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Posts Tagged ‘5 Stars’

The Lost Letter

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian)

Cover Blurb:

England, 1860. An impoverished Victorian beauty is unexpectedly reunited with the now beastly earl who once broke her heart. Will they finally find their happily-ever-after? Or are some fairy-tale endings simply not meant to be?

A PROUD BEAUTY 
Society beauty Sylvia Stafford is far too pragmatic to pine. When the tragic death of her gamester father leaves her destitute and alone, she finds work as a governess in a merchant’s household in Cheapside. Isolated from the fashionable acquaintance of her youth, she resigns herself to lonely spinsterhood until a mysterious visitor convinces her to temporarily return to her former life–and her former love.

A SCARRED BEAST
Colonel Sebastian Conrad is no longer the dashing cavalry officer Sylvia once fell in love with. Badly scarred during the Sepoy Rebellion, he has withdrawn to his estate in rural Hertfordshire where he lives in near complete seclusion. Brooding and tormented, he cares nothing for the earldom he has inherited–and even less for the faithless beauty who rejected him three years before.

A SECOND CHANCE
A week together in the remote Victorian countryside is the last thing either of them ever wanted. But when fate intervenes to reunite them, will a beastly earl and an impoverished beauty finally find their happily-ever-after? Or are some fairy-tale endings simply not meant to be?

♥♥♥♥♥♥

I loved this tender, emotional and romantic debut novel from Mimi Matthews which features a second chance story, one of my favorite themes. 

Colonel Sebastian Conrad followed the career expected of all the second sons of the Earls of Radcliffe and became a soldier. Orderly, disciplined and rather serious, life as a career cavalry officer suited Sebastian perfectly. While on leave in London, he accepts an invitation to a musical evening where he is captivated by the lovely Sylvia Stafford.

With her genuine warmth and kindness, baronet’s daughter, Sylvia Stafford, is very popular and has attracted many suitors. However, it is the rather serious and aloof Colonel Conrad to whom she is attracted.

Over the next two months, they meet ‘by accident’ at various events and it is obvious that they have fallen in love. Sylvia anticipates that Sebastian will propose, especially when he asks for a lock of her hair and they kiss, but Sebastian does not propose, fearing rejection. The following night, he is ordered back to his regiment in India to assist in putting down a rebellion. When Sylvia’s numerous letters to Sebastian go unanswered and Sebastian’s letters to Sylvia are returned unopened, both feel hurt and betrayed by the other.

Three years have passed, and both have experienced dramatic changes in their lives. After Sylvia’s father, an inveterate gambler, lost everything on a hand of cards, he committed suicide and, because of the ensuing scandal, Sylvia’s remaining family and her society friends deserted her. Forced to fend for herself, she obtains a position as governess to a merchant family’s children. It has taken a long time to recover from the pain and hurt of Sebastian’s rejection but now she is happy and contented with her new life.

Terribly scarred and blind in one eye, Sebastian has returned to England to find that both his father and elder brother have died of fever and he is now the Earl of Radcliffe. In continual pain, he lives a lonely and isolated existence in his apartments at Pershing Hall with no interest in running the estate and totally disconnected from his former life. I can understand Sebastian’s reasons for wanting to hide himself away; even his own sister, Julia, screamed when she first saw his face and he fears his tenants’ reactions should they see him.

It was too easy to imagine their horrified reaction to the sight of his scarred face. Granted, he had known most of his father’s tenants since his youth, but mere familiarity was no guarantee that they would not respond to him with pity and disgust.

Julia, however, is determined to draw her brother out of his state of apathy and, when she sees the lock of hair he always keeps with him, she will leave no stone unturned to find its owner.  Having discovered her identity, Julia visits Sylvia and is not above telling a few white lies to persuade a very reluctant Sylvia to return to Pershing Hall as her guest for a few weeks.  It is Julia’s fervent hope that spending time together will rekindle the love that Sebastian and Sylvia once shared. Even though she fears the reception she might get, I admire Sylvia for her courage and compassion in agreeing to accompany Julia.

No matter how cruelly Sebastian had treated her in the past, he did not deserve to be suffering in such a dreadful manner. No one did. If her presence could alleviate even a fraction of his pain, she must go to him.

I like how Ms. Matthews creates a palpable tension between Sebastian and Sylvia in the library scene. Driven by his feelings of hurt, bitterness and anger for having been shunned in such a heartless way, Sebastian is cold and distant towards Sylvia. Knowing of her reduced circumstances, he believes the worst…that her motives are purely mercenary now that he is an earl. While Sylvia is sure that her father’s scandalous death and her bold first letter to Sebastian offended him, and they were the reasons for him not answering her letters.

It is obvious that they are still very much in love, but the past remains an ever-present obstacle until the truth concerning the letters finally comes to light. Someone had deliberately set out to mislead them into believing they had forgotten each other and I felt so much sympathy for Sylvia, knowing that this person had deceived her for their own selfish motives with no thought for her happiness. This is a turning point for them because they are now able to talk openly. I like how Sebastian apologizes for his previous cruel and uncivil behaviour and Sylvia is determined that Sebastian will no longer hide himself away in darkened libraries and shadowy portrait galleries. He is fearful that, seeing him in the light of day, will drive Sylvia away and I love the poignant scene that follows.

…then she set her fingertips very gently on the scar at the side of his eye. Her touch was warm and soft and heart-breakingly tender. He tried to concentrate on his breathing. An impossible task as she began to trace the path of his scar down his cheek.

The romance is beautifully written – sweet, tender and romantic, with only one passionate kissing scene, which fits the mood of the story perfectly.

As in all good romances, the course of true love doesn’t run completely smoothly when Sylvia misconstrues something Sebastian says. It takes the discovery of the ‘Lost Letter’ to put them back on track for a Happy Ever After. It is such a touching moment when Sebastian reads the letter, sealed with a thousand sweet kisses only for him and I love the scene when he finally responds to her letter in person. So romantic!

I like how the secondary characters play an important role in the story, especially Julia and Sebastian’s valet, Milsom. Julia maybe annoying at times and her methods rather questionable, but her heart is in the right place and it’s obvious that she loves her brother very much. I like the genuine affection between Sebastian’s and Milsom. Julia and Milsom’s various ploys to bring Sebastian and Sylvia together are amusing and provide some lighter moments in the story.

I like Ms. Matthews’ elegant writing style and the story has an authentic Victorian feel to it.

MY VERDICT: A beautifully written, emotionally satisfying, character driven love story. Highly recommended.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS
SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

 

**I received a complimentary copy from the author for the purposes of an honest review. ** 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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His Mistletoe Wager

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

“Five berries equal the five separate kisses I challenge you to steal.” 

Notorious rake Henry Stuart, Earl of Redbridge, is certain he’ll win his Christmas bet—until he learns he’ll be stealing Lady Elizabeth Wilding’s kisses. A woman who refuses to be charmed!

Once jilted, Lizzie must guard her heart, because the ton is unaware of her scandalous secret—her son! Despite their increasing attraction, she can’t risk the persistent Hal bringing down her defenses. But when her former fiancé returns, Lizzie realizes that perhaps Hal’s the one man she can trust—with her heart and her son…

Mistletoe 2

What a delightful, romantic and heart-warming Christmas story!

Henry (Hal) Stuart, only son and heir to the Earl of Redbridge, hated everything his mean, dictatorial father stood for and adopting a rakish lifestyle was his way of annoying his father. After inheriting the earldom, Hal finds that his old life has lost its appeal and he is more interested in running the estate, reading the financial news and listening to debates in the Lords. He isn’t looking forward to the approaching Christmas season because it means he will be obligated to continue the family tradition of attending every festive event for a month culminating in a ball hosted by himself on Twelfth Night. Since rejecting his old lifestyle, Hal feels that something is missing in his life and when his brother-in-law and best friend, Aaron Wincanton, Viscount Ardleigh, suggests a wager – steal 5 kisses, one for each berry on the sprig of mistletoe Hal is holding, in five different locations before Twelfth Night, with the usual stake of the loser mucking out the other’s stables single-handed – it’s a wager that Hal has every confidence in winning…

“I can assure you. I am the single most eligible man at this ball. I am phenomenally wealthy, devilishly handsome, totally charming and, as you have quite rightly pointed out, I’m an earl. There isn’t a young lady in that ballroom who would not welcome my advances.”

Maybe his confidence might be a little premature when Aaron names the lady he has chosen for the wager…the frosty, unapproachable Lady Elizabeth Wilding.

Lady Elizabeth (Lizzie) Wilding’s world was shattered when her fiancé jilted her on their wedding day, leaving her not only broken-hearted but pregnant as well. Her father used his political connections and respected position in society to protect his daughter’s reputation and Lizzie has emerged a stronger and harder woman. Her father refuses to give up hope that she might find a suitable husband but nothing will tempt her to ever marry again.

She was no longer a dreamer but a realist whose eyes had been opened to the harsh realities of life.

Lizzie has been able to keep her son George’s (Georgie) existence a secret, but he has led an isolated existence well away from the eyes of the ton. Now he is older, Lizzie wants Georgie to have a normal childhood; to go school, make friends and grow up free from the stigma of his illegitimacy. She has purchased a cottage in Yorkshire with an inheritance from her grandmother and, once the Christmas festivities are over, she intends to start a new life there as Mrs Smith, a young war widow. The only thing Lizzie dreads is telling her father who has always stood by her and adores his grandson.

It is wonderful to see how much Lizzie loves her son Charlie and the sacrifices she is willing to make to protect him. She is also selfless in her love for and loyalty to her father and her determination that her foolish indiscretion will not bring scandal to the family. I admire Lizzie’s father who clearly loves his daughter very much and gives her his unconditional support when so many girls in her situation would have been shunned by their family and forced to give up their baby.

I love how the relationship between Hal and Lizzie develops slowly. I anticipated that their initial meeting at the ball would be full of witty banter and I wasn’t disappointed. When Hal’s tactics fail, and Lizzie gives him short shrift, he is not one to admit defeat where a wager is concerned, even if it means confronting the Wilding’s large, imposing butler, Stevens, who looks more like a prize fighter than a butler. Their various exchanges are pure delight.

Hal edged into the room as her bodyguard glared at him murderously. ‘I will be just outside the door. Just outside the door.’
‘Message received and understood, Stevens. Whilst you are out there, I don’t suppose you could rustle up some tea?’ Hal grinned cheekily, and she quite admired his bravado. ‘Only it’s dashed cold outside and I could do with something to warm me up.’

I ADORE Hal and totally fell in love with him. Beneath all that flippant, roguish charm is an honourable, intelligent and kind man. He sees beyond Lizzie’s ironclad façade to the beautiful, intelligent, loyal and witty woman beneath, whose company he enjoys and is determined to discover the secret he knows she is hiding, even if it involves risking life and limb scaling an ancient wisteria bush! When he finds out about Georgie, initially he has mixed emotions, but ultimately he realises that…

Lizzie was his friend. 
She was in trouble.
An innocent little boy was in trouble, too.

I enjoyed seeing Lizzie gradually softening towards Hal and recognising that he is more than just a charming rake lacking in substance and purpose; he is a strong, honourable and loyal man, willing to defend her against the evil machinations of the odious Lord Ockenden and his associate, Lizzie’s former fiancé, the dissolute Marquess of Rainham

Her knight in shining armour smiled, although there was ice in his eyes and a hardness about his jaw she had never seen before. Physically he appeared to have grown. Devoid of his veneer of charm, he was huge. Menacing. Ready to charge into battle like one of the lead soldiers he had picked out for her little boy.

Hal has such a natural way with children which is evident in the way he strikes up an immediate rapport with Georgie and their scenes together are charming. I also love how he insists on teaching his nieces to be hellions much to the chagrin of his sister, Connie.

I feel that Ms. Heath handles the solution to the potential scandal surrounding Georgie in a clever and believable way and paves the way for a well-deserved Happy Ever After for Hal and Lizzie.

MY VERDICT: If you are looking for a delightful, witty, romantic and passionate romance to read over the festive period, then I can most definitely recommend His Mistletoe Wager.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

 

**I received a complimentary copy from the author for the purposes of an honest review**

 

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A Raven's Heart

(Secrets and Spies, #2)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

August 1815. The war with France is officially over, Napoleon’s an exile on St Helena, but Europe is still a very dangerous place to be.

Kidnapped and held for ransom at nineteen, ducal heir William Ravenwood knows the only person he can rely on is himself. Now part of a spy ring that includes his friends Nicolas and Richard Hampden, he’s the smuggler known as The Raven, a ruthless agent who specializes in rescuing hostages and prisoners of war from captivity.

Raven longs to discover the fate of his colleague, Christopher ‘Kit’ Carlisle, who’s been missing, presumed dead, for over two years. He’s also equally determined to stay away from the one thing he knows is dangerous to his health – the bane of his life, his best friends’ infuriating and provocative little sister, Heloise.

Heloise is a brilliant code breaker, one of the English government’s most valuable assets. She’s also loved Raven for years, but considering that he rejected her at sixteen, before her face was scarred rescuing her brother from an icy river, she’s certain he doesn’t want her now, despite his outrageous flirting.

But when Heloise decodes a message that proves Kit is alive and a prisoner in Spain, Raven realizes she’s in grave danger. With French agents determined to silence her, he’ll do whatever it takes to keep her safe – even if that means taking her to Spain with him as an unwilling hostage.

As they face French deserters and Spanish freedom fighters, Raven and Heloise try to ignore the simmering attraction that’s been building between them for eight long years. The differences between them are striking but they’ve always had a strange underlying bond. Heloise might be scarred outwardly, but Raven’s wounds are all on the inside. He knows he’s not worthy of her love—a shadowed Hades pining for sun-kissed Persephone—but he’s not above showing her passion for the short time they’re together.

A master at decoding complex messages, Heloise finds Raven frustratingly hard to read, but as their lives hang in the balance she’s determined to unravel his secrets and unlock his dark, elusive heart…

♥♥♥♥♥♥

I loved TO STEAL A HEART, Ms. Bateman’s debut novel, and the first book in her Secrets and Spies series. I was hoping that A RAVEN’S HEART would be just as good, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. 

Six years ago, nineteen-year-old William de L’Isle, Viscount Ravenwood (Raven), was kidnapped and held for ransom. A proud and stubborn man, his grandfather, the Duke of Avondale, refused to pay the kidnappers, hoping to thwart their plans by hiring Bow Street Runners to find his grandson.  Meanwhile, William endured eight weeks in captivity, facing beatings and potential death every day. Finally, he managed to escape by killing one of the guards, but the experience left him a changed man. He has never forgiven his grandfather, refusing to have anything to do with him and rejecting the titles due to him following his father’s death.  Instead, he joined Lord Castlereagh’s spy network, working alongside his childhood friends and fellow spies, Richard and Nicolas Hampden. Ruthless, deadly and efficient, it is a job he excels at, killing without guilt or remorse.

Heloise Hampden, Richard and Nicolas’s younger sister, has always had a rebellious streak, hating the restrictions placed on women by society and longing for freedom and adventure. When her face is scarred trying to save her brother from drowning, thus curtailing her marriage prospects, her life becomes one of scholarly pursuits. Her skill at code-breaking brings her to the attention of Lord Castlereagh and she relishes the opportunity of serving her country decoding French messages. When a fellow code-breaker is murdered, and an attempt is made on Heloise’s life, Castlereagh assigns Raven to protect her.

However, Raven and Heloise (or Hellcat as he calls her) grew up on neighbouring estates and, as her brothers’ friend, he was a frequent visitor to the Hampdens. There has always been a strong spark of attraction between them that neither would acknowledge. They managed to conceal their true feelings by exchanging barbed insults, but the mutual attraction shows no sign of abating.

Hellcat Hampden had been the subject of his guilty daydreams for years. What had started out as adolescent musings had matured into fevered erotic fantasies that showed absolutely no sign of abating.

♥♥♥

She was fluent in five different languages, but in Raven’s presence she could barely string a coherent sentence together.

Heloise decodes a letter suggesting that Raven’s friend, Kit Carlisle, who has been missing for two years, is alive and an exchange of prisoners is possible. This exchange is to take place in a small Spanish village just over the French border and Raven is determined to rescue his friend, but he must also protect Heloise and there is only one way to do that – take her with him.

Raven is one of those gorgeous, cynical, arrogant, tormented heroes that I can’t resist, while Heloise is my sort of heroine – intelligent, headstrong, stubborn and unconventional, although she does have one sinful extravagance which Raven certainly approves of!

These two have an amazing chemistry and I enjoyed their entertaining and witty repartee.

He chinked the rim of his own glass against hers and downed the contents.“Bottoms up.” 

With a mental shrug Heloise did the same. Her throat caught fire. Tears sprang to her eyes. When she could catch her breath she croaked out, “Good Lord! That’s vile.” Raven grinned and took her empty glass. “Good girl. Now, as you rightly said, I have to ‘go captain.’ Is there anything else you require?” 

“Only your absence,” she managed. 

He backed out the door with a mocking flourish. “Your humble servant.”

He took two more glasses from a servant. “Here, drink this.”

 She accepted it without thinking. A drunken reveler jostled her arm and a cold wash of champagne splashed onto her chest and trickled down between her breasts. “Oh, bugger-and-arse!” she muttered.

 “That’s what I love about you, Hellcat. Always so ladylike. Just when I despair that the impulsive hellion I grew up with has vanished, you say something like that and the world rights itself again.” 

She growled at him. Actually growled. 

“You shouldn’t do that, either,” he admonished gently. “It makes little wrinkles in your nose.”

Every scene just sizzles with sexual tension and their feelings of frustration, longing, fear, regret and desire are palpable. Ms. Bateman creates a delicious sense of anticipation and when they finally make love, it just feels right. The love scene is beautifully done – tender, romantic, sensual and laced with moments of humour. There is just the right balance between the action and romance and the dangers Raven and Heloise face along the journey only serve to heighten the sexual tension.

Raven believes that because he embraced his darker emotions, he is unworthy of someone as good as Heloise. When he tells Heloise of everything he endured during his imprisonment, it gave me a real understanding of the deep emotional impact it had on him and how he was changed by the experience. Only Heloise can cut through the anger and bitterness to convince him that he is loyal, brave and fearless; willing to do whatever it takes to protect those he loves and cares about. Heloise is his anchor and keeps him grounded.

I like how Raven doesn’t see Heloise’s scar as ugly but as proof that she is a survivor and I love his words to her.

“You’re like the moon. IT has craters and scars and shadows. But only an idiot would deny that it is beautiful.”

The scene between Raven and his grandfather is an emotional one. Raven comes to realise that his grandfather is only human and made mistakes just as he himself has. He now sees rejecting his father’s titles as an insult to his parents’ memory and to everything he could be.

Ms. Bateman has obviously undertaken a lot of research to create a real sense of the period and I love how she weaves fascinating historical details, mythology and real people into the story. I particularly like how her expert knowledge of antiques comes into play  where she refers to the ancient Japanese art of Kinstukuroi, cleverly revealing how much Raven cares for Heloise.

MY VERDICT: A well-written and engaging story with fascinating characters, adventure, danger, sizzling sexual tension and witty repartee. Highly recommended.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Secrets and Spies series (click on the book covers for more details):

To Steal a Heart (Secrets and Spies, #1) by K.C. Bateman A Raven's Heart (Secrets & Spies, #2) by K.C. Bateman A Counterfeit Heart (Secrets & Spies, #3) by K.C. Bateman

 

 

**I received a complimentary copy from the publisher via NetGalley for the purposes of an honest review**

 

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Satyr's Son

(Roxton Family Saga, #6)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian, 1786)

Cover Blurb:

Roxton Family Saga Book 5: Henri-Antoine and Lisa’s Happily Ever After 

London, 1786. Lord Henri-Antoine has returned from the Grand Tour to a life of privilege and excess. A vast inheritance allows him every indulgence, free from responsibility. Yet, Henri-Antoine maintains a well-ordered existence, going to great lengths to conceal an affliction few understand, and many fear.

Miss Lisa Crisp is a penniless orphan who relies on the charity of relatives to keep her from the poorhouse. Intelligent and unflappable, Lisa will not allow poverty to define her. She leads a useful life working among the sick poor.

Under startling circumstances, Henri-Antoine and Lisa meet. There is instant attraction. When they find themselves attending the same wedding in the country, Henri-Antoine offers Lisa a scandalous proposition, one she should refuse but yearns to accept. Following her heart could ruin them both.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This is final book in Ms Brant’s outstanding Roxton Family Saga and, although all the other books in the series are fabulous, there is just something special about this one that captured my heart and I totally fell in love with Henri-Antoine and Lisa’s story.

Lord Henri-Antoine (Harry) Hesham is the second son of the late Renard, fifth Duke of Roxton, and his much younger, beloved wife Antonia. Handsome, arrogantly self-assured and rich, Harry can have any woman he fancies, and his licentious behaviour with actresses and other men’s mistresses suggest that he is following in the footsteps of his late father whose scandalous exploits, before marrying Antonia, were legendary. However, Harry has suffered from the ‘falling sickness’ (epilepsy) since birth, something which is a closely guarded secret known only to his immediate family and his best friend Sir John (Jack) Cavendish. At the age of 25, Harry still suffers seizures, although they are less frequent, and he has tried to convince his family that he is cured. To maintain this deception, he employs a group of loyal and trusted servants – “the lads” – to look after him in the event of a seizure and ensure that he is safe and well away from public view. Although Harry professes not to be the marrying kind, Jack genuinely believes that he will one day find his soul mate.

“I believe there is someone out there for you, and that she will be the great love of your life because that is what you need, Harry. And it is what you deserve. And because you are a romantic I know that when you fall in love you’ll well and truly fall, as if off a cliff. And when that happens, don’t fight it; embrace it.”

Since being orphaned at the age of nine, Lisa Crisp has lived with Dr Warner, an eminent physician, and his wife, Minette, Lisa’s cousin, but is largely ignored.

To the Warners, Lisa was simply there, like a piece of furniture, or a scullery maid, and thus rarely thought of at all.

Intelligent and capable, Lisa assists in Dr Warner’s dispensary, which provides services for the sickly poor, giving aid and comfort to the patients and writing letters for those who can read but not write. She has earned a reputation for being trustworthy and calm in a crisis. Lisa’s ability to remain cool in an emergency plays an important part in her unconventional, first meeting with Harry. Lisa knows from experience that he is having a seizure and, although Harry is a total stranger, she cares for him ensuring that no-one sees him in such a vulnerable state until help arrives in the form of “the lads”.

Having heard what happened from Jack, Harry is intrigued by the young woman who remained so calm and capable and totally unfazed by his condition and wants to see her himself. Lisa is surprised when he arrives at Dr Warner’s to thank her in person and a definite spark of mutual attraction flares between them. When Harry returns to present Lisa with a beautiful writing box as a ‘token’ of his gratitude for all she did for him, the discovery that they are both attending a friend’s wedding has them both wondering if they might be attending the same wedding.  In fact, Lisa’s aunt had been chief lady in waiting to Harry’s mother, Antonia, who had sponsored Lisa ‘s attendance at Blacklands, an exclusive boarding school. Whilst there, Lisa developed a close friendship with Miss Theodora Charlotte (Teddy) Cavendish but, when Lisa was expelled from school for scandalous behaviour, the two girls lost touch with each other. Lisa is therefore surprised but thrilled to receive an invitation to Teddy’s wedding to Sir John Cavendish.

Their romance blossoms against the background of Teddy and Jack’s wedding celebrations, but can a duke’s son and a penniless orphan, with ink-stained fingers, have a fairy tale happy ending?

I think Harry is the most complex of all the heroes in this series. At face value, it would be easy to dislike him because, at times, his behaviour is reprehensible, but dig deeper and beneath that arrogant, overbearing veneer, there is a vulnerable man beset by fears and insecurities. In the poignant scene where he talks to Lisa about his father, there is a sense of the deep loving bond between father and son and how devastated the twelve-year-old Harry felt when he died. He has never fully recovered from that loss and, when he thinks that he is losing Lisa, it is anger, frustration and fear that makes him lash out and say cruel and hurtful things to the two people he loves the most. It also makes him feel insecure about himself.

…if he’d not had position and wealth, what was he, and how wanted would he be?

Harry has the added burden that he knows the falling sickness carries a great social stigma, not only for the sufferers but their families too, and has always been determined that his family would not be subjected to scandal and ridicule.

Like Lisa, I discovered that Harry is kind, generous, caring and loving. With the large inheritance he received from his father, he set up the Fournier Foundation to fund dispensaries providing free medical help for the poor, medical research and scholarships for students from poor backgrounds who showed great potential. I like how loyal and generous he is to Jack and truly wants to see him happy.

Lisa’s calmness and capability are definite advantages when dealing with Harry and I like her confidence and directness which he finds so disconcerting. She actually has the nerve to rebuke him at one point:

She had rebuked him, then dismissed him as a lackey. A girl in a plain gown and scuffed shoes, whose fingers were ink stained, thenails short, the skin rough from work, and whose family were possibly one step up from the gutter, had dared to reproach him, the son of a duke, the brother of the most powerful duke in the kingdom.

and later shocks him by kissing him first!

She also sees the real man behind the arrogant mask and comes to understand him in a way that others have failed to, and I like how she realises the significance of his walking stick. I can understand her willingness to become his mistress because she loves him deeply and if this is the only way she can be with him, then so be it. I also admire her unselfish reasons for not accepting Harry’s proposal of marriage. She does not want to bring scandal to his family or drive a wedge between him and his brother, Julian.

As with all Ms. Brant’s books, the romance is beautifully written; sweet, tender, romantic and sensual, without being overtly explicit. I particularly love the scene in the Neptune’s Grotto where Harry and Lisa finally consummate their love which reflects all these qualities. Although he would never admit it in a hundred years, Harry is a romantic at heart and I love the notes he leaves in the secret compartments of Lisa’s writing box.

I loved Teddy in Proud Mary and was hoping she would get her Happy Ever After with Jack. They are a delightful couple and Jack’s calm affability is the perfect foil for Teddy’s exuberant nature.

The rest of the extended Roxton family play an important role in the story especially.

  • Antonia, the matriarch of the family, always wise and loving, but still able to reduce her 40 year-old-son to a whining four-year-old!
  • the female members of the family who show genuine warmth and kindness to Lisa, something that had been sadly lacking in her life.
  • Antonia’s husband Jonathon who is always a tower of strength and there when Lisa needs him the most and offering some sound advice.
  • Elsie, Antonia and Jonathan’s adorable daughter, who strikes up a friendship with Lisa and whose interactions with her brother Harry, reveal how much he loves his little sister.

I admire Michel Gillet, Harry’s major domo, for realising that Lisa has a rare inner beauty and is willing to risk the formidable Duke of Roxton’s wrath by telling him so. I also like Dr Warner who shows how much he cares for Lisa and appreciates all the work she has done for him.

How I Imagine Harry

Satyr's Son - Harry

How I Imagine Lisa

Satyr's Son - Lisa

I am sad to say goodbye to all these wonderful characters whose stories I have loved so much but I hope that perhaps, one day, Ms. Brant might decide to revisit them.

MY VERDICT: A wonderful ending to this superb series. HIGHLY RECOMMMENDED.


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

 

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

 Noble Satyr Midnight Marriage Autumn Duchess Dair Devil Proud Mary Satyr's Son

**I received a complimentary copy from the author for the purposes of an honest review. **

 

 

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Not Quite a Husband 2

(The Marsdens, #2)

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

Cover Blurb:

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

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

♥♥♥♥♥♥

After reading NOT QUITE A HUSBAND, I wasn’t surprised that it won the RITA Award for Best Historical Romance in 2010.  I LOVED it and was totally swept away by this intensely emotional, second-chance love story.

I understood the importance of the Prologue in revealing Bryony as a woman who feels deeply, and not the cold, unfeeling and often unlikable person she appears to be in the story. Without this glimpse of Bryony’s vulnerability, it would have been hard for me to empathise with her. I also understood how Bryony’s childhood experiences shaped the person she became; not quite two when her mother died, she knew nothing but neglect from her absentee father and desperate loneliness. That all changed with the arrival of her stepmother, Toddy, who became her friend and companion and…

…her fairy godmother who’d dispelled loneliness and breathed magic into her life.

I could only imagine how devastated Bryony was when her beloved Toddy died in childbirth but, later in the story, Toddy’s daughter, Callista, provides some idea of how it affected Bryony.

“All your emotions were so intense—your anger like daggers, your unhappiness a poisoned well. Even your love had such sharp corners and dark alleys.

Eventually, Bryony left home to focus on becoming a doctor with a cool, impersonal dedication and, by the age of 28, she has had an illustrious career, although most of society disapprove of her occupation considering it, or any employment, as inappropriate for a gentleman’s daughter.

Leo is a handsome, charming, witty and extremely popular – a veritable Adonis. He is also greatly admired as a mathematical genius, a budding playwright and an explorer. From the first moment Bryony meets Leo, she falls hopelessly in love with him and can’t believe that such a gorgeous man could be interested in a spinster like herself. What she doesn’t realise is that Leo, who lived on the neighbouring estate, has been in love with her since he was a boy of eleven, 4 years her junior, but she had never even noticed him. When she proposes to Leo, it is the happiest moment of his life but, after the marriage, it is obvious that something is terribly wrong.  Bryony becomes cold, frigid and indifferent to Leo, eventually locking him out of her bedroom. Leo has no idea what the problem is and does everything he can to please Bryony but to no avail, and when Bryony asks for an annulment, Leo agrees.

In the intervening 3 years, after working in various parts of the world, Bryony is running a clinic in the North-West Frontier region of India. The last person she expects to see in this remote part of the world is Leo. Callista has sent him to escort her back home because her father is ill. During the arduous and dangerous journey, Ms. Thomas gradually reveals their past in flashbacks woven into the fabric of story, and these finally shed light on the reason for Bryony’s dramatic change of attitude towards Leo. I felt heartbroken for Bryony discovering that the man she idolized and loved was ultimately flawed. Forgiveness is not in her nature. Toddy had become the yardstick by which she measured everyone and Bryony couldn’t accept anyone who was less than perfect.

I felt Leo’s shame and self-loathing when he finally discovers the real reason for the deterioration of their marriage; knowing that his stupid youthful decision had shattered everything between them and caused Bryony such pain and heartache. But Leo more than redeemed himself in my eyes, because of his continuing love for and his to devotion to Bryony; following her around the world to ensure that she had someone close by if she ever needed help.

Each love scene is beautifully crafted and perfectly reflects Bryony and Leo’s emotional state and I especially love the ‘tub’ scene which is deliciously erotic.

It is obvious that these two still love each other but it is only when they are facing possible death that they are finally able to talk openly and honestly for the first time and realise that they both need to face their fears head on and put their trust in each other.

 She rested her head against the bedpost and gazed at him. “Your trust gives me courage.”     He understood her perfectly. “And your courage gives me faith.”
   She smiled a little. “Do you trust me?”
“Yes,” he answered without any hesitation.
“Then trust me when I say that we will be all right.”
He trusted her. And he knew then that they would be all right, the two of them. Together.

The North-West Frontier of British India provides an unusual setting for the story, and I feel it adds an additional and fascinating layer to the story.  The difficult and dangerous journey seems almost to mirror Bryony and Leo’s turbulent relationship.

Having read the fascinating story behind the book, which Ms. Thomas features on her website, I appreciated her extensive research into the various regions traversed during their journey, the costumes, the culture, the politics and the various factions competing for control in the region. I would recommend visiting Ms. Thomas’s website (link below) before starting the book, because there are various photos including ones of the places mentioned on the journey together with a map.

http://sherrythomas.com/not-quite-a-husband.php

I absolutely love Ms. Thomas’s beautiful, emotive and evocative prose and here are just a few of my favourite quotes.

 To look upon her and know that he’d lost her through his own misdeed—love had become a thing of nails and spikes, every breath a re-impaling, every pulse a bright, sharp pain.
♥♥♥

She glowed. There was no other word for it, as if the walls around her heart had at last crumpled enough to reveal her hidden capacity for joy, for life. And what a radiant thing it was.
♥♥♥ 

“You were the moon of my existence; your moods dictated the tides of my heart.”
 ♥♥♥ 

She wanted them to grow old together, to gaze into each other’s clouded eyes and peck each other on the cheeks with lips sunken over toothless gums.
♥♥♥

The Epilogue provides one on those lovely moments when I knew that Bryony and Leo are assured of a well-deserved Happy Ever After.

On Sunday afternoons, rain or shine, Professor and Mrs. Marsden take a walk along The Backs, and treasure growing old together.

MY VERDICT: Complex, flawed characters, emotional intensity, powerful sexual chemistry and a fascinating historical backdrop all combine to make this an outstanding second chance love story. Highly recommended.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT


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

Delicious by Sherry Thomas Not Quite a Husband by Sherry Thomas

 

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The Duchess Deal

(Girl Meets Duke, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

When girl meets Duke, their marriage breaks all the rules… 

Since his return from war, the Duke of Ashbury’s to-do list has been short and anything but sweet: brooding, glowering, menacing London ne’er-do-wells by night. Now there’s a new item on the list. He needs an heir—which means he needs a wife. When Emma Gladstone, a vicar’s daughter turned seamstress, appears in his library wearing a wedding gown, he decides on the spot that she’ll do.

His terms are simple:
– They will be husband and wife by night only.
– No lights, no kissing.
– No questions about his battle scars.
– Last, and most importantly… Once she’s pregnant with his heir, they need never share a bed again.

But Emma is no pushover. She has a few rules of her own:
– They will have dinner together every evening.
– With conversation.
– And unlimited teasing.
– Last, and most importantly… Once she’s seen the man beneath the scars, he can’t stop her from falling in love…

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Whenever I pick up a Tessa Dare book, I know that I’m going to be enchanted by a story rich in warmth, emotion and humour; one that is romantic, sexy and full of endearing characters. THE DUCHESS DEAL, the first book in her new Girl Meets Duke series, certainly didn’t disappoint

Ash is an ill-tempered, brooding, cynical man, convinced that no woman could ever want an embittered, scarred wretch like him; something he has every reason to believe to be true, as I discovered later in the story. However, beneath his gruff exterior lies an honourable and caring man which is evident in his genuine concern for those people who work on his estate and in his need to protect and care for Emma. I love the scene where Ash puts the fear of God into Emma’s father and I totally agree with Ash’s opinion of the sanctimonious vicar – “You crusty botch of nature. You poisonous bunch-backed toad.”

So often the hero’s father is cruel or abusive and it was a refreshing to know that Ash’s father was such a wise and loving father whom Ash wanted to emulate. My heart ached for Ash when he says he would not want to see his own son or want his son to see him because he fears he could never be like his own father.

Ash’s son could never admire him the way Ash had worshipped his own father. His father had been unfailingly wise, good-natured and patient. Not ill-tempered and bitter, as Ash had become.

I adore Emma for her courage and resilience. Despite being thrown out by her father for a youthful discretion with nothing but the clothes she stood up in, she walked all the way to London in the height of winter and succeeded in building a life for herself as a seamstress to society ladies. I also admire her genuine compassion for and desire to help her friend, Davina Palmer, because she doesn’t want another young woman to face the sort of rejection she had.

Emma hadn’t landed in Miss Palmer’s delicate situation, but she, too, had been punished for the simple crime of following her heart.  The memories still pained her – and the thought of watching the same cruel fate befall another young woman? It made her quake with anger at the injustice of it all.

Emma and Ash have such wonderful chemistry and their romance is funny, poignant, romantic and sexy. I love how Emma more than holds her own against Ash and even challenges his ‘house ’ rules with ones of her own. The banter between them sparkles and I love how Emma refuses to call him Ashbury or Duke and keeps coming up with pet names which Ash hates.

“If I choose to make a darling of you, there is nothing you can do about it.”
   “Of course, there’s something I can do about it. I can have you sent to an institution for the feebleminded and insane.”
She shrugged. “If you say so, cherub.”

Ash’s habit of cursing in Shakespearean quotes was priceless and this is my favourite, aimed at the ‘hellion cat’.

“Do you hear me? Get out. ‘Thou art a boil, a plague-sore, an embossed carbuncle.’ King Lear, Act Two.”

I love how Emma gradually captures Ash’s heart with her warmth, wit and passion. She sees beyond his scars to the person he truly is behind the gruff exterior – someone funny, patient and passionate. In Emma, Ash sees a woman who doesn’t shy away from his scars; a woman who ‘touched him, kissed him, made him feel human and wanted and whole’.

I love the ballroom scene towards the end of the book where Ash makes such a memorable entrance with the words:

 “Yes, I know,” he said impatiently, turning the scarred side of the face to the room. “Faulty rocket at Waterloo. You have precisely three seconds to move past it. One. Two. Right. Now where is my wife?”

Ash’s long-suffering servants are hilarious with their mad-cap plots to throw Emma and Ash together in the hope that they will fall in love.

There is a colourful cast of secondary characters including…

  • Penelope, Nicola and Alexandra, the unusual trio of ladies who befriend Emma and Ash, and are, I’m sure, future heroines of this series.
  • Khan, Ash’s devoted butler, who isn’t afraid to give him a good rollicking…
    “You’re going to lose her. And when you do, you are losing me too. I’ve served your family for thirty years. I’m due a pension, and I’m not enabling this self-pitying codswallop any further. I wish you all happiness living alone and growing old with your twenty cats.”
  • Trevor, the young lad whom Ash meets on his nocturnal sorties around London
  • Last, but not least, Emma’s cat, Breeches

The charming Epilogue is just a delicious topping on this delightful confection.

VERDICT: Tessa Dare continues to captivate me with her heart-warming stories, endearing characters and sparkling humour and I’m looking forward to reading the other books in this series. Highly recommended.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

 

Girl Meets Duke series so far (click on the book covers for more details):

The Duchess Deal (Girl Meets Duke, #1) by Tessa Dare

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More Than a Mistress

(Mistress Trilogy, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

An arrogant duke does the unthinkable-he falls in love with his mistress.

She raced onto the green, desperate to stop a duel. In the melee, Jocelyn Dudley, Duke of Tresham, was shot. To his astonishment, Tresham found himself hiring the servant as his nurse. Jane Ingleby was far too bold for her own good. Her blue eyes were the sort a man could drown in-were it not for her impudence. She questioned his every move, breached his secrets, touched his soul. When he offered to set her up in his London town house, love was the last thing on his mind….

Jane tried to pretend it was strictly business, an arrangement she was forced to accept in order to conceal a dangerous secret. Surely there was nothing more perilous than being the lover of such a man. Yet as she got past his devilish facade and saw the noble heart within, she knew the greatest jeopardy of all, a passion that drove her to risk everything on one perfect month with the improper gentleman who thought love was for fools.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

I loved this book! Mary Balogh captivated me from the start with this unusual, intelligently written, emotional and sensual love story. 

When we first meet Jocelyn, he is arrogant, cynical, bad-tempered and domineering and revels in his rakish reputation even when it is undeserved. He treats lesser individuals with disdain including his long-suffering servants.

Joselyn jerked impatiently on the bell rope beside his bed and vented his irritability on his vale, who had not brought his shaving water up.
  ‘I thought you would wish to rest this morning, your grace, ‘he said.
‘You thought! Do I pay you to think, Barnard?’
‘No, your grace,’ his man replied with long-suffering meekness.

Despite the desperate situation she finds herself in, Jane is a strong-willed, clever and independent woman who isn’t afraid to speak her mind, their verbal sparring providing some delightful dialogue. I love how Jane refuses to be intimidated by Joselyn, even at his most toplofty, and it brought a smile to my face when Jocelyn’s brother, Ferdinand, receives a scolding from Jane regarding the duel, prompting the following observation from Jocelyn…

‘She comes equipped with a mind, you see, Ferdinand,’ Jocelyn explained with studied boredom, ‘with a double-edged tongue attached.’

I love how Ms. Balogh develops the relationship between Jocelyn and Jane and I could feel their attraction and the growing sexual tension as they spend time together during Jocelyn’s convalescence. When Jane discovers Jocelyn playing the piano one night, she sees a sensitive and artistic side he has kept hidden from the world. I felt a subtle change in their relationship when Jocelyn confides in Jane that his father had considered his artistic talent effeminate and had been determined to beat it out of him, and Jocelyn discovers that Jane has a beautiful singing voice. It creates an intimate moment between them leading to their first kiss.

As the end of Jocelyn’s convalescence draws near, Jane does not want to leave any more than Jocelyn wants her to leave. Jocelyn’s solution is to ask her to be his mistress in his typical autocratic way.

‘I am offering you a proposition, a business one, if you wish. You need a home and a source of income beyond what you already have. You need some security and someone to take your mind off your loan state, I daresay. You are a woman with sexual needs, after all, and you are sexually drawn to me. And I need a mistress…’

I like how Jane still gets the last word by stipulating that there would be a contract drawn up between them.

I love how Jane describes the house that Jocelyn provides for her as sleaze and fluff and sets about making the house a home.  The time they spend in Jane’s ‘den’ is my favourite part of the book. Jocelyn sees the den as a haven where they can be themselves; where he can do all those things that he longed to do as a boy. I loved the charming picture Ms. Balogh creates of Jane embroidering and Jocelyn playing the piano and painting in companionable silence. Jocelyn confides his innermost secrets to Jane and I could understand how they had shaped him into the man he became and tainted his life.  Jane sees behind the mask to a vulnerable man in need of friendship, acceptance and love.

I could feel how deeply in love they were but Jane still harbours a secret but, before she can tell Jocelyn the truth, he discovers her real identity. I could understand his anger and sense of betrayal; he had trusted her enough to confide his innermost most self and she had shared nothing of herself but most of all…

She had taken everything from him, even the love of which he had though himself no longer capable.
He hated her for fooling him into hoping that after all life was worth living.

My one criticism is that I found the ending rather confusing, as though something was missing. When I discovered that the editor had suggested that certain scenes be deleted to provide a more effective ending, I bought a copy of Now a Bride, in which Mary Balogh has provided readers with the three missing scenes. I understand the element of surprise the editor was aiming for but, having read the deleted scenes, personally I feel that the book would have benefited from the emotional punch of The Proposal scene where Jocelyn finally expresses his feelings for Jane.

I liked Jocelyn’s sister, Angeline, a veritable whirlwind of chatter, with terrible dress sense and an even worse taste in bonnets and his carefree, charming younger brother, Ferdinand, with his penchant for wagers. I also enjoyed the banter between Jocelyn and his circle of friends.

MY VERDICT: As always, Mary Balogh delivers a beautifully written, emotionally satisfying, character driven romance. Highly recommended.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Mistress Trilogy (click on the book covers for more details):

More Than a Mistress (Mistress Trilogy #1) by Mary Balogh No Man's Mistress (Mistress Trilogy #2) by Mary Balogh The Secret Mistress (Mistress Trilogy #3) by Mary Balogh

Now a Bride (Mistress Trilogy #2.5) by Mary Balogh – Contains never-before-published scenes from More than a Mistress and No Man’s Mistress — plus Mary Balogh’s new epilogue for the series.

 

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