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confessions of an arranged marriage

(The Burgundy Club, #4)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1822)

Book Blurb (Goodreads):

They couldn’t be more different—but there’s one thing they agree on…

In London after a two-year exile, Lord Blakeney plans to cut a swathe through the bedchambers of the demimonde. Marriage is not on his agenda, especially to an annoying chit like Minerva Montrose, with her superior attitude and a tendency to get into trouble. And certainly the last man Minerva wants is Blake, a careless wastrel without a thought in his handsome head.

The heat and noise of her debutante ball give Minerva a migraine. Surely a moment’s rest could do no harm… until Blake mistakes her for another lady, leaving Minerva’s guests to catch them in a very compromising position. To her horror, the scandal will force them to do the unthinkable: marry. Their mutual loathing blazes into unexpected passion but Blake remains distant, desperate to hide a shameful secret. Minerva’s never been a woman to take things lying down, and she’ll let nothing stop her from winning his trust . . . and his heart.

Kindle publication: 27th March 2012

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Do you know the feeling when you read a book and love it and think of it fondly, then go back to re-read it, perhaps years later, and discover it really wasn’t that good? I was afraid I’d feel that way about Confessions from an Arranged Marriage by the late Miranda Neville. I’ve read many books by other authors since first reading it – my first by this author – and have become far more discerning in my reading habits since then. There are many books I’ve rated highly which would not now earn the rating I originally awarded them. However, I’m pleased to say that I wasn’t disappointed, in fact, having read Confessions from an Arranged Marriage with my far more critical eye and expecting to be disappointed, I still loved it. I’ve read reviews on Goodreads which are mediocre to say the least, but I stand by my original, and now latest opinion, that this is a damn good read.

I originally downloaded it not knowing anything about the author or her work, only that the title appealed and it was a Kindle offer, so what could I lose? I have to say at this point, that had it been on a book shelf I would not have picked it up, because the cover is just dreadful. It doesn’t have any bearing on the story and is in no way period appropriate, so maybe an example of don’t judge a book by its cover.

I was pleased to learn that Miranda Neville was British born and bred and had originally been a journalist and editor. In my opinion, her earlier occupation showed in her intelligent writing style and correct use of the English language; there are no Americanisms or modernisms which are pet hates of mine when a story is set in historical England. This is not to say –  I hasten to add – that I consider only British authors to be intelligent as I have many favourites of all nationalities. One of my favourite books of all time was written by American author Anya Seton, and her exceptionally researched Historical Fiction/Romance novel about the true story of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, set in medieval England, has been my go-to comfort read for many years. I didn’t discover that Miranda Neville was English until after I had read Confessions from an Arranged Marriage, but it answered a lot of questions for me as to why I didn’t have one single criticism apropos of my previously mentioned pet-hates. Miranda Neville has quite obviously written a story about a subject and place she knew and in a language she knew. She emigrated to America and was extremely popular with her fans, here in the UK and in the USA.

I joined the series half way through so it can obviously be read as a standalone since I had no problem following the storyline. In fact, I’m glad I read the series in the order I did because I may well have been deterred from reading Confessions from an Arranged Marriage by the hero, the Marquis of Blakeney (aka Blake), who isn’t shown as a particularly likeable character in the preceding books in the series.

I’m not going into the story too deeply because there’s a lot happening. Suffice to say that there is an extremely attractive and intelligent young heroine, Minerva, who has a rather high opinion of herself and her intellect. She aspires to become a political hostess and sees herself as ‘the power behind the throne’ of who knows? Maybe even the Prime Minister one day, with her help from behind the scenes, of course, and a politically motivated husband who will listen to her own, quite radical views on the voting systems and rights of the common people – even women – although she knows that this is a step too far for the times.

Instead, Minerva’s aspirations are dashed (or so she believes) when she is caught in a compromising situation with her nemesis Blake, heir to a dukedom. He’s absolutely gorgeous to look at and a formidable sportsman, but apparently as dim as Miranda is brilliant. She is by no means the perfect wife for him as far as his family is concerned, but as she is their neighbour and was compromised in their home by their drunken son, and they are the very epitome of the adjective honourable, she knows she has no choice but to marry Blake, a man she has always detested. And he’s stuck with a girl ten years his junior who makes him feel even more stupid than he already secretly feels.

This is such a mixture of a story; there are moments of such heart-breaking sadness which touched me deeply, but Miranda Neville was extremely witty and, as well as being terribly saddened by Blake’s predicament, there were also moments of such hilarity that I literally laughed out loud. Blake insists on calling Minerva, Minnie – quite obviously this budding, political hostess is not impressed by the immature nom de plume. As the story progresses and Minerva tries to make the best of a bad job, she begins to see the vulnerability behind the man she has married and protests less and less; at one point even missing it when something happens to stop his use of the nickname. I was also very touched by Blake’s determination to earn ‘Minnie’s’ respect.

It would be quite easy to dislike Minerva, and indeed that’s exactly what some reviewers have said, but I liked her once I’d got to the bottom of her character. I particularly like how she begins to see beyond Blake’s brittle and supposedly couldn’t-care-less, outer shell. She starts to fall for the man he really is – rather loveable actually, and one who is covering up a massive lack of inner self-esteem with an outer show of bravado. Miranda Neville grows their relationship from enemies-to-friends-to-lovers using a credible series of events which unfold as the story progresses. Blake’s dark secret has led to him being victimised and blackmailed for a large part of his life and, as his clever wife begins to follow the clues and consequently unravels her man, I felt more and more invested in their growing romance and loved how Minerva becomes as fierce as a lioness in her protectiveness towards him.

Miranda Neville has set her story in the political arena of the time, taking a subject which could bore the hell out of the reader but which instead had me fascinated by ‘rotten boroughs’ and what it all meant.  There is a point at which Minerva finds herself out of her depth and not quite as clever as she believed herself to be. She is obliged to throw herself on Blake’s mercy and he in turn, rather than enjoying her discomfort, charges in rescuing her like a knight in shining armour. Quite, quite heart-warming. His piece de resistance where he shows, perhaps not his political acumen (as his words are Minerva’s), but his integrity and mettle as a man, with not only the power of the dukedom behind him, but the support of his (by now) beloved ‘Minnie’, is just bone melting; in fact, their developing love story is believable and endearing and Miranda Neville has taken two opposites and shown that it is not only possible for there to be love under these circumstances but also that two people may love and compliment each other as long as they have a common goal.

One last point which I particularly liked and which rarely crops up in Historical Romance. The ‘wedding night’ was not a great success and Minerva wasn’t impressed with ‘the act’ and the way the experience is described is plausible. Of course, matters improve and there are, eventually, explicit scenes. Minerva is not one to do anything by halves, but I did not find this aspect cringeworthy; in fact, I liked that she grew to welcome Blake’s embraces, eventually even seducing him – much to his surprise and pleasure.

MY VERDICT:
This is a lovely story – sad, surprising, witty, funny, romantic and intelligently and sensitively written. I’m happy to say that I was not wrong, and Confessions from an Arranged Marriage will remain a favourite of mine. The author doesn’t attempt to magically sort out the underlying problem but instead finds ways of working around it. I had the great pleasure of meeting Miranda Neville on one of her visits home to the UK; we discussed this book and she was pleased to know how much I had loved it. I’m even more pleased that we met and had this discussion given that we lost this lovely lady to cancer in 2018. I count myself privileged to have met her and am saddened that she was taken from her family, friends and readers before her time.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

RSENSUALITY RATING: HOT

 

The Burgundy Club series (for further details click on the book covers):

The Wild Marquis (The Burgundy Club, #1) by Miranda Neville The Dangerous Viscount (The Burgundy Club, #2) by Miranda Neville The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton (The Burgundy Club, #3) by Miranda Neville Confessions from an Arranged Marriage (The Burgundy Club, #4) by Miranda Neville

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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cadenza

(Rockliffe, #6)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian – 1778 )

Book Blurb:

Julian Langham was poised on the brink of a dazzling career when the lawyers lured him into making a catastrophic mistake. Now, instead of the concert platform, he has a title he doesn’t want, an estate verging on bankruptcy … and bewildering responsibilities for which he is totally unfitted.

And yet the wreckage of Julian’s life is not a completely ill wind. For Tom, Rob and Ellie it brings something that is almost a miracle … if they dare believe in it.

Meanwhile, first-cousins Arabella Brandon and Elizabeth Marsden embark on a daring escapade which will provide each of them with a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The adventure will last only a few weeks, after which everything will be the way it was before. Or so they think. What neither of them expects is for it to change a number of lives … most notably, their own.

And there is an additional complication of which they are wholly unaware.
The famed omniscience of the Duke of Rockliffe.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

Cadenza is the sixth and sadly the final book in the superb Rockliffe series and, as I have come to expect from Stella Riley, I was totally enchanted by this beautifully written story.

In this series, Ms. Riley has created some of the most memorable heroes and Julian definitely belongs to their exalted ranks. He is such a complex character and surely one of the most refreshingly unusual heroes to grace the pages of a Historical Romance. He is gentle, kind and shy, with a sweet smile, guaranteed to pierce even the stoniest heart. But what a dramatic transformation when he plays the harpsichord – gone is the hesitant, socially awkward young man and, in his place, is someone who is relaxed, confident and totally in command.

Music is paramount in Julian’s life and he would willingly have given up the earldom to fulfil his musical ambitions. So, it speaks volumes for the man he is – honourable, compassionate and selfless – when, despite being totally out of his depth, he refuses to turn his back on the estate workers, even working alongside them when they are shorthanded, or to abandon his predecessor’s three illegitimate children. It is heart-warming to see how everyone around Julian has such affection for him. As Max, Arabella’s brother, comments…

“The children idolise him; his servants and the villagers think the sun shines out of him; Belle’s totally besotted and Mother wants to adopt him. How does he do it?’

I put it down to Ms. Riley’s ability to create such an endearing character who effortlessly steals your heart by just being himself.

The romance between Julian and Isabella (Belle) develops slowly which makes it feel natural and believable. Young ladies like Belle have always terrified Julian, leaving him tongue-tied and feeling like a fool. Initially he is wary of her, but soon discovers that Belle is not like the other ladies he has known with their lingering, speculative glances. He finds that he can talk to her without feeling clumsy and foolish and her warm, melodic laugh is like music to his ears.

…a laugh which made his insides uncurl and yearn to hear it again in order to recapture the elusive phrase it had brought to mind. A rondo in a bright key, he decided. G major, perhaps?

I love Belle and she is the perfect match for Julian with her cheerfulness, determination, resilience and obstinate streak. When she sees him struggling to keep the impoverished estate going, she tries to help in practical ways and recognising that, without his music, there will always part of Julian missing, she is determined to help him achieve his dream of becoming a concert performer.

Ms. Riley’s eloquent writing conveys their growing feelings for each other so beautifully.

His arms went round her automatically and for perhaps three seconds, they remained perfectly still, startled green eyes locked with grey ones in which laughter was fading into confused awareness.

In the second his mouth touched hers, the entire world was full of music … rare, elusive and utterly compelling. A melody more beautiful that any he had ever either heard or even imagined.

Again, we are treated to two romances running concurrently, the other being a secondary romance between Elizabeth (Lizzie) and Ralph Harcourt, Earl of Sherbourne. Those who have read Hazard will remember Sherbourne as Genevieve’s loathsome brother and it was hard to imagine how Ms. Riley could possibly redeem him. It is a mark of her skill as a writer that she redeems him without changing his intrinsic character. The gradual revealing of his past is masterfully done and the truth surrounding the duel was an unexpected twist and one I would never have suspected. I found myself not only sympathising with Ralph but also rooting for his Happy Ever After.

Lizzie is beautiful, honest, modest and warm-hearted. I admire her for refusing to take Ralph at face value and seeing something behind his chilly exterior that makes her believe he is not as black as he is painted. She believes in him and trusts him which means so much to Ralph because no one else ever has. She is also aware of his intense loneliness and the way he has walled off his emotions and one of the loveliest moments is when she says…

“But impeccable manners are your shield and armour, aren’t they?’
‘What?”
“And very effective they are, too.”
She rose to face him, hoping she looked calmer than she felt. “But you don’t need them with me. I could quite easily love the man they are hiding if only you would let me know him.”

I thought it was realistic that Aristide and Genevieve were never going to suddenly forgive Ralph, given his actions in Hazard, but I was pleased to see the hint of a possible future reconciliation.

Ms. Riley’s secondary characters always add richness and depth to her stories, whether they be much-loved characters from previous books or new characters. Tom, Rob and Ellie (not forgetting Figgy), the children whom Julian ‘adopts’, are just delightful and watching him gain their trust, loyalty and love, by just being himself, is so touching. I really like Max Brandon who is the sort of elder brother every girl should have and with a great sense of humour as well.

As always, the all-seeing, all-powerful Rockliffe is there to take charge and deal with the consequences of Belle and Lizzie’s deception in his inimitable way. I love how, beneath that ducal exterior, lies a man who can be kind, unbiased, generous and loyal to a fault when it comes to those he cares for. We see these qualities in the way he bestows his patronage on Julian and his belief in and support for Sherbourne. Oh, and I also love his dry wit.

“Pomp and magnificence? Do we have some of that?”
“You have a great deal of it”, grinned his wife.
“Really? How gratifying.”

Ms. Riley’s musical background and her in-depth research really show in her detailed descriptions of both the harpsichord, its workings and Julian’s repertoire. I love how she makes you feel as if you are in the room listening to him play and experiencing all the emotions his audience are. Under ‘Extras’ on her website, Ms. Riley has provided full details of the repertoire and, so readers can experience Julian playing, there is an opportunity to hear one of the pieces played by Jean Rondeau, a young, French harpsichord virtuoso. Now, that is what I call going above and beyond the call of duty for her readers!

I have yet to read Garland of Straw, the second book in Ms. Riley’s Roundheads and Cavaliers series, but I was interested to see in the Author’s Note that Arabella’s great-great-grandparents are Gabriel and Venetia, the hero and heroine of that book.

While I am sad to see this wonderful series end, I am waiting with relish for whatever Ms. Riley pens next.

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


REVIEW RATING:  STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

 Rockliffe series (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 Cadenza by Stella Riley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Eleven Scandals

(Love by Numbers, #3)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1823)

Cover Blurb:

She lives for passion.

Bold, impulsive, and a magnet for trouble, Juliana Fiori is no simpering English miss. She refuses to play by society’s rules: she speaks her mind, cares nothing for the approval of the ton, and can throw a punch with remarkable accuracy. Her scandalous nature makes her a favorite subject of London’s most practiced gossips . . . and precisely the kind of woman The Duke of Leighton wants far, far away from him.

He swears by reputation.

Scandal is the last thing Simon Pearson has room for in his well-ordered world. The Duke of Disdain is too focused on keeping his title untainted and his secrets unknown. But when he discovers Juliana hiding in his carriage late one evening—risking everything he holds dear—he swears to teach the reckless beauty a lesson in propriety. She has other plans, however; she wants two weeks to prove that even an unflappable duke is not above passion.

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After being slightly disappointed by Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord, I really loved this final book in the Love by Numbers series. The ‘opposites attract’ storyline is one of my favourites and Sarah MacLean pulls it off brilliantly by pairing the fiery Juliana with the oh-so-proper Duke of Leighton.

This is Simon Pearson, the 11th Duke of Leighton, and, like his forebears before him, he has led an exemplary life – his reputation untarnished. Cold, arrogant and domineering, his aloofness and contempt for those he considers beneath him has earned him the title, Duke of Disdain.

Duke of Leighton

This is Juliana Fiori, the daughter of an Italian merchant and a disgraced English marchioness. Beautiful, bold, unconventional and passionate, Juliana refuses to bow to the dictates of London society. Both her exploits and her scandalous family have become fodder for the gossipmongers.

Juliana

I must admit that after reading Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord, it was hard to like the unfeeling, haughty Duke of Leighton, but gradually I came to understand why he believed that honour and duty came before anything else. All the previous ten generations of dukes had been raised with one rule – ‘Let nothing besmirch the name’ – and he saw it as his duty to live an unblemished life. Being raised by a cold, unloving mother had only further reinforced these beliefs and shaped him into the man he had become.

And there it was, in the cool, unmoving tenor of his mother’s words. Get it done. The demand . . . the expectation that a man like Simon would do whatever it took to ensure the safety and honor of his name.

It made Simon a far more sympathetic character and one I was rooting for.

I could see the vulnerability that lurks beneath Juliana’s boldness. While she gives the impression that she cares nothing for society’s censure, secretly she longs to be accepted. My heart went out to her because, no matter how hard she tries, she can never escape the legacy of her mother’s scandal and society’s expectations that Juliana is destined to be just like her.

Your mother’s daughter. The words were a blow she could never escape. No matter how hard she tried.

With a family scandal involving his younger sister Georgiana looming, Simon decides that marriage to a lady of impeccable character will overshadow the scandal.  But Juliana has turned Simon’s orderly world upside down and, although he knows she is totally unsuitable, he can’t seem to resist her. While I enjoyed the sizzling chemistry between Simon and Juliana, I also enjoyed seeing them discover the real person behind the facade that they each present to society. Simon sees that Juliana is not only mesmerisingly beautiful but also charming, intelligent, quick-witted and committed to those she loves. He also realises that she is as much a victim of circumstances as he is. Juliana discovers that, lurking beneath that the arrogant, oh-so-proper Simon is a charming, teasing, passionate man. Even though I was often frustrated by his misguided determination to resist the inevitable, I enjoyed watching Simon finally come to realise what he truly wants.

…you taught me that everything I believed, everything I thought I wanted, everything I had spent my life espousing—all of it . . . it is wrong. I want your version of life . . . vivid and emotional and messy and wonderful and filled with happiness.

It was heart-warming to see how determined Simon is to love, protect and support his niece so that she would never have to experience the same pain that Juliana had. He also realises how much he had failed his sister when she needed him the most.

I did enjoy Juliana’s amusing habit of using the wrong words:

“He called me a pie!” she announced, defensively.
There was a pause. “Wait. That’s not right.”
“A tart?”
“Yes! That’s it!”

♥♥♥

 “I am not an invalid, Simon, I still have use of all my extremes.”
“You do indeed—particularly your extreme ability to try my patience—I believe, however, that you mean extremities.”

Gabriel and Nick St. John and their respective wives, Callie and Isabel, characters from the previous books, are on hand to help or, in some cases, hinder Juliana and Simon’s journey to their Happy Ever After. I particularly enjoyed the rather volatile scenes between Simon and Gabriel!

MY VERDICT: This was a perfect end to an excellent series which I can definitely recommend.

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

Love by Numbers series (click on the book covers for more details):

9 Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean Ten Ways to be Adored When Landing a Lord (Love by Numbers) by Sarah MacLean Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart (Love By Numbers, #3) by Sarah MacLean 

(UK covers)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lady Joy and the Earl

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1815)

Book Blurb:

They have loved each other since childhood, but life has not been kind to either of them. James Highcliffe’s arranged marriage had been everything but loving, and Lady Joy’s late husband believed a woman’s spirit was meant to be broken. Therefore, convincing Lady Jocelyn Lathrop to abandon her freedom and consider marriage to him after twenty plus years apart may be more than the Earl of Hough can manage. Only the spirit of Christmas can bring these two together when secrets mean to keep them apart.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This was both a heart-breaking and heart-warming second chance love story, made all the more satisfying by the Christmas setting.

I really felt so desperately sad for the young James and Jocelyn (Joy, as he calls her) and how their hopes and dreams of a life together were destroyed by their respective fathers. Neither arranged marriage was a happy one and, now they are both widowed, James is determined to marry Joy, the woman he has never stopped loving. However, he discovers that Joy is no longer the vibrant, happy girl he remembers. Instead, he finds a sad, bitter, resentful woman who seems to blame him for her unhappiness.

The abuse that Joy suffered at her husband’s hands was truly heartrending and she still bears the physical and emotional scars. Since her husband’s demise, under unusual circumstances, she has been determined to control her own life, building defences around herself, and never letting anyone close. Her sons have become her world and her love for them and her need to protect them is paramount. She also has secrets which she has never revealed, even to her own family.

Joy’s feelings of bitterness and anger towards James are understandable because, for all these years, she believed that he had simply married someone else, leaving her broken-hearted. It is only when she learns the true nature of his marriage does Joy realise how much James had suffered too, in a different way.

James treats Joy with such patience and kindness, and I love his determination to restore her love of life, even though he faces an uphill struggle. When Joy’s secrets are finally revealed, James is there for her and it is heartening to see how supportive Joy and James’ families are.

I like the fact that Ms. Jeffers does not have Joy suddenly recovering from the years of abusive marriage. It will take time to dispel those terrible memories but, with James’ love, she can gradually replace them with joyful ones. The final scenes, at the end of the book, convey the love they share so beautifully and left me with a warm glow, knowing that their future held the happiness that had so long been denied to them.

MY VERDICT: An emotional, poignant and heart-warming Christmas novella – just perfect for curling up with on a dark, winter’s evening.


REVIEW RATING: 4/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

**In the interests of full disclosure, I received a copy of this book from the author with no strings attached. It is my personal choice to write this review and these are my honest thoughts about the book.** 

 

 

 

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The Laird's Christmas Kiss

(The Lairds Most Likely, #2)

 Genre: Historical Romance (Regency – 1818)

Book Blurb:

Down with love! 

Ever since she was fifteen, shy wallflower Elspeth Douglas has pined in vain for the attentions of dashing Brody Girvan, Laird of Invermackie. But the rakish Highlander doesn’t even know she’s alive. Now she’s twenty, she realizes that she’ll never be happy until she stops loving her brother’s handsome friend. When family and friends gather at Achnasheen Castle for Christmas, she intends to show the world that’s she’s all grown up and grown out of silly crushes on gorgeous Scotsmen. So take that, my gallant laddie!

Girls just want to have fun… 

Except it turns out that Brody isn’t singing from the same Christmas carol sheet. Elspeth decides she’s not interested in him anymore, just as he decides he’s very interested indeed. In fact, now he looks more closely, his friend Hamish’s sister is pretty and funny and forthright – and just the lassie to share his Highland estate. Convincing his little wren of his romantic intentions is difficult enough, even before she undergoes a makeover and becomes the belle of Achnasheen. For once in his life, dissolute Brody is burdened with honorable intentions, while the lady he pursues is set on flirtation with no strings attached.

Deck the halls with mistletoe! 

With interfering friends and a crate of imported mistletoe thrown into the mix, the stage is set for a house party rife with secrets, clandestine kisses, misunderstandings, heartache, scandal, and love triumphant.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

I have read and enjoyed several of Anna Campbell’s Christmas stories and this delightful novella was no exception.

For the past year, Brody has been unhappy; his hedonistic lifestyle had begun to pall and he is feeling aimless and lost when he arrives at Achnasheen Castle for Christmas. I love how, for the first time, he actually sees Elspeth. To her family she is a ‘wee mouse’, but to Brody she is intelligent, interesting and pure of heart and he is perceptive enough to notice her beauty and charm. I love how his actions reveal an honourable man when he steps up to offer marriage because he believes he has compromised Elspeth’s reputation.

Elspeth may appear dull and mousy but when she makes up her mind to do something, nothing  deters her. I saw this in her determination to forget her childish infatuation for Brody and enjoyed seeing a more mature and confident Elspeth emerging. It was satisfying to see her turn the tables on Brody by indulging in a no strings attached flirtation with him and discover what it felt like to be pursued by a rake, when she held all the cards.

Poor Brody has his work cut out convincing Elspeth that his love is sincere, given his past reputation. His friends, Elspeth’s brother, Hamish, and her cousin, Diarmid, certainly don’t help matters because they don’t seem to regard him as a worthy suitor for Elspeth.

I enjoyed seeing Brody and Elspeth discovering things about each other but also about themselves during the course of the story. They are such a likeable couple and I was rooting for them. There maybe trials and tribulations but the spirit of Christmas prevails and love wins through in the end.

“Oh, Brody, you make me so happy. This morning, I thought I’d never be happy again.”
He stared into her face, recognizing her as his destiny. “I’ll do my best to make ye happy for the rest of your life.”
Her lips curled in a smile that expressed a universe of joy. For the first time, he genuinely believed that she did love him.
“I’d love that.
“I love you.”
“And I love you.”
“So?”
She laughed, and the warm sound rippled down his backbone and settled in his heart. “Of course I’ll marry you, Brody.”

I love Marina for the way in which she supports and encourages Elspeth, unlike her mother who is more interested is gaining influence as a political hostess than her daughter’s happiness. I hate how she denigrates Elspeth at every opportunity.

Having met Fergus and Marina in this novella, I definitely want to read their story in The Laird’s Willful Lass, the first book in the series. I am also looking forward to seeing Hamish and Diarmid brought to their knees by love and sincerely hope that Brody and Elspeth get the chance to gloat!

MY VERDICT: A real holiday treat from one of my favourite authors.

 

REVIEW RATING: 4/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

The Lairds Most Likely series so far (click on the book covers for more details):

 The Laird's Willful Lass (The Lairds Most Likely, #1) by Anna Campbell The Laird’s Christmas Kiss (The Lairds Most Likely, #2) by Anna Campbell

 

**In the interests of full disclosure, I received a copy of this novella as a gift from the author. It is my personal choice to write this review and these are my honest thoughts about the story.** 

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Holiday by Gaslight

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian, 1861)

Book Blurb:

A Courtship of Convenience

Sophie Appersett is quite willing to marry outside of her class to ensure the survival of her family. But the darkly handsome Mr. Edward Sharpe is no run-of-the-mill London merchant. He’s grim and silent. A man of little emotion—or perhaps no emotion at all. After two months of courtship, she’s ready to put an end to things.

A Last Chance for Love

But severing ties with her taciturn suitor isn’t as straightforward as Sophie envisioned. Her parents are outraged. And then there’s Charles Darwin, Prince Albert, and that dratted gaslight. What’s a girl to do except invite Mr. Sharpe to Appersett House for Christmas and give him one last chance to win her? Only this time there’ll be no false formality. This time they’ll get to know each other for who they really are.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This was such a charming, heart-warming romance – just the perfect start to my Christmas reading. 

Sir William Appersett is virtually bankrupt, having squandered most of the family fortune, together with his eldest daughter Sophie’s dowry, on modernisations to Appersett House. With no male heir, he regards the house as his only enduring legacy. Now he and his wife have brought Sophie and her younger sister, Emily, to London in the hope of finding them wealthy husbands.

Edward (Ned) Sharpe, a draper’s son, is a highly successful and wealthy factory owner. For the past twelve months, he has been considering marriage, but it is only when he sees Sophie Appersett that he seriously contemplates getting married and approaches her father for permission to court her

He’d wanted her from the first. Had known as soon as he looked at her that she was someone worth having in his life, no matter the cost.

Sir William is more than agreeable to Edward courting his daughter because he fully expects that Edward will provide the necessary funds for the next phase of his modernisations. Sophie is not averse to marrying Edward, hoping that, given time, he would come to care for her or even love her. But, after two months of courtship, she can no longer contemplate spending her life with a man who is so solemn, unemotional and lacking in conversation and calls off the courtship.

He never betrayed his feelings with a look or a word. And when it came to conversation, silence was, by far, his favorite subject.

Being unfamiliar with all the rules governing courtship among the upper classes, Edward had turned for advice to the Gentleman’s Book of Etiquette…not very sound advice as it turns out. It seems he has burnt his bridges as far as Sophie is concerned and is most surprised when the lady in question turns up at his office. Sophie has reconsidered and is willing to continue the courtship…perhaps if they talk openly and really get to know each other, she might find she was wrong about them being ill-suited. So, Sophie invites Edward to spend Christmas at Appersett House in Derbyshire.

Sophie and Ned are such appealing characters and the Christmas festivities provide the perfect setting for their romance to flourish. Ned is a man who rarely shows his emotions but feels things deeply, which is evident in his reactions after Sophie calls off the courtship. I enjoyed seeing him slowly emerge from behind that stern appearance and reveal something of his real self to Sophie; the way he treats his parents with respect and shows kindness to her mother, and even to her spoilt sister, Emily; his patience and attentiveness; how, when he smiles, there was a sparkle in his eyes that made her catch her breath; how he surprises her by teasing and flirting!

”…unless you very strenuously object, I intend to kiss you this Christmas.”
Sophie stared at him, her mouth suddenly dry. It took all of her strength of will to compose herself. To moisten her lips and formulate words more substantial than a breathless squeak. “Under the mistletoe, I presume.”
“Under the mistletoe. Under the gaslight. Under the stars.” Ned bent his head close to hers. “Perhaps all three.”

I admire Sophie for her loyalty to her family, even though her profligate father and spoilt sister hardly deserve it. She has shouldered the responsibility for trying to keep the family from financial ruin and I love how Ned is willing to shoulder this burden for her, while he is in Derbyshire, with no strings attached and the freedom to choose what happens afterwards.

Sophie is intelligent, strong, gracious, warm and kind, qualities that Ned recognises and values, unlike her father, and I love how he views marriage as a partnership where they will be equals.

“A partner,” Sophie repeated. “Is that how you think of me?”
He made a soft sound of assent as he enfolded her back into his embrace. “Not very romantic, is it? But I don’t want you to feel powerless with me. I value your intelligence and your strength. I’d rather you stood at my side than in my shadow.”

This was a time of great change both socially and economically and I like how Ms. Matthews explores the theme of adaptation to change by referencing Darwin’s work, which Sophie and Ned discuss, and in comments Sophie makes to her sister.

“We’re part of the modern age,” Sophie tells her sister. “We must change along with it or be left behind in the dust.”

The author’s love for and knowledge of the Victorian era is perfectly reflected in the historical details, the social commentary, and how she captures the essence of a Victorian Christmas.

MY VERDICT: This is a lovely, entertaining and heart-warming novella and the perfect accompaniment to the festive season.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: KISSES

 

 

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Ten Ways

(Love by Numbers, #2)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1823)

Cover Blurb:

“Lord Nicholas is a paragon of manhood. And his eyes, Dear Reader! So blue!” Pearls & Pelisses, June 1823

Since being named ‘London’s Lord to Land’ by a popular ladies’ magazine, Nicholas St John has been relentlessly pursued by every matrimony-minded female in the ton. So when an opportunity to escape fashionable society presents itself, he eagerly jumps – only to land in the path of the most determined, damnably delicious woman he’s ever met!

The daughter of a titled wastrel, Lady Isabel Townsend has too many secrets and too little money. Though she is used to taking care of herself quite handily, her father’s recent passing has left Isabel at sea and in need of outside help to protect her young brother’s birthright. The sinfully handsome, eminently eligible Lord Nicholas could be the very salvation she seeks.

But the lady must be wary and not do anything reckless and foolish . . . like falling madly, passionately in love.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

I absolutely loved Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake, the first book in this series, and had high expectations of Ten Ways to be Adored When Landing a Lord. I have to say that, although it was good, it did not quite live up to my expectations. But, to be fair, Nine Rules was always going to be a tough act to follow.

What can I say about Nicholas? He is just gorgeous! He is not only devastatingly handsome, intelligent, charming and super sexy but also a genuinely good man. Given how his mother’s desertion had destroyed his father and his own betrayal at the hands of a woman, I could fully understand his attitude towards love – to be avoided at all costs. He has his own rules when it comes to amorous affairs…

No mistresses. No regular assignations. And, most definitely, no wife.

But we all know that rules are meant to be broken, as Nicholas (Nick) discovers when he meets Lady Isabel Townsend. He cannot resist a lady in distress, even if she is the most intriguing, infuriating and secretive woman he has ever known. He is also drawn to her combination of strength and vulnerability.

I love how honest and forthright Nick is with Isabel and how he does everything he can to protect not only Isabel but also her ten-year-old brother, James, now Earl of Reddich, and the women of Minerva House.

“I am not perfect. I cannot promise you that I will not do things that will hurt you.” He paused, his scar a pale line against his darkened skin. “But I will do everything in my power to protect you and James and these girls.”

I also adore how Nick takes James under his wing and becomes like a surrogate father to him. The scenes between them are quite charming such as this one.

Nick turned. “Would you like me to teach you?”
The boy’s eyes lit up. “Would you mind very much?”
“Not at all.” Nick removed the strip of linen from his person and placed it around James’s neck. Turning the boy to the looking glass, he walked James through the movements until the cravat was a fair approximation of the knot Nick had created earlier.

Isabel’s life has not been easy. Her late father had always neglected his wife and children, leaving them in the country, while he went off to London to enjoy a profligate and scandalous life. I admire Isabel’s courage in rising to the difficult challenge of running the estate and her resolve to provide a safe haven for the women at Minerva House and give them a fresh start in life. She is also determined to ensure that her brother, James, receives an upbringing and education befitting his position as earl. Those around her believe that she can face any challenge but are unaware that she is just as afraid and uncertain as they are. but hides it behind an air of confidence. Seeing this vulnerability in Isabel made her more relatable.

Poor Nick! I felt so sorry for him because it is obvious how deeply he loves Isabel but she continually pushes him away.

How many times had he worked to regain her trust, to prove his worth? And how many times had Isabel rejected him?

I can understand Isabel’s initial reluctance to trust Nick. After all, her father’s irresponsible actions would hardly have convinced her that men were trustworthy, and the plight of those women who sought refuge in Minerva House would only have reinforced that opinion. But her constant refusal to trust Nick, even after he proves himself over and over again, was just so irritating. I wanted to grab her and shake her for not having faith in him. Luckily, she finally comes to her senses and it is refreshing to see the heroine forced to do some grovelling, rather than the hero.

The romance between these two is quite steamy and Ms. MacLean certainly knows how write the most sensual scenes. One that particularly comes to mind is the scene between Nick and Isabel in the statuary. A cold shower is definitely recommended after reading it!!

There is a sweet secondary romance between Lara, Isabel’s cousin, and Durukhan (Rock), Nick’s companion and friend, which plays out in the background and forms a nice contrast to the more passionate one between Nick and Isabel.

I enjoyed the scenes involving the ladies of Minerva House, particularly the one at the beginning of the book when, in male disguise, they are helping Isabel to get rid of yet another man to whom her father has promised her hand in marriage, in payment for his latest gambling debt. I grinned all the way through it.

He turned on Isabel. “What’s this, then?”
The stable master slapped her coiled horsewhip against one thigh, the thwack of the leather causing Asperton to flinch. “We do not like you raising your voice to a lady, sir.”
Isabel watched as the angled notch at his thin throat quivered. “I—I am …”

I enjoyed catching up with Gabriel and Callie (Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake) and I’m looking forward to the arrogant, rude and overbearing Duke of Leighton meeting his match in the final book of the series, Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke’s Heart.

MY VERDICT: A most enjoyable story with interesting characters, a passionate and sensual romance and delightful touches of humour.


REVIEW RATING: 4/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

 

Love by Numbers series (click on the book covers for more details):

Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake (Love By Numbers, #1) by Sarah MacLean Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord (Love By Numbers, #2) by Sarah MacLean Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke's Heart (Love By Numbers, #3) by Sarah MacLean

 

 

 

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