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The Winter Bride

(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?

♥♥♥♥♥♥

After being somewhat disappointed by THE AUTUMN BRIDE, I LOVED this book. Beautifully written, emotional, romantic and funny, it was a total delight from beginning to end.

I absolutely adored Freddy. In The Autumn Bride, he is seemed nothing more than a handsome, charming, entertaining, frivolous rake who has no interest in marriage and avoids ‘muffins’ – eligible young ladies who are constantly trying to trick him into marriage – like the plague. However, as the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Freddy’s carefree lifestyle is a carefully cultivated façade to hide the guilt he feels over his brother’s death and the hurt caused by his parents’ indifference and insults. He is an honourable man who proves to be a loyal friend to Max, a valued and shrewd business partner to Flynn and a man who inspires the love and loyalty of his servants.

I truly felt for Damaris whose mother died when she was twelve, leaving her to be brought up by her missionary father who only believed in duty and obedience not love. He instilled in Damaris a belief that she had inherited her mother’s wanton nature. Forced to flee China after her father is murdered and his mission burnt, she manages to escape to England. What happened during that journey is her terrible secret; one which has convinced her that she will never marry and one which she has never shared with anyone. I could not help but be moved by her longing for a life she knew she could never have.

Did they think she didn’t want to be loved, didn’t want to have someone whose business—no, whose pleasure it would be to take care of her, protect her? And who would let her take care of him and love him in return?

Ms. Gracie builds the relationship between Freddy and Damaris slowly making the romance both believable and emotionally satisfying. As they come to know and understand each other, during the pretend betrothal, their tentative attraction gradually blossoms into love.

London society sees Freddy as nothing more than the ‘frivolous fellow with not a serious thought in his head’ but Damaris sees beyond that façade to the kind, charming, clever, loyal, thoughtful, funny man who deserves to be loved. Damaris has captured Freddy’s heart with her beauty, serenity, stubbornness, courage, understanding and laughter.

I love the scene where Damaris shows real courage when she defends Freddy and gives his parents a good tongue-lashing, refusing to be intimidated by them.

“The entire time I’ve been here all you’ve done is make cutting remarks about him to me—and I’m his betrothed. I’ve heard nothing but criticism, disparagement and negativity. I cannot credit it. You are his mother and you, his father. He is your son—your only son.” Her eyes prickled with angry, frustrated tears. “What kind of parents are you? You lost one son, but you threw the other away.”

When Damaris reveals her secret to Freddy, I love his reaction…

“You did the only thing you could. No one would blame you. I certainly wouldn’t.”

and his willingness to risk his life to slay dragons for her.

The love scene in the cottage is so beautifully written, full of warmth, humour and passion. I love the lengths Freddy is willing to go to allay Damaris’ fears, especially his own paticular interpretation of certain Biblical stories!

He picked up her hand and kissed it. “Enough of that, insatiable creature. I’m explaining something to you and it’s very important. God’s plan.”
“Oh. Yes?” she said vaguely.
“Yes. The pleasure men and women receive from lying together. Without the pleasure, it would happen far less frequently, and then where would we be? Would we be so happy about going forth and multiplying, as we’re told to do in the Bible?”
She stretched languorously and didn’t answer.
He went on. “Stop distracting me and listen. No, we wouldn’t. So the pleasure is all part of God’s plan and it is your sacred duty to enjoy it to the best of your ability. The future of the human race depends on it.”

There is a colourful cast of secondary characters including:

  • the indomitable Lady Bea of whom Freddy says – God, but the old lady was a tricky piece. He felt like he’d gone three rounds in a verbal boxing ring. 
  • Mrs Jenkins, Damaris’s employer, who is always warning her about ‘headin’ down the Road to Roon’ 
  • Captain Patrick Flynn, a lapsed Irish Catholic, with a penchant for bright colours and earrings and a desire to marry a fine young English lady. 
  • The experimental Chinese swimming pigs (to know more, I’m afraid you will have to read the book)

 Max and Abby (The Autumn Bride) and Jane and Daisy are also there to provide aid and support to Freddy and Damaris, and those who like a delightful Epilogue will not be disappointed.

 MY VERDICT: A charming, heart-warming romance with characters who will steal your heart. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 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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The Autumn Bride

(Chance Sisters, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency – 1805 and 1816)

Cover Blurb

Governess Abigail Chantry will do anything to save her sister and two dearest friends from destitution, even if it means breaking into an empty mansion in the hope of finding something to sell. Instead of treasures, though, she finds the owner, Lady Beatrice Davenham, bedridden and neglected. Appalled, Abby rousts Lady Beatrice’s predatory servants and—with Lady Beatrice’s eager cooperation—the four young ladies become her “nieces,” neatly eliminating the threat of disaster for all concerned!

It’s the perfect situation, until Lady Beatrice’s dashing and arrogant nephew, Max, Lord Davenham, returns from the Orient—and discovers an impostor running his household…

A romantic entanglement was never the plan for these stubborn, passionate opponents—but falling in love may be as inevitable as the falling of autumn leaves…

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Having previously read and loved THE PERFECT RAKE, I had high expectations of this book, the first in Anne Gracie’s Chance Sisters series. However, while there were aspects of the book I really loved, there were others I found disappointing.

I really liked Abigail. She is such a warm and caring person and you see that in her love for her younger sister, Jane, as well as her willingness to take in Damaris and Daisy. I also admired her courage and resourcefulness in rescuing Jane from the brothel and Lady Beatrice from the clutches of her dishonest and neglectful servants.

Max is an honourable man who is determined to work to pay off his late uncle’s debts and restore the family fortunes, and he also reveals a caring nature in his genuine love and concern for his Aunt Beatrice. While I liked Max, I did find him a rather lacklustre hero, possibly because he was overshadowed by more vibrant and memorable characters like Lady Beatrice and Freddy Monkton-Coombes.

I loved seeing the unbreakable bond that develops between the four girls and the loving relationship that grows between them and Lady Beatrice, who is definitely one of the highlights of the book. She’s such a colourful and larger than life figure who is outspoken and delights in flaunting the stuffy rules of society, even claiming the Chance sisters as her ‘nieces’. I love the scene where she regales Lady Beddington with the scandalous story of her fictitious half-sister, Griselda, her nieces’ mother, much to Max’s annoyance. I adored Max’s best friend, Freddy Monkton-Combes, who brought some lovely humour to the story with his talk of ‘muffins’ (and I don’t mean the edible kind).

While I appreciated that this was the first book in a new series and setting up the bond between the ‘sisters’ and establishing their relationship with Lady Beatrice were important elements of the story, I did not feel that it allowed enough time to fully develop the romance between Abby and Max. For me, there was no steady development of their relationship and I did not sense the deep emotional connection between them. However, some of my criticisms were softened by the charming Epilogue.

The touch of mystery surrounding Jane’s abduction added an interesting layer to the story but I felt that the opportunity to introduce a dramatic resolution to the plot line was sadly missed. Everything is neatly resolved off page with Max and Daisy relating details of what happened to the others. A clear case of telling rather than showing.

MY VERDICT: Despite my reservations, overall I enjoyed THE AUTUMN BRIDE and will definitely be reading the other books in the series to see Jane, Damaris and Daisy get their Happy Ever Afters.


REVIEW RATING: 4/5 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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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?

♥♥♥♥♥♥

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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