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A Woman Entangled

 (Blackshear Family, #3)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

An ambitious beauty seeking a spot among the elite is thwarted by a most disruptive gentleman in Cecilia Grant’s witty, elegant, and exquisitely sensual novel.

Kate Westbrook has dreams far bigger than romance. Love won’t get her into London’s most consequential parties, nor prevent her sisters from being snubbed and looked down upon—all because their besotted father unadvisedly married an actress. But a noble husband for Kate would deliver a future most suited to the granddaughter of an earl. Armed with ingenuity, breath-taking beauty, and the help of an idle aunt with connections, Kate is poised to make her dreams come true. Unfortunately, a familiar face—albeit a maddeningly handsome one—appears bent on upsetting her scheme.

Implored by Kate’s worried father to fend off the rogues eager to exploit his daughter’s charms, Nick Blackshear has set aside the torch he’s carried for Kate in order to do right by his friend. Anyway, she made quite clear that his feelings were not returned—though policing her won’t abate Nick’s desire. Reckless passion leads to love’s awakening, but time is running out. Kate must see for herself that the charms of high society are nothing compared to the infinite sweet pleasures demanded by the heart.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This is the final book in Cecilia Grant’s Blackshear Family series and it has everything that made the other books in this series so outstanding – a unique writing style, a thought-provoking storyline and seriously flawed and interesting characters

Like Ms. Grant’s heroines in the previous books, Kate is difficult to like at first. She gives the appearance of being a superficial, selfish social climber who is willing to use her beauty to ensnare a wealthy, titled gentleman into marrying her.  However, it soon becomes clear that her motives are far from selfish because she cares deeply for her family and will do anything she possibly can to achieve the social acceptance they deserve.

Her father, Charles Westbrook, caused a scandal when he married an actress and, although she was a woman of character and intelligence from a proud theatrical family, Charles’ family disowned both him and his family and have had no further contact since. Kate has worked hard to capture the attention of her father’s family with the hope of not only healing the rift between them but also of making an advantageous marriage which would provide opportunities for her sisters to have a better life. I like how Ms. Grant shows glimpses of a very different Kate in her protective concern for her sister, Rose, and the kindness she shows her friend, Louisa. I particularly loved how she decided not to make a certain choice because she knew it would have been hurtful to Louisa.

Like Kate, Nick is also hoping to restore his family’s respectability. A respected barrister, Nick had ambitions of one day becoming an MP, that is until his brother, Will, brought the family name into disrepute by not only marrying a courtesan, but fighting a duel over her as well (A Gentleman Undone). Nick has tried to repair the damage by publicly cutting off all contact with his brother, but many of the solicitors have stopped sending him clients because of the stain on the Blackshear family name. Nick sees his chance of having enough money to purchase the land needed to qualify him for a seat in Parliament slipping away. Then his close friend and mentor, Charles Westbrook, recommends Nick to Lord Barclay, who is looking for someone to tutor him in the art of public speaking, before he takes his seat in the House of Lords. The honorarium from Lord Barclay will hopefully provide the necessary funds Nick needs. Nick has been a good family friend to the Westbrooks and had once harboured hopes of marrying Kate, but she had made it very plain that she had set her sights on someone of higher social standing than a mere barrister

I love Ms. Grant’s flawed heroes and heroines because they always seem more human. They make misjudgements and mistakes as I’m sure we all do, and it those very fragilities that make them interesting and their journey to finding what they really want in life more emotionally satisfying.

Having believed that the only way to attain what she wants is through an advantageous marriage, Kate comes to realise that the very same things can be attained through friendship without sacrificing her own happiness.

Nick has always felt guilty about cutting himself off from his brother, whom he still loves, whilst still keeping the familial connection with his sister, Martha, who herself had been guilty of scandalous impropriety (A Lady Awakened). The only difference being that Martha and her husband had been discreet and avoided steeping the family name in scandal as Will had done.  Nick has always regarded himself as a man of integrity, but his actions force him to question that integrity and the choices he has made, not only regarding his brother, but also his failure to tell Lord Barclay about his family scandal for fear of jeopardising his political aspirations.  I like how Nick reaches out to his brother and there are definite signs of a reconciliation and his honesty in telling Lord Barclay the truth regardless of the consequences.

The romance is intelligently written and I enjoyed watching it unfold. They have remained friends and Nick has tried to put all thoughts of marrying Kate out of his head, aware that someone with such social aspirations would never make a suitable barrister’s wife, but it’s obvious that he is still in love with Kate. It’s only when her father asks Nick to keep an eye on Kate at the social events she is attending, and they are constantly thrown together, does Kate realise that she loves Nick and it may be too late. She has to learn to think with her heart rather than her head and decide where her happiness lies. I like how she comes to the realisation that life married to a titled gentleman would be exceedingly dull but, married to Nick, she could play an active role in his life in so many ways.

The secondary characters all add depth to the story. I especially liked Kate’s sister, Viola, a bluestocking with definite opinions on women’s rights and some of their conversations made me smile; Louisa who is a true friend to Kate and genuinely has her interests at heart, and the liberal-minded Lord Barclay. I also enjoyed seeing the other members of the Blackshear family who play an important role in the decisions Nick must make.

I love how the Epilogue offers of a positive glimpse of the future for both Nick’s and Kate’s immediate families.

Wedding breakfasts usually were, of course, and indeed this one celebrated the commencement of their married life. However, it also sketched a tentative outline of how their two families would fit together. And how Nick’s own might come to be whole once again.

MY VERDICT: Ms. Grant’s books are ones you don’t simply read; they are ones you savour like the finest wine. This is a series that shouldn’t be missed and I am now waiting patiently for Cecilia Grant to publish more books!

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

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

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

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

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

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

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

♥♥♥♥♥♥

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

♥♥♥

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

♥♥♥

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


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

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

 

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

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

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Wendy and I have discussed how we should go about producing our ‘best of’ list for 2016 and settled on ten but we have each bent the rules a little by including some series. Not all the books selected were actually published during 2016.


CAROL’S SELECTION (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER)

Rockliffe series by Stella Riley

I was introduced to Stella Riley’s books by my friend and guest reviewer, Wendy Loveridge, and Stella has fast become one of my top favourite authors. I read the first three books in the Georgian set Rockliffe series (a fourth is a work in progress) during 2016 but it was impossible to choose just one book in the series for my list because I loved them all.

The Parfit Knight (Rockliffe, #1)
the-parfit-knight-list
This is a captivating romance between an honourable, kind-hearted rake, the Marquis of Amberley and a lovely, courageous, blind young woman, Rosalind

The romance between Rosalind and Amberley is so beautifully written and I could see how perfect they are for each other and watching Rosalind blossom under Amberley’s influence was one of the highlights of the book for me. I defy you not to fall in love with Amberley just as Rosalind does. One of my favourite scenes is where Amberley teaches Rosalind to dance and realises he has fallen in love with her. Inevitably, the course of true love does not run smoothly as past secrets, misconceptions, a malicious schemer and Rosalind’s implacable brother threaten their happiness. I feel that Ms. Riley resolved the conflict in a most satisfactory way and it was so refreshing to see a heroine willing to love the hero regardless of past tragic events. I am really impressed with Ms. Riley’s writing whether it is her wonderful descriptive flair, her ability to convey real emotion or the moments of humour.

This is the book that set me on the road to being a huge Stella Riley fan.

The Mésalliance (Rockliffe, #2) – Audiobook
the-mesalliance-audio
This lovely and deeply emotional romance tells the story of a marriage of convenience between the handsome, elegant, sophisticated Duke of Rockliffe (Rock) and the totally unsuitable, acid-tongued Adeline Kendrick.

Rock’s desire to win Adeline’s love, his protectiveness, patience and consideration, all make him such a gorgeous hero. These two are perfect for each other which makes it all the more heart-breaking to see their marriage slowly deteriorate beneath the weight of Adeline’s secrets and her unwillingness to trust and confide in Rock. 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 where everything finally comes to a head was a real tour-de-force and seeing the normally unflappable Rock completely lose his control is definitely the highlight of the book for me.

Narration: I felt as if I was listening to a radio play performed by several actors instead of just one person because Alex Wyndham gives each character such a distinctive and easily identifiable voice and listening to his superb performance definitely enhanced my enjoyment of the book.

Ms Riley weaves an intricate and compelling story which Alex Wyndham brings superbly to life.

The Player (Rockliffe, #3) – Audiobook
the-player-audio
After reading The Mésalliance, I was especially intrigued by the actor known as ‘L’Inconnu’, whom Rockliffe recognises at the Comédie Française. Ms. Riley subtly hints that a nasty scandal forced this man to flee England eight years earlier and I knew then that this mystery man was destined to have his own book. In The Player, the identity of ‘L’Inconnu’ is revealed as Francis Adrian Sinclair Devereux, Earl of Sarre.

Ms. Riley excels in writing the most gorgeous heroes and Adrian is no exception. I also love the fact that he is such a wonderfully complex character. I understood his feelings of anger and hurt towards the family who basically disowned him, and over the years, he has played so many different roles that he no longer knows who he really is. The romance is sweet and heart-warming and their gradual falling in love seems so natural. They complement each other perfectly; Caroline helps Adrian discover the man he was meant to be, while Adrian sees Caroline’s inner strength and beauty. Their declarations of love are positively heart-melting.

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

Stella Riley’s brilliant storytelling combined with Alex Wyndham’s superb narration is sheer magic!

The Perfect Rake by Anne Gracie
the-perfect-rake
This is my first book by Anne Gracie and I will certainly be dipping into more of her books, based on how much I loved it. It’s romantic, funny and full of characters who totally captured my heart. There are some darker moments, but they never overshadow the lovely, heart-warming feeling I had after finishing it.

Oh, Gideon is such a wonderful hero. Wickedly charming, amiable and flirtatious, he hides a vulnerable heart beneath his frivolous rakishness and it was refreshing to see Gideon falling hopelessly in love first and being open and honest about his feelings for Prudence. Reading about the abuse Prudence and her four sisters suffered at the hands of their grandfather, a bitter, hate-filled old man, is chilling and discovering the extent of his cruelty towards Prudence is truly heart-rending. I love the humour which runs throughout the story and acts as a counterpoint to the darker moments.

A lovely gem of a book!

A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant
a-lady-awakened
This was Cecilia’s Grant’s debut novel in 2011 and, while the premise bears similarities to other books I have read, it is Ms Grant’s unique voice and wonderfully flawed and interesting characters that make this book exceptional.

What I love about this book is the understated way in which Ms. Grant builds the relationship between these two complete opposites. Theo is charming, funny and good-natured while Martha is serious, stubborn, and highly principled. Their ‘afternoon appointments’ are awkward and totally unsexy but, as an unlikely friendship slowly turns into affection, admiration and finally love, Ms. Grant cleverly shows their evolving relationship through subtle changes in their sexual encounters. I also like how the secondary characters add depth to the story and highlight the ways in which Theo and Martha grow and change during of the story.

I’m currently reading, A Gentleman Undone, the second book in this series, and it is just as original and engrossing.

The Hunter by Kerrigan Byrne
the-hunter
I love an author who is willing to push the established boundaries of historical romance and Kerrigan Bryne does this in her Victorian Rebels series with her dark, gritty, compelling stories and dangerous, tormented anti-heroes. Although I read both The Highwayman and The Hunter during the year and loved both books, there is just something that drew me to Christopher Argent, the cold, ruthless assassin in The Hunter.

I started this book with doubts that Ms. Byrne could make me sympathetic towards a stone-hearted killer like Christopher but, from the moment I finished reading the powerful and gut-wrenching Prologue, my heart ached for the young Christopher. No-one could endure everything he did and retain any shred of humanity. Meeting Millie has him confused and unable to understand what is happening to him because, until now, he has cut himself off from all human emotions. Watching him struggle with his newly discovered feelings was so compelling.  I like how Ms. Byrne doesn’t try to redeem Christopher, because nothing could ever erase his past deeds, but rather offers him a chance to be a better man and use his skills as a force for good.

If you enjoy reading something compelling and intense with a suspenseful plot, fascinating characters and a darkly emotional romance, then I can highly recommend The Hunter.

The Earl Takes All by Lorraine Heath
the-earl-takes-all
I have been a huge Lorraine Heath for many years and she never disappoints and once again, she enchanted me with this beautifully written and deeply emotional love story. It takes an exceptional writer to make such a challenging and potentially unpopular plot line work and, although I know some readers might disagree, I think she does it brilliantly. For me, the success of this book hinged on Ms Heath’s ability to make me see Edward as a worthy hero and Julia’s words to her daughter seemed to echo my thoughts precisely.

“Do you know what I think, Allie? I think the weasel— who is supposed to be the villain of our tale— may just turn out to be the hero.”  (the weasel reference makes sense when you read the book)

Slowly but surely, Ms. Heath reveals Edward to be an honourable, responsible, compassionate and caring man. Seeing him so gentle and tender with his little niece just melted my heart. The moment Julia discovers Edward’s deception is all the more heart-breaking because the changes Julia has seen in her ‘husband’ since his return makes her falling more deeply in love with him. Ms. Heath writes with such emotional intensity that I felt her pain and, at this point, I couldn’t see any way that their relationship could ever be salvaged but Ms. Heath gradually brings them back together again. There is still one apparently insurmountable obstacle to overcome, but I found that Ms. Heath’s note at the end of the book, in which she highlights her research into this aspect, not only provided some interesting historical background but also a believable path to Edward and Julia’s Happy Ever After.

A complex, captivating and beautiful love story that I can highly recommend.

Marrying Winterborne by Lisa Kleypas
marrying-winterborne
After being somewhat disappointed by Cold-Hearted Rake, I loved this book! It reminds me in so many ways of Lisa Kleypas’ wonderful Wallflowers and Hathaways series.

Helen is so much like Evie in The Devil in Winter. At first, she appears sweet and shy but soon reveals an inner strength and I love how she is more than a match for Rhys in her own quiet, determined way.  Ms. Kleypas writes some of the dreamiest self-made heroes in Historical Romance and I’m adding Rhys Winterborne to that illustrious list. I love how, from the moment he meets Helen, this big, arrogant, ruthless Welshman is totally crazy about her and complete putty in her hands. He is surprisingly romantic and I love the way he treats Helen with total adoration, woos her and shows such tenderness and caring. I enjoyed all the smaller details we discover, like Helen’s love of orchids and Rhys’s love of peppermint creams and, living in Wales, I adore the Welsh endearments Rhys uses like “Cariad” and “Bychan” and, being English, I appreciated the glossary provided in the Author’s Note. There is a wonderful cast of secondary characters who enrich the story and are all deserving of their own stories.

Ms Kleypas seems to have recaptured her old magic with this captivating, romantic and passionate love story.

The Luckiest Lady in London by Sherry Thomas
the-luckiest-lady-in-london
My first book by Sherry Thomas, this is beautifully written with layered, complex characters and real emotional pull.

The passion between these two fairly leaps off the page and I love the witty and often risqué banter which only serves to heighten the sexual tension and Ms. Thomas is brilliant at creating the most erotic moments without sex ever taking place.  The emotional journey Felix and Louisa travel and the difficulties they overcome kept me turning the pages but Felix is the one who undergoes the most significant changes. His fear of emotional involvement and losing control lead him to act like a complete jackass towards Louisa, understandably earning her distrust. Knowing he loves her, Felix is desperate to win her back and I love the epiphany moment when he realises that the entire aim of his adult life has been about getting what he wants, exactly the way he wants it, but now he must put Louisa’s needs before his own. But of all the things Felix does, it is an unselfish act of kindness that reveals the true Felix both to Louisa and the reader.

I will certainly be reading more books by Sherry Thomas.

Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean
nine-rules-to-break-when-romancing-a-rake
I’m not sure why I waited so long to read Sarah MacLean’s debut novel because friends have constantly recommended it to me. Well, I’ve finally read it and I absolutely loved it! Ms. MacLean brings something refreshing to the much used “rake falls for wallflower” trope and I was impressed by her writing and the way she brought her characters to life and made me really care about them.

I adore Lady Calpurnia “Callie” Hartwell because she is someone I could relate to. Instead of drop dead gorgeous like so many heroines, she is a plain, slightly plump, lace-cap-wearing, 28-year-old spinster with a pristine reputation and the same insecurities I’m sure many of us share. She is also such a lovable person…intelligent, kind-hearted and funny. Gabriel is charming, devastatingly handsome and one of the most notorious rakes in London, but he also has a strong sense of family. Gabriel and Callie are such a wonderful couple with great chemistry and I loved every moment spent with them. They are both on a journey of self-discovery. Gabriel believes himself incapable of love but Callie slowly but surely steals his heart while Callie has always believed herself to be plain but Gabriel shows her that she is beautiful in all the ways that count.

This is an utterly delightful novel and the rest of the series is firmly on my reading list for 2017.

My Lady, My Lord by Katharine Ashe
my-lady-my-lord
I love this first book in Katharine Ashe’s Twist series. What a charming, creative, funny and entertaining story!

It may not appeal to Historical Romance purists but I love the unusual “Freaky Friday” twist because the scenes where Ian and Corinna are having to live in each other’s bodies are so well written and often funny. It also allows them to truly see each other for the first time without their judgement being coloured by mutual animosity. Once they return to their own bodies, they are consumed with all sorts of emotions they have never felt before and Ms. Ashe captures all their emotions so well that I could feel their confusion, doubts, anguish and passion. I was really rooting for them to confess their love for each other.

A thoroughly entertaining and refreshingly different story.

Roxton Series by Lucinda Brant

Lucinda Brant is another author recommended by Wendy and has since joined the ranks of my top favourite authors. Once again, it was impossible to choose just one book, but I have not included the second book, Midnight Marriage, because I read that during 2015.

Noble Satyr (Roxton Series, #1) Audiobook
Noble Satyr
Noble Satyr is a charming, passionate and compelling May/December love story.

I love the Georgian setting with all its elegance, opulence and decadence and I felt just as if I was stepping back in time to a world of powdered wigs, panniers, quizzing glasses, and sedan chairs. I thought the romance between Roxton and Antonia was so well-written because the pairing of the dissolute Roxton with the much younger, innocent Antonia could have been the recipe for disaster but Ms Brant pulls it off brilliantly. Antonia may be young and virginal but, having lived in the licentious court of Louis XV, she is certainly not naïve in the ways of the world and has no illusions about Roxton. Bored with the world of excess around him, it is easy to see why Roxton would be enchanted by Antonia’s intelligence, openness and spirited nature.

Narration: Alex Wyndham is superb in his narration of the story with each character instantly recognizable – male or female, old or young, noble or servant. He portrays Roxton perfectly from his quietly spoken air of authority to the subtle softer tones as he falls in love with Antonia. Alex also conveys Antonia’s naïve exuberance for life so well and her French accent is delightful.

Autumn Duchess (Roxton Series, #3) – Audiobook
autumn-duchess-audio
The third book in this series is a lovely, poignant second chance love story.

I was totally captivated by Antonia and Jonathan’s love story and enjoyed the older woman/younger man aspect. I absolutely love Jonathon who, having lost his beloved wife in childbirth many years before, understands Antonia’s grief better than anyone and is the perfect person to reawaken her to the joys of living. I love his dogged pursuit of her regardless of the consequences and his acceptance that “Monseigneur” will always have a place in Antonia’s heart.  The inner conversations he has between his Business Brain, Heart, Stomach and Vital Organ are so funny! I felt for Antonia’s son, Julian, who wants so desperately to help his mother overcome her grief but doesn’t know how and his actions often seem cruel, unfeeling and misguided.

Narration: Once again, Alex Wynham’s narration was superb and his rich, smooth voice was perfect for the deliciously gorgeous Jonathon and his narration of the passionate, romantic scenes made my toes curl.

A beautiful and deeply emotional love story superbly narrated by Alex Wyndham – it doesn’t get any better than this!

Dair Devil (Roxton  Series, #4) – Audiobook
Dair Devil
Dair Devil is another beautifully crafted, deliciously romantic love story.

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 water, 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.

Narration:  It is impossible to think of superlatives to describe Alex Wyndham’s performance that have not already been said. He literally breathes life into Ms. Brant’s characters making listening to her books such a wonderful experience.

Another winner from the magical team of Lucinda Brant and Alex Wyndham.


WENDY’S SELECTION (IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER)

So here goes – my creme de la creme list of 2016.


Rockliffe series by Stella Riley

I have had an absolute binge on Stella Riley’s books and audio books last year. Having only discovered this hugely talented British author within the past two years, I cannot get enough of her writing. Ms. Riley had an extremely prolific year, with the eagerly anticipated addition to her Civil War series being published in May, plus no less than four audio books being recorded and released too. Sheer bliss – especially as the audio books are performed by the supremely talented, Alex Wyndham. So, I’ll kick off my list with Stella’s series/books:

The Parfit Knight (Rockliffe, #1) – Audiobook
the-parfit-knight-spotlight-cover
All Stella Riley’s main characters are out of the ordinary and her unique talent for developing believable friendships and camaraderie between her male protagonists is one of her great strengths. In The Parfit Knight, we meet the first of the ‘friends’, Dominic, the Marquis of Amberley. He is an honourable and likeable man with a propensity for levity which is captured perfectly by Alex Wyndham, who has the knack of injecting a smile into his voice.  Rosalind Vernon was tragically blinded in childhood but is completely devoid of self-pity; she is also utterly beautiful and without guile, attributes which completely captivate Dominic. The two meet having been thrown together by unforeseen circumstances and the attraction between them is instant. Ms. Riley has clearly shown her own empathy in the way she has developed Rosalind’s character, demonstrating an understanding of the dilemmas experienced by someone living with blindness. And then there’s the parrot – Broody! Hilarious! I’ll say no more on that subject except that I defy anyone not to be amused. In this story, we also meet the incomparable Duke of Rockliffe, for whom the series is named, and who makes regular appearances. It’s no secret that I love his character!

The Mésalliance (Rockliffe, #2) – Audiobook
the-mesalliance-audio
The Duke of Rockliffe’s story, a super duper angsty tale where the gorgeous ‘Rock’ meets his lady and because of her, completely loses his legendary cool in an eventual public confrontation that had me on the edge of my seat. Here I must add that Alex Wyndham gives an amazing performance as he deals with Rock’s increasing agitation and loss of control   in what is an intensely moving scene, and all of this in a myriad of different characters’ voices.

The Player (Rockliffe,#3) – Audiobook
the-player-audio
My favourite of this tremendous series so far – but only by a whisker. My reason – it’s such a clever and original story with the intriguingly secretive and complex character of Frances Adrian Sinclair Devereux at its centre. The story is so well crafted and developed that I wondered where such a uniquely brilliant idea came from. And, of course, the gorgeous Rock is back in his usual cool, debonair, omniscient guise after his brief departure from it in the previous book. I must admit to a conflict over which of these two characters I love the most. It mostly depends on which book I’m listening to at the time – but probably Rock as he figures prominently in all three.


Civil War Series by Stella Riley


The Black Madonna (Roundheads and Cavaliers, #1)
the-black-madonna
I read and loved this terrific first book in the series. which ha at its centre the most intriguing and unusual male character I think I’ve ever met in a book. I read it to get some background information on the characters before I read and reviewed:

Lords of Misrule (Roundheads and Cavaliers, #4)
lords-of-misrule-2
Stella Riley’s long awaited and highly anticipated fourth book in the same series. It has a brooding, disillusioned hero, questioning his own actions and the war he has been involved in for so long. Colonel Eden Maxwell has sworn never to love again (in book one he is badly hurt) but he reckons without determined, independent widow, Lydia Neville. I adored it from start to finish.

This series has everything I love – thoroughly and accurately researched historical content (which the layman has no problem understanding), subtly developed, spine tingling romance and flawed but likeable/loveable characters. What I particularly like about this author’s telling of the Civil War, which divided our country, is that she sets out both sides of the conflict in a completely unbiased manner. Her heroes and heroines come from both sides of the divide, showing us how families became splintered because of their beliefs and loyalties and, more importantly, how they resolved those differences.

And finally, just before the year closed, we got a gorgeous extra Christmas present from Stella Riley – the stand-alone:

A Splendid Defiance
a-splendid-defiance-audio
This was released in audio, and all I can say is – WOW! It tells the story of the holding of the Royalist Banbury castle during the English Civil War against almost impossible odds. The fictitious characters are blended so expertly with actual historic characters that one cannot see the seams. I shall listen again before I review but already know that this is off the scale as far as grading goes for both content and narration. A Splendid Defiance is quite possibly my favourite ‘listen’ of 2016 and, if not, it’s certainly on a par with one other listed below for the sheer listening pleasure that it brought me.


Salt Hendon Collection: A Georgian Historical Romance Boxed Set and audio
by Lucinda Brant
salt-hendon-collection
Lucinda Brant has also had a tremendous year, with three new publications. I’m going to cheat here so that I can squeeze another favourite in (the boxed set and boxed audio set will count as one). Ms. Brant also employs the talents of the incomparable Mr. Wyndham so, whereas I have always loved her writing since discovering her, I now love her writing and figuratively speaking, her chosen narrator too!

I read the Salt Hendon Boxed Set when Ms. Brant re-published it in June 2016 with the addition of the prologue and novella and loved it all over again after previously reading Salt Bride and Salt Redux individually. Then, when later in the year, Alex Wyndham recorded it at the request of the author and her fans, we had the pleasure of almost 24 hours of listening bliss as he lead us through the machinations of the evil Diana versus the beautifully portrayed love story of Salt and Jane. With all  this, and Lucinda Brant’s exquisitely researched and detailed descriptions of life in Georgian England, we were truly spoilt. The Salt Hendon boxed set is one of my two top reads/listens of the year and I was hard put to take my ear-buds out.

Dair Devil (Roxton Series #4) by Lucinda Brant
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This series is just superb. Each book gives us a surprise. one area in which Lucinda Brant excels. I did not see this jaw-dropper coming and its delivery by the tiny tornado, Antonia, whom we have all come to love, is perfection. And, of course, Alex Wyndham’s performance is so powerful that we forget we are actually listening to a man rather than a very female, pocket sized French firebrand!  This story has a redeemed ‘bad boy’ who was never really bad in the first place, but that’s what Ms. Brant does so expertly; she leads us up the garden path and leaves us with our mouths gaping and wondering why we hadn’t picked up on it. The burgeoning and apparently impossible romance between Dair and physically disabled, Rory, is touchingly beautiful. There’s more of this fascinating Georgian family to come with Dair’s sister, Mary, hopefully in the spring of this year.

I had the pleasure of meeting the iconic, Lorraine Heath in the autumn of last year at HRR and, as she is one of my favourite Historical Romance authors, it was a huge fan-girl moment. I quickly realised, on getting to know her better, how it is that she unerringly writes such empathetic and poignant tear-jerkers each and every time; it’s because she is, quite simply, a warm and caring person and it shines through in her writing. Having had the benefit of spending time with her, I decided to read her entire latest series again – my two favourites of that series follow:

The Earl Takes All (The Hellions of Havisham, #2) by Lorraine Heath
the-earl-takes-all
This was a very tricky premise and I wondered how Lorraine Heath would handle it in a way that her readers would believe in it – obviously she does, hence my 5* grading. It is an absorbing story with loads of angst and emotion. I loved it and think that Ms. Heath pulled off a real coup with her very original storyline and outcome. Her stories are never boring which is one of the reasons her books are so popular but she always integrates issues (health and otherwise) which we experience in the present day.

The Viscount and the Vixen (The Hellions of Havisham, #3) by Lorraine Heath
the-viscount-and-the-vixen
What a terrific ending to the series and I just had to include it in my favourites, especially when I read where the inspiration came from. Suddenly everything made sense – a real penny-dropping moment! The Marquess of Marsden was based on Miss Havisham of Great Expectations fame. But the ‘mad marquess’ wasn’t really mad at all, it was just how he wanted to be seen. When lucidity was called for he was amazingly sane, as readers of this novel will have seen from his devious machinations! Fabulous, Ms. Heath! I just loved your series – every tender, tear jerking moment of it.


A Gentleman’s Position
(Society of Gentleman #3) by K.J. Charles
a-gentlemans-position
K.J. Charles was a new-to-me author in 2016 and a departure from my normal comfort reads. Still historical romance, but this time m/m, not something I’ve ever considered reading and, until recently, didn’t even know existed. But I’m so glad I found this author because I loved her entire Society of Gentlemen series and, in particular, A Gentleman’s Position. This is such a clever, cunning story and it takes place in a time when gentlemen could be executed for their predilections. But it’s about so much more than that, and the way the author develops the plot and brings it all to a satisfactory, shocking and plausible conclusion is skilful indeed. The romance between her characters is tender and believable and the historical content, in-depth, accurate and fascinating.

Another author I had the pleasure of meeting and interacting with at the HRR in Spokane last Autumn was the superstar of Historical Romance, Mary Balogh. She is a lovely, quite fascinating lady and spending time with her and discussing her books and characters was a real eye opener into the way she thinks – a wonderful experience for me. Ms. Balogh doesn’t rely on complicated plots to sell her books, rather her strengths are subtler and lie in her many years of writing and obvious life experience, which always comes across in her writing and character development.  I am never disappointed and look forward with eager anticipation to everything she writes.

Someone to Love (Westcott, #1) by Mary Balogh
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In her usual understated manner, Ms. Balogh had me hooked from the first paragraph of her new series which begins with the story of Anna Snow, an orphaned girl who is traced by the lawyer of the family she did not know existed. She arrives at her late father’s will reading to discover that she is his ONLY legitimate child and her discovery has disinherited her three half siblings and their mother, whom he married bigamously. I loved this premise and the way the story is told is entirely believable. The love story between Anna and Avery Archer, Duke of Netherby is gentle and moving, with hidden depths to the hero which we discover as the story unfolds. We learn that Avery is no pushover and I found his very unusual, out of the ordinary character, to be quite captivating.


Simply Love
(Simply Quartet #2) – Audiobook – by Mary Balogh
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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, 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 Sydenham Butler, a horrifically scarred veteran of the peninsula wars. Mary Balogh tells their love story in an entirely plausible and empathetic manner not making an easy read of it or skirting over the problems they face and we see them experiencing.

Just recently some of Ms. Balogh’s books have been released on the UK audible market and most of them have been recorded by the supremely talented, Rosalyn Landor. I can’t praise her performance highly enough in the telling of this beautiful story which always, no matter how many times I read or listen, brings a catch to my throat and a tingling down my spine. As I said, I love everything this author writes but, if I must choose an absolute favourite, then Simply Love is the one.

The Autumn Throne (Eleanor of Aquitaine #3) by Elizabeth Chadwick
the-autumn-throne

One of my greatest reading pleasures has always been historical fiction and, in particular, books about the Plantagenets, my favourite historic family. There are no historical fiction writers that I enjoy more than Elizabeth Chadwick and The Autumn Throne, the third and final book in her fascinating Eleanor of Aquitaine series, is quite simply superb. Ms. Chadwick’s knowledge and scholarship of the period is mind-boggling. All her books are eloquently written with exceptional attention to detail, but this series in particular really struck a chord with me and I finished it with a thirst to learn even more about this fascinating character, if indeed, there is anything left to learn after Ms. Chadwick’s extensive research.
 

What were your own personal favourites for 2016?

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A Lady Awakened

 (Blackshear Family #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

In Cecilia Grant’s emotionally rich and deeply passionate Regency romance debut, a deal with a rumored rogue turns a proper young woman into . . . A Lady Awakened.

Newly widowed and desperate to protect her estate and beloved servants from her malevolent brother-in-law, Martha Russell conceives a daring plan. Or rather, a daring plan to conceive. After all, if she has an heir on the way, her future will be secured. Forsaking all she knows of propriety, Martha approaches her neighbor, a London exile with a wicked reputation, and offers a strictly business proposition: a month of illicit interludes . . . for a fee.

Theophilus Mirkwood ought to be insulted. Should be appalled. But how can he resist this siren in widow’s weeds, whose offer is simply too outrageously tempting to decline? Determined she’ll get her money’s worth, Theo endeavors to awaken this shamefully neglected beauty to the pleasures of the flesh—only to find her dead set against taking any enjoyment in the scandalous bargain. Surely she can’t resist him forever. But could a lady’s sweet surrender open their hearts to the most unexpected arrival of all . . . love?

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This was Cecilia’s Grant’s debut novel in 2011 and it has to be one of the most unconventional Historical Romances I have read. While the premise bears similarities to other books I have read, it is Ms Grant’s unique voice and wonderfully flawed and interesting characters that make this book exceptional.

When Martha Russell’s husband is killed in a riding accident, she knows that, as a childless widow, Seton Park will pass to her late husband’s brother, James Russell. With very little means of supporting herself, she has no option but to live as her brother’s dependent. Then her solicitor advises her that it is normal to wait sufficient time to ensure that she is not carrying her late husband’s son and heir. She knows full well she is not pregnant but it offers her a few more weeks or a month at Seton Park. She is not only concerned for the future of her tenants and servants but she has given her support to the building of a new school for the local children. This could be in jeopardy because James Russell will decide whether it is to be built or not and Martha also learns of his reputation for taking advantage of female servants. Desperate to protect both the tenants working on the estate and the females of her household, she formulates a plan…to get pregnant. All she needs is a gentleman who is willing to have sex with her once a day for a month, for which service she is willing to pay five hundred pounds regardless of whether it is a boy or girl, and fifteen hundred pounds more if she gives birth to a son. Learning of his disreputable reputation, newly arrived Theophilus Mirkwood seems like the perfect candidate.

This could end in a dozen different kinds of disaster. There’d be no guarantee of success. And how to get through it without losing all claim to principle, she couldn’t begin to imagine.
So be it. She could wait for Providence to come to these women’s aid, or she could make use of what Providence had already put in her path. “Sheridan.” She twisted to face her maid squarely. “Tell me again about Mr. Mirkwood.

Tired of his son’s spendthrift and dissolute ways, Theophilus (Theo) Mirkwood’s father has stripped him of his allowance and banished him to the country estate in Sussex in the hope that Theo can improve himself by learning some land management skills. Theo is surprised to receive a request that he call on his neighbour, the widowed Mrs Russell, but he is totally unprepared for what follows!

“I can get you funds, Mr. Mirkwood, in exchange for something from you. I need to conceive a child.”
Only by heroic will and quick use of his napkin did he prevent a mouthful of tea from spewing straight into his lap. He choked and sputtered, and groped for the fresh napkin she held out to him as his teacup met its saucer
all clumsy and percussive.

Somehow the prim, stern widow, dressed head to toe in black, intrigues him and he finds himself fantasising about what she would be like in bed. Despite her insistence that this is purely a business arrangement from which she has no wish to derive any pleasure, Theo is sure that, as an experienced lover, he will be able to seduce her. But Martha seems completely immune to all his efforts and, if he is to fulfil their bargain, he may have to rethink his strategy.

What I love about this book is the understated way in which Ms Grant builds the relationship between these two disparate people. Theo is charming, funny and good-natured with the ability to put people at ease, but he is honest enough to admit to being a spoiled, lazy wastrel because that’s all anyone had ever expected of him. Martha is the complete opposite – serious, stubborn, highly principled with a genuine desire to better the lives of her tenants and provide education for the young estate girls.

Their ‘afternoon appointments’ are awkward and totally unsexy. Martha wants Theo for one thing only…his seed and nothing else. I’m so pleased Ms Grant didn’t make Martha frigid. She has experienced pleasure (albeit at her own hand) but she refuses to compromise on her principles. Although she comes to like Theo, she can never have any emotional connection to a man she cannot respect and whose sole purpose in life is the pursuit of pleasure. I admire how Martha stays true to her principles throughout the story. Poor Theo. The one thing he really excels in is knowing how to please a woman but having Martha shrinking from his every touch has him questioning his own self-worth.

Surprisingly, Ms Grant imbues these impersonal sex scenes with considerable humour and these inner thoughts of Martha’s are my particular favourite.

Where she was molded, he was rough-hewn. Where her form curved with logic and precision, not to mention breeding parts tucked neatly away, he looked rangy, haphazard, his male parts an ill-placed afterthought. Like the last leftover bits of clay scraped together, rolled into primitive forms and stuck onto the middle of him, the stones in their rough red sack and that improbable appendage dangling to the fore.

Through their regular after-sex discussions, they get to know each other better and an unlikely friendship develops. They take walks and start to learn from and help each other. Although initially feigned to gain Martha’s approval, Theo’s interest in land management and his tenants becomes genuine and Martha encourages him to believe in his own abilities, something no one has ever done before. Martha’s reserved nature means that she finds it difficult to socialise and when Theo discovers that she has no friends, acquaintances or callers, he arranges for people to call and I loved Martha’s response when Theo asks her…

“And what worthy things did you accomplish today?”

I didn’t accomplish a thing.” Her smile deepened, sweet and bracing as a bite of lemon cake. “I had callers.”

Gradually this friendship grows into affection, admiration and finally love and I like how their sexual encounters undergo subtle changes to reflect their evolving relationship.

It seems improbable that such a morally principled woman like Martha would be willing to cheat a man out of his inheritance but, for her, it is the only way to protect her female servants, her tenants and ensure that the school is built. When she meets James Russell’s wife and children, I could feel that she is troubled over cheating these boys out of their future inheritance and has great sympathy for Mrs Russell.

The secondary characters, Mrs Weaver and her children, Mr Barrow and Mr Atkins, the curate, all add depth to the story and highlight the ways in which Theo and Martha grow and change in the course of the story. Look out for the Weaver’s devious pig who steals the show with his antics every time he makes an appearance.

I like how Ms Grant portrayed the villainous James Russell as an “unimpressive figure”. As was frequently the case with such men, it was his position and power which allowed him to prey on the women in his employ.

I thought the ending was well thought out with everything tied up in a satisfactory and believable way and allowing Martha and Theo to finally marry. As a devotee of the Epilogue, the lack of one was my only gripe, but not enough for me to give the book less than 5 stars.

I can’t end this review without reference to Ms Grant’s wonderful writing and here are a few of my favourite quotes.

“Shouldn’t you have seduced me first? Or drugged my tea, and let me wake up chained to a bed?”
She colored, and looked more disapproving yet. “This is a business arrangement. I should like to conduct it accordingly.”

★✩★

The pig heaved forward, but Theo blocked it with one boot. “May I present Mr. Mirkwood, the proprietor’s eldest son? I’m showing him round the estate today.” With surprising agility, the pig feinted left and then surged right. He just managed to get his boot in front of it again, prompting an indignant barrage of squeals and grunts to round out the general cacophony.

★✩★

 His blood hummed and tingled as though tiny benevolent hornets were racing through his body.

 ★✩★

Damnation, but she did make him feel like a king. She made him feel as though he’d always been one, muddling along just waiting for her to kiss him out of some enchantment into his birthright.


MY VERDICT: Definitely recommended and I look forward to reading the other books in the series with relish.

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

Read July 2016

 

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

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

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I’m delighted to welcome Historical Romance author CECILIA GRANT to Rakes and Rascals today for an exclusive interview.

I’m delighted to be here. I love answering miscellaneous questions, so ask away, and get ready for some rambling replies!

~~~~~~~

 

R&R:
Could you tell us where you were born and what it was like growing up there?

Cecilia:
I grew up in Seattle, Washington—perhaps you’ve wondered whether we do in fact have the bluest skies you’ve ever seen? I’d say probably not. The sky does get quite blue, during the two or three months it stops being a dismal gray, and if you haven’t seen many different skies then it might, technically, be the bluest you’ve ever seen. But I don’t know any Seattle natives who think of the blue skies as one of our city’s distinguishing features. Certainly not to the point where you’d write a song about it.

More distinctive is our geography and topography. We’re bounded by Puget Sound on the west and a big lake on the east, with a ship canal cutting west-to-east through the city and another lake thrown in halfway along it. (If you have a day job, there’s a good chance you cross water in your commute.)

We have mountains, too; the Olympics on one side and the Cascades on the other, part of your view in pretty much any direction you look. And hills. There are buildings downtown where you enter the first floor on one side and have to go up to the fourth floor to get out the other side.

I took all this for granted growing up, and only when I went to college in the Midwest, in a city with no hills and nothing to see on the horizon, did I realize how much it mattered. I’ve lived in other places and I like to travel, but this is the geography that will always feel like home.

R&R:
How would you describe yourself – temperamental or easy-going?

Cecilia:
I appear easy-going, but it’s really just the facade of a world-class conflict-avoider. I’m temperamental on the inside.

 

R&R:
When it comes to food do you like sweet or savoury or both:

Cecilia:
Both, though I’d probably give a slight edge to sweet. I’m eating ice cream for dinner as I write this.

 

R&R:
What is your most treasured possession?

Cecilia:
It’s a tie between two things that used to belong to my maternal grandmother.
First, this curious china pig knick-knack, which I suspect has been in the family since before Grandma was born.

It mystifies me on every level. Why does the pig have a four-leaf clover in its mouth? Why is it posing with this oversized broken egg? What on earth is it supposed to be used for?—obviously something’s meant to go in that hole in the egg, but what? And how did something so fancy and non-utilitarian wind up in the possession of my grandmother’s working-class family?

I’ve tried to research it online, but I’ve never found the right set of terms to google. If any of you has any idea what it might be for, please let me know! Otherwise I’ll have to keep waiting for someone to bring one onto the Antiques Roadshow someday.
I also have Grandma’s original 1917 edition of The Lost Princess of Oz, which I reread countless times growing up.


I love thinking of my grandmother and later my mother reading this same book, and I also just plain love the book. Frank Baum had such a fantastical imagination—the movie really doesn’t do his world justice (just to give you some idea, Dorothy in the books is about ten years old, with bottomless reserves of aplomb, and you’d never catch her singing wistfully by a wagon wheel).

Lost Princess has it all: a mystery, an urgent quest, a six-foot-tall bipedal talking frog who somehow got mistaken for a genius and can’t bring himself to correct the mistake, a wind-up pink bear who can answer any question (yes, they do ask him what happened to Princess Ozma, and you’ll have to read the book to find out why that doesn’t work), and sundry sorts of magic, from a super-strength potion to a flying dishpan to a belt that grants its wearer one wish a day. Recommended!

 

R&R:
If you were able to afford a second home anywhere in the world where would you choose and why?

Cecilia:
Dublin. Imagine being able to just swing by Trinity College and see what page they have the Book of Kells open to, any time you want. And imagine breathing the same air and walking the same streets as so many great English-language writers. You know those lambic beers they brew in a certain region of Belgium, where they don’t have to add brewer’s yeast because the beer just sort of absorbs ambient yeast from the air? When I visited Dublin I felt like the air must be suffused with some kind of writerly yeast, and anyone lucky enough to live there must eventually absorb enough to be able to write something really good.

 

R&R:
Finally, what has been your most embarrassing moment?

Cecilia:
I have so many embarrassing moments! One of my specialties is embarrassing myself with my clumsy attempts to make friends.

I have a particular memory of when this one friend of mine got engaged: his fiancée was smart, funny, well-read, and just tailor-made to be my new bosom friend, I thought. My own then-fiance and I went over to dinner at their house, and I looked for every opportunity to make a good impression. They were giving us a tour, explaining how they were having to repaint all the rooms because of the unfortunate colors the previous homeowners had chosen, and I said, “Oh, I see what you mean; this green has got to go!” It was one of the rooms they’d already repainted.

Then over dinner, we were talking about our upcoming weddings and I doubled down with an impassioned, red-wine-fueled rant about the wedding-industrial complex and how aggravating it was that women got snowed into thinking they needed to get married in a big expensive elaborate dress that they’d never wear again in their lives—never pausing to consider that maybe my friend’s fiancée was looking forward to wearing a traditional gown and would not appreciate the implication that she was a hapless manipulated consumer. (She did wear a traditional wedding gown, and I’m pretty sure she did not appreciate my rant.)

We never did get to be friends. I don’t blame her. Reading this over, I think it’s kind of a wonder I have any friends at all.

~~~~~~~

 

Thank you for taking time out to be here today and sharing these interesting facts about yourself, Cecilia

It was so nice of you to invite me. I’m crossing my fingers you or one of your readers will have some idea of what my grandmother’s china pig was meant to be used for. (If there’s anyone you can count on for arcane knowledge, it’s a historical-romance reader, right?)

 

If you would like to find out more about Cecilia and her books, here are the links:

Website
Goodreads
Facebook
Twitter

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(Blackshear Family, #0.5)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

It should have been simple…

With one more errand to go—the purchase of a hunting falcon—Andrew Blackshear has Christmas completely under control. As his sister’s impending marriage signals the inevitable drifting-apart of the Blackshear family, it’s his last chance to give his siblings the sort of memorable, well-planned holiday their parents could never seem to provide.

He has no time to dawdle, no time for nonsense, and certainly no time to drive the falconer’s vexing, impulsive, lush-lipped, midnight-haired daughter to a house party before heading home. So why the devil did he agree to do just that?

It couldn’t be more deliciously mixed-up…

Lucy Sharp has been waiting all her too-quiet life for an adventure, and she means to make the most of this one. She’s going to enjoy the house party as no one has ever enjoyed a house party before, and in the meanwhile she’s going to enjoy every minute in the company of amusingly stern, formidably proper, outrageously handsome Mr. Blackshear. Let him disapprove of her all he likes—it’s not as though they’ll see each other again after today.

…or will they? When a carriage mishap and a snowstorm strand the pair miles short of their destination, threatening them with scandal and jeopardizing all their Christmas plans, they’ll have to work together to save the holiday from disaster. And along the way they just might learn that the best adventures are the ones you never would have thought to plan.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This is such a delightful story and a wonderful introduction to Cecilia Grant’s books. Not since reading my first Courtney Milan book have I been so excited about a new-to-me author. Even within the constraints of this novella, Ms Grant brings her characters to life and creates a story full of originality and charm.

Following his parents’ death, Andrew Blackshear has shouldered responsibility for the upbringing of his younger siblings. He has always endeavoured to set a good example by being the epitome of a gentleman… propriety and decorum are the principles he lives by. It is on a trip to the wilds of Norfolk to collect a Christmas gift for his sister that he finds himself stranded with a lady who tests his principles to breaking point.

An only child, Lucy Sharp has led a secluded life with her rather unconventional father. She loves him dearly but wants to do the things that all other young ladies do. So when she is invited to her aunt’s Christmas house party, she relishes the opportunity to enjoy herself. Never does she imagine that she will find herself stranded with the most pompous and judgemental gentleman it has been her misfortune to meet.

Despite being a stuffed-shirt, there is something endearing about Andrew. Perhaps it’s the way he clearly loves his siblings and does everything in his power to to give them the happiest Christmas he can, or seeing him thrown off-balance whenever he is around Lucy. His internal thoughts are so funny…

She ought to be told, with utmost obliqueness and discretion, of course, that such a gaze produced inconvenient stirrings in a gentleman, and could leave lingering impressions that might burgeon, in his private hours, to un-virtuous effect.

not forgetting the embarrassing sex dream!

Lucy’s warmth, kindness and common sense provide the perfect foil to Andrew’s decorum and she is clever enough to run circles around him.

I’m sorry, Miss Sharp.” He met her gaze unblinking. “I’m afraid I am unable to render you that service.”
   “Why?” She tilted her head, as blunt and guileless as a five-year-old who’d been denied a sweetmeat, and every bit as untroubled by manners.

Her kindness is shown in her understanding of the Porters’ true situation and her determination not to embarrass them and how she ensures that her maid, Perkins, can see her family for Christmas.

Often novellas don’t provide sufficient page time to develop a believable relationship between the hero and heroine but Ms Grant succeeds brilliantly. All the obstacles that are thrown in their path force Andrew and Lucy to work together to find solutions, allowing them to get to know and understand each other. It feels as if they have known each far longer than a just a few days and I readily accepted their falling in love.

I fell in love with Ms Grant’s witty and elegant writing style…

Somewhere in the last minute his heart seemed to have lurched off its moorings like a hot-air balloon and now it drifted unsteadily about the cavity of his chest.

His fingers had wandered to his own particularly naked region and taken up a light, un-purposeful sort of stroking. Even this much was a sin, to be sure, and a failure of his self-command.

She slipped her thumbs into his jacket where it opened to make way for his cravat, thumbnails dragging against the linen of his shirt and tickling his chest in gloriously impertinent fashion.

MY VERDICT: I have no hesitation in recommending this enchanting novella and I know the rest of the series will be high on my reading list.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS


SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

Read February 2016

 

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

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

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THE UNTAMED MACKENZIE BY JENNIFER ASHLEY

Source: Pre-ordered from Amazon Kindle

(Highland Pleasures #5.5)

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian)

Official Blurb 

A WOMAN OF BREEDING MEETS A MAN OF NO STANDING… 

To redeem her family’s disgraced name, Lady Louisa Scranton has decided to acquire a proper husband. He needs to be a man of fortune and highly respectable in order to restore both her family’s lost wealth and reputation. She enters the Marriage Mart with all flags flying, determined to find the right bachelor.

But Louisa’s hopes are dashed when the Bishop of Hargate drops dead at her feet—and she is shockingly accused of murder! Soon, Louisa’s so-called friends begin shunning her, because the company of a suspected killer is never desirable in polite society.

The problem comes to the ears of Detective Inspector Lloyd Fellows, by-blow of the decadent Scottish Mackenzie family and an inspector for Scotland Yard. He has shared two passionate kisses with Lady Louisa–and vows to clear her name. For not only does he know she’s innocent, he recognizes he’s falling for the lovely lady.

Fellows is Louisa’s only hope of restoring her family’s honor—and it is he alone who intrigues Louisa in a way that may be even more scandalous than murder…

[INCLUDES A PREVIEW OF THE UPCOMING NOVEL THE WICKED DEEDS OF DANIEL MACKENZIE]

★✩★✩★✩★

A GENTLEMAN UNDONE BY CECILIA GRANT

Source: Paperback bought with an Amazon Gift Card

(Blackshear Family #2)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Official Blurb 

A seductive beauty turns the tables on a gentleman gaming for the guiltiest of pleasures in this rich and sensual Regency romance from beloved newcomer Cecilia Grant.

Lydia Slaughter understands the games men play—both in and out of the bedroom. Not afraid to bend the rules to suit her needs, she fleeces Will Blackshear outright. The Waterloo hero had his own daring agenda for the gaming tables of London’s gentlemen’s clubs. But now he antes up for a wager of wits and desire with Lydia, the streetwise temptress who keeps him at arm’s length.

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

★✩★✩★✩★

A WOMAN ENTANGLED BY CECILIA GRANT

Source: Paperback bought with an Amazon Gift Card

(Blackshear Family #3)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Official Blurb 

An ambitious beauty seeking a spot among the elite is thwarted by a most disruptive gentleman in Cecilia Grant’s witty, elegant, and exquisitely sensual novel.

Kate Westbrook has dreams far bigger than romance. Love won’t get her into London’s most consequential parties, nor prevent her sisters from being snubbed and looked down upon—all because their besotted father unadvisedly married an actress. But a noble husband for Kate would deliver a future most suited to the granddaughter of an earl. Armed with ingenuity, breathtaking beauty, and the help of an idle aunt with connections, Kate is poised to make her dreams come true. Unfortunately, a familiar face—albeit a maddeningly handsome one—appears bent on upsetting her scheme.

Implored by Kate’s worried father to fend off the rogues eager to exploit his daughter’s charms, Nick Blackshear has set aside the torch he’s carried for Kate in order to do right by his friend. Anyway, she made quite clear that his feelings were not returned—though policing her won’t abate Nick’s desire. Reckless passion leads to love’s awakening, but time is running out. Kate must see for herself that the charms of high society are nothing compared to the infinite sweet pleasures demanded by the heart.

★✩★✩★✩★

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