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Posts Tagged ‘5 Stars’

unmasking-miss-appleby

(Baleful Godmother, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Late Georgian, 1805)

Cover Blurb:

She’s not who she seems…

On her 25th birthday, Charlotte Appleby receives a most unusual gift from the Faerie godmother she never knew she had: the ability to change shape.

Penniless and orphaned, she sets off for London to make her fortune as a man. But a position as secretary to Lord Cosgrove proves unexpectedly challenging. Someone is trying to destroy Cosgrove and his life is increasingly in jeopardy.

As Charlotte plunges into London’s backstreets and brothels at Cosgrove’s side, hunting his persecutor, she finds herself fighting for her life—and falling in love…

♥♥♥♥♥♥

I was a little nervous when I saw the synopsis for this book as I’m not a big lover of historical romance with paranormal elements. However, having read a number of excellent reviews from trusted friends, I decided to take the plunge and I wasn’t disappointed. I loved this imaginative, intelligently written and delightful romance.


The Story

It’s the day of Charlotte Appleby’s 25th birthday, but her life is not the one she had dreamed of. Orphaned when her father died, she has lived with her uncle and aunt for the past 8 years. Treated as little more than a servant, Charlotte longs to be independent and earn her way in life, but her uncle has made it clear that if she leaves, she can never return. Charlotte appreciates that at least she has a home, safety and security and has resigned herself to a life of drudgery. However, her life changes that evening when a strange and slightly scary woman appears, claiming to be a faerie and offers her the choice of one magical gift. After considering the various gifts offered, Charlotte chooses the ability to transform herself into any human or animal but still retaining her own mind. Now, as Christopher Albin, she secures the position of secretary to Marcus Langford, the Earl of Cosgrove.

Someone is waging a hate campaign against the Earl of Cosgrove – his windows have been repeatedly broken and night soil left on his doorstep. Now he has suffered a physical attack in which his secretary, Lionel, has been badly injured and is recuperating in the country. Marcus knows  it could be politically or personally motivated and there are plenty of potential suspects. As an active supporter of the abolition of the slave trade, Marcus has political enemies among the Anti-abolitionists. In his private life, his beautiful wife was known to be an adulteress and there are rumours that Marcus’s ill-treatment of her may have driven her to commit suicide or he may even have murdered her. His brother-in-law makes no bones about the fact that he hates Marcus, blaming him for his sister’s death.  Then there’s his spineless, drunken heir who expects Marcus to pay his debts and fund his profligate lifestyle. Marcus needs a new secretary to help him uncover who is responsible and, although Christopher Albin isn’t the ideal candidate, he is the only one who doesn’t balk when warned of the potential danger.


My Thoughts

I have read books where the heroine dresses as a man but I have never read a book where the heroine actually becomes a man. I feel Charlotte’s reactions to adjusting to the physical aspects of being a man are realistically portrayed by Ms. Larkin. I could imagine having difficulty tying a cravat properly like Christopher or finding it strange to write with overlarge hands.

She watched her fingers wield the quill—large, blunt-tipped, male—and the dizzying sense of wrongness came again: her hand was too large, the quill too small. The letters came out lopsided and awkward, like a child learning to write.

As would be the case for most unmarried ladies of that era, Charlotte knows virtually nothing about men and her ignorance of how a man’s body works and her naivety about sexual matters provide for some humorous moments, especially in relation to one particular appendage or “pego” as Charlotte calls it, and in the brothel scene.

In her role as a man, Charlotte has independence and the freedom to do things and go to places that would have been forbidden to her as a woman. I like it when authors make subtle social comments within a story.

She could do things she’d never been able to do, go places that had been forbidden, grab opportunities no one would ever offer a woman.

A genuine friendship develops between Marcus and Christopher and I love how Marcus feels a genuine sense of responsibility and protectiveness towards Christopher whom he sees as ‘green as an unbreeched babe’.  As Christopher, Charlotte gets a real insight into Marcus’s character. He seems to have everything – looks, wealth and a title – but his life is far from a happy one. I admire Marcus for his stance against the slave trade, not only in words but also in deeds.

I was glad that Charlotte only uses her gift to aid Marcus in his search or when they are threatened with violence.  I also like the fact that when she changes, it takes time for her to adapt and it isn’t all plain sailing or flying in this case.

Charlotte veered away in a wild swoop, losing height. The floor lunged up at her. She cheeped in terror, clawed at the air with her wings, found herself plunging upwards.
    It took two lurching circuits of the bedchamber before she found her balance in the air. Dip of wing, flap of wing, became natural and effortless.

The ability to become any animal she wishes enables Charlotte to search for evidence in circumstances which would prove impossible for humans, and is therefore an important element in the plot. I thought Marcus’s response to discovering Christopher’s magic ability was realistic given the circumstances. He couldn’t deny what he had seen with his own eyes.

Faerie magic. It was ludicrous. Preposterous. Impossible. And yet I see it with my own eyes.

I like how Ms. Larkin explores Charlotte’s growing attraction for Marcus (which causes some problems when a certain part of her anatomy insists on standing to attention) and how she creates a believable way for Marcus to meet Charlotte as herself. Their romance develops during a series of meetings, awkward at first, but gradually with a growing sense of warmth, tenderness and intimacy.

I understood Marcus’s initial angry reaction when he discovers Charlotte’s deception, because he sees it as yet another betrayal by someone he trusted. It takes a life-threatening situation, a letter and a journey to bring him to his senses and make him realise that he loves Charlotte.

I found the plot kept my interest throughout and the denouement was quite shocking, not at all what I expected. 


MY VERDICT: A charming romance with a touch of
magic and an intriguing mystery. Highly recommended and I will definitely be reading the rest of the series.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

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

Prequel – The Fey Quartet by Emily Larkin Unmasking Miss Appleby (Baleful Godmother, #1) by Emily Larkin Resisting Miss Merryweather (Baleful Godmother, #2) by Emily Larkin Trusting Miss Trentham (Baleful Godmother, #3) by Emily Larkin Claiming Mister Kemp (Baleful Godmother, #4) by Emily Larkin Ruining Miss Wrotham (Baleful Godmother, #5) by Emily Larkin

 

 

 

 

 

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a-splendid-defiance

Genre: Romantic Historical Fiction (English Civil War, 1644-1646)

Cover Blurb:

Justin Ambrose, dashing cavalier and close companion to Prince Rupert, was bored with life in the Royalist garrison in Banbury, until he met the sister of a local merchant. Famous for his romantic conquests, Justin had never before let a woman touch his heart.

But Abby was no ordinary woman. She was beautiful and she was brave. She was also young and terrified of her brother, a religious fanatic and self-sworn enemy of all Royalists.

When the rebel army unleashed its might on the castle, Justin fought tirelessly to break the siege. But even his closest friends did not know what tormented him. And Abby, as she sat with the rebel commanders at her brother’s table, dreamed of a man she could not, must not love…

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Since reading her fabulous Rockliffe series, Stella Riley has become one of my top favourite authors and it’s no surprise that I was eager to read more of her books.

In A Splendid Defiance, set during The English Civil War between the Royalists (Cavaliers) and the Parliamentarians (Roundheads), Ms. Riley weaves a wonderful story of love blossoming between a sarcastic, cynical Royalist captain and a young, innocent Puritan girl.

The story takes place in the town of Banbury in Oxfordshire where, while the town itself overwhelmingly supports the Parliamentarians, Banbury Castle is held by a small garrison of 360 Royalists, including Captain Justin Ambrose. One of Prince Rupert’s top cavalry officers, Justin has been ‘exiled’ to Banbury Castle as punishment for criticising a Royal favourite. He deeply resents not being in the thick of the action, which often makes him short-tempered and sarcastic.

The war was being won or lost elsewhere while Justin dealt in bread and coin and barrels of powder; a merchant, a carrier and sometimes a thief –but only infrequently a soldier.

However, he’s also honourable, loyal and trustworthy with a deep sense of duty. Secretive about his past,  it becomes evident, during the course of the story, that something happened that hurt him deeply.

Abigail (Abby) Radford lives a joyless existence.  Every aspect of her life is controlled by her fanatically religious older brother, Jonas, even to choosing the man she will marry – a man who makes her skin crawl.  She is constantly criticised and lectured by Jonas’ overbearing wife, Rachel

‘Well?  What are you waiting for?  There’s the table to be set for supper and Betty to be watched if she is not to burn the meat.  Do I have to tell you everything?’

Her only friend is her younger brother, Samuel (Sam) who has always been her closest companion.

I love how Ms. Riley takes the time to build the romance between Justin and Abigail showing the gradual changes in their relationship and making their falling in love seem natural and believable. There is no great spark when they first meet; Justin treats her with polite indifference and Abigail has no wish to linger with this shameless Cavalier. Gradually an unlikely friendship develops between them and they meet secretly once a week.  I like how they talk and enjoy each other’s company but there is a growing sense that this is more than just friendship and I could feel the deep attraction and growing sexual tension between them.

Initially, Justin’s motive is to encourage Abigail in small acts of defiance against Jonas whom he dislikes intensely but…

…their Tuesdays had become a part of his life –a part he looked forward to –and he didn’t want them to end.

Strong emotions have never been part of his life, but he finds he has a compulsion to protect Abigail and the thought of her being hurt by her bully of a brother is unbearable.

In her earlier meetings with Justin, Abigail sees beyond the irascibility and cursing to a man who is kind, trustworthy and makes her feel safe.  He is also attractive, witty and very sexy, a combination any woman would find hard to resist.

He was attractive and dangerous and he had the power to completely shatter her peace of mind.

It’s a journey of self-discovery for both of them. Justin shows Abigail a world beyond the rigid confines of a life controlled by her brother and gives her the courage to defy him and pursue her own life. Even if she never experiences it again, she has known what love feels like.

Abigail has given Justin – the kind of peace and warmth he had not known in twenty years and had not thought he needed. But she had shown him the myth of that.

It is difficult to see how they can ever find happiness when so much conspires against them -the war and its aftermath, Jonas’ religious zeal and a dark secret from Jonas’ past that threatens Abigail’s life. There is a heart-breaking scene where it seems that their happiness hangs in the balance until Justin realises…

However honourable, sensible or right, he could not bring himself to part with the only good thing life had brought him in a decade; a warm, beautiful girl who, incredibly it seemed, wanted nothing but him and who he loved beyond anything he had ever imagined.

This is a wonderful blend of history and romance and Ms. Riley’s extensive research is evident in the realism she brings to the story. I felt as if I was there in Banbury, experiencing the emotions of the townspeople and what it was like to be one of the defenders in the besieged castle.

Fire-hooks and buckets!’ he yelled.  ‘If the next one hits, it could –’
‘I know.’  Justin gestured curtly to where his troopers were already drenching the thatch of the outbuildings.  ‘But I’ll wager a bottle of claret that the next one is –’ His words were drowned by a whining crescendo that culminated in a deafening, earth-shaking blast.

Many of the secondary characters really existed but the fictional characters are so well drawn that it was difficult to distinguish the real from the fictional.

MY VERDICT: A beautifully written romance with fascinating characters and an engrossing story, rich in historical details. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

 

REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

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the-harlot-and-the-sheikh

(Hot Arabian Nights, #3)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

A defiant woman in a desert king’s world!

After inheriting a broken kingdom, Prince Rafiq made a vow to restore its pride by winning a prestigious horse race. To ensure success, he hires an English expert. But even notoriously controlled Rafiq is shocked when his new employee is introduced as Miss Stephanie Darvill!

Stephanie is determined to leave her shameful past and broken dreams behind she will prove to Rafiq she deserves his trust! But this hard-hearted desert sheikh calls to Stephanie in the most primal of ways Dare she give in to her wildest desires?

(Released on January 17th 2017 in the USA)

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Once again, Ms. Kaye transported me to the exotic setting of Arabia for this third book in her Hot Arabian Nights series.

Rafiq al-Antarah, Prince of Bharym
blog-post-rafiq-al-antarah-prince-of-bharym

The sixteen-year-old Rafiq watched his father make a reckless wager on the prestigious Sabr endurance horse race, losing not only his legendary Arabian thoroughbreds, but also the honour of the family name and the national pride of his people. The next six years saw his father’s gradual terminal decline mirrored by a decline in the kingdom’s fortunes and, on inheriting the throne, Rafiq vowed to restore the family name and Bharym’s pride and honour. However, despite all the changes, improvements and renovations he introduced…

Nothing mattered save the restoration of the Sabr, the tangible symbol of Bharym’s pride and honour.

Determined to make good on his vow, Rafiq entered a bargain which was to have a tragic consequence, one which ultimately strengthened his resolve to win the Sabr race. However, when he starts losing his precious Arabian racehorses to a mysterious illness, Rafiq is desperate to find a cure and sends for Robert Darvill, renowned veterinary surgeon attached to the Seventh Hussars. What Rafiq is not expecting is a ‘petite female glowering up at him, her big brown eyes defiantly challenging’ who says she is Robert Darvill’s daughter, Stephanie.


Stephanie Darvill
blog-post-stephanie-darvill

Stephanie worked with her father from an early age, learning all about horses, their ailments and treatments. For the past year, she has been working at one of England’s largest stud farms near Newmarket racecourse, but a disastrous affair with an army officer causes a scandal destroying her reputation. With the army expected to go into battle against Napoleon, her father cannot leave his regiment and suggests that Stephanie go to Arabia in his place. Knowing how much pain she has caused her parents, Stephanie sees it as an opportunity of putting the past behind her and taking charge of her own life and a sceptical Prince Rafiq is not going to deter her.

“I am not my father, but I am here with his blessing, I am an excellent veterinarian, and I promise you I will do my utmost to help you. So why don’t you forget that I’m a woman and permit me to attend to your sick horses?”

I enjoyed the steady development of the romance. There is a definite spark of attraction and, as they talk and work together, their relationship soon develops into a physical one and I like that Stephanie is willing to explore the passion between them despite her previous unsatisfactory experience. I find Ms. Kaye’s love scenes are so well-written – full of emotion, tenderness and passion.

His mouth slanted over hers, shaping hers, and he kissed her again. She had never been kissed in this way, with such gentleness generating such blazing heat inside her, with tongue and lips, lips and tongue, so she could not tell what was one kiss and what was another.

I like Stephanie’s boldness and it this very quality that first impresses Rafiq. Women usually fawn over him and he is not used to being questioned and challenged as Stephanie does. Surrounded by people who only tell him what he wants to hear rather than the truth, he also finds Stephanie’s honesty refreshing.

‘Every day you surprise me.’ ‘By being insubordinate and disrespectful and…’ ‘With your refreshing honesty. And your novel slant on the world. 

Rafiq is a man of integrity and I love how he respects Stephanie and values her abilities and is not judgemental when she tells him about her past and, in fact, he does not blame her at all; his anger is reserved for the man who seduced her.

“The man lied and cheated to steal your innocence. He deserves to be whipped. There can be no excuses for what he did, Stephanie. You are not at fault.”

I like how Stephanie forces Rafiq to confront his past and realise he was not wholly responsible for what happened. It allows him to put the past to rest and realise that he has emerged a stronger, better man – honourable and caring. Similarly, because of the scandal, Stephanie gained the freedom to travel to Bharym and prove to herself that her father’s faith in her was not misplaced.

I love Ms Kaye’s evocative writing which appeals to all the senses and brings to life the sights, sounds and smells of the exotic Arabian setting. Reading the Historical Note at the end of the book made me appreciate the depth of Ms. Kaye’s research.

Although this is part of a series, the books are only vaguely connected and can easily be read as standalones.

MY VERDICT:  An emotive, romantic and sensual love story with the appeal of an exotic setting. Highly recommended.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

Hot Arabian Nights series to date (click on the book covers for details)

The Widow and the Sheikh (Hot Arabian Nights #1) by Marguerite Kaye Sheikh's Mail-Order Bride (Hot Arabian Nights #2) by Marguerite Kaye The Harlot and the Sheikh (Hot Arabian Nights #3) by Marguerite Kaye Claiming His Desert Princess (Hot Arabian Nights #4) by Marguerite Kaye


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

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a-gentleman-undone
(Blackshear Family, #2)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

A seductive beauty turns the tables on a gentleman gaming for the guiltiest of pleasures in this rich and sensual Regency romance from beloved newcomer Cecilia Grant.
 
Lydia Slaughter understands the games men play—both in and out of the bedroom. Not afraid to bend the rules to suit her needs, she fleeces Will Blackshear outright. The Waterloo hero had his own daring agenda for the gaming tables of London’s gentlemen’s clubs. But now he antes up for a wager of wits and desire with Lydia, the streetwise temptress who keeps him at arm’s length.

A kept woman in desperate straits, Lydia has a sharp mind and a head for numbers. She gambles on the sly, hoping to win enough to claim her independence. An alliance with Will at the tables may be a winning proposition for them both. But the arrangement involves dicey odds with rising stakes, sweetened with unspoken promise of fleshly delights. And any sleight of hand could find their hearts betting on something neither can afford to risk: love.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

After reading A Lady Awakened, I knew I had found an author who wasn’t afraid to push the recognised boundaries of Historical Romance with her daring, unique stories and unconventional, flawed characters. I found A Gentleman Undone just as original and engrossing.

I admire Ms. Grant for her unflinching and gritty characterisation of Lydia, whose very flaws make her such a complex, unconventional and fascinating heroine. I admit that it is difficult to like the bold, ruthless, cold-hearted, sexually aggressive woman we see at the beginning of the book; a woman who has no time for tenderness or emotion.

Tenderness was a rat whose neck she wrung with her own hands before hurling it over the hedge to rot with feelings.

I love how Ms. Grant shows the subtle changes in Lydia, as fractures begin to appear in the walls she has built around herself, and I saw a softer Lydia emerging. For me, one moment in particular illustrates the change in Lydia more than any other. It is when she gives Mrs Talbot the money which will secure not only that lady’s financial security but also a place of her own. In doing this, Lydia is willing to relinquish her own chance of financial security and her response to Mrs Talbot’s reaction is a far cry from the woman devoid of all feelings.

It was wonderful, one of the most wonderful things Lydia had ever seen. Her foolish heart felt like a teacup into which someone had forgot to stop pouring.

The key to understanding Lydia lies in her past and, as her darkest secrets are revealed, I saw a vulnerable woman desperate to expunge the guilt she feels over her parents’ death. She had tried to destroy herself layer by layer but when that failed, she found the will, the strength and the ruthlessness to survive.

Out of the ashes of catastrophic misfortune she’d reinvented herself as something formidable, honed and tempered by each disaster she weathered.

Will has his own demons, having returned from the Napoleonic Wars burdened with a deep sense guilt over the death of Talbot, one of his men. Plagued by black moods, he sometimes feels that he has lost the ability to enjoy himself.

Let them come, the sorrow and anger and bleakness and oh, the tireless self-recrimination that swirled up from the pit of his stomach like plumes of coal dust. He was nothing if not accustomed to their company.

He resists his sister’s attempts to draw him back into the family circle, in the hope of restoring him to the carefree brother she once knew.

Although he believes otherwise, Will is essentially a good and honourable man as shown in his determination to ensure that Talbot’s wife and child are financially secure and independent of the relations she currently lives with. He is patient and understanding and protective of those he cares for, even though his willingness to be Lydia’s knight in shining armour does not exactly provoke the right response!

“I’m not some bedraggled kitten for you to rescue from a ditch.”

I love how Will comforts Lydia when she has nightmares and wants to discover the real Lydia behind the belligerent stranger he has come to care for. I love how he defends Lydia and the choices she was forced to make and is willing to suffer estrangement from his family rather than abandon her.  I also like his reference to the double standards of society.

“I cannot seem to find my place any longer in a society where to keep a woman in sin is a more respectable path than to give her my hand and my name.”

Ms Grant took me on an emotional roller-coaster of a journey. Their romance is passionate with lots of sizzling sexual tension. At times, the sex scenes are raw, earthy and explicit but reflect Lydia’s belief that she is unworthy of tenderness and that rough, impersonal sex is a way of making her forget the guilt she feels over the death of her parents…a way of punishing herself.

The fact that Lydia continues to consort with Edward, her protector, at the same time as her relationship with Will is developing might be unacceptable to some readers. However, I saw it as realistic because Will could not afford to keep Lydia as his mistress and, if she was no longer under Edward’s protection with no way to support herself, she would most likely find herself back in a brothel.

Will and Lydia have to fight every step of the way for their Happy Ever After but I felt that their love would endure.

Happiness still felt, at odd moments, like something with which she oughtn’t to be trusted. A delicate and costly music box put into the hands of a maladroit child. Yet happiness felt, too, like a prize she and Will had fought for and seized. An edifice they’d built with their own bare hands out of the scrap heap of mistake and misadventure.

I like how Martha, Will’s sister, and her husband, Mirkwood, (A Lady Awakened) are sympathetic towards Lydia and Will because Martha knows from her own experience that people in desperate circumstances do what they must and she also married a “black sheep” whom her family disapproved of.

I was quite fascinated by the card-playing aspects of the book, probably because I played vingt et un (or twenty one as we called it) in my much younger days.

Once again, I loved Ms. Grant’s beautiful, evocative writing.

She would lay waste to him tonight. To herself as well. She would hurl herself against him like a wave breaking over a rock. She would claw her way to oblivion as many times as she must, until no fragment of human feeling remained.

♥♥♥

Here after all was their condition, perched on their separate wind-whipped summits, in view of each other, but too distant to reach.

♥♥♥

He was a man, for Heaven’s sake. Men liked bedsport wherever they could get it. Why the devil should his plain statement of the fact make her insides race and wheel about like a frantic flock of swallows? 


MY VERDICT: Another outstanding book from Cecilia Grant. Highly recommended.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

 

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

A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong (Blackshear Family, #0.5) by Cecilia Grant A Lady Awakened (Blackshear Family, #1) by Cecilia Grant A Gentleman Undone (Blackshear Family, #2) by Cecilia Grant A Woman Entangled (Blackshear Family, #3) by Cecilia Grant

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the-arrangement
(The Survivors Club, #2)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

Desperate to escape his mother’s matchmaking, Vincent Hunt, Viscount Darleigh, flees to a remote country village. But even there, another marital trap is sprung. So when Miss Sophia Fry’s intervention on his behalf finds her unceremoniously booted from her guardian’s home, Vincent is compelled to act. He may have been blinded in battle, but he can see a solution to both their problems: marriage.

At first, quiet, unassuming Sophia rejects Vincent’s proposal. But when such a gloriously handsome man persuades her that he needs a wife of his own choosing as much as she needs protection from destitution, she agrees. Her alternative is too dreadful to contemplate. But how can an all-consuming fire burn from such a cold arrangement? As friendship and camaraderie lead to sweet seduction and erotic pleasure, dare they believe a bargain born of desperation might lead them both to a love destined to be?

♥♥♥♥♥♥

I loved this sweet, poignant, character-driven, marriage-of-convenience story which is written with warmth, depth and emotion.

This is the second book in the series about a group of survivors of the Napoleonic Wars, all left scarred (emotionally, physically or both) by their experiences, who form a close bond while convalescing. The Arrangement is Vincent Hunt, Viscount Darleigh’s story.

At 23, Vincent is the youngest member of the Survivors’ Club and, as a result of an act of recklessness, he lost his sight in battle six years earlier. After returning home, he unexpectedly inherits the viscountcy, following the death of both his uncle and his uncle’s son. Being the only male member of his family, he is constantly protected and cosseted and worried over and planned for by all his well-meaning female relatives, but Vincent longs to live a more independent life. When the aforementioned females decide to select a bride for him – one who professes not to mind marrying a blind man but obviously does – it’s one step too far for Vincent and he flees with his valet and friend, Martin Frisk. After three weeks in the Lake District, he decides to go home to the more modest Covington House in Barton Combes where he grew up.

Orphaned Sophia Fry lives under sufferance with her aunt and uncle in Barton Coombes. Treated as little more than a servant, she has learnt that it is better to blend into the background rather than draw attention to herself…to become the mouse in the corner.

She was known by her relatives, when she was known as anything at all, and perhaps by their servants too, as the mouse.

However, she is not prepared to watch her scheming cousin trap Vincent into marriage, but her intervention results in Sophia being turned out of her uncle’s house. Feeling responsible for Sophia’s predicament, Vincent proposes a marriage of convenience with an arrangement that will suit them both.

“You could eventually have your cottage in the country,” he said, “with your flowers and your chickens and cats. I could eventually prove to myself that I can be master of Middlebury and of my life alone. We could have a marriage now, when we both need it, and freedom and independence and a dream come true in the future.

Having to live with his blindness and suffering from panic attacks, Vincent could so easily have been your typical tortured hero. Instead, he never wallows in self-pity, determined to live his life to the full and I love that he is kind, caring and sensitive to others’ feelings. Sophia has led a lonely life and a brief, soul-shattering romance destroyed her self-esteem but, like Vincent, she does not indulge in self-pity and secretly finds an outlet in drawing satirical caricatures of her relatives and those around them.

I love how the story focuses on the growing relationship between Vincent and Sophia. There is no great drama or big misunderstanding (a small hiccup maybe), just two people getting to know and like each other and falling in love. From their very first meeting, when Sophia saves Vincent from her cousin’s scheming, Ms. Balogh creates a real sense of rapport between them.

“…you are trapped in a life not entirely to your liking by the fact of your parents’ death, just as I am trapped in a life that is not always entirely to my liking by the fact that I lost my sight six years ago.”

I love how they help and support each other as shown in Vincent’s determination to restore Sophia’s self-esteem and Sophia’s practical efforts to help Vincent achieve the independence he seeks. I enjoyed seeing Sophia having the confidence to assert herself to win over Vincent’s family and Vincent taking an active role in running his estate and making an effort to meet his neighbours.

There are so many lovely moments in this book, but the one that really tugged at my heartstrings is the scene where Sophia and Vincent waltz together.

Candlelight was wheeling overhead. Colored gowns were a kaleidoscope of pastels about the perimeter of the ballroom. Mirrors multiplied the candlelight and the twinkling of jewels to infinity.
“Such sounds and smells,” he said. “I will never forget this moment. Sophie. I am actually waltzing.”

I enjoyed seeing the other members of the Survivors’ Club and their interactions with Vincent clearly reveal the close bond that exists between the group.

MY VERDICT: A gentle, heart-warming and beautifully written romance. Highly recommended.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

The Survivors’ Club series (click on the book covers for more details):

The Proposal (The Survivors' Club #1) by Mary Balogh The Arrangement (The Survivors' Club #2) by Mary Balogh The Escape (The Survivors' Club #3) by Mary Balogh Only Enchanting (The Survivors' Club, #4) by Mary Balogh Only a Promise (The Survivors' Club, #5) by Mary Balogh Only a Kiss (The Survivors' Club, #6) by Mary Balogh Only Beloved (The Survivors' Club #7) by Mary Balogh

 

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the-player-audio

(Rockliffe, #3)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian)

Cover Blurb:

Tragedy drove him into unwilling exile. Death demands his reluctant return.

In the decade between, he has answered to many names and amassed a variety of secrets.

Now the actor known to Paris as L’Inconnu must resume his real identity and become Francis Adrian Sinclair Devereux, Earl of Sarre … a man he no longer knows how to be and whose name, thanks to the malice of a friend turned enemy, remains tarnished by an old scandal.

Revenge, so long avoided, slithers temptingly from the shadows. Grand-daughter of a wealthy wool-merchant, Caroline Maitland is not finding her Society debut either easy or enjoyable … but, to Marcus Sheringham, she is the perfect solution to his crushing mountain of debt.

Knowing she will be married for her money, Caroline never believed she would find love; but neither did she bargain for a certain charming French highwayman … and a surprising turn of events.

The stage is set, the cast assembled and the Duke of Rockliffe waits for the curtain to rise.

In the wings, Lord Sarre prepares to make his entrance.

He doesn’t expect to be greeted with applause.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

After reading The Mésalliance, I was especially intrigued by the actor known as ‘L’Inconnu’, whom Rockliffe recognises at the Comédie Française. Ms Riley subtly hints that a nasty scandal forced this man to flee England eight years earlier and I knew then that this mystery man was destined to have his own book.

The Player is the third book in Stella Riley’s fabulous Rockliffe series and we discover that ‘L’Inconnu’ is, in fact, Francis Adrian Sinclair Devereux, Earl of Sarre. Ms Riley excels in writing the most gorgeous heroes and Adrian is no exception. I also love the fact that he is such a complex character.

The 21-year-old Adrian, then Viscount Eastry, is about to marry Evie Mortimer, the woman he is head over heels in love with. Life seems perfect but suddenly everything changes; his fiancée is dead and there are accusations that Adrian murdered her. Though he professes his innocence and wants to clear his name, his father refuses to allow the family to be besmirched by such a scandal and eventually Adrian is forced to flee the country.

Angry and hurt over his family’s rejection, Adrian is determined to make a new life for himself in Paris. Discovering his aptitude for acting, he soon builds a career as a successful and renowned actor in the Comédie Française. His unique ability to ‘count cards’ and adopt various guises to cover his real identity ensure success at the gaming tables. For the past two years, he has also been a partner in Sinclair’s, an exclusive London gaming-club, with his friend Aristide Delacroix .

However, after an absence of 10 years, circumstances force him to return to England to assume his responsibilities as the Earl of Sarre, knowing that society will not be welcoming and all the old rumours and accusations will resurface.

He wasn’t going back because he wanted to.   He was going because his presence had suddenly become an unavoidable duty.
He doubted if anyone would welcome him.

As the granddaughter of a wealthy cloth merchant with no great beauty and an appalling wardrobe, Caroline Maitland is realistic enough to know that her large dowry is the only reason any titled gentleman would be interested in marrying her. At the age of twenty-two, she sees her life as…

…a humdrum existence of Duty and Making the Best of Things; years and years of being sensible and responsible and never, even briefly, knowing what romance felt like.

Despite everything, she secretly dreams of being swept off her feet by a dashingly handsome fellow.

Adrian wants revenge on his onetime best friend, Marcus, Lord Sheringham, the man who betrayed him and destroyed his reputation all those years ago. He has been keeping tabs on Sheringham over the years and knows that he is deeply in debt, with creditors nipping at his heels. Discovering that his nemesis has Caroline and her dowry in his sights, Adrian sees it as the perfect opportunity to exact his revenge by ruining Sheringham’s plans. But first he wants to discover Caroline’s true character and if she is worth saving from Marcus’s clutches. So, he dons one of his disguises and becomes the dashing highwayman, Claude Duvall, not knowing that the tangled web he is about to weave could cost him the one thing he wants most in the world.

Adrian is such a wonderfully complex character. I could understand his sense of hurt towards the family who basically disowned him, and I could feel the anger and bitter resentment boiling beneath the surface during the fraught meeting with his unfeeling mother.

Over the years, he has played so many different roles that he no longer knows who he really is.

“I’d become a rag-bag of all of them; a collection of miscellaneous bits and pieces –so many that, somewhere along the way, I’d forgotten who I really was.”

In so many romances, there is an instant spark of attraction when the hero and heroine first meet and it was refreshing to see a very different scenario in this story. Adrian’s initial opinion of Caroline is that she is garishly dressed and socially inept while Caroline sees Adrian as cold, unsmiling and emotionless. It is only when Adrian is in his guise as Claude Duvall that he glimpses a very different Caroline…a woman of character, intelligence, quick-witted and stubborn. In fact, as he is in search of a wife, he could do worse than marry Caroline. However, without giving too much of the plot away, there are complications in the shape of a very determined Marcus Sheringham and it seems that Adrian might just have burnt all his bridges when Caroline discovers his deception.

I could sympathise with Caroline’s anger and disappointment at discovering Adrian’s duplicity, particularly as Claude Duvall had been the handsome, dashing hero she had always dreamed of. But she is not one of those heroines who refuses to see the reality of the situation, accepting that Adrian had never intended for matters to go this far or for her to be hurt. I also like her logic in reasoning that, if she enjoyed Claude’s kisses, and he and Adrian are the same person, there was no reason to suppose she wouldn’t enjoy Adrian’s kisses too!

Caroline also begins to see that there may be a very different Adrian lurking beneath that cloak of icy reserve.

He’s different, somehow. Is this what Bertrand meant? Am I being allowed a tiny glimpse of the man behind Lord Sarre? If so, it’s interesting. But though I’d like to push it further, I’d better stop before he realises what he’s doing and crawls back into his igloo.

When he reinstates two formerly dismissed servants, she realises that it is not just an act of responsibility, but he truly cares about them…that he has kind and loving heart which he doesn’t want anyone to see.

The romance is sweet and heart-warming and their gradual falling in love seems so natural. They complement each other perfectly; Caroline helps Adrian discover the man he was meant to be while Adrian sees Caroline’s inner strength and beauty. Their declarations of love are positively heart-melting.

“…there’s been a … a sort of void inside me for years.   A dark empty place that I’d become so used to, I no longer noticed it was there.   And then you came along and, in some way I can’t explain, you made me whole again. So I don’t just care for you, my darling.   I need you and want you and … love you.’

‘I love you. I love your honesty, your unfailing kindness and the fact that –though you’ve had precious little of it yourself or perhaps because of that –you have a passion for justice. I think you are the most remarkable man I’ve ever met and utterly beautiful, both in body and spirit. And your smile doesn’t just make me sigh, Adrian. It steals my breath and lights the world.’

The Marquis of Amberley (The Parfit Knight), the Duke of Rockliffe (The Mésalliance) and Lord Nicholas Wynstanton, Rockliffe’s younger brother, all prove welcome allies for Adrian and I love their scenes together because, beneath their banter, there is always a sense of the close bond between them. I love Rockliffe…so unflappable even under the most extreme of circumstances.

I adored Adrian’s factotum, Bertrand, who is more friend than servant. Knowing Adrian better than anyone, he is the one who provides the impetus for Caroline to think that there might be more to Adrian than appears on the surface. Bertrand also provides some humorous moments with his broken English and questioning of Adrian’s actions.

I was certainly intrigued by the exchanges between Nicholas and Aristide’s sister, Madeline, and I do hope they get their own book.

Just reading this book is an absolute pleasure, but listening to the audiobook narrated by the sublimely talented Alex Wyndham takes the enjoyment to another level entirely. He brings Ms Riley’s wonderful story vividly to life and captures all the details and personalities of each individual character perfectly. He particularly excels in voicing authentic sounding women’s voices.

MY VERDICT:  Stella Riley’s brilliant storytelling combined with Alex Wyndham’s superb narration is sheer magic! VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Rockliffe Series so far (click on the book covers for more details):

The Parfit Knight Volume 1 (Rockcliffe) by Stella Riley The Mésalliance Volume 2 (Rockliffe) by Stella Riley The Player (Rockliffe, #3) by Stella Riley

**I received a free download of this audiobook from the author in return for an honest review**

 

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pride-and-prejudice-audiobook

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

♥♥♥♥♥♥

 Most Jane Austen fans will have read all her work and probably have their favourite amongst them. Almost certainly, one of the greatest favourites will be Pride and Prejudice and one of the reasons for this, I suspect, is the popularity of the 1995 BBC adaptation. There is no doubt that Colin Firth fixed a delicious wet and brooding Mr. Darcy in our minds (although Andrew Davies certainly took some liberties here because Mr. Darcy did NOT come face to face with Lizzie dripping wet!). Then there’s Adrian Lukis, aka Mr. Wickham, the naughty but loveable rogue with a twinkle in his eye, whose character most of us have a secret bad-boy soft spot for.

It’s years since I read Pride and Prejudice but I recently watched the BBC adaptation again (for about the tenth time in the past twenty years). Soon afterwards, I was lucky enough to receive the audio version performed by Alison Larkin, and all I can say is WOW! This one-woman show is simply outstanding and I’m so glad I was able to watch and listen within a short period of time, enabling me to make a fair comparison. For pure spine tingling romance (with no important bits missed out), humour, wit, satyr and astute dialogue, the Alison Larkin audio version wins hands down.

There is no point in reviewing the book in detail… a) because of the above and… b) because it’s the most well-known of this author’s work and has already been reviewed hundreds of times. I will, however, mention some of the characters, but that’s mainly in relation to the narrator’s performance of them.

For instance, Alison Larkin’s execution of the oily, obsequious Mr Collins is sheer genius. Hilariously funny but excruciatingly cringeworthy, it had me chuckling like a loon! He actually has a much larger part in the book but much of the brilliant mordacious dialogue was lost in the screen adaptation.

The venom, jealousy and downright meanness of Mr. Bingley’s sister, Caroline, is so well executed that I clearly felt her antipathy towards Lizzie and her hypocritical, lets-be-friends attitude to Jane.

The difference between the two elder Bennet sisters is well done too; Jane, gullible and believing the best of everyone – even the vitriolic Caroline – and all the while keeping her own emotions well hidden. It was clear to me why Mr. Darcy thought her feelings were not engaged in respect to his great friend, Bingley, which, of course, was the beginning of the big misunderstanding.

Then there’s bright, vivacious Lizzie whose character I have always loved. She sees people and their actions with eyes wide open, and is brought to sparkling life by this talented performer.

Even after reading/listening /watching Pride & Prejudice on numerous occasions and knowing what the contents of the letter contained, I still felt the deep emotion as Alison Larkin movingly reads – in her Darcy voice – that man’s explanation of his actions regarding Jane and Bingley, and his very justified (as it turns out) treatment of Wickham.

There is a fair amount of inner dialogue throughout, which is clearly and concisely conveyed. A good example is Lizzie’s crumbling prejudices and her changing attitude to Darcy, mostly conveyed through her inner musings. Her interest in him grows by degrees as she sees and learns more about the man and her feelings change, first to reluctant liking, then admiration and finally to bone-melting love. It takes an extraordinary performing talent to differentiate between verbal dialogue and inner dialogue without a need for explanation and Alison Larkin has that talent in spades.

When the five sisters are together and in conversation, she conveys with subtle nuances and tone exactly who we are listening to. Amusing and witty, we could be sitting at the dining table with them, listening to their gossip and being asked to “pass the potatoes”. Finally, with regard to individual characters, one of the stars of the show is, in my opinion, the outrageously silly, Mrs Bennett. She has lost the love and respect of her indolent husband in the early years of their marriage and consoles herself with one-upmanship over her female neighbours, especially in her quest to see her five daughters well married. There is a certain bitter sweetness to her character because, although she means well, she goes about it in such a ridiculous manner that she only earns her husband’s further derision and embarrasses her two eldest daughters. This is one of the areas where Alison Larkin’s outstanding talent shines because she artfully conveys the sadness beneath the silliness in a way that it’s possible for the listener to feel sorry for Mrs Bennett whilst still wishing she would just shut-up!

It’s hard to believe that Jane Austen wrote her books two hundred years ago, and therefore we are seeing Regency life through the eyes of someone who actually lived it. She was a satirist and an extremely tongue-in-cheek observer of people and her funny, witty and insightful outlook on life is only really captured in the complete unabridged version of the book. Add into the mix the extraordinary voice and talent of Alison Larkin and we have a recipe for success. If she’d been here to choose, I reckon that Ms. Austen would have selected Ms. Larkin to perform her wonderful stories. For anyone out there who has only ever watched the (even shorter) films or the abridged BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, read the book or even listened to another audio version, I urge you to experience this superior rendition. I promise that you will not be disappointed.

The three Regency songs added to the end give us a taste of what it would have been like to be actually in attendance and listening in the drawing room while genteel young ladies entertained us and their regency audiences. Alison Larkin has a pleasing singing voice to add to her many talents and I very much enjoyed this addition and we are also treated to her comedic talents as she cheekily propositions Mr. Darcy in between songs. I must say – as it always strikes me when listening to this narrator – that she has a ‘smiley’ voice and always sounds as though she is enjoying herself immensely, which is quite infectious and always makes me smile.

MY VERDICT: There is a reason why Alison Larkin has been selected for the ambassadorship of Jane Austen’s work and, after you have listened to her, it will become abundantly clear why. Highly recommended.  


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: KISSES

 

**I received a free copy of this audio book in return for an honest review. ** 

 

 

 

 

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