraid of the natural urges of her own body.

There are also warm and evocative scenes with Jonas and his own father, a self-made man who is desperately ill….real tear jerkers….hankies at the ready!

MY VERDICT: 5 well deserved stars for this wonderful little gem.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

 

Brothers Sinister series (click on cover for more details):

The Governess Affair (Brothers Sinister, #0.5) by Courtney Milan The Duchess War (Brothers Sinister, #1) by Courtney Milan A Kiss For Midwinter (Brothers Sinister, #1.5) by Courtney Milan The Heiress Effect (Brothers Sinister, #2) by Courtney Milan The Countess Conspiracy (Brothers Sinister, #3) by Courtney Milan The Suffragette Scandal (Brothers Sinister, #4) by Courtney Milan Talk Sweetly to Me (Brothers Sinister, #4.5) by Courtney Milan

 

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The Rake

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb (Amazon):

A man’s past doesn’t have to map his fate, especially when a woman holds the key to his destiny in this timeless novel by New York Times bestselling author and legend in historical romance Mary Jo Putney.

Disinherited and disgraced, Reginald Davenport’s prospects cried for a dire end. But fate has given him one last chance at redemption–by taking his rightful place as the heir of Strickland, his lost ancestral estate. Davenport knows his way around women, yet nothing prepares him for his shocking encounter with Lady Alys Weston.

Masquerading as a man in order to obtain a position as estate manager of Strickland, Alys fled a world filled with mistrust and betrayal. She was finished with men–until Strickland’s restored owner awakens a passion she thought she would never feel. A passion that will doom or save them both…if only they can overcome their pasts…

(Note: This book was originally published in 1989 as The Rake the Reformer and then revised and republished as The Rake in 1998)

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I read that THE RAKE is regarded as one of the most popular, most beloved historical romances ever written and I can now understand why, because I loved this book and it will definitely find a place among my all-time favourites.

At the age of thirty-seven, Reggie is the archetypal rake – his life having been spent in a continual round of womanising, gambling and hard drinking. But, as details of past events in his life are revealed, I appreciated how much these have shaped his current lifestyle. I like the fact that he does not blame his present circumstances on anyone but himself; he chose the path he took and admits to making unwise decisions. (I could not help thinking how different Reggie’s life might have been had he inherited Strickland all those years ago, and not been denied his birth right by his unfeeling uncle.)

Unlike so many other hard-drinking rakes who regularly grace the pages of Historical Romances, Reggie is an alcoholic, although he has yet to recognise the fact. It is only when he starts to suffer memory losses, which are becoming more frequent and longer in duration, does he accept that his current way of life is slowly killing him. Blaming his excessive drinking, Reggie believes that he can control the habit but…

…somehow his resolution always dissolved once he swallowed his first drink.

Ms. Putney handles Reggie’s alcoholism with compassion and sensitivity, but does not gloss over the harsh reality of his struggles to stop drinking. There is one particular scene where a horrified Alys finds Reggie drinking in the library and he runs out into the night as though the demons of hell are at his heels. It is one of the most heart-rending scenes I have ever read and the moment when Alys finds him is so moving.

He stretched out his hand. She took it, her fingers far warmer than his, her clasp light and sure. Linking his fingers with hers, he brought their joined hands to his chest, against the beat of his heart. The tide of hope was running stronger now.

I like how Ms. Putney does not fall into the trap of having Reggie redeemed by the love of a good woman. He wants to overcome his alcoholism for himself alone.

He hadn’t gotten sober for Allie’s sake, or to live up to his parents’ hopes, or for anyone else. He had done it for himself.

Having a soft spot for unconventional heroines, how could I not love a heroine who is a magnificent Amazon (Reggie’s description) with mismatched eyes and has managed to hide the fact that A E Weston, who has been the highly successful steward at Strickland for four years, is not a man but a woman? The reforms she has undertaken at Strickland have made the estate prosperous and earned her the respect of all those around her. She has also created a loving family home for her three wards.

Alys may be strong and independent but deep down she is beset by insecurities. Something in her past made her flee her former life and has left her believing she is unattractive and no man would ever want her.

I enjoyed the steady development of the relationship between Reggie and Alys, and it is Ms Putney’s ability to convey the emotional connection between them that makes this unlikely pairing work so beautifully. There is an initial attraction but, more importantly, a genuine friendship is forged based on their mutual liking, respect and trust. The love scenes are not overly explicit but rather tender, sensual and romantic.

 “I am beginning to believe that you are not at all the wicked care-for-nobody that your reputation claims.”

Just like Alys, I discovered that beneath the sarcastic, rakish exterior, Reggie is intelligent, charming, fair-minded, honest and witty. He also shows a remarkable knowledge of farming and is willing to ‘muck in’ with the sheep-dipping, earning him the respect and acceptance of the estate workers. It made me see that this is the real Reggie and I was rooting for him to overcome his addiction.

Reggie admires Alys’ ability, honesty and generosity of heart, and her wit is as sharp as his own. He treats her as an equal and is always willing to listen to her ideas. Not having been a member of a loving family for so many years, it was heart-warming to see him enjoying the family dynamics between Alys and her wards and  even starts wondering what it would be like to have children of his own.

I love how Alys is a true friend to Reggie and is always there to support him whenever he needs it.,

If she could not even try to help, she was unworthy to be anyone’s friend.

When Alys reveals her secrets to Reggie, I thought his actions revealed how noble and unselfish he is. I also like the scene where Alys convinces a reluctant Reggie that they are meant to be together.

There is an interesting cast of secondary characters including:

  • Richard, Earl of Wargrave – genuinely wants to help his cousin, Reggie, and I was was so happy to see the friendship that developed between them.
  • Meredith (Merry) Spencer – Alys’ eldest ward, who is delightful and wise beyond her years.
  • Junius Harper- the priggish, self-righteous vicar
  • The Honourable Julian Markham – Reggie’s young friend who falls for Meredith.
  • Mac Cooper – Reggie’s valet, groom, butler and footman

Amid the darker elements of the story, there is also humour such as the confrontation between Reggie and Junius Harper, which almost ends in a brawl; the hilarious scene where Reggie cleverly manipulates Lord Markham into allowing his son to marry Merry and agree to Julian’s plan for the management of his estate; the various antics of Attila, Alys’ cat, and the long-suffering Nemesis, Reggie’s dog.

I loved the charming Epilogue where the various characters react to the news of Reggie and Alys’ marriage and I will let Reggie have the final word…

“And, my beloved, you have performed the miracle of your reforming career in changing me from a care-for-nobody rakehell into a faithful, adoring husband.”

MY VERDICT: What more can I say other than this is a must read!


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

 SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

 

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A Duke in the Night

(The Devils of Dover, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1819)

Cover Blurb (Amazon):

Duke. Scoundrel. Titan of business. August Faulkner is a man of many talents, not the least of which is enticing women into his bedchamber. He’s known-and reviled-for buying and selling companies, accumulating scads of money, and breaking hearts. It’s a reputation he wears like a badge of honor, and one he intends to keep.

Clara Hayward, the headmistress of the Haverhall School for Young Ladies, on the other hand, is above reproach. Yet when she’s reunited with August all she can think of is the way she felt in his arms as they danced a scandalous waltz ten long years ago. Even though her head knows that he is only back in her life to take over her family’s business, her heart can’t help but open to the very duke who could destroy it for good

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Since reading and loving her Seasons for Scandal series, Kelly Bowen has joined my list of auto-read authors and I have been looking forward to A DUKE IN THE NIGHT, the first book in her new The Devils of Dover series. Once again, she captivated me with an innovative story, interesting characters and a sensual romance.

As a debutante ten years ago, Clara Hayward had all the attributes that should have had numerous suitors falling at her feet – beauty, poise and family wealth. But she had one fatal flaw – her extensive education. No husband wanted a wife whose intelligence and education was superior to his own. This gave Clara the freedom to pursue her ambition of becoming a teacher and, for many years, she has been headmistress of the most expensive and prestigious finishing school in London – Haverhall School for Young Ladies, which she inherited from her mother. Secretly, Clara runs exclusive summer school programmes at Avondale in Dover, leased from the Earl of Rivers, for those young women who have ambitions beyond society’s expectations and the courage to defy convention.

However, after their parents died two years ago, Clara, her younger sister, Rose, and her brother, Harland, now Baron Strathmore, were shocked to discover that their father had left large debts. They had all done whatever they could to keep their heads above water but with Strathmore Shipping, the family business, in jeopardy, Clara takes the decision to sell her beloved school, but is still determined to continue with her summer schools.

Kelly Bowen always writes great heroines and Clara is no exception. She is intelligent, strong and confident – a woman who fully embraces her individuality and has the courage of her own convictions. She is a natural teacher and I admire her progressive and unique teaching methods. I love how she nurtures her students and offers them practical experience in their chosen fields even though it might only be for a short time.

August Faulkner was never destined to be the Duke of Holloway. At the age of fifteen, he was fending for himself on the dangerous streets of London after his inveterate gambler of a father was thrown into debtors’ prison, where August’s younger sister, Anne, had lived too. His driving force was to pay off his father’s debts, have his family released and restore their fortunes and their family reputation.

Over the next fifteen years, through hard work, determination and a keen business mind, August had clawed his way up to become a wealthy and successful self-made man. In his business of buying up failing companies and turning them around into profitable concerns, he had a reputation for being ruthless and determined. Even his unexpected rise to the peerage five years ago has done nothing to curb his ambitions, other than working anonymously through intermediaries to make his purchases.

I understood how those years of struggle and deprivation had shaped August into the man he has become. He is determined to safeguard both himself and his sister from ever having to endure such hardship again, and no amount of money is ever going to be enough.

August understood survival. He had done and continued to do what he needed to so that he would never have to go back. Back to a time when hunger and cold had been enemies.

It is obvious how much he loves his sister and will do anything to make her happy, but stubbornly fails to see that Anne has ambitions of her own beyond just the material things in life.

It’s improbable that, after only one dance together ten years ago, August and Clara would have been so affected that they had never forgotten each other. But Ms. Bowen develops such a tangible chemistry between the two that I never once felt that they were not meant to be together. August sees what a fascinating and extraordinary woman Clara is and respects and admires her. Clara constantly challenges his opinions and I love that he is willing to listen and question his own motives and ambitions as he has never done before.

The truth of the matter was that he didn’t recognize himself any longer. Every vow he’d made to himself, every driving ambition he’d pursued with a single-minded determination sat uncomfortably on his skin now. His old self didn’t seem to fit quite right.

With all the pent-up longing and desire, it is inevitable that they will eventually succumb to their feelings for each other and it’s refreshing to see the heroine taking the lead and seducing the hero.

His heart might have stopped momentarily before it resumed, thundering in his ears with the same rhythm that was pulsing through the rest of him. The sound obliterated everything around him, his eyes riveted on her fingers, which were now trailing over the slope of her left breast, coming to circle her dark nipple, hard and pebbled under her touch. She was watching him watching her, and he had never been as aroused as he was then.

It is patently obvious that they love each other but I knew that Clara would eventually find out that August had bought Haverhall and his proposals for it. I could feel her pain and heartbreak, believing that she had meant nothing to him and was simply a means to an end. It is only through her sister Rose’s intervention that Clara discovers just how wrong she is about August and how much he loves her. For once, I did not even miss an Epilogue because the ending was so beautifully done, and August’s gift to Clara and its significance just bought tears to my eyes.

“You asked me once when enough is enough. You are my enough. You are my everything.”

I really admired August’s sister, Anne, who might have become a beautiful and poised lady but the time spent in debtors’ prison had given her a core of pure steel. A potential romance between Anne and her brother’s man of business, Duncan Down, is hinted at and I hope to see more of them in later books.

Clara’s siblings are both intriguing; Rose is a gifted artist who has been hurt in the past and Hartland, although a baron, is also a practising doctor and obviously has a few secrets. I am definitely looking forward to reading their stories.

Ms. Bowen manages to imbue the story with some delightful humour such as the scene where August is spying on Clara and her pupils from behind a wall, only to be discovered by Lady Tabitha (Tabby) and Lady Theodosia (Theo), the Earl of Rivers’ sisters, who obviously know exactly what he is doing!

“He might have been an apothecary,” Lady Theo suggested to her sister. “Collecting plants and herbs and whatnot.”
“True. Or a biologist,” Tabby mused. “Looking for crickets.”
“Or fossils.”
“Or perhaps examining animal leavings.”

or the scene in the studio where August enters without knocking to discover…I won’t spoil it for you!

MY VERDICT: A great start to what promises to be an excellent series. Definitely recommended.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

The Devils of Dover series so far (click on the book covers for more details):

A Duke in the Night (The Devils of Dover, #1) by Kelly Bowen Last Night with the Earl (The Devils of Dover, #2) by Kelly Bowen A Rogue by Night (The Devils of Dover, #3) by Kelly Bowen

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Not Quite a Husband

(The Marsdens, #2)

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian – North-West Frontier of India and England 1897)

Cover Blurb:

Their marriage lasted only slightly longer than the honeymoon—to no one’s surprise, not even Bryony Asquith’s. A man as talented, handsome, and sought after by society as Leo Marsden couldn’t possibly want to spend his entire life with a woman who rebelled against propriety by becoming a doctor. Why, then, three years after their annulment and half a world away, does he track her down at her clinic in the remotest corner of India?

Leo has no reason to think Bryony could ever forgive him for the way he treated her, but he won’t rest until he’s delivered an urgent message from her sister—and fulfilled his duty by escorting her safely back to England. But as they risk their lives for each other on the journey home, will the biggest danger be the treacherous war around them—or their rekindling passion?

(First published in May 2009)

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This was my second Sherry Thomas book and I became a firm fan of this author who has a very real and deep understanding of the complexity of the human psyche.

On the face of it, Leo Marsden and Bryony Asquith are a most unlikely pair; he an Adonis, beautiful, popular, outgoing, and a favourite with his family and peers alike; she cold, aloof, serious, a confirmed spinster by choice, and wedded to her work until she meets Leo. The two have been acquainted from childhood, although Bryony is four years his senior and barely noticed the child on the adjoining estate. He, on the other hand, has always been aware of Bryony, secretly watching and admiring the silent, withdrawn girl from afar; infatuated even before he knows the meaning of the word.

It is not until Bryony comes across Leo socially in London that she becomes aware of the incredible young man he has become. She is now twenty-eight years old, unmarried and still an innocent, although in every other way she is anything but, being a surgeon and physician of some repute and a well-respected woman in a man’s profession and world. At twenty-four, Leo has some remarkable achievements under his belt – a brilliant mathematician, an expedition to Greenland, and even a published and performed play. He is popular, well-loved and the darling of everyone who knows him. Bryony finds herself completely smitten and follows him around London while he gives intellectual lectures on subjects about which she knows little – happy to just gaze at him and listen to his voice.

Eventually, he becomes aware of her once more and his own infatuation is rekindled. This time, with the passing of years, they are on a more equal footing. So smitten is Bryony that it is she who does the chasing and eventually, in her forthright way, proposes marriage. A lady of black and white with no grey areas, not capable of any sort of subterfuge herself, she does not allow for any sort of human flaws in the object of her complete devotion; therein lies her downfall – put someone on a pedestal and they are likely to topple.

From the moment of their marriage, even during the ceremony, they are on a downward track. Leo is at a loss; he tries his hardest to make her happy and cannot understand why she eventually denies him her bed, having only just tolerated his advances. The locking of her door against him is the final blow in their brief, tumultuous marriage and Bryony makes the decision to ask Leo for an annulment and he agrees.

Bryony flees the country, eventually ending up in the far reaches of India. After three years, Leo appears after a long trek, to summon her back to London as her father is ill and Bryony’s sister, Calista, has persuaded Leo to find and bring her home. It is during the journey back to England, with a series of enlightening flashbacks, that the story begins to emerge. It is obvious that Leo and Bryony have never stopped loving each other, but the ‘problem’ which becomes apparent and is the reason for Bryony’s sudden change and appalling treatment of Leo, appears insurmountable, I really did not see it coming.

After fleeing a marauding mob, they eventually reach the relative safety of a British fort and land bang in the middle of large-scale tribal unrest against the British, initiated by the Pathan tribesmen along the North-West Frontier of India. Here Bryony’s skills as a surgeon and Leo’s talent with a firearm are much needed. In the terrible days that follow they become closer and begin to put their differences behind them, although the trust on both sides is a different matter.

At the start, it is hard to like Bryony as she is so cold, withdrawn and unforgiving, but, as her own story emerges, my sympathy for her grew. While I didn’t agree with her attitude and actions towards the thoroughly delectable Leo, I did understand. But if she had not behaved the way she did, we wouldn’t have the story, and the story is beautiful, angsty, compelling and utterly romantic.

Sherry Thomas writes in a unique and unusual way. I love her flashback method of telling the story from each point of view, drip feeding the reader and slowly, layer by layer, revealing the reasons and emotions behind Bryony and Leo’s actions. Watching Bryony and Leo rekindling the love that neither had ever lost for the other and, more importantly, regaining the trust necessary for their healing process to begin was so emotionally rewarding.

MY VERDICT: It is a lovely moment when one discovers a writer so in tune with one’s own taste and Ms. Thomas is a talented writer with a unique style that really appeals to me. With a writer of such calibre, I can overlook a few modern slips.

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

 

The Marsdens series (click on the book cover for more details):

Delicious (The Marsdens, #1) by Sherry Thomas Not Quite a Husband (The Marsdens, #2) by Sherry Thomas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Yours Until Dawn

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1806)

Cover Blurb: 

Gabriel Fairchild’s valor during battle earns him the reputation of hero, but costs him both his sight and his hope for the future. Abandoned by the fiancée he adored, the man who once walked like a prince among London’s elite secludes himself in his family’s mansion, cursing his way through dark days and darker nights.

Prim nurse Samantha Wickersham arrives at Fairchild Park to find her new charge behaving more like a beast than a man. Determined to do her duty, she engages the arrogant earl in a battle of both wit and wills. Although he claims she doesn’t possess an ounce of womanly softness, she can feel his heart racing at her slightest touch. As Samantha begins to let the light back into Gabriel’s life and his heart, they both discover that some secrets — and some pleasures — are best explored in the dark …

First published in July 2004

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This review was originally posted back in September 2012 shortly after Rakes and Rascals first went live and it’s possible that many of you who have followed the blog since may not have seen the review or read this book.

REVIEW

I first read YOURS UNTIL DAWN several years ago and it has remained one of my all time favourite historical romances. Warm, funny, heartrending, tender and sensual, re-reading it is one of my guilty pleasures.

Gabriel definitely fulfills my penchant for tormented, brooding heroes. He is a man without hope living in a dark and lonely world where the trappings of civilized behaviour no longer matter. He hides his vulnerability behind a show of arrogance and biting retorts such as his reply when Samantha tells him she’s there to help him adjust to his new circumstances:

“What if I don’t want to adjust? What if I just want to be left the bloody hell alone so I can rot in peace.”

Ms Medeiros provides a real insight into the problems of being blind, things which I had never appreciated before. When Gabriel suddenly wakes up, he has no way of knowing whether it is day or night and when Samantha takes him to task for not using a knife and fork, he explains that they are difficult to manage because if he can’t feel the food, he can’t find it. All things a sighted person takes for granted.

The battle of wills between Samantha and Gabriel provides for some sharp and really funny dialogue. Here are a couple of my favorites:

“Good morning, my lord,” Samantha said smoothly, sliding into a chair well out of his reach. “You’ll have to forgive Mr. Beckwith. He obviously had some pressing duties.”
Scowling, Gabriel settled back in his chair, “Let’s hope they include forging some letters of reference and packing his bags. Then the two of you can return to London together.”

“So tell me Miss Wickersham, as my new nurse, which duty would you like to assume first? Would you like to feed me?”
Eyeing the wolfish white flash of teeth as they tore another hunk of meat off the chop, Samantha said, “Given your…um…unbridled enthusiasm for your victuals, I’d be a little worried about getting my fingers that close to your mouth.”

I love Samantha because she is just what Gabriel needs to jolt him out of his apathy. At first, Beckwith, Mrs Philpot and the other servants refuse to disobey their master’s orders but Samantha has no such qualms. She re-arranges the furniture to make it easier for Gabriel to navigate through the house and throws open the windows. She only falters once when Gabriel comes up with another scheme to rid himself of her by constantly ringing a bell day and night and having her do all sorts of mundane things such as fluffing his pillow. I love Gabriel’s reaction when she finally says she’s had enough of his ridiculous demands and is resigning:

“Miss Wickersham, get back here this instant! That’s an order!”
” I quit,” she tossed back over her shoulder, savage glee coursing through her veins. “I’m not obliged to take your orders anymore!” Ignoring his spluttering, Samantha marched out the door slamming it behind her with grim satisfaction.

I like the way Ms Medeiros slowly develops the relationship between Samantha and Gabriel which makes it more realistic. My favourite scene is the one in the ballroom because it is both romantic and sensual. I could really feel the passion between them:

Suddenly she was the beggar at the feast – a feast of the senses her body had been denied for so long. She wanted to gorge herself on him, sate her every craving with the fulsome delight of his kiss.

Ms Medeiros paints such memorable and vivid pictures but it is the little details which seem to linger in my mind: Beckwith and Mrs Philpot trying to push Samantha out of the French windows before the approaching Gabriel enters the room; Gabriel’s indelicate table manners; Samantha running a fingertip along the scar on Gabriel’s face; Gabriel lounging in bed wearing only a rumpled cravat; the game of blind man’s bluff; the ultimate in romantic epilogues.

The secondary characters all add depth to the story and I have to mention Sam, the little terrier, who captured my heart with his antics. This book has a really surprise twist which I certainly didn’t see coming when I first read it. On subsequent readings, I found clues were there but I had simply been too engrossed in the story to interpret them correctly.

MY VERDICT: A wonderful love story with unforgettable characters, YOURS UNTIL DAWN is pure magic; a treat that no lover of historical romance should miss!

 

REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

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Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

 A past dispute …

 When the irascible Lord Darracott’s eldest son dies unexpectedly, the noble family must accept their estranged Yorkshire cousin as heir apparent. They are convinced he will prove to be a sadly vulgar person, but nothing could have prepared the beleaguered family for the arrival of Major Hugo Darracott.…

A present deception…

His clever and beautiful cousin Anthea is sure there’s more to the gentle giant than Hugo’s innocent blue eyes and broad Yorkshire brogue would lead one to believe. But even she doesn’t guess what he’s capable of, until a family crisis arises and only Hugo can preserve the family’s honor, leading everybody on a merry chase in the process.…

(First published in paperback in 1959)

♥♥♥♥♥♥

A five star story and a five star plus audio experience. The extraordinary narration by Daniel Philpott brings this clever, funny, witty tale to life.

Major Hugo Darracott is summoned to Darracott House by his controlling, autocratic, manipulative grandfather. The old man has always known of his grandson’s existence, although the rest of the dysfunctional family do not. His son married a poor common Yorkshire weaver’s daughter against his wishes … or maybe, unbeknown to him, not so poor, or so common. Following the death of his sons and a grandson, Hugh is next in line and, despite his best efforts, Lord Darracott cannot disinherit him.

Hugo is a large amiable man with a determined streak and, despite all outward appearances, he is clever and wily, and very quickly recognises that his aristocratic family thinks him a gormless, cloddish, country bumpkin. And so he deliberately proceeds to live up to their expectations by pulling the wool over their eyes. He exaggerates a broad Yorkshire accent – with hilarious results. One of his cousins, the indolent, sarcastic Vincent, unkindly nicknames him Ajax after the blockish meathead in one of Shakespeare’s plays, Troilus and Cressida. Vincent particularly resents Hugo’s turning up as he himself would have been once removed from inheriting without the appearance of this, never before heard of cousin.

How Hugo induces this eclectic mix of, “up their own backsides” relatives, to like and respect him is clever, funny and endearing. His grandfather has decided that Hugo will marry another cousin, Lady Anthea Darracott, for the dual purposes of bringing him some respectability and also marrying off his granddaughter, who will continue to keep the clod up to snuff and not embarrass the family. Both Anthea and Hugo appear to be against this idea when it is first suggested. However, it doesn’t take long, before Hugo realises that marriage is exactly what he would like to happen. How he goes about convincing Anthea to not only like him, but to care for him….well, I thought it rather lovely.

Other reviewers have commented that this is not a very romantic tale but I think it is – and sweetly so. It is also funny and farcical but has a cleverly written plot. Hugo is a most likeable character – large and apparently guileless – but, of course, he is not, being a well-educated Major, recently of a cavalry regiment, and definitely nobody’s fool. With some skill, he has the entire Darracott family doing exactly what he wishes. The females in the family are the first to recognise this fact.

I loved the wonderful narration by Daniel Philpott; he pitches his voice for each character so perfectly that male and female, young and older are entirely believable and recognisable. Hugo’s Yorkshire accent is plausible when he is laying it on thick to appear cloddish, or when he reverts to his well-educated self with a commanding demeanour and just a very slight Yorkshire burr. Mr. Philpott manages to turn Georgette Heyer’s excellent story into a fabulous one.

MY VERDICT: I highly recommend the audio version to any lover of Ms. Heyer’s work or why not just become a convert? Devotees of Regency Historical Romance won’t be disappointed.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

NARRATION RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: KISSES

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Lady in Red.jpg

(Season for Scandal, #3.5)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1818)

Cover Blurb (Amazon):

A lady with secrets, a man with a burning desire, a love that breaks all the rules…

Lady Charlotte Beaumont has spent her whole life being ignored. By her parents, her brother, even the servants. So she was secretly able to develop her talent for painting well beyond the usual watercolors. Too bad no one will let her actually use it—women are rarely accepted into the Royal Academy. But when a connection at the Haverhall School for Young Ladies gets Charlotte her dream commission, she’ll do whatever it takes to make it work. Including disguising herself as “Charlie.”

Flynn Rutledge has something to prove. His lowly upbringing is not going to stop him from achieving his artistic dreams. This commission is the key to his future, and his partner, an unknown youth in oversized clothes who is barely old enough to shave, doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. But Charlie does inspire Flynn’s artistic passion—something he worried he might have lost forever. For all his street smarts, nothing can prepare Flynn for the shock of Charlie’s true identity. He doesn’t care that she’s a woman, but a lady of the ton is a different matter altogether.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This is the final instalment in the excellent Seasons for Scandal series which neatly ties into Ms. Bowen’s new Devils of Dover series and, despite the constraints of a novella, she succeeds in creating a deeply emotional story.

I don’t usually comment on covers but this one is extremely misleading because the heroine never wears a red dress and it’s certainly not a Christmas themed story, although the Christmas tree in the background would suggest otherwise.

Ms. Bowen excels in writing strong, determined and smart heroines and Charlotte is no exception. No longer willing to let life pass her by, I admire her determination to pursue her dreams of becoming a recognised artist. Desperate to secure one of two important commissions to paint church murals, but knowing that, as a woman and a lady, normal avenues are closed to her, Charlotte courageously approaches the enigmatic and infamous King. She is aware of his dangerous reputation, but he is not only a connoisseur of fine art, but also a man who can secure anything, for a price – a price she is willing to pay.

There was no white knight thundering to her rescue, ready to sweep her away and make her dreams come true. That was on her. And no matter the cost, it would be worth it, ten times over.

Recognising her exceptional artistic skills, King strikes a bargain with Charlotte and she finds herself at the Haverhall School for Young Ladies. To the outside world, it appears no more than an exclusive finishing school but secretly it runs exclusive summer programmes for those young women who are both willing and are courageous enough to defy convention and…

“To do things denied to them, not by ability or acumen but by gender. Architects. Doctors. Solicitors. Artists.”

So disguised as a young man, Charlie Beaumont, Charlotte sets off to take the first step towards fulfilling her dreams.

Born into poverty, Flynn Rutledge has worked hard to achieve recognition as a talented artist. His ultimate goal is to have his work hanging in the Royal Academy. His late mother had always given him her unconditional love and had always believed in him and this had been her dream for him. The commission is important to him because it will give him access to the people with the means and power to help him achieve his ambitions. But, five years ago, an affair with a noblewoman had ended disastrously, leaving him humiliated, bitter and angry, with a deep distrust of titled women. Worse still, he no longer finds joy or inspiration in his painting.

I like how Ms. Bowen handles the development of the relationship between Flynn and Charlie. Long before Flynn discovers that Charlie is a woman, an honest friendship is forged between them based on their mutual passion for art. Flynn recognises what a gifted artist Charlie is and makes ‘him’ believe in ‘himself’, while Charlie’s words of wisdom, kindness and generosity restore Flynn’s sense of purpose.

…he realized he had found his way back. Righted his ship and recharted his course with the most unlikely of allies.

Even when Flynn discovers that Charlie is really Charlotte (under dramatic circumstances), he isn’t angry because he understands and respects her. Their romance feels like a natural progression of the closeness they shared.

I could understand Flynn’s feelings of anger when he discovers that Charlotte is in fact Lady Charlotte, given his previous experience with a noblewoman and everything he and Charlotte had shared.

Every whispered promise, every shared confidence, every piece of what he had believed to be real had been built on a foundation of lies. He had been played the fool. Again.

Charlotte tries hard to explain but it falls on death ears and the special gesture she makes to prove her love for Flynn leads to such a moving scene and a well-deserved Happy Ever After.

“I love you. All of you. Charlotte, Charlie, Lady Charlotte. Whatever you wish to call yourself, it matters not to me.”
“Yours,” she whispered. “I want to call myself yours”

The artistic setting forms a unique backdrop to the story and I am intrigued to learn more about the Haverhall School for Young Ladies, which is the focus of the Devils of Dover series. There are some interesting secondary characters including Clara Hayward, headmistress of the school, and her sister Rose, and the mysterious King, who appeared in the Season for Scandal series. I can’t wait for his book to see him brought to his knees by love!

MY VERDICT: This novella has everything wrapped up in a small package – emotive and evocative writing, an innovative story, intelligent dialogue, and richly drawn characters. Highly recommended.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

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

Duke of My Heart (Season for Scandal, #1) by Kelly Bowen A Duke to Remember (Season for Scandal, #2) by Kelly Bowen Between the Devil and the Duke (Season for Scandal, #3) by Kelly Bowen The Lady in Red (Season for Scandal, #3.5) by Kelly Bowen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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