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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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the-viscount-and-the-vixen

(The Helllions of Havisham, #3)

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian, 1882)

Cover Blurb:

Love begets madness. Viscount Locksley watched it happen to his father after his cherished wife’s death. But when his sire arranges to marry flame-haired fortune hunter Portia Gadstone, Locke is compelled to take drastic measures to stop the stunning beauty from taking advantage of the marquess. A marriage of mutual pleasure could be convenient, indeed . . . as long as inconvenient feelings don’t interfere.

Desperation forced Portia to agree to marry a madman. The arrangement will offer the protection she needs. Or so she believes until the marquess’s distractingly handsome son peruses the fine print . . .and takes his father’s place!

Now the sedate—and, more importantly, secure—union Portia planned has been tossed in favor of one simmering with wicked temptation and potential heartbreak. Because as she begins to fall for her devilishly seductive husband, her dark secrets surface and threaten to ruin them both—unless Locke is willing to risk all and open his heart to love.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

It is wonderful books like this that have made Lorraine Heath one of my top favourite authors. Her beautifully written and deeply emotional love stories keep me coming back for more.

After his mother died giving birth to him, Viscount Locksley (Locke)  watched his father, the Marquess of Marsden, slowly driven mad with grief over the loss of his beloved wife. Locke intends to marry eventually, but it will never be for love having seen first-hand the devastation such an emotion can cause. He chooses to bury himself in working alongside his men in the mines and managing the estates.

Concerned that Locke shows no signs of marrying soon and determined that his title and estates will not pass into the hands of his greedy cousin or his cousin’s son, the marquess plans to marry and acquire a “spare”. When he meets the prospective bride, Portia Gadstone, Locke is immediately suspicious of her motives and convinced she is nothing more than a social climbing, fortune hunter.  He will do anything possible to protect his father from her clutches, even marrying her himself.  In fact, she could prove the perfect wife for him.

Locke slid his gaze over to Portia Gadstone and, for the first time, clearly saw her for what she truly was. A mercenary, a title chaser, someone wanting to rise so badly above her station she would use any means necessary to accomplish her goal, including taking advantage of an aging gentleman. The sort of woman he could never grow to care for, could never love, could never give his heart to.
She was bloody perfect.

Locke is right about Portia in one respect – she will do anything to achieve her goal but not for the reasons he thinks.  Penniless, homeless and with a secret she must hide at all costs, marriage to the marquess will provide the safety and security she so desperately needs.  What she hasn’t bargained for is the Marquess of Marsden’s son thwarting her plans!  She could have charmed the elderly marquess but the handsome, virile, arrogant Locke is a very different proposition.

Ms Heath builds the romance between Locke and Portia beautifully, showing the gradual changes in their relationship. The scene where they first meet is full of barbed, witty exchanges and I enjoyed watching Portia getting a rise out of Locke in every sense of the word! Neither is looking for love but they are not averse to enjoying a physical relationship, leading to some steamy sex scenes.

I enjoyed watching Locke reluctantly accepting that his initial opinions of Portia are wrong. He sees how soft hearted she is when his father is talking about his beloved wife; she has no desire for “constant compliments, numerous baubles, and his undivided attention” like every other woman he has known; she makes him laugh and he finds that he wants to spend time with her as much out of the bedroom as in it.

I like Portia’s boldness in standing up to Locke and expressing her own views. She sees how deeply he cares for his father, his estates and his men and it is heart-warming to see how she brings light, joy and music back to the once dreary Havisham Hall.  She draws the marquess out of his reclusiveness and is the catalyst for Locke discovering so much about his mother he never knew.

It is obvious that Locke and Portia are falling in love –

Coming to know her husband filled her with a sense of satisfaction as well as a measure of dread, because she feared he had the power to shatter what remained of her fragile heart.

♥♥♥

It didn’t help matters that it always caused this odd sense of swelling in his chest that made it difficult to breathe for a few seconds whenever she flashed a smile.

but I knew any future happiness would soon be tested when Portia’s secret is finally revealed. The scene where she tells him of her deception is so heart-breaking and, although I understood Locke’s initial reaction, I very much sympathised with Portia and the choices she was forced to make. I like how Ms Heath always brings an element of social commentary to her books; in this case, the lack of women’s rights in the late Victorian era which forces Portia to take such drastic action to protect all she loves. Despite Locke’s cruel words, once he learns Portia’s full story and accepts his true feelings for her, I love how he confronts her sanctimonious father and moves heaven and earth to find her.

I especially adored the marquess who is kind, gentle and perceptive, such as when he tells Locke –

“Your mother’s beauty was all inside. Portia has a good bit in there as well. Don’t forget to look there”.

I like how he cleverly tricks Locke into marrying Portia. Perhaps he’s not as mad as everyone believes.

Although tinged with a little sadness, the Epilogue left me with a warm glow and a desire to read the forthcoming WHEN THE MARQUESS FALLS, the love story of the Marquess of Marsden and his beloved wife, Linnie.

MY VERDICT:   Another captivating and beautiful love story with characters that will touch your heart. Highly recommended!


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

The Hellions of Havisham series (click on the book covers for more details):

Falling Into Bed with a Duke (The Hellions of Havisham, #1) by Lorraine Heath The Earl Takes All (The Hellions of Havisham, #2) by Lorraine Heath The Viscount and the Vixen (Hellions of Havisham, #3) by Lorraine Heath When the Marquess Falls – March 14th 2017

**I received a complimentary copy from the publisher via Edelweiss in return for an honest review.**

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salt-hendon-collection

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian)

Collection Includes:

SALT BRIDE (Salt Hendon, #1)

When the Earl of Salt Hendon marries squire’s daughter Jane Despard, Society is aghast. But Jane and Salt share a secret past of heartache and mistrust. They are forced into a marriage neither wants; the Earl to honor a dying man’s wish; Jane to save her stepbrother from financial ruin. Beautiful inside and out, the patient and ever optimistic Jane believes love conquers all; the Earl will take some convincing. Enter Diana St. John, who has been living in a fool’s paradise believing she would be the next Countess of Salt Hendon. She will go to extreme lengths, even murder, to hold Salt’s attention. Can the newlyweds overcome past prejudices and sinister opposition to fall in love all over again?

SALT REDUX: SEQUEL TO SALT BRIDE (Salt Hendon, #2)

Jane and Salt—four years of Happily Ever After
Sir Antony Templestowe—four years of Exile
Lady Caroline—four years of Heartache
Diana St. John—four years plotting Revenge
The time has come…

How does a brother cope with life knowing his sister is a murderess? How can a nobleman have the life he has always wanted when a lurking evil consumes his thoughts and haunts his dreams? What will it take for good to triumph over evil? For readers who enjoyed Salt Bride, the story continues…

SALT ANGEL (Salt Hendon Novella)

This 20,000-word bonus novella, is a new extended version of Fairy Christmas (previously published in A Timeless Romance Anthology: Silver Bells Collection) featuring well-loved characters from the Salt books

Kitty Aldershot is orphaned and forced to live on others’ charity. Offered a home under the generous roof of her relatives, the Earl of Salt Hendon and his countess, Kitty wants for nothing, not even the affections of Mr. Tom Allenby. But when Kitty stumbles across a letter written by Lady Caroline that reveals how Mr. Allenby would be ruined should he marry the likes of Kitty, she realizes she has been fooling herself all along. Kitty’s world crumbles around her as she recognizes she will forever be alone with no prospects at all.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This is the second read for me of Lucinda Brant’s Salt Bride and its sequel Salt Redux. This time it’s with the added bonus of the original prologue to Salt Bride having been reinstated and the inclusion of a novella which was originally published as Fairy Christmas in an anthology and which has been newly extended for its addition to the set. The novella, light and sweet – neatly ties off the complete boxed set.

The Salt Duo was my first foray into Lucinda Brant’s gorgeously sumptuous Georgian world and I am now an addict of this author’s work and devour everything she has written, waiting with eager anticipation for her future work. I thoroughly enjoyed these stories – probably even more than I did initially – especially as I now fully appreciate the extensive research and work Ms. Brant has undertaken for each and every book in her fabulous backlist.

The added prologue, which had already been removed when I read Salt Bride (due to some controversy over its content) was not as shocking as I had expected. It tells the story of Miss Jane Despard’s miscarriage and, in my opinion, is very sensitively handled, with just the right amount of information revealed. However, having read the book with and without said prologue, I do not believe the story lacked anything by its absence. Ms. Brant very successfully drip feeds the circumstances of Jane’s miscarriage throughout Salt Bride and, on reflection, I preferred the edition without the prologue, as the gradual revelation of past events adds an extra element of mystery to the story.

Both Salt Bride and Salt Redux feature one of the most memorable female villains I have ever encountered. Lady Diana St. John, Salt’s cousin, is truly an exceptional bad-girl. Highly intelligent, but criminally insane, she operates in such a rational, self-possessed manner that her madness is hidden beneath her cloak of self-assured entitlement. She features highly in both novels and the prologue, completely stealing the show with her machinations and downright badness. The lengths to which she goes to achieve her objectives are truly mind boggling, but so expertly does Ms. Brant develop Diana’s character that she manifests as alarmingly believable. I wondered how the author would give Diana the comeuppance she justly deserves and when it came, I was not disappointed.

I loved the character of Magnus Sinclair, Earl of Salt Hendon. He’s an utterly gorgeous man who has been raised to feel completely comfortable in his own skin and fully accepts his powerful position. But he is finally knocked off his pedestal and brought down to the level of a mere mortal by the love and devotion of the serenely beautiful Jane Despard.

The first book is very much about the traumatic events leading up to their forced marriage (a premise I love in HR) and the development of their romance. It is already in its infancy when they marry, but they have some way to go and we see Salt finally becoming a more human, down-to-earth man, loving husband and future father.

The second book features Salt and Jane with a growing family but highlights Salt’s best friend and diplomat, Sir Anthony Templestowe who has recently returned from St. Petersburg where he was the darling of the Russian court. Salt’s little sister Caroline (Caro), and Anthony (Tony) have loved each other for a while, but a high-profile incident at the end of Salt Bride sent Tony into virtual exile in Russia. He now returns to help find a solution which will immobilise his diabolical sister, Diana, once and for all but also hopefully mend some fences with Caro. Anthony is a self-confessed alcoholic and I loved that Lucinda Brant tackles this very real problem in a pragmatic and practical manner, making it perfectly clear, along the way, that it can’t ever be resolved. Anthony has faced that – as alcoholics must – but, more importantly, has accepted that the fight with his addiction is an ongoing one. He is a darling man and his vulnerability just serves to make his character more real and compelling. Caroline, too, has confessions to make before they can reach their HEA and the two make an interesting and charismatic couple.

Lucinda Brant expertly gathers all her primary characters together to bring Diana down – no mean feat – and I wondered, more than once, how she managed to keep her intricate plotting and placing of characters clear in her head. There is so much going on, especially during the dramatic culmination, I had to think twice about where everyone was at any given time. Lucinda Brant doesn’t just write spine tingling romance; she always throws in an element of clever plotting and mystery too. Her ability to keep us guessing is one of the aspects of her writing that I love.

The novella is a nice addition and brings the whole series to a neat conclusion with not one but two delightful romances. Three of the characters appeared in the Salt Duo as secondary characters and the third, Prince Timur-Alexei Nikolai, makes his first appearance in the novella. Lucinda Brant has a pleasing way of including every age group in her romance. We are never too old for love and the elderly Russian Prince is an absolute sweetheart. His addition to the Fairy Christmas a delightful touch and his love story makes for a perfect ending to a terrific series.

I loved the Salt Hendon collection and if you have never read a Lucinda Brant historical romance or mystery, this is a good place to start.


Audio addition: narrated by Alex Wyndham:

It’s hard to believe that Lucinda Brant’s Salt Hendon Collection could be improved on, but with the addition of the highly talented Alex Wyndham’s performance that is exactly what has happened. This already powerful collection has been taken to a new level and I floated along on a cloud of bliss whilst listening to, and basking in, Alex Wyndham’s velvety tones.

In paragraph two above, I said after reading the eBook version:

 “on reflection, I would conclude that I preferred the edition without the prologue…………”.

I now retract that statement – at least with respect to the audio version – because Alex Wyndham’s portrayal of the disturbing and highly emotive scene where Jane Despard loses her baby is so compassionately and empathetically delivered that I fail to see how anyone listening to it could not be deeply moved. His performance and delivery added another layer to an already emotionally charged scene.

Mr. Wyndham goes on to capture every one of Ms. Brant’s host of fascinating characters and switches effortlessly between male or female, young or old with subtle intonations and nuances so the listener is never in doubt as to who he is, even during a multi character conversation.

Two personalities are deserving of a mention because of Alex Wyndham’s stupendous portrayal of them. One is the villainous Diana, so Machiavellian like in her evil and conniving, but so eye wateringly plausible that she’s just down-right scary but, at the same time, strangely fascinating. Mr. Wyndham’s performance of her comeuppance is nothing less than thrilling and, as the drama builds, Alex Wyndham delivers Lucinda Brant’s words with a slowly building suspense leaving the reader feeling emotionally drained at the culmination.

At the other end of the drama scale, we have the utterly irresistible pussy-cat, Prince Timur-Alexei Nikolai. Alex Wyndham uses a heavily accented, slightly scratchy Russian dialect to depict this kind, sweet, perfectly mannered and gentlemanly prince – a class act. One of those cuddly characters – full of wisdom – you can’t help but love.

The uber talented Alex Wyndham has delivered the Salt Hendon Collection to perfection, bringing Ms. Brant’s words into three-dimensional brilliance and offering us an insight into her opulent and fascinating Georgian world. Finally, there was an exceptionally nice touch when, right at the beginning of the book, Alex Wyndham tells us:

“For all the fans who requested the Salt books as a Brant/Wyndham audio collaboration, it’s all here”

I was especially touched by this statement because I was one of those “fans” and felt as if he was speaking directly to me. Is it any wonder that Lucinda Brant (and now Alex Wyndham) has such a loyal following, albeit well deserved, when she hears what her readers/listeners have to say and actually cares what we think?

MY VERDICT: I defy anyone not to adore this feast of a collection. Highly recommended!


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

 

**I received free copies of both the ebook and audiobook from the author in return  for an honest review. **

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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duke-of-pleasure

(Maiden Lane, #11)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian, 1742)

Cover Blurb:

IN THE ARMS OF DANGER

Bold. Brave. Brutally handsome. Hugh Fitzroy, the Duke of Kyle, is the king’s secret weapon. Sent to defeat the notorious Lords of Chaos, he is ambushed in a London alley—and rescued by an unlikely ally: a masked stranger with the unmistakable curves of a woman.

IN THE HEAT OF DESIRE

Cocky. Clever. Courageously independent. Alf has survived on the perilous streets of St. Giles by disguising her sex. By day she is a boy, dealing in information and secrets. By night she’s the notorious Ghost of St. Giles, a masked vigilante. But as she saves Hugh from assassins, she finds herself succumbing to temptation.

ONE KISS WILL CHANGE THEIR LIVES FOREVER

When Hugh hires Alf to investigate the Lords of Chaos, her worlds collide. Once Hugh realizes that the boy and the Ghost are the same, will Alf find the courage to become the woman she needs to be—before the Lords of Chaos destroy them both?


**PUBLICATION DATE: 29th November 2016**

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This is the 11th book in Elizabeth Hoyt’s fabulous Maiden Lane series and it still amazes me that she can consistently enthral me with her fascinating characters, engrossing plots and sensual romances.

Ms Hoyt excels in writing unconventional heroines, none more so than Alf who first appeared in Lord of Darkness where it was revealed that this young street urchin is in fact a woman. Alf survived the dangerous streets of St Giles, where she was born and bred, by disguising herself as a boy.  Bold, tenacious and quick-witted, she had made a living as an informant. Godric St John (hero of Lord of Darkness and retired Ghost of St Giles) saw her potential and trained her to become the Ghost of St Giles. During the day, she is Alf, but at night she is the Ghost of St Giles, willing to put her life on the line to protect those weaker than herself.

At night she was the Ghost of St Giles. She protected the people of St Giles—her people, living in the big, dark woods. She ran out the monsters—the murderers and rapists and robbers. And she flew over the roofs of the city by moonlight, free and wild. During the day she was Alf, a boy. 

I was pleased to see the return of the Ghost especially as Ms Hoyt chose a woman for the role. I had this wonderful vision of Alf gracefully “darting, wheeling and spinning” whilst wielding her two swords.

Hugh is the illegitimate son of King William but had been formally acknowledged by his father and granted the title of Duke of Kyle, together with considerable land, money and an education befitting a duke. The King has now charged Hugh with destroying the Lords of Chaos, a secret club committing terrible acts of debauchery.

Hugh suffered emotionally in the past. A man of deep passions, he married Katherine with whom he was besotted, but it wasn’t long before he realised that he a had made a terrible mistake. Desperate to get away, he took a commission in the army and went abroad; his only regret was leaving his two young sons, Christopher and Peter. When news reaches him that his wife has died after falling from her horse, he resigns his commission and returns home. He has vowed never again to be swept away by passion for a woman.

…never let passion for a woman sweep away reason, self-preservation, and sense, for that way led to devastation.

I like how Hugh’s relationship with his sons is explored because it gives his character greater depth. It is obvious that he loves them but both boys are still coping with the recent loss of their mother and he doesn’t know how to reach out to them. The eldest, Christopher, hates his father for not being there for them, while the youngest, Peter, suffers from terrible nightmares. Some of the scenes where Hugh tries to comfort Peter are heart-rending to read.

In this series, Ms Hoyt always pairs the most unlikely hero and heroine but she makes the romance work beautifully. A duke and a street urchin shouldn’t work on many levels but it does, and I was rooting for Hugh and Alf to find the happiness they deserve.

I understood why Hugh fights his feelings for Alf but it is a lost cause because…

She made his heart beat fast. Freed all those wild emotions he thought he’d safely locked away when he’d left England three years ago.

and Alf’s feelings are just as potent…

She wanted him with every breath she drew, a painful longing inside her lungs, until it felt as if she’d break apart and shatter into tiny pieces of glass if she could not touch him.

The air positively sizzles when these two are together and there is a particularly erotic scene where Alf has a rather inventive way of evading capture when they are being chased by members of the Lords of Chaos!

I love the scenes between Alf and Hugh’s children. She connects with them in a way that he hasn’t been able to, but she also paves the way for Hugh to reconcile with his children. It also gives Alf something she has never had before – a family.

It was as if her heart had been a tiny seed, alone in a dark box, and Hugh and his boys had shone light on it.

Murder, kidnapping and code-breaking – there’s plenty of action, danger and mystery to keep the story moving as Hugh and Alf work to track down the Lords of Chaos.

Godric St John and his wife, Megs, make an appearance and two new characters are introduced.

  • The widowed Iris Daniels, Lady Jordan, a friend of Hugh’s who takes Alf under her wing when plans require Alf to dress as a woman for the first time.
  • The mysterious, scarred Raphael de Chartres, Duke of Dyemore

After reading the Epilogue, I can’t wait to read their story in Duke of Desire!!

MY VERDICT: Another highly recommended addition to this outstanding series.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

The Maiden Lane series so far (click the book cover for more details):
Wicked Intentions (Maiden Lane, #1) by Elizabeth Hoyt Notorious Pleasures (Maiden Lane, #2) by Elizabeth Hoyt Scandalous Desires (Maiden Lane, #3) by Elizabeth Hoyt Thief of Shadows (Maiden Lane, #4) by Elizabeth Hoyt Lord of Darkness (Maiden Lane, #5) by Elizabeth Hoyt Duke of Midnight (Maiden Lane, #6) by Elizabeth Hoyt Darling Beast (Maiden Lane, #7) by Elizabeth Hoyt Dearest Rogue (Maiden Lane, #8) by Elizabeth Hoyt Sweetest Scoundrel (Maiden Lane, #9) by Elizabeth Hoyt Duke of Sin (Maiden Lane, #10) by Elizabeth Hoyt Once Upon a Moonlit Night (Maiden Lane, #10.5) by Elizabeth Hoyt Duke of Pleasure (Maiden Lane, #11) by Elizabeth Hoyt– 29th November 2016

**I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review. **
 

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