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Genre: Contemporary Romance (Male/Male)

Cover Blurb (Amazon):

Things haven’t been going well for Cam McMorrow since he moved to Inverbechie. His business is failing, his cottage is falling apart and following his very public argument with café owner Rob Armstrong, he’s become a social outcast.

Cam needs to get away from his troubles and when his sister buys him a ticket to the biggest Hogmanay party in Glasgow, he can’t leave Inverbechie quick enough. But when events conspire to strand him in the middle of nowhere in a snowstorm, not only is he liable to miss the party, he’ll also have to ask his nemesis, Rob, for help.

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I’ve only discovered Joanna Chambers in the last couple of years and find I can’t get enough of her writing now.  Once I start one of her books I need to leave myself enough time and a clear run as I find it difficult to put it down, and this has been the case with everything of hers I’ve read and she never disappoints. There’s something special in her way of writing – an innate kindness and compassion that calls out to me. It says a lot about her writing, that because I feel the need to read everything she’s written, I’ve now even begun to enjoy some contemporaries, mostly hers, as well as my usual favourites, historical fiction and historical romance. My first by Joanna Chambers was her utterly fabulous Enlightenment series, which I chose for its compelling synopsis. It had me captivated from page one of the first book and I’ve been a fan ever since.

Rest and Be Thankful would normally have slipped through my reading net as it’s not only a contemporary but also little more than a novella. I’m generally not fond of novellas because I feel the majority of authors can’t tell a plausible story in such a short word count. However, Rest and Be Thankful is 76 pages of pure delight, which I read in one sitting in a coffee shop. I absolutely adored this heart-warmingly romantic and eloquently written little book, which is packed full of love and understanding, and I’m sure I must have had a silly grin on my face as I read the last page.

Cam McMorrow, who having been made redundant from his accountancy firm at around the same time as his relationship failed, has decided to see the positive in the situation and has seized the opportunity to change his life. Discovering that he no longer wants to sit behind a desk and, having always enjoyed the outdoor life, he has used his redundancy money, together with a further loan, to set up an outdoor activity business, which is centred in and around the village in the wilds of Scotland where he has happy memories of the holidays spent there as a child. Looking back through rose tinted glasses, he remembers the carefree time when he’d had no responsibilities, and life with his happy, loving family in their little holiday cottage had seemed like endless fun. Fast forward to adulthood, and now aged thirty, Cam is stony broke; bookings for the spring and summer are good but he hadn’t counted on his business being so seasonal. Consequently, he has no money coming in during the winter months. So, with a loan to repay, food to be bought, and the ancient heating boiler in his parents’ dilapidated holiday cottage having irretrievably broken down, he’s at an all-time low, both mentally and financially.

Cam’s sister, Eilidh, pays him a visit to invite him to a Hogmanay bash in Glasgow and insists they eat lunch together in the cafe owned by local artist, Rob Armstrong. Cam reluctantly agrees to lunch there, and we learn the reason for his reticence as his bright spark of a sister winkles out the truth. When Cam had first arrived in the village a year previously, the two men had begun a tentative friendship, enjoying a pint together in the local pub, but more importantly, there was the stirring of an attraction between them. Both had suffered in their previous relationships for different reasons. And then Cam unwittingly steps on Rob’s toes in the course of his business dealings and ends up having a very angry and public confrontation with Rob. Obviously, after this, the attraction has no chance of developing further and, worse still, Cam imagines that the villagers are taking sides and so withdraws into himself.  I felt Cam’s loneliness very keenly; it was impossible not to, such is the author’s clever and compassionate way with words.

Cam’s natural reticence doesn’t help, manifesting itself in apparent arrogance though in reality he’s far from it.  Both Cam and Rob have since had time to cool down and realise that they both overreacted. Eilidh very astutely sees that there is still something simmering under the surface between the two men. Cam sets out on his much anticipated journey to Glasgow for Hogmanay which doesn’t go to plan and that’s all I’m saying, except that we discover there’s a lot more to both men than meets the eye…

I love Joanna Chambers’ ability to have her characters jump right off the page. They’re real and multi-dimensional, coping with the everyday problems and difficulties we all have to deal with. Her observational skills are phenomenal and she has no problem in transferring them to the written page. It’s so subtle that it seems almost effortless but it’s a rare gift.

This story is eloquently written and wonderfully descriptive, with expertly developed and lovable characters, both central and secondary ones. I was completely invested in the lives of Cam and Rob, their struggles and sadnesses, and the growing attraction between these two gorgeous men who had a way to go to overcome their differences and find each other.

What’s more, Joanna Chambers’ ability to describe a scene, such that I feel as if I am right in the middle of it, is another quality of her writing I am in awe of. Here, she’s talking about a gathering snowstorm:

Already a clutch of sooty storm clouds was scudding across the horizon, bullying the last of the weak, winter daylight away and ushering in a violet-grey dusk. In that strange half-light, the colours of the landscape were oddly intense—the darkly vivid green of the sweeping hillsides, the rusty amber of the dying bracken, the silvery grey of the road itself, meandering through the glen

Can’t you just imagine it? Feel it?

MY VERDICT: This little gem of a book gets 5 stars from me and Joanna Chambers has become an auto-buy author – I’ll read anything she puts her name to. Highly recommended.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Kiss for Midwinter

(Brothers Sinister #1.5)

 Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian)

Cover Blurb (Amazon):

 Miss Lydia Charingford is always cheerful, and never more so than at Christmas time. But no matter how hard she smiles, she can’t forget the youthful mistake that could have ruined her reputation. Even though the worst of her indiscretion was kept secret, one other person knows the truth of those dark days: the sarcastic Doctor Jonas Grantham. She wants nothing to do with him…or the butterflies that take flight in her stomach every time he looks her way.

Jonas Grantham has a secret, too: He’s been in love with Lydia for more than a year. This winter, he’s determined to conquer her dislike and win her for his own. And he has a plan to do it.

If only his plans didn’t so often go awry…

A Kiss for Midwinter is a historical romance Christmas novella in the Brothers Sinister series.

 

First published December 2012

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This was a sweet, clever little novella. So much packed into this heart wrenching, sensitively executed short story.

At the tender age of fifteen, Lydia Charingford is diagnosed as being pregnant by a narrow minded, unsympathetic doctor, who advises her parents to have her put away because she is ruined. In the company of this physician is a young man named Jonas Grantham, about to embark on his medical training and accompanying the elderly doctor to gain experience. Warned to keep his opinions to himself, Jonas feels unable to intervene in the treatment proposed, although he does not agree with the medication prescribed – a decision he forever regrets.

Six years later Jonas returns, now a fully qualified Doctor with some ground-breaking ideas. Young, enthusiastic, tactless, sarcastic and incapable of being anything other than direct and truthful, he is on the lookout for a wife. He draws up a list of eligible young women of which Lydia, whom he does not recognise, is No.11 on said ‘wife list’. Lydia is immediately aware that this tall, good looking young man was present at the moment of her disgrace, and this knowledge puts her on the defensive. She decides she does not like him and, even after Jonas is made aware (by Lydia herself) that it was she six years earlier, Lydia is convinced he thinks her easy and could not possibly be attracted to her.

This is the catalyst for Jonas to decide that no other woman will do and he embarks on a sixteen month pursuit of Lydia, during which, due to the directness of his speech and his inability to lie, she misunderstands every remark he makes to her. To his credit, Jonas will not be turned from his goal and doggedly carries on trying to win Lydia’s heart. As a physician, he recognises that she has not recovered and is really very badly affected by her ordeal six years ago. He patiently tries to help her but his methods and manner of speech do not however endear him to her.

In an era where disgrace of this kind would have, under normal circumstances, completely ruined a young woman, Courtney Milan has tackled a taboo subject in a brave and sensitive manner.  Lydia may have escaped wider censorship with the aid of her friend Minnie and her own caring and loving parents, but she is deeply troubled and hides it with a cheerful and happy disposition. Her own worst critic, she is resigned never to allow herself to find love and is afraid of the natural urges of her own body.

There are also warm and evocative scenes with Jonas and his own father, a self-made man who is desperately ill….real tear jerkers….hankies at the ready!

MY VERDICT: 5 well deserved stars for this wonderful little gem.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

 

Brothers Sinister series (click on cover for more details):

The Governess Affair (Brothers Sinister, #0.5) by Courtney Milan The Duchess War (Brothers Sinister, #1) by Courtney Milan A Kiss For Midwinter (Brothers Sinister, #1.5) by Courtney Milan The Heiress Effect (Brothers Sinister, #2) by Courtney Milan The Countess Conspiracy (Brothers Sinister, #3) by Courtney Milan The Suffragette Scandal (Brothers Sinister, #4) by Courtney Milan Talk Sweetly to Me (Brothers Sinister, #4.5) by Courtney Milan

 

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The Black Madonna audiobook.jpg

(Roundheads and Cavaliers, #1)

 Genre: Romantic Historical Fiction (17th Century – Genoa 1636 & 1646, English Civil Wars 1639-1645)

 Cover Blurb (Amazon):

As England slides into Civil War, master-goldsmith and money-lender, Luciano Falcieri del Santi embarks on his own hidden agenda.

A chance meeting one dark night results in an unlikely friendship with Member of Parliament, Richard Maxwell. Richard’s daughter, Kate – a spirited girl who vows to hold their home against both Cavalier and Roundhead – soon finds herself fighting an involuntary attraction to the clever, magnetic and diabolically beautiful Italian.

Hampered by the warring English and the quest itself growing daily more dangerous, Luciano begins to realise that his own life and that of everyone close to him rests on the knife-edge of success … for only success will permit him to reclaim the Black Madonna and offer his heart to the girl he loves.

From the machinations within Parliament to the last days of the King’s cause, The Black Madonna is an epic saga of passion and intrigue at a time when England was lost in a dark and bloody conflict.

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The Black Madonna is a sweeping, epic tale of love, betrayal, loyalty, intrigue, and a family’s determination to support each other throughout the bloody ravages of a civil war, into which their country has been plunged.

I loved every minute of this truly sumptuous and scintillating saga of triumph over adversity – firstly in the written word, and now in more than twenty-two glorious hours of audio, performed by the highly talented actor, Alex Wyndham.

As usual with this author, her characters are quite unique. Luciano Falcieri del Santi is an Italian master-goldsmith and usurer (money lender); he has imperfectly matched shoulders and a burning ambition to find out, not only the truth, but also to punish the men who, when he was only a boy of twelve, had perjured themselves in order to have his innocent father executed for treason in England.

He has worked hard to succeed at his craft and also has a natural flair for finance, which has enabled him to persuade his uncle to loan him a large amount of money. Luciano offers The Black Madonna as surety – a simple but serenely beautiful figurine, much treasured by Luciano’s family. It is all he has to bargain with, but such is the reverence with which the figurine is held that his uncle agrees.

Luciano’s occupation as a much despised money lender, his slight, but nevertheless fairly obvious, physical deformity, and his single minded and determined quest for revenge and justice would not immediately conjure up a romantic figure. But, somehow, in her usual inimitable way, Stella Riley has created just that – an enigmatic, brilliant and quite dazzlingly beautiful young man whom Kate Maxwell, much to her own initial disgust, is secretly in thrall to from their first meeting. She is fascinated to realise that he is the epitome of a painting of Lucifer, the fallen Angel, on the ceiling of her family’s chapel. Luciano dominates the story from the first page and eventually earns the friendship and trust of Richard Maxwell, an honourable and well-respected member of Charles the first’s doomed parliament, and the father of Kate and Eden, the two eldest Maxwell siblings, who figure predominately in this story.

It’s unnecessary to go into the politics and tragedies of the English Civil Wars in great depth in the review, because this talented historian and writer has done the hard work for us to enjoy. In fact, I am in awe of the daunting task she set herself when she began researching and writing this series more than twenty five years ago… without the benefit of the internet. Suffice to say that not only The Black Madonna but every book in this series, plus its companion A Splendid Defiance and The Marigold Chain, set in the Restoration period, are all masterpieces in their own right. Many of Stella Riley’s fictitious characters throughout the series make repeat appearances – some with stories of their own – such as Gabriel Brandon, Venetia Clifford, Eden Maxwell, Francis Langley and Justin Ambrose. So well-drawn and developed are these characters that they are almost indistinguishable from the nonfictional, historical military and political characters with whom they interact. Under the author’s clever hand, these nonfictional personalities are no longer just figures on canvases in art galleries or names in dusty archived records. Seen through the eyes of the author, they are living, breathing men who had difficult decisions to make and worries to contend with.

One thing Ms. Riley does particularly well is to show both sides of the argument in a fair and unbiased way. There was one particular conversation between two friends that jumped out at me. It clearly and succinctly explained how and why families and friends found themselves on opposing sides, and highlighted the sheer futility and difficulties faced by such families and friends in this situation. Eden Maxwell and Francis Langley have been friends since boyhood and discuss their differing beliefs on Parliament versus King. Neither allows their opinions to affect their long standing friendship but simply agree to differ. Obviously, once the first war begins in earnest, they do not actively pursue their friendship, although throughout the series, they occasionally meet up and continue to be friends. The two are also inextricably linked by Eden’s marriage to Francis’s sister, Celia, which in itself has its own problems, because she, like her brother, is a royalist. The tension in the Maxwell household, as the war gathers momentum, is tangible and has long reaching consequences for all of them.

The waters are further muddied by the differing religions of political leaders, officers and soldiers fighting on both sides. Complicated and difficult it may be to understand, but the author again explains the different reasons and factions in a way that can be understood by the layman. All in all, a mix of differing religious beliefs and fears only added to the almost impossible task of uniting a country and increased the problems of an already hopeless war which tore families and communities asunder.

Luciano relentlessly pursues his quarry, finding and dealing with each culprit in turn, until only one is left. At the same time, he is fighting a losing battle against his obvious love for Kate (aka Caterina) Maxwell, until eventually he can no longer deny his feelings, even though he fears his love may place her in danger.  The story hurtles towards its emotional and heart-rending culmination, an ending the author has plucked, in part, from the historic archives – the final falling of the long besieged Cavalier stronghold, Basing House – merciless, bloody and horrific- she cleverly intertwines it with the last piece of Luciano’s puzzle. In fact, the final 25% of the book, as all the threads come together, is truly nail-biting stuff. Stella Riley ratchets up the tension and emotion, drawing graphic pictures of the horrors of war to the point where one can almost smell the gunpowder and witness the horror and terror of the participants. At its centre is Luciano, his formidable Turkish man servant, Selim, his beloved Caterina, and the last man who must face Luciano’s reckoning.  Here I must add that, as much as I loved reading it, the narration by master-of-his-craft, Alex Wyndham, adds another dimension to an already fabulous book which, were it a play, would certainly earn a standing ovation.

Surely The Black Madonna must be an actor’s dream to perform – for perform it Mr. Wyndham does, with quite outstanding success. I can only imagine the challenges he faced with such a huge cast of characters of both sexes. Knowing this story well, having read it at least three times, I had pre-conceived ideas on how I thought the characters would sound, and I wasn’t disappointed. Luciano’s voice is ‘like warm silk’, to quote the author, and it’s at its silkiest best when he talks to his Caterina. Luciano has a multifaceted nature, one side of which – his inherent aloneness – I felt very keenly and Mr. Wyndham portrays this facet of his character with sensitivity. Okay, Luciano deliberately cultivates it in order to stay safe, and of course as a money lender was reviled by the very people who were in debt to him, and he had learnt to trust very few people. Nevertheless, at times, I felt sad for him. He shrouds himself in an aloofness and, on occasions, adopts a quiet, deadly insolence, which is reserved for those people he holds in contempt. Alex Wyndham captures the many facets of Luciano’s character to perfection; the subtle nuances of his moods – silky smooth, deadly dangerous and insolence.

There are far too many individuals to mention separately, but a few characters really stand out for me in Alex Wyndham’s portrayal of them.

  • Richard Maxwell – a quiet likeable man with oodles of integrity
  • Eden Maxwell – a no-nonsense career soldier who begins by being quietly happy with his lot but, as a result of betrayal, becomes embittered and morose, which shows in his voice
  • Celia Maxwell, Eden’s wife – a querulous and waspish woman who is easy to dislike
  • Francis Langley – the languid, long-haired, elegantly attired, devil-may-care, Cavalier officer, who would rather read poetry than go to war
  • Gianetta, Luciano’s little sister – highly strung, excitable and volatile
  • Finally the Irish Catholic patriot, Liam Aherne – quiet and stern but with a delightful, lilting Irish accent

These are only a handful of the diverse cast Alex Wyndham juggles with.

Each time I hear this performer, I wonder anew how on earth he’ll do it, but I’m never disappointed with his performance. A consummate and professional actor with a voice like ‘warm silk’, to quote the author again in her description of Luciano, but which also fits Alex Wyndham to a tee.

The Black Madonna is another triumph for Stella Riley and her narrator, Alex Wyndham. A magnificent blend of historical fiction and historical romance, with the emphasis on the thoroughly and accurately researched history. The plotting is first rate – intriguing and plausible, and the romance is slow developing – deep and abiding.

MY VERDICT: A heart-warming and romantic saga of family, love and war. Simply not to be missed!  We can only hold our breath and hope that Ms. Riley is able to have the rest of the series recorded. 

 

REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

NARRATION RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Roundheads and Cavaliers series (click on the book covers for more details):

 The Black Madonna (Roundheads and Cavaliers, #1) by Stella Riley Garland of Straw (Roundheads and Cavaliers, #2) by Stella Riley The King's Falcon (Roundheads and Cavaliers, #3) by Stella Riley Lords of Misrule (Roundheads and Cavaliers, #4) by Stella Riley

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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Not Quite a Husband

(The Marsdens, #2)

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian – North-West Frontier of India and England 1897)

Cover Blurb:

Their marriage lasted only slightly longer than the honeymoon—to no one’s surprise, not even Bryony Asquith’s. A man as talented, handsome, and sought after by society as Leo Marsden couldn’t possibly want to spend his entire life with a woman who rebelled against propriety by becoming a doctor. Why, then, three years after their annulment and half a world away, does he track her down at her clinic in the remotest corner of India?

Leo has no reason to think Bryony could ever forgive him for the way he treated her, but he won’t rest until he’s delivered an urgent message from her sister—and fulfilled his duty by escorting her safely back to England. But as they risk their lives for each other on the journey home, will the biggest danger be the treacherous war around them—or their rekindling passion?

(First published in May 2009)

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This was my second Sherry Thomas book and I became a firm fan of this author who has a very real and deep understanding of the complexity of the human psyche.

On the face of it, Leo Marsden and Bryony Asquith are a most unlikely pair; he an Adonis, beautiful, popular, outgoing, and a favourite with his family and peers alike; she cold, aloof, serious, a confirmed spinster by choice, and wedded to her work until she meets Leo. The two have been acquainted from childhood, although Bryony is four years his senior and barely noticed the child on the adjoining estate. He, on the other hand, has always been aware of Bryony, secretly watching and admiring the silent, withdrawn girl from afar; infatuated even before he knows the meaning of the word.

It is not until Bryony comes across Leo socially in London that she becomes aware of the incredible young man he has become. She is now twenty-eight years old, unmarried and still an innocent, although in every other way she is anything but, being a surgeon and physician of some repute and a well-respected woman in a man’s profession and world. At twenty-four, Leo has some remarkable achievements under his belt – a brilliant mathematician, an expedition to Greenland, and even a published and performed play. He is popular, well-loved and the darling of everyone who knows him. Bryony finds herself completely smitten and follows him around London while he gives intellectual lectures on subjects about which she knows little – happy to just gaze at him and listen to his voice.

Eventually, he becomes aware of her once more and his own infatuation is rekindled. This time, with the passing of years, they are on a more equal footing. So smitten is Bryony that it is she who does the chasing and eventually, in her forthright way, proposes marriage. A lady of black and white with no grey areas, not capable of any sort of subterfuge herself, she does not allow for any sort of human flaws in the object of her complete devotion; therein lies her downfall – put someone on a pedestal and they are likely to topple.

From the moment of their marriage, even during the ceremony, they are on a downward track. Leo is at a loss; he tries his hardest to make her happy and cannot understand why she eventually denies him her bed, having only just tolerated his advances. The locking of her door against him is the final blow in their brief, tumultuous marriage and Bryony makes the decision to ask Leo for an annulment and he agrees.

Bryony flees the country, eventually ending up in the far reaches of India. After three years, Leo appears after a long trek, to summon her back to London as her father is ill and Bryony’s sister, Calista, has persuaded Leo to find and bring her home. It is during the journey back to England, with a series of enlightening flashbacks, that the story begins to emerge. It is obvious that Leo and Bryony have never stopped loving each other, but the ‘problem’ which becomes apparent and is the reason for Bryony’s sudden change and appalling treatment of Leo, appears insurmountable, I really did not see it coming.

After fleeing a marauding mob, they eventually reach the relative safety of a British fort and land bang in the middle of large-scale tribal unrest against the British, initiated by the Pathan tribesmen along the North-West Frontier of India. Here Bryony’s skills as a surgeon and Leo’s talent with a firearm are much needed. In the terrible days that follow they become closer and begin to put their differences behind them, although the trust on both sides is a different matter.

At the start, it is hard to like Bryony as she is so cold, withdrawn and unforgiving, but, as her own story emerges, my sympathy for her grew. While I didn’t agree with her attitude and actions towards the thoroughly delectable Leo, I did understand. But if she had not behaved the way she did, we wouldn’t have the story, and the story is beautiful, angsty, compelling and utterly romantic.

Sherry Thomas writes in a unique and unusual way. I love her flashback method of telling the story from each point of view, drip feeding the reader and slowly, layer by layer, revealing the reasons and emotions behind Bryony and Leo’s actions. Watching Bryony and Leo rekindling the love that neither had ever lost for the other and, more importantly, regaining the trust necessary for their healing process to begin was so emotionally rewarding.

MY VERDICT: It is a lovely moment when one discovers a writer so in tune with one’s own taste and Ms. Thomas is a talented writer with a unique style that really appeals to me. With a writer of such calibre, I can overlook a few modern slips.

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: HOT

 

The Marsdens series (click on the book cover for more details):

Delicious (The Marsdens, #1) by Sherry Thomas Not Quite a Husband (The Marsdens, #2) by Sherry Thomas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Yours Until Dawn

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1806)

Cover Blurb: 

Gabriel Fairchild’s valor during battle earns him the reputation of hero, but costs him both his sight and his hope for the future. Abandoned by the fiancée he adored, the man who once walked like a prince among London’s elite secludes himself in his family’s mansion, cursing his way through dark days and darker nights.

Prim nurse Samantha Wickersham arrives at Fairchild Park to find her new charge behaving more like a beast than a man. Determined to do her duty, she engages the arrogant earl in a battle of both wit and wills. Although he claims she doesn’t possess an ounce of womanly softness, she can feel his heart racing at her slightest touch. As Samantha begins to let the light back into Gabriel’s life and his heart, they both discover that some secrets — and some pleasures — are best explored in the dark …

First published in July 2004

♥♥♥♥♥♥

This review was originally posted back in September 2012 shortly after Rakes and Rascals first went live and it’s possible that many of you who have followed the blog since may not have seen the review or read this book.

REVIEW

I first read YOURS UNTIL DAWN several years ago and it has remained one of my all time favourite historical romances. Warm, funny, heartrending, tender and sensual, re-reading it is one of my guilty pleasures.

Gabriel definitely fulfills my penchant for tormented, brooding heroes. He is a man without hope living in a dark and lonely world where the trappings of civilized behaviour no longer matter. He hides his vulnerability behind a show of arrogance and biting retorts such as his reply when Samantha tells him she’s there to help him adjust to his new circumstances:

“What if I don’t want to adjust? What if I just want to be left the bloody hell alone so I can rot in peace.”

Ms Medeiros provides a real insight into the problems of being blind, things which I had never appreciated before. When Gabriel suddenly wakes up, he has no way of knowing whether it is day or night and when Samantha takes him to task for not using a knife and fork, he explains that they are difficult to manage because if he can’t feel the food, he can’t find it. All things a sighted person takes for granted.

The battle of wills between Samantha and Gabriel provides for some sharp and really funny dialogue. Here are a couple of my favorites:

“Good morning, my lord,” Samantha said smoothly, sliding into a chair well out of his reach. “You’ll have to forgive Mr. Beckwith. He obviously had some pressing duties.”
Scowling, Gabriel settled back in his chair, “Let’s hope they include forging some letters of reference and packing his bags. Then the two of you can return to London together.”

“So tell me Miss Wickersham, as my new nurse, which duty would you like to assume first? Would you like to feed me?”
Eyeing the wolfish white flash of teeth as they tore another hunk of meat off the chop, Samantha said, “Given your…um…unbridled enthusiasm for your victuals, I’d be a little worried about getting my fingers that close to your mouth.”

I love Samantha because she is just what Gabriel needs to jolt him out of his apathy. At first, Beckwith, Mrs Philpot and the other servants refuse to disobey their master’s orders but Samantha has no such qualms. She re-arranges the furniture to make it easier for Gabriel to navigate through the house and throws open the windows. She only falters once when Gabriel comes up with another scheme to rid himself of her by constantly ringing a bell day and night and having her do all sorts of mundane things such as fluffing his pillow. I love Gabriel’s reaction when she finally says she’s had enough of his ridiculous demands and is resigning:

“Miss Wickersham, get back here this instant! That’s an order!”
” I quit,” she tossed back over her shoulder, savage glee coursing through her veins. “I’m not obliged to take your orders anymore!” Ignoring his spluttering, Samantha marched out the door slamming it behind her with grim satisfaction.

I like the way Ms Medeiros slowly develops the relationship between Samantha and Gabriel which makes it more realistic. My favourite scene is the one in the ballroom because it is both romantic and sensual. I could really feel the passion between them:

Suddenly she was the beggar at the feast – a feast of the senses her body had been denied for so long. She wanted to gorge herself on him, sate her every craving with the fulsome delight of his kiss.

Ms Medeiros paints such memorable and vivid pictures but it is the little details which seem to linger in my mind: Beckwith and Mrs Philpot trying to push Samantha out of the French windows before the approaching Gabriel enters the room; Gabriel’s indelicate table manners; Samantha running a fingertip along the scar on Gabriel’s face; Gabriel lounging in bed wearing only a rumpled cravat; the game of blind man’s bluff; the ultimate in romantic epilogues.

The secondary characters all add depth to the story and I have to mention Sam, the little terrier, who captured my heart with his antics. This book has a really surprise twist which I certainly didn’t see coming when I first read it. On subsequent readings, I found clues were there but I had simply been too engrossed in the story to interpret them correctly.

MY VERDICT: A wonderful love story with unforgettable characters, YOURS UNTIL DAWN is pure magic; a treat that no lover of historical romance should miss!

 

REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

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