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Hazard audiobook

(Rockliffe, #5)

Genre: Historical Romance (Paris, 1770 and London, 1777)

Cover Blurb:

Hazard: a game of Chance and Luck, made riskier when Fate is rolling the dice.

For Aristide Delacroix, the first throw summons shades from his past. A man he had met, just once, over a card-table … and the lovely girl indirectly responsible for plunging his life into catastrophe.

For Lord Nicholas Wynstanton, tired of waiting for Madeleine Delacroix to make up her mind, it slyly suggests he begin a whole new game with loaded dice; while for Madeleine, it devises a terrifying lesson in missed opportunities and the uncertainty of second chances.

And for Genevieve Westin, hoping widowhood will be happier than marriage, it brings a rude awakening – leaving a single, wild gamble her only option.
A cardsharp turned businessman, a duke’s charming brother, a stubborn, razor-edged beauty and a desperate widow.

Four players in a game of Hazard … all playing for very high stakes.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Stella Riley has kept my interest from the first page of the first book in her Rockliffe series (The Parfit Knight), which was originally written in her earlier life as a traditionally published author. Three years ago, she took up her pen again as an Indie author and I have not only discovered her (how did I miss her the first time around?) but now eagerly await each new release – three so far, and counting (plus of course, an addition to her superb English Civil War series). Both of her two earlier books are now available in e-format, as well as in paperback AND audio, and all the books in this series have been treated to stunning new covers. The Rockliffe series is rapidly becoming a reader’s favourite; a considerable success considering there are some thirty plus years between the first book and the last, and she has seamlessly continued the series as if that large gap never existed.

Hazard (book five), as the name suggests, is set in part against the backdrop of a gaming club. There are four players (as in the game); two equally spine-tingling romances playing out in parallel, and, as always, the enigmatic, all-seeing, all-knowing and utterly delicious, Duke of Rockliffe (aka Rock) is central to the story and its outcome. Each of Ms. Riley’s fabulous cast of characters introduced over the course of the series (some with books of their own), are in evidence, and as I always say, these men and women feel like old friends after five books.

Two of the main protagonists, brother and sister, Madeleine and Aristide Delacroix, get their HEA, and so too does Nicholas Wynstanton, Rock’s younger brother, who has long been smitten with the prickly Madeleine. By the time we reached the end of The Wicked Cousin, Nicholas was becoming more and more frustrated and Madeleine more difficult. However, fans of the series probably knew that Stella Riley would find a way for this unlikely pair to overcome their difficulties. Aristide’s love interest comes from a totally unexpected quarter and ties in nicely with his earlier life and his connection to Adrian Deveraux, Earl of Sarre (The

One of Stella Riley’s greatest strengths lies in her characterisation. The people she ‘creates’ take on a living, breathing persona and, in Hazard, Nicholas Wynstanton, who has been around as a secondary character since the first book, is fully developed into a larger than life, loveable and honourable man. No longer just the happy-go-lucky, younger brother of a duke, he is now a man not to be trifled with as he sets his sights on demolishing the walls Madeleine Delacroix has erected around her heart. Madeleine’s arguments against the match stem from her own insecurities – her earlier life in Paris where she had lived a hand-to-mouth existence with her brother and mother, and the unrequited, girlish infatuation she had briefly felt for her brother’s friend, Adrian Deveraux (The Player). Being the proud young woman, she is, Adrian’s rebuttal was all the more devastating and she has never fully recovered her composure or confidence with the opposite sex resulting in her unfortunate standoffishness.

Her brother, Aristide, is a cool and quiet man and, with a few well-chosen words the author conjures up a man I can see in my mind’s eye…

long blonde hair, eyes the blue of a cloudless winter sky and neatly tailored bones.

He says little but, through his inner musings, we get a great deal of insight into the man he is – suspicious, frustrated and angry – emotions he keeps carefully locked away. Aristide, on the face of it, seems to be calmly and emotionlessly going about his business, but he too has a bruised heart from which he has never fully recovered. His carefully locked away hurt at the way he believes he was treated by his ‘almost love’ comes back to haunt him. Seven years on he is no longer the tender-hearted, kindly young man working hard to care for his teenage sister and ailing mother, but an affluent, respected partner in one of London’s premier gaming/gentleman’s clubs. We see the cool, carefully cultivated aloofness slowly disintegrate before the onslaught of the attraction he discovers he still feels after the intervening years.

Stella Riley has the sibling relationship between Aristide and Madeline just right. Their character traits suggest a familial relationship; both are reserved as a result of brushes with young, unrequited love and both are over sensitive about their humble beginnings. As a result, they are both wary of allowing anyone to scale the walls of their self-erected defences. An intriguing pair and so the final capitulation to their respective loves is all the more satisfying.

Beautiful and sweet Genevieve has erupted back into Aristide’s well-ordered life after seven years. She has suffered much at the hands of her brothers and her now deceased, dissipated husband. She is aware that society views her with distaste by association and, as a result, she is extremely vulnerable and lacking in confidence and self-esteem. In fact, her very vulnerability and suffering is just what the calmly controlled Aristide needs as a salve to the perceived injustices he believes her responsible for in his past life. He is still the kind of man who needs to be needed, and Genevieve Westin certainly fits that bill and so we watch him crumble. It puts me in mind a little of The Mésalliance (although nothing quite compares to the final chapters of that magnificent story) in which we see Rock lose his legendary ‘cool’. I love these hard to read, mysterious men.

There is a plausible plot running throughout the story which involves most of the main characters but has its roots in Paris and Aristide’s earlier life. Rock always strolls in and takes centre stage at just the right moments – urbane and cool-as-cucumber, he steals every scene he is involved in. With just a few carefully selected words designed to defuse, he delivers a set-down, often without the recipient being aware he or she has been insulted. His character is one of Stella Riley’s triumphs, and this series is well named because Rock’s unfailing omniscience and his ability to always be in the right place at the right time is something I have come to look forward to with much anticipation in every book, and I’m never disappointed.

Hazard follows on within weeks of the end of The Wicked Cousin. Cassie and Sebastian are welcomed back into ‘the gang’ after their recent honeymoon and are evidently very-much-in-love newlyweds. They run the gauntlet of the banter and risqué comments of their close friends. Sebastian’s wicked and naughty sense of humour is very much in evidence, another area in which the author excels; her wit and humour are always lurking in the background, adding another dimension to her intriguing characters and expertly researched Georgian world. As we near the end of the series, it is going to be sad to say goodbye…but not yet. Ms. Riley is busy writing another/final book in the series and I am eagerly looking forward to a further intriguing addition to the Rockliffe series, and maybe Ms. Riley will tie off a few loose ends, such as, will Rock get his heir and let Nicholas off the hook?

I’ve read the book and now I’ve listened to the audio version performed by the talented actor Ms. Riley always employs to perform the books in this series (and two of her English Civil War/Restoration books). I’m always struck anew by Alex Wyndham’s versatility – it’s no easy job, after the many books he’s recorded for Ms. Riley and the large cast of characters he has had to keep track of. Yet, he does. Each person is easily identifiable and one excellent example is the Duke of Rockliffe whose smooth, rich voice is quite unique. When Rock appears in any scene he doesn’t need to be announced and Alex Wyndham has him to perfection using a voice and tone like warm treacle trickling down the spine – soft and loving – soft and menacing or simply in conversation with his peers – there’s no mistaking Rock for any other character. During one particular scene in which Madeleine is a guest of the Rockliffe ‘gang’, the ever, all knowing, all seeing Rock immediately recognises her vulnerability, as a result of her actions, and reacts in the most bone melting way. Reading the words had me sniffing but hearing them, well…have your tissues ready is my advice. As I previously remarked, much of Aristide’s thoughts and feelings are revealed to us through his inner musings. To the outside world, he is the proverbial ‘swan’, calm and unruffled, but paddling away furiously out of sight. Alex Wyndham is taxed with making this work and he does so spectacularly. I suspect that some readers may well have missed the ‘real’ Aristide in the written word – so my advice is to listen to this performer’s delectable French accent and fall in love with Stella Riley’s dreamy Aristide.

A new reader/listener to Stella Riley’s books may be a little overwhelmed by the number of characters in Hazard, but this is book five and therefore many have been introduced throughout the previous books. The writing, research and characterisation is, as always, superb and the book could be enjoyed as a stand-alone, but I recommend beginning with The Parfit Knight or, at the very least, it’s important to read/listen to The Wicked Cousin because Hazard follows on immediately from that book, although Cassie and Sebastian’s story is not left hanging.

MY VERDICT: Another stellar five stars read/listen for me. I might have my favourites in this series, but each book is as well written as the last and I can’t penalise the author for making me prefer one character or storyline over another, and besides which, I love them all.


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE


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

The Parfit Knight (Rockliffe, #1) by Stella Riley The Mésalliance by Stella Riley The Player by Stella Riley The Wicked Cousin (Rockcliffe, #4) by Stella Riley Hazard by Stella Riley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

 

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

 

 

Rockcliffe series so far (click on the book cover for more details):

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Hazard - Stella Riley

(Rockliffe, #5)

Genre: Historical Romance (Paris, 1770 and London, 1777)

Cover Blurb:

Hazard: a game of Chance and Luck, made riskier when Fate is rolling the dice.

For Aristide Delacroix, the first throw summons shades from his past. A man he had met, just once, over a card-table … and the lovely girl indirectly responsible for plunging his life into catastrophe.

For Lord Nicholas Wynstanton, tired of waiting for Madeleine Delacroix to make up her mind, it slyly suggests he begin a whole new game with loaded dice; while for Madeleine, it devises a terrifying lesson in missed opportunities and the uncertainty of second chances.

And for Genevieve Westin, hoping widowhood will be happier than marriage, it brings a rude awakening – leaving a single, wild gamble her only option.
A cardsharp turned businessman, a duke’s charming brother, a stubborn, razor-edged beauty and a desperate widow.

Four players in a game of Hazard … all playing for very high stakes.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Stella Riley’s stunning Rockliffe series has kept me entranced from the first page of The Parfit Knight, the first book in the series, in which she begins introducing her tremendous cast of characters, one of whom is the enigmatic Duke of Rockliffe (aka Rock) who plays an almost patriarchal role in each story. In fact, all of society respect and look up to him, hence the series name. Now with book five, Hazard, we are treated to another addictive page turner and two equally spine-tingling romances playing out in parallel. As its title suggests, the story is set in part against the backdrop of a gaming club, and, as in the game of hazard, has four players. Two of the main protagonists, brother and sister, Madeleine and Aristide Delacroix, at last get their HEA, and so too does Nicholas Wynstanton, Rock’s younger brother, who has long been smitten with the prickly Madeleine. By the time we reached the end of The Wicked Cousin, Nicholas was becoming more and more frustrated and Madeleine more difficult than usual. However, fans of the series probably knew that Stella Riley would find a way for this unlikely pair to overcome their apparent difficulties. Aristide’s love interest comes to him from a totally unexpected quarter and ties his earlier life in nicely with the series and his connection to Adrian Deveraux, Earl of Sarre (The Player).

As always, one of Stella Riley’s greatest strengths lies in her characterisation. The people she ‘creates’ take on a living, breathing persona, and, in Hazard, Nicholas Wynstanton, who has been around as a secondary character since the first book, is developed fully into a larger than life, loveable and honourable man; not just the happy-go-lucky, younger brother of a duke, but a man in his own right, and not one to be trifled with either. Nicholas’ aim is to knock down the walls Madeleine Delacroix has erected around her heart. Madeleine’s arguments against the match stem from her own insecurities – her earlier life in Paris where she had lived a hand-to-mouth existence with her brother and mother, and the unrequited girlish infatuation she had felt for her brother’s friend, Adrian Deveraux. Being the proud young woman, she is, Adrian’s rebuttal was all the more devastating and she has never fully recovered her composure, resulting in her unfortunate stand-offishness with the opposite sex.

Her brother, Aristide, has always been a cool and mysterious figure; even the author’s description of him conjures up mystery… long blonde hair, eyes the blue of a cloudless winter sky and neatly tailored bones. He says little but, through his inner musings, we get a great deal of insight into the man he is, and we are privy to his frustrations and anger, emotions he keeps locked away from the outside world. Aristide, on the face of it, seems to be calmly and emotionlessly going about his business, but he too has a bruised heart from which he has never fully recovered. His carefully locked away hurt comes back to haunt, but also intrigue him. It is this ‘barely there’ love from his earlier life – before his affluence as a partner in one of London’s premier gaming/gentleman’s clubs – that suddenly re-appears, and we see the cool aloofness slowly disintegrate before the onslaught of the attraction he had felt as a younger man and discovers he still feels, albeit reluctantly.  I think Stella Riley has this sibling relationship between Aristide and Madeline just right. Both are a little bruised because of earlier young love and, although nothing to be ashamed of, both are very aware of their humble beginnings and both wary of letting anyone beneath their self-erected defences. An intriguing pair and therefore the final capitulation to their respective loves is all the more satisfying.

The beautiful and sweet Genevieve who has burst back into Aristide’s life after seven, long, eventful years, is a well-rounded and likeable character who has herself suffered much in the interim years and is therefore extremely vulnerable. In fact, her very vulnerability and sufferings are just what the calmly controlled Aristide needs as a salve to the perceived injustices he believes her responsible for in his past life. But, he is the kind of man who needs to be needed, and Genevieve Westin certainly fits that bill and so he crumbles. It puts me in mind a little of The Mésalliance in which we see Rock lose his legendary ‘cool’. I love these hard to read, mysterious men.

There is a plausible plot running throughout the story which involves most of the main characters but has its roots in Paris and Aristide’s earlier life.  As usual the utterly delectable Rock strolls in and takes centre stage at just the right moments – urbane, and cool-as-cucumber, he steals every scene he is involved in. With just a few carefully selected words designed to defuse, he delivers a set-down, often without the recipient being aware he or she has been insulted. His character is one of Stella Riley’s triumphs and this series is well named because Rock’s unfailing omniscience and his ability to always be in the right place at the right time is something I have come to look forward to with much anticipation in every book, and I’m never disappointed.

Hazard follows on within weeks of the end of The Wicked Cousin. Cassie and Sebastian are back in circulation after their recent honeymoon and are evidently very-much-in-love newlyweds. They run the gauntlet of the usual banter and risqué comments which only close friends can get away with. Sebastian’s wicked and naughty sense of humour is very much in evidence, and this is yet another area in which Stella Riley excels. Her wit and humour are always lurking in the background, adding another dimension to her intriguing characters and expertly researched Georgian world. One feels very much a part of this group of close friends and relatives and, as we near the end of the series, it is going to be sad to say goodbye…but not yet! Ms. Riley is busy writing the final book in the series and I am eagerly looking forward to another lovely Rockliffe, and maybe Ms. Riley will tie off a few loose ends, such as, will Rock get his heir and let Nicholas off the hook?

New readers of Stella Riley’s books may be a little overwhelmed by the amount of characters. This is book five and it could be enjoyed as a stand-alone, but my advice would be to start at the beginning. Trust me, it’s no hardship, as I said in my opening chapter, this series is addictive. Now we must wait for Alex Wyndham to work his magic on Hazard and I believe he is busy in his recording studio as I write this review. How will I find the time to listen? Who needs to do housework etc. when there is a new Wyndham/Riley collaboration in the offing?

MY VERDICT: Another stellar five stars read for me. I might have my favourites in the series, but each book is as well written as the last and I can’t penalise the author for making me prefer one character or storyline over another, and besides which, I love them all!  


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE


Rockcliffe
series so far (click on the book cover for more details):

The Parfit Knight Volume 1 (Rockcliffe) by Stella Riley The Mésalliance by Stella Riley The Player (Rockliffe, #3) by Stella Riley The Wicked Cousin Volume 4 (Rockliffe) by Stella Riley Hazard by Stella Riley

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Salt Hendon Collection

REVIEW OF SALT REDUX 

 (Salt Hendon, # 2)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian  – St. Petersburg, Russia , Salt Hall, Wiltshire, England and London, England, 1767)

Cover Blurb

Sequel to Salt Bride

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

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

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Salt Redux, the second book in Lucinda Brant’s Salt Hendon series, opens four years after the end of Salt Bride (My Review).

The hero Sir Antony Templestowe, Diana’s younger brother and Salt’s cousin and closest friend and the heroine, Lady Caroline Sinclair, Salt’s younger sister, were secondary characters in Salt Bride and obviously in love with each other. However, Antony did not cope well with the knowledge of his sister’s evil crimes and his life soon spiralled out of control; he drank to excess, neglected his niece and nephew, made a fool of himself and threw away a promising diplomatic career. Things finally came to a head when he caused a very public scandal, not only breaking Caroline’s heart, but also embarrassing Salt’s wife and losing the Earl’s respect and friendship.  Consequently, he was sent to take up a low level diplomatic position in St. Petersburg and, shortly afterwards, Caroline married someone else. Banishment probably saved his life because, if he hadn’t met Prince Mikhail and his sister, Antony would have drunk himself to death but, with their friendship and encouragement, he sobered up and made St. Petersburg his home.

While everyone thought that Diana was safely locked away in a remote castle in Wales, she was carefully plotting her escape. Her obsession with Salt had not abated and, having secured her freedom, she intends to wreak revenge on his hated wife, Jane. When Antony receives a letter advising him of his sister’s escape, he returns to England, determined to protect those he loves, only to find Diana ensconced in his house, hiding in plain sight. To avoid any scandal, only a handful of people know the truth about Diana and everyone else believes she has been abroad recovering from the heartbreak caused by Salt’s marriage to someone else, thus allowing her to ingratiate herself back into society.

For the past four years, Salt and Jane have been happily living in the country with their young family and Salt’s godchildren, Ron and Merry. However, they have recently returned to London so that Salt can resume his political career, only to discover that Diana has once more become a threat. Now they must all work together to thwart her insidious plans.

I like that both Antony and Caroline are flawed characters because it makes them seem more human and their journey more emotionally satisfying. At heart, Antony is an honourable man and I can understand his melt down and descent into alcoholism after discovering the evil his sister had perpetrated and his fear that he may suffer from the same madness. I like the realistic way in which Ms. Brant handles Antony’s alcoholism. Like all alcoholics, he must admit he has a problem and want to turn his life around and I love the scene where he admits to Caroline the reason for wanting to change.

“Misha opened my eyes and gave my compulsion a name. He made me come to terms with what I really am, to stare myself in the looking glass and say I am a habitual drunkard. But I still had to want to turn my life around, to have a reason to change, to change for the better.”

“Tell me,” she murmured. “What was your reason?”

 He answered without hesitation. “You, Caro. I wanted to be able to ask you to marry me with a clean heart and a clear mind.”

I find the idea of Antony’s ritual tea making being a way of overcoming his craving for a drink by concentrating his mind on something else fascinating. I also admire him for his determination to face up to his responsibilities and his self-possession in dealing with his sister. 

Caroline has her own secrets; a sordid past which makes her feel unworthy of someone as honourable as Antony, but I like how they are talk openly to each other and resolve the issues between them. Antony is not judgemental of Caroline and, in fact, blames himself for the headache she has suffered over the last four years.

The romance is emotional, tender and romantic and provides a welcome contrast to the drama surrounding Diana’s devious plotting. There are nail-biting moments when I was convinced her evil plans would finally succeed but, in a dramatic climax, Diana meets a rather grisly end.

Tom Allenby, Jane’s stepbrother, has an important role in the story and a new character, Katherine (Kitty) Aldershot, is introduced.

This is a wonderful blend of romance, suspense and intrigue.

♥♥♥♥♥♥


REVIEW OF SALT ANGEL

(Salt Hendon Novella)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian,- Salt Hendon, Wiltshire, England, London, England, 1767)

Cover Blurb

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

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

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This charming novella sees Kitty Aldershot and Tom Allenby get their happy ending.

Kitty and Tom are a delightful couple. Tom is kind and steadfast and I admired him for the way he always looked after Jane (Countess of Salt Hendon) and was her stalwart defender when she need him the most. I found the fact that he is rather flustered around Kitty rather endearing.

She took a step closer, the drawing folding in on itself, their fingers lightly touching, and her violet eyes widened in expectation, heart thudding in her chest. But he just stood there, smiling down at her, not saying a word.

I like how, despite her circumstances, Kitty has retained her youthful optimism, and also the way she does her best to repay the Salt Hendons for all their kindness. I felt her heartache when she reads Lady Caroline’s letter but admire her selflessness in not wanting to ruin Tom’s good name or his political prospects.

How could she tell him her feelings if she could not, in good conscience, accept an offer from him because a marriage with her would not only ostracize his family, but ruin his future prospects as a parliamentarian?

I was totally charmed by the elderly Russian Prince Timur-Alexei Nikolai Mordinov who turns out to be an unlikely ally for Tom and Kitty. The interactions between the prince and the eccentric Lady Reanay were entertaining and this couple prove that falling in love is not just the preserve of the young.

“Be warned! It can hit you at any time, at any place, and at any age! Falling in love is not confined to the young, Miss Aldershot.”– Prince Mordinov

I thoroughly enjoyed this novella and it was the perfect ending to this series of stories.

OVERALL VERDICT: If you have never read any of Lucinda Brant’s books, this boxed set would be an excellent introduction to her wonderful stories, richly drawn characters and heart-warming romances.


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

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Salt Hendon Collection

(Salt Hendon, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian – Wiltshire, England, 1759 and London, England, 1763)

Cover Blurb

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

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Whenever I open one of Lucinda Brant’s books, I know that I will find an engrossing and well-plotted story, richly drawn characters and a heart-warming romance.

When squire’s daughter Jane Despard and Magnus Sinclair, Earl of Salt Hendon(Salt) met at the Salt Hunt Ball four years ago, during Jane’s debut season, they fell deeply in love. After a month-long secret courtship Salt proposed, and Jane accepted.  Succumbing to the moment, they made love in the summerhouse, but Salt was urgently called back to London promising that, on his return, their engagement would be made official and they would marry without delay. However, he failed to return and, finding herself pregnant, she wrote to him but there was still no response and a month later she received his letter breaking off their engagement. When Jane’s father, Sir Felix Despard, discovers her condition and she refuses to name the father, he disowns her, cutting her off without a penny and branding her a whore. Jane is only saved from a Bristol poorhouse, or worse, when she is taken in by Jacob Allenby, a wealthy Bristol merchant and brother of Lady Despard, Sir Felix’s second wife, but loses her unborn baby under the most traumatic circumstances.

Jane and Salt have not met during the past four years, apart from one brief incident two years earlier, a humiliating experience for Jane. However, events are about to change that. Under the terms of Jacob Allenby’s will, Jane must marry by a certain date or her beloved step-brother, Tom, will not receive his full inheritance and to fulfil a promise given to Jane’s father on his deathbed, Salt must marry her. Not a propitious start to a marriage.

Jane cannot understand why Salt hates her so much and why he believes that he is the injured party. After all, she had never disclosed the name of her lover, and it was her life that was destroyed when he cruelly abandoned her to her fate. Gradually, as they spend time together, it is clear they have never stopped loving each other but they are unaware that Diana St. John is willing to go to any lengths to drive them apart.

Salt and Jane are such wonderful characters. Salt exudes power, wealth and authority but Jane is his Achilles heel. He struggles with hating Jane and wanting her at the same time and I enjoyed seeing him gradually soften towards her. He also shows a more relaxed side when he is with his godchildren, Ron and Merry. I loved the scene in the dining room where Jane, Ron and Merry are hiding under the table while Salt and best his friend, Sir Antony Templestowe, are pretending to look for the ‘rats’. Much giggling and laughter ensues which conjured up such a delightful picture in my mind.

Normally Salt is in full control, both mentally and physically but, when Jane’s stepbrother, Tom, tells him exactly what happened to Jane four years ago, he is totally devastated and collapses. Ms. Brant brings so much emotional intensity to this scene that it was as if Salt’s anguish was my own. This is also a defining moment in their relationship because, for the first time, they openly admit their love for each other.

“I love you, Jane.” It was a simple sentence, said simply.
She wasn’t at all sure he was in his right mind, or that he was restful of body, but it was all she had ever wanted to hear him say in the cold light of day since her eighteenth birthday. She smiled into his tired brown eyes and unconsciously sighed her contentment. Tears ran down her flushed face and she kissed his hand and pressed it to her cheek.
“I love you so very much I hate you for frightening me in this way!”

That he is willing to give up his high-profile political career to rusticate in the country in the role of doting husband and father shows the depth of his love for Jane

Jane is such a lovely heroine whose extraordinary beauty is further complimented by her kindness, generosity and sweet nature. I admire her for not letting the tragic events of the past crush her spirit of optimism and I love how she isn’t afraid to stand her ground where Salt is concerned. I cheered her on in the scene where Salt has his secretary, Ellis, read out the rules governing how Jane will live as the Countess of Salt Hendon, but Jane refuses to submit to his ‘insufferable arrogance…

“This document, my lord,” asked Jane with studious enquiry, but unable to hide a sardonic dimple in her left cheek, “does it state terms by which you will conduct yourself as my husband?”

I also love the scene where she shocks him with her frank talk of sexual matters and her playfulness in the bedroom.

In Diana St. John, Ms. Brant has certainly created one of the most memorable villains I have come across. Her obsession with Salt has driven her positively deranged, but what is so scary is the fact that, on the surface, she appears perfectly sane. So much so that, at times, I was convinced her evil plans would succeed. Both devious and cunning, her wickedness knows no bounds which is evident in the events depicted in the harrowing Prologue. Although securely locked away somewhere in wilds of Wales at the end of SALT BRIDE, I know she returns in the sequel, SALT REDUX, to reek further havoc with her evil machinations.

Ms. Brant’s books always contain a colourful cast of secondary characters including Sir Antony Templestowe, Salt’s cousin and best friend and Diana St. John’s younger brother; Tom Allenby, Jane’s step-brother, who always has her welfare at heart; Mr Ellis, Salt’s freckle-faced, hard-working secretary who has a soft spot for Jane; Hilary Wraxton, writer of ‘absurdly odd’ poetry.

Ms. Brant also brings delightful wit and humour to her stories and here are two of my favourite exchanges.

“How will you travel across the Continent if you cannot make a call of nature when we stop at an inn?” Lady Outram enquired.
The poet, who had perched uninvited on the padded arm of a wingchair, jabbed at his temple. “Up here for thinking, Lizzie. I am not just a man of letters, but of ideas.” He beamed at the Countess and
said confidentially, “Had my man pack the family pot de chambre. Heirloom. Passed down from father to son since Scottish James sat upon the English throne. Painted with the family crest. On the inside.”
“How-how sensible of you, Mr. Wraxton,” Jane managed to reply, finding her breath and dabbing at her damp eyes. “A definite must for a trip to the Continent. Who knows what amenities are to be found, or not, at a foreign inn.”

♥♥♥

He gave a shout of laughter. “If it will make you happy, I shall abandon my ridiculous vanity and wear those wretched eyeglasses at the breakfast table. But be warned: A bespectacled Lord Salt perusing the newssheets is a sight almost as quelling as a flare of the noble nostrils.”
Jane smiled cheekily. “What an irresistible combination. My knees are trembling with anticipation already!”

♥♥♥

Ms. Brant effortlessly transported me back to Georgian England and her evocative descriptions of the settings, fashions, furnishings and social etiquette, all combine to bring the era vividly to life. Anyone who follows Ms. Brant’s Pinterest boards will know the extensive research she undertakes to ensure that every aspect is historically correct.

MY VERDICT: A compelling story, multi-layered characters, a heart-warming romance and a deranged but cunning villain, all combine to make SALT BRIDE a must read.


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS


SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

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Satyr's Son Audio

(Roxton Family Saga, #5)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian, 1786)

Cover Blurb:

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

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

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

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

♥♥♥♥♥♥

So, we reach the end of Lucinda Brant’s sumptuous Georgian, Roxton family saga. Or do we? I can’t believe Ms. Brant will find it easy to let go of the very real and loveable Roxton family she has created and I’m sure I speak for other fans when I say I hope she doesn’t – at least not yet. This is a family with secrets still to reveal and we need to know them. For instance, what events in Renard Hesham’s early life shaped him into the man we first meet in Noble Satyr? Almost forty years of his life are still unaccounted for and, as usual, Ms. Brant has dropped subtle hints that there is more to him than she has yet told us. However, for the purposes of this review, with Satyr’s Son, the series has come full circle from where it began as Ms. Brant tells Lord Henri-Antoine (Harry) Hesham’s story, the younger of Renard and Antonia’s two sons.

On first acquaintance, Lord Henri-Antoine Hesham is shown in a bad light – blatantly and unapologetically bedding his friend’s mistress and ringleader of a group of badly behaving, aristocratic friends. However, a little later, it becomes clear that, in reality, he is actually a kind and generous young man whose outward demeanour hides a deep-seated vulnerability. Harry has suffered from debilitating falling sickness (epilepsy) since birth and, as a result, has deliberately adopted an aloofness, preferring to hold himself apart from most people, even his family up to a point. This demeanour is a coping mechanism, albeit one that does him no favours with his peers. But, early in the story, amidst Harry’s excesses, the author gives us a glimpse into his true character –  for why would he go to the trouble of attending an auction to purchase shells for his beloved little sister, Elsie, if he were as uncaring as he prefers people to believe him?

It is during one of his fits that he ‘meets’ the absolute antithesis of himself. Lisa Crisp is a poor, hardworking girl with no connections to the nobility, other than as a niece by marriage to Lord Henri-Antoine’s mother’s ex lady’s maid.  Lisa lives on the charity of the family and has done so since she was orphaned as a child. She just happens to be in the right place at the right time when Harry literally falls at her feet during an epileptic seizure. As an assistant in her uncle’s dispensary for the sick poor, Lisa is used to coping with all kinds of ailments, including falling sickness, and deals with the situation in her normal practical, no nonsense manner – calmly and gently soothing Harry, wiping his face and stroking his hair during the worst of his struggles. Harry only has the haziest of recollections after he recovers but does recall seeing the image of a Botticelli Angel just before he blacks out. This image is confirmed by his best friend Jack (Sir John) Cavendish, who was also there, and leaves Harry intrigued and determined to find and thank his ‘Angel’. His minders, or ‘lads’ as they are known, protect him from prying eyes when he is at his most vulnerable and it is virtually unknown for anyone to witness an attack let alone actually witness one and not be repulsed by it. I was, by this time, loving the direction this story was taking, because I don’t ever remember coming across such a scenario before and one where the author, who has quite obviously done her homework, deals with the implications of it in such a sensitive and caring manner.

It doesn’t take Harry long to track Lisa down to her uncle’s dispensary and it just so happens that he knows of Dr Warner, an eminent physician, anatomist and the husband of Lisa’s cousin. The doctor has radical ideas well ahead of his time with regard to sickness/illness and the treatment of it, but also believes that to further the advancement of medical science, the future training of bright young men to become physicians is vital. As most of these young men do not have wealth or connections, Dr Warner has applied for the funds to enable their training which he hopes will come from rich sponsors. Harry is one such sponsor – a philanthropist with a genuine interest in furthering medical science for both rich and poor, notwithstanding his own apparently incurable disease. This interest and generosity is yet another dimension to Harry’s character that his critics are unaware of and it has long been his practice to anonymously invest large amounts of his own money through the Fournier Foundation (Harry’s brain child) to aid such projects that Dr Warner needs support and funding for.

It became clear to his parents early in Harry’s life that his affliction could not be ignored and was unlikely to go away and must therefore be dealt with. His father, Renard Hesham, fifth Duke of Roxton, a very forward-thinking man, sets the wheels in motion for Harry to be able to do something worthwhile with his life. In his young days, Roxton was considered an unredeemable rake but marriage to Antonia had changed his habits for ever. Despite his rakish past, he was a highly intelligent man and having finally found the love of his life in middle age, he had settled down to become a loving husband and father. His wife and children became his life and he spent much of the first twelve years of his younger son’s life caring for and observing him during and in the aftermath of his traumatic seizures. Renard came to see and understand the similar character traits that he and Harry shared and took the momentous step of bequeathing his beloved son a fortune. The size of this fortune far exceeded the amount considered to be the norm for a younger son, but Roxton obviously trusted his son would use it wisely – after all, was he not his son? This fortune, along with his extraordinary good looks, further sets Harry apart from his peers; it enables him to live independently and cope with his illness without detection, but it also has the unfortunate effect of causing envy among his peers, which only served to accentuate his outwardly arrogant aloofness.

Since the age of nine, Sir John Cavendish has been Harry’s one true friend and the only person outside his family who truly knows Lord Henri-Antoine Hesham and appreciates and accepts the frustrations which cause his friend to lash out at the people he cares for, himself included. Jack is to marry Teddy, his first cousin, and the daughter of Proud Mary (book 4 in the Roxton Family Saga). Jack worries about leaving his friend, as he must on his marriage to his childhood sweetheart and wishes fervently for him to ‘fall off a cliff in love’ as Jack is convinced will happen to his friend one day. Much of the ongoing story takes place at Treat, ancestral home of the Roxton family, where the family wedding is to take place. Teddy is as delightful a young woman as she was a child (I adored her characterisation in Proud Mary). She has no airs and graces and is excited that her best friend from her school days, Lisa Crisp, has been found – at Teddy’s request – by her cousin, Antonia, Duchess of Kinross and dowager Duchess of Roxton and a wedding invitation issued.

Despite her lowly birth, Lisa soon has most people at Treat eating out of her hand, with her natural sweetness of nature and unaffected beauty. Harry too is smitten and has been since their first meeting, and I loved how Ms. Brant develops the love story between them, plausibly knocking down the social barriers in the process. From their first conscious meeting (after Harry tracks her down), it is obvious that they are meant to be together but how to bring these two polar opposites together. He is his own worst enemy because, in the way of someone like Harry who is not as sure of himself as he appears but needs to hide his lack of self-confidence, he constantly strikes out at the people he loves the most, albeit usually with the finest of motives.

Harry wants Lisa very much but believes he is not worthy of her love and must save her from wanting someone like him. Harry is a complex character who hasn’t gone down well with some readers/reviewers. Personally, I loved him and can see why someone such as Lisa would have been captivated by him. Imagine living with an affliction such as his in the time this story is set. He is saved from an asylum only because of his wealth, position and powerful family and must live his life with the constant fear of humiliation and scandal, not only for himself but for his family as well, should his affliction become public. Despite his looks and wealth, how could he not be vulnerable and unsure of his self?  And yet, he takes an active interest and anonymously donates to causes which aid the sick poor. No, Harry is a rather gorgeous, if flawed young man, and Lisa’s evident love for him, her complete disregard for his illness and her refusal to be pushed away for her own good is heart-warming. Her pure and unselfish love becomes even more evident towards the end of the story in a couple of beautiful and moving scenes in which Antonia, Julian and Harry are involved. One scene in particular is reminiscent of one in which Deb was involved in Midnight Marriage. In fact, there are a couple of instances where Ms. Brant gives a *nod* to scenes in which Harry behaves in much the same way as his father did. However, I fear that only true lovers and followers of Ms. Brant’s exquisite work will realise the author’s intentions.

As usual, Ms. Brant’s attention to detail and in-depth research into the life and times of the Georgian period is second to none and I always come away from reading one of her books more knowledgeable.  In Satyr’s Son, my ahhh moment came when the author tells us of the origins of London’s world famous Natural History Museum.  I shall return on my next visit with fresh eyes to look for evidence of the family who once lived there.

How many ways can I say that Alex Wyndham is my favourite narrator? That his name on an audio book will always hook me? It becomes more and more difficult after the many reviews I’ve written for books he has narrated, or performed, would be a fairer adjective. As usual, he has outdone himself and has even ‘found’ a new voice that exactly matches the description of the character I heard in my head when I read the print version of Satyr’s Son. Lord Henri-Antoine is said to have a voice ‘like hot chocolate’ and I couldn’t agree more as Alex Wyndham rises to the challenge of proving it. Then, I’ve always thought that this man has a voice I could easily drown in – like melted chocolate or maybe even black velvet. He is multi-talented with oodles of artistic jeux de vie and it is very easy to forget that he is handling a multi character cast of male and female characters. But before I stop waxing lyrical, I must mention one of my favourite characters of this series – Jonathon, Duke of Kinross. Thanks to Ms. Brant’s wonderful characterisation and Alex Wyndham’s portrayal of him, I DO forget that he’s actually just a character from the author’s clever and fertile imagination. He is 6’4″of gorgeousness, issuing words of wisdom in the special voice this performer keeps just for him, and which somehow encompasses his ebullient bigness and inherent kindness and always gives me goose bumps!

MY VERDICT: A wonderful end to a wonderful series? Hopefully, not the end. From NOBLE SATYR TO SATYR’S SON…which is my favourite of the series? I can’t say because whichever book I’m reading or listening to at the time tends to be my favourite. However, SATYR’S SON is definitely a Stellar 5 stars for me.

 

REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

NARRATION REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

 SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

 

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

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

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The Wicked Cousin - Audio

(Rockliffe, #4)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian)

Cover Blurb:

Sebastian Audley has spent years setting every city in Europe by the ears and keeping the scandal-sheets in profit. Word that he is finally returning to London becomes the hottest topic of the Season and casts numerous young ladies – many of whom have never seen him – into a fever of anticipation.

Cassandra Delahaye is not one of them. In her opinion, love affairs and duels, coupled with a reputation for never refusing even the most death-defying wager, suggest that Mr Audley is short of a brain cell or two. And while their first, very unorthodox meeting shows that perhaps he isn’t entirely stupid, it creates other reservations entirely.

Sebastian finds dodging admiring females and living down his reputation for reckless dare-devilry a full-time occupation. He had known that putting the past behind him in a society with an insatiable appetite for scandal and gossip would not be easy. But what he had not expected was to become the target of a former lover’s dangerous obsession … or to find himself falling victim to a pair of storm-cloud eyes.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

The Prologue to The Wicked Cousin, the fourth in Stella Riley’s magnificent Georgian Rockliffe series, is moving and poignant, and sets the scene for the string of events which will forever change Sebastian Audley’s life. As the story unfolds and we learn more about the life of this charismatic character, I fell for him hook, line and sinker.

On a scorching August day in 1757 when he was eight years old, Sebastian Audley’s life changed. And though he didn’t know it, that change was to last for the next thirteen years…

It was the day that a distraught child lost his beloved twin brother, the other half of himself; no one understood his grief. The boys had been inseparable – intuitively knowing each other’s thoughts in a way that only identical twins can. But, in Sebastian’s emotionally underdeveloped child’s mind, he believed he had failed Theo when he needed him the most. Locked in his room, he cried out his despair and felt his brother’s pain… and then…the silence…when he knew that part of him was gone forever and, from that moment on, Sebastian’s charmed, carefree life ended. He blamed himself for living when Theo had died, which was only reinforced by the diatribe hurled at him by his eldest sister, Blanche, who had irrationally never cared for the younger of her twin brothers. Theo’s early and tragic death shaped the way the adults in Sebastian’s life treated him, albeit believing they were keeping him safe. Their actions also impacted on the way he himself behaved for the best part of seven years, after finally escaping the strictures imposed on him by his grief-stricken father – actions that this autocratic man was to come to bitterly regret.

Sebastian’s first acts of defiance – refusing to be ‘chaperoned’ by the local vicar’s son, or to study the subject chosen for him by his father – came when he was finally allowed to leave home to study at Cambridge. Instead, he diligently and quietly applied himself to studying the law, which he saw as a way of eventually becoming independent of his father’s claustrophobic control. He obtained an honours degree but never actually had to practise law because an unexpected, small but adequate bequest from a great-aunt left him financially independent and, more importantly, it freed him from familial restraint. During his time at university, he worked hard, denying himself the fun and frolicking other undergraduates enjoyed. Instead, he discovered a love and quite remarkable talent for the intricacies of chess, which he had once enjoyed playing with his twin. This talent was to serve him well in later years.

As sole heir to his father, Viscount Wingham, Sebastian had to be kept safe for the succession at all costs but, by the time he reached his majority, he was determined to escape the suffocating over protectiveness of his family. After years of compliance, Sebastian about-faced and embarked on an extraordinary catch-up of everything that had previously been denied him; his exploits becoming the talk of London society before he disappeared to the continent to continue his outrageous lifestyle. All the girls he had never kissed or bedded became a part of his new life, and his adrenalin seeking exploits were salaciously reported in the gossip rags. Whatever challenge or wager the rumour mill insisted he had accepted – no matter how ridiculous, or even whether fact or fiction – was avidly reported and devoured by the ton. His notorious reputation, coupled with his lauded and extraordinary good looks, bluer than blue eyes, glorious hair of a rich burgundy/garnet and impressive physique, set him apart from his peers.  Sebastian Audley had become a living legend.

After seven years of self-imposed exile, wandering from place to place, and now desperate to escape the determined pursuit of a spurned lover turned stalker, Sebastian’s nomad life had become intolerable. During the last couple of years on the continent, he had already considerably toned down his behaviour and, with little else to do, his beloved chess became his only real enjoyment in life. Time and practice had honed his skills with remarkable results and, in fact, such a talent never did equate with his rakehell reputation, which was more a few years of madness than a character trait.

Though reluctant to return home to his father’s controlling orbit, he still felt a strong sense of familial duty. In all the years apart, he never stopped loving his father, and without fail made the long and arduous journey home once a year to see him. However, the cruel jibes of his sister, Blanche, whose unreasonable dislike of him has not abated with the years, were the catalyst that always drove him away again. Sebastian hides the hurt she causes him beneath a devil-may-care attitude which only serves to compound her dislike of him. One of the many things I love about Sebastian’s character is that he is an honourable young man who always knew that one day he would return to his responsibilities. However, who could blame him for staying away when his sister is the unmarried matriarch presiding over his ancestral home? Eventually, it is an imperious letter from Blanche informing him that his father has suffered an apoplexy that gives him the excuse he needs to return home for good.

Sebastian arrives home to find his father well on the road to recovery, and after spending some private time together, they finally make their peace; his father admitting to his earlier failures with regard to his son.  Sebastian is still not entirely convinced of his father’s ability to let him run his own life, but I began to warm to the viscount as his obvious pride in his son was rather touching. Whether in spite of or because of his reported escapades I’m not sure.

With his father out of danger and the decision all but made to remain in England, Sebastian decides to go to London in an attempt to convince society that he is a reformed character. There he seeks the help of Adrian Devereux, Earl of Sarre (The Player), the two men having met and become close friends whilst both were exiled on the continent. Adrian proposes a plan in the form of a private wager placed in the betting book of his gaming club. With this in place, Sebastian is protected, at least in the short term, from ridiculous wagers by immature young bucks. His first tentative steps are fraught with pitfalls, especially as he has recently gained the moniker of, The Wicked Cousin, courtesy of Olivia Delahaye, the rather silly younger sister of Cassandra (Cassie), whom we met in previous books as a secondary character. Cassie’s father, a close friend of the Duke of Rockliffe, plays quite a prominent part in this story and I liked his quiet, reasonable character and wise council, especially regarding Sebastian. The familial relationship between the Delahaye’s and Audley’s is tentative but nevertheless one in which Olivia is more than happy to bask in among her bevy of young female friends.

Sebastian’s initial, accidental meeting with Cassie is brimming with misunderstandings and only serves to reinforce her pre-conceived opinion of him as an arrogant, feckless, philanderer whom she could never like. However, after several more encounters, Cassie reluctantly begins to see why he is so popular with and intriguing to the men and women of society; he is witty and amusing but in a kindly, non-mocking way, with no apparent artifice and more importantly, he seems genuinely interested in her as a person. Then, with some simple, sweet gestures, Sebastian has Cassie hooked along with the rest of society and by now she is already half-way in love with him. In Cassie’s experience, she has only ever attracted dull dogs and then only because their mothers think her suitable daughter-in-law material. Never in her wildest dreams does she imagine that her feelings could be returned by this gorgeous young man who could, quite frankly, have his pick.

But they are returned because Sebastian is utterly smitten. He sees – through the eyes of a man in love – the beautiful, captivating and interesting girl that other less discerning suitors have failed to see. From the moment the two acknowledge that they are meant to be together, Cassie is loyal to a fault, refusing to believe anything to Sebastian’s detriment and, when his spurned ex-lover tries to make trouble for him, she fights tooth and nail for him regardless of the opinion of others. Charles and Serena Delahaye are nonplussed by the change in their previously gentle, biddable daughter and, in the words of her father:

“You, Mr. Audley, have turned my lovely girl into a damned Valkyrie.'”

Cassie’s parents have always appreciated her worth, never pressuring her into settling for second best. So, when Sebastian requests permission of her father to pay his addresses to Cassie – with her approval – the astute Charles Delahaye is more than happy, especially as his daughter has never sent a young man to him before. Despite Sebastian’s reputation, Sir Charles has always known there were valid reasons for his past behaviour and has some sympathy for the young man.

The Wicked Cousin is very much a beautifully crafted love story, with interesting and likeable characters. I particularly like the author’s unique way of taking apparently ordinary women and showing us that we all have hidden depths and just need the right man to see them as Sebastian does with Cassie. I adored both of these characters; Cassie is sweet, determined and loyal and Sebastian, kind, protective and with a generosity of spirit one cannot help but be drawn to.  His outward carefree attitude hides a depth of grief for his twin that Cassie sees and understands. I thought Stella Riley rather clever in her pairing of these two – so different and yet so right for each other. Sebastian’s rather naughty sense of humour and Cassie’s whole-hearted acceptance of it is amusing and a little risqué, but not too much, because, true to her style, Ms. Riley allows us just enough to wet our appetite and no more.

The unforgettable Duke of Rockliffe (The Mésalliance) again leads the group of friends that Stella Riley has cultivated and grown since the beginning of the series. They are once more in action as they close ranks to protect one of their own. Amusingly, at one point in the story, ‘the friends’ take the normally calm and collected Rock away to entertain him at the request of their wives to give his wife, Adeline, some respite from his fussing as she awaits the arrival of their first child. When, at last the child arrives, my heart just melted. Imagine the perfectly controlled, formidable Rock as a doting papa; Stella Riley is one of only a few authors who can reduce me to mush, and she always succeeds in one way or another:

…his Grace was walking back and forth by the windows holding a small bundle wrapped in a lacy white shawl…

I was very happy to see the return of Adrian Deveraux, one of my favourite characters in this series. His story is told in The Player, which is one of the best and most intriguingly complex stories I have read in Historical Romance, the genius of which is captured to perfection by Alex Wyndham in his splendid audio performance of the various personas and voices of Adrian. I loved seeing more of Adrian and how his marriage to Caroline, his countess, has progressed, but also how he plays such a pivotal role in helping Sebastian and Cassandra attain their own HEA.

As always, the recording of one of Ms. Riley’s books into audio by her chosen narrator, Alex Wyndham, is a treat worth waiting for. Mr. Wyndham has a unique talent whereby he transforms anything this author writes from wonderful to extraordinary. Actor and author are completely in tune as he interprets her words with perfect precision, sometimes bringing something to my notice I had missed in the reading of it.

Every character is easily distinguishable – male or female, old or young. The male cast of friends has become larger and more complex as the series has progressed, yet this appears to pose no dilemma for Mr. Wyndham, as yet again he manages to pull another voice out of his ever-deepening hat. For instance, this is the first we have heard of Sebastian in the series; his ‘voice’ is perfectly pitched to indicate the light, buoyant, slightly amused and occasionally naughty tones of Sebastian, which I imagined when I first read his story. There are a few occasions where Adrian and Sebastian are in conversation and I wondered how Alex Wyndham would deal with these two equally charismatic characters to my satisfaction. How could I question his ability because he flawlessly delineates between the two men, with never a doubt as to which one is speaking, and, all the time, still retaining the exact voice he used for Adrian in The Player.

I can’t complete my analysis of Mr. Wyndham’s performance without mentioning his superior portrayal of Nicholas Wynstanton, younger brother of the Duke of Roxton. In previous books, this young man has been easy-going and ebullient but now, smitten by a young woman who is resisting his advances, he has become grumpy and short-tempered, whilst still remaining very recognisable as himself. Another thoroughly enjoyable and faultless performance from this supremely talented actor.

This series is really addictive and I’m particularly fond of a saga where we see the return of family and friends in high-profile. These people have become so special to us as readers that we feel invested in their lives. Ms. Riley has done this to such great effect that these men and now their women too, feel like old friends.

Ms. Riley infuses the story with her customary wit and humour and I was particularly entertained by the scene where Sebastian ties up his ex-mistress and cuts off her hair (this scene is captured admirably by Mr. Wyndham, who sounded as though he was enjoying himself immensely).

As is the case with any Stella Riley novel, her research is so impeccable that we can be sure she has it right, whether it is the intricacies of chess or the cut and thrust of a tense and exciting fencing match. I highly recommend Stella Riley’s work to the uninitiated because, in my opinion, she is consistently a 5 star writer and each of her stories is special in its own right. I would recommend starting at the beginning of this series, mainly to gain a perspective and understanding of how Ms. Riley has developed her intriguing group of friends and relatives, and to see how their loves and lives intertwine, but more importantly how they all support one another. However, it isn’t necessary, as each story is unique and different to the previous books in the series.

MY VERDICT: The audio of THE WICKED COUSIN, narrated by Alex Wyndham, is a terrific listen and another worthy addition to the author’s fabulous Rockliffe series. Stella Riley never disappoints, and I always look forward with eager anticipation to a new release and with HAZARD, the next in the series, nearing completion, we won’t have long to wait.

 

REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS
 NARRATION REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

 SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE/WARM

 

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

The Parfit Knight Volume 1 (Rockcliffe) by Stella Riley The Mésalliance by Stella Riley The Player (Rockliffe, #3) by Stella Riley The Wicked Cousin (Rockliffe) (Volume 4) by Stella Riley

 

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Satyr's Son

(Roxton Family Saga, #6)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian, 1786)

Cover Blurb:

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

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

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

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

♥♥♥♥♥♥

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and later shocks him by kissing him first!

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

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

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

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

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

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

How I Imagine Harry

Satyr's Son - Harry

How I Imagine Lisa

Satyr's Son - Lisa

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

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


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

 

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

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

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

 

 

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