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Posts Tagged ‘Read in 2019’

The Rake

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb (Amazon):

A man’s past doesn’t have to map his fate, especially when a woman holds the key to his destiny in this timeless novel by New York Times bestselling author and legend in historical romance Mary Jo Putney.

Disinherited and disgraced, Reginald Davenport’s prospects cried for a dire end. But fate has given him one last chance at redemption–by taking his rightful place as the heir of Strickland, his lost ancestral estate. Davenport knows his way around women, yet nothing prepares him for his shocking encounter with Lady Alys Weston.

Masquerading as a man in order to obtain a position as estate manager of Strickland, Alys fled a world filled with mistrust and betrayal. She was finished with men–until Strickland’s restored owner awakens a passion she thought she would never feel. A passion that will doom or save them both…if only they can overcome their pasts…

(Note: This book was originally published in 1989 as The Rake the Reformer and then revised and republished as The Rake in 1998)

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I read that THE RAKE is regarded as one of the most popular, most beloved historical romances ever written and I can now understand why, because I loved this book and it will definitely find a place among my all-time favourites.

At the age of thirty-seven, Reggie is the archetypal rake – his life having been spent in a continual round of womanising, gambling and hard drinking. But, as details of past events in his life are revealed, I appreciated how much these have shaped his current lifestyle. I like the fact that he does not blame his present circumstances on anyone but himself; he chose the path he took and admits to making unwise decisions. (I could not help thinking how different Reggie’s life might have been had he inherited Strickland all those years ago, and not been denied his birth right by his unfeeling uncle.)

Unlike so many other hard-drinking rakes who regularly grace the pages of Historical Romances, Reggie is an alcoholic, although he has yet to recognise the fact. It is only when he starts to suffer memory losses, which are becoming more frequent and longer in duration, does he accept that his current way of life is slowly killing him. Blaming his excessive drinking, Reggie believes that he can control the habit but…

…somehow his resolution always dissolved once he swallowed his first drink.

Ms. Putney handles Reggie’s alcoholism with compassion and sensitivity, but does not gloss over the harsh reality of his struggles to stop drinking. There is one particular scene where a horrified Alys finds Reggie drinking in the library and he runs out into the night as though the demons of hell are at his heels. It is one of the most heart-rending scenes I have ever read and the moment when Alys finds him is so moving.

He stretched out his hand. She took it, her fingers far warmer than his, her clasp light and sure. Linking his fingers with hers, he brought their joined hands to his chest, against the beat of his heart. The tide of hope was running stronger now.

I like how Ms. Putney does not fall into the trap of having Reggie redeemed by the love of a good woman. He wants to overcome his alcoholism for himself alone.

He hadn’t gotten sober for Allie’s sake, or to live up to his parents’ hopes, or for anyone else. He had done it for himself.

Having a soft spot for unconventional heroines, how could I not love a heroine who is a magnificent Amazon (Reggie’s description) with mismatched eyes and has managed to hide the fact that A E Weston, who has been the highly successful steward at Strickland for four years, is not a man but a woman? The reforms she has undertaken at Strickland have made the estate prosperous and earned her the respect of all those around her. She has also created a loving family home for her three wards.

Alys may be strong and independent but deep down she is beset by insecurities. Something in her past made her flee her former life and has left her believing she is unattractive and no man would ever want her.

I enjoyed the steady development of the relationship between Reggie and Alys, and it is Ms Putney’s ability to convey the emotional connection between them that makes this unlikely pairing work so beautifully. There is an initial attraction but, more importantly, a genuine friendship is forged based on their mutual liking, respect and trust. The love scenes are not overly explicit but rather tender, sensual and romantic.

 “I am beginning to believe that you are not at all the wicked care-for-nobody that your reputation claims.”

Just like Alys, I discovered that beneath the sarcastic, rakish exterior, Reggie is intelligent, charming, fair-minded, honest and witty. He also shows a remarkable knowledge of farming and is willing to ‘muck in’ with the sheep-dipping, earning him the respect and acceptance of the estate workers. It made me see that this is the real Reggie and I was rooting for him to overcome his addiction.

Reggie admires Alys’ ability, honesty and generosity of heart, and her wit is as sharp as his own. He treats her as an equal and is always willing to listen to her ideas. Not having been a member of a loving family for so many years, it was heart-warming to see him enjoying the family dynamics between Alys and her wards and  even starts wondering what it would be like to have children of his own.

I love how Alys is a true friend to Reggie and is always there to support him whenever he needs it.,

If she could not even try to help, she was unworthy to be anyone’s friend.

When Alys reveals her secrets to Reggie, I thought his actions revealed how noble and unselfish he is. I also like the scene where Alys convinces a reluctant Reggie that they are meant to be together.

There is an interesting cast of secondary characters including:

  • Richard, Earl of Wargrave – genuinely wants to help his cousin, Reggie, and I was was so happy to see the friendship that developed between them.
  • Meredith (Merry) Spencer – Alys’ eldest ward, who is delightful and wise beyond her years.
  • Junius Harper- the priggish, self-righteous vicar
  • The Honourable Julian Markham – Reggie’s young friend who falls for Meredith.
  • Mac Cooper – Reggie’s valet, groom, butler and footman

Amid the darker elements of the story, there is also humour such as the confrontation between Reggie and Junius Harper, which almost ends in a brawl; the hilarious scene where Reggie cleverly manipulates Lord Markham into allowing his son to marry Merry and agree to Julian’s plan for the management of his estate; the various antics of Attila, Alys’ cat, and the long-suffering Nemesis, Reggie’s dog.

I loved the charming Epilogue where the various characters react to the news of Reggie and Alys’ marriage and I will let Reggie have the final word…

“And, my beloved, you have performed the miracle of your reforming career in changing me from a care-for-nobody rakehell into a faithful, adoring husband.”

MY VERDICT: What more can I say other than this is a must read!


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

 SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

 

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A Duke in the Night

(The Devils of Dover, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1819)

Cover Blurb (Amazon):

Duke. Scoundrel. Titan of business. August Faulkner is a man of many talents, not the least of which is enticing women into his bedchamber. He’s known-and reviled-for buying and selling companies, accumulating scads of money, and breaking hearts. It’s a reputation he wears like a badge of honor, and one he intends to keep.

Clara Hayward, the headmistress of the Haverhall School for Young Ladies, on the other hand, is above reproach. Yet when she’s reunited with August all she can think of is the way she felt in his arms as they danced a scandalous waltz ten long years ago. Even though her head knows that he is only back in her life to take over her family’s business, her heart can’t help but open to the very duke who could destroy it for good

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Since reading and loving her Seasons for Scandal series, Kelly Bowen has joined my list of auto-read authors and I have been looking forward to A DUKE IN THE NIGHT, the first book in her new The Devils of Dover series. Once again, she captivated me with an innovative story, interesting characters and a sensual romance.

As a debutante ten years ago, Clara Hayward had all the attributes that should have had numerous suitors falling at her feet – beauty, poise and family wealth. But she had one fatal flaw – her extensive education. No husband wanted a wife whose intelligence and education was superior to his own. This gave Clara the freedom to pursue her ambition of becoming a teacher and, for many years, she has been headmistress of the most expensive and prestigious finishing school in London – Haverhall School for Young Ladies, which she inherited from her mother. Secretly, Clara runs exclusive summer school programmes at Avondale in Dover, leased from the Earl of Rivers, for those young women who have ambitions beyond society’s expectations and the courage to defy convention.

However, after their parents died two years ago, Clara, her younger sister, Rose, and her brother, Harland, now Baron Strathmore, were shocked to discover that their father had left large debts. They had all done whatever they could to keep their heads above water but with Strathmore Shipping, the family business, in jeopardy, Clara takes the decision to sell her beloved school, but is still determined to continue with her summer schools.

Kelly Bowen always writes great heroines and Clara is no exception. She is intelligent, strong and confident – a woman who fully embraces her individuality and has the courage of her own convictions. She is a natural teacher and I admire her progressive and unique teaching methods. I love how she nurtures her students and offers them practical experience in their chosen fields even though it might only be for a short time.

August Faulkner was never destined to be the Duke of Holloway. At the age of fifteen, he was fending for himself on the dangerous streets of London after his inveterate gambler of a father was thrown into debtors’ prison, where August’s younger sister, Anne, had lived too. His driving force was to pay off his father’s debts, have his family released and restore their fortunes and their family reputation.

Over the next fifteen years, through hard work, determination and a keen business mind, August had clawed his way up to become a wealthy and successful self-made man. In his business of buying up failing companies and turning them around into profitable concerns, he had a reputation for being ruthless and determined. Even his unexpected rise to the peerage five years ago has done nothing to curb his ambitions, other than working anonymously through intermediaries to make his purchases.

I understood how those years of struggle and deprivation had shaped August into the man he has become. He is determined to safeguard both himself and his sister from ever having to endure such hardship again, and no amount of money is ever going to be enough.

August understood survival. He had done and continued to do what he needed to so that he would never have to go back. Back to a time when hunger and cold had been enemies.

It is obvious how much he loves his sister and will do anything to make her happy, but stubbornly fails to see that Anne has ambitions of her own beyond just the material things in life.

It’s improbable that, after only one dance together ten years ago, August and Clara would have been so affected that they had never forgotten each other. But Ms. Bowen develops such a tangible chemistry between the two that I never once felt that they were not meant to be together. August sees what a fascinating and extraordinary woman Clara is and respects and admires her. Clara constantly challenges his opinions and I love that he is willing to listen and question his own motives and ambitions as he has never done before.

The truth of the matter was that he didn’t recognize himself any longer. Every vow he’d made to himself, every driving ambition he’d pursued with a single-minded determination sat uncomfortably on his skin now. His old self didn’t seem to fit quite right.

With all the pent-up longing and desire, it is inevitable that they will eventually succumb to their feelings for each other and it’s refreshing to see the heroine taking the lead and seducing the hero.

His heart might have stopped momentarily before it resumed, thundering in his ears with the same rhythm that was pulsing through the rest of him. The sound obliterated everything around him, his eyes riveted on her fingers, which were now trailing over the slope of her left breast, coming to circle her dark nipple, hard and pebbled under her touch. She was watching him watching her, and he had never been as aroused as he was then.

It is patently obvious that they love each other but I knew that Clara would eventually find out that August had bought Haverhall and his proposals for it. I could feel her pain and heartbreak, believing that she had meant nothing to him and was simply a means to an end. It is only through her sister Rose’s intervention that Clara discovers just how wrong she is about August and how much he loves her. For once, I did not even miss an Epilogue because the ending was so beautifully done, and August’s gift to Clara and its significance just bought tears to my eyes.

“You asked me once when enough is enough. You are my enough. You are my everything.”

I really admired August’s sister, Anne, who might have become a beautiful and poised lady but the time spent in debtors’ prison had given her a core of pure steel. A potential romance between Anne and her brother’s man of business, Duncan Down, is hinted at and I hope to see more of them in later books.

Clara’s siblings are both intriguing; Rose is a gifted artist who has been hurt in the past and Hartland, although a baron, is also a practising doctor and obviously has a few secrets. I am definitely looking forward to reading their stories.

Ms. Bowen manages to imbue the story with some delightful humour such as the scene where August is spying on Clara and her pupils from behind a wall, only to be discovered by Lady Tabitha (Tabby) and Lady Theodosia (Theo), the Earl of Rivers’ sisters, who obviously know exactly what he is doing!

“He might have been an apothecary,” Lady Theo suggested to her sister. “Collecting plants and herbs and whatnot.”
“True. Or a biologist,” Tabby mused. “Looking for crickets.”
“Or fossils.”
“Or perhaps examining animal leavings.”

or the scene in the studio where August enters without knocking to discover…I won’t spoil it for you!

MY VERDICT: A great start to what promises to be an excellent series. Definitely recommended.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

The Devils of Dover series so far (click on the book covers for more details):

A Duke in the Night (The Devils of Dover, #1) by Kelly Bowen Last Night with the Earl (The Devils of Dover, #2) by Kelly Bowen A Rogue by Night (The Devils of Dover, #3) by Kelly Bowen

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The Lady in Red.jpg

(Season for Scandal, #3.5)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1818)

Cover Blurb (Amazon):

A lady with secrets, a man with a burning desire, a love that breaks all the rules…

Lady Charlotte Beaumont has spent her whole life being ignored. By her parents, her brother, even the servants. So she was secretly able to develop her talent for painting well beyond the usual watercolors. Too bad no one will let her actually use it—women are rarely accepted into the Royal Academy. But when a connection at the Haverhall School for Young Ladies gets Charlotte her dream commission, she’ll do whatever it takes to make it work. Including disguising herself as “Charlie.”

Flynn Rutledge has something to prove. His lowly upbringing is not going to stop him from achieving his artistic dreams. This commission is the key to his future, and his partner, an unknown youth in oversized clothes who is barely old enough to shave, doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. But Charlie does inspire Flynn’s artistic passion—something he worried he might have lost forever. For all his street smarts, nothing can prepare Flynn for the shock of Charlie’s true identity. He doesn’t care that she’s a woman, but a lady of the ton is a different matter altogether.

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This is the final instalment in the excellent Seasons for Scandal series which neatly ties into Ms. Bowen’s new Devils of Dover series and, despite the constraints of a novella, she succeeds in creating a deeply emotional story.

I don’t usually comment on covers but this one is extremely misleading because the heroine never wears a red dress and it’s certainly not a Christmas themed story, although the Christmas tree in the background would suggest otherwise.

Ms. Bowen excels in writing strong, determined and smart heroines and Charlotte is no exception. No longer willing to let life pass her by, I admire her determination to pursue her dreams of becoming a recognised artist. Desperate to secure one of two important commissions to paint church murals, but knowing that, as a woman and a lady, normal avenues are closed to her, Charlotte courageously approaches the enigmatic and infamous King. She is aware of his dangerous reputation, but he is not only a connoisseur of fine art, but also a man who can secure anything, for a price – a price she is willing to pay.

There was no white knight thundering to her rescue, ready to sweep her away and make her dreams come true. That was on her. And no matter the cost, it would be worth it, ten times over.

Recognising her exceptional artistic skills, King strikes a bargain with Charlotte and she finds herself at the Haverhall School for Young Ladies. To the outside world, it appears no more than an exclusive finishing school but secretly it runs exclusive summer programmes for those young women who are both willing and are courageous enough to defy convention and…

“To do things denied to them, not by ability or acumen but by gender. Architects. Doctors. Solicitors. Artists.”

So disguised as a young man, Charlie Beaumont, Charlotte sets off to take the first step towards fulfilling her dreams.

Born into poverty, Flynn Rutledge has worked hard to achieve recognition as a talented artist. His ultimate goal is to have his work hanging in the Royal Academy. His late mother had always given him her unconditional love and had always believed in him and this had been her dream for him. The commission is important to him because it will give him access to the people with the means and power to help him achieve his ambitions. But, five years ago, an affair with a noblewoman had ended disastrously, leaving him humiliated, bitter and angry, with a deep distrust of titled women. Worse still, he no longer finds joy or inspiration in his painting.

I like how Ms. Bowen handles the development of the relationship between Flynn and Charlie. Long before Flynn discovers that Charlie is a woman, an honest friendship is forged between them based on their mutual passion for art. Flynn recognises what a gifted artist Charlie is and makes ‘him’ believe in ‘himself’, while Charlie’s words of wisdom, kindness and generosity restore Flynn’s sense of purpose.

…he realized he had found his way back. Righted his ship and recharted his course with the most unlikely of allies.

Even when Flynn discovers that Charlie is really Charlotte (under dramatic circumstances), he isn’t angry because he understands and respects her. Their romance feels like a natural progression of the closeness they shared.

I could understand Flynn’s feelings of anger when he discovers that Charlotte is in fact Lady Charlotte, given his previous experience with a noblewoman and everything he and Charlotte had shared.

Every whispered promise, every shared confidence, every piece of what he had believed to be real had been built on a foundation of lies. He had been played the fool. Again.

Charlotte tries hard to explain but it falls on death ears and the special gesture she makes to prove her love for Flynn leads to such a moving scene and a well-deserved Happy Ever After.

“I love you. All of you. Charlotte, Charlie, Lady Charlotte. Whatever you wish to call yourself, it matters not to me.”
“Yours,” she whispered. “I want to call myself yours”

The artistic setting forms a unique backdrop to the story and I am intrigued to learn more about the Haverhall School for Young Ladies, which is the focus of the Devils of Dover series. There are some interesting secondary characters including Clara Hayward, headmistress of the school, and her sister Rose, and the mysterious King, who appeared in the Season for Scandal series. I can’t wait for his book to see him brought to his knees by love!

MY VERDICT: This novella has everything wrapped up in a small package – emotive and evocative writing, an innovative story, intelligent dialogue, and richly drawn characters. Highly recommended.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

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

Duke of My Heart (Season for Scandal, #1) by Kelly Bowen A Duke to Remember (Season for Scandal, #2) by Kelly Bowen Between the Devil and the Duke (Season for Scandal, #3) by Kelly Bowen The Lady in Red (Season for Scandal, #3.5) by Kelly Bowen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Marigold Chain.jpg

Genre: Historical Romance (17th Century – Restoration England, 1666)

Cover Blurb:

England, 1666; the year when people who take prophecy seriously believe that the world is going to end.

For  Chloë Herveaux, marriage to wild, unpredictable Alex Deveril offers escape from a home she hates. For Alex, waking up with an epic hangover, the discovery that he has acquired a bride is an unwelcome shock. But while the marriage remains in name only, other forces are gathering.

England is once again at war with the Dutch and Prince Rupert suspects that sabotage is at work within the fleet. Instructed to find and stop the traitor, Alex enters a dark labyrinth of intrigue – where no life is safe, and nothing is what it seems.

Chloë, meanwhile, navigates the shark-infested waters of Charles the Second’s Court and plots a course of her own aimed at financial independence. But as the intriguing facets of Mr Deveril’s personality are gradually revealed to her, Chloe’s mock-marriage becomes fraught with difficulties – the greatest of which is Mr Deveril himself.

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Whenever I pick up a book by Stella Riley, I anticipate reading an engrossing, well-written story with diverse, in-depth characters, witty dialogue and a meticulously researched historical setting. The Marigold Chain definitely fulfilled all my expectations.

I admire Ms. Riley for creating such a flawed and fascinating hero. Alex is unpredictable, provoking, intolerant and not even his friends are immune to his acerbic tongue.

“You can chew on my failings till you choke – but not here. I don’t want sympathy, brotherly love or nauseating bloody morality…”

It would have been so easy to dislike Alex but Ms. Riley skilfully balances his negative qualities with positive ones. He is attractive, intelligent, charming, witty, brave, loyal, and a superb swordsman and horseman, with an appealing habit of quoting classical poetry. It’s impossible not to fall under his spell just as Chloë does.

I also appreciated how much past events have contributed to his current state of mind. Soldiering has been his life since the age of fifteen when, together with his father, he fought for the Royalist cause at the Battle of Worcester. Following the Royalist defeat, Alex was forced into exile and, during those years, he made his living as a mercenary. Following the restoration of Charles II, a much-hardened Alex returned to England, only to discover that his devious cousin, Simon, had deprived him of his birth-right. Even the King lacked the power to restore what was rightfully his, leaving Alex a very angry and bitter man. No longer able to ply the only trade he knows, boredom soon set in and Alex has become increasingly unpredictable, indulging in ludicrous and often dangerous wagers and bouts of heavy drinking. Matters have only deteriorated further when he discovers that the woman he believes himself to be in love with is nothing more than a conniving, ‘selfish little bitch’.

Half-French, practical, intelligent and kind, Chloë is such a delightful heroine. Since her father died, she has been living with her step-brother James, a loathsome man, who treats Chloë as an unpaid housekeeper and spends all the money on drinking, gambling and whores. Recently, she has had to bolt her bedroom door at night for fear of his lecherous advances. When James stakes Chloë in the card game, she sees it as a chance to get away from her odious stepbrother and the drudgery of her life.

She may be naive in many ways but Chloë is no wilting lily and I admire the way she is more than a match for Alex and isn’t afraid to speak her mind.

 “It’s a pity everybody tiptoes round your feelings. It gives you the idea you can do what you like.”

Her tendency to interfere in Alex’s life is always done with the best of intentions such as when she cleverly schemes to secure a reconciliation between Alex and his friend Giles. Despite being sensible and practical, Chloë has no defence against Alex’s charm and magnetism. She is hopelessly in love with him but has no illusions that he could ever offer her anything but friendship. I think it is a sign of the depth of her love for him that she could never trap Alex in a marriage he did not want.

…though she knew he did not love her and almost certainly never would, she also knew that her heart was given irrevocably–and that he must never know it.

I enjoyed seeing Chloë not only capture the affection of Alex’s friends but also his old retainer Matthew.

Alex’s epiphany creeps up on him very slowly. At first, he treats Chloë in the same manner as everyone else around him, but then there are moments when he does something quite unexpected like laughing himself silly over the disaster in the kitchen; giving her the marigold chain [Marigold is his pet name for her) which he has obviously chosen with great care; knowing exactly what to say to comfort a distraught Chloë when tragedy affects their lives. When he finally realises that he is head over heals in love with her, he reflects on all the mistakes he has made over the past eight months – all of them waiting now, like snares to trap him – and fears that it might be too late. I admit that it was satisfying to see Alex completely out of his depth when it comes to telling Chloë that he loves her.

The plot to discover and identify the traitor within the Naval service allows Alex to break out of the state of boredom he has fallen into. Now we see a man who is focused, cunning and brave, whose expert swordsmanship is put to good use.

The story is laced with Ms. Riley’s trademark humour such as the marvellous description of the food laid out for the Grand Banquet…

Sirloins of beef lay flanked by cheeses and jellies; the hams jostled the syllabubs and the lobsters lay cheek by jowl with strawberries and quails; roasted geese looked down on oysters and custards and a suckling pig, its mouth full of apple, glared balefully at a panoplied peacock

and the hilarious Masque, complete with a jocular commentary from Alex.

All the secondary characters are so well drawn – Alex’s faithful manservant, Matthew Lewis; his long-suffering but loyal friends, Giles Beckwith and Daniel Fawsley; his scheming cousin, Simon Deveril; the malicious, self-absorbed Lady Sarah Courtney. Ms. Riley also effortlessly weaves a number of real personages into the story, including a perceptive Charles II and his wife Catherine of Braganza, Prince Rupert and Samuel Pepys, who all add depth to the rich tapestry of the story.

I always find myself totally immersed in Ms. Riley’s books whatever the historical setting, whether it is the Georgian era, the English Civil War or the Restoration period, as in The Marigold Chain. She brings everything vividly to life with her evocative writing and immaculate research.

 MY VERDICT: Another superb book from Ms. Riley which I have no hesitation in recommending.


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

 

 

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My Once and Future Duke.jpg

(The Wagers of Sin, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance  (Regency 1807 & !819)

Book Blurb (Amazon):

What happens at the infamous Vega Club…

Sophie Campbell is determined to be mistress of her own fate. Surviving on her skill at cards, she never risks what she can’t afford to lose. Yet when the Duke of Ware proposes a scandalous wager that’s too extravagant to refuse, she can’t resist. If she wins, she’ll get five thousand pounds, enough to secure her independence forever.

Stays at the Vega Club…

Jack Lindeville, Duke of Ware, tells himself he’s at the Vega Club merely to save his reckless brother from losing everything, but he knows it’s a lie. He can’t keep his eyes off Sophie, and to get her he breaks his ironclad rule against gambling. If he wins, he wants her—for a week.

Until now.

A week with Jack could ruin what’s left of Sophie’s reputation. It might even cost her, her heart. But when it comes to love, all bets are off . . .

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Recently, I have been thinking about the authors whose books first encouraged my love of Historical Romance. Regrettably some of these authors, such as Caroline Linden, seem to have fallen by the wayside as new authors came along to capture my interest. MY ONCE AND FUTURE DUKE, the first book in her new The Wagers of Sin series, provided the perfect opportunity to rediscover this talented author.

Orphaned at the age of twelve, when both her beloved parents died of consumption, Sophie Graham was left under the guardianship of her grandfather, Viscount Makepeace. Having disowned Sophie’s father when he ran off and married a French opera singer, Makepeace wanted nothing to do with his granddaughter, a sentiment Sophie fully reciprocated. Anxious to be rid of his unwanted burden, her grandfather enrolled Sophie in Miss Upton’s Academy For Young Ladies, agreeing to pay her tuition fees until her eighteenth birthday – then she would be on her own.

I loved Sophie’s courage and resilience in the face of such life changing events. She does not wallow in self-pity and knows that the only person she can rely on is herself. She could have accepted a position at the academy teaching mathematics but I admired her determination to pursue her Grand Plan in the wider world and to forge a better life for herself.

It was a simple plan, really. Once she had secured her independence, she would be mistress of her own fate and able to chart her own course.

A legacy from her late employer and a small amount of personal savings enable Sophie to travel to London, posing as the widowed Sophie Campbell. Having learned several card games from her father and dicing from the stable boys at the academy, gambling is the one skill Sophie can use to gain the necessary funds to achieve her ultimate goal of marrying a respectable gentleman who could give her the security and family she longs for.

…everything had been proceeding according to that plan . . . until Jack.

At the age of twenty-four, Jack Lindeville’s carefree lifestyle ended abruptly when his father, the Duke of Ware, died after a boating accident. Jack was neither ready nor prepared to assume the heavy burden of responsibilities that came with the dukedom. During the past seven years, Jack has devoted his life to fulfilling his duties, earning him a reputation for being dour and aloof.

I had a lot of sympathy for Jack who, as a young man, had expected to have many more years of freedom before being weighed down with ducal responsibilities, which also included looking after the widow and daughter of his father’s best friend, who had also died in the accident. I hated his mother who constantly showed a preference for her younger son, Philip, making excuses for his excesses while constantly drumming into Jack the need be above reproach in all things, and even resorting to emotional blackmail if he did not do as she wished.

Jack has worked too hard over the years to continue settling his brother’s gambling debts. He has agreed to pay Philip’s latest debt on the condition that he refrains from gambling for a month, and learns to moderate his gambling. However, whilst at the Vega Club to settle said debt, Jack is furious to see his brother there, but his attention is captured by the woman in crimson with whom Philip is gambling. He has not had such a powerful reaction to a woman in years and it leads to him doing something he vowed he would never do — gamble.

Worst of all, he was breaking his own vow to avoid gambling—at hazard, the game designed to beggar a man as speedily as possible. But there was something about this woman that provoked and entranced him beyond all reason.

Ms. Linden writes a tender and sensual romance and I enjoyed the time Jack and Sophie spend alone together at Alwyn House. Although it is only a few days, their relationship blossoms in a natural way that never seems rushed. Alwyn House has always been Jack’s retreat from his relentless duties – a place where he can relax and be himself. I could feel Sophie’s attitude towards Jack softening as they spend time together and she discovers that, beneath that cold, haughty exterior, Jack is a charming, warm-hearted man with a dry sense of humour and a willingness to laugh at himself.

…when he smiled and let down his guard. That flicker of humor and humanity turned him from a cold, haughty duke into an irresistibly attractive man.

Sophie is clever and funny and nothing like the scheming charlatan he had thought her to be. She is clever and funny and the first woman who has ever made him feel like a man, not simply a duke.

As the days pass, it is obvious they have both fallen hopelessly in love and can no longer deny their desire for each other.

His expression was fierce, his eyes burning. “I want to make love to you, Sophie, so badly I can hardly bear it.”
His heart was hammering; she could feel it beneath her palms. Her blood was running just as hot, and she looked him right in the eyes and said, “Yes. Yes.”

But their idyll has to come to an end and, although I knew that their happy ending was never in doubt, there were enough impediments to overcome to keep me turning the pages. My only complaint is the unnecessary drama towards the end and Sophie’s reaction which seems out of character, but this is only minor point and didn’t spoil my overall enjoyment of the story.

I was touched by the scene in the attics at Alwyn House where Sophie is surrounded by decades of Jack’s family history, something she had never had in her own life but secretly craves. So I was delighted when she discovers that she does have a genuinely kind relative who is keen to get to know her.

I liked Miss Eliza Cross and Lady Georgiana Lucas, Sophie’s best friends and future heroines. I was also intrigued by Nicholas Dashwood, the enigmatic owner of the Vega Club, and I’m hoping he might get his own book one day.

The Epilogue is not only charming but also provides a teaser for An Earl Like You (Eliza’s story), the second book in the series.

MY VERDICT: I’m so glad to have rediscovered Ms. Linden’s books and I can definitely recommend MY ONCE AND FUTURE DUKE.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

 The Wagers of Sin series (click on the book covers for more details):

My Once and Future Duke (The Wagers of Sin, #1) by Caroline Linden An Earl Like You (The Wagers of Sin, #2) by Caroline Linden When the Marquess Was Mine (The Wagers of Sin, #3) by Caroline Linden

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Guilty Pleasures.jpg

(Guilty #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Late Regency – 1830)

Book Blurb (Amazon):

One of Daphne Wade’s guilty pleasures is to watch the Duke of Tremore as he works, shirtless, on the excavation site of his ducal estate. Anthony Courtland is by far the most exciting and handsome man she has ever known, and she dreams of one day being able to speak with him without getting tongue tied.

Anthony, meanwhile, only sees Daphne as a hard worker on his excavation team. He considers her a plain young lady and says so in a careless remark to a friend, unaware that Daphne is outside the library door, her heart shattering to pieces. So Daphne decides she will not be so silly any longer. She begins to be tutored in the social graces, forcing Anthony to see the beauty who has been right in front of his eyes.

Kindle Publication: 8th July 2008 

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This book had the honour of being the recipient of the Romantic Times Award for Best European Historical Romance of 2004. It was also the first book I read by Laura Lee Guhrke and it established her as a firm favourite of mine and, over the years, I have read and loved many of her books.

I adore Daphne because it is easier to relate to someone who is plain, wears spectacles and, by the standards of the time, is firmly on the shelf at the age of twenty-four. She had an unconventional upbringing, having lived and worked abroad all her life assisting her father Sir Henry Wade, one of the foremost Roman antiquarians in the world, on his excavations. After her father dies suddenly, she is left all alone, unwanted by her mother’s family in England, and virtually penniless. Her decision to travel to England and take her father’s place shows real courage and I also love her response when Anthony questions her suitability for the position.

“I am the daughter of Sir Henry Wade, and he was the best. I was trained by him, and now that he is gone, there is no one more qualified for this post than I. “

Anthony is arrogant inconsiderate, selfish and, in typical ducal fashion, expects to be obeyed without question, and whenever he wants anything particularly difficult or unreasonable done, he can be persuasively charming. His cynical attitude to love and marriage does not sit well with his sister, Viola, but Anthony is adamant that he intends to marry someone who will make no emotional demands on him

I did admire him for the sympathetic way he treats his estate workers who are unable to pay their rent, and for his determination that the museum should be for everyone, not just the wealthy.

It wasn’t hard to believe that a quiet, shy young woman like Daphne, who had spent all her life around excavations, without any social interactions, would develop an infatuation for someone like Anthony. I really felt her heartbreak when she hears his derogatory comments, but I admired the way she refuses to wallow in self-pity. She has always tried to please other people, first her father and then Anthony, but now she is determined to decide her own future and enjoy life, with encouragement from Anthony’s sister, Viola, who has offered to introduce Daphne into society.

Expecting everyone to cow-tow to his every command, I enjoyed seeing Anthony’s outraged reaction when Daphne tells him she is resigning and his usual coolness and self-possession totally deserts him. And I love the way she stands up to him and is not afraid to speak her mind.

“You may be a duke, but you are not the sun around which the world revolves. In fact, you are quite the opposite, for you are the most selfish man I have I have ever known.”

Now Anthony must find a way to persuade Daphne to stay long enough to finish his project. It was fun watching the various bargains Anthony contrives to gain extra time from Daphne – verbal duels, midnight dances, kisses – and the camaraderie that develops between them as they dance, flirt and laugh together seems so believable. Their witty repartee was enjoyable too.

“Contrary to certain reports, I have been known to be kind on occasion.” Laugh lines appeared at the corners of his eyes, though he did not smile. “But I confess I am not being kind just now.”
“Yes, I know, and it is not going to work.”
He tried to look innocent. “What is not going to work?”
“This blatant attempt to trick me into staying with charm and—and other such tactics.”
“I know you are far too intelligent to be fooled by charm or trickery, Miss Wade. Can we not just say I am using the only weapon I have?”
“”Persuasion?”
“Temptation. If I can tempt you with the fruits of my garden of Eden, you might stay.”

I applaud Ms. Guhrke for not transforming Daphne into some ravishing beauty. She remains the same person she always was, but Anthony begins to see the real Daphne beneath the drab clothes, tight bun and spectacles  – a woman who is intelligent, funny, tender-hearted and passionate.

It is clear that the circumstances surrounding Anthony’s father’s death and having to shoulder the burden of ducal duties at such a tender age have had a profound effect on him, and have clearly shaped him into the man he has become. Having seen first-hand the tragic consequences of love, he has always been master of his emotions, never letting his heart rule his head until Daphne comes into his life. I love how he uses the language of flowers to court her, his determination not to give up and how he finally opens up his heart to Daphne.

There is such a charmimg ending which left me with a lovely warm glow.

“What does a duchess do, exactly?”
He took a step toward her. “Love the duke. Love him with all the passion she hides within her, love him each and every day of her life.”

MY VERDICT:  I still love this book as much as I did the first time of reading it. A delightful, entertaining and romantic love story which I can highly recommend.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

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

Guilty Pleasures (Guilty, #1) by Laura Lee Guhrke His Every Kiss (Guilty, #2) by Laura Lee Guhrke The Marriage Bed (Guilty, #3) by Laura Lee Guhrke She's No Princess (Guilty, #4) by Laura Lee Guhrke

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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beyond scandal and desire

(Sins for All Seasons, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian – London 1840 and 1871)

Book Blurb:

At birth, Mick Trewlove, the illegitimate son of a duke, was handed over to a commoner. Despite his lowly upbringing, Mick has become a successful businessman, but all his wealth hasn’t satisfied his need for revenge against the man who still won’t acknowledge him. What else can Mick do but destroy the duke’s legitimate son—and woo the heir’s betrothed into his own unloving arms . . .

Orphaned and sheltered, Lady Aslyn Hastings longs for a bit of adventure. With her intended often preoccupied, Aslyn finds herself drawn to a darkly handsome entrepreneur who seems to understand her so well. Surely a lady of her station should avoid Mick Trewlove. If only he weren’t so irresistible . . .

As secrets are about to be exposed, Mick must decide if his plan for vengeance is worth risking what his heart truly desires.

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This is the first book in Lorraine Heath’s new Sins for All Seasons series and she weaves an emotional, captivating and sensual love story with a totally unexpected twist at the end.

There’d never been anything gentle in his life. Everything he’d experienced had been hard, harsh and challenging.

Raised in poverty in the Rookeries, Mick had clawed his way up to become wealthy, successful, self-assured and powerful. He is stubbornly obsessed with wreaking revenge on his father, the Duke of Hedley, for his refusal to acknowledge Mick as his illegitimate son; a father who tossed him away like a piece of garbage. Mick has no qualms about ruthlessly using his father’s legitimate son, the Earl of Kipwick, and his ward, Lady Aslyn Hastings, in his revengeful plans.

As first, Mick seems hard and ruthless but I soon saw a very different side to him. He cares deeply for his family and knows that he owes his ‘mother’, Ettie Trewlove, a debt he can never repay and does everything he can to make her life comfortable. They may not be related by blood, but he loves all his siblings and would die for each of his brothers without hesitation. He is protective towards his sisters but also willing to fulfil their wishes, whether it be shopping for a parasol for one sister or buying a tavern for the other. I admire his genuine altruistic desire to improve the lives of those in the poorest areas of London by providing homes, and shops that will provide jobs.

Aslyn has been the Duke of Hedley’s ward since her parents died in a railway accident when she was a girl. Beautiful and dignified, she has led a confined and sheltered life, always being the perfect lady, only too aware that her life has been planned out for her as Kip’s wife and a future duchess. But, deep down, she longs for independence and excitement.

Aslyn longed for more: the independence afforded those who weren’t expected to make a suitable match, the carefree moments enjoyed by those not shackled by duty, the excitement offered within the shadows of the night.

I love how Ms, Heath really takes the time to develop the relationship between Mick and Aslyn. The initial meetings engineered by Mick and their secret assignations allow them to talk and get to know each other in a way that feels real and natural. I could see how they compliment each other and felt that they are truly meant to be together.

I enjoyed seeing Mick’s plans begin to unravel as the seducer becomes the seduced…

His purpose was to draw her in while keeping himself at a distance. Instead, she’d managed to entice him into a maelstrom of emotions and sensations, needs and desires, that were foreign to him.

I love his protectiveness, his kindness and the fact that he actually talks to Aslyn and encourages her to be herself. He finds himself longing for her smiles, her laughter, the lilt of her voice and just enjoying being with her. One of the most poignant moments is when he says…

“Never in my life have I longed to be legitimate more so than I do at this very moment.”

Aslyn has never met a man like Mick. He instils in her a desire to break free of the pampered and stifling existence she has led and makes her aware of herself as a woman with needs that go beyond the strict rules of society.

What was it about the man that had such wicked thoughts bursting forth as though they were perfectly normal?

Her feelings for Mick also make her question her relationship with Kip and their suitability, because he has never made her feel alive as she does when she’s with Mick. I love how she never looks down on Mick or his family and regards him as extraordinary for having achieved such success, despite the stigma of his birth. I really respect Aslyn for her courage, determination, compassion and her willingness to stand up for injustice.

I knew that their idyll could not last because Aslyn would eventually learn of Mick’s scheme, and when she does I could feel her anger, her sense of betrayal and her heartbreak, knowing that he would seek to destroy those she loved. When the mystery surrounding Mick’s birth is finally revealed, the twist is one I never expected. I can’t say more other than it is truly heartbreaking and it changes everything that Mick believed to be true. But his actions reveal what an honourable and compassionate man he is, even though it means giving up the woman he loves. When all seems lost, it is Aslyn who finds a solution and ensures their Happy Ever After.

All his life he’d been searching for acceptance, and here it was in the form of a woman with a tilted-up nose and crooked smile.

I like how Ms. Heath highlighted the practice of baby farming in the late Victorian era, a practice that often meant death for the unfortunate illegitimate or unwanted babies handed over to such women.

We meet Mick’s intriguing siblings, each with their own stories to tell in future books, and I was delighted to see Dr. Graves (the hero of The Last Wicked Scoundrel, the final book in Ms, Heath’s Scoundrels of St. James series) in a cameo appearance. There is also a heart-warming Epilogue which left me with a smile on my face.

MY VERDICT: An excellent start to her new series and Ms. Heath delivers everything I look for in historical romance. Highly recommended.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Sins for All Seasons series so far (click on the book covers for more details):

Beyond Scandal and Desire (Sins for All Seasons, #1) by Lorraine Heath When a Duke Loves a Woman (Sins for All Seasons, #2) by Lorraine Heath The Scoundrel in Her Bed (Sins for All Seasons, #3) by Lorraine Heath – 26 February 2019

 

 

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