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The Winter Bride audio

(Chance Sisters, #2)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1816)

Cover Blurb

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

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

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

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

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Wonderful Anne Gracie. I adored your amusing, witty dialogue, and engaging cast of loveable characters. Freddy and Damaris, secondary characters from The Autumn Bride, are the star players, well supported by the rest of this delightful mishmash of a ‘family’, especially the outspoken and outrageous Aunt Bea. Lady Beatrice can turn any situation to her own advantage or to the advantage of her beloved adopted ‘nieces’. Nothing will stand in the way of their happiness as far as she is concerned; no bending of the truth is unacceptable.

She has decided that Freddy Monkton-Coombes, her nephew Max’s oldest friend, will meet her girls and she orchestrates this meeting shamelessly. Freddy is a confirmed bachelor and avoids what he refers to as, ‘muffins’’- young women intent on trapping a chap into marriage –  like the plague.  He has skilfully sidestepped this terrible fate for many years but, from the moment he comes face to face with the quietly serene and beautiful Damaris, he is hooked even though he doesn’t realise it at the time.

Whilst he is away on his honeymoon with Abby, Aunt Bea’s eldest ‘niece’, Max, whose story was told in The Autumn Bride, has coerced Freddy into acting as guardian/chaperon to the girls and his aunt. Although initially extremely reluctant, Freddy eventually agrees and takes his promise very seriously. Naturally, it throws him into regular contact with Damaris, and the die is cast as he begins to enjoy her company and she his. At this point, I must add that whilst The Winter Bride can be read and enjoyed as a standalone, I recommend reading The Autumn Bride first as there is quite a complicated back story and the relationship between Aunt Beatrice and her ‘nieces’ is explained in credible detail.

Freddy’s parents have decided that it is high time he settles down and produces an heir, and have therefore arranged a house party where hordes of these ‘muffins’ will be waiting to pounce. Damaris is just as set against marriage as Freddy and so he comes up with an idea which will keep them both free of a leg shackle. When he eventually persuades Damaris to his way of thinking, the two enter into a mutually agreeable pact. They will announce a fake betrothal which will serve the dual purpose of placating both his parents and Aunt Bea.  While Aunt Bea is intent on arranging a season for her, Damaris’ only ambition is to live quietly in the country in a little cottage with a few chickens and a vegetable garden. Here she hopes to have the peace and quiet to forget the past tragedies and horrific memories which plague her. On the face of it, this arrangement suits both Freddy and Damaris and, in return for her wholehearted compliance, Freddy sets about the task of arranging the purchase of a country cottage for Damaris.

Damaris’s peace is to be shattered, however, by the elegantly beautiful Freddy as he unwittingly worms his way into her life. He has worked very hard to present a rakish, devil-may-care appearance to the ton but behind this façade is a man with a keen business brain who is also kind, thoughtful and, most importantly, honourable with oodles of integrity. As the story unfolds, it emerges that he suffered a boyhood tragedy which has left him deeply traumatised and apparently, as a result of this tragedy, unloved by his parents. His outward devil-may-care persona is a carefully manufactured one, behind which he hides in their presence, and his self-deprecating manner and refusal to explain or defend himself to his cold and unloving parents only seems to perpetuate their annoyance and disregard for him even more. Observing all this on a visit to his family, Damaris intuitively sees how very unhappy he is whilst in their company. She is appalled by their treatment of their only son and sets out to get to the bottom of the rift between them and, in the process, show them how very wrong they are about him. There are a few amusing but bitter-sweet moments where she takes Freddy’s autocratic parents to task, and he is both touched and amazed by her courage, having only previously seen the quiet, gentle side of her nature. This is where we see the real Freddy Monkton-Coombes, as Damaris determinedly begins to strip away the layers of his past and hidden turmoil…. sniff!

Freddy begins to see that Damaris is no ‘muffin’ and comes to the astounding realisation that he is not against marriage at all with the right girl, and that girl is Damaris. But how to persuade her? To this end, he sets out to make their betrothal fact rather than fiction. Freddy is such a darling man, that even his seduction and compromising of Damaris is somehow honourably achieved, especially as it’s done after she has confessed her distressing secret. And what a touchingly tender but sensual scene it is, and throughout Ms. Gracie maintains her legendary wit and humour, without undermining the love, affection and sheer sexiness which has grown between them. It’s one of those very memorable scenes that leaves the reader with a warm, fuzzy feeling.

Anne Gracie’s references to Jane Austen’s works add yet more humour and wit, especially in the scene where Freddy, initially horrified at being obliged to attend Aunt Bea’s literary society – deviously organised by her to introduce her ‘nieces’ to the young men of society – quotes the opening lines from Pride and Prejudice:

‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a fortune must be in want of a wife.’ …he shudders….”What about the poor fellow’s wants, eh? Do they matter? No. Every female in the blasted story was plotting to hook some man for herself or her daughter or niece. If you don’t call that horror, I don’t know what is.

The serious underlying issues for both protagonists, which each eventually helps the other to overcome, make this so much more than just a fluffy romance and it is definitely my favourite of the Chance Sisters series, although I love them all. Both characters are utterly loveable and I have never forgotten Freddy’s character even though I initially read the book on its publication three years ago – a fair indication of how much of an impression this book and his lovely character made on me.

As previously mentioned, I read and loved this book when it was originally published and when I spotted that the audio version was at last available in the UK, I jumped at it, and immediately downloaded the whole series, especially when I realised that it had been recorded by the acclaimed actress and comedienne, Alison Larkin. Ms. Larkin is a special favourite of mine and her name on an audio book is always guaranteed to attract my attention. When I saw that she was in collaboration with Anne Gracie, there was never any doubt in my mind that this would be a wonderfully satisfying listen. In my opinion, Ms. Larkin is the perfect choice to perform this witty and charming series with its Austen quotes. I always think (and say it whenever I review one of her audio books) that she has a ‘smile’ in her voice, which, in this case, perfectly captures the humour always present in Anne Gracie’s novels.

In addition, her considerable acting skills are evident when dealing with the deeper, more serious issues. This is especially true when Damaris reveals her heart-breaking secret and Freddy’s childhood trauma emerges, and then the more serious side to his nature. Alison Larkin handles these revelations with supreme sensitivity.

As I have already mentioned, Freddy initially gives the impression of superficiality, seeming to prefer avoiding not only confrontation but responsibility too. But this impression is dispelled as we learn more about him and Alison Larkin sheds his light-hearted persona and exaggerated, slightly foppish accent as she subtly builds up the tension, especially during the scene towards the end of the book where Freddy, by this time devoid of all levity, is moved to violence. Between them, the author and narrator show his hidden mettle as he squares up to his opponent in defence of his love.

Alison Larkin’s rendition of Aunt Bea is also particularly clever as this manipulative but kindly, elderly lady, who is guilty of telling the biggest whoppers, is a tremendous character and a difficult one to capture with credibility I would imagine. However, Ms. Larkin gives a faultless performance, worthy of any West End stage, as she portrays this indomitable lady with her decidedly imperious upper crust accent, using just the right amount of intonation and nuance to indicate her age and air of entitlement.

I can’t praise Alison Larkin’s performance highly enough as she brings Anne Gracie’s lovely, tear-jerking, feel-good story to sparkling life with her accomplished interpretation of it. I would LOVE to hear Ms. Larkin perform The Perfect Rake by Anne Gracie (another of my favourite books) which I believe has yet to be recorded…. hint to the audio company and publisher!

MY VERDICT: I highly recommend THE WINTER BRIDE for both content and narration and, as I have all four books in my audio library, I look forward to many more hours of listening pleasure. 

RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

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

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

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pride-and-prejudice-audiobook

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

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 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-mesalliance

(Rockliffe Series, #2)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian, 1767 and 1775)

Cover Blurb:

The Duke of Rockliffe is 36 years old, head of his house, and responsible for his young sister, Nell. He is, therefore, under some pressure to choose a suitable bride. Whilst accompanying Nell to what he speedily comes to regard as the house-party from hell, he meets Adeline Kendrick – acid-tongued, no more than passably good-looking yet somehow alluring. Worse still, her relatives are quite deplorable – from a spoiled, ill-natured cousin to a sadistic, manipulative uncle. As a prospective bride, therefore, Adeline is out of the question. Until, that is, a bizarre turn of events causes the Duke to throw caution to the wind and make what his world will call a mésalliance.

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This is the second book in Stella Riley ‘s Georgian  Rockliffe series and the hero, the Duke of Rockliffe (Rock), played a significant secondary role in The Parfit Knight. He was such a fascinating character that I was intrigued to meet the woman who would capture his heart.

Handsome, elegant, sophisticated and assured, with a wry sense of humour, Rock is a hero to set any woman’s heart aflutter. He is aware of his duty to marry and provide an heir but has postponed the inevitable, hoping to find genuine love. Having reached the age of 36, he realises the truth of the situation.

…if, in all this time, you had not found what you sought, it was probably because it did not exist.

Since being orphaned, Adeline, now 24 years old, has lived a life of drudgery with her uncle and aunt, Sir Roland and Lady Franklin. Treated with indifference and resentment by her aunt, despised by her beautiful cousin, Diana, and mistreated by her aunt’s brother, Richard Horton, Adeline built a defensive wall around herself. Gradually, she discovered ways of fighting back.

…she had swiftly progressed to the discovery that it was also possible to fight back in small ways –if one was subtle. And the result was a now flawless technique for combining apparent docility with an under-current of clever, hard to combat acidity.

Rock and Adeline first met briefly eight years earlier and I like how the Prologue offers a glimpse of their younger selves. Rock was  still unburdened by the responsibilities of being a duke and Adeline was a wild, sensitive 16 year old. It is obvious that the meeting left an impression on each of them. When they meet again at the Franklin’s ball, Rock now sees a cold-eyed woman with a barbed tongue but is still drawn to her like a moth to a flame. She has a rare quality he can only describe as allure. Of course, although Adeline is everything Rock is looking for in a prospective bride – attractive, intelligent, desirable and won’t bore him to distraction – she is totally unsuitable both in social standing and family connections. However, when Adeline’s cousin Diana’s scheme to compromise Rock into marriage is thwarted, there are unforeseen consequences as Rock and Adeline are caught in a compromising situation and Rock proposes marriage, something he doesn’t appear too upset about.

My difficulty has been that, among all the young ladies of birth, breeding and beauty, I cannot find one who wouldn’t bore me to death in a week – and that, as you know, is the one thing I can’t tolerate.   You, on the other hand, don’t bore me at all; moreover … if you will pardon the indelicacy … I find myself experiencing an increasing desire to take you to bed.’ 

Adeline welcomes the marriage of convenience as a way of escaping her dreadful relatives.

I love the scene where Rock shows his protectiveness when he makes veiled threats to Lady Franklin about treating Adeline with the respect due to her as a duchess. Desperate to win his wife’s love, he is even willing to do something he has never done before – woo a woman. He also shows patience and consideration by allowing Adeline time to adjust to her new circumstances before consummating the marriage. However, I could sense his frustration as time goes on.

It was heart-breaking to see the marriage slowly deteriorate beneath the weight of Adeline’s secrets and her unwillingness to trust and confide in Rock. While I understood Adeline’s fear of losing Rock and her desire to protect him and his family from scandal, it was frustrating watching two people who obviously love each other descend into “a chilly state of impersonal courtesy”. The scenes between Rock and Adeline are so powerfully written and Ms Riley captures all the raw emotions of anger, fear, hurt and frustration.

The scene at the Queensbury Ball, where everything finally comes to a head, is a real tour-de-force and seeing the unflappable Rock finally lose control was definitely a highlight for me!!

Ms Riley always gathers a colourful cast of secondary characters who are all essential to the story. Rock’s friends, Amberley, Harry Caversham and Jack Ingram are only too ready to provide unwanted advice and some much-needed humour; the Franklin family could be described as the family from hell, particularly the malicious, scheming Diana and sly, sadistic Richard Horton.

I enjoyed the secondary romances between Harry Caversham and Rock’s sister, Nell and Jack Ingram and Althea Franklin, the only likeable member of the family. They played out in the background and never overshadowed the main romance.

Every time I listen to Alex Wyndham narrating a book, I close my eyes and it’s as if I’m listening to a radio play performed by several performers rather than just one. Each character has a distinctive and easily identifiable voice and Alex slips between the different characters so effortlessly that I am never in doubt as to who is speaking. It must be hard for a male narrator to voice female characters realistically but Alex succeeds brilliantly.

MY VERDICT:  An intelligently and well-written story with unforgettable characters and a deeply emotional romance, brought vividly to life by Alex Wyndham’s superb narration. A must read/listen to!


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

 

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

The Parfit Knight by Stella Riley The Mésalliance by Stella Riley The Player by Stella Riley

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

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persuasion-audio-book

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Goodreads Summary:

Twenty-seven-year old Anne Elliot is Austen’s most adult heroine. Eight years before the story proper begins, she is happily betrothed to a naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but she precipitously breaks off the engagement when persuaded by her friend Lady Russell that such a match is unworthy. The breakup produces in Anne a deep and long-lasting regret. When later Wentworth returns from sea a rich and successful captain, he finds Anne’s family on the brink of financial ruin and his own sister a tenant in Kellynch Hall, the Elliot estate. All the tension of the novel revolves around one question: Will Anne and Wentworth be reunited in their love?

Poems

Austen did not take herself seriously as a poet but she did write occasional, mostly comic verses to entertain family and friends. Selected and introduced by award-winning narrator Alison Larkin, the poems range from lines found on a piece of paper inside a tiny bag she gave to her niece to When Winchester Races a poem she wrote just three days before she died.

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PERSUASION, as far as I am concerned, is the best of Jane Austen novels. Her last, and written when she was close to dying, it demonstrates a maturity and deep understanding of relationships, betrayal, loyalty and love. Ms. Austen’s ability for ironic and comic observation, her knowledge of the social etiquette and customs of the period are incomparable and of course we have the bonus of knowing that she lived in these times and therefore her observations, albeit tongue in cheek, are a faithful account. Just as today there are silly, giddy, self-absorbed people, so there were in that period of history. Nothing has changed and I love her descriptions of the gossipy women and the preening and posturing of some of the gentlemen, also their shallow preoccupation regarding the wealth and looks of their peers.

The young Anne Elliot had rejected Frederick Wentworth, a Naval Officer, on the misguided advice of her friend Lady Russell, and forever regrets her decision. Captain Wentworth returns eight years later, a successful sea Captain who has acquitted himself with honour and made his fortune into the bargain and the tables have turned. Anne’s family are now on the brink of financial ruin and it is she who is not considered a suitable match for him, being penniless, and at 27, almost past marriageable age. Anne still admires and loves Captain Wentworth and, in the eight years following their separation, she has never shown any interest in other men nor been tempted to accept or encourage any proposal of marriage. She is also accepting of her fate, believing that she has thrown away her only chance of happiness with the man she loves

Wentworth is now considered an excellent match for her – if he were at all interested. However, he is still bitter at her rejection – at least to begin with. They politely circle each other being often thrown into the same social circle and Frederick slowly begins to realise that Anne is the same girl he loved and admired so much – worthy, sensible, dignified and without guile.

He overhears Anne having a discussion with a friend on the merits of fidelity and love, professing that men are more able to move on than women after a disappointment in love. ‘The letter’ – oh that letter written in response to this overheard discussion, is so beautiful and eloquent and would melt the most hardened of hearts, certainly mine anyway! Surely one of the most romantic moments in any of Ms. Austen’s wonderful novels.

Bittersweet, given that this was Ms. Austen’s last completed novel before her death at the age of only forty-one, this mature and beautifully crafted love story encapsulating a perfectly painted picture of genteel life in the nineteenth century, is nevertheless a fitting end to her career.

In this 200th anniversary edition, there are the added poems of Jane Austen. Most are light comic verses, for example I’ve A Pain In My Head, others are moving and more serious such as the one she wrote for her dear friend and neighbour four years after her death, To The Memory of Mrs. Leroy. Her last piece When Winchester Races, written in July 1817, just three days before she died, was about a furious Saint who threatens to bring rain upon his subjects for choosing to go to the races rather than honouring him. To me this epitomises Jane Austen’s character; she took life as it came and even when dying chose to be witty and entertaining instead of wallowing in self-pity.

The bonus to my enjoyment of this anniversary edition of my favourite Jane Austen novel is the performance (for she is far more than just a narrator) of the talented actress Alison Larkin. Ms. Larkin’s voice is perfectly suited to Jane Austen’s work – light, amusing, stuffy, pompous, or when called for serious and her range is phenomenal. She handles the vast cast of characters with aplomb and we are never left in any doubt as to who is talking at any given time, even in a multi character conversation. I particularly like how she handles the slightly lowered tones of some of the ‘strictly-in-confidence’ conversations especially when there’s a fair amount of genteel bitchiness going on! Alison Larkin has a lovely ‘smiley’ voice, it’s so pleasant to listen to. A terrific performance and one I wholeheartedly recommend.


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: KISSES

 

**I was voluntarily provided this free review copy audiobook for an honest review. **

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Dair Devil

(Roxton Series, #4)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian, 1777)

Cover Blurb:

 Opposites attract. Appearances can deceive.
A dashing and rugged facade hides the vulnerable man within. He will gamble with his life, but never his heart.
Always the observer, never the observed, her fragility hides conviction. She will risk everything for love.

One fateful night they collide.
The attraction is immediate, the consequences profound…

London and Hampshire, 1777: The story of Alisdair ‘Dair’ Fitzstuart; nobleman, ex-soldier, and rogue, and Aurora ‘Rory’ Talbot; spinster, pineapple fancier, and granddaughter of England’s Spymaster General, and how they fall in love.

 

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A beautifully crafted, deliciously romantic love story from Lucinda Brant, superbly performed by the hugely talented Alex Wyndham – what more could I ask for?

Dair Devil is the fourth book in the Roxton series and I cannot recommend the other books in the series highly enough.

Lord Alisdair (Dair) Fitzstuart, cousin to Antonia, Dowager Duchess of Roxton, is a former major in the British army who fought bravely during the American Revolutionary War and survived despite having a reckless disregard for his own safety. Since returning from the war, he has garnered a reputation for drinking to excess, womanising, never refusing a bet and involving his friends, Cedric Pleasant and Lord Grasby, in all sorts of outlandish pranks. Not commonly known is the fact that he works for Lord Shrewsbury, England’s Spymaster General, as a spy for the Crown. Although Dair is heir to the Earl of Strathsay, his father, who has lived on his sugar plantation with his mistress for years, has given the Duke of Roxton control over Dair’s inheritance and all decisions regarding the estate.  In the meantime, the estate is falling into disrepair, his father refusing to allow any money to be spent on it, and Dair is left playing a waiting game…

Waiting for his father to die. Waiting to inherit. Waiting to do something other than wait.

Aurora Christina Talbot is Lord Shrewsbury’s granddaughter and Lord Grasby’s sister. Born with what we now know as a club foot, Rory walks with a pronounced limp.  At the age of 22, she has no expectations of every marrying , instead…

With no fortune and not enough beauty to overcome a meager dowry, Rory was resigned to living her days as she had begun them, as her grandfather’s dependent.

Both her grandfather and brother love her very much but are often overprotective. So she lives a safe, boring, conventional existence, only alleviated by her interest in the cultivation and caring of her precious pineapple plants.

I love the scene at the beginning where Rory and Dair get all tangled up (literally), Rory having become innocently involved in one of Dair’s escapades which goes dramatically wrong. I won’t spoil it for you because this scene is hilarious and reminded me of one of the old slapstick comedies. Of course, although they have met on occasion socially, Dair has never taken much notice of Rory and fails to recognise her. He is totally captivated by the lovely, witty, honest young woman in his arms and they share a passionate kiss… a kiss that that will turn both their worlds upside down.

I totally fell in love with Dair and Rory and watching their romance gradually unfold was a delight… unashamedly romantic but with just enough hurdles confronting the couple to maintain an element of tension. Rory sees through Dair’s devil-may-care façade to the vulnerable man beneath, whose childhood experiences, especially the reason for his fear of rowing Rory across the lake, are truly heart-breaking. Dair sees past Rory’s disability to the wonderful woman she is and realises how much she has changed his view on life.

Here was a young woman who, through no fault of hers, lived with an impediment every day. It was a circumstance out of her control, and yet she had not allowed it to rule how she viewed the world. She was not bitter. She did not blame others. She was joyful and full of optimism. He needed that in his life. He needed her in his life.

I love the scene on Swan Island where Dair and Rory finally consummate their love because Ms Brant weaves a lovely romantic, playful and sensual atmosphere without being explicit. I also love the story of the tapestry which has special significance having read Noble Satyr.

Dair and Rory have a champion in Antonia, now Duchess of Kinross, and when Lord Shrewsbury refuses to allow the marriage, she is more than a match for the England’s Spymaster General. As she tells Dair – “All men have secrets, Alisdair. Even spymasters.” –  and when she confronts Shrewsbury with his secrets, she is just magnificent.

I thought that Dair’s interactions with the Banks’ family and his acknowledgement of his illegitimate son showed what an honourable man he is. At the same time, I was very relieved that the storyline didn’t veer in the direction of a Big Misunderstanding.

Ms Brant has drawn together an excellent cast of secondary characters, all adding colour and depth to the story. There is also an element of mystery and intrigue as Dair works to uncover the identity of a traitor within Lord Shrewsbury’s spy network, and someone thought long dead is very much alive.

As other reviewers have commented, it is impossible to think of superlatives to describe Alex Wyndham’s performance that have not already been said. He does an amazing job of giving each character their own distinctive voice and literally breathes life into Ms Brant’s characters making listening to her books such a wonderful experience.

MY VERDICT:  Another winner from the magical team of Lucinda Brant and Alex Wyndham. Highly recommended!


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

Read/Listened to August 2016

 

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

Noble Satyr (Roxton Series #1) by Lucinda Brant Midnight Marriage (Roxton Series #2) by Lucinda Brant Autumn Duchess (Roxton Series #3) by Lucinda Brant Dair Devil (Roxton Series #4) by Lucinda Brant Eternally Yours Roxton Letters Volume One A Companion To The Roxton Family Saga Books 1–3 by Lucinda Brant

 

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

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(Simply Quartet, #2)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh returns to the elegance and sensuality of Regency England as she continues the enthralling story of four remarkable women–friends and teachers at Miss Martin’s School for Girls. At the center of this spellbinding novel is Anne Jewell, a teacher haunted by a scandalous past…until she meets a man who teaches her the most important lesson of all: nothing is simple when it comes to love.…

She spies him in the deepening dusk of a Wales evening–a lone figure of breathtaking strength and masculinity, his handsome face branded by a secret pain. For single mother and teacher Anne Jewell, newly arrived with her son at a sprawling estate in Wales on the invitation of an influential friend, Sydnam Butler is a man whose sorrows–and passions–run deeper than she could have ever imagined.

As steward of a remote seaside manor, Sydnam lives a reclusive existence far from the pity and disdain of others. Yet almost from the moment Anne first appears on the cliffs, he senses in this lovely stranger a kindred soul, and between these two wary hearts, desire stirs. Unable to resist the passion that has rescued them both from loneliness, Anne and Sydnam share an afternoon of exquisite lovemaking. Now the unwed single mother and war-scarred veteran must make a decision that could forever alter their lives. For Sydnam, it is a chance to heal the pain of the past. For Anne, it is the glorious promise of a future with the man who will dare her to reveal her deepest secrets…before she can give him all her heart.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Every time I read a Mary Balogh novel, new or old, I am struck anew by how much I love her work. She has covered every conceivable subject/scenario in her long and highly successful career with empathy and a deeply insightful understanding of human nature. In Simply Love, the second in her highly acclaimed Simply Quartet she highlights the issues and prejudices surrounding a single mother and her illegitimate child in Regency England. With great understanding, Ms.Balogh immerses us in the life of Anne Jewell, her nine year old son, David, and that of Sydnam Butler, a horrifically scarred veteran of the peninsula wars.

Anne and David are invited to spend a month on the south west coast of Wales in company with members of the powerful Bedwyn family. This unconventional family, with a duke at its head, thumbs its collective nose at the restrictions under which most aristocrats are obliged to live. Kind and thoughtful all, they welcome Anne and David to share their family holiday without reservation. Whilst walking the coastal path on the first evening, Anne happens upon the dreadfully scarred Sydnam Butler, and flees from him in fright. Sydnam is employed by the duke as steward of his estate, and is attempting to carve a life out for himself away from his own overprotective and loving family; he is a man completely lacking in self-pity and understands the picture he presents on first sight.

So expertly drawn is Mary Balogh’s description of this tragic but gorgeous man, that I shed more than one tear on his behalf. Anne is appalled at her own crass behaviour and apologises to him at the first available opportunity. Friendship flowers over the course of the month long holiday further developing into affection, and finally into something more sensual. The traumatic events that led to David’s conception, and the ten years following it, have left Anne emotionally scarred. Sydnam too has scars that run far deeper than the obvious surface ones; it is therefore understandable that two people – starved of physical love and affection, and who have cocooned themselves against further hurt – will find comfort in each other.

Anne and Syndam are wonderful characters – to be honest, if I could hug each of them, I would! They feel so real; their sorrow, their hurt, their lack of confidence, even their prickliness; they belong together, and the tentative progress of their love affair is movingly beautiful. Of course, to quote Shakespeare…‘The course of true love never did run smooth’…they have a lot of soul searching to do before either of them can begin to feel really complete once more. Luckily, they have each other to help in their respective rehabilitation. Their traumatic journey is SO worth the reading or in this case the listening.

The supremely talented Rosalyn Landor gives a stupendous performance in this audiobook, bringing this tremendously poignant story with its large and varied cast of complex characters to three dimensional radiance. I loved all four books in this series but Simply Love is, in my opinion, by far the most emotionally charged. The very fact that this is such a heart-rending story makes the performing of it more difficult, but Ms. Landor handles each character with individuality, consummate skill, aplomb and downright brilliance.

I adored the audio version of Simply Love and it is not necessary to have read or listened to the first in the series, as Ms. Balogh gives us plenty of background information. However, we do meet many old favourites from other series; in my case, from books read years ago. I was surprised how vividly I remembered the characters. Such is the power of a great and memorable author.

MY VERDICT: This is highly recommended and a must read for all lovers of Historical Romance.


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

Read June 2016

 

Simply series (click on the book cover for further details):

Simply Unforgettable (Simply Quartet #1) by Mary Balogh Simply Love (Simply Quartet #2) by Mary Balogh Simply Magic (Simply Quartet #3) by Mary Balogh Simply Perfect (Simply Quartet #4) by Mary Balogh

 

This review was originally posted on the Romantic Historical Reviews

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(Rockliffe, #3)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian, 1776)

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.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Having just completed another listen/read of Stella Riley’s THE PLAYER, third in the Rockliffe series, I am, as always, left wondering what I can say that hasn’t already been said about this author’s exceptional writing skill. From the first word to the last Ms. Riley has me enthralled; whether it’s with this, her Georgian historical romance series or with her meticulously researched and fascinating Civil War series, to which I am addicted.

Ten years ago Frances Adrian Sinclair Devereux was unfairly banished by his father. With his father now deceased and his younger brother having been killed in a riding accident, Adrian (as he prefers to be known) has reluctantly returned from the continent. Tragedy and scandal sent him into exile and he has returned a closed and unreadable man; his outlook on life coloured by his family’s betrayal and lack of faith in him. The easy going and popular young man he was at age twenty-one, forever gone. Whilst in exile Adrian has discovered he has some quite exceptional and unique talents which have enabled him to make a more than adequate living. The first is a skill at card playing but the second, and by far the more important, is an ability to act which brings him great pleasure. In fact, he finds he can metamorphose into anyone he chooses on the stage or off it. He astounds audiences at the Comédie-Française with characters so diverse that they are unaware that they are being entertained by a handsome, English aristocrat in his prime.

Before his flight to France, he had led the life of a privileged aristocrat although, as a fairly serious young man, he had never taken that life for granted. Since his banishment, he has stubbornly refused to accept any financial help from his father, preferring to make his own way and learning many hard lessons along the way. Thus, on his arrival back in England, Adrian, now the Earl of Sarre, is in possession of a healthy fortune for which he owes thanks to no one but himself. His unusual talents will serve him well on his re-emergence into the upper echelons of society as, thanks to his gaming talents, he is now also a partner in a successful gentleman’s gambling club. From the moment Adrian sets foot on English soil, he slips into ‘character’ so well that his French batman/friend, Bertrand Didier, has to remind Adrian that he is constantly talking about himself in the third person. The persona he adopts for Sarre is cool and reserved, exquisitely clothed in austere, elegant, French tailoring. His only concession to individuality is his vividly decorated waistcoats; maybe they reveal a little of the man hiding beneath the myriad of characters he portrays. He is so used to acting on the stage, but also in life, that he can no longer remember how to be himself. Perhaps it’s a coping mechanism; a way of avoiding further hurt, because there is no doubt that the gorgeous, tender-hearted Adrian has been deeply hurt, and I wasn’t too far into the book before I felt his bone deep sense of isolation and sadness.

The only real friend Adrian has left from those long ago, carefree days, is Nicholas Wynstanton (younger brother of the Duke of Rockliffe). However, he reckons without the help and influence the incomparable Rock wields. He answers to no man and is, as always, with just a look or gesture, in charge of every situation. The duke makes his appearance early on in the story and, with barely a word, calmly accepts Adrian’s appearance as if he has not been missing for a decade. I just adore the character of the charismatic Duke of Rockliffe; for me he will always be the star of this series. His acceptance of Sarre, without question, opens the necessary doors. There are those who would prefer to cut him if they dared, choosing to believe the old and unproven rumours, but Rockliffe, like the wise man he is, keeps his own council. Rock reappears once more near the end of the story, and again steals the show with his je ne sais quoi, perfect timing, utmost integrity and downright gorgeousness.

Marcus Sherringham, Adrian’s nemesis, and the man ultimately responsible for his banishment, is determined to carry on with his persecution of him. Sherringham, broke and desperate, has his sights set on Caroline Maitland, a young heiress making her come-out. Regardless of the fact that her relatives are common and her money comes from trade, he is determined to have her. Adrian is equally determined to throw a spanner in the works. Caroline is mostly ignored because of her lack of style and appalling dress sense. But still waters run deep and she is no fool and knows that the angelically handsome Sherringham only wants her fortune. She is not impressed by his elegant good look but instead mistrusts him and his motives.

Adrian wanting to discover what kind of young woman Sherringham has in his sights, sees only the reserved and gauche young woman the rest of society sees. He therefore does what he does best and slides into character, this time as a romantic highwayman named Claude Duval… and holds up her coach. He is enchanted by her levelheadedness and lack of fear. But later he is hoisted by his own petard when forced to jump in and out of character several times in order to protect her from Marcus Sherringham. Then the unthinkable happens – the practical and down to earth Caroline begins to fall in love with the fictitious Claude.

Caroline continues to hold Sherringham at bay after promising to think about accepting a proposal of marriage from him. Her social climbing mother is pressuring her into accepting him; she plays for time – but time is something that the desperate Marcus no longer has as his creditors close in.

Adrian has always believed that he will never love again after his first and tragic foray into the emotion ten years previously, but in spite of this finds himself becoming intrigued with the gauche but likeable Caroline. At first, his interest in her is anything but altruistic; he wants to stop her marrying Sherringham at any cost, but later having met her in his disguise as Claude, it is on her own account – and his – that he wishes to stop a match between them. With his astute actor’s eye for detail, he sees beneath the crass and vulgarly dressed exterior, created by her loving and well-meaning relatives, to the very straightforward and desirable young woman beneath.

The talented Alex Wyndham once more brings his phenomenal and versatile acting skills into play, as he gets to grip with Stella Riley’s vast and diverse cast of characters. He has the added layers of inner dialogue to contend with (which I loved) and also Adrian in his many guises. He cleverly conveys, without explanation, when Adrian has slipped between characters and, with a subtle change in intonation, the listener knows that Adrian is now Sarre or vice versa. I loved the scene where Caroline is deeply moved by an act of kindness performed spontaneously by Adrian. It moved me to tears. The scene was tenderly written and beautifully portrayed by Alex Wyndham and this was the moment she fell for him, the real Adrian… kind, thoughtful, deeply honourable and stripped of all artifice. My God, I fell for him myself! There is no doubt that Alex Wyndham has played a blinder in his brilliant portrayal of Stella Riley’s fantastic story, “The Player’.

Stella Riley is a gifted and original writer and there are few who can rival her. She writes clever, moving, poignantly sad, dramatic, witty, and laugh-out-loud-funny moments. such as when Marcus Sherringham makes his addresses to Caroline…this is hilarious. The snotty nosed Marcus is called upon to explain his pedigree to Caroline’s mother with the question ‘exactly what kind of lord are you’? His utter disgust and effrontery at her cheek is perfectly captured by the combined writing/performing talents of Ms Riley and Alex Wyndham.

MY VERDICT: I’m hoping that the author will be behind her writing desk again soon and, in due course, we will be treated to another great story from this fabulous writer. Highly recommended!


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

The Rockliffe series so far (click on the book covers or more details):

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


**I received this audiobook free from the author in return for an honest review. **

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