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Salt Hendon Collection

(Salt Hendon, #1)

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

Cover Blurb

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS


SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

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Satyr's Son Audio

(Roxton Family Saga, #5)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian, 1786)

Cover Blurb:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

NARRATION REVIEW RATING: STELLAR 5 STARS

 SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

 

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

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

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The Lost Letter

Genre: Historical Romance (Victorian)

Cover Blurb:

England, 1860. An impoverished Victorian beauty is unexpectedly reunited with the now beastly earl who once broke her heart. Will they finally find their happily-ever-after? Or are some fairy-tale endings simply not meant to be?

A PROUD BEAUTY 
Society beauty Sylvia Stafford is far too pragmatic to pine. When the tragic death of her gamester father leaves her destitute and alone, she finds work as a governess in a merchant’s household in Cheapside. Isolated from the fashionable acquaintance of her youth, she resigns herself to lonely spinsterhood until a mysterious visitor convinces her to temporarily return to her former life–and her former love.

A SCARRED BEAST
Colonel Sebastian Conrad is no longer the dashing cavalry officer Sylvia once fell in love with. Badly scarred during the Sepoy Rebellion, he has withdrawn to his estate in rural Hertfordshire where he lives in near complete seclusion. Brooding and tormented, he cares nothing for the earldom he has inherited–and even less for the faithless beauty who rejected him three years before.

A SECOND CHANCE
A week together in the remote Victorian countryside is the last thing either of them ever wanted. But when fate intervenes to reunite them, will a beastly earl and an impoverished beauty finally find their happily-ever-after? Or are some fairy-tale endings simply not meant to be?

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I loved this tender, emotional and romantic debut novel from Mimi Matthews which features a second chance story, one of my favorite themes. 

Colonel Sebastian Conrad followed the career expected of all the second sons of the Earls of Radcliffe and became a soldier. Orderly, disciplined and rather serious, life as a career cavalry officer suited Sebastian perfectly. While on leave in London, he accepts an invitation to a musical evening where he is captivated by the lovely Sylvia Stafford.

With her genuine warmth and kindness, baronet’s daughter, Sylvia Stafford, is very popular and has attracted many suitors. However, it is the rather serious and aloof Colonel Conrad to whom she is attracted.

Over the next two months, they meet ‘by accident’ at various events and it is obvious that they have fallen in love. Sylvia anticipates that Sebastian will propose, especially when he asks for a lock of her hair and they kiss, but Sebastian does not propose, fearing rejection. The following night, he is ordered back to his regiment in India to assist in putting down a rebellion. When Sylvia’s numerous letters to Sebastian go unanswered and Sebastian’s letters to Sylvia are returned unopened, both feel hurt and betrayed by the other.

Three years have passed, and both have experienced dramatic changes in their lives. After Sylvia’s father, an inveterate gambler, lost everything on a hand of cards, he committed suicide and, because of the ensuing scandal, Sylvia’s remaining family and her society friends deserted her. Forced to fend for herself, she obtains a position as governess to a merchant family’s children. It has taken a long time to recover from the pain and hurt of Sebastian’s rejection but now she is happy and contented with her new life.

Terribly scarred and blind in one eye, Sebastian has returned to England to find that both his father and elder brother have died of fever and he is now the Earl of Radcliffe. In continual pain, he lives a lonely and isolated existence in his apartments at Pershing Hall with no interest in running the estate and totally disconnected from his former life. I can understand Sebastian’s reasons for wanting to hide himself away; even his own sister, Julia, screamed when she first saw his face and he fears his tenants’ reactions should they see him.

It was too easy to imagine their horrified reaction to the sight of his scarred face. Granted, he had known most of his father’s tenants since his youth, but mere familiarity was no guarantee that they would not respond to him with pity and disgust.

Julia, however, is determined to draw her brother out of his state of apathy and, when she sees the lock of hair he always keeps with him, she will leave no stone unturned to find its owner.  Having discovered her identity, Julia visits Sylvia and is not above telling a few white lies to persuade a very reluctant Sylvia to return to Pershing Hall as her guest for a few weeks.  It is Julia’s fervent hope that spending time together will rekindle the love that Sebastian and Sylvia once shared. Even though she fears the reception she might get, I admire Sylvia for her courage and compassion in agreeing to accompany Julia.

No matter how cruelly Sebastian had treated her in the past, he did not deserve to be suffering in such a dreadful manner. No one did. If her presence could alleviate even a fraction of his pain, she must go to him.

I like how Ms. Matthews creates a palpable tension between Sebastian and Sylvia in the library scene. Driven by his feelings of hurt, bitterness and anger for having been shunned in such a heartless way, Sebastian is cold and distant towards Sylvia. Knowing of her reduced circumstances, he believes the worst…that her motives are purely mercenary now that he is an earl. While Sylvia is sure that her father’s scandalous death and her bold first letter to Sebastian offended him, and they were the reasons for him not answering her letters.

It is obvious that they are still very much in love, but the past remains an ever-present obstacle until the truth concerning the letters finally comes to light. Someone had deliberately set out to mislead them into believing they had forgotten each other and I felt so much sympathy for Sylvia, knowing that this person had deceived her for their own selfish motives with no thought for her happiness. This is a turning point for them because they are now able to talk openly. I like how Sebastian apologizes for his previous cruel and uncivil behaviour and Sylvia is determined that Sebastian will no longer hide himself away in darkened libraries and shadowy portrait galleries. He is fearful that, seeing him in the light of day, will drive Sylvia away and I love the poignant scene that follows.

…then she set her fingertips very gently on the scar at the side of his eye. Her touch was warm and soft and heart-breakingly tender. He tried to concentrate on his breathing. An impossible task as she began to trace the path of his scar down his cheek.

The romance is beautifully written – sweet, tender and romantic, with only one passionate kissing scene, which fits the mood of the story perfectly.

As in all good romances, the course of true love doesn’t run completely smoothly when Sylvia misconstrues something Sebastian says. It takes the discovery of the ‘Lost Letter’ to put them back on track for a Happy Ever After. It is such a touching moment when Sebastian reads the letter, sealed with a thousand sweet kisses only for him and I love the scene when he finally responds to her letter in person. So romantic!

I like how the secondary characters play an important role in the story, especially Julia and Sebastian’s valet, Milsom. Julia maybe annoying at times and her methods rather questionable, but her heart is in the right place and it’s obvious that she loves her brother very much. I like the genuine affection between Sebastian’s and Milsom. Julia and Milsom’s various ploys to bring Sebastian and Sylvia together are amusing and provide some lighter moments in the story.

I like Ms. Matthews’ elegant writing style and the story has an authentic Victorian feel to it.

MY VERDICT: A beautifully written, emotionally satisfying, character driven love story. Highly recommended.


REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS
SENSUALITY RATING: SUBTLE

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Scandal at the Midsummer Ball

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency)

Cover Blurb:

One Christmas house party leads to two Regency love affairs! 

A Governess for Christmas by Marguerite Kaye 

At the glittering Brockmore house party, former army major Drummond MacIntosh meets governess in disgrace Joanna Forsythe, who’s desperate to clear her name. Both are eager to put their pasts behind them, but their scandalous affair will make for a very different future…

Dancing with the Duke’s Heir by Bronwyn Scott 

As heir to a dukedom, Vale Penrith does not want a wife, and certainly not one like Lady Viola Hawthorne. So why does London’s Shocking Beauty tempt him beyond reason? Dare seduction the best way to bring her to surrender?

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Last year, I read and very much enjoyed Scandal at the Midsummer Ball, the previous collaboration between Marguerite Kaye and Bronwyn Scott. Once again, the country estate of the Duke and Duchess of Brockmore, forms the backdrop for both stories. The couple is holding their prestigious Christmas house party culminating in the Christmas Ball on Twelfth Night. Unlike their Midsummer House Party, this is not a matchmaking event, but it seems that cupid’s arrow can strike the most improbable couples at any time.


REVIEW OF A GOVERNESS FOR CHRISTMAS BY MARGUERITE KAYE

Three and a half years ago, army major, Drummond MacIntosh, was cashiered from the army for refusing to follow a direct order. Shunned by society, he has been forced to lead a purposeless existence until the Duke of Wellington approaches Drummond to say that he wants him to serve as his aide. This would give Drummond the opportunity to forge a new life, but first he must attend the Brockmore Christmas festivities and impress his hosts enough to earn their patronage. It is well-known that the Duke and Duchess have great influence over society… where the Duke and Duchess of Brockmore lead, all of society follows. Their support would be instrumental in repairing his damaged reputation and smoothing his way back into society.

Joanna Forsythe was employed as governess to the eldest daughter of Lady Christina Robertson until wrongly accused of theft and dismissed on the spot.  Lady Robertson did not inform the authorities in view of Joanna’s previously unsullied reputation. However, with her reputation now in tatters, no respectable school will employ her, and she is forced to take a post which provides only bed and board and where she is treated as little more than a drudge when she isn’t teaching. Knowing that the Duchess of Brockmore is a close friend of Lady Christina’s, when Joanna receives an invitation to the house party, she believes that the real thief will confess, thereby establishing Joanna’s innocence and restoring her reputation. Instead, Lady Christina tries to buy her off with financial recompense for the loss of her reputation and the offer of a new position.

Often it is difficult for an author to create characters with any real depth and a believable romance within the constraints of a novella, but I feel that Ms. Kaye does this admirably.

When Drummond and Joanna first meet, they talk and share confidences, discovering   that they are each looking for a fresh start, and I felt a genuine affinity between them which made the budding romance believable. Drummond is a man of principle and I admire him for choosing to follow his conscience, knowing full the consequences of his actions. I love Joanna’s selflessness in her determination that Drummond should not jeopardise his opportunities for her sake.

They share some passionate interludes but there seems no future for them because neither can afford to have any further scandal attached to their name. Ms. Kaye conveys their longing for something they cannot have so well, and I really wanted them to find a way to be together. It takes some soul-searching before a Happy Ever After is within their grasp, although they are fully aware that their life won’t be all plain sailing, but I felt as Drummond does…

“I can’t help but feeling absolutely sure that together we can do anything we want.”


REVIEW RATING: 4/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

REVIEW OF DANCING WITH THE DUKE’S HEIR BY BROWEN SCOTT

Following the death of his father and older brother four years ago, Vale Penrith, the Duke of Brockmore’s nephew, had become the duke’s sole heir. It is a position he didn’t want and one he feels ill-fitted for.

He was a politician by conscience when the occasion demanded it, an anthropologist by choice. He was not a duke.

He has shut himself off from the world since losing his father and brother, preferring to spend his days in his library – reading, researching or writing. However, Vale has no choice but to accompany his mother to his uncle and aunt’s annual Christmas house party and knowing his uncle’s notorious reputation for matchmaking at such events, he is sure that the duke has already selected a suitable lady for him. Vale certainly has no immediate plans to marry but, when he does, it will be to a lady of his own choice.

Independently minded Lady Viola Hawthorne has no desire to marry, a state she considers nothing more than enslavement to the whims of a man. She dreams of travelling the Continent and studying music in Vienna, where she believes a woman can enjoy greater freedoms. To achieve her dreams, she has indulged in the most scandalous behaviour, earning her the title ‘London’s Shocking Beauty’, thereby discouraging ny would-be suitors. However, Viola’s parents refuse to give up hope of their daughter finding a husband, and their hopes are raised when an invitation to attend the Duke and Duchess of Brockmore’s Christmas house party arrives. Having already had three seasons with no husband in sight, Viola knows that, if she can sustain her outrageous behaviour for one more season, she will be officially ‘on the shelf’ and able to pursue her dreams.

This was the last year she had to maintain her reputation. After this Season, she’d be a candidate for the shelf—out three Seasons and no husband in sight. She could get on with her dreams.

I like Vale and could sympathise with his feelings of loss, sorrow and guilt following the tragic death of his father and brother. He had been thrown into a role that he neither expected nor wanted and felt inadequate to fulfil, and he has dealt with it by closing himself off from everyone. There is a particularly poignant scene where his uncle hugs him which conveys Vale’s emotional vulnerability.

“My boy, it is good to see you,” he said simply before wrapping him in his arms. For just a minute, he wasn’t the heir, but simply a beloved nephew and this man was not the mighty Brockmore, a powerful duke, but his uncle, his father’s older brother, a living link to the man he’d lost. And Vale savoured it.

Generally, I love unconventional, outspoken heroines, but I just didn’t like Viola.  While I understood her desire to be independent and pursue her dreams, her outrageous behaviour – the casual sex, drinking, smoking and playing billiards alone in the company of several men – seemed totally unrealistic. She behaved more like a member of the demimonde than a duke’s daughter!

I know opposites attract but the idea of Vale falling for someone like Viola stretched credulity a little too far for me. It is only towards the end of the story that Viola shows some redeeming qualities, but this felt too contrived and didn’t really convince me that these two were meant for each other.

REVIEW RATING: 3/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM


General Thoughts

Once again, there is a lovely Epilogue, courtesy of the Marcus and Alicia, the Duke and Duchess of Brockmore and I hope, at some point, they will have their own story. I would love to know how they met and fell in love, especially as Marcus tells Vale he had proposed to Alicia twice and she had refused him each time. I also like how Marcus really cares for his nephew and only wants to help him rediscover a zest for living again.

MY VERDICT: Marguerite Kaye always delivers a well-written and emotionally satisfying love story. Although I found Bronwyn Scott’s story disappointing, I very much enjoyed the one in SCANDAL AT THE MIDSUMMER and will certainly be reading more of her books.

 

**I received a complimentary copy of this book from the authors in return for an honest review

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Raven's Heart

(Secrets and Spies, #2)

Genre: Historical Romance (Georgian)

Cover Blurb:

August 1815. The war with France is officially over, Napoleon’s an exile on St Helena, but Europe is still a very dangerous place to be.

Kidnapped and held for ransom at nineteen, ducal heir William Ravenwood knows the only person he can rely on is himself. Now part of a spy ring that includes his friends Nicolas and Richard Hampden, he’s the smuggler known as The Raven, a ruthless agent who specializes in rescuing hostages and prisoners of war from captivity.

Raven longs to discover the fate of his colleague, Christopher ‘Kit’ Carlisle, who’s been missing, presumed dead, for over two years. He’s also equally determined to stay away from the one thing he knows is dangerous to his health – the bane of his life, his best friends’ infuriating and provocative little sister, Heloise.

Heloise is a brilliant code breaker, one of the English government’s most valuable assets. She’s also loved Raven for years, but considering that he rejected her at sixteen, before her face was scarred rescuing her brother from an icy river, she’s certain he doesn’t want her now, despite his outrageous flirting.

But when Heloise decodes a message that proves Kit is alive and a prisoner in Spain, Raven realizes she’s in grave danger. With French agents determined to silence her, he’ll do whatever it takes to keep her safe – even if that means taking her to Spain with him as an unwilling hostage.

As they face French deserters and Spanish freedom fighters, Raven and Heloise try to ignore the simmering attraction that’s been building between them for eight long years. The differences between them are striking but they’ve always had a strange underlying bond. Heloise might be scarred outwardly, but Raven’s wounds are all on the inside. He knows he’s not worthy of her love—a shadowed Hades pining for sun-kissed Persephone—but he’s not above showing her passion for the short time they’re together.

A master at decoding complex messages, Heloise finds Raven frustratingly hard to read, but as their lives hang in the balance she’s determined to unravel his secrets and unlock his dark, elusive heart…

♥♥♥♥♥♥

I loved TO STEAL A HEART, Ms. Bateman’s debut novel, and the first book in her Secrets and Spies series. I was hoping that A RAVEN’S HEART would be just as good, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed. 

Six years ago, nineteen-year-old William de L’Isle, Viscount Ravenwood (Raven), was kidnapped and held for ransom. A proud and stubborn man, his grandfather, the Duke of Avondale, refused to pay the kidnappers, hoping to thwart their plans by hiring Bow Street Runners to find his grandson.  Meanwhile, William endured eight weeks in captivity, facing beatings and potential death every day. Finally, he managed to escape by killing one of the guards, but the experience left him a changed man. He has never forgiven his grandfather, refusing to have anything to do with him and rejecting the titles due to him following his father’s death.  Instead, he joined Lord Castlereagh’s spy network, working alongside his childhood friends and fellow spies, Richard and Nicolas Hampden. Ruthless, deadly and efficient, it is a job he excels at, killing without guilt or remorse.

Heloise Hampden, Richard and Nicolas’s younger sister, has always had a rebellious streak, hating the restrictions placed on women by society and longing for freedom and adventure. When her face is scarred trying to save her brother from drowning, thus curtailing her marriage prospects, her life becomes one of scholarly pursuits. Her skill at code-breaking brings her to the attention of Lord Castlereagh and she relishes the opportunity of serving her country decoding French messages. When a fellow code-breaker is murdered, and an attempt is made on Heloise’s life, Castlereagh assigns Raven to protect her.

However, Raven and Heloise (or Hellcat as he calls her) grew up on neighbouring estates and, as her brothers’ friend, he was a frequent visitor to the Hampdens. There has always been a strong spark of attraction between them that neither would acknowledge. They managed to conceal their true feelings by exchanging barbed insults, but the mutual attraction shows no sign of abating.

Hellcat Hampden had been the subject of his guilty daydreams for years. What had started out as adolescent musings had matured into fevered erotic fantasies that showed absolutely no sign of abating.

♥♥♥

She was fluent in five different languages, but in Raven’s presence she could barely string a coherent sentence together.

Heloise decodes a letter suggesting that Raven’s friend, Kit Carlisle, who has been missing for two years, is alive and an exchange of prisoners is possible. This exchange is to take place in a small Spanish village just over the French border and Raven is determined to rescue his friend, but he must also protect Heloise and there is only one way to do that – take her with him.

Raven is one of those gorgeous, cynical, arrogant, tormented heroes that I can’t resist, while Heloise is my sort of heroine – intelligent, headstrong, stubborn and unconventional, although she does have one sinful extravagance which Raven certainly approves of!

These two have an amazing chemistry and I enjoyed their entertaining and witty repartee.

He chinked the rim of his own glass against hers and downed the contents.“Bottoms up.” 

With a mental shrug Heloise did the same. Her throat caught fire. Tears sprang to her eyes. When she could catch her breath she croaked out, “Good Lord! That’s vile.” Raven grinned and took her empty glass. “Good girl. Now, as you rightly said, I have to ‘go captain.’ Is there anything else you require?” 

“Only your absence,” she managed. 

He backed out the door with a mocking flourish. “Your humble servant.”

He took two more glasses from a servant. “Here, drink this.”

 She accepted it without thinking. A drunken reveler jostled her arm and a cold wash of champagne splashed onto her chest and trickled down between her breasts. “Oh, bugger-and-arse!” she muttered.

 “That’s what I love about you, Hellcat. Always so ladylike. Just when I despair that the impulsive hellion I grew up with has vanished, you say something like that and the world rights itself again.” 

She growled at him. Actually growled. 

“You shouldn’t do that, either,” he admonished gently. “It makes little wrinkles in your nose.”

Every scene just sizzles with sexual tension and their feelings of frustration, longing, fear, regret and desire are palpable. Ms. Bateman creates a delicious sense of anticipation and when they finally make love, it just feels right. The love scene is beautifully done – tender, romantic, sensual and laced with moments of humour. There is just the right balance between the action and romance and the dangers Raven and Heloise face along the journey only serve to heighten the sexual tension.

Raven believes that because he embraced his darker emotions, he is unworthy of someone as good as Heloise. When he tells Heloise of everything he endured during his imprisonment, it gave me a real understanding of the deep emotional impact it had on him and how he was changed by the experience. Only Heloise can cut through the anger and bitterness to convince him that he is loyal, brave and fearless; willing to do whatever it takes to protect those he loves and cares about. Heloise is his anchor and keeps him grounded.

I like how Raven doesn’t see Heloise’s scar as ugly but as proof that she is a survivor and I love his words to her.

“You’re like the moon. IT has craters and scars and shadows. But only an idiot would deny that it is beautiful.”

The scene between Raven and his grandfather is an emotional one. Raven comes to realise that his grandfather is only human and made mistakes just as he himself has. He now sees rejecting his father’s titles as an insult to his parents’ memory and to everything he could be.

Ms. Bateman has obviously undertaken a lot of research to create a real sense of the period and I love how she weaves fascinating historical details, mythology and real people into the story. I particularly like how her expert knowledge of antiques comes into play  where she refers to the ancient Japanese art of Kinstukuroi, cleverly revealing how much Raven cares for Heloise.

MY VERDICT: A well-written and engaging story with fascinating characters, adventure, danger, sizzling sexual tension and witty repartee. Highly recommended.

 

REVIEW RATING: 5/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Secrets and Spies series (click on the book covers for more details):

To Steal a Heart (Secrets and Spies, #1) by K.C. Bateman A Raven's Heart (Secrets & Spies, #2) by K.C. Bateman A Counterfeit Heart (Secrets & Spies, #3) by K.C. Bateman

 

 

**I received a complimentary copy from the publisher via NetGalley for the purposes of an honest review**

 

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Mistletoe and the Major

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1815)

Cover Blurb:

 Previously published in the anthology Under the Kissing Bough. 

The Major is home from the wars at last… 

Edmund Sherritt, Major Lord Canforth, has devoted eight tumultuous years to fighting Napoleon. Finally, Europe is at peace, and he can retire to his estates and the lovely wife he hasn’t seen since their brief, unhappy honeymoon. The innocent girl he loved from the first moment he saw her, but who shied away from him on their wedding night.

The beautiful woman who greets him at Otway Hall on Christmas Eve is no longer the sweet ingénue he remembers. This new and exciting version of his beloved countess is strong, outspoken, and independent, and she’s willing to stand up for what she wants. The question is—does she want the husband who returns to her arms more as a stranger than a spouse?

Now the real battle begins. 

Felicity, Lady Canforth, has had eight long years to regret that she sent her husband from a cold marriage bed to face brutal combat, danger and hardship. The only child of elderly parents, Felicity came to marriage innocent and ignorant, and unable to conceal her shock at the sensual power of the earl’s caresses. Before she found the nerve to offer Canforth a more generous welcome, he was called away to war. The Major left behind a countess who was a bride, not a wife; a woman unsure of her husband’s feelings, and too timid to confess how fervently she desires the man she wed.

Fate has granted an older, wiser Felicity a second chance to win her husband’s heart. Now nothing will stop her from claiming victory over the famous war hero. This Christmas, she’ll deploy every ounce of courage, purpose and passion to seize the life and love she’s longed for, ever since Canforth left to serve his country. Whatever it costs, whatever it takes, she’ll lure the dashing Major back into her bed, where she means to show him he’s the only man she wants as her lover—and her love.

After years of yearning and separation, will a Christmas miracle heal the wounds of the past and offer the earl and his bride a future bright with love? 

❄❄❄❄❄


I started my Christmas reading early this year with a lovely, heart-warming second-chance short story from Anna Campbell.

It was love at first sight for Edmund and Felicity (Flick), but they had only been married for two weeks when Edmund received orders to join his regiment. In their short, awkward time together, they had never felt at ease enough with each other to openly discuss their true feelings and were still little more than strangers when Edmund left. After eight long years, Edmund is finally able to return home and is determined to build a real marriage.

Even within the constraints of a short story, Ms. Campbell can still pack a real emotional punch. She made me feel Edmund and Flick’s initial feelings of uncertainty, regret and fear after their long separation. The years running the estate have given Flick a degree of confidence lacking in her younger self. The only child of elderly parents, she was shy and inexperienced when she married and regrets not having been braver and more responsive to her husband’s lovemaking. I like how she is determined to seize this second chance.

Edmund has his own fears. War has changed him, and he is uncertain of the welcome he will receive from Flick, but she sees that he is still the same kind, considerate man she remembers. I like the scene involving the ‘burnt letters’, when Flick’s misunderstanding of the situation leads them to finally talk openly about their feelings for each other and confess their love.

MY VERDICT: A delightful start to my Christmas reading.


REVIEW RATING: 4/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

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

 

 

 

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Angel Comes to Devil's Keep

(Twins’ Trilogy, #1)

Genre: Historical Romance (Regency, 1819)

Cover Blurb:

Huntington McLaughlin, the Marquess of Malvern, wakes in a farmhouse, after a head injury, being tended by an ethereal “angel,” who claims to be his wife. However, reality is often deceptive, and Angelica Lovelace is far from innocent in Hunt’s difficulties. Yet, there is something about the woman that calls to him as no other ever has. When she attends his mother’s annual summer house party, their lives are intertwined in a series of mistaken identities, assaults, kidnappings, overlapping relations, and murders, which will either bring them together forever or tear them irretrievably apart. As Hunt attempts to right his world from problems caused by the head injury that has robbed him of parts of his memory, his best friend, the Earl of Remmington, makes it clear that he intends to claim Angelica as his wife. Hunt must decide whether to permit her to align herself with the earldom or claim the only woman who stirs his heart—and if he does the latter, can he still serve the dukedom with a hoydenish American heiress at his side?

♥♥♥♥♥♥

I have regularly followed her blog with its fascinating and informative posts but ANGEL COMES TO THE DEVIL’S KEEP is the first book I have read by Regina Jeffers and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I like Hunt for wanting to do more than just being the heir apparent to the Duke of Devilfoard. He takes real pride in the secretive work he does for the Home Office which gives him an additional purpose in life and an element of independence too.

It was not much, this bit of public duty he performed, but Hunt took a certain pride in doing more than being the Duke of Devilfoard’s heir apparent–more than being the Devil’s cub.

His father is pushing him to marry Lord Sandahl’s daughter, Lady Mathild, but while fully aware of his responsibilities to the dukedom, Hunt refuses to marry some green girl straight from the schoolroom; he wants a woman who will love him wholeheartedly and share his passion for life, learning and adventure.

I like Angel who is intelligent, independent, outspoken and with a real zest for life – a perfect match for Hunt. She doesn’t suffer fools lightly, as gentlemen of the ton, intent on pursuing her for her beauty and large dowry alone, soon discover.  Despite her distaste for ‘a bland lifestyle wrapped in formality’, her determination to succeed in society for her father’s sake shows her love and concern for him.

The image of her father’s worried brow and the knowledge of his declining health drove her response. She must succeed in London’s Society for her father to know peace. 

I was rather cautious about the amnesia plot line, but Ms. Jeffers uses it effectively. Hunt’s memory loss and Angel’s ignorance of his true identity allows their attraction to flourish, unfettered by any preconceptions or prejudices, as they spend time with the Wendts while Hunt recovers. It also reveals Angel’s caring and compassionate nature. She risks her own life to rescue a stranger and refuses to desert him, and believing him to be either a gentleman farmer or a man of business, she even considers asking her father to offer him a position.

When Hunt’s brother, Harry, and his friend, Lord Remmington, find him and he discovers his real identity, it’s natural that he feels angry, hurt and disappointed, believing that the woman who had stolen his heart connived to take advantage of  him. I was pleased that Ms. Jeffers did not prolong this misunderstanding and Harry and Lord Remmington soon convince Hunt that he is wrong about Angel and she only had his interests at heart.

Despite Hunt’s marriage proposal, Angel is practical enough to know that she could never be the sort of duchess his position requires. My heart ached for them when they are forced to accept that they can never be together.

He wanted to be this woman’s everything–to turn the sun back four and twenty hours and reclaim the anticipation of knowing her intimately. To be her first. Her last. It was a lovely fantasy, one upon which reality would too soon intrude.

“There will be more than enough time to relive each moment of the past few days. A whole lifetime to know your ideal match does exist. He will simply belong to another.”

There are many trials and tribulations before their Happy Ever After seems assured, including poisoning, murder, intrigue, long-hidden family secrets and a rival for Angel’s affections in the form of Hunt’s best friend, Lord Remmington. I like how it is Hunt’s father who gives him a ‘good kick up the backside’, figuratively speaking.

I thought Ms. Jeffers portrayed Hunt’s reactions to his amnesia in a realistic way. I sensed his fears and uncertainties and how vulnerable he feels.

…he had yet to recognize one servant or family portrait or even the house’s furnishings. He remained a first time guest in his childhood home. The tightness in his chest had nothing to do with his injury and everything to do with his vulnerability.

I also liked how she doesn’t have Hunt miraculously regaining his complete memory, but certain things trigger a particular memory.

The plotline called for a large number of secondary characters and, at times, I found it difficult to keep a track of everyone and the various family relationships. I was intrigued by Lord Remmington whose story is told in book 2, The Earl Claims His Comfort. I liked Angel’s father, a congenial man, but not when it comes to protecting his family.

Ms. Jeffers’s tightly woven mystery certainly kept me guessing, with plenty of red herrings, some unexpected twists and turns and the revelation of long-hidden family secrets. The unmasking of the true villain certainly came as a big surprise.

MY VERDICT: An extremely enjoyable story with appealing characters, suspense, intrigue and a heart-warming romance.


REVIEW RATING: 4/5 STARS

SENSUALITY RATING: WARM

 

Twins’ Trilogy so far (click on the book cover for more details):

Angel Comes to the Devil's Keep by Regina Jeffers The Earl Claims His Comfort by Regina Jeffers

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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